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Household Hints Book

Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson, Harry Bates (Illustrator) Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House
by Cheryl Mendelson, Harry Bates (Illustrator)

Hardcover: 884 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.83 x 9.52 x 6.84
Publisher: Scribner; (November 1999)
ISBN: 068481465X

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Amazon.com: Virtually everyone enjoys a crisply ironed dress shirt, clean sheets on a well-made bed, and a savory home-cooked meal. Yet housekeeping today stands as a somewhat neglected, if not maligned, job. But as author Cheryl Mendelson points out in Home Comforts, keeping house well can be a rewarding position--it allows you to provide for the physical and emotional comfort of loved ones. It's also not an easy job--there's much to be learned about properly managing a home, and Mendelson has set out to provide a guide to doing just that.

Mendelson, a homemaker, lawyer, and mother, learned about housekeeping from an early age from her grandmothers, one Appalachian, the other Italian. The two grandmothers taught her that although different ways of keeping house can be appropriate, there are generally smarter, faster, and more creative ways of housekeeping that make it less of a chore and more of an art. In a practical, authoritative tone, Mendelson discusses the ins and outs of homemaking, such as washing dishes, recommended cleaning methods for various surfaces, housekeeping for those with pets or allergies, and emergency preparedness and safety procedures.

Mendelson's well-researched book includes meticulous sections on food (for example, which foods belong in the fridge versus the pantry, food storage times, picking the freshest fruits and vegetables, and keeping your kitchen and food sanitary) as well as laundry (caring for various fabrics, how to read--and read between the lines of--clothing care labels, and removing stains). Mendelson covers a lot of ground, and as she herself points out, readers shouldn't feel required to do everything mentioned in the book--simply pick the activities that seem appropriate for your particular home. This is a comprehensive reference book that should serve homemakers well and induce a greater appreciation for the effort and specialized knowledge that go into keeping house. --Kris Law

The New York Times Book Review, Corby Kummer: Mendelson approaches housekeeping as a vocation, and each reader will draw his or her own line between devoutness and fanaticism.

Book Description: Home Comforts is something new. For the first time in nearly a century, a sole author has written a comprehensive book about housekeeping. This is not a dry how-to manual, nor a collection of odd tips and hints, a cleaning book, a history book, or an arid encyclopedia compiled by a committee or an institute. Home Comforts is a readable explanation for both beginners and experts of all the domestic arts -- choosing fabrics, keeping the piano in tune, caring for books, making a good fire in the fireplace and avoiding chimney fires, ironing and folding, setting up a good reading light, keeping surfaces free of food pathogens, and everything else that modern people might want to do for themselves in their homes. But this reliable and thorough book on the practicalities of housekeeping is also an argument for the importance of private life and the comforts offered by housekeeping.

Cheryl Mendelson is a philosopher, lawyer, sometime professor, and a homemaker, wife, and mother. Home Comforts is based on her domestic education, which she acquired while growing up on a farm in the hills of Greene County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, from her grandmothers, aunts, and mother. Learning from the distinct domestic styles of her native Appalachian relatives and her Italian immigrant relatives, she appreciated early on how important domestic customs are to a sense of comfort and identity in life. She writes out of love and respect for her subject, and hopes to inspire others to develop the affection and respect for home life and housework she was fortunate to have learned.

Mendelson addresses the meanings as well as the methods of housekeeping with a keen sense of the history and values involved. The result is a warm, good-humored, engagingly written book with a message and a point of view, one that is overflowing with useful reflections and information. The clarity, breadth, and depth of the information collected here are unparalleled. You can read Home Comforts for thoughtful entertainment or use its ample index to help you find the answers to practical domestic questions. There is nothing quite like it.

Among this book's unique features:
· A skeptical discussion of the excessive use of disinfectants in the home.
· How to iron a dress shirt and how to fold sheets.
· How to make up a bed with hospital corners.
· How to do all basic sewing stitches.
· How to choose proper sizes for sheets, tablecloths, and other household linens.
· How to set the table for informal and formal meals.
· Expert recommendations for safe food storage.
· The most exhaustive and reliable information on fabrics, textile fibers, and their laundering, drying, and other care that exists for nonprofessionals.
· A thorough explanation of care labels and why and how you should often (carefully) disregard them.
· Housekeeping guidelines for people with pets or with allergies.
· What to do about dust mites.
· How to clean and care for wood, china and crystal, jewelry, ceramic tile, metals, and more.
· Guides to stain and spot removal.
· Extensive recommendations for improving home safety.
· A summary of laws applicable to the home, including privacy, accident liability, contracts, and domestic employees.

