Posts Tagged homemaking

Domestic Blind Spot: Duvet Covers

For most of us (with the possible exception of Martha Stewart), despite having mastered many of the domestic arts, something falls through the cracks. Like one day someone suggests that you make a souffle, and you have to bashfully admit that you’ve never made one before. Perhaps you’ve always been too afraid to tackle pie crust, even though you’re a whiz with yeast breads. Even the best Modern Domestic has a domestic blind spot or two.

For me, it’s the duvet cover. I don’t have a method of putting on a duvet cover that doesn’t make me look like an idiot. Despite owning them for many years, the way I still put on a duvet cover is to lay out the cover, crawl inside with the comforter,  carefully lay out the comforter, crawl out, and give the comforter/cover a good shaking. Not only is it laborious, but it looks like I’m trying to build a fort in there. Above, you can see Wonk the Plank demonstrating my duvet cover method, or lack thereof.

I always thought that this was the way duvet covers were put on. But I recently did a little research and found that there are much easier – and much more dignified – ways of putting on a duvet cover – methods that involve carefully folding the duvet cover over the comforter, or shimming the duvet cover over the comforter.

In fact, when I look back on it, the fact that I blindly accepted that this must be the only way to put on a duvet cover, makes me feel a bit like a modern jackass, blindly accepting knowledge for years that turns out to have been wrong.

Of course, I have many other domestic blind spots (gardening comes to mind), but this is one I have to deal with on a fairly regular basis, depending on how ambitious I get with the laundry.

What are your domestic blind spots? Is there something you’ve always meant to do in your home that you’ve never done? Have you overlooked a certain area of domesticity?


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My 2009 Domestic Resolutions

New Years Resolutions

What's On Your Domestic To-Do List?

Welcome back ModernDomestic readers! I have to say, I missed you on my holiday break, even though I had a really lovely time baking, crafting, and doing some much-needed sitting around.

I thought of this blog as I was sitting at Wonktheplank’s mother’s house on New Year’s Eve. As I watched the ball drop on TV, I started thinking about my to-do list. Not my work to-do list, or my personal to-do list, but a to-do list that fills me with extreme guilt and anxiety: my domestic to-do list.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to motivate myself to tackle more items on this domestic to-do list. And yet, while I had an excellent time sharing my baking projects, crafting projects, and Top Design and Top Chef recaps, nary a dent has been made in that daunting list of domestic projects. Despite my best intentions, there is still nothing hung on my bedroom walls (which, supposedly, was the Great Task of 2008).

But now that it’s the new year and I no longer have the giant attention suck that is the holidays (although don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays, they just take up a lot of time), I’m feeling ready to tackle this to-do list. So I’ve decided to share it with you, in the hope that you’ll also get revved up to tackle your domestic tasks.  And perhaps you’ll share your 2009 domestic resolutions with me.

Here, in no particular order, are my domestic resolutions for 2009:

  • Finally make or buy a headboard for the bed.
  • Take a cake or cupcake-decorating class.
  • Begin tracking and recording all my personal expenses (after a rather long hiatus).
  • Hang things on the walls in the bedroom.
  • Try a new cake recipe from the BakeWise cookbook that my sister got me for Christmas (so excited).
  • Finish the two collages that I need to get done before hanging anything on the walls of the bedroom (one involves fish, the other hasn’t been started yet).
  • Reorganize the kitchen cabinets, which currently look like an ingredient war zone (I got a bit of a start on this today).
  • Try out the recipes from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris, which my mother got me for Christmas.
  • Figure out how to either take the wheels off the bed or get something to stop it from migrating around the bedroom.
  • Try out the brand-new pastry tips that WonkthePlank’s mother got me for Christmas.
  • Reorganize the open bookshelf in the bedroom.
  • Establish and maintain a personal filing system.
  • Try to convince Wonktheplank to replace our hulking futon.
  • Learn more about each of the wines in the case of Wall Street Journal Wines that WonkthePlank got me for Christmas! He is the best!

And, finally (and perhaps most importantly), try to talk more about the blog with the greater world. To that end, Wonktheplank got me the best Christmas present ever—ModernDomestic business cards. He even designed them himself (with a little help from a template). 

Business Card

I'm official!

Now let’s hope I can get up the nerve to hand them out in the new year.

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Exorcising Your Inner Closet Demons (or, How To Clean Your Closet)


Time to face the closet demons.

It’s almost fall, and you know what that means—it’s time to pack up your bathing suits and summer shorts and bring out the long pants and wool jackets that will stand up to the colder evenings. Here in DC, I am savoring the feeling of actually being a little chilly in the mornings—or, at the very least, I can step outside my apartment without being hit by a sweltering heat wave that ruins my makeup before I get down the block.

