Home Can Be Where Comfort Is

With a degree from Harvard, Cheryl Mendelson has practiced law; she also holds a Ph.D in philosophy, a subject she has taught at Columbia University. But her passion lies beyond both those subjects.

In her book, Home Comforts, she teaches you everything your mother and grandmother might have in generations past. And on The Early Show, she explains some of the information she wants to pass on.

Mendelson is an avid collector of knowledge about making the home a more comfortable place.

That knowledge has been turned into an 800-page book with detailed information on every aspect of caring for your home, from organizing the pantry to keeping the air clean, and from reading a care label to homeowner's insurance.

Even though the book seems to be for women only, the information is as much for men as it is for women, she points out.

"I have a social agenda, and it is not anti-feminist. Why would I suddenly undercut my whole life that has been spent as a working mother, a professor, a lawyer?" she asks.

Cheryl Mendelson: recalls her great-grandmother's housekeeping book, about how to boil the laundry and butcher a cow

"I have never been a full-time homemaker. I gave up teaching when I was writing this book and I had to hire household help," she adds.

The premise of the book is that an expert can do the best job and cut the most corners.

"I give the ideal way of doing things in the book, the way that would be perfect. It is then up to you to decide how much you will do and which corners to cut," she says.

Young people are looking to learn basic things, things that mothers and grandmothers used to teach but no longer do or that they don't have the opportunity to, she notes.

"I grew up in a lost world; it was rural, with two grandmothers, almost 19th century," she says, adding that she wrote the book because she felt there was a loss of knowledge.

"While I was growing up, my mother and I had my great-grandmother's housekeeping book, about how to boil the laundry and butcher a cow," she says.

"We used to laugh over that book, and I began to collect old housekeeping books when I was starting to make my own home," she adds.

There is a stigma attached to housekeeping, a long history of making fun of homemakers and that affects people, Mendelson notes.

But she thinks going home and doing something physical is good for your mental and physical health.

Though she does not recommend that people give up their jobs to keep house, she does thin there are times when people need to push their jobs back.

"When you work 80 hours a week, you lose perspective, you get a skewed sense of what your rights and desserts are," she says.

Home Comforts
When there is a good home life, it is easier to draw lines, she says. "When your home is strong and functioning, that means you are there and keeping it going," she says.

"Cleaning is just one part of keeping the home," she notes.

The following are some of the insights Mendelson provides in her book in a question and answer format.

Q. Which of following three have to be kept in the fridge: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of maple syrup, a jar of honey?
A. Peanut butter, it is made with unsaturated oil and will go rancid if you don't refrigerate it. Maple syrup has to go in the fridge or else it will ferment, but honey doesn't because it has such a high sugar content.

Q. Do you know the proper temperature to keep your refrigerator?
A: It should be between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A simple thermometer will tell you if your fridge is cold enough to best preserve your food.

Q. Do you know how to pull a book from the shelf?
A: Never grab it by the top of the spine, which is the part of the book most vulnerable to damage. Put your fingers on the top of the pages and nudge it out until you can grasp it by the sides.

Q. Do you know the level of humidity you should maintain in your home?
A: An ideal relative humidity is between 40 percent and 50 percent. Low humidity can cause eye, nose and skin irritation, and an increase of static electricity. High humidity promotes rust, stains, fungal growth, mildew, dust mites and respiratory ailments.

Q. When can you ignore a dry cleaning label?
A:If you know which fabrics can tolerate machine washing, you'll save a lot on your dry cleaning bills. Manufacturers are only required to put one label on a garment. So if it can be both machine washed and dry cleaned safely, they only have to say dry clean.

Q. Do you know which side the small fork goes on?
A: Most people think they know this one, but they may be wrong. If you are having salad first, the salad fork goes on the left of the dinner fork. But if you are having salad after the main course, the salad fork belongs on the inside, next to the plate.

For excerpts from Mendelson's book, click here.