September 2013

Are You a Walking Compass?

September 30, 2013

Compass Tattoo by Calsidyrose

I’m the navigator in the family. I know it defies gender stereotypes, but I’m the one who’s great with directions. (B does all of our long-distance driving, so we’re a good team.) If I’ve been somewhere once, I can almost always find my way back. At any given moment, no matter where I am, I know where north is.

I’ve had this built-in compass for as long as I can remember, but I never realized how much I rely on it until I got married and began traveling with my husband. I started noticing particular things I do when I arrive in a new place, and it’s always the same…

First, if I don’t already have a map of the place I’m visiting, I immediately find one and orient myself. I need to have a sense of where I am, where my hotel/room is, where the main roads are, and where things are in relation to one another. Then, after studying the map and settling in, I’ll take a stroll so I can internalize what I’ve seen on the map. If I don’t know where north-south-east-west are, I feel completely disoriented and can’t enjoy myself.

This is also true when I’m driving anywhere. As long as I know the direction I’m heading in, I’m fine. But if I’m suddenly confused, I feel anxious and immediately scramble to get my bearings. Once my compass is engaged again, my blood pressure lowers and I can relax. I never completely trust navigation systems or even smartphone directions; I feel best with a (current) printed map in hand.

I remember sharing this with one of my brothers (who’s traveled around the world), and he told me he does the same thing whenever he’s in a new place. It got me wondering whether this is just something your born with, or something you learn while growing up (or some combination of both).

I don’t remember where I read it, but apparently, if you grew up in a rural area, you tend to have a much better sense of direction than if you were raised in a city or town. Which makes sense to me: Where I grew up, some roads didn’t have names; you found your way because you knew the landmarks, where the sun rises and sets, and where things are in relation to each another. Rural people tend to really know the land, and they’re usually more in tune with weather, seasons, the phases of the moon, and have a natural sense of time based on where the sun is in the sky. All of this no doubt develops a strong sense of direction in a person as they grow up.

I’m curious: Are you also the kind of person who needs to know where north is, always travels with a map, and feels super anxious if you’re lost? Do you have a built-in compass, or are you directionally challenged?

Image via calsidyrose 

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Pull Up a Chair

September 27, 2013

White Flag Bunting

Today I’m ready to raise the white flag and finally admit defeat: I can not keep my house in any kind of order. It’s in a constant state of disaster. For a year now, I’ve battled the mess, but one can only suffer defeat so many times before apathy sets in. Looking out on my domestic battlefield, I may actually be too tired to care anymore.

I want to blame it on the house. It’s cute, but it’s all of nine feet wide. The playroom is the dining room, which is also the living room and the entrance way. There are no shelves (hard to hang anything from hundred-year-old exposed brick); there are no closets. Even just one downstairs would be nice: I could throw a few things in boxes and close the door, and that at least would give me some (false) sense of tidiness. It was bad enough before, but now I’m trying to homeschool, which means more books, craft supplies, binders, papers, markers. Where am I supposed to put it all?

It doesn’t seem fair to be constantly nagging my daughters about tidying up, since the space they have to play in is so limited. Where B and I see mess, they see important scenes they’ve created with their imaginations and anything (and everything) on hand. And that’s part of the problem: They like to play with tiny things — puzzle pieces, mini blocks, parts that once belonged to something else, plastic beads they got at their first parade, play food, you name it.

Trying to find homes for all of these disparate pieces is a Herculean task. The bins I bought to be those homes have become toys themselves — cribs, boats, houses, traveling carriers. My last-resort idea is to get another large canvas toy bin for everything to be thrown in together, but where to find the floor space? B and I have already purged a lot and put items in our over-loaded basement. We’re trying to teach our girls to put things away, but in order for them to do that in any habitual way, each plaything must have a home.

I can blame our house and bemoan the girl’s play habits, but the truth is, it’s also my fault. Organization just doesn’t come naturally to me. I always thought I was pretty organized, but that’s because I was hanging out with people far more disorganized than I am…

So, I’m left with one conclusion: It’s time for a new house! Which is also overwhelming to think about, but I’m sensing my desperation will serve as a great motivator. I know that a new house won’t magically make our home all orderly and zen-like, but it can only help. (Please tell me it will help…) I don’t want a giant home, but I’ll take something a little bigger — and some storage, people!

