Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Unexpected Guest? 3 Minutes to a Cleaner House (& Really Clean in 15)!

We all want to be proud of our homes. But it never fails. The one day you have every toy in the house on the floor, kids half-dressed, you didn't put makeup on, dishes are piled to the ceiling, and laundry half-folded on the living room couch-you get the phone call. It's your friend that lives an hour away and hasn't seen you since the 2nd baby was born.

"Hi! I'm in the area, and I'd love to say hi and see the kids. I have a little gift for the baby. Can I stop by? I won't keep you too long..."

You can't say no, it just wouldn't be right. Sure, you could come up with some feeble excuse about how you're just running out. But then another 6 months might go by. Instead, try this:
"Great! I'd love to see you, just give me fifteen minutes to freshen up".

You can do this! I'm going to show you how. I guarantee your house will look and smell REALLY CLEAN in 15 minutes or less, you'll be proud of it - and you won't look like you just did it. I swear! Set a timer and test it yourself. Just make sure you have the following on hand at all times, and if you're wearing a sweater, take it off so you don't break a sweat and look like you ran a marathon before they arrive.

Now, here's what you're going to do. Before you begin, determine a visual path that your guest is most likely to see, and close off any other areas: bedrooms, 2nd bathrooms, garage doors, basement doors. For most of us, the path of vision is the front hall, powder room, kitchen, living room, family room, dining room, and hall stairway. Plan on moving as fast as you can, and set a timer between each task so you don't get sidetracked (and then feel unprepared when your guest arrives). My stove timer works perfectly. IMPORTANT: Do this in the order written! There's a reason for it all.

3 MINUTES - Clear the path's floors & tables
except for the kitchen counter (we'll do that in the next step). Formerly in the home design business, I learned that a clean floor and cleared tables gives the illusion of a cleaner house, even if it's not. That's why we're doing this first. Take your collapsible basket, and run through the rooms in your determined path; picking up EVERYTHING you see on floors & tables. Toys, books, dirty socks, papers, doggy bones, bath towels, magazines, remote controls, whatever. Do this as fast as you can.

Put the filled basket in the attached garage, a bedroom closet, or a basement (whatever's closest and not likely to be seen). If there's clean laundry on the furniture or tables, use your second basket for this (don't mix chewed up doggy bones and dirty socks from the floor with your clean clothes).

4 MINUTES - Swiffer the path with a dry orange scented cloth, using the vacuum feature at the same time (or if you have carpet - vacuum, using some orange carpet-fresh product). While you're Swiffering, carry a damp cotton rag with you to spot clean any really obnoxious dirt spots. This will accomplish two things: pick up debris, pet hair or dust, and it will make the house smell better, quickly. Stay on task and stick to the 4 minutes - you not halfway done yet.

6 MINUTES - Kitchen attack:
  • Empty your kitchen garbage and put a new liner in it. If the house smells bad, that's all your guest will notice - no matter how clean the floors are. To save time, stick the garbage bag in the garage for now (or just outside the back door). If you have a cat litter, you'd better do that, too - but move quickly, I didn't include it in the timing (add 1 minute).
  • Empty sinks & counters. Throw every visible dish into one of the following: dishwasher, oven, or dryer. DO NOT spend time organizing right now. This is a trick I learned from a realtor (there is nothing more depressing than a kitchen full of dirty dishes)! Just don't forget they're in there when you go to preheat the oven next time. Quickly spray your kitchen sink with bleach cleaner (like Lysol with bleach). Don't clean it, just let the spray sit on there and do its work a bit while you move on. Many of us have white or light-colored sinks- this stuff will knock out the stains in three minutes.
  • Everything else into one container (preferably a decorative basket) at the furthest end of the counter, or hidden in a cabinet or closet. Exeption: food. Just stick the food in the fridge or a nearby cabinet (not the cabinet with glasses, in case you need to offer a drink). Otherwise, it includes phone chargers, bills, clean dishes, snack boxes, pens, sunglasses, calculators, etc. I keep a large basket on one end of the counter to put everything for this occasion. The trick is to keep it as empty as possible at other times so it doesn't build up!
  • Wipe down the counters, stove, faucet and kitchen table with disinfectant wipes. Then go back and rinse out your sink so it doesn't smell like bleach when your guest arrives. It will be clean enough by now.
You're almost done! The worst is behind you. Now, put the Swiffer away and grab your windex, wipes, and paper towels:

