Top Ten Greatest Living Film Actors. According to: Me.

In honor of this week’s Oscar nominations, I thought I would make a Top Ten (plus more).  I used to ravenously try to keep up with the year’s critical darlings, but I don’t have the time and I’d rather watch movies out of desire rather than obligation.  That said, YAY Melissa McCarthy!!!!  I’m also thrilled with the long overdue nod for Gary Oldman.  With Mr. Oldman in mind, I’d like to offer my

Top Ten Greatest Living Film Actors

These are actors who are able to totally transform themselves.  Some actors do what they do, and do it well, but these guys do basically everything. Note:  this is not my list of favorite actors, nor is it my list of Greatest of All Time. But I do believe that these are the greatest living film actors today.  Some are completely ignored by the Academy, others have rightly brought home an Oscar.  Rather than overload this post with video, I only include selections for my #1 and #2 choices (plus a select few).  However, I’ve included an “Essential Performance” that, for me, defines why I find these people to be so utterly brilliant, and whom I can learn from just by watching their work. Note: the “essential performance” is NOT necessarily their academy award winning film.

One final thing: I’ve never really understood why performance awards are set up along gender lines, so I said f*ck that and threw them all together.

10.  Kenneth Branagh.  Branagh gets it.  He’s a haughty classically trained Brit who can perform Shakespeare with the best of them.  He often does.  But his performance in Harry Potter tells us he’s also in on the joke.  That said, watching him do Shakespeare, nay…he nearly dances it, is a joy to behold.  Certainly, his Hamlet was a career topping acheivement.  I thought he was a little old for the role, myself, but still well done.  What really trips my Shakespearean trigger is his performance as Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing.  Very few comedies leave me laughing repeatedly like this film, and while all evidence is to the contrary, I am no film snob.  I love this movie very much BECAUSE it has a wonderful fart joke.  But Branaugh, alongside his then wife Emma Thompson, shines.  Yet there is something unsettling about Branaugh, and that undercurrent of darkness despite his shiny blonde hair, finds him cast as a high ranking member of the Gestapo more than once.  Branagh has a certain air of classic actor, but he is able to transcend that and ultimately comes off as not modern, but rather essential.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Much Ado About Nothing

9.  Johnny Depp.  Remember that internet meme “Steal like an artist?” Depp does this.  He’ll tell you who inspired a certain performance.  But what he is becomes so much more than an imitation.  Depp gets tossed aside critically for relying on “weirdness” or for his longtime partnership with Tim Burton.  What is missed is his ability to take a risk and commit. His apparent need to hide behind these characters works for our benefit.  I believe very much that the idea of vulnerability in performance is abused and misused.  Using your life story isn’t vulnerable, working out personal issues onstage or onscreen isn’t vulnerable. Opening yourself up, being available and responding honestly to your fellow actors IS vulnerable.  Depp gets this.  Something he inherently understands is what he looks like on camera.  I don’t mean what he looks like esthetically.  He knows what angle will help him achieve a mood, an emotion, or even that characteristic weirdness.  Unlike a stage actor, Depp was built for film.  He knows that even the correctly timed milimeter of eye movement says something.  The small smile says something different than the big toothy one.  Depp is always working as hard as the camera.  And yet it looks effortless.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Pirates of the Caribbean- The Curse of the Black Pearl OR Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

8.  Christopher Guest.  We all know his work in his own films, as Corky St. Clair, Nigel Tufnel, Alan Barrows and Harlan Pepper, but he’s also the Six-Fingered Man in The Princess Bride, a role where he nearly (and slyly) blends into the background.  That subtlety is exactly what gives you chills about his character.  He rightly let’s Chris Sarandon get the showy stuff.  It’s an unsung and wonderful performance.  It’s also an example of his ability to see his roles beyond the scope of himself.  Anne Bogart, one of my fave directors and theatrical thinkers, often asks “What is the most interesting/important thing happening right now and what can I do to add to it?”  Sometimes the answer is “Nothing…yet.”  And that seems to be where Christopher Guest works.  He creates characters who can stand alone with a film behind them.  There’s a reason we still occasionally catch Nigel Tufnel on a talk show, even though Spinal Tap was made in 1981.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance – Waiting for Guffman

7. Frances McDormand. Occasionally, an Oscar goes to the right person.  Like most people, my first time noticing Frances McDormand was in Fargo.  Marge Gunderson is one of the greatest film characters ever created (another list I’d like to make). I love her performances in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Almost Famous, Raising Arizona, and Wonder Boys.  A lot of people talk about how “natural” or “believable” an actor is.  I don’t care.  Some of the most unnatural and bizzare performances are my favorites.  See Hank Azaria in The Birdcage.  What McDormand does is make the ridiculous honest.  When I watch her onscreen I think “THAT’S what I want to do when I grow up.”

Academy Awards: 1
Essential Performance: Fargo

6. Catherine O’Hara.  She’s brilliant, and it ain’t just her acting skills.  Thanks to her collaborations with Christopher Guest, she’s actually creating these roles from the ground up.  As a kid, she was of course, the Mom in Home Alone to me…but you know what?  She’s really good as the Mom in the Home Alone.  Her scene with John Candy is precious.  But it’s Christopher Guest’s films where she really got to show her stuff.  Each and every character is completely different and three dimensional.  She’s a slapstick as she is smart. She is also the hands down best stage drunk I’ve ever seen.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance – Any Christopher Guest film in which she appears.

5. Gary Oldman.  I’ve posted about Oldman before.  He has been many things, and boring has never been one of them.  His intensity is often spoken about, but his tenderness is as profound.  I simply can’t think of anyone else who could play Sirius Black.  Or Sid Vicious.  Roles that may have been up for interpretation, once played by Oldman, are no longer anything but what he makes them.  His role in The Professional could have been easily botched by or more likely, rotely played by another actor.  It is, on the page, just a better-than-average action movie bad guy.  In Oldman’s hands, it’s evil incarnate.  Volatile, funny, and all the more terrifying because of it.  His Dracula is not a monster, but a wounded man.  A man corrupted by his own pain.

