The House Rules, by Rich Paschall
A place for everything and everything in its place. Perhaps you have heard this old proverb or words of advice. It was often handed out as instructions for life, usually by parents, methinks. In the 18th century, it may have been a popular topic of preachers and local leaders. That was an era when you were also told that cleanliness was “next to godliness.”
The idea of cleanliness may have come out of a 1778 sermon by John Wesley. If cleanliness will get me next to God, I am all for it. If I have to be orderly too, this will take a good deal of work. I wish to be neat, clean and orderly, but I am still looking for a large chunk of time to work on that. I have been looking for that for years, in fact.
I thought of “house rules” recently while eating at the kitchen table with my young South American roommate. Yes, he is back for more Culture Shock, but that is another story for another time. We were feasting on one of his favorite items, chicken wings, and he was putting the bones on a small saucer.
In my head, I could hear my mother scold him, “That’s not for chicken wings, that’s for coffee cups.” At that, she would have grabbed the saucer and replaced it with a small plate of about the same size. “What’s the difference?” I wonder now. Either way, we are going to wash the small plate when we are done. If you come for coffee at my house, you will never know if that saucer once held spilled coffee (or covfefe) or chicken wing bones, as long as it is clean.
That particular saucer was from a set of china my mother had for special occasions. By the way, it was from England, not China. Anyway, as God is my witness, I do not recall EVER eating off that set until she was gone and I was left with it and a lot of knickknacks I don’t need. When we were younger, she had another nice set for dinner. We also had plastic plates or TV dinners in aluminum trays.
As for the knickknacks, two might belong on top of the large stereo, another two in the dining room and one on the dresser. Random shelves were usually populated with random knickknacks. If one was out-of-place, there could be hell to pay, as the saying goes. My mother and my grandmother knew exactly where these items must stand.
There could be no variations. It was as if the locations were handed down by God and no other place would do. Worse yet, if something broke, we would hear about it for at least a year, maybe longer, depending on its worth and sentimental value.
I hated to touch these things, particularly in my grandmother’s apartment. She was a stern old woman who rarely smiled, and she could let you know her displeasure at something being out-of-place with a mean look and a few terse words. My mother could hand out the same look, but we were lucky if we only got a few words as well. Silence was not her style.
“Why are those bells in that order? That is not the correct order! Fix it.”
Roomie has asked me a number of times if he could put things in a closet. Apparently, my clutter of coffee table books and table games looks out-of-place to him (not to me) and I should not have this stuff lying around. I usually give in to these requests because I made the rule where it belongs and it is not important enough to me that it stays there. My books on baseball, theater, and The Doors (look them up, millennials) have been banished to darker places.
I do not do the dishes often as roomie thinks he is better at it. When they are dry, I might ask why he did not put everything away. His usual answer is that he does not know where everything belongs. I tell him to put it somewhere, I will find it or ask if I need it. Would that work at your house?
You probably have several drawers in the kitchen. Is each designated for certain items? We have one for silverware, one for other kitchen gadgets and larger items (rolling-pin to chase roomie around the house like a cartoon), and one “junk drawer.” Everyone has one of these. It is for the items not designated for somewhere else. This could be batteries, a tape measure, random tools, a flashlight, scissors, tape, matches, etc. Junk drawer items should be in the junk drawer!
It would be possible to go on about the house rules, particularly the strict ones from my mother or grandmother, but you get the point by now, or you are a hopeless case like I am. I could not understand why my grandmother would have a certain doily to go under a lamp, and another to go under a Hummel. (OK, go look up doily and Hummel. We’ll wait). These doilies were not interchangeable.
Unlike the previous generations, I can not stress out about silly house rules that I made up in the first place. With the return of roomie, even if for a brief period, there is no reason not to alter my life so we both feel comfortable. Everything may have a place in our home, but that place can be changed tomorrow and that is OK with me.
See also: “CULTURE SHOCK, Travelling to America”
I like shooting through windows and I have a lot of pictures to prove it. It’s the only place from which I can see birds in the yard in the winter, or the frozen trees in the woods during a storm.
It’s also the place from which I can take pictures without having to put my boots on. Not a small thing when the temps are well below zero (Fahrenheit) and the snow is up to my hips.
Only two small windows face north and south, but the way we are situated, all the action is east and west.
