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Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping Houseby Cheryl Mendelson
HOME COMFORTS ARCHIVE
Q: Is Spring Cleaning really necessary?
A: from Chapter 2: Easing into a Routine
Setting Up Schedules, Standards, and Goals. People used to be fond of the old saying that a housewife's work is never done, but you do not hear it much anymore, perhaps because today, so often, the housewife's work is never started. In any event, this maxim, like most, is only half true. Yes, you can always think of something else that could be done, and yes, you will do more tomorrow, but in fact there really is an end to what your routine calls for this day or week or year. You, however, are the one who sets limits. Beginners should recognize the importance of setting plausible and explicit goals in housekeeping so that they know when they are done. In my experience, the most common cause of dislike of housework is the feeling that the work is never done, that it never gives a sense of satisfaction, completion, and repose.
To avoid this, you have to decide what ordinary, daily level of functioning you want in your home. There ought to be a word for this level, but there isn't. When I was a girl, my mother used to say, when everything was on schedule and as she wanted it, "The house is done." Whatever words you use, you need to create end points that will let you, too, say to yourself, "Finished!" Otherwise you will feel trapped and resentful, in danger of becoming one of the many unfortunates who hate taking care of their own homes.
Another trap to avoid is that of inflexible standards and unrealistic expectations. You need different goals for ordinary times and times of illness, stress, company, new babies, long working hours, or other interruptions of your home routine. People with large houses, many children or guests, active households, or invalid parents will have to spread themselves more thinly and should not expect to be able to keep house like the Joneses. Also, the fewer your resources of all kinds — money, help, appliances, skills, time — the more modest will be the level of housekeeping you can realistically hope for.
When you cannot have everything, establish priorities. Health, safety, and comfort matter more than appearances, clutter, organization, and entertainment. A jumbled closet may distract you, but it is much less urgent than clean sheets, laundry, or meals. Excessive dustiness can be unhealthy as well as uncomfortable; smeary mirrors (usually) aren't. Clean the rooms you spend the most time in and those where cleanliness is urgent (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom); let everything else go. Polishing gems and organizing your photographs can be put off indefinitely.
When you fall below your ordinary standards of housekeeping, a backup plan can help prevent the fall from turning into a free fall. Planning how you will engage in a housekeeping retraction at such times and return to ordinary standards when the crisis is past keeps you in control. The goal during these hard times is to adhere, more or less, to some workable minimal routine. If you can still cook simple meals and food preparation areas are safe and sanitary, if everyone has clean clothes, if the bedrooms are dusted, vacuumed, and aired and the bedding is fresh, you are doing well.
Text Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
Q: What are some suggestions for shortening housekeeping?
Pare your routines. Do only the essentials. Keep the kitchen clean, the dishes washed, food and other essentials stocked. Dust and vacuum only the bedroom or other areas where anyone sleeps or spends large amounts of time. Keep the beds in fresh linens. Take a few minutes to wipe down the bathroom and its fixtures with a good disinfectant cleaner.
Text Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
Q: What are dust mites and how can I get rid of them?
A: Controlling Dust Mites. The presence of dust mites does not imply dirtiness, and they are a normal part of environments that offer favorable physical conditions for their survival. However, they can be controlled by effective housekeeping. To some extent, you may choose your level of caution. If you are allergic, you already know that you must go to great lengths to preserve your health and comfort and that you must follow the cleaning advice of your allergist, which may be more rigorous than that given here. Likewise, anyone who has an infant or child in the home may wish to be careful about dust-mite allergens so as to avoid sensitizing him or her, or aggravating the symptoms of any child already sensitized.
Text Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
Q: What are some of the precautions I should take when lighting my fireplace?
A: Building the Fire.The standard fireplace measures about 36 inches wide, 28 inches high, and 16-20 inches deep. Its inner walls angle inward toward each other somewhat, and often the back wall is sloped forward. To build a fire in a standard fireplace: Open the damper. Place two logs a few inches apart on the fireplace grate. Put crumpled pieces of newspaper between them. Cover the newspaper with kindling. When laying the kindling sticks down, crisscross them to leave plenty of air spaces. Prime the flue to get air flowing up the chimney. Light the paper. When the kindling is burning, add a third log across the top and more logs as necessary.
