Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Housekeeping ~ daily tasks and weekly routines ~ my attempts to stem household chaos

Housekeeping seems to be an unpopular, even neglected topic and I'm not surprised that my articles about it are less read than any of the others.  The busy lives many of us lead don't leave much time for this sort of thing, yet if it's neglected it inevitably piles up and can cause problems of various sorts: dust and dirt can harbour germs and allergens; things get misplaced, and lack of properly thought out grocery shopping may lead to additional expense and inconvenience.  Quite frankly, it's depressing: a dirty, untidy house can have a major effect on one's mood.  I'm at home a lot so this is important.

In contrast I find that a clean, smoothly functioning household does engender a restful setting which helps me relax, even think more clearly and work more energetically, so it is definitely worth the effort.  The difficult part is keeping it in perspective, so that it doesn't take up too much room in my life with other things being fitted in around it.  What I aim for, and seldom achieve, is good housekeeping that goes on quietly in the background, which I don't need to think about or exert myself over too much.  I have other commitments that are arguably more important and I need to be free to get on with those.

Gustave Flaubert seems to have been thinking along similar lines when he made the suggestion to... 
"Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." 
As I've said before, I prefer the word 'vigorous' to 'violent', but I know what he means.  It is well worth striving for.

Here then are my schedules.  I seldom, if ever, get right through them as they are set out here, but find them a useful set of reference points.

My morning routine can take about an hour.  I aim to stop after an hour anyway.  If I do only these things and abandon doing anything from my weekly schedule I still have a tolerably clean and fresh home which is good enough for anything, and I can catch up with other things another day.  I've got much better at this with practice!

Each day I do my best to:
  • Put on fresh or at least moderately clean and presentable clothes
  • Put clothes destined for the wash into the laundry basket
  • Put away any other clothes that are lying about
  • Make the bed and straighten the bedroom. 
Having had breakfast:
  • Clear the table and shake or change the table cloth
  • Wash up
  • Put the wiping cloth, hand towel and tea towel in the wash and replace them with fresh ones
  • Empty the bench top compost container into the bokashi bucket
  • Leave the kitchen clear and tidy.
In the bathroom and toilet:
  • Wipe around the basin and taps, either with the bathroom wiping cloth or with the hand towel that is destined for the wash
  • Wipe the bathroom mirror - the out-going hand towel is excellent for this
  • Put the wiping cloth and the hand towel in the wash and replace them with fresh ones
  • Check there is adequate soap
  • Check the toilet is presentable and has a spare toilet roll.
In the laundry:
  • Put a wash through, etc.
In the living room / sitting room:
  • Tidy it up and straighten furniture.
Air the house - even if only for ten minute to half an hour.

  • Spot-vacuum or wipe if they look bad enough to need it! 
Lastly I sit down, have a cup of tea, and decide what I'll make for lunch and dinner.  This is very important, as if I leave it until closer to the time, I'll be tired and uninspired.  I'm likely to be both of those things anyway, but if I've already decided what I'm going to prepare it makes it much easier to simply get on with it!

My weekly schedule is less stable:
The idea is to spend about two hours on these things.  The reality often bears little resemblance to anything remotely like it, but at least if I don't get things done I know why, and I also know the amount of time that is realistic.  These reference points at least mean I'm less panicky when things get behind and seem chaotic as I know that even if some days I achieve little or nothing, that within a week the house can be made relatively shipshape once more without major stress!

  • Washing - catch up on any hand washing or extra to usual washing, such as sheets and towels.
  • Paperwork - clear through bills to pay, tally the housekeeping budget, and deal with any other papers that need attention.
  • If there is any time left over I can do any odd tasks that only need doing from time to time
  • Household shopping for groceries and so on.
  • Pay any bills that get paid over the counter
  • Catch up on any correspondence that's due.  I try to answer letters, cards and e-mails within a week of receiving them.
  • Ironing - if any!
  • Mending
  • Other sewing
  • Rubbish readied for collection
  • Get the rubbish out to the gate for collection
  • Vacuum and clean the floors, and sweep around the porches and steps
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Properly clean the kitchen benches and disinfect the cleaning things: kitchen brushes, wiping sponges, nail brushes, plugs, combs, hairbrushes.  
    • The tall three litre plastic container I keep the washing up gear in under the bench is excellent for this, as I simply wash it out with detergent and then fill it with hot water to which I add a splosh of household bleach.
  • Water the house plants
  • Baking
  • Clean shoes (!)
  • Gardening
  • Take a break! 

Other articles about my struggles with housekeeping can be found on the page entitled:
My article about the value of cleaning can be found via the following link

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Dutch Apple Ginger ~ or try it with pears ~ an easy dessert to warm and delight!

It's apple-picking time and the evenings are getting cooler which reminded me of apple desserts and this recipe in particular.  I've made it a couple of times recently and what a treat it is!

I have the recipe from my mother who came by it so long ago that she no longer remembers who gave it to her - probably it came from one of my grandmothers.  I include it here so that you can enjoy it too:

Quantities given here make enough for three to four people.