Ok, enough venting; we probably all need a drink after that! How about this ginger and peach soda, with a little vodka to top it off? I love ginger, and there are some gorgeous peaches still in season around here right now, so it looks like a winner to me. As for my high and low this week:

Low: Well, I just talked your ear off about my low. Enough said.

High: An unexpected gift from a friend that reminded me how well cared for I am this life.

Bonus question: Are you a neat freak, a clutter bug, or somewhere in between? I consider myself somewhere in the middle, leaning towards the latter but with a desire to be the former.

Your turn! How was your week? What’s happening in your world? Hope you have a slow and happy weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image via Pinterest

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by Margaret Cabaniss

A Visit to Distillery Lane Ciderworks (Jefferson, MD)

To help ring in the first day of fall last weekend, I paid a visit to Distillery Lane Ciderworks, an apple orchard and cidery here in western Maryland. DLC is still a pretty young operation (they planted their first trees in 2001 and opened the ciderworks in 2010), but you wouldn’t know it from tasting their amazing apples — and, of course, the cider.

The orchard is set up so you can give yourself a little guided tour, learning a bit about the apple business as you wander. I’m a sucker for this stuff: Did you know there are more than 7,500 apple varieties in the world right now? Hard to imagine, based on the small number that ever make it into commercial grocery stores…

Distillery Lane Ciderworks (Jefferson, MD)

DLC alone grows more than 45 varieties of dessert and cider apples, from both hybrid and heritage stock. I loved learning about the varieties they grow — like the Newtown Pippin, an American original dating back to the colonial era (and one that Queen Victoria was apparently so crazy for, she lifted import duties on the variety). It was great to taste such an incredible range of apples while we were there; the DLC folks encouraged us to sample a little of everything to see what we liked. (Two of my new favorites: SnowSweet and Gravenstein.)

Distillery Lane Ciderworks (Jefferson, MD)

The tour (very conveniently) ends at the cider tasting room, where you can sample some of the stuff they press. If you’re used to commercial hard cider, theirs will come as a bit of a shock: It’s far less sweet, for one, and most of their blends are non-carbonated — more like wine than beer. I had to take home a bottle of their barrel-aged Kingston Black, which is matured in old bourbon barrels (because, of course). I can’t wait to crack it open once we’re a little deeper into fall…

Distillery Lane Ciderworks (Jefferson, MD)

I’m impressed by what Distillery Lane has been able to accomplish in the short time they’ve been open, as well as their commitment to heritage produce, low-impact farming, and traditional foods. If you’re in the area, definitely make time for a visit — or just keep your eyes peeled for their cider in a wine shop or restaurant near you. I’ll definitely be taking more trips out there this fall (gotta try the new varieties as they come in!), and I foresee lots of experimenting in the kitchen, too — about which, stay tuned…

Distillery Lane Ciderworks (Jefferson, MD)

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Judging Family Size

September 25, 2013

Many Hands

Growing up the eldest of nine, I was privy to plenty of comments about our family size. My mother, or course, bore the brunt of it: Are all these yours? Are you done yet? Don’t you know how this happens? As a child, I thought these were odd things to say, given how normal it all seemed to me. As an adult, I marvel at how well my mother handled it; I don’t know that I could be so self-possessed and polite.

A big family stood out back then almost as much as it does now, but I’ve learned — as someone who was childless until I hit my 40s — that both ends of the family-size spectrum garner comments from the peanut gallery.

If you’re married for more than a couple of years and have no children, perfect strangers want to know if and when you intend to bring one into the world. Once you have a child, everyone wants to know when you’re going to give him or her a sibling. After that sibling comes along — especially if it’s the opposite sex — your family is now considered complete; if it’s discovered that number three is on the way, the previous excitement about your baby news is pretty much gone (unless, perhaps, you’re clearly trying one more time to get that desired boy or girl). I remember my acupuncturist once telling me that his wife was pregnant with number three. I congratulated him on the great news, but he gave me a strange look and said, “Really? Everyone else I’ve told thinks we’re crazy.”

