Cleaning Up Your Act

Keeping the house clean – oh yeah, that. Whenever I look up from my writing, or come back home after being out and about – I remember it. The carpet that our beloved grey cat has rolled on, shedding silvery fluff everywhere. And how about those dishes? And the laundry. And the floor! Oh heavens, the floor. I can assure you that I do not look quite as effervescent as the lady in this wonderful 1955 ad. She is entranced with Flor-Ever vinyl tiled floors, but – even though I like my floors just fine – they don’t make me laugh and throw the cleaning brush in the air. No sir.

Having said that, I do feel quite virtuous after I clean stuff, and in the end it isn’t that bad…and doesn’t take all that long, especially if you have the right supplies on hand.

We all need a few excellent housekeeping and cleaning supplies and probably a pair of protective cleaning gloves, too. I remember my mother had yellow rubber gloves that she wore to do the dishes every night, and I probably should think about getting some for myself. They can really keep your hands looking smooth (this is crucial, especially when you’re in your 40s like me!). And the right cleaning supplies can help you get jobs done in a hurry – like special brushes and scourers for dishwashing, special dust removers and rechargeable vacuum cleaners.

Happily, you can now order all this stuff online – which is not only convenient and quick, but gives you an excuse to get back on the computer. The laundry can wait ten more minutes, after all.And while you’re doing some virtual shopping you can also get some fun household supplies, like Scented air fresheners. I love deciding whether I want the atmosphere at home to be like lemons or lavender or perhaps Sweet Orange. A great scent in the air is the perfect finishing touch to a clean house. I might even toss a sponge up in the air to celebrate that!

Mrs. Dooley’s Nightmare

Gallery of Graphic Design (bigger version here)

This is just not what you need after a hard day of housework, is it? Or really, after a day of anything. Little pieces of anthropomorphized dirty laundry with the faces of hardened Bad Guys, and flexible black spoons for limbs, enter your dreams. And they have plenty to say to you when they do.

Tommy’s Blouse is happy to announce that “you’ll have to rub my perspiration streaks till your back aches.” Tim’s Rompers are proud to be “all smudged up with grime you can’t get out.” I guess Tommy and Tim are small grimy boys. Although maybe one is the husband and one the child. I can’t quite decide which is which, though (let me know if you can).

And as for the Bathroom Towel, well, he is glad to tell you that “dirt from people rubbing me” will also turn your day into a waking nightmare. And make your knuckles sore, too.

All this has turned Mrs. Dooley into a line drawing whose sleep is “haunted” by “dirty, greasy spots.” Happily though, her fancy friend just happens to have brought her some P and G Naphtha Soap.

Coincidence? I think not. The lady in the bowler hat is probably Tim’s Rompers in disguise. Because even if the clothes get clean, Mrs. Dooley’s knuckles are still going to be pretty sore from scrubbing.

Underwear For Arrogant Onions

How’s Your Refrigerator Strategy?

Oh, it’s fine thank you, how’s yours? But really, it doesn’t actually have a strategy, you see. Because it’s an appliance and doesn’t have a brain or anything. So it doesn’t think. And my strategy is to just put stuff in it and keep it clean and – oh yes, and not to anthropomorphize bowls by putting underwear on them.

Pillsbury had other ideas, though. Hence this 1937 ad for oiled-silk refrigerator bowl covers called, if you can believe it – Pantry Panties.

Yes, this really could be the worst named product of the 20th century. Just because the words sound almost alike does not mean that they should ever, ever be put together in the same phrase.

Whoever wrote the ad copy just didn’t think it all through, that’s all. They were so pleased with their odious little phrase that they kind of lost the plot. Why else would you write that PPs are edged with “firm, live elastic” so that your “insistent fish, arrogant onions or riotous cheese” can be contained. This gives rise to all sorts of dreadful images that I am not even going to start on. Ugh.

But maybe they did realize that this was starting to sound weird and gross, because right after that they change the subject and go on and on about Pillsbury Sno Sheen Cake Flour and how amazing your every cake will be if you use it. Oh, and if there’s any cake left over, you know what you can slap on it, don’t you? Just make sure you keep it well away from those arrogant onions – and from the cheese riot going on on the top shelf of the fridge.

The big version is right here, if you really want to know more.

A Wild Tonic in the Drain

LiveJournal Vintage Ads

“The exhilarating sound of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It’s almost time for some fun retro Thanksgiving ads, but this one caught my eye this morning: one of those dramatic 1930s ads with a Can-This-Marriage-Be-Saved? storyline. “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” is a Ladies’ Home Journal column, still running today, that I used to read avidly back in the 60s when I was little. I read all kinds of stuff back then. I’m not sure my mother was aware of it, exactly.