Academy Awards: 0 (Hopefully soon to change)
Essential Performance: Sid and Nancy OR The Professional

4. Ian McKellan. McKellan is a lesson for an actor to learn.  The lesson is this:  A strong sense of self is the key to survival in such a vicious business.  The man owns a tshirt that says, “I’m Gandalf AND Magneto, bitch.”  Oh, and also maybe the greatest King Lear.  His performance as James Whale in Gods and Monsters is smart and heartwrenching.  (As a side note, I think the Bride of Frankenstein is overshadowed by Frankenstein.  The Bride of Frankenstein is better, funnier, campier, and more self aware.  Check it out. Both pieces are James Whale, but The Bride has a sense of self it seems like he was almost afraid to let loose in the first film.) But back to Gandalf, he’s like a master class in acting in one character.  There are the most subtle and also the most huge theatrical moments and yet it all belongs, and never feels out of place in his portrayal of Gandalf.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy OR Gods and Monsters (Also google his King Lear…It’s phenomenal)

3.  Robert Downey, Jr. There are two categories of Robert Downey Jr films.  His entire career, and then Tropic Thunder.  Both are full to the brim with brilliance. In the first category we have Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Home for the Holidays, Iron Man…. and then there is Tropic Thunder.  One false move, and it could have been a disaster.  Certainly Stiller and the other creative minds behind the concept of Downey, Jr.’s character walked that line very effectively, but they needed someone to make it physical in form.  And they found the right guy for the job.  Robert Downey, Jr. has soulful eyes, but they absolutely radiate ego and mischeviousness in Tropic Thunder.  Certainly it’s well known that the guy has had some inner demons to fight, but it’s almost like Tropic Thunder gave him the venue he really needed.  People have misconstrued some of the charicatures in Tropic Thunder and read them as making fun of a particular race or a physical or mental disability.  What Tropic Thunder is really doing is ripping the ridiculousness of Hollywood and awards shows and the general self-congratulating that entertainment types like to do.  (I am not unaware I am an actor making a list of awesome actors, btw.)  Tropic Thunder succeeds because overwhelmingly, they trusted their audience to “get it” and we did.  Robert Downey, Jr is as comfortable in a drama as in a comedy, but one thing he always bring is a sense of fun and of the ridiculous.  He almost seems to step out of the screen and make us laugh at ourselves, including him.

Academy Awards: 0
Essential Performance: Tropic Thunder OR Chaplin

2. Emma Thompson.  She’s a phenomenon.  I’m sort of speechless about her talent and abilities.  She kind of sneaks into some movies and just tears into the role, no matter how small.  There is a moment in Love Actually when she finally realizes her husband is at the very least, contemplating an affair, and she’s just trying to get it together so her kids don’t see her lose it at Christmas.  We’ve all had this moment.  That “please stop crying” moment.  That in-your-bedroo0m-trying-to-get-your-shit-together moment.  I couldn’t find a good clip of it, but go to 1:26 of this video to at least see a hint. My favorite Emma Thompson performance is in Stranger Than Fiction.  Lest you think I only enjoy her when she’s being a bit bleak, check her out in the aforementioned Much Ado About Nothing throwing around some banter with her then husband Branagh

Academy Awards: 1
Essential Performance: Stranger Than Fiction

1.  Peter O’Toole.  I arrived late to the Peter O’Toole game.  Partially, that’s because I was born in 1981 and those missed years of film making couldn’t be helped.  Partially I was too busy watching his partners in crime like Richard Burton.  But better late than never.  He made a really bad movie in the 80’s that I adore called High Spirits.  Truly, it’s dreck.  But I love it, and not ironically.  And here’s the thing.  He knows it’s dreck, but he still performs as if it’s Shakespeare coming out of his mouth and better yet, he almost makes it sound like it is.  If Robert Downey Jr.’s performances are equivalent to a great backyard BBQ with your best friends and family, Peter O’Toole’s are the grandest most fun three day bender you’ve ever had.   I mean, of course, Beckett is great.  Lawrence of Arabia, a triumph.  Lion in Winter, astounding.  But I offer you my favorite O’Toole performance:  Man of La Mancha.  It’s flat out fantastic.  Unlike most movie musicals, La Mancha doesn’t give you much to look at (other than Sophia Loren, and I do, as wannabe bombshell, adore Sophia Loren).  The roads are dusty.  The costumes dirty.  The setting bleak.  It’s an actor’s musical.  That’s almost literally all there is.  O’Toole is perfection.  You want his Don Quixote to march his chivalrous way into your life and tell you to dream the Impossible Dream.  I daresay I wept in joy at this movie.  And it was all because of Peter O’Toole.  He is, in my mind, the greatest living actor.

Academy Awards: 1 (Honorary)
Essential Performance: Every single one.  He NEVER turns in a bad performance.  However, Lawrence of Arabia can’t be denied.

Runners Up:

Stephen Root – 0 Academy Awards.  He is the definition of a working actor.

Hank Azaria – 0 Academy Awards.  His vocal work alone speaks for itself.

Paul Gross – 0 Academy Awards.  This might be my favorite scene ever.  Watch him direct a bad actress on her performance as Ophelia:

Allison Janney – 0 Academy Awards. She pops up in weird places like Primary Colors, but she makes her mark.  Plus she’s from Ohio… She is big part of why I love Drop Dead Gorgeous so much. But truly where she gets to shine is on The West Wing.

Diane Weist – 2 Academy Awards.  Woody Allen gets a lot of shit sometimes, but his eye for Diane Weist is right on target.  I watch her performance in Bullets Over Broadway the night before I start rehearsal for a show.