The Rumford fireplace is less common. Invented in the eighteenth century by Count Rumford (Sir Benjamin Thompson), it is designed to transfer more heat to the room and less to the chimney. It has a shallower firebox and a taller opening, and the sides are much more angled inward than in the standard fireplace. To build a fire in a Rumford fireplace: Place a sheet of newspaper against the fireback, and prop it up with a bundle of half a dozen pieces of kindling leaning on the fireback in the form of a narrow tipi. (You do not need a grate.) Place the logs in an outer tipi leaning against the inner cone of kindling. Make the tipi tall in proportion to the height of the firebox. Prime the flue to get the air flowing up the chimney. Light the newspaper behind the kindling bundle near the top. As the fire burns down the kindling, it will be necessary to adjust the logs and possibly add more newspaper to the top of the fire or under the kindling.
Text Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
HOME COMFORTS FACTS
Too Late to say You're Sorry
Pets.In certain circumstances, you will be liable both for injuries and for property damage caused by your pet. (Damage caused by livestock or farm animals is not discussed here.) If you live in an area where there are no leash laws or other ordinances governing pets, your liability is determined by common-law principles. Most cities and suburban areas and some rural areas, however, have enacted statutes or ordinances that alter or override common-law principles, either wholly or partly. Both types of law are summarized briefly below.
Dangerous Animals.In most jurisdictions that follow the common-law rules, as well as some statutory jurisdictions, your liability for injuries or damage caused by your pet depends on whether the pet is considered a dangerous animal — that is, whether it is likely to inflict serious damage or injury. The general rule is that a pet owner is "strictly" or "absolutely" liable for injuries or damages caused by a dangerous animal, so long as the owner knew or had reason to know that the animal was dangerous. "Strict liability" means that you are liable regardless of whether you were careless or negligent or somehow at fault. Even if you were careful to restrain and control a dog with a tendency to bite, you would be liable if it escaped through no fault of yours (for example, its pen was destroyed in a tornado, a third party set it loose, or you sprained your ankle while out walking it and could no longer control it) and caused an injury. The law says that the person who insists on keeping a dangerous animal, and not his or her neighbors, should bear the burden of the inevitable risks. This rule usually applies even if the injured person was a trespasser on your property.
It is not necessary for your dog actually to bite someone before you are put on notice that it is dangerous. If you have seen it straining at the leash or otherwise trying unsuccessfully to attack people or other animals, that might be sufficient for a court to deem that you should have known it was dangerous. In some states — Arizona, California, and Florida, for example — the owner need not have had warning of a dog's vicious tendencies to be liable. You are especially likely to be found liable if the animal is considered inherently dangerous — a wolf or shark for example.
In some jurisdictions animals can be legally considered dangerous as a result of doing things other than biting or attacking. A dog that jumps up on people could be considered dangerous because it might knock them down and injure them. A dog with a tendency to destroy crops or gardens might also be considered dangerous. Or it might be deemed dangerous if it chased cars or bicycle riders, barking furiously, potentially causing accidents for those who swerve to avoid hitting it or those who are distracted by it.
Watchdogs. Some people keep ferocious watchdogs; in doing so, they are taking a legal risk. A rule that is commonly followed with respect to watchdogs is that you are liable for any injury caused by your watchdog that you would not have been allowed to inflict in person or to cause the dog to inflict at your command. This means you would be liable if your watchdog attacked a mere trespasser (one who threatens no harm beyond his or her unlawful entry), because you yourself would not have been permitted to inflict injuries on the trespasser. In general, however, liability on your part is less likely to be found by the court when factors justifying the use of more force are present: the trespass occurs at night, evidence exists that the trespasser intended to commit a crime or posed a danger to you or your family, and so forth. Liability is also less likely to be imposed if a clear warning, such as "Beware of the Dog," is posted in an obvious place or if the dog is chained or otherwise effectively restrained. "Less likely," however, does not mean "impossible."
Nondangerous Animals. The general common-law rule regarding a nondangerous pet is that you are liable for damage or injury it causes if the damage or injury occurred through your negligence in controlling the animal. (Most well-populated areas, however, have statutes or ordinances that override the common-law rule and impose strict liability on owners for their pets' misdeeds; see below.) If the injury or damage was not foreseeable, you will not be liable; what is foreseeable is partly determined by your pet's character and your knowledge of it. Thus, if you live near a busy highway, you might be liable if you let your dog run loose, if you knew or should have known that the dog would try to cross it; it would be foreseeable that the dog could cause a serious accident. Similarly, if you know that your dog loves to dig up people's gardens, you could be liable for damages if it does so. You might be liable, too, for failing to restrain your vivacious pet around those who are frail or elderly — it is foreseeable that it might knock them off balance and leave them injured by a fall.