But I never came across a couple who were having problems because of the bathroom drains.

Having said that, one problem here is that he’s “a man who doesn’t talk much” and just glares at you when something’s the matter. And when the drain is a little bit slow, his eyes shoot out daggers! I think he’d have a little problem here because our house is old and so are the drains and, well – you have this happen sometimes, too, right? It’s just one of those things.

Just grab the Drano, sir, and pour it in. It really isn’t anyone’s fault. Maybe your wife has to use a lot of starch on your shirts and that clogs things up (OK, I have no idea what I’m talking about, but bear with me). Dressing up like F. Scott Fitzgerald every day takes a toll on the sinks – all that washing and using hair pomade and so on. You never saw Zelda using Drano. Not even in the fountains she and Scott were dancing in every night.

Nevertheless, just one little tablespoon of Drano gets the drains “open and fast flowing.” Too bad it can’t get Scott here to be open and – well, not fast flowing. Maybe to give everyone a little smile. A half smile? Even a smirk would be a vast improvement, sir.

In the end, I really don’t think drains are this couple’s worst problem.

Book Review: The Good Life on a Budget

The Good Life on a Budget: Delicious, fun and timeless tips for tough times
Jaqueline Mitchell, compiler
Osprey Publishing, 2011 (191 pp.)

If you like old housekeeping guides and cookbooks as much as I do, you will love The Good Life on a Budget, compiled by Jaqueline Mitchell (Osprey Publishing, 2011). It’s a compilation of housekeeping tips from booklets published in Britain in the 1950s, with still-great advice on everything from cheap but delicious food, mending clothes, keeping things clean around the house and crafts.

Tasty tisanes (herbal teas), homemade weather vanes, how to make chutneys and preserves, and even a few wartime recipes like Mock Sausage – these are just a few of the things you’ll find here. I’ve already copied out a few of the recipes for preserves because I’ve been meaning to make jam for some time now – and this may inspire me to actually, you know, do that.

Aside from the jam recipes, the other 1950s tips that particularly interest me in this book are those on how to darn holes in sweaters. I have a couple of beautiful old-ish wool sweaters that have some small but irksome holes in them (and aren’t holes in sweaters always irksome). The Good Life on a Budget has a guide that makes darning look do-able even for me, who is so Not Handy with the mending.

There are also wonderful illustrations, some in color, featuring the original booklets and some old advertisements, too. I especially like the poster that announces “Green Vegetables Keep You Fit” that shows a cartoon elephant hoisting a little cabbage.

I really enjoyed this book and if you like retro advice and tips that stand the test of time, I think that you will, too.

Many many thanks to the folks at Osprey Publishing who were kind enough to send The Good Life on a Budget to me (the opinions are, of course, my own – I have to say that, even though you know that already).

It would be delightful if you would join me over on my new Facebook fan page (the widget is over on the sidebar, you just need to click ‘Like’)! I will try and make that page fun, too. Maybe I can give you some darning tips – once I’ve tackled my desperate forest green cardigan, that is!

I haven’t forgotten about another Etiquette Mystery, by the way. That’s coming soon, I promise.

The Fourteen Hour Wife

Vintage Ad Browser

Being a wife in the 1890s equals scrubbing the floor, according to Gold Dust Washing Powder. That Eight Hour Man is no captain of industry, or else his Fourteen Hour Wife would have a fleet of housemaids and they’d have to do the scrubbing.

As for me, there’s no powder in the world – gold-dust-enhanced or not – that would save me any time. Never mind strength or patience. I don’t know how much money it’d save either, but as soon as I’d saved enough I’d be off in my time machine looking for a Swiffer to take back to 1895.

The wording of this also implies (to me anyway) that she’s only a wife for fourteen hours. As soon as she clocks off, she turns into the Ten Hour Floozy. Now that sounds like fun! I’d like to see an ad featuring her.


Glamorene Life Apr 20 1953I love some of the names that they gave products in the 1950s, and this is my new favorite: a rug cleaner called Glamorene. Doesn’t that sound more like foundation makeup (“covers up all your imperfections for a more glamorous, lovelier you!”) or nail polish (“won’t chip for at least two days!”). But no. It is a funny looking powder that you shake on the rug after someone spills an ice cream sundae or something (hint: pick up the sundae dish first).

There were a bunch of funny ads but I restrained myself and am just going to show you two. On the right is a 1953 ad in which Mom is wielding a special Glamorene brush and has coerced her daughter not only into vacuuming but also into wearing a matching outfit complete with frilly apron. Note that the jar of Glamorene is on the clean side of the carpeting, giving an inanimate side-eye to the strangely even coat of dirt on Mom’s side. That is one filthy rug! How can people who dress up in party clothes to do housework have such a dirty old rug?

