Spring Cleaning when you have no spare time!

I am Charleston based, so I am having a case of spring fever.  They days are getting longer, the air is not as cold for so many days in a row, and the mid ’70’s are coming more frequently!   So I am already working on spring menus, projects and of course thinking about spring cleaning.  I work a crazy schedule, so I never have a chunk of time to make it happen.  This method works!

1.  Take a walk around your home.  Imagine you are seeing it for the first time.  For each room, make a list.  Decide what needs to be replaced, thrown away or repaired.  Then list what cleaning chores need to happen for each room.

2.  Have each family member go through their closet and make two piles:  One for worn out and not usable (recycle) and one for outgrown, or not worn for more than a year.  Donate or consign any nicely kept items.  If you have dry-cleaning bags in your closet that are more than an year old, JUST GET RID OF IT, unless it is something like your wedding gown or a Tuxedo.

3.  Replace all air filters – I do it monthly, It makes a huge difference.

4.  Start vacuuming daily.  I have said it before and I will say it again…..It makes keeping your house clean 100 times easier, and makes deep cleaning a snap.

5.  If you have carpets, make an appointment to have them professionally cleaned.  This should be done quarterly, especially if you have pets.

6.  Clean your bathrooms one at a time.  Get rid of old and 1/2 used products that are sitting under the sink.  Once your toilet, tub and basin are clean, add a clorox tablet monthly to the tank, and buy a daily shower spray.  Encourage family members to wipe down and spray the tub after each use.  Ditto the sink.  Keep a wet swifter broom in each bathroom to make cleaning the floor a snap!

7.  The kitchen.  Clean your oven if it is automatic – while at work, and vacuum all the dust out.  I do this monthly.  Clean out the refrigerator, weekly if you can, and wipe down the shelves often.  Find and make a place for everything.  Everything needs a home.  Use a label maker if need be.  Clean your stove and your countertops.  You can probably nail this while dinner is in the oven.  Again, have a wet swifter handy for cleaning the floor in a snap.

8.  Do not look at them, do not feel bad.  Take all those magazines, put them in a bag and bring them to the nearest senior center, doctors’ office or school.  Or recycle them.  Every now and then, I just need a good Maggie myself.  But almost everything that you see in them can be found in an online version, or on pinterest.  Since I discovered pinterest, my magazine appetite has diminished.

9.  If your furniture needs a spiffing, have the carpet cleaners handle it if they are coming.  I attend to this quarterly.  Spring is a great time to update worn cushions, or to move the furniture around.  I have a Winter configuration and a summer one at my house.

10.  Window Treatments – I love shears, and strive to always buy the cheapest curtains I can find, preferring to dress the room with other more high quality things.  I just take mine down and replace them twice a year.  Some can be washed, be sure to hang them damp!  No wrinkes.

11.  Windows.  Every day, wash the Inside windows of your home in a different room, or have the family pitch in and bang it out.  Windex has an excellent product for washing the outside windows that attaches to your hose.  YES, it reaches even the highest windows.  It is amazing.  It can be found in the gardening section.  I am also a big fan of Power washing the house in the spring.

12.  You don’t have to do it all at once.  If you set yourself up with daily chores, you should not need to do a deep clean more often than quarterly.




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My Love-Hate Relationship with Pinterest Continues

I have a strange – strained relationship with Pinterest.  With the holidays just around the corner, I am seeing a flurry of activity among my friends, neighbors and clients.  As a professional chef and event planner, I see the good, the bad, the ugly and the sideways from this curious social medium.  It is truly an interesting study in human nature!!

One of the things I LOVE about Pinterest is that I can use it like a free magazine.  I can thumb through and look at all kinds of glossy photos, get ideas, and read recipes.  The problem is that everyone else can too.  Now trust me when I tell you….I LIKE it when I bride can show me what she is pinning.  I get a sense and a feel for her color preference, her palate and her style.  I generally do a survey for a bride and groom (mostly my wine tasting questions), which does much the same.  Without the glossy photos.

The problem becomes this:  I don’t want to be a copy cat.  I hate copy cats.  Pinterest is the digital form of copy catting every single solitary bad or good idea that comes along – Think Burlap & Twine….every bride this season has had some form of the barn chic wedding – seriously???  I also don’t like being shown a photo and being told – do this.  First of all….a number of these photos are shot by professional photographers for professionals – take Martha Stewart for an example.  That Bridal Bouquet you like so much???  Some of those flowers cost $150/dozen – rendering that exact bouquet – a $1200.00 ticket item.  Those flowers are chosen specifically because they will last under photographer’s lights, and sitting out all day.  Same with the food.  I can tell, just be looking, that a lot of the food photos are merely staged non-foods, made specifically for photographing.  Don’t start me about the recipes.  As a chef I will tell you that about 70% of the recipes I read are wrong.  Impossible.  And, this is even more sinister….do you think for a nano-second that a professional, whose livelihood is catering, cooking or selling cookbooks would give away their secrets for free????  OF COURSE NOT!!!!  They give different versions of their recipes (Martha Stewart is the queen of this trick) that are just good enough to get you to buy the cook book.