You will be held responsible for knowing the harm that perfectly well-behaved pets can do under special circumstances. For example, you should know that bitches with puppies and cats with kittens may bite those who touch their litter even though they are otherwise entirely gentle.
Statutes and Ordinances. The common law has been altered by statutes or ordinances in most areas. Frequently, a mix of common-law and ordinances or statutes operates simultaneously. In urban and suburban areas, leash laws are all but universal, but they vary widely in content. Some rural and suburban ordinances require restraint only of vicious dogs. But most cities require restraint of all dogs, and under some statutes the owner of an unrestrained dog may be prosecuted for maintaining a nuisance. Some leash laws create civil liability for injuries or damages arising out of violations; some do not. Penalties vary widely, fines being typical. In many cities, ordinances require cleaning up one's pet's droppings in public places.
If you have a pet, you should be sure to learn whether you live in one of the many jurisdictions with laws that create strict liability for injuries or damage caused by various domestic animals, dangerous or not. In these places you are potentially liable when your pet hurts someone no matter what you knew or should have known, and no matter how gentle your pet has always been. There are sometimes defenses against liability under these statutes, the most important being that the injured party somehow teased or provoked the animal.
Text Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
From Chapter 16: The Natural Fibers
Hand-washing. Before washing a sweater or other garment, draw its outline on a piece of sturdy paper or cardboard. To control shrinking, use cool water (but not icy-cold water) with a mild, neutral soap or detergent suitable for wool and for cool-water laundering.* You might try lukewarm water if the item is heavily soiled. Soak for three to five minutes. Then lift from beneath the article and gently squeeze suds through the material. Leave the garment in the water for as short a period as possible; the longer it is in, the more its fibers swell and weaken. Since wool loses strength when wet, wool fabrics should never be pulled, twisted, or wrung while wet. Rinse the article thoroughly in clear, cool water. To dry, roll it in a towel and squeeze gently. Then, using your drawing as a guide, block the garment to its original shape. If you need to, pin it to the shape. Let it dry flat on a towel or other clean surface away from direct heat or sunlight.
Machine-washing. Most wool blankets require dry cleaning. Some wool blankets, afghans, and certain wool sweaters and other garments can be machine-washed. Be sure to check the care label before proceeding, however. And before machine-washing a sweater or other garment that might lose its shape, draw an outline of it on a piece of paper or cardboard. Test for colorfastness before laundering any colored wools, especially prints.
"Superwash" indicates a 100% wool fabric that can be machine-washed and -dried because it has undergone chemical and resin treatments that eliminate felting and shrinkage. The Superwash treatment is permanent.
To reduce pilling from abrasion during laundering, use plenty of water. Set the machine on "gentle" or "delicate" for agitating, but use a fast spin; you want slow agitation, but you want to get the wool as dry as possible. Use cool wash water (lukewarm if the item is heavily soiled), and a mild detergent safe for wool and suitable for cool water and machine washing. Dissolve the detergent before adding the wool item. Fabric softeners are unnecessary. Wash each item briefly. Never leave wool to soak for more than a few minutes; keep the wash as brief as possible. Rinse with cool water.
Dry flat, blocking as for hand-washing, unless the care label instructions permit machine drying, in which case you will probably be instructed to use a low temperature. Superwash wools can be tumbled dry; be careful not to overdry. When you have air-dried blankets, sweaters, and other soft wools, you may then wish to put them in the dryer for a few minutes on the air-fluff cycle, which uses cool air, to fluff them up.
*One acquaintance recommends using shampoo on wool. This course is a bit risky, however, as some shampoos are quite alkaline and some contain medicines, colorants, conditioners, and extras that could harm or discolor your wools. However, it is true that a neutral or slightly acidic, gentle shampoo that contains no colorants or additives might clean wool nicely. Be sure to test first, and avoid products that look milky rather than clear, that contain conditioners or other additives, or that have bright or unusual colors.
Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
From Chapter 49: Some Quiet Occupations
How to Pick a Cookbook
Those who are setting up house will need at least one basic, comprehensive cookbook such as Joy of Cooking, or The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. This sort of cookbook includes all basic techniques and dishes and a variety of ethnic dishes that are widely enjoyed. Most people also want a set of narrower cookbooks that address their particular tastes in ethnic cookery, vegetarian cookery, low-fat cooking, and so forth. Books on nutrition and diet are particularly important in homes where someone has health or weight problems.