Jeffery Wright – 0 Academy Awards. Basquiat.  Angels in America.  And then he plays Colin Powell.  An argument for the subtle.

Dustin Hoffman – 2 Academy Awards.  He should have won for Tootsie, but I won’t pick the fly shit out of the pepper.  Sure he was wound a little tight early in his career, but he relaxes as he ages, making his body of work always interesting to watch.

Hope Davis – 0 Academy Awards.  American Splendor.  About Schmidt.  And if you’re interested in the early careers of your acting heroes as I am, that’s her in Home Alone as the French airline associate.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – 1 Academy Awards.  This guy has presence.  And a very unique one too.  Often the word “masculine” gets associated with Cary Grant types, but for me, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the picture of a masculine presence on screen.  One of my favorite performances of his is actually in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War.  I could take or leave the flick, but this movie is actually the first time I really paid attention to him.

Angela Lansbury – 0 Academy Awards.  She can do anything.  She still fucking does.  I can’t handle it.  Oh, and she originated my absolute dream role: Mrs. Lovett.

Benicio Del Toro – 1 Academy Award.  I like weird with a purpose, and Benicio Del Toro is just that.  When you watch him, you are watching a story develop through someone’s eyes you don’t recognize and that is so very interesting.

David Morse – 0 Academy Awards.  I just know, I just know that George Washington must have sounded like that.

Cloris Leachman – 1 Academy Award.  She’s in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  She’s Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.  She’s still swingin’ and she doesn’t give a shit.  I love this woman.

Anyhoo, I know there’s no Streep or Dench on my list (no reflection on them.  I love them both.) Nor is there Anthony Hopkins or any other typical list toppers.  Tell where I’m wrong!  I love a good debate on a top ten list.  Still, I stand by this.  These are the folks whose brains I want to pick.  Who’s talent I want to learn from, and whose work I ALWAYS want to watch.



I am a hustler.  Like the aptly named Ginger in Casino, I want my end.   So when the Christmas season takes a full 21 days off my beloved Autumn, I look out for me.  No it isn’t really Fall yet, but I snagged 16 days from Summer.  Post-Labor day is Betsy Autumn.  I am sipping a pumpkin spice latte as I write this.  My year goes something like this: Autumn is Post Labor Day through November 30.  Christmas is December 1 through December 29 or 30.  Winter is December 31 through April 1.  Spring is April 1 through May 31.  Summer is June 1 through Labor Day.  I used to try to adhere to the actual seasons.  But tell Chicago it’s spring on March 21.  When I lived in Oxford, Ohio perched so very close to the American South, it was quite easy to respect the seasons and their dates.  I now reside near a giant inland sea that makes it’s own weather decisions.   So I had to start interpreting them for myself.  If Chicago had it’s way the seasons would look something like this: October 10 through  June 25 = Winter.  June 26-30 = Spring.  July through September = Summer.  October 1-10 = Fall.  I cannot abide this.

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  We live in America.  There are five seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Christmas.  I begrudge none of them, save for their respective pollen counts and shoveling requirements.  Each have their own delights.  Still root vegetables, squashes, spices, sweaters, beautiful leaves, crispy air, cider and myriad other seasonal delights are more than a few of my favorite things.

I let fall take right over in every area of my life.  I change my wardrobe, my cooking, my reading, my movies, and even the way I approach my career.  In lieu of Back to School, since I no longer attend one, I sort of make my own.  I buckle down to the basics (new monologues, songs).  I try to pick up a class.  It gives me a back to school feeling without actually pursuing another degree.

Here are the ways in which I celebrate Fall:


  • I switch the bathroom and kitchen handsoaps to a fall scent.  This year, I picked up the Bath and Body works selections.  Last year, I grabbed a pretty one from Marshalls called “Autumn.”
  • I grab the seasonal shower gels from either Ulta, Bath and Body or something similar.
  • I pick up fall scented candles and pull out the fall decorations.  Usually I make a trip to Jo-Anns for more puttering.
  • I put away my summer aprons, and hang up my autumn ones.
  • I do a big seasonal scrub to clean up the sand and pollen of summer and make way for the coziness of the season.
  • I make lots of teas, chais, hot ciders, toddies, and autumn-themed cocktails.
  • I start out the season with a big batch of Three Sisters Soup and usually close it with my Fall Stew and/or some cassoulet.
  • I pick up the October/November issues of Cooking Light, and sometimes Martha Stewart.
  • I change the table linens to an autumn theme.
  • I put autumny throw pillows on the couch.


Cue Nancy Sinatra.

  • See previous posts.  I put away my summer wardrobe and pull out the fall/winter wardrobe.
  • I search through the September issues of fashion magazines and make a big shopping list for trends and classics.
  • I wean myself off of flipflops.  But first I do a deeper colored pedicure.
  • I get a haircut, and often deepen the color a bit.


  • Autumn is knitting season.  I usually pick out a pattern to trudge through.
  • I like to sew this time of year.  This year I have three aprons to make for various people.

My Fall Face. Not attractive. But so enthusiastic.


  • Having grown up in the country, picking apples just sounds like (and is) work to me.  Instead, I go to the library and pick up a bunch of cozy and spooky books.
  • I like to stock up my pantry for those cold rainy nights.
  • I try to go to Ohio because the leaves are so beautiful.
  • I stop by Starbucks for a pumpkin latte.
  • Usually I make my yearly pilgrimage to IKEA.  They have great candles and it’s this time of year I like to do a lot of home improvement.
  • While I am not a fan of picking produce for “fun,” I do like to grab a pumpkin or two.
  • I like to visit places in the area that are rumored to be haunted.
  • Pumpkin ales and spicy brews are so much fun this time of year.
  • I like to visit my favorite speak easy, The Violet Hour, for their seasonal selections.
  • Shopping for new clothes, and maybe even a school supply or two for old time’s sake.
  • I have a list of movies I watch every year.
  • Halloween planning!
  • I love a fall get together with warm appetizers and autumnal cocktails, and mulled cider.