When I finished taking these pictures, the sun had made its way around to the other side of the house.
Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.
When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.
Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.
We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.
The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.
We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.
My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.
Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.
I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.
I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate — a small miracle in its own right.
Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.
It has been a long month and it’s not over. This was a little victory, but a victory. One dinner where each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.
It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.
I’ve been obsessing over the news for what feels like forever. I needed a break. So I decided to step away from my iPhone and do something that made me feel happy and safe. I walked around my house. I took in all the little things about it and in it that I love.
I particularly love my kitchen. I redecorated it from top to bottom two years ago, along with the adjoining sun porch. It came out exactly as I had hoped – bright, cheerful, fun and totally me.
My first goal was to create a colorful environment. All of the walls in my house had been shades of white or beige for the past twenty years. So I went a little crazy. I love color. Happy colors make me happy. I dress in them and wanted to live in them as well, particularly shades of aqua and turquoise. So the walls in the kitchen and eating area are a pale mint green and the walls in the sunroom are light turquoise. Most of the accessories in both rooms are shades of blue and green.
For some colorful drama, I trimmed the moulding around the numerous windows in the sun room in turquoise darker than the walls. The effect is stunning!
I also added an aqua Corian counter to the kitchen island. And a colorful mosaic tile pattern on the back-splash behind the stove.
My second goal was to create warmth and personality by using accessories. Everywhere you look there is something pretty and interesting to look at. Because it’s a kitchen, and because I wanted to save money, I used everyday items as a major part of the decor. Items like plates and bowls, glasses and cups, trays, etc. So in my glass cabinets, I displayed these decorative touches to add pops of color in and amongst my everyday dishes and glasses.
I have two small bookcases in the kitchen as well. I used these shelves to create artistic ‘vignettes’ using similar items plus some vases and paperweights.
I love to use colorful, patterned plates, trays and bowls as decor on the walls and on other flat surfaces in the kitchen as well. I have a charming set of ceramic plates in different sizes, shaped like fish and glazed in beautiful tones of blue. They are dispersed throughout the sunroom and kitchen, on walls, in cabinets and standing on the shelf above the kitchen cabinets.
I get a lot of pleasure looking at the pretty things in my home. I also remember how and where I got them and what they mean to me. Hopefully you can take some of these ideas and use them to give your kitchen a little extra pizzazz, or at least something new to look at.
The 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro ended yesterday. I’ve watched a lot of events over the past couple of weeks. I’ve learned the meaning of athletic maneuvers I didn’t know existed. Or maybe I knew but forgot four years ago. And, now I understand how important 1/100th of a second can be.
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if everyday activities were scrutinized and graded the way dives and gymnastics are. There would be names for the different techniques for folding sheets – and folding the fitted sheet would rate a higher level of difficulty.
Dish-washing would be my favorite event. There is so much technique involved and so many options for equipment and strategy. You can use a dishrag or a sponge (don’t get me started on the varieties in sponge technology). You can use one of those things on a stick, but some of those have a built-in soap dispenser, which I think should be banned as cheating. The choice of dish soap is a whole other category. Maybe if you use the Consumer Reports favorites, your difficulty level should be reduced.
Now for the actual washing of the dishes. Do you pre-rinse? Do you use hot water or just warm? The different wrist movements should have fancy names as well as the circular arm movements (clockwise or counter-clockwise?) How do you try to scrub or scrape off baked on or age hardened food? That is the test of a real champion. Do you resort to additional equipment or rely solely on elbow grease? And then there’s the decision as to whether you rinse with the spray setting, which is faster but which causes splashing – a serious deduction.
Sticking the landing would be quickly and accurately securing the dish in one of those annoying plastic dish drying racks. This would be my personal Waterloo.
I think that putting dishes in the dishwasher is more of an art form than a sporting event. You have to be creative and have a really good sense of spatial relations as well as patience and perseverance. But you could make this a timed event; the most plates, bowls and cups you can fit in the dishwasher in the least amount of time wins. You can challenge your spouse or roommate and make it a family affair.
And then there’s parking a car. This is another fun event in the Olympics of life. Maybe if I give myself running commentary the next time I’m parking in a parking lot or trying to back my car into the garage, it’ll make it a less frustrating and more enjoyable experience. One can always hope.