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Archive for the ‘Housework’ Category

When I left for the grocery store yesterday, I was feeling pretty smug. My freezer is FULL of meat, which is generally the most expensive item on my shopping list, and I’d come up with a meal plan that required only a small package of beef for stir frying. So I was feeling confident that my grocery bill would be nice and low.

Well, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, higher than normal. As I was doing Lamaze-style breathing while the checker scanned and scanned and scanned, my GAWD haven’t you reached the divider between my groceries and the next person’s yet?, I kept soothing myself with this thought: But they’re STAPLES.

I’d hit the trifecta of 1) Lots of fresh fruit at decent prices, and 2) Lots of good sales on Things We Always Need, and 3) Needing to buy more of things we’d either just run out of, or were close to running out of.

The woman behind me had a full cart, too. And it was kind of interesting to see the things that she was buying, in comparison to the things that I was buying. For instance, she had two gallons of milk (I buy a quart every… whatever the lifespan of a quart of milk is), a bunch of boxes of bran cereal, Thousand Island dressing, a big bag of pre-washed spinach, and a watermelon (among other things; I tend not to take thorough notes while poking through someone else’s grocery cart). I would never buy watermelon! I have only purchased spinach a few times! It’s so fun to see how different our lives are from other people’s!

It’s fun to think about what other people consider “staples.” Outside of flour and salt and olive oil, or whatever. Recently, I mentioned that half-and-half is a staple in our house, and Swistle, in the comments, noted that half-and-half is a staple in her home as well. And so I’ve been kind of wondering, what are the staples at YOUR house?

Here’s what they are in mine…

Produce: My husband eats a banana every morning, so I buy those every week. My daughter LOVES fruit, so I buy whatever is in season and least expensive. (Although yesterday I kind of went crazy, buying strawberries AND blueberries AND cherries, and I PLEDGE TO THE INTERNET GODS THAT I WILL WASH AND FORCE MY FAMILY TO EAT EVERY LAST MORSEL.) We eat a lot of broccoli and green beans as sides, so they’re usually on the list. Same goes for iceberg lettuce, which is (probably, I haven’t done any tests) nutritionally meaningless, and yet I can’t quit it. And onions, potatoes, and lemons are super versatile, so I buy them most trips to the grocery store, unless we’re flush with them for some reason.

Dairy: Shredded cheese is totally a staple around here. We eat tacos maybe once a week, and I like to make pizzas for lunch. My husband eats yogurt every day for lunch, so I’m always loading up on yogurt when there’s a good sale. Carla eats yogurt fairly regularly, but then sometimes she’ll boycott yogurt completely, and it’s impossible to tell what the next day will hold, so I buy a lot of the yogurt pouches you can freeze. They are super expensive, so when they are on sale I grab a ton. Half-and-half and sour cream are also staples.

Frozen: Carla, for some reason, loves frozen vegetables. So we usually have a bag of frozen green beans and a bag of frozen broccoli florets in the freezer at all times, and often a backup. She also enjoys the Mrs. T’s pierogis, so when they are on sale, I toss a box into my cart. Same goes for pancakes, French toast sticks, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets. You can almost guarantee you’ll find those things in our house on a given day, so if they are on sale I have trouble NOT buying them. (Which sometimes results in two unopened boxes of fish sticks in the freezer at the same time, so I really need to figure out how to curb that particular Must! Buy! Now! impulse. I think I am what advertisers call “a dream consumer.”)

Meat: We eat a lot of chicken and pork. I get my chicken at the grocery store when it’s on sale and freeze it in two-to-a-bag Ziplocs. I get the pork tenderloin at Costco (unless there’s a good sale). I also get beef at Costco and then grind my own meat for spaghetti, tacos, and chili. Carla LOVES fish. She started out strongly preferring salmon, but she’s branched out into things like opah and swordfish and tuna. So when it’s a good price, I buy some, cut it into small Carla-size chunks, and freeze it. Yesterday the wild salmon was $34.99 a pound and I wish I could all-caps a number because WHAT. So I am glad I still have a piece of more reasonably priced salmon lounging in my freezer for the next time Carla has a salmon craving.

Pantry: Our grocery store is always having sales on canned beans, which means that sometimes my pantry is overflowing with black beans, chickpeas, and dark red kidney beans. We always have a lot of tomato sauce on hand, as well as coconut milk, chicken stock, rice, and taco shells. Carla loves Cheez-Its and Goldfish, so we usually have one or both of those in our pantry. My husband drinks coffee and I drink tea, so we always have those on hand. My husband eats a specific brand of pretzels every day for lunch, and it is now impossible to find them at Target, so I buy two bags at a time just to make sure we don’t run out. Rice Krispies and applesauce are two other must-haves, although I HATE buying Rice Krispies when it’s not on sale, so sometimes we go without.

Spices: The spices I cannot live without are cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, garam masala, cardamom, and coriander. I am constantly buying those things on sale, to the point that one day I discovered I had more cumin than any person could ever use in a lifetime. (I have now gone for several months without buying cumin, which makes me feel a little panicky.)