2 MINUTES - Bathroom Swipe.

  • Start with the toilet. Use your disinfectant wipes and do the rim, the bottom of the basin, the underside of the seat, and the back behind the seat. Then use your wipes to do a quick clean just around the floor of the toilet, and along the perimeter of anywhere you see hair (how many times have you sat on someone else's pot and examined the hair and dust in the corners across from you)?
  • Spray bleach cleaner along the top of the bowl of the toilet if it's particulary yucky (didn't add this into the time, so it'll take another 30 secs). Let it do its work for a few minutes while you finish the rest of the bath. If your kids' potty is in there, you might want to temporarily move it to the other bathroom if you think it's smelling (one less thing to clean right now).
  • Using your windex and paper towels, clean the mirror above the sink (splatters), the faucet (a shiny faucet always looks like the cleaning lady's been there) and the counter or sink rim.
  • Take the little trash can out on your way and dump it into the one in the kitchen (less likely to be smelly and you won't waste time walking all the way to the garage). Bring the windex and paper towels out with you too. Oh, and if you used the bleach cleaner, flush it now so it doesn't smell strong like bleach for your guest.

YOU'RE DONE! Your house is officially "CLEAN". Now, as long as the doorbell hasn't rung, here's some finishing touches:
  • Put all the cleaning stuff away, quickly.
  • Brush your hair, and either put it neatly in a pony, or stick a fun mommy-cap on.
  • Put on lipstick, mascara, and brush your face with bronzer. Even if you don't wear makeup, this bronzer is one thing that will always make you look great and one jar will last you a year (I'm not kidding, I've been using it for years)! Original Indian Earth Makeup Powder - 5 Gram Jar

If you still have time left:

Straighten pillows. Light a smelly candle. Place a silk arrangement on the kitchen table - I like this one: Foglia Bouquet Red - Roses with Green Hydrangea Blossoms
Replace your powder room and kitchen towels with fresh ones. Brew a pot of coffee. Reward yourself with a piece of dark chocolate and freshen your breath at the same time (good antioxidants and still a treat). You deserve it! These look cool out on a candy dish for your guests, too:

Look around, and smile. You surely must feel better with a clean house. The best side effect of this last-minute "cleaning": after your guests leave, you'll still be feeling good about how the house looks great. So when you go to retrieve the hidden basket and the dishes out of the oven - you'll be motivated to put everything in it's proper place. The last thing you'll want to do is put the clutter back!

And P.S. : for all my friends reading this, you'd better not be peeking in my oven when I'm not looking :) !

Friday, February 15, 2008


Hey Moms & Dads, if you haven't checked out this new squidoo lens, click here & take a look:

This is a great reference to readily available red wines for everyday drinking & eating - and if you have a wine habit, you know it can be an expensive one. The author (me)! will be updating this periodically as new wines become available and as the palate experiments. This will not just be me and my opinion, but the opinion of my husband and friends as well - several tastes are better than one! Anyone wanting to share their picks of favorite wines under 9? Add them to the lens! We're always looking for new ones. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Don't forget to hit OneStopMommyShop.com for a great recipe to make with your glass of wine!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Months, even years of interrupted sleepless nights - cause us to do things we never would have done before our children arrived. Here are a few of my confessions - can you relate? I'd like to hear about yours! Take the poll at the right sidebar, or shoot me some blog comments below!

1. Your child's sleeplessness, on more than one occasion, has qualified as a symptom requiring Benadryl.

2. You don't remember the skin color of your legs underneath all the hair.

3. You've brought your kids out in public with the same clothes on they wore the night or the day before.

4. You're latest hairdo is a ponytail and a baseball cap - and you're convinced this is perfectly chic.

5. You've played "possum" (pretended to be asleep) more than once when your hubby attempted advances on you in bed at night.