But it can be challenging to face those winter clothes that have been languishing away at the back of your closet. Especially when you realize that you don’t actually wear half of the clothes in your “winter wardrobe” and you’re only holding onto them for strange, unjustifiable emotional reasons like “I wore it on my first date with my boyfriend,” or “it was a gift from my mother and I can’t throw it out,” or “I’m going to fit back into those pants after I lose ten pounds—honest, this is the year!”

Thankfully, one of my coworkers gave me a copy of September’s Body+Soul magazine, which has a no-nonsense article on how to get over the emotional hang-ups that come between you and a clean closet. The magazine is an offering from the Martha Stewart empire that looks at wellness, cooking, and lifestyle tips for the middle-class hippie set.

The article has six tips that will help you let go of your useless-but-highly-sentimental clothing items and turn your closet from memory lane into a functioning wardrobe.

Six Tips For Cleaning Out Your Closet and Exorcising Your Inner Closet Demons:

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Sometimes A Cupcake Is Just a Cupcake, Not A Subversive Feminist “Statement”

Cupcake, courtesy of Wikipedia

A ModernDomestic regular sent me this Jezebel post, which was responding to a Guardian article that asked if domesticity could ever be a subversive, feminist act.

I was actually surprised that this article even made it by The Guardian editors, given the fact that this “debate” has been going on since at least I was in high school back in the 1990s. In my view, women have been dealing with this tension between their love of old-style domesticity, and their guilt that this makes them “bad feminist,” for at least the past decade. Bust Magazine has been covering the rise of feminist knitting circles and other feminist domestic pursuits since it was started in 1993; the first Stitch ‘n Bitch was published in 2003; and Martha Stewart has been embodying the duel role of 1950’s-style domestic goddess and modern feminist business tycoon since her magazine was first published in 1990. I just assumed that everyone had come to terms with the fact that some women just like to make cupcakes, second-wave feminist critique of homemaking be damned.

The Guardian article lays out all the usual concerns about the domesticity vs. feminism debate: can real feminists embrace the homemaking duties that the second-wave feminists condemned as the shackles of gender roles? Is interest in domesticity just an act of rebellion against old-school feminists who rejected domesticity as “unfeminist? Can domesticity ever be subversive, given that women share a disproportionate amount of housework?

Thank God Jezebel points out not all cupcake baking is “subversive.”

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The Great Hybrid Banana Bread Experiment

I always think it’s funny on Top Chef when, during the inevitable challenge that involves making some kind of dessert, the chefs discuss the difference between a chef and a baker. The conversation always seems to follow the same formula: the chef is an artistic improviser who works in the moment, adding a dash of this and a dash of that before perfecting a dish. Whereas a baker is a scientist, one who loves exact measurements, who desires precision above all else because, unlike in cooking, when you miss a vital ingredient in baking (say, baking powder in a cake batter) then your cake is kaput. The chefs always make bakers sound like boring, fussy squares, who just aren’t as fun as the spontaneous, artistic and impulsive chefs.

I guess this makes me an odd duck then, because I am incredibly imprecise, love to experiment with recipes and throw in bits of this and that that weren’t called for, and yet I really, really love baking. Ever since my mother showed me how to make Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies (probably in utero) one of my favorite childhood activities was playing Princesses with my sister, baking up a batch of cookies, and pretending to distribute them among the poor in our kingdom (the poor being my sister and I. And maybe our little brother, if he wasn’t being irritating and chasing us with one of his many swords).

Granted, many of my baking “experiments” haven’t always turned out so well. There was the time I tried to make cookies by using proportions of ingredients that seemed similar to other cookie recipes, and came up with dry and brittle hockey pucks. There was the time I made an apple cake with margarine instead of butter (we were out), and ended up with a greasy and dense mass that even my perpetually hungry boyfriend wouldn’t eat. And don’t even get me started on the loaves of rock-hard bread I’ve produced – loaves that, in a pinch and with the right amount of brute force, could have served as deadly weapons.

However, I had a completely successful baking experiment with banana bread the other day, and I thought I needed to share it, since they are incredibly rare.

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Test Product of the Month: Good Ol’ Fashioned Baking Soda and Vinegar

Since many of us are overwhelmed and, perhaps, in awe of the huge number of cleaning products that are regularly introduced on the market, I’d like to take away some of the pain by testing the products that intrigue you, yet you’re not quite ready to shell out for. So, each month, I’ll be testing a new (or, in this case, old) household cleaning product, and give a verdict about its potential to revolutionize your cleaning routine. Read on for this month’s product: Good Ol’ Fashioned Baking Soda and Vinegar.