I’m not sure where this two-kid ideal came from. My best guess is that people recognize that the majority of adults want children, but kids require sacrifice and investment — so once you acquire a boy and a girl, you’ve hit it about right. Anything outside of that golden mean, though, and something’s either wrong with you or you’re solely to blame for global warming.

We all hold beliefs that affect our views about bringing children into the world, but it’s the tendency to voice these opinions and beliefs out loud to complete strangers that baffles me. I don’t know what’s behind anyone’s family size but my own. Some people have trouble conceiving, while others are fertile as the plains of Lebanon. (Are there fertile plains in Lebanon?) Some believe children are the greatest blessing in life; others believe they’ll be happier without kids. Some start families early; others start late. Some consider it responsible to limit their family size, while others avoid contraception for health, spiritual, or religious reasons. Regardless, in a society that claims tolerance as its chief virtue, it’s very strange that family size doesn’t warrant more open minds and closed mouths.

Growing up, having two kids seemed a little boring to me — conventional, commonplace. Now I have two children — which, of course, isn’t boring in the least — and though I never get comments about my family size per se, I have friends and family who struggle to remain polite when the same comments are hurled at them again and again about the number of kids they do or don’t have.

Whether your nest is empty or you’ve got an entire basketball team, I hope you’ll hold your head high. There are many things that matter in this life, but the size of your family is not one of them.

Have you ever experienced prejudice about your family size? Got any great responses to share? (This is definitely a topic that can warrant strong opinions, so let’s keep the conversation respectful.)

Image via Pinterest

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by Christine Nelson

Honey For Sale1

When I want a sweetener for myself or my family, honey is my first choice. It not only tastes great, it provides antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. I feel good serving such a wholesome product — and yet, once I became a beekeeper, I learned that the honey we often buy in stores isn’t always so wholesome.

First, the bad news…

Find any average beekeeper, and chances are good they use a range of chemicals on their hives. Pesticides are used to kill the varroa mites that can take over a hive and kill the honeybees; antibiotics are used to treat certain diseases. The type and amount of chemicals will differ from beekeeper to beekeeper: One Pennsylvania State University test on beehives in 2008 found 70 different pesticides existing in the hives they tested and unprecedented levels of fluvalinate and coumaphos — pesticides used to combat the mites. Not so wholesome. In addition, honey can be overly processed, destroying its health benefits (more on this later).

While there’s no scientific evidence linking these chemicals in honey to health problems in humans (which would be difficult to prove anyway), it makes sense to me to limit my family’s exposure to them. Just as I try to avoid unnecessary chemicals in foods like vegetables and meat, it makes sense not to have them in my honey as well.

Honeycomb

What to Look For

The good news is, there are beekeepers that treat their honey well and use chemical-free methods to keep their bees and hives healthy. So how do you find their wholesome honey? It may require a little work up front, but once you find honey that is healthy and delicious, you can become a regular customer. You really want to look for two things in particular:

1) Honey should be raw, which means unheated and unfiltered. Did you know that honey is naturally antibacterial and doesn’t need to be heated to be a safe food product? Unfortunately, many beekeepers — especially those with lots of hives — will often heat their honey so it flows more quickly, which makes the processing faster, too. Heat can also make honey less cloudy and more clear — something consumers generally look for. But heat can destroy the beneficial antioxidants and enzymes in honey and change the flavor. Cloudy honey can be good honey!

2) Honey should be free of unnecessary chemicals, or as free as possible. You don’t want to choose honey where the beekeeper uses chemicals on the hives on a regular basis. The word “organic” is generally not used for honey like it is for other foods; instead, beekeepers who use no pesticides or antibiotics may call their honey “treatment-free.” The best way to find out is to ask the beekeeper if they use chemicals on their hives, and if so, how often. Depending on your area and its honey market, you may or may not have to pay more for “treatment-free” honey.