I guess they are too busy keeping their frilly clothes clean. And yes, I know that those are not really party clothes. I remember going to grade school in that sort of outfit, minus the apron. In third grade we girls were finally allowed to wear pants and I was SO happy to get a pair of jeans! Yay, bellbottoms! I’ve rarely been so happy about a single clothing item than I was about those bellbottom jeans.
Glamorene Oct 13 1952 Life
Anyway…I also wanted to show you a detail from a 1952 Glamorene ad, featuring the jar and a tiny lady dancing around next to it acting like someone had just given her the equivalent of my third grade fashion statement. Yay, I get to clean carpet soils!

Ironic note: I have just this minute managed to spill coffee on the beige rug under this desk. Where’s that jar of Glamorene (and a 1950s lady with a brush) when I need one?

Ironic note #2: Maybe we don’t want to use this stuff after all…Here’s a 1952 Time article about a Reader’s Digest sponsored nationwide “cleaning tour” of salesmen demonstrating Glamorene, which is described as a “compound of cellulose fiber (resembling sawdust).” The tour almost got derailed (or, as Time quips, had the rug pulled out from under it) when someone died cleaning a rug on a plane. The rug cleaner contained trichloroethylene, and at first everyone thought that the cleaner in question was Glamorene.  Only it wasn’t. And so sales picked up again. And people still do want to buy it, too. I’m not sure that it is still being made, though.

A Spoon For the Misbegotten

-Gee honey, that’s swell. Look at that spoon! You are incredible!

-Yes, I can balance a spoonful of cereal right on one finger, see?

-I can’t take my eyes off it! And if my hair wasn’t slicked down with half a bottle of Crisco, it would be standing on end.

-Want to know my secret?

-Of course, dear.

-I put a dab of Elmer’s glue on my index finger first. And now -


-I’m…just going to stay like this. It’s quite fascinating. And – the Rice Krispies are really very…light. Nutritious, but – well, light.

-How are you planning to eat them? I mean, if the spoon’s glued to your finger and all.

-I’m not planning to. Because – well, dear, maybe you didn’t notice this but…the stylist for this photo shoot didn’t use milk in our bowls.

-No? Why not? What stylist?

-Dear, this is an ad. Don’t tell me you didn’t know that! And there are a bunch of dry Rice Krispies sitting on top of what looks like yogurt, in our bowls. Those little Krispies sink in milk, you know. Well, eventually. And we’ve been sitting here a very long time.

-Wow, honey, you sure know a lot about breakfast! And science. Yogurt, huh?

-Or maybe they found my stash of Elmer’s Glue in the cupboard. I can’t take my eyes off the spoon so I wouldn’t know.

[Rice Krispies ad from Life, July 9, 1956; Elmer's ad from Popular Mechanics, May 1952.]

Doc Glueky Is In the House

Let YOU repair my furniture? Like I’m going to let an adhesive-obsessed friend of Snow White’s into my house, armed with a bottle of  super-glue. No thank you, Doc “Glueky.” I guess that is an in-joke, your name. I don’t get it though.

What sort of doctor are you, anyway? If you cannot remember your pants in the morning, I hardly think that you are up to making diagnoses. Still, I suppose that it is nice of you to offer to repair my furniture (though the implication that it is all falling down around us is a trifle rude, you must admit).

Perhaps the Wicked Queen could hire you to glue her magic mirror back together. And you might want to suggest a course of self-esteem-based therapy as well. Or maybe you could repair a few gingerbread cottages. The Necco Wafer roof tiles do tend to fall off when it rains (they melt, too, but that’s another problem). And Grace the Card Table Lady from yesterday’s post could have availed herself of your services before rushing out to buy new card tables. She might want to work on the whole issue of peer pressure, too, while you’re at it.

From Popular Science, April 1941.

Uncle Ned Drops Through

Uncle Ned
The disembodied head
Is one relation
Who causes some consternation
For when he comes to call
He simply bashes through the exterior wall
To hear him confess it, he
Has made a virtue of necessity:
Since a talking head will always be discussed
He feels that a dramatic entrance is a must.

Yet crashing through
is really no disaster:
He never fails to bring
a hostess gift of Rutland plaster;
And Cousin Sue,
though in a rather fancy dress
Is always able
to patch up the mess.

But save some Rutland, Sue!
For everyone knows
Ned also likes to leave a big impression
when he goes.

[Ad from Popular Science, April 1941.]