By now, I’m sure that you’ve read so many terrifying reports on the toxic effects of common household cleaners that you wake up with nightmares about being chased around by giant Windex bottles, getting cancer because you smelled some oven cleaner, or crippling your children with asthma because you febrezed their cribs too often.

In response to the Great Household Cleaner Fear that has gripped the nation, there has been a slate of articles appearing in the press extolling the virtues of homemade cleaning products. According to these reports, creating your own cleaning products is a safer, less toxic, cheaper, and just as effective alternative to using toxic and harsh cleaning products that may or may not hurt the environment and your health. And while I’m definitely down with using cleaning products that are cheaper and won’t give me a rash if my skin happens to come into contact with them, I’ve always wondered if they actually work.

So this month’s test product is an old standard that often crops up in these little “make your own fabulous cleaning products” articles: baking soda and vinegar.

Yes, that’s right, that crummy little box of baking soda that you keep in the fridge to keep your roommate’s leftovers from growing eyeballs is the solution to all your cleaning woes. I decided to use the baking soda on our kitchen sink and the bathroom sink/countertops, since they both haven’t been cleaned in a bit (really, the kitchen sink really doesn’t get cleaned nearly as much as it should and the garbage disposal really smells a lot of the time). I found the recipe for my baking soda cleaning solution on an online baking soda book by way of The Simple Dollar, which often has little features on frugal homemaking tips.

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The Dirty Secret of Homemaker Guilt

I love homemaking. I just love it. I love cooking, I love decorating, I love making my home more functional, I even love cleaning (well, sometimes. And even if I don’t love cleaning, I sure do love having cleaned).

And yet, even though I am an absolutely enthusiastic homemaker, I more and more find myself succumbing to an ugly side of modern homemaking: guilt.

Let’s face it: even the best of us have homemaker guilt these days. I admit that I am a huge, unwavering Martha-Stewart fan, but — in all honesty — she also stresses me out. When I flip through her magazine and look at those perfect cupcakes, perfectly wrapped presents, gorgeous table arrangements, I am torn between excitement (hey! I want to do that too!) and stress (how the hell can I find time to do that?).

And I think a big part of our guilt comes from the fact that we live in a world where homemaking has been professionalized. We’re bombarded with images of perfect houses on HGTV, perfect dinners on the Food Network, perfect parties in magazines. And while many of these publications and shows profess that what they’re doing is “easy” and geared towards the average homemaker, the sheer amount of “easy fixes” or “easy dinners” or “easy table arrangements” that they suggest we try out some weekend is completely overwhelming.

“Hey, I can do that,” I think, when I see some neat feature in a homemaking magazine, like a suggested center piece arrangement, or feature on how to organize your closets in five easy steps. But then I really think about the time and effort it would take to purchase the items for some table arrangement, or craft project, or easy four-course French dinner, and I get completely overwhelmed. I could do it. Theoretically. But in reality, I really I don’t have the time, or the money, or even, on some days, the energy.

It helps when I get in these slumps to realize that these “easy home meals” have been created by people whose job it is to come up with dinners you can supposedly make in less than 30 minutes. Those “easy fixes for the home” that my beloved Martha features in her magazine, are actually projects that they spent days photographing to make them appear utterly perfect.

Part of me loves these publications; I love the ideas that they give me, I love the way they spark my imagination and inspire me to do more things around the home. And part of me hates them, because I never actually have the time to make the 30-minute meal that will actually take me an hour to make, and for which I have to purchase $20 in extra ingredients that I wouldn’t normally buy.

Let’s face it: in this day and age, you have to work to make a living. Even if homemaking is our calling, we have to fit it in between our jobs, activities, and social lives. We can prioritize it, we can love it, we can even be one of those professional people who do formerly domestic tasks for a living, but for most of us the home is something we have to work on in our spare time.

This blog is meant to be about modern homemaking—for those of us who have a passion for cooking and baking and decorating and making our house a home, but who also have to face the realities that it’s something that we do in our spare time. And, in the interest of truly full disclosure, I want this blog to be a way for me to motivate myself to find the time to spend on my home projects, which so easily get pushed out of the way because of work, social activities, travel, and even the allure of watching crappy TV with my boyfriend after a long day at work.

So here’s to homemaking—but homemaking without the guilt, pressure, and stress.After all, those things really shouldn’t be a part of something you love, and I don’t think they have to be.

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