Raw Honey

Where to Find It

I first look to my local beekeepers (a farmers’ market is a great place to start). Many times, smaller beekeepers won’t use the terms “raw” or “treatment free” on their labels; you have to talk to them personally, just like you might talk to a farmer about his produce. Ask about what treatments, if any, they use for their honey, and whether their product is raw. Don’t be afraid to press if the answers are not forthcoming — in a friendly way, of course!

Local honey is a great choice, because you know more about the environment in which it was made: If a farm uses a heavy dose of chemicals on its produce, bees will likely pick these chemicals up as they collect nectar and pollen — and you might want to avoid the honey that results.

Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon for foreign honey to have been tampered with: The FDA has found numerous cases where honey imported to the States from foreign countries included added sugar and other ingredients. (Manuka honey from New Zealand, famous for its health benefits, is often not the pure stuff being advertised.) And then there’s the report from a couple years ago showing that a great deal of honey in American grocery stores is not real honey at all.

Most mainstream supermarkets carry honey made by large commercial beekeepers and their bees. Even if it’s real honey, the larger beekeepers are more likely to use pesticides and antibiotics: With a large number of hives, they don’t have the time to inspect each one for disease or pests, so they simply treat them all. If you have a favorite store brand, call the company and ask how they take care of and process their honey.

It’s unrealistic to expect a 100% guarantee of pure unadulterated honey, because bees can fly far and pick up who knows what in the environment. But by being an educated and discerning consumer, you can find honey that’s much closer to the way Mother Nature intended.

Do you shop around for wholesome honey already? Where have you found it? Would you spend the extra time and money to find raw, untreated honey?

Images: Christine Nelson. Christine is a stay-at-home mom in central Massachusetts. She shares her home with one husband, two kids (ages 14 and 9), one dog, two cats, a rabbit, chickens — and honey bees.

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Silly Saint-Paul Girls

I can’t be the only woman who once made assumptions about what I’d be like as a mom. Here’s a sampling of the things I’m (barely) willing to admit I’m guilty of and that I thought I’d never do as a parent:

Calling my husband “Daddy.”

I always thought it was weird, lame, and even a little creepy when wives called their husbands “Dad” or “Daddy” (or some form of the equivalent). But our girls were confused for a while as to whether they should call us by our first names or by Mommy and Daddy, so to reinforce the latter, I started calling B “Dad” or “Daddy” when the girls were around. This still happens out of habit — and I still cringe inside when I do it.

Allowing my kids to take physical risks.

I thought I’d be way more cautious as a parent, afraid my kids would get hurt — maybe because I’m a scaredy-cat myself and thought I’d project this onto my children. But I’m much more relaxed about their taking physical risks than I thought I would be. (My husband, on the other hand…)

Continuing to be a night owl.

I truly thought I could turn myself into a morning person when I became a mom. Instead, I’ve simply become a very sleep-deprived woman. Parenting makes you appreciate every single second of quiet time you have to yourself (and with your spouse), and that tends to come late at night around here. I’ve always come alive after dark, had my best ideas at night, and been very productive in the late hours, but man, morning comes too soon now.

Using bribery and threats.

I’m against this in principle; it seems so low on the evolutionary parenting scale. And yet, before I can hold my tongue, I find myself telling one of my daughters that if she doesn’t do this or that, this or that will happen. I’m still looking for better ways to encourage and discourage behavior, and maybe that’s the problem: In the absence of a better plan, I resort to bribes and threats. (Don’t tell!, or I’ll…)

Sitting on the sidelines clapping and cheering for my kids.

Every now and then, when B and I are sitting poolside watching S and H learn to swim, it occurs to us that we have become those parents. Of course, we confuse people, because they don’t know who the pale people are actually cheering for, since there are only two brown-skinned girls in the water…

Never failing to find my daughters endlessly fascinating. 

I’m super-conscious of not talking friends’ ears off about my children and maintaining adult conversation whenever possible, but I assumed I’d find it boring to talk about my kids all day. And I really don’t. Okay, maybe not all day, but you get the picture. I feel like I have a perfect right to be amazed by my children, because they are objectively amazing, but I’m guessing all parents pretty much feel this way.

