Homemaking, A-Z meme

(Update: So, first I realised that I forgot to credit Emily for the meme. Bad me. Then, on re-reading my responses below, I discovered that, apparently, the Verb of the Day was ‘ to pop’. I have edited. You will see what I mean, though. I had a vocabulary once.) 

Did you notice that week off from blogging I had? It was very nice. My head was completely empty for the entire week, perhaps containing some bits of grey fluff that had blown in by mistake. When I did manage to marshal a thought, it mostly concerned how Mr Crawley would be proven innocent and whether Lily Dale would marry John Eames. And there is a testament to the power of Trollope’s writing, that the fictional reality was stronger than what passes for actual reality.

Friday had a definite air of unreality to it, as we became part of the tourist sights of New York. A friend of mine popped over from Blighty to get married at City Hall and have the wedding luncheon and photos at the Rockefeller Centre. I am sure that there were two New York cops in the background behind the touching bride, groom and kids shots; and in the group photos, random passersby were sticking their heads into the picture, wondering what on earth was going on.

Anyway, the homemaking meme. I think that Mike should be writing this rather than me, because lord knows he is far more of a home maker than I am. If it was left to me the cupboard would be bare. However, we are both very tidy, and in all honesty I think we would not have been married if we were not. Neither of us can abide mess or clutter, although neither of us regards small piles of books as mess at all. Our house is always well within the bounds of acceptability, so if anyone were to pop nip round unexpectedly (which never, ever happens) they would be welcome. We don’t even have to tidy up for parties.

A is for Aprons. Yes/no, favourites?

Lordy, no. Don’t like them at all. When I’m baking I just wear old clothes, so that it doesn’t matter that they get covered in flour; and I drape a teatowel over my shoulder for wiping my hands.

B is for Baking. Favourite thing to bake?

Baking is my irregular contribution to the cooking that goes on in this house. Later today, for example, I will be baking honey and oatmeal bread, although thanks to the wonder of the KitchenAid it requires no effort at all. Cakes and bread are my favourite things to bake, ideally for other people. I made mango upside down cake a lot this summer, by request and I will be making mincepies in a couple of weeks. Which means I’d better get on with making the filling, actually.

C is for Clothesline, do you have one?

Yes, but I have no idea who fixed it. It goes from the back of the apartment to a tree and is a little awkward to use but we do dry jeans out there in summer. We also have a couple of clothes horses, because after my initial delight in moving here and realising that I didn’t have to have clothing draped across every flat surface in the house in order to dry it, as is traditional in English houses that are too small to have a tumble-dryer, I also realised that tumble drying ruins my clothes. So I air dry them.

D is for Doughnuts. Have you ever made them?

No, but I would like to try. As I would also like to try making bagels and croissants, both of which are also a bit tricky by the looks of the recipes. One day, I will stop thinking ‘I’d like to try that’ and actually get into the kitchen and get on with it.

E is for Everyday. One home making task you do every day.

During the week, I make the coffee in the morning. In the evenings, I do the washing up. We have a dishwasher but it takes us 2-3 days to create enough washing up to be worth running the dishwasher. And also, stacking the bloody thing is like a 3-dimensional puzzle. It makes my brain shut down and I would rather just wash up.

F is for Freezer. Do you have a separate deep freeze?

No, but I wish we did, because Mike has a tendency to cook only for 6 people so we have a lot of leftovers. It would be good to have somewhere to store them. Over the summer, when we had the CSA box it would have been marvellous to be able to preserve some of the produce, because between the two of us it was quite panic inducing trying to use it all.

G is for Garbage Disposal Unit. Do you have one?

No. I have never used one in my life. I don’t really understand the point of them.

H is for Handbook. What’s your favourite home making resource?

Don’t have one, all I use are recipe books. Of those, ‘The Good Housekeeping Book of Vegetarian Cookery’ has some standby recipes; and the equivalent volume about cooking with chocolate offers up some marvellous ideas too. I do have  ‘How to Run your Home without Help’ by Kay Small, which is hilarious. It’s the sort of thing I would read with my feet up on the sofa, popping eating bonbons.

I is for Ironing. Love it or hate it?