Read newspaper and magazine reviews. They are not always right, but they often give good tips on useful new cookbooks.
When in doubt, go for authors or books that have enjoyed long popularity or have become classics — Marcella Hazan on Italian cooking, Julia Child on French, Rick Bayless on Mexican, and so on. If a book has gone through two or more editions, that proves at least that it is a survivor.
Read a few recipes. Do they sound appealing? Do they require exotic ingredients you are going to have a hard time finding? Are the instructions clear? Are you looking for something more sophisticated? Easier? Quicker?
Has the book won any awards? Books that have won prizes are often good bets.
Watch out for glossy, expensive cookbooks with lots of colored photographs and few recipes. They take up room on the shelf, and you will not use them very often.
Watch out for gimmicks, theme books about one ingredient, dish, or food; celebrities' cookbooks; and jokey cookbooks. They are mainly money-making ideas by people without deep interest in or knowledge of their subject. But there are exceptions, of course.
If you are trying to learn about some kind of ethnic cookery, look to see whether the author provides suggested accompaniments and menus. If you are not used to Italian or Indian or Japanese cooking, you might need help planning a meal as well as cooking individual dishes. Look also for tips about how a dish is perceived and used in its native land: Is it for holidays? Casual occasions? Is it a seasonal dish? A breakfast dish?
Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
Chapter 57: Beds and Bedding
Durability in Sheets
Thread Counts. Do not be deceived into thinking that the higher the thread count, the better the sheet. This is an oversimplified and mistaken idea that is frequently purveyed by merchandisers and fashion writers. It may lead you into paying far more money for a sheet that will not last as long, feel as good, or launder as well as one with a lower thread count.
Until recent decades, most sheets sold were muslin, a cotton plain-weave cloth with a thread count of about 140. Hospitals and other institutions used muslin sheets exclusively because they were inexpensive, comfortable, and very long-lasting. Most people used them at home, too, especially on children's beds. The next grade of sheet was percale, with a thread count of 180. It felt finer and was also quite durable. In all middle-class homes until lately, there were no aspirations to any sheets better than 180 thread count percale. But in the 1980s increasingly higher thread counts in cotton sheets began to appear — 200, 220, 250, 300, and upward — and these typically had ever finer, softer, smoother hand and were made of ever better cotton — Egyptian cotton or pima cotton. Some of these, therefore, were and are good buys. Using fine yarns, high thread counts, and high-quality fiber, they achieve a good balance of durability, launderability, and improved hand. My favorite type of sheet for ordinary home use is a resin-free all-combed-cotton percale with a thread count of 200 to 250 and a care label that says merely "Machine wash."
But super-fine, super-soft, high-thread-count cotton sheets that are somewhat delicate are now on the market. For example, sateen sheets (cotton sheets in satin weaves), which have a slippery, sleek feel and a high luster, are popular today. These sometimes have high thread counts of 300 or 400 or more; yet they are less durable than plain or twill weaves because they use looser twists and floats in the weave, and they are very light and thin. They cannot be bleached; they soon acquire the grayish or yellowish tinge of aging cotton. They wear holes faster. They are costly. Of course, if they suit your fancy and your pocketbook, you should have them; and if you are on a budget, you can reserve them for special occasions, guests' beds, and the like. Just be sure you are not under the impression that you are necessarily getting a long-wearing (or highly launderable) sheet fitted for hard, everyday use. This will depend on many more factors.
Weave and Weight. Most sheets are plain-weave; a few are twill, in general the most durable type of weave. Both twill and plain-weave sheets tend to be more durable than satin weaves, because the latter contain threads with floats and low twist, which are vulnerable to abrasion and tearing. Cotton knit sheets tend to be less durable than woven ones. Heavier weight fabrics tend to be more durable than lighter.
Some of the high-thread-count cotton sheets in plain weave are very sheer and light. They are, therefore, quite lovely and cool, but they are not likely to wear as well as heavier sheeting, particularly if subjected to vigorous laundering and heavy use. You may wish to keep them for special occasions.