Condiments: Ketchup is one of Carla’s I-Cannot-Live-Without-You condiment. She also likes maple syrup to an absurd degree; this morning she asked if I could pour some maple syrup into a little bowl for her so she could dip her strawberries in it. Um, no. Then there’s hot sauce, which I count up there with oxygen. Which is how my husband feels about peanut butter, so there’s always plenty of that to be found.

Alcohol: I am the only person in our household who drinks alcohol really at all, so I usually pick up a bottle of Riesling. We typically have gin on hand, for in-law visits and occasional gimlet cravings, but we are OUT of gin right now and I am not interested in replenishing it at this time. If we’re anywhere near having guests, I keep an eye out for wines with high Wine Spectator rankings that are under $10. Come to my house for cumin, stay for the cheap wine.

One of the magical things my mom could always do was whip up a meal out of items just lying around our house. (She didn’t, like, store pasta on the couch or anything. The items she cooked with were in normal food-storage locations.) I suppose, now that I think about it, she probably did meal planning just like I do. But it appeared that she could come home, open the freezer and take a peek in the pantry, and then just throw something together. After many years of buying my own groceries and making my own meals, I feel like I’ve finally reached that point. I prefer to plan out meals in advance (hahahaha – just kidding; I HATE meal planning) (but I do it anyway) (shakes fist at adulthood), but when I haven’t been able to get to the store, or we are just back from a vacation or whatever, I feel pretty confident that I can pull something meal-adjacent out of the items we have on hand. I mean, as long as I have some chicken breasts, a lemon, a potato, and some white wine, I can feed you something pretty delicious, if lacking in greenery.

(Re-reading this, I’m realizing that I am super lucky to be able to buy and stock so many fresh [and otherwise] foods, and I feel a Food Pantry Stock Up trip to the store with Carla coming on, so we can help other people fill their cupboards and bellies, too.)

Okay, now, your turn. Let me peek inside your grocery cart and pantry and fridge. What are the Must Haves and Can’t Live Withouts in YOUR house?

 

Groceries

Don’t be fooled; we had six total grocery bags, packed FULL of groceries. This is just a representative sampling because I didn’t have any other photos to add to the post. For example, I came home with four times the pictured amount of yogurt ALONE. 

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9:30 a.m. Decide to take a “break” from work to clean up after the party.

 

Might as well do some laundry. Toss a load in the washer.

 

Begin in the kitchen.

 

Move all the chairs out of the kitchen.

 

Swiffer the floor with a dry washable cloth.

 

Vacuum up all the thousand little bits of leaf and chip crumbs and lettuce shred and assorted detritus that 12 adults and five children track in and out over the course of six (!) hours.

Grout Before 0

De-messified de-detritused floor.

Throw the wet clothes in the dryer.

 

Swiffer the floor with a wet disposable cloth.

 

Assorted other cleaning. Might as well do some more laundry. Fold the dryer load. Start a new load of sheets to soak in Oxy.

 

10:00 a.m. Hmmm. Is my grout really as dirty as I think it is? Would it really be that difficult to clean the grout?

 

Choose a small section of tile near the garage door. A “high traffic” area.

 

Assemble scrubber brush, Target brand bleach spray, elbow grease.

 

Oh my god how have we been living like this.

 

There is a Significant Difference between “dirty grout” and “cleaner grout.”

 

Sit back to admire small patch of cleaner grout.

Grout Before 1

HOW HAVE WE BEEN LIVING LIKE THIS.

Oh no. Now there is such a stark difference between the cleaner patch and the rest of the kitchen I HAVE TO clean the rest of the grout.

 

Also, turns out that scrubbing the grout doesn’t eliminate the dirt. It merely removes it from the grout and spreads it in a sickly grey puddle across the rest of the floor.

 

So: Additional supplies. Bucket of clean water, sponge, washcloth.

 

10:10 a.m. Decide that this project necessitates a plan, or I am going to end up in a remote corner of the kitchen with no way to escape lest I step on the freshly cleaned floor and RUIN MY EFFORT.

 

Begin at the far end of the kitchen by the laundry room.

 

Geez, this grout is dirty.

 

And wow, so are the baseboards.

 

When was the last time I cleaned the baseboards? Maybe if I just use the sponge to…

 

And look at the pantry doors. Filthy! What if I just scrub a little of the…

 

FOCUS ON THE PROBLEM AT HAND.

 

Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge. Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge.

 

10:19 a.m. Okay, am done with the little hallway. Let’s see how long it takes to do the next section, and then I can estimate how long this entire project will take.

 

Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge. Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge.

 

Oh geez, the sponge is starting to shed little blue spongelets. Do I need to get a new sponge? I CANNOT. The extra sponges are conveniently located in the laundry room, which is now down a sparkly clean and wet hallway.

 

No matter! The spongelets will surely dry and I can vacuum them up later!

 

How in the name of cheesy nachos have I been living in a house with such filth? I mean, I’m not what one might call “tidy” but I am definitely what one might call “germ averse” and I kind of always thought that translated into “clean.”

 

Oh, how I love bleach. I don’t use it nearly enough.

 

This is hard work. I think I am developing a blister on my scrubbing hand.

 

Why didn’t I do this BEFORE we had a bunch of people over?

 

I wonder if they are all exchanging furtive phone calls this morning: “She’s a nice lady and everything but did you see that grout?”