I’m not big on missing my junior high and high school years.  And I CERTAINLY don’t miss church youth group.  But with youth group, you had a guaranteed hay ride every year.  Living in the third biggest metropolis in the United States, hayrides are few and far between.  Sure I live in the Prairie State, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.  At home, you have to narrow down the damn options.  I also wish someone would put Disney’s Halloween Treat on DVD so I didn’t have to pathetically huddle in front of  You Tube to watch it in 10 minute segments.  I absolutely still dress up for Halloween should the right party come along, but I miss that in-school-and-in-costume feeling.  I don’t work in a workplace that encourages any sort of holiday festivity.  And I’ve never been a dress up for an office job kind of person.  You see, my night job requires I dress in costume.  It just feels creepy in an office.  No, that elementary school costume joy is long past.  Something else I miss with a vengeance is the annual field trip to The Garden Patch.  The Garden Patch was a gardening center on State Route 66 in between Defiance and Archbold, Ohio.  Every year, my class would hop the school busses for a field trip.  We would pick pumpkins, go on hay rides, have apple cider and donuts, walk amidst gorgeous chrysanthemums and play in the leaves.  It was grand.  There was also the Apple Butter Festival at Sauder’s Village in Archbold.  You could watch them press cider, make apple butter, pet the Clydesdale horses, ride the miniature train, buy candy at the General Store and generally have a grand old time.  Nobody is stopping me from going to the Festival, per se, it’s just that “kid” feeling is a bit lost.  Still, that “kid” did not enjoy trips to places like Jo-Anns and Homegoods.  Now, she delights in it.  I try not to dwell on the past.  Especially since I turned 21.  Heh.  No childhood joy can beat the ability to legally buy liquor.

Pretty sure this is how I look from September to November.

So off I go into Autumn sprinkling cinnamon-scented fairy dust in my wake!


Golden and Glowing by Autumn

It's Fall, Y'all!

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Autumn.  Truly September through December is one big freakin’ holiday as far as I’m concerned.  I love traditions and there is something about the fall that just drips with tradition and ritual.  A couple weeks ago, my sister-in-law and I were getting mutually pumped up about fall and the things we love to do.  She likes to have a pot of soup simmering away on the stove while she puts together scrapbooks and watches college football and the Steelers.  If she’s anything like her brothers, I assume the soup ends up being sprayed all over the room and all the pictures ripped to hell.  Whatever floats your boat.

I, too, like a pot of something savory bubbling on the stove.  My craftiness lends itself more in the knitting and sewing direction.  In fact, I am just now completing a fall apron.  A few years ago, I found a couple yards of the most fabulous autumn toile.  Instead of the traditional French country scene, however, this fabric has a vintagey-50’s country scene with jack-o-lanterns, harvesty wheat and a hayride.  I adore it.  So much so I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  A skirt?  A throw pillow?  A tablecloth?  I eventually decided on an apron.  My favorite thing in my favorite fabric.  It will not only be my fall puttering apron, it will serve as decoration when it’s hanging up.  I have another autumnish apron from my Mom and a vintage one that should blend nicely.  I’d like to have aprons for every season.  Summer and spring are fairly covered due to the bright florals of typical aprons.  I have two Christmas aprons, although I would like to make another.  And winter definitely calls for a cozy flannel, I think.

There is just so much to see and do in Autumn.  Books to read.  Movies to watch.  Food to eat.   I occasionally wonder how I wasn’t born a Scorpio.  No matter.  I married one.

Each month of Autumn has a particular feel, I think.  September is very much about Back to School.  October, of course, is a bit spooky and mischevious with gorgeous colors, and November is somewhat dark and cozy.  I like to watch certain movies during certain months.  Have certain foods as well.  I sort of got a little ahead of myself this year and already made a typical September recipe in August, and watched Sweeney Todd (a November pick) last Saturday.  Ah well.  Patience is not my personal virtue.   Although, Hope, it should be noted is my middle name.

Get a load of these pumpkins!

The following are lists of SOME of the fun things I like to do when the breezes turn chilly, and the leaves get crazay.


New clothes
New office supplies
Big Seasonal Scrub and Organization
Getting rid of old stuff
Initial fall decorating (no Halloween stuff, yet)
Late summer vegetables: corn, tomatoes
Three Sisters Soup (try tempering in a beaten egg at the end) Serve with cornbread.
Joann’s, Home Goods, and Kohls for fall candles and crafty stuff
Fall table setting
Corn chowder with homemade bread grilled cheeses or cheddar biscuits
Trip to the library
Fidget Pie
New perfect Fall sweater (this year, brown)
Michaelmas – blackberry stuff on September 29
Fall wreath
Order Halloween and Fall Items from the Victorian Trading Company
Fall essential oils
NEST pumpkin chai candle
Football – tailgating, hot chocolate
Pumpkin lattes from Starbucks
Autumn in a jar

Witchay Woman


Spooky movies
Halloween parties
Fun movie nights with warm snacks and mulled cider wine
Fun spooky ipod lists: Bewitched, I Put a Spell On You, Jill Tracy songs
Planning and making Halloween costumes
My Fall Festival:  Fall stew, Sleepy Hollow, and Cider cocktails with apple dumplings and whipped cream
Trips to occult bookstores
Tarot readings
Lighting candles for those we miss
Pumpkins and Jackolanterns
Taffy Apples
Pumpkin patch/Farmer’s Market
Preserve leaves
Use pumpkin as a vase and as a toureen
Fall picnic
Vanilla candles
Pumpkin scents
Scary books
Winter clothes out, summer clothes away
Baked Oatmeal
Ghost Tour
Donuts and Cider

Now Is The Pilgrim Year Fair Autumn's Charge


This year, we are trying to plan a fun fall getaway to a friend’s lake house
Nights with books and a pot of tea
Planning for Thanksgiving
Butternut squash
Early Christmas planning
Caramel Corn
Scary, Gothic books
Ghost stories

Truly in my head I am wearing a navy toggle sweater, holding a huge bunch of colorful leaves, wrapped in a plaid blanket with hot cider, and donuts (a huge dose of Zyrtec) on a big pile of hay, singing “Ichabod Crane” from Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Almost makes ya miss youth group.