Am entirely ambivalent. I have few items of clothing that need ironing these days, but if I have to, I will. There seems no point in hating it when it has to be done. Stick some music on, make a cup of tea, or pop put on an audiobook and I won’t even notice it.

J is for Junk Drawer. Have one, and if so, where?

There are three junk drawers. The one in the kitchen contains phone chargers, matches, scissors, tape, golfballs (which I believe are compulsory in all junk drawers), string; and then there are a couple of others in the bedroom, but they are Mike’s and therefore contain boy things like penknives and Elvis glasses.  I do not have a personal junk drawer, because I would be compelled to go and buy a draw tidy and organise it. 

K is for Kitchen. Colour and decorating scheme?

It is decorated in bright yellow walls, and the woodwork is an aquamarine. It was like this when I moved in and I like its brightness. It is marvellous in summer because the room gets a lot of sun, and cheery in winter. It can also be cosy because we don’t like overhead lights, so there is a plethora of lamps that provide good working light. I think the kitchen is the most cluttered room in our house, but everything that is out is functional and used often enough to justify its obvious presence.

L is for Love. What’s your favourite part of home making?

If I have time, I can enjoy all of it, because I like the creation of order, tidyness and cleanliness out of dirt and disorder. But I think, in particular, cooking because the tasks are indicative to me of leisure. So making stock, baking bread – they are an afternoon’s activity and it seems such a luxury to have enough time to be able to devote it to such basic tasks.

M is for Mop. Do you have one?

Yes, but I don’t know where it is. In my defence, its location does change. In my prosecution, I don’t go looking for it very often.

N is for Nylons. Machine or handwash?

I have one pair of genuine nylons, with a cuban heel and a seam up the back, bought from the Imperial War Museum. They have a tendency to bag around the ankle a little but are otherwise just as good as modern spandex-impregnanted items. I handwash them. Others, I generally handwash also, but will pop  chuck them in the machine every now and again.

O is for Oven. Do you have a window or do you open the oven door to check?

We have a window but I open the door. It is pure habit on my part. 

P is for Pizza. What do you put on yours?

Gosh, I haven’t made pizza in ages. If we had a deep freeze, I could make and freeze the dough. Sigh. Tomato sauce (which I also make), cheese, mushrooms for me. I don’t get fancy with pizza.

Also, P is for Pantry. Our is very organised. Mike gets stressed if it is not and spends a happy hour or so reorganising it. I don’t say that I would necessarily arrange it in the same way, but it works. There is never any need to look for anything, it’s either there or it isn’t.

Q is for Quiet. What do you do during the day when you get a quiet moment?

My quiet moments during the week are on the train, so I read or watch videos or sleep, or sometimes scribble out blog posts, depending on my level of sentience at the time. At home, I read too, or take long baths. In which I read.  I define quiet moments as the time when everything is done that should be done.

R is for Recipe Card Box.Yes/no? If yes, what does it look like?

No, I never had a recipe card box, but I used to have recipe books in which I wrote out recipes I wanted to keep. This was a holdover from when I was at school, because ‘Home Economics’ was a compulsory subject. We were taught about nutrition and balancing meals, how to write out a time plan for a meal and how to cost it out, how to organise the work area before you started cooking. We wrote down our fortnightly recipes in our books. Now I have printouts and photocopies that are stored in the front of the ‘Good Housekeeping’ cook book.

S is Style of House.

19th century farmhouse, with random features attributable to the fact of its being converted into apartments.

T is for Tablecloths. Do you use them?

Don’t even own one. I quite like the idea of some good, heavy linen, but it would be a bitch to keep clean, a bitch to iron, and Mike would never agree. So no.

U is for Under the Kitchen Sink. Organised or toxic wasteland?

By now it may come as no surprise that it is organised. Clean teatowels to the left, a box containing cleaning products to the right.

V is for Vacuum. How many times  a week?

Perhaps a better question would be, how many times per month? Two to three. Whenever the dust becomes really noticeable. This house is old, draughty and naturally cobwebby, and dust resettles within seconds of being removed  and we simply don’t care enough to fight back all that vigorously. We recently bought a new vacuum cleaner which is so much better than the hideous old heavy one that Mike had had for years. Every time I used it I tried surreptitiously to break it, but finally it gave up on its own and I was viciously pleased to see the back of it.