There’s more, but I think I need to turn this over to you now and see if you’re willing to admit to anything you thought you’d never do or be as a parent. Spill the beans!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

September 20, 2013

Textures at Machu Picchu

I’m amazed at how quickly these September weeks are flying by — which begins with how fast the days seem to go. There’s one thing with homeschooling I’m fast discovering: It can suddenly be 4:00 p.m. and nothing resembling school has happened. Luckily, when you’re educating at home, you can turn anything into a teaching moment, and I’m getting better about approaching life in general this way. I’m also trying to have one or two short periods of a time each day when we intentionally work on subject areas…numbers, letters, geography, you name it.

Of course, there are trips to the library, reading books aloud, play time, and getting outside. We have co-op school two days a week and just joined a local homeschooling co-op for a monthly activity, too. It all makes for very full days if you count errands, cooking, laundry, cleaning, keeping a social calendar, blogging, and finding time in between it all for paid work.

The life of a busy mom, right? I need to sit myself down, breathe deeply, and take a swig of something delicious. (Even though it’s just virtual, I’ll take it any way I can get it.) This salted meyer lemon and sage presse, originally from Bon Appetit, is bound to do the trick. Citrus drinks always seem to work no matter what the season, and since it’s still not quite cold out yet, I’ll keep enjoying anything made with lemon. Here’s my high and low this week:

Low: It took me the better part of the week to finally get over a bad sinus cold. They can really take the wind out of your sails. Because I was so wiped out, I couldn’t always make it back up after the girls went down to get work and writing done, so I felt a bit rushed and behind all week.

High: Watching my girls make progress with what they’re learning. It’s amazing to see things “click” in their heads or watch them suddenly be able to do something they couldn’t before. To think where they were this time last fall… It’s incredible, really. Also, the weather here has been absolutely gorgeous.

Bonus question: What’s your secret talent? I can parallel park like no one’s business. The rest of my driving skills are pretty average, but I can get into spaces that appear impossible, and usually in one attempt. I call these my “Italian parking jobs,” because when I was in Italy I would see so many parked cars touching each other. My husband insisted I take a photo last year of one particular spot I got into outside our house; I was literally less than half an inch from the car in front and the car in back. I guess this is what happens when street parking is at a premium where you live and there’s a lot of opportunity to practice!

How was your week? Please help yourself to a lemon and sage drink and tell me all about it. Hope your weekend is slow and happy, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: at Machu Picchu, by Lisa Malveaux

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by Margaret Cabaniss

texting_at_dinner_nytimes

Show of hands: How many of you have considered shutting down your Facebook (slash-Twitter-slash-Instagram) account? How many of you have actually succeeded? Did it save your sanity and restore some balance to your life, or did you just end up feeling slightly out of sync with the world? Some combination of both?

I’m torn about the whole going-off-the-grid impulse — and if the number of my Facebook friends who threaten every other day to pull the plug is any indication, I’m not alone. On the one hand, in her recent London Review of Books essay, Rebecca Solnit completely nails the distance and dislocation that our modern forms of communication have (paradoxically) introduced in society:

Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the unnuanced sparseness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat. I think of that lost world, the way we lived before these new networking technologies, as having two poles: solitude and communion. The new chatter puts us somewhere in between, assuaging fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deep zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t recognize myself a bit here. How often do I check my phone when I’m waiting in line? (The better question might be, how often do I actually leave my phone in my pocket?) Heck, how many times have I checked Facebook in the course of writing this one measly blog post?

It always sounds lovely in the abstract to log off and really connect again — with others, with myself — but the reality is rarely so simple, as Helen Rittelmeyer can attest. She recently went on a sort of “reading diet,” cutting out anything that didn’t feel truly inspiring or worthwhile (so, you know, no Buzzfeed listicles or GIF-centric Tumblrs). After six months, she says she’s happy she made the change but admits it hasn’t all been roses:

I have learned…that unplugging from the zeitgeist makes it really hard to talk to people…. There are only so many times you can respond to someone’s well-intentioned conversation starter with “Sorry, I haven’t followed that story because it brought me no joy to do so,” or “I figured it wasn’t cosmically important for me to have an opinion on that, and since the topic didn’t interest me I didn’t bother to form one,” or “I have no idea what meme you’re talking about, because I used the time I was going to spend on Facebook to finish Boswell’s life of Johnson.”