Spring Cleaning: Part Three – The Plan

I have tomorrow off.  Rather than loll about watching Judge Joe Brown and eating an enormous breakfast with grits and eggs, I shall loll about watching Judge Joe Brown and eating an enormous breakfast with grits and eggs and THEN Spring Clean.  And here, in somewhat abbreviated fashion, is what I plan to do:

I start with the Kitchen.  I hate doing the kitchen, so I do it first.  Otherwise, it would never get done at all.  I then move on to the hallway and entry, followed by the bedroom (my favorite), the dressing and craft room, the living room, guest room and then bathroom (second favorite).  I try to vary size of room and messiness of room.

No matter which room I’m exorcising, however, the basic game plan is the same:

1.  Open the room.  All windows open and aired out.
2.  Strip.  *wink wink*  All linens unhung, off the beds, towel racks, tables and the like and pitched into the laundry or handwashing.
3.  I then pick up any clutter.  I also put any breakables or decorative items (including anything hanging) into a big box.
4.  Rugs are put outside to be abused.  I then sprinkle them with homemade carpet fresh-nah’ and let them think about what they’ve done.
5.  I pull all the big and mobile furniture to the center of the room.
6.  And then the room gets a scrub from tip to toe: ceilings, fans, walls, windows, floors, furniture.  I make Will do the fans because I’m allergic to …well…everything.  Really.  I have proof.
7.  I then label and reorganize things if they need it.
8.  I dust and replace breakables.
9.  I press and rehang the linens.
10.  I putter.  Potpourri, candles, linen spray, decorating.
11.  I take any notes on things I would like to see in the room, things I need, things that need to be done (painting, etc.).  I then add any new items to daily, weekly, and monthly maitenance lists.
12.  Then I go get the rugs and vacuum them.

Then I nap.  For way too long.

Though this is the bulk of the action, it’s the little things that count, isn’t it?  Like, what movies will I be watching while I’m doing this?  Well, thanks to my facebook friends (who are also my friends in real life, I’ll have you know), we have created a formiddable list of choices.  I like a movie with a good cleaning scene, of course.  It’s inspiring.  But a musical is good, too.  Also, childhood favorites are nice because you’ve seen them 8 million times and you won’t feel a need to be riveted by every moment.  This is why Mary Poppins is the tops of the tops for me.  Cleaning scene, musical, AND from my childhood.  There it is.  Here are some other suggestions:

  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • Titanic
  • Maid in Manhattan
  • Robin Hood – any version.
  • Sunshine Cleaners
  • Corrina, Corrina
  • The Sandlot
  • Back to the Future
  • Enchanted
  • Mr. Mom
  • Uncle Buck
  • 13 Going on 30
  • Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
  • King Ralph

I haven’t seen all of these, but I trust the suggesters.  Mr. Mom and Uncle Buck will likely be two of my choices.  Although, like I said, I do dig a small claims court show.  Also Dr. Phil and The Steve Wilkos Show.  They’re so cranky.  I love it.

Then there is music to consider.  I prefer poppy 80’s and early 90’s tunes with the occasional squirt of uptempo, nay, high speed bluegrass.  Avalanche by Nitty Gritty is one of these.  I don’t know what it is about “Every Heartbeat” and “Faith” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” that helps me clean, but they do.

I also love watching episodes of How Clean is Your House? on the internet.  Seeing the absolute atrocities they are dealing with helps me trudge on.  I want to hang out with Kim Woodburn.  I love her.  I want to call people “mucky pups” and “filthy beggars” but unfortunately, I am the muckiest pup I know.  I did trim my gloves in pink maribou, thou.

I’m actually considering live-blogging this whole fiasco.

Anyway, next up is the actual work!  I will be taking Before and After pictures.

Spring Cleaning Part Two: The Recipes

Before we get started here, let me add a quick plug.  I’d like to introduce my new political blog, Yankee Doodle Sweetheart!  Here at a Rhinestone World, I will keep yapping about movies, domesticity, books, and the like.  At Yankee Doodle Sweetheart, I will get my politic on, y’all.  Check it out!

Okay, moving onto Spring Cleaning.  Today I want to talk about formulations.  As a special treat, I have an extra cleaning to do to add to my plan.  A cat threw up on Will this morning!  Well, the duvet cover, rather.  We did some early mornin’ pre-treating, but the bulk of the cleaning will happen tonight.  Luckily, I have a backup duvet cover for moments such as this.  I’m trying to decide how to attempt to clean the horribleness.  Bleach is a no go, because the duvet cover is print.  I’m thinking an oxygen bleach might do it, with some baking soda for good measure (and deodorizing.)

This illustrates a point. When making your own cleaning products, you have to discern what is right for you.  There are many many recipes for specific types of cleaners.  You have to suss out what’s right for you, what ingredients you have, and other similar considerations.  A golden rule to follow is to use the least potent formulation that will get the job done.  Why use bleach when lemon juice will do?  It’s safer for fabric.  Safer for you.

What follows are some my favorite recipes and ways you can tweak them.

Let’s go room by room.