Empowerment.  There is a huge difference between a talented home cook and a professional.  I love and appreciate the home cook, but this does not translate well into a professional kitchen.  I am thinking of the disaster of the cupcakes.  I had a bride insist that she had a friend who would do cupcakes for her wedding.  They saw them on Pinterest they said….how hard could it be???  This did not end well, but thankfully they tried this far enough in advance to learn it wouldn’t work.  Not every home cook or crafter has access to the kinds of equipment necessary to make all this stuff work.  Or the skill set.  But this I can do it I saw it on Pinterest attitude continues….I have spoken with so many people who truly believe that they too can  run an event, make a wedding gown, design a floral, bake a wedding cake, in the hope of saving money, who actually spend HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS MORE – than a professional ever would have charge them to do it right the first time.  And I mean this in the most loving way….would you allow a physician to operate on you who said of course I can do it, I read about it on Pinterest?????   NO!!!!

Having said all this – Pinterest is still a great forum for Holiday Ideas.   If you have the skill set, by all means give it a try.  There are a number of great things out there….See something you like….Show it to a professional.  Worried about cost….communicate this with your event coordinator.  I have so much crafty stuff I have amassed over the years in this business.  I have been recycling burlap like no other.  I can get it for you wholesale!!!  I buy odd lots, most of us do.  There is a right way and a wrong way to save money….and sometimes, it is just easier/better/cheaper to let a professional do it for you.  There are so many opportunities for savings …..Don’t get sucked into the Pinbot mentality!!!!

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Keeping Up With Your House

Just when I think I have a grasp on my house work, I lose it again.  Over the years, I have gone from having an ultra-modern brand new house with no kids to a large New England 1980’s giant Colonial with 7 kids, to a McMansion in Mt. Pleasant with 5 kids, and now, finally, our 1970’s Charleston Cape Along the Ashley, with 2 middle schoolers and a returned college kid.  Everyone still comes home for the holidays, we have had no weddings yet, and no grandchildren.  I grew up in an 1800’s farm house, and was raised with a wire brush in my hands, scraping lead paint off of windows, well into my teens, which probably explains a few things.

I love my Charleston House.  It is like a museum in places, where decorating mistakes and trends of years gone by still exist, and slowly, slowly I am trying to make this place truly our own.  I adore the hardwood floors (but they sure need to be vacuumed daily, no exceptions).  The wood faux stone in my entry way has got to go, and I am thinking of putting in a new front door.  The windows probably all need to be updated, but we will do that with the roof next year.  The bathrooms all need a little love as well.  My powder room off the laundry room was too vile for words, so I did do a little update….I am looking for a nice pedestal sink down there.

With fewer children at home, and catering full time, I am finding myself with time for more projects than ever before.  This house needs a lot more love an attention than any I have lived in during my adult life.  There seems to be a lot more dust, despite changing the filters religiously.  The laundry room is off of my kitchen, a constant reminder that there is work to be done.  For the past 4 years, we had an upstairs laundry area, so although that was often jam packed, I couldn’t hear it calling to me constantly when I was doing other tasks.

This house has it’s own rhythm, and lay out.  The kitchen kills me, I have replaced all of the appliances but the stove (that my come at any time, sooner rather than later) – the counter tops are formica, gasp, and the cabinets are dark, well loved wood.  As a chef, I like a seriously structured kitchen, everything with a place.  This kitchen doesn’t have enough places, so I am finding myself hyper organizing my catering area to handle over flow from the family.

In years past, my life has been all about keeping up with the house, the house work.  At this point, and in this house, where the winds and tides are constantly moving and changing with the moon, where I can smell the ocean, we seem to be keeping up with each other.

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And……here comes the countdown

Once Halloween is over, everything speeds up.  The Christmas candy, decorations, and sales circulars are everywhere.  This year, I am trying to take the month of November to reflect upon Thanksgiving.  Giving thanks.  Coming from New England, Thanksgiving meant the annual pilgrimage to Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, coupled with a visit to Plymouth Rock and and Mayflower.  Being the mother of 7, I cannot tell you how many times I have made that journey down 128!

I have been enjoying my Charleston Thanksgivings, but am missing a few of my Yankee Traditions!  I really think that New England has a lock on this Thanksgiving thing.  A few examples:  Cranberry Everything, and umpteen kinds of cranberry sauce; bayberry candles; oyster stew, stuffing & Rockerfeller; Thanksgiving Day High School Football games (and this, I think most of all).

Our Charleston Tradition is as follows:  We run the Knights of Columbus Turkey Trot (a NOT to miss 5K and 4 of my kids are recipients of their scholarships so we really support this one) immediately followed by the meet and greet in Marion Park, where, again, things we don’t see in Massachusetts, there is a beer truck!  (Every race has a beer truck, God I love this place).  We go home, have appetizers, watch football, and have dinner around 4pm.  Then……..We go to the movies!!!!  We have been doing this because our families are up north, and we are trying to start our own traditions.  I am hoping this year, to have a  number of singles, college kids whose breaks are too short and whose homes are too far away join us for the Holiday Meal.

