Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Song to Sing

I was sitting at home on a blizzardy winter day, reading Our Home and Family by Laura Baxter (copyright 1952), and I came across this section that I simply have to share with you:

"Schoolgirls seldom have the full responsibility of caring for the house. [...]  Tasks commonly given to them include the care of their own room, sweeping and brushing, taking care of cupboards and closets, caring for the bathroom, cleaning and polishing the silverware and other metals, keeping tables and desks in order, and washing dishes and utensils. Here is a song for cleaning day that should keep a girl's heart content that she has such jobs to do:

Brown soap can brew a scrubbing froth
Fragrant as orange peel or tar;
It makes a closet or a cloth
As fresh as dogwood blossoms are;
And wax, that amber soft and slow,
Embalms old carving in a glow.

Polish can turn a bowl of brass
Into a bell that beats a gleam,
Can  make a silver dish a glass
Of lights like birches in a dream;
While bright as peaches copper blooms
Out of the corners of the rooms.

There could not be a blither work
Than skill with pumice, brush, and soap,
To bring a bright thing from a dark,
To fill the house with lamps of hope.
And so before the morning goes
Put stars among the goblet-rows.

Oh boy.  Where do I start on this one? 

First of all, what the heck kind of a song is that?!  If my mom would have sat me down and said, "Honey, let's learn this fun song!" and then pulled that thing out, I would have laughed (respectfully and politely) in her face.  It doesn't make sense, and the rhyme scheme is super funky.  Were fifties children far more poetically inclined than our generation of lazy millenials?  Because the extent of my clean up music was "Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share" from Barney.

Also, the blurb before the song says that it is supposed to keep a girl's heart content that she has such jobs to do.  Umm...really?  Let's take a look into little Suzie's 1952 conversation with her mom:

Mom: Suzie dear, would you please polish the silver?
Suzie: Golly gee, Mom, do I gotta? 
Mom: You have to do it, Suzie, but good news: you can sing the bat-crap-crazy cleaning song I taught you!
Suzie: Holy moly!  What fun!  Now my heart is content.  Where's the silver?!

Sorry Ms. Baxter, that didn't happen.  Ever.  Your song is freaky and weird. 

Does anyone else think that this author just wanted to be a poet, but no one would buy her weird poetry so she just inserted it into her textbooks so she could see it in print?  Because that's what I think.

I'm trying to follow the advice in these books, so I tried singing while cleaning today.  I actually tried singing that specific song (I tried to come up with a melody, but that got pretty boring so I ended up rapping it instead.  I bet that's not what Laura Baxter was going for).  I actually got less cleaning done because I couldn't figure out the dumb song.  Elvis looked at me like I was nuts, and he was probably right.  I decided to give up on the dishes and come write this entry.  So really...the cleaning song completely backfired.  I'm going to try again with the Barney version and see if I do better.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bath Towels - Are Yours Soft and Fluffy?

The title of this post is identical to that of a Good Housekeeping article from the early sixties.  It caught my attention because the answer to that question is no, my bath towels are not soft or fluffy.  They're that weird matted down-worn out kind of towel that makes you wonder if it's actually soaking up any water at all.  It's really probably just time to buy new towels, but money is tight so I figured I'd see if the experts at Good Housekeeping could help me out.  Here's what they say:

"If you use a washing machine at home, it is easy to launder a load of bath towels; but can you get them soft and fluffy, and luxurious, the way you like them?"

No, I can't, housewifery gurus!  Teach me your ways!

"The only way to accomplish this is to shake the towels vigorously before hanging them on the line.  It is easier if two people shake, so perhaps your young child would like to help you."

Two problems with this: 1. I have no clothesline, and there's absolutely no way I'm hanging towels in the -2 degree weather we're having today.  They (and I) will freeze before they're even hung up.  2. I have no young child to help me.  I KNEW I should have procreated!  Drat. 

Luckily, it seems like the young child thing is optional.  Also, Good Housekeeping must have realized that not all of us have the luxury of clotheslines, so a few paragraphs down they have a section on "Drying Clothes Indoors." 

"It's no fun to hang clothes outdoors when your hands are freezing and the clothes stick to the line, and they won't dry well, anyway!  On cold, stormy days, find some place - a corner of your basement or even a play or recreation room - where you can hang your clothes conveniently."

But Good Housekeeping lady, I don't have a basement OR a playroom!  What am I to do?  I tried reading on, but the rest of the paragraph was no help:

"If clothes are properly washed and thoroughly rinsed, they'll be as white as when hung outdoors.  However, the wind's billowing of the clothes does help to take out wrinkles, so shake your wash when you resort to indoor drying."

Great, thanks.  More shaking.  With my small child.  I know.

The only place I could find to hang them was over the shower rod, so hopefully Rex doesn't need to take a shower tonight (both because I don't want him to destroy my "drying for fluffiness" project and also because he will not have any towels to use because I'm washing them).