First, the Kitchen:

While we all have different kitchens with different sinks and countertops and appliances, we all have the same goal: to kill germs.  Stone, marble, wood, and plastic countertops all have different needs and things to avoid.  I am not an expert on this subject.  Consult someone who is if you have really awesome countertops.  I do not have really awesome countertops.  Since salmonella, e. coli, lysteria, and a whole bunch of other nasty germs can inhabit a kitchen, a little power is required here.  A simple solution of 1 part water to 1 part bleach is sufficient to kill most bacteria.  While this formula is a great germ killer, it’s not the best grease cutter.  So, for cleaning a cooktop or range, try this:

In a sprayer, combine:
3 tbs. vinegar
3 tbs. borax
drop of dishsoap (or other liquid soap.  Even handsoap will do.  The goal is to emulsify)
warm water about 2/3 to the top of the sprayer
10-20 drops tea tree oil

Shake and spray.  The Vinegar will cut the grease.  The tea tree oil is antiseptic.  It’s all earth-friendly, and cheap as hell.

Now, if you’ve got seriously baked on grease happening, or a cook top that hasn’t been cleaned in awhile, you may need to break out the big guys.  That means ammonia.  NOTE:  DO NOT MIX AMMONIA WITH BLEACH.  You will keel over from the fumes.  So, use that bleach spray way later.  WAY later.


1/2 cup ammonia
2 tbs. baking soda
1 Cup of White vinegar

That will cut through just about anything.  If you’re still having trouble, let it soak for awhile.  That is a potent combo.


I like to use Bon Ami on the tub and the sink.  No, it’s not a make at home recipe, but it is environmentally friendly and many manufacturers recommend it.  Give it a whirl.  Otherwise, table salt is a great gentle abrasive.  Make it into a paste with lemon juice or dishsoap.

For toilets, it’s another round of “How bad is it?”  I’ll tell you this, I’ve moved into many an apartment over the years and some of the toilets have had what I thought were completely immovable stains, but they all proved to be absolutely temporary if I used the right product.  The real key, is how willing are you to get close?    Gloves make all the difference.  Have a pair especially for the bathroom.  Even try a mask if you want more protection.  Hell, wear a biohazard suit.  Whatever it takes for you to feel protected.

Let’s go from not bad at all to absolutely awful:

Daily toilet cleaner:  A little sploosh of borax and a quick run around with a toilet brush is sufficient to clean a toilet for a single person or a couple.  If more than 1 or 2 folks are using a toilet per day, try this:

Put 1/2 cup of baking soda, 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 10 drops tea tree oil into the toilet.  Give a round with the toilet brush, and that’s it.  (You could do this every couple days if you want to save on the tea tree oil. )

For a weekly clean, you can try this overnight cleaner:

1 cup borax
1 cup vinegar
10 drops pine or lavender essential oil
5 drops lemon or lime essential oil
Combine in a bowl.  Dump in the toilet, making sure you get it up under the rim and along the bowl as well as in the bowl.  Leave it overnight.  In the morning, flush.

Now, if you move into an apartment and the toilet is absolutely horrifying, don your biohazard suit and try this:

Mix up a batch of potent lemonade.  It can be country time, it can be real.  Doesn’t matter.  What you want is the citric acid.  Grab a bucket and take out most of the water in the bowl (you can flush it back down in a little bit.  Once the bucket is empty, give it a rundown with that bleach and water spray.)  Dump in the lemonade.  Grab some paper towels and soak them in the lemonade (I know, it’s gross.  But it works.)  Paper mache the inside of the toilet with the lemonade soaked towels.  And walk away.  Just walk away.  For 20 minutes.  Then come back, remove the paper towels, and throw them out (Don’t flush ’em.  You will have a clog to end all clogs.)  Now, take a pumice stone and dip it in the lemonade.  (Don’t worry.  It won’t scratch.  Pumice is softer than porcelain.)  Now, start scratching away the worst stains.  Once they are out, flush.  Now.  You could leave it at that.  I would pour in a tablespoon of bleach and give it a little more hell with a brush.  YOu can also pour salt onto half a lemon and scrub under the rim.

You are officially everyone’s hero.

Living Spaces are the most fun to clean.  You get to think more about scent and nourishing wood furniture, etc.  A lot of the formulations for living spaces depend heavily on one question:  Do you like citronella?  Well, do ya, punk?  If you do, purchase some Murphy’s oil soap.  It will clean everything except glass.  If you don’t, meet my Momma.   She doesn’t either.

So, let’s assume you don’t.  With a little bit o’H2O and a microfiber cloth, you can dust anything.  If your wood needs a polish, so to speak, you can try2 tbs. olive oil mixed with 2 tsp. lemon juice and 4 drops lavender oil.  This year, I am going to try a linseed oil, turps, and beeswax combo, but I haven’t test-driven it yet.  Plus, it’s arguably spontaneously combustible.

You can do windows with 1 part water, 1 part vinegar and crumpled up newspapers.

Try two cups of corn starch, 2 cups of baking soda, and 20 drops of essential oil as a carpet refresher.  Sprinkle on.  Let it sit, then vacuum it up.

Another recipe I am test driving this year is an “Almost dry clean” mattress formula.  I am actually going to use it on some arm rest covers that are filthy.  If it doesn’t work or destroys them, I am fine with it.  I was going to pitch them.  But if it does work, I will let you know.

Obviously, these recipes don’t cover every job on my spring cleaning agenda.  But they are a little sample of how natural cleaning products are put together.

Tomorrow:  I share The Plan!