I would encourage everyone to take a breath this season……Enjoy the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving!  It is beautiful!!!

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Cardinal at Home

I will be posting a new home keeping tip monthly here at the Cardinal at Home blog under HolyCityGracefulEvents@Wordpress.com.  I will also be posting a few recipes, helpful hints, and a few of my observations about life in general!!!

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Saving money on your electric bill

It is summer in the south, and as the mercury rises, so does our electric bill.  Here are a few tips to help you save.  

1.  Keep your thermostat at 76 degrees,  this is the optimum for savings and comfort.  In the winter, the optimum is 67.  I turn UP my thermostat to 79 during the day if no one is home.  

2.  Ceiling fans cool people, not houses.  They blow air on you.  Turn them off when you are not home.  

3.  Unplug everything when you leave the house.  Those chargers are still sucking power while you are not home!  

4.  Use cold water for washing clothes.  I only use hot water if someone has been sick or if I have particularly vile towels.  

5.  Change your air filters MONTHLY.  You will save more than you spend on the filters, I promise.  

6.  Empty the lint screen on the dryer, every single time.  

7.  Monthly, clean the vent to the outdoors for your dryer:  Pull dryer away from the wall. Remove Aluminum Tube.  Shake it out and vacuum.  Also, check the outside vent and make sure birds, bats or bees have not taken advantage of the shady space, especially if you have been away on vacation.   

8.  Get a wash-line.  I have a stealth one because they are banned in our neighborhood…go figure.  I like to dry sheets, towels and rags outside.  I also hang a number of things to dry, cutting out the amount of dryer time I use.  

9.  Have a cookout.  Cook out doors.  

10.  Atmosphere…..Eat by candlelight…My kids delight in making any variety of candleholders.  

11.  Be annoying….I have gotten my kids into the habit of turning off lights when they leave the room, and also we are working on them leaving the tv off when it is not being watched.  

12.  Clean out your refrigerator and freezer.  The more stuffed they are, the more electricity is being used.  This goes along with prior blogs on not wasting produce and food.  I have as of late been cooking one less serving than I would usually.  This has eradicated the leftover problem.  I have been trying to buy one less of everything for the family, if it is not shelf stable, and this also works well.  

13.  Shades.  I have shades in every room of my house.  My front rooms heat up as we have nearly full sun all day.  In the summer, I keep my shades pulled.  In the winter, I have them wide open, taking advantage of the heat of the sun.  

14.  Shower at the gym once a week.  If you belong to a gym, shower there once a week, this cuts down on hot water.  We are heading over to our pool, I will have the kids shower there before we go home.  It saves bundles!!!!

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School Lunch – Simplified

I have just finished preparing the school lunches for a private school’s summer camp here in Charleston, and am on hiatus from school lunch until we start the program in September.  

I received many compliments from parents, kids, and discovered that even one of the staff was ordering lunch delivered from me.  It got me thinking about what might be so special about my lunches.  

I do both corporate lunch service and school lunch catering as part of my business.  There really is not much of a difference to my mind, a number of the kids have really sophisticated palates!  

Packing lunch for yourself or you kids does not have to be an ordeal.  I make my husband’s lunch almost every day, in about 3 minutes.  The key is planning and organization.  

Plan ahead.  If you know you will be packing a lunch for your child a few days a week, get the ingredients ahead of time.  I work with families battling obesity, and one of my tips is to have a set menu for each day of the week.  If you know what and when you will be packing, you are more likely to be sure you have all of the ingredients on hand.  Spot Shopping wastes both time and money.  This also cuts down on the “what do you want for lunch?” blues.  Identify fruits and vegetables that your child will eat.  Make it interesting.  I use 4 oz. serving cups (you can buy and reuse the glad ones easily), and fill them with grapes, a few crackers, cheese cubes, and turkey, chicken or ham.  The younger kids like the “lunchable concept”  Older kids tend to like wraps and sandwiches.  Add a healthy treat, that is acceptable to both you and your child.  I make batches of cookies and bars, and store them so they can be readily packed for lunch.  Buy Cabinet Wax – found in the catering section of any store.  These wax paper squares are great for wrapping sandwiches, cookies, fruits and veggies, and can be easily marked for identification – by child.  

Look for feedback.  Ask about the lunch, did they like it, what would they like to be different.  Involve your kids in planning the weekly menu.  My kids buy lunch once a week, and get to pick what they want from the school menu, which comes out once a month.  It is during this selection time, that I set my monthly menu with the kids.  Check their lunch boxes….if something isn’t getting eaten, ask why.  Do NOT scold your child for not eating something or for throwing something out.  Find out why.  If a kid is not eating something because it is not socially acceptable (generally, the veggies) back off, and incorporate another choice in.  

I have the advantage because I am the “lunch lady” two days a week at my younger childrens’ school.  I also make a very healthy “KILLER RANCH” dressing that all of the kids love, so my kids actually get envied for having some salad products!  

If you plan ahead, and organize yourself, you can pack a great meal that kids will want to eat, and save money and calories!


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