  • Apples, preserved, or stewed with a little sugar - the recipe says 2 pounds (1 kilo), but my measure is simply to have enough to fill the baking dish to the depth of an inch or so.
  • OR pears!  Absolutely delectable!
  • Cinnamon or mixed spice - 1 teaspoon, which is stirred in with the apples.  I definitely prefer the mixed spice.
  • A knob of butter, say 1 - 2 teaspoons - stir this in when the apples or pears are hot.
Topping:  (Adapted 26th July 2013 to be a little less sweet but just as deliciously spicy!)
  • Butter - 100 grams or 3 ounces
  • Golden syrup - 150 grams or 5 ounces (5 - 6 level tablespoons)
  • Flour - plain - 125 grams or 4 ounces (1 cup)
  • Ginger, powdered - 1 teaspoon
  • Baking soda - half a teaspoon
  • Milk - 2-4 tablespoons  - depending on the consistency that looks good to you!
Note: the addition of a beaten egg to the topping mixture will make it rise considerably more, and make it more like a sponge topping.  I like it without, which is a matter of personal preference.

    I use a jar of preserved apples.  Whether using these or freshly stewed apples they do need to be hot.  Be sure to pour off any excess syrup before placing fruit in your baking dish, so that the surface is mostly exposed apple as you don't want your topping to sink into watery syrup and go soggy, but you do want to have enough syrup in the dish so that the fruit has some of its own juice.  

    Stir in the cinnamon or mixed spice and butter.

    Set the oven to heat to 180 degrees Celcius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and put the dish of cooked apple in to heat while you make the topping.  When the fruit syrup is bubbling up a little it's hot enough for the topping to be spooned onto it.

    Make the topping:
    • Melt the butter in a saucepan and add in the golden syrup.  Heat but do not boil (so that it doesn't caramelise).
    • Stir in the ginger.
    • Mix the soda and the milk in a cup and have ready to add.
    • Measure the flour and combine it with the butter and syrup.
    • Add the soda and milk and combine well.
    • Once the apple and the oven are hot enough, lift out the baking dish and spoon the topping over the apples to cover them.
    • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes being careful not to burn.  It will rise somewhat to form a pillow-like surface.
    Serve hot with cream or custard.  It's delicious cold the next day, but I'd be surprised if you have any, as this is one dessert that everybody loves and wants more of.

    Sunday, 8 April 2012

    Cleaning is glamorous and sexy ~

    It's time for cleaning to come out of the broom cupboard and be awarded its due.  Other home-making skills such as cooking, baking, gardening, decorating and renovation are the subject of glossy books, magazines, documentaries, competitions and chat shows, while cleaning and the resultant cleanliness, seldom rate even a mention.  Except when it hasn't been done...

    For most of us cleaning is something we do around our homes - because we have to, but most people seem to do as little as possible and it is not a subject that is regarded with any degree of enthusiasm.  This is a pity because as well as having a significant impact on our health and well-being, it also can help us achieve other forms of satisfaction and success:

    Imagine bringing home a new boyfriend or girlfriend, someone you want to impress and make comfortable: the place is smart, you are doing your best to make it all work out, but... your car is full of junk and discarded food wrappers, the entranceway of your home is dusty, the house is musty, the windows grimy, the kitchen bench piled with used dishes, the stove grease- and food-spattered, the loo smells, well, neglected, the bathroom basin and bath have tell-tale rings around their insides and the mirror is spattered with toothpaste; in the bedroom, used clothes litter the floor, and the sheets, if you go that far, are greying and rumpled.  How do you rate your chances?  This is definitely not glamorous or sexy. 

    On the other hand, imagine bringing your new friend into a home that looks and smells fresh, clean, tidy, and has that indefinable air of being loved and looked after.  You've thought about where you want the furniture and made the place welcoming: the table cloth is clean; the kitchen bench and taps are shining; and the bathroom looks and smells as it should.  You look as if you care enough to have made an effort, and you have.  Oh joy, this is a good start!  You can relax and enjoy yourself knowing that your guest can also relax and enjoy themselves: they're not going to be put off by imagining what illness they must take care to avoid or look for signs of in the days to come, or, possibly worse still, wonder if they are going to have to take over the housekeeping for you.  They may even want to visit again some time.  Much better!

    Cleaning is a learnt rather than an inherent skill, and hopefully we learn about it when we are growing up as this makes it much easier to manage once we are adults.  

    I learnt quite a bit when young.  I don't know how other people do so.  I suspect a fairly large number learn it by watching advertisements for cleaning products in which we are encouraged to buy a vast range of cleaning products, many of which are costly and unnecessary.  In these advertisements all unsightly marks and messes are magically swept into oblivion by the application of all this stuff, when in truth what's actually needed is relatively simple and affordable and needs to be accompanied by the intelligent application of good old elbow grease, which is to say: focused physical labour.