Spring Cleaning Part One: The Kit

Admittedly, my cleaning supplies are a bit…extensive. I’m really into antique recipes, natural cleaners, homemade potpourri and essential oils. BUT, while I may overdo it to the furthest degree, you don’t have to. You can clean your whole house with dish soap, baking soda, vinegar, and some rags. Throw in a bucket and a toothbrush and you’re home free. (See this post for further details.) I wasn’t quite sure how to go about this: All natural? Cheap? Clever? Convenient? All of the above?
Instead, I’m choosing a three level approach. Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. In other words, Into It, Really Into It, and Beyond Saving.
Level 1: Basic (Into It)

  • You’ll need a bucket. You can carry stuff around in it. You can use it for mopping, scrubbing, soaking, and any manner of cleaning liquid.

  • Then you’ll need some sort of mild abrasive.  I like Bon Ami.  But salt or baking soda does the trick too.  Comet, Ajax and the like are pretty harsh, so I try to avoid them.  Our bathroom is hard to ventilate so I like to use stuff that isn’t harmful to the ol’ lungs.  If you choose something other than baking soda, make you sure you also have baking soda.
  • Next up:  Vinegar.  Cuts grease, cleans mirrors, and disinfects.  If the smell bugs you, it goes away when it dries.  But a few drops of essential oil help mask it, too.
  • Toothbrush, scrub brush, and cotton balls, swabs, and toothpicks.  Pick the right size for the job. 
  • Concentrated dish liquid.  Make sure it’s concentrated, not just regular.
  • A mop
  • A broom
  • Rags
  • Gloves (two pairs, one for the bathroom and one for the rest of the house.)

Honestly, that’s all you need to the job.  However, certain formulas and extras can make the job a whole lot easier.  Before we move on to the intermediate level, let me pontificate about some of the previous suggestions.

First, gloves:

These are my gloves.  The pink ones are for around the house.  They have a pseudo cotton lining.  Makes ’em comfy.  Plus they have a nice cuff I can flip to catch drips.  The yellow are cheaper and for the bathroom only.  The small pink gloves are cotton and they do two jobs.  One, they help dust weird spaces like blinds.  But also, you can slather your hands in moisturizer, put the rubber gloves on top and after hours of soaking, you’ll have the furthest thing from dishpan hands.  (I learned that from Kim Woodburn, one of my sassy bombshell heroes.)  Kim decorates her gloves in maribou.  I bought some.  And rhinestones.  I just didn’t get to it in time for this post.

Now, a word on rags.  Not all cloth is created equal.  There are fabrics that serve certain jobs well.  If you don’t really give a shit about that, then cut up an old tshirt and call it a day.  It’s cotton.  It’s lint-free (provided you kept it from the cats) and it will do the job.  BUT if you’re curious, here’s the rundown.

Here we have white terry cloth, microfiber, jersey/lint free, and white flannel.  White terry, is of course, absorbent.  Microfiber dusts without any addition of a cleaning product.  I mentioned the benefits of cotton jersey.  And white flannel can buff wood to a shine.

We also have the aforementioned scrubber, and sponges. 

Now let’s move on tooooo (drum roll)

Level 2: Intermediate (Really Into It)

An All-Purpose Cleaner (as you can see, I’m running out).  I make my own (It’s super easy.)  But any sort of bleach-free all-purpose cleaner will do.  But, in my humble opinion, it’s easier, safer, cheaper and greener to make your own and all with less effort than a trip to the store.  So grab an empty spray bottle and try this:

  • 1 pt. warm water
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 15 drops lavender oil

Shake it up, and off you go!  That’s it!  It’s really gentle.  Lavender is a natural disinfectant, and baking soda is an unbelievable cleaner.  However, a bowl of warm water and a couple drops of dish soap will also do.  Seriously, you can very nearly clean an entire house with only dish soap and water.

Then you need essential oils.

Excuse my terrible photography.  What I’ve got there in front is tea tree, lavender, lemon, pine needle, and well…frankly, I can’t remember what the other one was.  I have a lot.  Tea tree is antiseptic and a disinfectant.  I use it in the bathroom on surfaces (particularly the toilet).  Lavender also has disinfecting properties along with soporific effects.  I actually use it in linen spray.  I iron with it and spray it on beds.  Pine is great for floors and making carpet refreshers.  Lemon is good for kitchens.   The initial layout of cost on essential oils can be ouchy.  They can cost up to and beyond 10 bucks for a dinky bottle.  BUT they last for freakin’ ever.  I very nearly bathe in orange oil and I still have 2/3 of a bottle.  And I’ve had that bottle for a year.  Keep them out of direct sunlight.  In complete darkness is best.  Keep them coolish, though don’t bother to refrigerate, and they will last a very very long time.

And now, the triumvirate:  Baking Soda, Washing Soda, and Borax.  I mentioned baking soda before.  Now I’m mentioning it in reference to the BIG box of baking soda you can get in the laundry aisle.

Washing soda is pretty incredible (you can get it in the laundry aisle).  You can clear drains with it, take out stains, clean pretty much anything.  It’s a grease cutter.  It’s an all-around cleaning super hero.  Like dishsoap, you could very nearly clean an entire house with washing soda (although it’s much more potent, and you should wear gloves.)    Borax is, at it’s heart, a laundry additive.  But I clean my toilet with it.  I clean carpet with it.  It’s old school.  Borax has been around for literally centuries.  In fact, the all-purpose cleaner pictured above is a borax/dish soap combo.

Next, grab a few lemons.

Lemon juice is a natural bleach.  You can get out stains, brighten whites, and cut grease with it.  You can even  clean a toilet with a half a lemon and table salt.

Next up are empty sprayers, squeezers, and the like.

Makes your cleaning concoctions more portable.

Grab some paper towels.

Use them sparingly.  Sometimes a job is so gross, the towel just has to go.  That’s what paper towels are for.

Finally, arm yourself with a second bucket, a string mop, a sponge mop, and a broom.

Okay.  That’s an intermediate kit.