 

Crouching is not an intuitive posture.

 

Wow, my husband is going to be so impressed when he comes home and sees how sparkly this kitchen is.

 

This is taking forever. I have been doing this forever.

 

My husband BETTER be impressed. The first words out of his mouth better be, “Wow, this floor looks AMAZING.”

Is there a Roomba for this?

 

My hands are starting to feel… odd. A little tingly. Should I have perhaps worn gloves?

 

This is taking FOREVER. Despair is setting in. I have not even finished a QUARTER of the kitchen, and already it is lunchtime.

 

What am I going to eat for lunch? Obviously I will eat potato chips leftover from the party.

 

Okay, I am FINALLY DONE with this section of the floor. Probably an eighth of the entire kitchen. I am going to be doing this for the next twenty years. Time check:

 

10:29 a.m. Oh wow. That didn’t really take that long. But it felt like forevvvveeerrrrrr.

 

Can I give up? I can totally give up. A small section of floor that is now clean is better than not having done anything.

Grout Before + After 2

No choice but to keep going until the bitter end.

But… Look at the Dramatic Difference. It will be 100% clear that I just gave up. BAH.

 

More scrubbing. Is the bleach spray losing its efficacy? Am I scrubbing less heartedly? Heartily? Half-heartedly?

 

Wow, our floor is really scuffed up.

 

Hmmm. Some of those “scuffs” seem to be old-banana-turned-floor-adhesive. GONE.

 

Why oh why did I ever begin this stupid project? I WAS BETTER OFF NOT KNOWING JUST HOW GROSS THIS WAS.

 

Oh. No.

 

I am going to have to do this again in the future.

 

How often do people scrub their grout? Is this, like, a weekly thing? Monthly? Probably more often than “never,” though.

 

Okay, my finger is distinctly numb now. I probably have some bleach-related neuropathy that will leave me permanently tingly in my pointer finger. GREAT.

 

Everyone who visits my house from now on had better comment on how great my floors look.

 

11:00 a.m. Okay! I have reached the Quarter Floor mark! Time for lunch!

 

— Long break during which I eat, do some writing —

1:30 p.m. Time to resume. Let’s knock this thing out!

 

This time I will wear gloves. The only thing I can find are some gardening gloves that are… not waterproof.

 

Better than nothing! This is apparently my motto now!

 

Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge.

 

Man, the clean grout doesn’t look AS CLEAN as I’d anticipated. It’s still a little greyish.

Grout After 3

This grout is ALL SCRUBBED. Even though it doesn’t really look like it.

NO MATTER. Let’s not dwell on that.

 

The water bucket seems to be getting grimier than it did earlier.

 

Should I be wearing a mask or something? Or opening windows? Breathing in all this bleach spray can’t be that good for me.

 

“Whatever happened to your beautiful, brilliant mother, Carla?” “Oh, it’s terribly sad. She ruined her lungs and fingers with bleach spray in a 2016 tragedy.” “I’m so sorry to hear that.” “Yes, truly devastating. But I have grown up with such a deep admiration for her dedication to clean living. Her motivations were pure.”

 

Why is there so much HAIR on my floor? How is it that my husband and daughter and I aren’t completely bald?

 

All visitors must immediately comment on how clean and beautiful my floor is or my life is worth nothing.

 

It doesn’t really LOOK LIKE it’s that clean, but IT IS.

Grout After 1

IT IS.

I vow from this day forth to heap effusive praise on my friends for their beautiful kitchen floors.

 

3:00 p.m. Finally all the grout has been scrubbed and sponged clean.

 

Now, a once-over with the wet disposable Swiffer cloths.

 

The floor looks remarkably similar to how it did before all this work.

Grout After 2

I swear I spent three hours scrubbing this floor. IT IS CLEAN.

— LESSONS LEARNED —

 

  1. Don’t even bother to clean your grout.
  2. If you do, it’s pretty satisfying in terms of cleaning projects. You can SEE the difference as you go, and it’s hard and physical. If I had Mad Feelings to work through, it would have been even better.
  3. I am 100% certain it counts as a High Intensity Workout, what with all the crouching and the vigorous scrubbing and the gripping of the scrub brush.
  4. As soon as some sort of Monetary Windfall drops our way (I am not anticipating such, but a girl can dream) I am going to replace all of this horrid tile with beautiful, easy-to-clean hardwood.
  5. OH CRAP. All three bathrooms are tiled in this same tile, and now I need to clean THAT grout.

 

It smells much too enthusiastically of bleach in here. I am going to go take a shower.

GRATIFYING UPDATE: My husband not only noticed the floor, he kept commenting on it! He must have marveled at how clean it was a good three or four times. Am very smug. Despite the fact that the inside of my nose now permanently smells like bleach.

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  • Thank you SO MUCH for your responses to my Toddler Lunches perplexity. I truly NEVER thought about LESS variety. Which is odd, considering that I eat about three different things on a rotating basis, and my husband eats pretty much the same thing every day. On purpose! So I think I am going to Calm Down and maybe give her two PBJ sandwiches each week. MAYBE THREE! I have also fully embraced pre-packed things, especially fruit cups. The daycare has a requirement that we include at least one fruit or vegetable in each lunch, so having a selection of those little cut-up peaches/pears/oranges to drop into the lunchbox is very helpful.
  • Speaking of things that you have helped me with: we survived the new babysitter. I had my husband write out a list of emergency numbers, and asked her show up 15 minutes early so I could walk her through things. Then, per Swistle, I let her know a couple of times that she could text at any time with anything. (She only did so once, to let us know that Carla went to the bathroom before bed [she is not potty trained yet] and asserted that she gets a piece of candy for doing so [which is true].) She was very laid back and confident, and all went well. I like to think that this moderate amount of preparation indicates a calm and confident attitude on my part, but it does not.
  • Carla has mastered the concept of seeing one’s image reflected in a mirror, but she calls it her “collection” instead of “reflection.”
  • The laundry situation is once again out of control. We keep USING laundry and then WASHING it, but no one in my household seems inclined to FOLD or PUT AWAY the laundry.
  • Few things make me feel older than walking purposefully upstairs, saying over and over to myself, “why am I going upstairs? why am I going upstairs? why am I going upstairs?” until I remember why I started up the stairs in the first place.
  • Speaking of feeling old: I got a manicure the other day – which, incidentally, is one of Life’s Most Uncomfortable Experiences for me, seeing as you are sitting two feet from a stranger who is trimming your nails and cuticles while making small talk and you CANNOT LEAVE and then sometimes, despite all your careful planning, you have to ask said stranger to reach into your purse for something lest you smudge your nails – and I turned to TV, which is one of my Go To small talk topics, and asked her if she was watching the OJ Simpson mini series. “Of course, you must be too young to remember the actual trial,” I said. I mean, I was a high school freshman and she seemed a bit younger. Turns out that no, she does NOT recall the actual trial because she was a baby. A literal baby. Born in 1995, the actual year during which the criminal trial took place.
  • This winter, I’ve been All About Carbs – lots of noodley dishes on the menu. But this weekend I couldn’t bear the thought of LOOKING at a noodle, so I decided to do a big stir fry with lots of bell peppers. And as I was prepping the meal, I just sort of marveled at the perfect green pepper I was holding. It seems like such a LUXURY to have access to summer produce when there are eight inches of snow on the ground and the temperature hasn’t been above 20 degrees in several days. I remember my mother lamenting the lack of green peppers during winters when I was a kid. They were either shriveled and wrinkly or $4.99 apiece or BOTH. I don’t know if that’s a factor of the remote location in which I grew up, or that green pepper production and distribution is a booming-er business now than it was DECADES AGO when I was a child. But it seems miraculous, really.

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The fact is, no matter how much you WANT someone to come up with things on his/her own…

…to want to DO certain things on his/her own…

…or at least to acknowledge that SOME things are the responsibility of BOTH members of the household, and should therefore be done by each member of the household approximately half of the time…

…or to note – with his/her own eyes – that certain things need doing, and then to at least ASK if it would be helpful if he/she took care of them…

…or even simply to understand that the small act of doing those things is a) thoughtful and b) going to alleviate frustration and possible yelling on the part of the other member of the household…

Well, the fact is that WANTING these things to happen amounts to just short of nothing.

And yet I cannot help the wanting. Even though it leads to major frustration on my part.

However! What I cannot seem to get through MY thick skull is that there is a Simple Answer!

All I have to do is ASK the other member of my household to take care of Annoying Thing That It Seems Like Only I Ever Do, and magically, he takes care of it!

If only I could REMEMBER that simple step, I would save myself YEARS of put-upon grumbling and resentfully forceful dishwashing/trashcan-emptying/refrigerator-clearing!

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This morning I grabbed a (used) glass sitting on the island in our kitchen, filled it with water, and drank the water.

I figured, “Eh, the glass was used by either me or my husband, so what’s the big deal?”

Plus, I was 99% certain that it was my glass, anyway – the one that had spent the night on my bedside table.

But nonetheless, this was uncharacteristic of me.

Typically, if there is any tiny hint of doubt about a glass’s ownership, I will grab a fresh glass from the cupboard.

I tell you this not to illustrate my weirdness. (If you are a regular here, you already know I am a huge, huge weirdo.) I tell you this to illustrate the fact that I have very specific boundaries.

It extends beyond sharing glasses and forks and such.  I mean, if I have trouble contemplating drinking from a glass that may have been sipped from by my husband… just imagine how I handle having not one but THREE other people sleeping under my roof and helping themselves to a handful of chips from my pantry or flopping down on my couch or spreading the newspaper out all over my table.

I am not great at sharing my space, is what I’m saying.

So you likely won’t be surprised that I tend to have a little… anxiety when it comes to having houseguests.

It’s such a mental struggle for me, because on the one hand, I really WANT to be The Perfect Hostess, with the warm, welcoming house and the comfortable guest rooms and the easy breezy “my home is your home” attitude. I would love to be the kind of person who makes you feel like you’re on vacation and every time you leave, you can’t wait to come back.

On the other hand, having people in my house makes me uncomfortable. Partly, I think, because of all that self-imposed pressure to be The Perfect Hostess. I feel like I need to wake up at 6:00 am and pick fresh flowers for my guests’ bedside tables and whip up an egg-white-and-spinach omelet and grind fresh coffee.

Okay, I may FEEL like that, but I don’t do any of that. Which makes me then feel guilty and like I could be doing more and voila! Anxiety!

I’m uncomfortable partly because this is my space. It’s not just my home, the place I sleep. This is my office, my workspace, my creative arena, my sanctuary from the world. It’s hard for me to erase the niggling feeling of “intruder alert!” when I have visitors. No matter who those visitors are – my parents, my best friend, even my HUSBAND, when he’s home during the day sometimes.

I’m uncomfortable also because of the aforementioned boundary issues. I would love nothing more than to say, “Make yourself at home!” and mean it. And I DO mean it. At least, I want to mean it. But the idea of someone rooting around in my fridge or flipping through my television channels makes me a little woozy. And then I feel terrible for being so territorial and strange and unhostessy. Anxiety.

I’m uncomfortable ALSO because I’m just not used to people. I have been working from home for SEVEN YEARS. That’s a lot of alone time. I LIKE people, truly, I do! But it’s like going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and turning on the light and squinting a lot and bumping into things because you’re not accustomed to the brightness. I feel out of my element… so I try to overcompensate for the discomfort by over-preparing and being overly cheerful and witty… and then I worry that I’m not being cheerful and witty and hostessy enough and BAM. Anxiety again!

Plus, I am incapable of having people in my house just doing their own thing. If people are in my house, I need to be feeding them or pouring them wine or entertaining them. It’s stupid, especially when it’s people like my parents who are visiting for multiple days and a) can entertain themselves and b) don’t expect me to entertain them and c) probably want some time to just chill without me hovering over them and pouring Chardonnay down their throats.  And yet… if I am, say, taking a shower and I know that my guests are downstairs in the living room – probably very happily reading a book or leafing through a newspaper on their own – I am doing that internal hyper-hamster-on-an-exercise-wheel thing that prevents me from being normal or shaving my legs or appropriately applying mascara.

PLUS, I have this nervous tic where I have to be cleaning CONSTANTLY. So even if I have no trouble leaving dishes in the sink on a normal night if necessary, I will stay up until one in the morning making sure that the kitchen is spotless when my guests awaken the following morning. (This is in part because cleaning gives me a [false, probably] sense of control over my universe.)

Basically what I’m saying is that having guests is exhausting. And yet, I persist because a) it is a normal, human thing to open one’s home to friends and family and b) I really, really, REALLY want to be The Perfect Hostess.

SIGH.

I am thinking about this because my in laws are visiting this week. My husband’s residency program is throwing a special dinner to congratulate the third years on successfully completing residency. (SOB! My husband is nearly a FELLOW! Seems like just yesterday that he was starting medical school in his short white coat!) They are actually here in town already, staying with friends for a couple of days. Which is very kind of them, considering that a) I have to work all week and b) my husband is working nights this week, which means he’ll be sleeping during the day.(GUILT. ANXIETY.)

Let’s be clear: I love my in laws. They are kind and generous and fun. My mother-in-law is always full of interesting conversation and my father-in-law can make the BEST gin and tonic. And they are GREAT houseguests because they are very easy. They don’t require much of ANYTHING.

And yet… ANXIETY.

I think it’s a combination of:

  1. All of the above mess of me wanting to be The Perfect Hostess plus my weird hermit-like tendencies.
  2. My mother-in-law is an excellent, wonderful hostess herself, so I feel like I have big shoes to fill.
  3. I want them to have a relaxing, enjoyable time.
  4. WORK.
  5. My husband is working NIGHTS, which means all hosting duties fall to me and me alone.

So of course I’ve been fretting and over-preparing. Which I am sure would make my in laws feel HORRIBLE if they knew. Which makes me feel guilty. Annnnnnd hello there, anxiety.

I’ve done some shopping. We probably won’t eat here at all, although I really should make another run to the grocery to pick up something nice that I can throw together quickly just in case. (Although making something comes with its own set of frets: my in laws – although I’m sure they would kindly and enthusiastically eat ANYTHING I gave them – try to eat healthfully, and so they don’t eat pasta which is really my go-to for easy and delicious Meals for Guests. Other things I know they’d eat are impossible – like grilled food, as we don’t have a grill – or too time consuming – like coq au vin or boeuf bourgignon – or too something.) (Internet, before you helpfully jump in with suggestions, let me tell you that I host book club maybe twice every 18 months and I worry about what I’m going to make for dinner ALL YEAR LONG. I’ve considered my options, is what I’m saying.) I spent a RIDICULOUS amount of money on gin because my father-in-law drinks one gin and my mother-in-law drinks another and they both sometimes prefer to have a gin and tonic, which they like with a THIRD gin. (And I know – I KNOW – if I offered them a drink, they would take whatever crappy old gin I had in the cupboard, and if I didn’t have gin, they’d take wine or water or WHATEVER. THEY are not picky, is what I’m saying. It’s just that, as The Perfect Hostess, I like being able to provide them with their favorites.) My mother-in-law doesn’t drink caffeine, so I got her favorite brand of soda.  I know my father-in-law likes to eat Greek yogurt and berries. And usually he likes a little protein with breakfast, so I got some smoked salmon. And of course THEN I had to get capers and lemon. Although I didn’t get bagels, because those are better fresh. And GAH I FORGOT THE RED ONION. I bought two kinds of flowers so I can put flowers in each bedroom. And I clipped some peonies from our peony bush (!!!) so I can have fresh flowers in the kitchen. (They may not live long – their stems are very short.) (Fortunately there is a whole bush full of understudies.) The guest beds have clean sheets and I dusted and cleaned the bedrooms and the bathroom. I put STACKS of replacement toilet paper under the bathroom sinks and I have a huge basket full of travel-size toiletries. The linen closet is full of fresh towels and extra blankets and pillows and slippers.  I put empty hangers in the bedroom closets. There are empty drawers in the dressers. There are brie and cheddar and something from Trader Joe’s called “truffle cheese” and fancy crackers and water crackers and chips and olives. I’ve got homemade brownies in the fridge. Although  CRAP I DON’T HAVE ANY DECAF COFFEE!!

And my house is CLEAN, although it still needs quite a bit of neatening. And I’m worrying about how hot our upstairs gets in the summer. (We’ve closed all the vents in the bottom two floors, to force the air conditioning to focus on the upper floor. But it doesn’t work GREAT.) I’m fretting that everyone is going to be wide awake at sunrise because the shades on the bedroom windows do nothing to keep out the copious amounts of bright sunshine that blaze in around 6:00 am. I haven’t swept the back porch, primarily because two sparrows have built a nest in the retractable awning above the sliding door and they leave a HORRIBLE MESS so sweeping is really pointless.  The dining room has two tables, since I still haven’t been able to get rid of the old table (and it is too big and too heavy to move OUT of the dining room, not that there’s a BETTER place for it). I’m embarrassed that there’s no chair or anything in the guest rooms.  (Not that we have money in the budget for Guest Room Chairs, of course.) And and and.

My in laws used to LIVE HERE, in this very city. They have friends here and I’m sure they have lots of things to occupy them while they’re here. And yet I am so WRACKED WITH GUILT that I’ll be working this week and my husband will be sleeping and they’ll have to entertain themselves and I don’t even have anything appropriate to make them for dinner.

Listen, there’s a rational part of my brain in there somewhere. Sure, it’s the slim, introverted mumbles-a-lot type next to the Type A cheer captain of anxiety when it comes to vying for my attention. But it’s there, reminding me gently that my in laws are kind, understanding people who have assured me repeatedly that they can entertain themselves and they understand that my husband and I have other occupations this week and they will just take what they can get. It’s squeezing my hand, firmly, and saying, “Remember how you feel when YOU visit people? How you want to not be a bother and how you are perfectly capable of sitting quietly and reading a book or taking a drive by yourself to the zoo or the art museum or TARGET for Pete’s sake? How you would rather stay in a hotel or STAY HOME than cause people any measure of the anxiety that you are feeling right now? SHUT UP ANXIETY, PUT THE POM POMS AWAY.”

I am sharing all this with you, Internet, because I know you won’t judge me. You won’t focus on what a complete over-thinking psycho I am being about all this. (You may roll your eyes, but you’ll do it behind my back as you stroke my hair.) Instead, you will tell me soothing things so that I don’t feel like such a Total Hostess Failure.

(And I AM a Total Hostess Failure. I realize this. One of our friends offered to bring his own sheets when he visited us, so worried was he about causing me the extra stress of laundering sheets for the guest room. I drove someone to want to furnish his own bedding in my house? That’s… a pretty low feeling, Internet.)

And what I need from you – the calm hand stroking my hair – is for you to tell me what YOU do to prepare for guests.  Do you do an extra special Deep Clean? Do you plot out an agenda? Do you plan special meals? Do your hosting efforts differ depending on whether your guests are friends or parental types?

And what do YOU expect when you visit others? Do you like to have everything planned out? Do you like to have some alone time to explore? Do you enjoy it when your host has stocked the fridge with your favorite fruit and beer?

Please, distract me from my fretting.

While you do that, I’m going to go clean my oven.

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I have not actually SLEPT since the exterminator came to our house. Oh no. Instead, I jerk out of sleep three thousand times a night to scan the walls and ceiling for silverfish shadows.  And all day long I see little flickers of my own hair movement from the corner of my eye, and snap my head around to face the menacing hordes head on.

So far, I haven’t seen a one. BUT we all know that they are waiting for me to become complacent. Then they will appear by the multitudes.

ANYWAY, let’s talk about Not Bugs.

Do you remember the Hideous Green Wall? If not, here is a little reminder:

Why is that clock SO BIG? (Pictured: Not our clock. Or our TV. Or our stripey wall-coordinating couches.)

Some of my sweet readers previously mentioned that they didn’t think the wall was all that bad. Oh readers. You are so kind. But really. In person, it was HIDEOUS.

“Was” is the operative word in that sentence.

Because the Hideous Green Wall…

Seriously. I have NEVER SEEN a bigger clock. I mean, outside of London.

…is gone! (Mostly. More on that in a second.)

My husband and I rented a reaaaaallllllllllllllly tall ladder from The Home Depot. Which wasn’t THAT MUCH less expensive than BUYING the ladder. But we already HAVE a ladder, albeit a shorter one. I mean, there are only so many reasons one needs a thirty-foot ladder, am I right?

TWO LADDERS! At the SAME TIME! We really know how to live it up here at Chez DoktorHaus!

Then we made a split second decision to paint the wall NOT the beautiful Hinting Blue hue we’d decided on months and months ago. Instead, we painted it a shade darker – Honest Blue. (I’m betting the good folks at Sherwin Williams wanted to call it “True Blue” but discovered that those bastards at Benjamin Moore had already bogarted that name for one of their colors.) I was suspicious of Honest Blue. It sounds a little full of itself, no? But it wasn’t quite as dark as I thought it would be. And it opens the door for us to use Hinting Blue – so coy, Hinting Blue – in the kitchen. So Honest Blue it was!

I think it turned out really well!

The clock is gone and SO IS THE GREEN!

How do you like it, Internet?

Let me tell you something about the previous home owners. They took very good care of the house. But they were terrible at painting. TERRIBLE. My husband and I (okay, mainly my husband) are meticulous about painting. We use that green frog tape on all the edges and we keep a damp paper towel handy to quickly eliminate any mistakes. But the previous homeowners had a very… liberal view of “lines” and “edges.”

Which means that my husband had to twist his body at odd angles while hanging precariously from the super-tall rented ladder while he hand-painted the dark green paint that meandered along just on the wrong side of the wall/ceiling joint.

But… it’s pretty! And it feels so much lighter and happier than that oppressive dark green.

Mini Digression: That couch? The lovely, probably expensive, very GENEROUS gift from my in-laws? Is the most uncomfortable couch in all the lands. It's also filled with feathers. Stabby, stabby feathers.

And I think that the fireplace – we all know my feelings about the fireplace, DON’T WE – looks like less of a hulking monstrosity with the blue. LESS, I said. I still want to paint at least the mantle white. But I no longer want to gouge my eyes out on the bricks every time I look at it.

Although…

There is ONE THING, Internet.

One additional example of how little the previous home owners cared about paint.

Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy??????

ACK.

SERIOUSLY, poorly captioned close up. WTF indeed!

Who… does that?

(Don’t worry. We’ll paint them white, to match the baseboards in the rest of the room. [Which are WHITE like normal baseboards in a room that has three walls’ worth of WHITE BASEBOARDS.] We just haven’t gotten around to it quite yet.)

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Dear Reader –

If you pay rent or a mortgage in an apartment or home; or if you are living in an apartment or home and perhaps SHOULD be paying rent or helping with the mortgage; or if you are visiting an apartment or home, you will you be very interested to discover the following breakthrough techniques for enjoying your time in the kitchen.

In fact, upon reading these techniques and putting them into action during your next visit to a kitchen, you should not be surprised to discover a positive, grateful atmosphere; an environment free of nagging or heavy sighs or teary shouting. You may even find yourself on the receiving end of some blush-worthy praise!

That’s what I call Real Kitchen Fun!

Let’s get started!

 

Lesson One: Clearing the Table

But beloved author! you may be thinking. My host’s/my table does not reside in the kitchen! Shouldn’t this be a more appropriate entry in your Guide to Proper Dining Room Behavior?

No, dear reader! You are sorely mistaken! But you have come to the right place. I will help ensure that you will never face such an embarrassing misunderstanding ever again!

In fact, clearing the table is the first step to Fun with Kitchen Cleaning.

When you have finished dining in an apartment/house – no matter where you choose to dine – it is often helpful to offer to clear the table.

Point A:

If you are a guest, ask first. The hostess may prefer to clear the table on her own – either to spare you the inconvenience, since you are a treasured guest, OR to spare herself the inconvenience of having guests balance picked-over plates willy nilly all across her counters.

If you reside in the apartment/house, you may have free rein to clear the table in the manner specific to your parent/spouse/partner/roommate. This may require some attentiveness before you attempt your first table-clearing. But you can speed the learning process along by asking your parent/spouse/partner/roommate what s/he would prefer.

Once you have been given the all clear on clearing all, don’t forget to clear the entire table! (That means napkins, glasses, salt and pepper shakers, placemats, that bit of gristle you put on the side of your plate, the empty Diet Sprite can, et al.)

Point B:

In some cases, it may be appropriate to simply stack the cleared dishes near the sink. The nearer the better! But careful! Refrain from creating precarious skyscrapers out of bowls topped with plates topped with glasses topped with soup tureens.

In other cases, it may be appropriate to clear the plates further.

To find out which case applies to you, just ask!

If you are given the go-ahead to do further clearing, follow these handy tips:

– Big food items should probably go in the rubbish bin.

– Make sure you determine whether the sink has a garbage disposal before clearing any plates into the sink.

– Make sure you clear food waste into the side of the sink with the garbage disposal.

– It may be tempting to simply dump and go, but proper procedure requires that you make sure the sink is clear of all food particles before declaring yourself done with clearing.

Fun Fact: Just because you have cleared the table doesn’t mean you are done! There is more kitchen fun to be had!

 

Lesson Two: Unloading the Dishwasher

***Only applicable if you or your host possess a dishwasher.***

It can be tricky to determine whether the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty. Your best course of action is to open the dishwasher and look!

Some clues as to whether the dishes are clean:

– The plastic storage containers on the top shelf are beaded with water – inside and out.

– The overturned coffee mugs contain a small lip of water.

– The dishwasher “clean” light is on.

Fun Fact: You can unload the dishwasher at any time!

If you have determined that the dishes are dirty, feel free to add any dishes you may have set near the sink to the dishwasher.

(Suggestion for guests: It may be best for you to ask before completing the remainder of this lesson.)

If the dishwasher is full, you can add soap to the dispenser and run it!

If you have determined that the dishes are clean, now it’s time to unload! Hahaha – removing the one glass you need to drink from and then leaving the kitchen is a hilarious prank! But seriously. Now you can unload the dishwasher.

First, wash your hands! Some people choose to skip this step, but I strongly urge you to complete it before proceeding. Because putting your dirty hands all over clean dishes seems counterproductive, no?

Important Note: “I don’t know where this goes” is not an appropriate comment if you are residing in the house. Hint: Look through cupboards until you find the likely habitat of the plate you’re holding!

Once you have finished unloading the dishwasher, now’s your chance to initiate…

 

Lesson Three: Loading the Dishwasher

Now we’re in for some serious kitchen fun!

Put dirty dishes – which have been cleared of all large food particles – into the dishwasher!

Heavy items – dishwasher-safe pots, pans, plates, and bowls – go on the bottom shelf. Lighter and more fragile items – Tupperware containers, coffee mugs, drinking glasses – go on the top. Some people like to put their cutlery facing down; others like it to face up. No matter which type of person your parent/spouse/partner/roommate/host is, you’ll want to put the knives into the cutlery basket sharp end down.

One of the mysterious joys of the dishwasher is that it holds much more than you think it might! Experiment with moving items around in different arrangements to fit the most dishes – while still making sure the water will reach them – possible.

Fun Fact: A parent/spouse/partner/roommate may have done the same task every day for twenty years, but that does not mean s/he enjoys completing that task. Nor does it mean that YOU cannot complete that task instead! (This guide is blowing your mind, I know it!) When in doubt, remember this: Kitchen fun is for everyone!

 

Lesson Four: Cooking!

While I advocate cleaning up while you are creating your culinary masterpiece, it is not the only option.

But if you decide NOT to clean as you go, do remember to clean AFTER you have produced your gourmet creation. This may involve cleaning the top of the stove; inside the microwave; various floors; cabinets; and the wall behind the stove.

Fun Fact: If you can imagine a place where grease spatter or sugar particles may have reached, you’ll want to clean it! Be creative – you can even make a game out of trying to track down every last splatter of sauce or crumb of bread.

After slaving over a hot stove, I know that clearing your dishes to the sink feels like quite an accomplishment. You’ll be surprised to know that doing so is leaving the job half done. Instead, you should fully clean your dishes, either by hand-washing them or by running them through the dishwasher.

Important Note: Saying “I made the food, so someone else should do the dishes” is only appropriate when Someone Else has agreed to this arrangement before the cooking commences.

Now, what I have to say next may sound completely counterintuitive (although what is Kitchen Fun without a little hypocrisy?!). But if someone has done you the honor of making you a meal? You can still do ALL of the following:

– Wash the dishes you’ve eaten from!

– Put unused food back into the refrigerator/cupboards! (Using appropriate storage containers, of course!)

– Put away serving dishes!

– Clear the countertops! (More on that in the next lesson…)

If you are a guest, of course, you should check with your host before tackling this kind of kitchen fun. But even the simple act of offering to help can express your gratitude for being fed!

 

Lesson Five: Countertops

After you have finished baking, cooking, eating, preparing, clearing, or washing is the perfect time to clean the countertops!

Using cleanser or cleansing cloths or whatever else your parent/spouse/partner/roommate/host prefers, simply spray and wipe the counters clean.

Helpful Hint: Instead of brushing counter detritus onto the floor, brush it into your hand and transport it – via your hand – to the trash!

Make sure you get all counters! Yes, even that one!

 

Lesson Six: Observation

Now, dear reader, this is a master level Kitchen Behavior technique. But I think you are READY to hear it!

Whenever you are in the kitchen, take a look around. If you see something that needs to be done – a heavy pot still bearing remnants of last night’s stew; a pile of plates sitting in the sink; a bowl sitting forlornly on the table – use the previous lessons you’ve learned to take care of it.

Fun Fact: Even if your parent/spouse/partner/roommate/host hasn’t asked you to do anything in the kitchen; hasn’t nagged you repeatedly about doing something in the kitchen; isn’t complaining about doing that very task, day in and day out without help, you can STILL have Kitchen Fun any time you want!

Now You Are Ready to Have Fun in the Kitchen!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief lessons, dear reader. They are by no means comprehensive, but I believe they have given you an excellent foundation for immense pleasure and satisfaction every time you set foot in the kitchen.

I have every confidence that you will apply them with ease and grace… and that, in doing so, you will be showered with appreciation and accolades.

If you’ve found these lessons helpful, be on the lookout for my upcoming Guide to Finding Items Your Parent/Spouse/Partner/Roommate SAYS Are in the Fridge/Closet/Cupboard But Have Not Jumped Out to Announce Themselves.

Wishing you great success in the kitchen and in life,

Your Grateful Author

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