W is for Washing. How many loads of washing do you do a week?

Oh god, far too many. Mike runs or cycles most days and tends to put those clothes straight in the wash, without looking to see if there is anything else to go in as well. Also he believes in washing everything at high temperature, with Oxyclean. I do my laundry separately so it is not bleached within an inch of its life and shrunk to doll size. Personally, I do about 2 loads a week. I would say Mike puts the washing machine on daily. It is a habit of which he cannot be broken.

X’s – do you keep a daily list of things to do that you cross off?

Yes, primarily for work, but sometimes for home. Most often I keep my weekend chores in my head, and I mentally timetable them out. This makes me feel much better. There are items that stay on my list for months, though. Anything dental or medical it will usually take me 6-8 months to get round to scheduling.

Y is for Yard. Who does what?

One of the perks of renting. The guys who work on the farm do everything: blow away the leaves, clear the snow, mow the lawn weekly in summer. We do nothing. And if they didn’t, I would still do nothing, unless I absolutely had to dig my car out. I don’t care about lawns and gardens. The whole thing could be a mini-recreation of a jungle and I would simply relabel it as a wildlife garden and leave it to go crazy.

Zzzzzs – what’s the last task before going to bed in the evening?

Make sure there is coffee for the morning, and grind more if I need to.

‘The hatred they felt for the enemy was string’

Don’t you just love typos? I’ve been giggling over that sentence since I found it, yesterday evening, in my latest copy editing job. I am being unfaithful to my regular freelance employers, so, shh, don’t tell them. Allow me the frisson of ignoring house style.

It occurs to me that I may not have explained that the freelancing is not (just) my desperate grabbing at ever more money to spend on fripperies. In fact, it was driven mostly by my very real desire to depart these shores at some point this year, and to take a two-week holiday Somewhere Else. So I hit the desk, lean back and think of Italy while pimping out my ability to put the punctuation either inside or outside the quotation marks.

By the exercise of quite incredible restraint, I have managed not to spend all the money resulting from this extra-curricular work, with the result that we are going to Montepulciano for a week in May-June with some friends. La la la. Not only that, but the week in Italy will be neatly bracketed by a few days in England. La la la again. It’s been two years since I was home and that, let me tell you, is too long a time. No wonder I spent all last year reading English fiction, it was the only flight home I could make.

Homesickness is a strange thing. Rarely do enormous great waves of it knock me off my feet so that once I’m standing again I go running for DVDs of ‘Brideshead Revisited’. Instead, it’s more like a dull ache, thrust into the background for most of the time; occasionally, when I am finding America particularly baffling, when the communication difficulties seem insurmountable, the ache gets more intense. This is a good time to buy a bar of Cadbury’s and email my friend S about how fed up I am, and how America is just so damn American ALL. THE. TIME. Other than that, the immediacy of life in general takes over, and the now trumps the past.

Planning a trip is one thing. Buying the plane tickets is another step entirely, and one that provides a convincing solidity to the plans. Our plane tickets are bought, so we are really, truly, honestly going. And this is where the homesickness turns up the volume a little, transitions itself from being merely an intermittent background noise to a dull roar. Memories are starting to ease out of their holding area, into the light, where they can be examined without pointless, painful wistfulness. Jumbled and inchoate, they are filling my head with a blur of non-sequential fragments of images. One day soon I must stop and try to tune into them so that I can enjoy them, but the trip is still a little too far away.

Except that, a sudden windfall has landed in my lap. My new employer (The Monolith) is sending me on a business trip next month. To England. In fact, to Oxford.  The conversation was roughly ‘Would you be able to go to Eng…’ ‘YES!’ Then I raced off to tell my husband I’d be out of the country for a week. He had the grace not to do the jubilant fist-pumping gesture until after I had left his office.

So now I am luxuriating in the knowledge of two definite trips, which makes me feel I can approach both in a more leisurely fashion. And in turn, that allows me to drift through all those memories in a secure sense of anticipation. Now, I can wait.