Practical Hospitality: How Clean is Clean Enough?

Let’s talk housekeeping. Not ordinary housekeeping. Not “Do the Laundry on Wednesday and Clean the Bathrooms on Fridays” housekeeping. But, rather, “Friends are Coming Over Tonight, and We Need to Get the House Ready” housekeeping. What exactly, in that scenario does “get the house ready” mean?

This is an important question, because how you answer it determines: 1) How free you feel to have people over; and 2) How crazy you make yourself and everyone in your household prior to your guests’ arrival.

Continue reading

Two Years Later: A Before and After

Two years ago today, demo began on our house. You can read about it here. At the time, in my naïve, foolish, little head, I had visions of us speedily and efficiently transforming this house into a home in a little over six months. Just like you see on TV. Oh, sweet innocence of youth.

Three general contractors, mountains of debt, anxiety attacks on the regular, and about 600 martinis later, I’m still making my peace with our decision to buy and renovate this house. Our little guy is helping, though, and the more we fill this place with memories of him, the more peaceful I’m starting to feel about it all.

Continue reading

Leaving Home

I hosted the first party in my Steubenville home on January 2, 2005. I’d only closed on the house a few hours before, but that didn’t stop me from calling up a half-dozen friends and inviting them to join me for dinner. We ordered Chinese, laid out a blanket on the floor of the empty living room, and ate off paper plates. It was a glorious evening.

I hosted my last party in my Steubenville home this past Friday night. There were too many of us to sit around the table, so we ate in the living room this time too. Only, there’s furniture there now. Life has gotten more comfortable over the past 12 years. The food has gotten better too. For the occasion (introducing my home’s soon-to-be-new-owners to some of my closest friends), I cooked one of my fanciest and easiest pasta dishes. Guests sipped martinis, and we all ate off my pretty English china. It also was a glorious evening, albeit with a touch of melancholy.

Looking Back

Twelve years ago, when we ate Chinese on the living room floor, there was the promise of more parties to come. On Friday, the promise was gone. In its place, however, was gratitude for parties past.

There was gratitude for Thursday Night Dinners—my once weekly dinner parties where children ran wild through the house and dozens of grown-ups found seats wherever there they could—sofas and chairs, basement floors, front porch railings, and garden beds.

1011549_10152209641803345_764543885_n

Continue reading

How I Do Advent: Extreme Entertaining

Once upon a time, I had visions of Advent activities dancing through my head— visions of Jesse Trees, sweet little wreaths hung from dining room chandeliers, and rows of tiny shoes left out by the fireside for Saint Nicholas to fill. Those visions, however, went hand in hand with visions of a house overflowing with babies. Since the latter visions haven’t come to pass, neither have the former.

As most single Catholic woman will tell you, come Advent, it’s easy to feel left out in the cold. So many of the Church’s loveliest traditions for the domestic church are traditions best enjoyed in the company of children. Or at least another person. So, what’s a liturgically minded gal to do?

Borrow other people’s children, of course.

DSC04997 (1)

Continue reading

Housekeeping 101: Catholic Style

This is what I’m doing.

This is me doing it….starting with point number one: The Catholic Home is well-maintained. Hold fire until the end please.

When I was a little girl, my mom worked part-time in a local bookstore. She wasn’t gone much—maybe two nights a week and Saturdays. But oh, my sisters and I hated when she left.

“Don’t go, Mom,” we’d all cry in unison. “Dad’s going to make us cleeeeeeeeen.”

It didn’t work. She left, and before the car pulled out of the driveway, Dad was tossing cans of Pledge into my eight-year-old hands.

Life with my father—a former Navy man—was a life filled with cleaning. There are pictures of my sister Annmarie and I, ages 4 and 7, standing on chairs at the sink washing the dishes. We also scrubbed bathrooms, mopped floors, and dusted furniture well before we reached double digits.

It’s not like we grew up in a museum. We spread Legos on the floor and built forts with blankets. We just had to take care of the messes we made. Or hear about it.

Not surprisingly, as a child, I thought my parents’ predilection for order and cleanliness was a horrible plot devised to torture me. As an adult, however, I couldn’t be more grateful. They taught my sisters and I that having things was a privilege, not a right, and that if we wanted nice things, we had to care for them.

From them, we learned responsibility, discipline, and stewardship. We also enjoyed the peace and security that comes from living in a clean, well-ordered home. That’s a peace we all continue to try to cultivate today in our own homes.

IMG_2004

Shiny.

The Why Continue reading

The Catholic Home

Our Sunday Visitor hates me. They must. Why else would they ask me to write a 3,000 word story about what, from a design standpoint, a Catholic home should look like.

(My devil may care answer? A Catholic home should be: 1) well-maintained; 2) personal; 3) full of sacramentals; 4) full of beauty; and 5) not full of clutter.)

“What’s so bad about that?” some of you are wondering.

To you, I say: You do not know the Internet very well.

Continue reading

“Like Life to Man”: The Glory of Wine

On the list of “Things I Don’t Understand,” Pittsburgh traffic tops the list. Bruce Jenner comes in as a close second. Third, I think, is a dry dinner party. Or, more specifically, a dry Catholic dinner party—a dinner party with plenty of Catholics, but no wine (or beer or booze as the case may be).

Such sad affairs are a uniquely American phenomenon—a weird social tick that American Catholics picked up from living alongside tee-totaling Protestants. Elsewhere, they simply don’t exist. Not in Italy. Not in France. Not in Germany or Austria or Spain. Really, not anywhere in Western Civilization that has more than a passing connection to Catholicism. There, if you find food and people, you’ll also find adult beverages.

And that, especially when it comes to wine, is exactly how it should be.

Wine 8

Continue reading

How to Make Small Kitchens Appear Bigger

 After last week’s post, “10 Things I Love About My Small Kitchen,” reactions fell into one of two categories: 1)“Beautiful kitchen!” or 2) “Your kitchen isn’t small!”

To the former, I say, “Thank you!” To the latter, I say, “Is so!”

It’s true: A tiny studio kitchen in Manhattan, mine ain’t. I know it could be worse—way, way worse. To those of you cooking in teeny, tiny kitchens smaller than an airplane bathroom, I salute you.

Nevertheless, 9×13 still ranks on the decidedly small size—especially when compared to the mega-kitchens HGTV tells us we must have if we don’t want the neighbors pointing and laughing. Some of the folks in the “Your kitchen isn’t small!” camp discovered that, when they went and measured their own “small kitchens” and found that their kitchens were roughly the size of mine. But how could that be, they wondered, since mine looked so much bigger than theirs?

The answer? Magic! Or more specifically, the optical kind of magic: Illusion.

Here are some “Before”shots from shortly after I moved into my house in early 2005. And yes, I did buy the house when the kitchen looked that way—cement walls and all. I got a deal!

DSC01776

DSC01777 Continue reading

10 Things I Love About My Small Kitchen

I’m not sure if people in Heaven are allowed to spend their eternity laughing at people on earth. Probably not. But, if they were, the blessed poor would be laughing at us.

Why?

Too many reasons to count. But one reason would be our obsession with out-sized kitchens.

Over the past decade, HGTV and Better Homes and Gardens have colluded to trick millions of unsuspecting Americans into believing that they need—really, really need—to spend tens of thousands of dollars lining their kitchen walls with custom cabinetry and their countertops with marble. Last year, $54,000 was the cost of the average kitchen makeover in the U.S. $54,000! That’s just $10,000 less than I paid for my house in 2005.

The same masters of brain-washing seem to have convinced an equal number of folks, that if your kitchen isn’t large enough to host a regimental ball, you should resign yourself to a life of take-out and frozen dinners. Because who can cook for themselves, let alone for others, in any room too small for waltzing?

And yet, for centuries, women managed to feed their family and friends just fine, in kitchens roughly the size of contemporary pantries. They cooked three meals a day for a half-dozen or more little ones, welcomed friends and strangers alike to their table, and did it all without built-in wine coolers and multiple prep sinks.

Continue reading

My Catholic Table

This is a story about a table. It begins, in the early years of the twentieth century, when a young immigrant couple from Czechoslovakia bought a home in the Duquesne neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The neighborhood was a bustling one then, filled with Catholics from around the world. For six days, the men worked in the steel mills, and on the seventh, they donned their Sunday best to walk with their families to one of Duquesne’s three Catholic churches.

The young Czechoslovakian couple was no different. Their life revolved around the mill, their parish, and their neighborhood. It also revolved around their boys—all five of them. Early in their marriage, recognizing they’d need some place to feed the growing brood, the couple took more than a few of their pennies out of savings and used them to purchase a dining room set made in Lenoir, North Carolina. On the bottom of the chairs, paper tags proclaimed the date they left the wood shop: March 1916. DR2 The dining set was beautiful, grand even, far grander than the working class home to which it went. But, it was meant for a grand and noble purpose—to be the locus not just for daily meals of halushki and peroghi, but also for daily conversations, for homework and story telling, family prayers and birthday celebrations, schooling little ones in the virtues and handing on the traditions of their homeland. It was, in a sense, made to be an altar, an altar upon which the sacrament of family life unfolded.

Continue reading