Here's hoping that they turn out fluffy!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Simpler Methods Save Time and Energy"

Today I've been doing some reading from a 1958 home economics textbook called Homemaking for Teen-Agers.  It's a high school textbook for a class I really wish I would have been able to take!  I especially liked the section called "Simpler Methods to Save Time and Energy."  After reading the ten page chapter on how to vacuum correctly, I really needed something to help me save some time and energy.

I didn't actually do the twenty-seven step vacuuming process, I just read about it.  Still, it took a lot of time and energy to even think about doing that much vacuuming.  They wanted me to vacuum my lampshades.  No.  I won't do it.

The "simpler methods" section starts out in a very promising manner: "Simplify one's housekeeping by the elimination of as many tasks as possible: for example, use paper napkins for everyday meals instead of cloth ones which must be washed and ironed.  Tables can be attractive with paper napkins and the food just as delicious."

Awesome!  I already do that!  I save my cloth napkins for extremely special hosting Thanksgiving when I'm 45 years old and rich.  Then I'll go get my cloth napkins...from the store.

"In the early days of our country, there was no need, perhaps, for speeding up the performance of household tasks, but in the twentieth century we live at a faster pace, with many interests and responsibilities that fill our days to overflowing."

Who wrote this book?  I need to have a word with them. *flip to the front cover* Irene McDermott.  Irene, honey, you don't understand the meaning of "fast-paced."  You think 1958 was fast-paced?  That's cute.  The internet hadn't even been invented yet.  Fast food joints didn't exist.  Students weren't involved in 128 after school groups per kid.  People actually ate dinner as a family.  I mean, I guess trying to fit in a nightly episode of I Love Lucy might have made your schedule feel a little crunched, but for real.  No.  You're not fast-paced.  Nice try.

"The thinking housekeeper will find many ways of simplifying work: for example, the elimination of white window curtains which must be washed frequently."

Wait, I'm supposed to wash my curtains?  Hmmm...  I'm avoiding a guilt trip here by skipping ahead to the next paragraph.

"Keep your cleaning tools in a basket or carrier, so that everything you need will be available when you arrive at the scene of the action."

I love this.  "Scene of the action" makes me feel like some kid of superhero.  "Here comes Superwife, ready to fight dust and germs!  Bacteria doesn't stand a chance!"  That actually makes sense, too, and I have an extra basket.  I'm doing that one.

"Avoid creating a general state of confusion in the room which you are cleaning.  When all of the furniture is pushed to the center of the room, it will slow up the cleaning process when you have to walk around as you work.  Keep your line of traffic free."

In the interests of avoiding a "general state of confusion," I vow to leave my furniture where it is while I clean.  Phew!  That was an easy one.

"Form the habit of saving steps.  For instance, suppose you are responsible for cleaning the bedroom section of the house.  One task is to empty the wastebaskets in each bedroom and in the bathroom, and carry the wastepaper to the rubbish barrel in the back yard.  Will you carry each down separately?  Will you place a large container in the hall and bring each basket to the container for emptying?"

A few things about this section:  1. From now on I am so calling our dumpster the "rubbish barrel."  2. Do you think I can interpret this "saving steps" section to mean that I can stuff some boxes under the bed or in my closet to clean out later?  I think yes.

Last but not least...  "Rest periods are important.  There is one often-neglected item which should appear on on every housekeeping schedule: REST. Some homemakers feel that it best to get all of their work done first and then settle down for a rest, but scientific analysis of efficiency on the job has shown that it is better to take short rest periods three or four times during the day."

Awesome.  This one's even easier to follow than the paper napkins.  When Rex comes home and the house is a mess, I'll just tell him that scientific analysis shows that I'm actually raising my efficiency.  Brilliant.  Thanks, Irene!  I think I'll read more of your book tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Discomforted by my Comforter

I was reading through Good Housekeeping's Guide to Successful Homemaking (1961 ed.), and I came to a page that talked about washing your blankets and comforters.

I wash my sheets, but I tried to think of the last time I washed my comforter and I couldn't remember it.  Well, THAT's a discomforting thought!  What kind of nasties are lurking in my comforter?!  Dead skin cells, dust bunnies, sweat, hair that fell off of my head months ago...  EW.  Gross.  How have I been sleeping in that?  I was disgusted with myself.  I clearly needed Good Housekeeping's help to de-germ my comforter.  I sat down to read the directions, however, and they started out trickier than I thought:

1. You must dry-clean silk faille, satin, taffeta, or acetate spreads.

What's an acetate spread?  It sounds like a chemist's toxic peanut butter or something.  What's faille?  I don't think my comforter is made out of any of those things, so I decided to read on: 2. Use the following procedure for washable fabrics such as chenille, candlewick, corduroy, crocheted, and seersucker.  Again - what??  Seersucker?  That sounds like something out of a horror movie.  Candlewicks?  You can make bedspreads out of those?  But what if your house catches on fire?  (then again, I don't know of any fireproof comforters...BUT THAT WOULD BE SUCH A COOL INVENTION!) I digress.  Anyway here's the real issue  - how did cotton not make this list?  My comforter is made out of cotton.  Wasn't cotton around in 1961?  I figured it would fall under the category of "washable fabrics," so I decided to proceed.

"Shake the spread to remove lint and loose dirt."