BUSY MOMS, I can help you get it together with easy recipes, quick solutions for the household stuff, and easy, fun activities to do with your kids - visit the ONE-STOP-MOMMY-SHOP - it's totally free.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


It's tradition in my husband's French family, and in many apparently in France - to make homemade crepes with assorted fillings on the eve of Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras), or Fat Tuesday. If you are unfamiliar with crepes - they are simply very thin pancakes, which can be made with either a savory or a sweet dough. They are filled with things like chicken in white sauce (bechamel), beef bourguignonne (stew), eggs, ham & cheese, or fruits with whip cream or chocolate.

In previous years, I had attempted this tradition - often to be met with little appreciation & even veiled complaints that it "wasn't done quite the right way" or words to that effect. Finding myself irritated that I had tried to sustain a family tradition but was met with chagrin - I informed my other half that as of 2007, he (my native French spouse, Franck) would now be in charge of preparing and serving the crepes, their fillings - and all accoutriments, in the manner in which he saw fit.

Franck asked me to pick up the ingredients he needed. He chose his favorites, and said he would be home early from work on Tuesday to begin making a stack of crepes to be prepared for filling, and was planning on chicken, sauteed spinach, and bechamel (white) sauce), and for dessert - bananas, chocolate sauce, and whip cream.

At 4pm on Fat Tuesday, he arrived, prepared to cook. I had laid out all the ingredients for him, and told him I was taking the kids to the library so he could unwind and get started on his cooking (a luxury I would love to have every night before preparing dinner!) Just before we exited, I gave him a brief reminder of how to make quick & easy bechamel (white) sauce:

Melt 3 Tbl. butter
Add 3 Tbl. flour
Stir till smooth, add 2 cups milk
Heat to just boiling, reduce & simmer to thicken
Season with salt, pepper & pinch nutmeg

Now, some of you would think this is difficult for a man. But I wasn't concerned in the least. Remember, this is a staple in France- and the equivalent of knowing how to scramble eggs here in America. To boot, Franck's father was a chef, and before he met me, his mother had taught him to cook. We agreed I would return with the children at 5pm for an early dinner.

At 4:12, I arrived at the library. No sooner had I gotten their coats off, and my text message alert had gone off. "we don't have enough butter" read the message. Hmmmm, that's funny, I remembered I had a stick of butter in the fridge left. I called him back. This is how it went:

me: "Did you look in the butter compartment of the fridge?"
him: "Yes, but there's only a little over a half a stick".
me: "Do you need more than three tablespoons for some reason?"

him: "No, I need three tablespoons, so what's here isn't enough".
me: "There's eight tablespoons of butter in a stick. If you have over half a stick, you have more than enough butter for the recipe. Look at the lines on the stick of butter."
him: "Oh."

That should have been my first clue. But I just figured - it's been a while since he's cooked, he's just forgotten his way around a bit.

A few minutes passed and the kids were getting into some serious play with some other kids. This was a welcome change from the cabin fever they'd been experiencing with the 10 inches of snow we've recently had here in Chicago.

The vibrate went off on my phone again. This time it wasn't a text.

him: "uuuhhhh, you're going to have to stop for some butter."
me: "what? why?"
him: "I put in two cups of flour instead of 3 tablespoons. I forgot it was the milk that was 2 cups".

This sent me back to another story of a girlfriend of mine that many years ago, had borrowed a lasagne recipe from me. She called me up the night she was making it, and said, "I don't understand, I looked everywhere - but I couldn't find egg yolks at the store. Where are they?".

I guess when you have been cooking as long as I have, you take these things for granted. And while I may have felt a mite smug for a moment - remembering how I had attempted this feat in previous years- I must give credit where credit is due.

After we arrived with the butter and cooking was resumed in the kitchen, my dear husband presented us with a fine crepe dinner - and a wonderful ambiance with French language and wine. What more could a woman ask for? I'll save my veiled complaints for when he attempts to make a Thanksgiving turkey.