    I learnt a substantial number of the finer points of cleaning at one of my first jobs at an old people's rest home.  The place was run by a formidable matron who had been a career nurse, and I mean 'run': she always moved at something approaching a run, and her rigidly styled hair and make-up left no one in any doubt of her ability to control practically anything.  She once told me that she washed her hair brush every day.  This astonishing pronouncement was delivered with an air of almost aggressive triumph.  Even now this seems over the top.  It does demonstrate the point though, that that place was REALLY clean, and anything that wasn't properly done was noticed immediately - and ruthlessly corrected.  I could have wished that the social comfort of residents was as closely attended to...but that's life - full of imperfections and inconsistencies!

    I'd learnt a lot but not everything, and still pick up tips and figure out new methods that make things easier or more satisfactory - not that I'm any kind of cleanliness paragon, no, no, not at all, but I'm reasonably clean and tidy.  However, even that depends on what else is going on in my life at the time.  The important thing is that I do know how to clean, and periodically have proper catch-up sessions which freshen everything up nicely and which I find satisfying. 

    In the context of glamorous television portrayals of other aspects of domestic prowess, I often sigh for the cleaners of the "Masterchef" kitchens and marvel at the spotlessly clean surfaces and cooking equipment; when watching shows like "Grand Designs" and "Hotel Inspector" I think of the acres of floors and fittings and furnishings that need to be vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed, and all the rest of it.  In home- as well as garden makeovers I see people swarming everywhere doing everything but cleaning, and what a lot of that there must be to get done before home owners are shown over their refurbished properties.  Cleaning can be hard, back-breaking, sweaty work, and without it, those places wouldn't look a patch of what they do in the final scenes.  

    Of all the television makeover shows I've come across the one I've seen that set cleaning in the most realistic perspective was "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy".  I enjoyed that show very much: marvelled at some of the changes they brought about, and was pleased to see that they placed emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene, both personal and around the home.  Most importantly they regularly gave at least some instruction about it - even made it seem like fun!  Bravo, Queer Eye!

    But books, where are the books that outline how to clean?  In all my days as a librarian I never came across a single one, not even in publishers magazines.  I've seen pamphlet-style publications about stain removal, but nothing more, until just recently when I came across a delightful little book entitled:
    "Next to Gods: a cleaner's story" by Don Franks.
    Disappointingly this book is now out of print.  The author opens his story with the acute observation that anyone who isn't a Cleaner is a Dirtier.  This is unarguable!  He also points out that the social status of these indispensable and hard-working people is usually so low as to cause any new acquaintance to lose interest or even become a bit haughty and condescending.  I know all about that from my own experience.  

    The cleaning work that Don Franks refers in his book is of office buildings which were cleaned at night.  Although he closes his humorous and wry commentary with a statement about the importance of doing a good job it's clear that for many cleaners the demands and expectations of business clients and cleaning franchise bosses are way beyond what could be considered reasonable or even possible.  Hence, he good-naturedly outlines schemes for taking short cuts when time limits loom, and impossibly large numbers of toilets and offices have yet to be cleaned.  Some of these are joking asides, such as placing Out of Order signs in front of the occasional toilet so as to save having to clean yet one more, but even so, the humour is a way of coping with unreasonable workloads.

    At some point I may write a selection of "how to" tips about cleaning myself. 

    Looking back on my own working life, populated as it has been with frequent struggles to do everything to the absolute best of my ability, I can see now that learning what aspects of a job can be passed over lightly or skipped entirely is as important as learning to do the work itself.  Day-to-day changes in circumstances require us to be adaptable.  Always being attentive to every detail can wear us out unnecessarily or just plain get in the way of what's important.

    Having said that, I do find it important to have a well-structured approach of what I need to do and when.  To this end I have developed my own schedules of what I like to get done around the house on both a daily and weekly basis.  For the interest of those to whom these may provide useful reference points I have published them in a separate article.
    In the meantime I raise a flag for cleaners and cleaning, and award them all bouquets and big thank you's for all their hard work.  And to Don Franks, congratulations for writing the book!

    Thursday, 5 April 2012

    Timaru's Sacred Heart Basilica ~ a visual delight

    Every time I drive through Timaru my heart lifts at the sight of the Catholic Basilica - it's such a beautiful building!  The main route north (and south) passes directly in front of it so it's impossible to miss: as one travels along the handsome avenue of mature trees one gets glimpses of its lofty grandeur through the greenery.  Last time I travelled through I made a point of stopping and taking some photographs.  

    There was a formal gathering under way and as I didn't wish to intrude I took these photos from a discreet distance.  Here it is approached from the southern side:

     Walking northwards I took these photos:

     A detail of the main dome:

    The northern face:

    What finer man-made structure could one wish to see above the tree tops?  None!

    The Timaru Catholic Church is part of the Christchurch diocese.  I was pleased to find these photographs on their website:
    This church, like the Basilica in Christchurch, was built in the Italian Renaissance basilica style, and not surprisingly both were designed by the same architect, Francis Petre, in the late 1800s. 

    I have mentioned the Christchurch Basilica, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in a later article: