Nov 182014
 
My son, proving Phyllis Diller's famous quote true: "“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”  He sabotaged my efforts first with baking soda and then maple syrup!

My son, proving Phyllis Diller’s famous quote true: ““Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” He sabotaged my efforts first with baking soda and then maple syrup!

As the holiday season approaches, one of the most dreaded tasks is cleaning your house for hosting guests. There is enough to do with all the cooking and decorating but the cleaning obligations can take over your life!

I have been immersed in a fall deep clean of the house lately to get ready for entertaining. Our home always needs a twice yearly scrub-down, including shampooing carpets, cleaning upholstery, dusting, etc. It could probably use it more often but I can only summon the energy twice a year!

There is no secret to making all this scrubbing for company a bit easier. The current popular aesthetic is not only for things to look clean but also to look brand new. If you have an older house, that is tougher to pull off and requires more scrubbing effort. It is hard, back-breaking work but it does look great when it is done and guests love it.

Through a long process of trial and error cleaning my own home, I have come up with a few cleaning tips that are making a big difference in my house.

A Salad Dressing for Leather Furniture

Olive oil and vinegar for cleaning leather.  Who would have thought?

Olive oil and vinegar for cleaning leather. Who would have thought?

My leather dining chairs were crying out for a good clean. After getting rid of all the crumbs and trinkets that our children have managed to stuff into the crevices in the seats, I needed a nice, moisturizing cleaner to reinvigorate the leather. We didn’t have any leather cleaners in the house so I looked online for a homemade solution. I found this one and tried it out. It smells like salad dressing but the vinegar smell does fade within a few hours. The olive oil absorbs into the leather within about a day or so. My husband even noticed how much better the chairs looked after this treatment!

Sandpaper for Deep Cleaning

Sanding sponges, an essential part of my cleaning arsenal now.

Sanding sponges, an essential part of my cleaning arsenal now.

After I discovered that sandpaper does an amazing job reinvigorating toilet bowls, I wondered if sanding sponges could work in other tough situations. I bought a box of them at Home Depot and keep them in the cleaning supplies cabinet. They are terrific for scrubbing crusted on stains off of laminate counters and (when used with very gentle pressure) on hardwood floors. They removed baked on grit from a glass baking dish. They scrub tubs and countertops in the bathroom beautifully too. This is also the miracle cleaner for my oven. It gets rid of grease and burnt food with just water and some scrubbing. No harsh chemicals needed.

One caution with this method, however. You need to test each surface first as the sandpaper can scratch and ruin certain things. Don’t use it on chrome bathroom fixtures as it will scratch.

My "sanded," sparkling oven.

My “sanded,” sparkling oven.

My Miracle Carpet Cleaning Formula

My new favorite "recipe" for carpet cleaning.

My new favorite “recipe” for carpet cleaning.

When you have older rugs and carpets to clean, it can be tricky. Sometimes when the carpet gets wet from the cleaning it can release smells from all the old stains that have ever penetrated the carpeting. The smells don’t go away until the carpet has dried for several days. I have tried all kinds of carpet soaps, laundry detergents and even bleach and had this same problem.

This year, I really wanted to avoid the smells so I tried a new concoction and it worked beautifully! First, I thoroughly vacuumed the carpeting. If there were any stains on the carpeting, I sprayed some Tuff Stuff cleaner on them. I then put some diluted Lysol cleaner in a spray bottle and sprayed the entire carpet. I then sprayed the carpet with a light coat of Febreeze. In the carpet cleaning machine, I put more diluted Lysol in the soap dispenser and no other soaps or detergents. I tried to rinse each area of the carpet twice with clear water as I went. The carpets came out beautifully clean and didn’t really smell of anything. They dried nicely and quickly as well. I used this on both colored and light colored carpeting and didn’t have any discoloration but, of course, if you are going to try this yourself, test a small patch first.

Hope these tips might help anyone else out there scrubbing away! My sympathies!

 Posted by on November 18, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 192013
 
Example of the holiday tidy-ing binge going on at our house.

Example of the holiday tidy-ing binge going on at our house.

My apologies for the lack of posts last week. Instead of blogging, I was in early holiday preparation mode as we had some entertaining to do and a house to deep clean.

As I was in my zealous cleaning state, I had to laugh at all the “How to Clean Your House in 30 Minutes” blog posts I was getting. Allow me to briefly summarize all of them for you.

1. Grab a laundry basket and throw all clutter into it.
2. Hide the laundry basket in a closet or other out of the way space.
3. Quickly wipe down any flat surfaces with a sweet-swelling spray.

We have all been there and have all done something like this at one point or another. What happens when you finally have to take the time to go through all those grab-bags of clutter? It happened to me last week and all I can say is that it takes a lot of time. For me, it ended up being a 5-day marathon getting through my office paper and clutter boxes. It’s a good feeling to go through all of that stuff and get it put away properly but you have to stick with the discipline to keep going through it, piece by piece.

If you are going to be hosting house guests this holiday season, you are probably upping your regular cleaning routine as well. It is one thing to tidy up for a guest who will stay a few hours and another challenge entirely to have people living in your house. In our case, it was time to steam clean the carpets, wipe down all the furniture for fingerprints and grime and dust, dust, dust.

I wish I knew the answer of how to make this all go faster. Maybe it can’t. Here are 3 bits of advice from my recent cleaning escapades, though.

1. Downsize in place. If you have small children in your house who untidy as fast as you tidy, clean first in the rooms that your family can avoid using for a period of time. Start concentrating the family into a subset of your house. If you have multiple bathrooms, tidy up the ones for guests and lock the doors. Have the family share one bathroom until your entertaining is done. Tidy and lock the guest room. Put a baby gate on the entry to any room that doesn’t need to be used and tell the children to stay out of it after it has been cleaned. Plan on eating out the night before your entertaining occurs to avoid having to clean the kitchen and dining areas yet again.

2. Plan extra time for organizing “full” rooms. Typical organizing advice will tell you to unclutter first, then organize what remains. Sounds easy but this simplistic advice doesn’t always cover every organizing situation. In my office, for example, the room was already quite full and all the “easy” organizing spots had been taken. I still had plenty to put away and it all had to be kept and much of it had to be kept in that room. A physical impossibility? It would seem but in the end, with some time and creativity, there were ways to pack further into a seemingly full space without making the room look cluttered and still keeping the organization functional. I was amazed myself at the end result and my husband called it a “heroic effort.” This type of work is challenging, however and takes extra time and extra brain power. Plan at least double the time it would take you to normally organize.

3. Be ready to lose some sleep (or money). We all run full lives and fitting in organizing and cleaning into a jam-packed schedule is no fun. In the end, it generally comes down to losing sleep to do it yourself or losing money to pay someone else to do it for you. Cleaning and organizing are physically strenuous tasks. If you are sick or injured, don’t expect yourself to be able to cope with the lack of sleep and physical strain. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a break and call in a maid service if needed.

A side benefit of deep cleaning is finding all the duplicates of things you keep buying more of because you can't find the ones you bought in the first place!  In my case, the big find was nail scissors.  I certainly don't need any more!

A side benefit of deep cleaning is finding all the duplicates of things you keep buying more of because you can’t find the ones you bought in the first place! In my case, the big find was nail scissors. I certainly don’t need any more!

It’s not too early to start your organizing efforts for the holidays. Have a holiday organizing question or tip? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on November 19, 2013 General Tagged with: , , ,
May 312013
 
A chance sighting outside my kitchen window--a doe nursing her tiny fawn.  Spring is here!

A chance sighting outside my kitchen window–a doe nursing her tiny fawn. Spring is here!

It’s the end of May! Time to recap this month’s posts and share some signs of spring.

Guest blogger Christie Maruka provided style tips for wearing white this summer. I have bookmarked this list to use during my closet editing next month. The weather has finally shifted to hot after vacillating from hot to cold. I kept finding myself dressed for the wrong weather this month—the simplest of organizational problems.

Our salmon-colored azaleas are always the last of the azaleas to bloom.  Quite a show this year!

Our salmon-colored azaleas are always the last of the azaleas to bloom. Quite a show this year!

In May I made progress eliminating a lot of the small nuisances around my home. I am helping to build my cleaning and organizing routines by experimenting with different methods to find what works and what is easiest for my home.

The gorgeous pink and white peonies.

The gorgeous pink and white peonies.

May was an interesting month for planet Earth. There were two less than desirable acts of nature. The tornado in Oklahoma was beyond devastating but has triggered so much inspiring generosity. The cicada invasion locally has intensified. The cicadas are now “singing” about 12 hours of the day. “Singing” would imply a pleasant noise, which sadly this is not. Their “song” sounds more like a 10 police cars with sirens responding to a terrible highway accident miles away or a distant car alarm. Apparently the cicadas are both blind and deaf so all they are responding to is the vibrations of this cacophony. When a Baltimore-based contractor came to our house this week, he puzzlingly inquired, “What is that noise?” Apparently, there are few cicadas in Baltimore right now. It is more of a Virginia thing. Even one of our neighbors mistook the singing for an alarm going off. Fortunately, it is mostly a white noise kind of sound.

The red peony which blooms at the same time as the pink and white one creating a sort of Valentine's mix.

The red peony which blooms at the same time as the pink and white one creating a sort of Valentine’s mix.

May was also a month of celebrations. We cherished all the maternal influences in our lives and celebrated the work of The Washington Ballet changing the lives of children in southeast D.C.

Rhododendron in bloom.  The only downside of our garden is that everything blooms at the same time in early spring!  Wish we could spread this out a bit more.

Rhododendron in bloom. The only downside of our garden is that everything blooms at the same time in early spring! Wish we could spread this out a bit more.

Organizational items of note from around the web.

  • Hack Day – In an interesting counterpoint to routines, the Kickstarter blog posted about their company’s annual “Hack Day.” Hack Day is a day with “no rules” to experiment and try new things. They let employees loose to try short 24-hour projects to improve something about their workplace or entertain a particular passion. At the end of Hack Day they share all the innovative projects that have resulted. I love this idea and think it would be a great morale and creativity booster, either in a workplace or in your own home.
  • A clever article from babycenter.com called, “Is it normal that my toddler’s obsessed with organizing things?” caught my eye. The number of occasions my children have displayed this behavior can probably be counted on one hand. They are generally solidly in the disorganization column. However, in light of our past discussions on OCD, I thought this quote from the article was worth sharing as a helpful measure to us all on distinguishing organization from OCD:

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), on the other hand, is debilitating rather than empowering. Instead of using organization to gain an understanding of her world, a child with OCD uses her compulsion to keep the world — and the extreme anxiety and fear that it causes for her — at bay.”

–Penelope Leach, child psychologist, quoted in “Is it normal that my toddler’s obsessed with organizing things?” babycenter.com

Itea bud with cicada carcass.

Itea bud with cicada carcass.

Finally, this month, I have had a chance to think a bit more about my theme word for the year, “routine.” I have continued my diet and exercise routines and will give that progress report tomorrow. This month, my big breakthrough about routines, however, was inspired by my fitness routine. If I slack off my exercise routine for even one day, I notice a huge difference in my strength and stamina and my general well-being. I don’t think I am addicted to exercise because it still requires a huge amount of willpower on my part to even do it, but this fitness experience has taught me a couple of key lessons.


1. Many goals that are worth achieving require constant daily attention.
I also like to think of this insight as “Everything is like a muscle.” You could exercise one every 90 days for 2 days at a time, for example, but would you really gain fitness that way? 8 days of intense exercise per year is certainly better than nothing but it is hard to see how you would really make forward progress with that method. Almost every skill you can think of requires practice and mastery on a daily basis. Routine is the way we prioritize the endless list of things that we could be doing into a structure that reflects what is important to us.

2. Routine does not have to mean mindless repetition; it can be an indication of how well you know yourself. Everyone’s life becomes overwhelming at one point or another. When catastrophes happen and things get off track, it helps you keep going to have a routine that you know works for you to fall back on. For example, there were a few days this month when I had so much going on that my diet and exercise slipped. Since I know what the routine is that works for me it was easy to say to myself. “Ok, today is a new day and here is the eating and exercise plan.” There was no stress about what to do or how it would work out. I had a tested routine to get started with. The key is to personalize the routine. You can’t just adopt someone else’s plan. You have to experiment and find what works for you.

3. Routine in one area becomes motivation for routines in other areas. I am glad that the fitness routine is the one I figured out first. It has been rewarding to put energy into something that then gives me energy back. I have more stamina to tackle all the aspects of my life and now my job is to figure out how to best focus that extra energy. If you are struggling with setting routines in your own life, look for something you are already doing routinely to inspire you to take that same dedication and energy and apply it to something else.

I hope you take some time to think about your month—what went right and what went wrong and where you want to go for June. For many people, June is a huge transition month when schedules and routines have to change. Don’t let this time of year frustrate you. Identify the routines that can stay the same for you and the areas that will require flexibility and change.

On to June! As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

 Posted by on May 31, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , ,
May 292013
 
North versus South at the 150th anniversary of the Chancellorsville battlefield earlier this month.

North versus South at the 150th anniversary of the Chancellorsville battlefield earlier this month.

Everyone loves Memorial Day weekend. It’s the first long weekend before the start of summer and the transition point for many people from the day-to-day grind of regular work and school schedules to the excitement of summer activities and vacations.

We spent the weekend at home continuing the war on dirt in our home. Two of these involved scrubbing out some of the toughest areas to clean in our home. When you have older surfaces in your home, you have to work a little harder to keep them looking good. While they may not attract dirt any faster than newer items, even a little dirt just looks worse on older surfaces.

The first problem area was the carpeting—particularly on our stairs. It is time to replace this carpeting. It was time to replace this carpeting when we first moved into our home, actually, but there were other areas where we needed to spend the money first. In hindsight, with three small children in our home, it was a good choice to wait on replacing the carpeting! They have been very hard on it and the fact that it is old and worn out reduces our stress level when they inevitably spill something on it.

To keep the carpeting in minimally passable condition, we do need to steam clean it at least once per year. This is a major pain. Over the years we have experimented with various carpet cleaning solutions. While I have yet to find a “magic” solution that seems to remove all stains with ease, I have found that laundry products tend to do the best job for me on the carpet and don’t smell as bad as most carpet cleaning products.

For tough carpet stains, we spray with a spot remover like Shout or Tough Stuff and let it soak in for a bit. We then put a small amount of laundry detergent in the soap compartment of the carpet cleaning machine, wash the carpet and rinse well. This time around, I heard good things about using Oxy Clean for carpet spot removal so I gave that a try on my stairs.

This is a great project to get some help with from your children.  They love to spray!

This is a great project to get some help with from your children. They love to spray!

After the Oxy Clean solution had sat for a while, for the heavily soiled areas, I used a brush to give it a little extra scrub.

After the Oxy Clean solution had sat for a while, for the heavily soiled areas, I used a brush to give it a little extra scrub.

I found some remnants of our bathroom remodeling.  Paint rarely comes out of carpet after it has dried.  The only option is to carefully snip it out.

I found some remnants of our bathroom remodeling. Paint rarely comes out of carpet after it has dried. The only option is to carefully snip it out.

Carpet cleaning the stairs works best as a two-person operation. The carpet cleaning machine is so heavy to lug upstairs as you clean. With my husband lugging the machine while I cleaned, it went far more quickly and we weren’t totally exhausted by the end.

Carpet cleaning is one of those thankless tasks. It doesn’t always make a huge visual difference and it always takes a ton of work. Freshly cleaned carpet feels good beneath your toes, though!

Before and after carpet shampooing.

Before and after carpet shampooing.

A clean entry.

A clean entry.

I also used the Oxy Clean to bleach out the grout in our hall bathroom tiles. This was a lot of work. We had to spray then wait then scrub then rinse.

You can mix the Oxy Clean in different concentrations.  If you put a lot in, this is what happens!  Kind of a cool chemistry experiment, though.

You can mix the Oxy Clean in different concentrations. If you put a lot in, this is what happens! Kind of a cool chemistry experiment, though.

At first, it didn’t look like it did much but after the grout dried overnight it was sparkling the next morning.

Before and after Oxy Clean bleaching of the grout lines.  Apologies for the bad lighting in the first shot.  You only get one chance to take the "before" picture.

Before and after Oxy Clean bleaching of the grout lines. Apologies for the bad lighting in the first shot. You only get one chance to take the “before” picture.

The only downside of the Oxy Clean was that it leaves a lot of residue. I had to rinse the floor again in the morning when I noticed my children had white powder all over their feet from the bathroom tiles.

While we were busy scrubbing, we forgot about the best tourist event of the year here in Fredericksburg — the nighttime luminaria at the Fredericksburg battlefield. I forgot that it is usually held the Saturday evening before Memorial Day. I am penciling it in my calendar for next year.

We did watch the movie “Lincoln,” over the weekend though. I know we are behind the times but it was a fascinating interpretation of President Lincoln. I had no idea he had such a folksy, disarming temperament. From the grand Lincoln Memorial and the bold nature of his famous speeches, I had the impression that he would be more of a loud and serious person. Clearly, his heartfelt nature served him well.

We have been learning to view the Civil War with new eyes in light of the 150th anniversary events that we have attended. In December, it was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. A huge number of reenactors brought the terror, excitement and sadness of conflict to life.

A scene from the reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 2012.

A scene from the reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 2012.

Flags, fire and smoke at the Battle of Fredericksburg reenactment.

Flags, fire and smoke at the Battle of Fredericksburg reenactment.

If you have the chance to attend any of these events, you should. They are not all that well publicized so you have to seek them out. There is a listing by state here.

Finally, this Memorial Day, I found myself often thinking of the brave and strong women who have forged careers in the armed services despite what we now know to be a high risk of rape. The documentary “The Invisible War” was positively shocking to me. I am glad to see policy makers and particularly the President paying attention to this issue.

For us, it was a weekend full of hard work and reflection. We send our thanks to all who serve and have served this country in the armed forces.

Any weekend news to share?

*I have no affiliation with Oxy Clean or any other product mentioned here.

 Posted by on May 29, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,
May 102013
 
"Faucets."  Photo by Phil Roeder.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Faucets.” Photo by Phil Roeder. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

You may sense a bathroom theme in my cleaning posts. Some of my most difficult cleaning challenges are in my bathrooms. Hard water creates a lot of problems for us. Also, we have higher expectations for the cleanliness of the bathrooms–as the rooms in the house where we go to clean and groom ourselves.

So, now that I have gleaming toilet bowls and sparkling glass shower doors, there is one more problem to address – water-spotted chrome.

Too much hard water had water-spotted our new chrome surfaces.

Too much hard water had water-spotted our new chrome surfaces.

Chrome is supposed to be shiny and reflective and bright. That’s why designers use it as opposed to other, duller finish choices. So, it’s a big bummer when your chrome is not mirror-like.

A quick wipe with bathroom cleaner was doing nothing for my chrome. So it was time to dig deeper on a cleaning solution.

This site suggested a paste of baking soda and vinegar. You often read that you can clean just about any surface in your home with just the right combinations of baking soda and vinegar. I like the concept of this approach.

I mixed the baking soda and vinegar together

The bubbly mix of baking soda and white vinegar.

The bubbly mix of baking soda and white vinegar.

and applied it to my chrome surfaces with an old toothbrush.

Brushing on the baking soda and vinegar paste.  Not the most convenient application.

Brushing on the baking soda and vinegar paste. Not the most convenient application.

Results? Disappointing. This helped a bit in restoring some shine but did not get rid of most of the water spots.

After the baking soda and vinegar treatment the chrome shined a bit more but you can still see most of the water spots.

After the baking soda and vinegar treatment the chrome shined a bit more but you can still see most of the water spots.

Apparently you can vary your application of the baking soda and vinegar perhaps soaking cloths in vinegar and wrapping them around your chrome to soak for hours. This was just too much work for me. I did not want to spend that much time on this project so I went looking for a quick fix.

Since the auto glass water spot remover had been such a quick and reliable product for the shower door glass, I looked for something similar for the chrome. In some auto forums, I found that many automobile enthusiasts swear by a creatively spelled product called Nevr-Dull.

2013-05-10-nevrdull

When I opened the can, I was surprised to see this

Inside the can is a bunch of lightweight material with chemicals on it.

Inside the can is a bunch of lightweight material with chemicals on it.

They call it “wadding.” The cleaning chemical is saturated in the wadding. You just pull off a piece and use it on your chrome.

2013-05-10-wadding-progress

And the results are amazing!

My Nevr-Dull shining chrome.  Wow!

My Nevr-Dull shining chrome. Wow!

Before polishing with Nevr-Dull and the brilliant after.

Before polishing with Nevr-Dull and the brilliant after.

So easy and so quick. It is addictive. I started shining up all the metals in the bathroom.

The top knob has been shined with Nevr-Dull.

The top knob has been shined with Nevr-Dull.

This is definitely a cleaner worth adding to your arsenal.

Do you have a tip for removing water spots from chrome? Please share in the comments.

*I am not affiliated with Nevr-Dull.

 Posted by on May 10, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,