You have no factoids to swap, because you no longer deal in factoids. No memes, no news bulletins, no hey-did-you-see’s. Topics not derived from the media should be safe ground, theoretically, but you’d be surprised how many of the reference points people use to understand their own stories come from stuff they’ve seen on Facebook or on TV. These days, socializing at a bar or browsing through Twitter, I feel like a time traveler from the 19th century. Or earlier.

Turns out that unplugging yourself, while potentially satisfying, doesn’t suddenly make the rest of the world unplug along with you, and that the connection we crave is often bound up in our very devices and distractions. I may learn more from cracking open that Civil War history I have on my nightstand, but I would miss deconstructing the latest episode of Breaking Bad with my friends on Facebook — and, silly as it may sound, those connections aren’t nothing.

Fortunately, we’re not talking about an all-or-nothing proposition here, but striking that balance can be tough (to put it mildly). So how do you do it? No, really — I want to know. How do you keep your devices from ruling your life, or distracting you from the important stuff, without chucking them entirely? And do read the rest of Solnit’s and Rittelmeyer’s essays; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image: Mark Ostow for the New York Times

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Do New Mamas Get Anything Done?

September 18, 2013

Mama & New Baby

When it comes to the hard work and constant self-sacrifice of motherhood, I hear so many new moms say, “No one told me the truth.” New motherhood is a huge adjustment, and being at home with an infant (or a newly adopted child when you’re cocooning) can be lonely and depleting. But Anne Rust at New Mama tells it like it is:

Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. And here it is: You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby. And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory). You might get yourself fed. You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not). You might take a walk (it makes baby happy). You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish. This is your new mom normal.

Sound frustrating, even a little depressing? Read on — that “nothing” that you’re doing is more than you think. Then pass it on to any new mom you know who needs to hear the truth.

Image: Rachel Thurston, used with permission

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by Ann Waterman

Clean_Bathroom_header

I knew I’d arrived in the domestic arts when my mom, the cleanest person I know (I’d eat off her floors in heartbeat), asked me if we’d redone our bathroom because it looked so clean and new. I just about died from the unintended recognition of my cleaning prowess.

I wasn’t always this good at cleaning bathrooms — my college roommates would be happy to elaborate, I’m sure — but I’ve gotten better at it over the years and can make even the dirtiest bathroom sparkle with a little elbow grease and a few tricks up my sleeve. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

Clean-Bathroom-Caddy

Tools

It’s important to have the right tools when you’re cleaning: It’ll make the job easier and save time. I like to have a cleaning caddy where I keep all of my supplies close at hand when I work. In the caddy, I keep the following: baking soda, castile soap, a 10:1 solution of water to bleach in a spray bottle, cotton rags (made from my husband’s old t-shirts), microfiber cloths, an old toothbrush (used exclusively for cleaning nooks and crannies, not teeth), a scrub brush, and my favorite cleaning solution. I keep bathroom-specific cleaners (like toilet-bowl cleaner) under the sink. I also have a small bucket to toss dirty rags in as I work, since I go through a lot of them and don’t want them lying around on my freshly cleaned floor (yuck!). You may also need a broom and dustpan for the floor.

Clean-Bathroom-tub

Tub and Tiles

When it comes to any chore, I try to tackle the hardest thing first; it helps knowing the rest of the job will be downhill once the first task is complete. In the bathroom, it’s cleaning the tub and tiles I dread most (with the toilet coming in at a close second).

The first thing I do is clear everything out of the area — shampoo bottles, razors, bars of soap, etc. — so I’m not knocking things down when I clean. Then I check my cloth shower curtain liner to see if it needs a wash. If it’s looking a little funky, I’ll take it down, toss it in the wash, and replace it with my back-up liner.

Cleaning should always be done top to bottom, so I start with the tiles first. If you’re feeling green, put a little castile soap on your scrub brush and clean away. Rinse the walls with a wet microfiber cloth (I like the microfiber cloths for this task because they hold a lot of water). For the tub, sprinkle in some baking soda, add a little squirt of castile soap, and go at it with your scrub brush. (Prefer a chemical cleanser? No judgment here. Sometimes the soap scum gets to be too much for me and I’ll resort to Scrubbing Bubbles, rinsing it off with a wet microfiber cloth.)