Customer Reviews
Oh, Please!!, February 4, 2003
Reviewer: Donna from Prividence, RI USA
While Ms. Mendelson's book is extremely well written and researched, it is so far removed from the real world life of most people I know that in some sections it almost came across as fiction!! The scientific info is very helpful, hence the three stars. But so many of her housekeeping suggestions were simply beyond the realm of possibility for any mere mortal trying to juggle housekeeping, parenthood, and perhaps a job. Many of her daily housekeeping routines are performed weekly at best in the average family household, her weekly routines include many items most consider a blessing to accomplish two or three times a year!! This book has the potential to plunge an average housekeeper into years of depression and psycho-therapy if she measures herself against the ludicrous expectations of Ms. Mendelson. For example: How many housekeepers who have more than one child change the sheets in their household twice a week? (How many do it once a week??), Did you know that kitchen sinks are to be used only for food and dishes? No handwashing in the kitchen sink (huh???) Her obsession with preventing bacteria had me envisioning her sitting at her countertop with an instant read thermometer lest the butter she was allowing to come to room temperature be out a moment longer than necessary.

The book contains lots of really well written how-to's, but any sincere attempt to fashion ones own housekeeping on this book would make the average mom and home maker a basket case!!

Keeping House, Not Playing House, January 22, 2003
Reviewer: PadreRat from San Diego, CA United States
Cheryl Mendelson is my new hero. So long Bridget Jones and Neglia Lawson. This book is so well put together and researched that it is going to become THE book for people to reference about keeping house, like What to expect when you're expecting is to pregnant couples. Like most people, my mother and father weren't the Cleavers. I found myself, a single woman, owning my own home with minimal skills for the job. I've been looking for help and until I read Home Comforts, I felt like nothing was meeting my needs. This book will surpass your wildest dreams of how and why things need to be cleaned, looked after or organized.

The book starts with Ms. Mendelson's story about how she came about writing this book. My own grandmothers came from different camps on how to keep a house. One had six sons (my father included) who learned how to run a house (using the daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal cleaning methods) as though they were daughters. There was nothing they were too proud to do. Whereas my other grandmother did everything herself (unless if fell into my grandfathers realm of fixing) and thought it insulting to have her children do what was her responsibility. Needless to say, my mother didn't have the skills to run her own house except for what she observed and learned from my father. Ms. Mendelson's story is about her Italian and Anglo-Saxon heritage. The history of how people have gotten away from the activities of running a house effectively helps you take a look at where you get your ideas from about homemaking.

The premise of Home Comforts seems a bit antiquated but it is more important today than ever. Think about it...how many men do you know who "putter" around the house or women who have a cleaning schedule for the days of the week. Initially, it reminded me of when I was a girl and had different underwear with the days marked on them. It was very regimented and made me feel guilty if I deviated from the correct day. However, Ms. Mendelson shows us by having a plan to keep our homes clean and healthy, our quality of life will increase. The amazing part is that she includes the benefits of flexibility and takes into account our busy lives. These skills were passed down and somehow got lost in the "liberation" of women. I remember when as a seventeen year old, we took a trip to see my Aunt. She was a stay at home mother and took pride in keeping her house and cooking the family meals. I thought at the time that her life seemed so sad because she was tied down by chores (which seemed like boring and unnecessary work). Now, I realize that I missed out on sharing something special with the women who helped shape my life, since it was not the politically correct thing to do. (Just who thought that is in question here.)

This book will help anyone who wants to learn the rationale behind why chores are necessary. Besides giving practical teachings of how to do them, this book is about having all the facts so you can make the best decisions for your life. It is not militant but more overwhelming since I didn't have the background of what I should be doing. Additionally, I have bought this book for all my friends and the feedback is positive. I've only just started my pilgrimage to house discovery so I wish you luck and good reading!

Great referece material for a logical/scientific mind., January 15, 2003
Reviewer: Jennifer Yoon from Arlington, VA USA
My summary:

I am a 30's, professional, recently married, large-apartment dweller, whose mother passed on VERY LITTLE knowledge about house keeping, although her house was always immaculate. When I got married last year, I needed to get a little more serious about house keeping. I was able to keep to my VERY MINIMAL house keeping routine, and get FANTASTIC results using the heavy dose of scientifially explained reference information from this book.

Clearly, the best part of the book is its explaination of the scientific basis for why certain chemicals work better at certain cleaning tasks. Also the explainations on the "why" and "how" home appliances function help you make MUCH better usage of them.

If you are like me and want to spend minimal time on house-keeping, I would suggest that you IGNORE ALL of her suggestions on how frequently you should perform cleaning tasks. NOT NECESSARY according to my experience. Test it out on your own home and decide for yourself how fequently certain tasks need to be done and still have a nice home. I was able to save a lot of time and get FANTASTIC results. I highly recommend this book!

More detailed info about the book:

I especially love the information on cleaning & sanitizing regarding the basic and acidic sources of stains. I can finally understand why different stains respond to different cleaners. I highly recommend her information about getting stains out of clothes, glasses & dishes, tiles & other floors/surfaces.

I was also finally able to attack the cleaning of my "self-cleaning" oven. Her book explains the scientific basis for the cleaning action at high temperatures. I was afraid of doing this before, because I though I might blow-up the oven. The instructions manual that comes with the oven tell me "how" but not "why". I had a few very nasty experiences operating home appliance without knowing the "why," so my fear was not unfounded.

Three suggestions of my own to readers:

1) If you have wall-to-wall carpeting like me (mine is beige in all rooms) I STRONGLY recommend taking off street shoes as soon as you enter your home (also recommended in the book). There is really no other substitue. Vaccuming does not get out mud stains. You may need to steam clean every 3-months! With a strict no-shoes policy, I only need to vaccum once a month for bedrooms, and once every 2 months for all other living areas. I also have my carpets professionally steam cleaned every 3-years. Mine are like new (6 years old in real age), even though they are beige. I do not recommend do-it-yourself steam cleaning, because this is a really big & back-breaking job. You may want to provide attractive slippers for guest (but most guests were fine with going barefoot).

2) I HIGHLY recommend Hoover "self-propelling" Ultra Windtunnel vaccum cleaner if you have wall-to-wall carpets. The "self-propelling" makes a huge difference. It takes much less effot to push (practically zips around by itself). I hate vaccumming, so even though I paid $... dollars (on special from a store in Georgia w. special stair tool and extra bags), it was really worth it. The sucking power is also great. Sadly, the book is not much help at picking vaccuum cleaners.

3) Not even mentioned in the book under ironing are steaming machines. I HIGHLY recommend getting a steaming maching (I have a Jiffy model with a water tank, cost about $...). This is MUCH superior to all other ironing methods mentioned in the book for vast majority of ironing jobs. Almost any shirt, paths, or clothing can be steamed in 2-3 minutes! Takes only 1 minute to warm up. Really cuts down on time! Steming does not produce straight creases, so still need a traditional iron for these jobs, but since my minimal requirements does not include creating straight creases, I have not needed an iron in over a year.

Such a useful and fun book!, January 9, 2003
Reviewer: A reader from Lexington, MA United States
This book is not for everyone, but people who argue against it should first stop to realize that there are people out there who love books like this. For some women, like myself, being a wife and a keeper of the house is enough ambition. I'm very happy with the life I have chosen and I get great enjoyment from reading about ways to organize, and how many linens should be stocked in the closet, and books filled with charts about how long different kinds of foods last, and how to care for different types of cloth. Through it all the author keeps a light tone, giving us stories from her own life that illumine the book. I could just sit and read it straight through, dog-earing pages as I go!

Full of information, not all too useful though, December 26, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Everett, WA United States
This book was a diappointment to me. I was hoping for lots of useful tips for how to do housekeeping work, but what I got was a lot of stuff I already knew. There's just too much in here for details on any one thing, that is a bad attribute of this book as well.

The M.F.K. Fischer of home economics, December 19, 2002
Reviewer: lindy_julie from Evanston, IL
While this book is fascinating for the sheer volume of information (well researched and well-written) contained between its two covers, I find the author's introduction to be equally interesting. Although Mendelson's approach has much more instruction and much less narrative than M.F.K. Fischer, the authors share an ability to bring out the hidden yearnings and prejudices that are entwined with food and shelter, those two most basic of needs. Both write about the effects that their grandmothers and first marriages had upon their orientation towards their subject. And both impress upon the reader the importance of giving thought to the task of keeping house and keeping fed, no matter what your circumstances.

I'm sure that I'll keep this book forever as a reference work. It is tremendously satisfying to have a source I trust to resolve, once and for all, the vacuum first or dust first question. The illustrations by Henry Bates are exquisite and will keep the book from seeming dated for a long, long time.

But most of all, just as I'll never look at an oyster the same way after reading Fischer, making a bed will never again be just another bit of drudgery after reading Mendelson. I'm inspired to give this area of my life more thought and attention than ever before. Housework may sometimes be annoying, but it will never again be meaningless.

Changed My Life!!!, November 11, 2002
Reviewer: sloth1201 from Austin, TX United States
I would recommend this book to anyone who really wants to make a change in how they keep their house but aren't really sure where to start. I was a total slob for most of my life until I read this book. It can get a bit boring, but there is a chapter for everything in this book. I sit down and read when I get bored and all the sudden, I get inspired to do something. This book is really awesome and it turned me from a slob to a person that needs a clean house and is motivated to make it that way.

Don't follow information on page 443, October 4, 2002
Reviewer: yellowlabs from Lyme, CT United States
This VERY wordy book has some good basic information in it; but I would be careful with some of the "recipes" for Homemade Cleaners, specifically the Lime and Mineral Deposit Remover on p. 443. I tried this and ruined an expensive Franke faucet. The vinegar corroded the metal finish! So be careful. Vinegar works for these deposits but not when you literally soak the fixture in it for a long time.

An invaluable home reference, August 28, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Boston, MA United States
I love this book. While some reviewers have put CM down for too much detail, or a "Martha Stewart"ish tone, I disagree. Right on page 15, she writes that she intended the book to be very thorough, and that some experienced homemakers may find she has included too many basic details, as she puts it. Two pages later, she writes that she has given more detail than the reader might actually need. So don't be put off by the detail - it's a reference book, folks. Not really meant to be just read, but consulted on an ongoing basis. Now, the review.

In the beginning, she makes really great points about how it's the care one gives a home, not the home decor, that make a place comfortable. I think this may be the most important message in the book. It seems like too many people just rush out and buy new "things" instead of caring for what they have. The subsequent chapters are loaded with info on everything from food, fabrics, and photos, and the care thereof. Then she goes into safety and law issues.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. You will learn a lot.

Just what I needed, August 2, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Landenberg, PA USA
I don't know about the rest of you, but all of my friends are buying brand new, huge, sterile houses in new developments with no trees. Each house seems like a mirror image of the next house. When I'm invited over, I feel like I'm expected to be impressed with the high ceilings and designer interiors and open floor plans. I'm sorry, but I just never feel comfortable in these places. I'll give them the obligatory "wow-this-is-nice", but the walls are too white, and the feeling is just not "cozy". You can just tell the house sits empty most of the time.

Then again, my own house which was built in the 1800s is completely chaotic, and I'm truly embarassed to have anybody over (yes you can put your feet on the coffee table). The rugs are stained, the floors are crooked, my husband's tools are left out, the weeds/cobwebs/doghairs have taken over, that sort of thing.

HOME COMFORTS is for all of us, whether you have a huge, new showcase house or have an old, small, cluttered house. There is a very tangible feeling you get when you enter a neat, orderly place. You feel at home. You feel welcome. The stress of the day is left outside. Like getting into a warm bath. This is the "art and the science" of keeping house as opposed to the "drudgery" of housework. The shocking news Cheryl Mendelson has for us, however, is... this skill has nothing to do with crafts and decorating as other books would have us believe. A room full of mismatched furniture neatly arranged (and dust free) can make you feel more at home than pristine "collection" furniture from you know where. This is the underlying point, but the book also serves as a technical reference for taking care of what you own in order to achieve that feeling of comfort when you walk in your own front door. Could be the reason Bed and Breakfasts so popular.

Getting your home to become your haven has a lot more to it than keeping things ultra-clean or folding your cloth napkins a certain way, and the author concedes this. This is a reference book. You take the basics from it - such as how to clean wood floors or fold a fitted sheet, but end up with a sanctuary that's a reflection of you and your family and a place for all of you to unwind. It's nice to have these essentials all in one place, and I think HOME COMFORTS does an excellent job of consolidating them.

I've read other reviews about a "condescending tone". Oh, who cares. I'm thick-skinned and I can take the heat - if I can't admit I'm a slob I can't recover, right. Either way, I do feel sorry for Ms. Mendelson's future daughter-in-law.

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