Check.  At least there wasn't much of that.

"In a nonautomatic washer, fill the tub as you would for a full load." 

I do not comprehend the idea of a "nonautomatic washer."  My foremothers are saints for having those.  I skipped this section and moved on to the directions for the richie riches with automatic washers:

"If you have an automatic washer, follow the manufacturer's directions.  Remove the spread after washing and dry in dryer."

WHAT?  After the two paragraphs I read about the nonautomatic washers and all of the bazillions of fabrics I may or may not wash, my reward is to read the 1961 version of essentially "just wash it like you would wash anything else, you weirdo"?!  Well, that makes me feel downright pouty.  I wanted a new vintage-y way to wash my comforter.  I guess I could pretend that my sink is a nonautomatic washer, but that seems a bit too contrived.  I guess old-school and new-school housewives agree: if you can take shortcuts and have something done automatically, just do it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Hi blog friends!  It's like breathing a huge sigh of relief to be back on here again.  As you may recall from my last post (which you can read here), I put this blog on a hiatus until my husband came home.  Well, I am happy to report that Rex has moved home for good, and I can finally resume my housewifery.  I must confess I'd grown quite complacent.  Cooking for one is anticlimactic, so I got used to sandwiches and eating out.  But then when the Qdoba lady knew my name since I was there so often, I got kind of scared that I was losing my silks forever so I started cooking again, ha ha.  Cleaning took a back seat too.  I would stay pretty picked up, but who was going to notice if there was dust in my corners or if I hadn't scrubbed my shower head?  No one, that's who.  Elvis certainly wasn't going to tell on me.  So I just kind of let it go.  But now my husband's back, so I can feel good about cleaning again!

Come to think of it, I'm quite sure he wouldn't notice dust in the corners or a grimy shower head either, but somehow I feel better when I'm actually cleaning for someone instead of just for myself.

So anyway, this past weekend I went into total housewife overdrive.  In the past few days I completed the following recipes (all from scratch, obviously):

- Chipotle-crusted chicken with mashed potatoes and spiced green beans
- Spaghetti with homemade meat sauce based on the Olive Garden recipe and accompanied by homemade garlic bread (that bagged stuff from the frozen section is SO last year)
- Homemade burritos including guacamole from scratch, sautéed Mexi-spiced chicken, cilantro-lime rice made from scratch, and various other burrito accoutrements
- Cinnamon Amish Friendship Bread (PS that recipe took literally TEN DAYS to make because I had to "grow" the yeast starter.  So yeah, be really proud of me on that one.)
- Chocolate Mint Trifle (a dessert which accompanied a frozen pizza...  I felt bad about cheating on that dinner so at least I made a cool dessert).
- Chicken Tortilla Soup  (homemade, obviously.  What is this "canned" nonsense?)

Since all of that cooking happened over the course of a weekend, you can see that Rex and I have been eating pretty well.  I'm trying to convince him to never leave again, ha ha.  But really, I was just bored because I was on Christmas Break from school and had nothing better to do.  I was actually looking forward to going back to school, but alas.  It wasn't meant to be.  Due to a raging, record-breaking blizzard that has hit Southwest Michigan, I'm now on Day 1 of a (at least) two day snow day spread.  Well, I'm obviously super bored now.  I've already exhausted all of my recipes, and Rex is away at work.  I don't have any grading or lesson planning to do because I'm technically on an extended break.

Basically, I was really bored.  I had nothing to do; no one to serve.  I can't even leave the house because snow drifts are keeping my car from going anywhere (Rex took our Suburban... it's the only vehicle that has a chance in this weather).  I was trying to figure out what to do when I looked down at our dog Elvis and came up with a brilliant idea:

I would make DOG TREATS!

What's more domestic than home-making your dog's food??  Plus, I remembered that I had a really sketchy looking dog treat mix that I got from some guy who lived near the dog park last year.  I bought it for $1.  Looking back, that was actually really dumb.  I got the bag out of my cupboard and looked at it skeptically - it was a bag full of who-knows-what, with no instructions on how to turn this floury mess into edible dog snacks.  It could have been a bag of arsenic and crack, for all I knew.  Alas, boredom makes people do weird things.  I got online and googled "what to add to dog treat mix."  Some recipes were really elaborate.  People are getting weird about what to feed to their pets, like "Add GMO-free wheat that was grown in a sunny location and organic eggs from chickens who only ate organic feed and took occasional classes in philosophy..."  Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a little.  Finally I figured, "He's a DOG.  He'll eat anything."  So I just added water to the powdery mixture until it made a pasty dough.  Then I cut the dough into dog bone shapes and slapped it in the oven at 350 for 18-20 minutes (because it seems like that's the directions for every run-of-the-mill baking recipe).  When I took them out, they actually looked like dog treats!  What's more, Elvis LOVED them!  He hasn't even died or anything, which I find very promising.  I need to cook for Elvis more often - he's my least picky critic.

I'm on a cooking ROLL.  I need to bake something for Elsie.  Or reorganize another closet.  The Vintage Housewife is BACK, y'all.  Stay tuned for fabulous.