Clean-Bathroom-Squeegee

Just a quick word about mold: Even if you clean your bathroom regularly, mold can still pop up in your shower. Mold loves damp conditions, and your best defense is to keep your bathroom as dry as possible: Always turn on the fan while you shower, and close the shower curtain when you’re done so it can dry. I know you probably don’t want to hear this, because it’s something your very meticulous neat-freak aunt does (or your friendly neighborhood blogger <cough>), but swipe the walls with a shower squeegee and wipe down horizontal surfaces where water collects after every shower. Taking a few minutes to do this after you shower could save you from a tedious (and potentially expensive) re-caulking or re-tiling job later on. If you’re battling mold, here are some green ways to get rid of it.

Clean-Bathroom-Hardware

Dusting

Before moving on to the toilet, vanity, and floors, I dust all the hardware: the towel bars, light fixtures, and the often-overlooked toilet-roll holder (take a look: You’ll be surprised at how much toilet-paper dust has settled on it!). I also like to wipe down the door handle and switch plate with a little bleach solution,  just in case someone didn’t wash his hands after using the bathroom (8-year-old, I’m looking at you).

Clean-Bathroom-Toilet

Toilet

Apply your toilet-bowl cleaner first to allow it time to work while you clean the exterior of the toilet. If the toilet bowl is especially grimy, consider applying it before you start the shower.

I used to waste a lot of time chasing around wet dust on the toilet porcelain with my cleaning rag until I discovered a little trick: Now, before spraying the toilet with any cleansing spray, I do a dry wipe-down first with a microfiber cloth to capture all the dust. It makes my wet wipe down so much easier; just think of it like sweeping the floor before you mop it.

Again, work top-down, making sure to use a clean rag for surfaces that come in contact with skin (i.e., don’t clean the underside of the toilet seat and then use the same rag to clean the top of the seat). Pay special attention to the toilet seat hinges where grime loves to collect. This is where I like to pull out my cleaning toothbrush to get it really clean. Don’t forget to clean the base of the toilet, too.

Clean-Bathroom-Sink

Vanity

Clear the vanity of anything sitting out on the counter, taking care to give everything a quick wipe-down as you move it. Pay special attention to soap dispensers or bar soap holders, which may need to be rinsed with water to remove dried-on soap.

If you’ve already dusted the light fixtures above the sink, next spray and wipe the mirror to remove fingerprints and toothpaste stains. Spray the entire surface, including faucet hardware, with cleanser. Starting with the faucet, begin wiping down the counter, saving the sink for last. To get rid of funk around the faucet fixture and the sink drain, spray with cleanser and use your cleaning toothbrush to really get it clean.

If you have a vanity cabinet underneath the sink, check to see if the handles and cabinet door are clean. (My boys sometimes leave toothpaste dribbles.)

Clean-Bathrool-Floor

Floors

Remove everything from the floor so you can clean with ease. Empty the garbage can, shake out the rugs, and give the bathroom scale a wipe-down to remove any dust. Next, sweep the floor, being sure to use your microfiber cloth to grab the dust that likes to settle on the trim.

There are several ways to wash the floor, but my preferred method — shown me by a college roommate who used to clean hotel bathrooms — is to spray a section of the floor with my preferred cleaner and then wipe it with a rag. Repeat until the entire floor is finished, folding your cloth to a clean part as you work. Depending on the size of the floor, you may need a few cloths to get the job done. I like this method because it saves me from messing with buckets of water and mops, and it allows me to really get into nooks and crannies — plus, since most bathrooms are small, it takes little time.

Clean-Bathroom-Towel

Finishing Up

You’re almost done! Replace shower items, vanity items, and any trash cans or bath mats you removed while cleaning, then take down used bath and hand towels and replace them with a clean set. Now, how about a nice, hot shower in your squeaky-clean tub?

What are your favorite bathroom cleaning tips?

Images: Ann Waterman

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