Now.  Ask yourself, am I seriously into this?  Do I want more?  What ELSE can I do with essential oils?  I want to be OLD SCHOOL with my cleanin’…

Okay.  Then let us move on to:

Level Three: Advanced (Beyond Salvation)

This is where I reveal potential psychosis, so bear with me.

Firstly, aprons.

Two, for Spring Cleaning.  I probably have ten.  But for Spring Cleaning you need two.  One cover-all for dirty jobs and general cleaning.  The second for puttery, floofy, fun jobs like scenting things and ironing linens.

These are my selections for this year.

Then, and this is based heavily on how much natural wood furniture or flooring you have, you may want to grab:

Turpentine, linseed oil, and 100% beeswax.

Also have a bowl you can beat the hell out of.  I will be using this one as a double boiler:

I also like to have a junk saucepan around.  I use one I keep at Christmas for simmering potpourri on the stove.

Muslin is nice to have on hand for making sachets:

Cats, of course:

Various herbs, spices, and witchy accoutrement:

A selection of your favorite homekeeping reading:

There are many reasons, as I mentioned before, to make your own cleaning products:  cost, fun, being environmentally friendly.  If being green is your motivation, replace the dishsoap with castile soap.  Castile soap is made from olive oil.  It’s not a detergent, like dish soap.  I use dish soap for two reasons, 1. it’s more effective. 2. I don’t use much at all, and what I do use is a “greener” brand.  But if you dont’ mind a little more elbow grease, try castile soap.  The main brand is Dr. Bronner’s.  But here’s a little hint, tucked deep into the bar soap aisle, is a cheap cheap cheap bar of Kirk’s Castile.  It costs about a buck.  Just shave it up into little flakes using a cheese grater and keep it in a ziplock bag.

Of course there are all manner of nylon scrubbers, squeegees, dusters, and the like that can be in a cleaning kit.  It’s always up to you how you want to do it.  These items I’ve mentioned are the biggies when making your own cleaning products.

I also keep around bleach, grapefruit seed extract, vodka (for linen spray), many more essential oils, jars, bottles, the list goes on.  I also have some measuring cups and spoons specifically for mixing.  Funnels come in handy, too.

So there it is.  I feel like I just came out.  Truly, even to clean a house to a spectacular shine, you only need the basic items.  I like the added herbs and beeswax and essential oils for their different scents, their ability to disinfect, and their history.  Also, this is merely a post about cleaning.  Herbs and essential oils have their place in the world of home remedies.  But that, m’dears, will have to be for another day.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two:  The Recipes.


First and foremost, before I delve into my yearly Spring Cleaning preparations, I must make this disclaimer: It gives me joy. This is an essential element to understanding how I go about my spring cleaning. Because frankly, in today’s world, spring cleaning need not be extensive, nor is it actually necessary. So you have to know that all this puttering and futzing I do is because I enjoy it. Here’s last year’s rundown:

That said, it’s kind of interesting to note why spring cleaning is such a grand tradition. Back in the olden days, people used to heat their homes with coal which produced a sooty residue on furniture, walls, and linens during the cold months of the winter. When warmer weather arrived, houses required a full scrubdown to get rid of all the soot and grime. Since we use much cleaner heat, we don’t have to worry about this sort of thing. But there is that end of winter feeling to contend with. Everybody sits around, windows shut, breathing all over everybody. paraffin residue from candles, dust, dirt tramped in from outside, salt. As clean as our heat may be, nothing feels or smells better than that first day of spring where you can throw open the windows and air that shit out! Truly, fresh air is a dust mite’s worst enemy.

Since last year, my essential oil collection has grown, as has my natural cleaning recipe collection. I definitely have learned what I like best. New additions to this year’s cleaning kit include beeswax, turpentine, and linseed oil. (Thanks Blick Art Supplies!) I don’t think it’s coincidental that I buy much of my cleaning paraphernalia at art supply stores. Truly, there is an art to housekeeping. Am I good at it? Nope. But I am fascinated by it.

Over the next few days, I am going to provide a sort of Spring Cleaning 101 with pictures, lists, and recipes among other things like my favorite resources, and of course, the ubiquitous Movie and TV lists, and maybe even an Ipod mix.

Part 1 will be The Kit

Part 2 will be The Recipes

Part 3 will be The Plan

A word on the slippery slope of housekeeping and being a staunch feminist:

Again, I bring you the word the Joy and I remove from all conversation the word Obligation. My home is important to me, and making it a place for me and Will to relax and feel comforted gives me such a kick. Finding ways to use limited apartment space also is a little thrilling for me. (Using a suggestion from a decorating magazine, I came up with the little mini-office setup in our living room this weekend that made my damn day.) I love aprons, and cooking, and herbs and essential oils. I get this from my Mom. I also love the history of it. Much of what I love about homes goes way back to the ways of the wise woman before the unwashed made her into a “witch.” Truly, that’s where a lot of this rings for me. So in my own way, I’m gettin’ down and Mother Goddess with the spring cleaning. When I say I love the four seasons, I mean that in a visceral way. I like to bring in the seasons in a ritualistic manner, and in Spring, this is what I do. In Fall, I like to cook things with root vegetables, and read up on spooky things, and immerse myself in color. Winter is about yuletide and Christmas and spices, and summer is about the outdoors and family and fun and adventure.

So as I get older, feminism is about both the future and the past. I revel in new opportunities for women (expect a Nancy Pelosi: Hero post soon). In the past, I think it’s folly to throw out age-old feminine wisdom along with the overdue removal of bad policy. What I mean is, while we can stop the oppression of days past and choose a more enlightened way, we do our foremothers a huge disservice by getting rid of their traditions, too.

It’s dark and deep, I know. Of course, when it comes down to it, it’s a flick of the broom and a scrub of the floor. But it’s rooted in much deeper and more sacred practices that go all the way back to the Beginning, whatever the Beginning was.

So there it is from my weird little world. Tomorrow: The Kit!