Copyright © 1999 by Cheryl Mendelson
General Guidelines for Good Pantry Storage A collection of pantry lore, old and new, follows. These are good habits that will keep the pantry orderly and pantry foods fresh and safe. Guidelines for the Pantry Guidelines for Storing Various Types of Foods On the shelf life of foods, refer to the Food Keeper, pages 131-41. Pests in the Pantry Your local extension service may give you advice on this subject that I have never been able to bring myself to follow. If you open your flour or cornmeal and find an association of beetles, weevils, meal worms, or other small creatures enjoying life there, you are not to panic and throw it out, unless the insects are numerous; these types are not harmful. Instead you are to get out a fine-mesh strainer or sifter and sift them out. Next put the flour, meal, or whatever had been infested into an air- and moisture-tight container and freeze it. (This gives you insurance that no progeny are left alive.) Then use the flour or meal with confidence. I have experienced three such infestations in my housekeeping life, two limited to a single box or package and one that affected several packages. What had happened was that I had bought items that were already inhabited at the market, and, in the third case, the infestation had spread from there at home. I could never manage even the straining or sifting, let alone eating food made of the flour or meal afterward, and so I simply threw all the infested foods out. Perhaps you will be more rational. The advice, in any event, does not apply to cockroaches, which can carry harmful or dangerous microorganisms. Whatever you choose to do about the infested package, take steps to protect your other foods against infestation. Remove everything from the cabinet and wash it thoroughly. One cooperative extension service I spoke to says you can use a pesticide approved for food areas in cracks and crevices that are difficult to clean. Without using pesticides, I successfully cured all three of my infestations with no recurrence. But your situation may be different, and you may find that you need pesticides. After you have washed the cabinet, examine all the boxes and packages that were stored in the vicinity of the infested one to be sure there are no insects in any of them. I found insects in a few packages that had never been opened; the insects either had bored through the paper side of the package or had managed to squeeze through a seam somewhere. If the packages are free of insects, replace them on the shelves when the shelves dry. Otherwise, throw out or sift, then freeze, as before. Remember that cross-infestation can be avoided if you keep vulnerable packages in plastic containers with tight lids. Most important, remember that bugs in the flour or meal have nothing to do with cleanliness, only with your luck. They are in no way due to your housekeeping.
General Guidelines for Good Pantry Storage
A collection of pantry lore, old and new, follows. These are good habits that will keep the pantry orderly and pantry foods fresh and safe.
Guidelines for the Pantry
Guidelines for Storing Various Types of Foods On the shelf life of foods, refer to the Food Keeper, pages 131-41.
Pests in the Pantry
Your local extension service may give you advice on this subject that I have never been able to bring myself to follow. If you open your flour or cornmeal and find an association of beetles, weevils, meal worms, or other small creatures enjoying life there, you are not to panic and throw it out, unless the insects are numerous; these types are not harmful. Instead you are to get out a fine-mesh strainer or sifter and sift them out. Next put the flour, meal, or whatever had been infested into an air- and moisture-tight container and freeze it. (This gives you insurance that no progeny are left alive.) Then use the flour or meal with confidence.
I have experienced three such infestations in my housekeeping life, two limited to a single box or package and one that affected several packages. What had happened was that I had bought items that were already inhabited at the market, and, in the third case, the infestation had spread from there at home. I could never manage even the straining or sifting, let alone eating food made of the flour or meal afterward, and so I simply threw all the infested foods out. Perhaps you will be more rational. The advice, in any event, does not apply to cockroaches, which can carry harmful or dangerous microorganisms.
Whatever you choose to do about the infested package, take steps to protect your other foods against infestation. Remove everything from the cabinet and wash it thoroughly. One cooperative extension service I spoke to says you can use a pesticide approved for food areas in cracks and crevices that are difficult to clean. Without using pesticides, I successfully cured all three of my infestations with no recurrence. But your situation may be different, and you may find that you need pesticides.
After you have washed the cabinet, examine all the boxes and packages that were stored in the vicinity of the infested one to be sure there are no insects in any of them. I found insects in a few packages that had never been opened; the insects either had bored through the paper side of the package or had managed to squeeze through a seam somewhere. If the packages are free of insects, replace them on the shelves when the shelves dry. Otherwise, throw out or sift, then freeze, as before.
Remember that cross-infestation can be avoided if you keep vulnerable packages in plastic containers with tight lids. Most important, remember that bugs in the flour or meal have nothing to do with cleanliness, only with your luck. They are in no way due to your housekeeping.
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