Keeping it all together. Executive women share their shortcuts to home management amid busy careers
New York — How do women executives manage their homes as well as their careers? ``You lower your standards,'' quipped one woman, when recently asked that question. Several others said they had almost completely given up entertaining. Another suggested, ``You ignore the mess and deflect visitors by announcing that you are in the midst of a paint job.''
Even Virginia Habeeb, a home management specialist, admits that, ``As for housekeeping, I've relaxed my standards a lot and accepted compromise where things really don't matter. My once-over-daily cleaning with my portable cleaning basket [containing cleanser, duster, paper towels, glass cleaner, and spray wax] and lightweight sweeper has changed to a once-over weekly effort, with a little outside help as well.
``As my professional life gets busier and my personal life fills with demands, it has become clear to me that I must drop some old habits, target my priorities, and sort essentials from nonessentials.
``Managing a home, I learned years ago, is a game of juggling people, activities, and clutter in order to cope, and still leave precious time for oneself. Time-savers and work-decreasers are absolutely necessary.''
Here are a few of the steps she has adopted to be able to accomplish more in less time and still have time to spend with family and friends:
Make more lists to help move both home and professional tasks along.
Keep a well-stocked pantry for quick meals and simple entertaining. Ms. Habeeb has a series of make-ahead meals for entertaining that includes a good veal marengo she teams with rice, a green salad, and a dessert of fresh strawberries and vanilla sauce.
Serve company meals on individual plates - restaurant style - straight from the kitchen, and no more table service with oodles of platters.
Camille Lavington, a New York communications and career consultant, says that she, too, serves menus that can be prepared a couple of days in advance, and that a microwave oven is essential to her homemaking.
When entertaining, she types up one list of names of her guests, and a second list giving the order of events and the menu progression from appetizer to dessert, and attaches them to her refrigerator door. So as not to forget anything, she also puts the first course on the top shelf of her refrigerator and works her way down.
She also has several completely coordinated sets of linen, dishes, and glassware, which takes the scramble out of table setting.
``I have always made time to entertain,'' she says, ``even when I was a single parent with three jobs and two small boys. I felt it was one important way I could help my sons learn the social graces, including correct manners, how to talk to people and make them feel welcome and comfortable, and how to serve food. I also insisted that we divide up the chores and that everyone do their share.''
Nowadays when she entertains, she hires a butler to do the serving and ``take care of the niceties'' that she considers part of the sense of theater that she loves to promote. ``My attitude toward entertaining is one of setting the stage, directing the action, and putting the costuming behind it.''
Ms. Lavington says she long ago gave up the idea of trying to be a generalist, and now treats herself to such practical luxuries as a butler when entertaining and other outsiders who come in to clean and do the washing and ironing.
She often uses placemats instead of tablecloths, avoids things that will chip or crack, and likes glass surfaces that can be easily wiped clean. She is quick to determine whether she has the right equipment to do the job at hand or whether she would be better off hiring someone else to do it.
The chief key to keeping on top of things, she says, is to complete each task as you go, cleaning up, putting things away, clearing off and wiping up surfaces so as to be clear and uncluttered for the next project. ``I don't carry around the burden of things left undone.''
Sarina Mascheroni, a New York designer and stylist who now teams up with her husband, John, on many projects, says, ``After our sons were grown and I took a full-time job, it was hard for me to realize that I couldn't do all the things I had done before.
``Now, to save time, I do all my household shopping by phone, ordering from the grocer, the fish market, and the butcher, and dealing only with those cleaners that pick up and deliver. I have upped my cleaning lady from two days a week to two and a half, so that I don't have to worry about ordinary cleaning tasks, and if I entertain during the week, she stays late to clean up after the dinner party. My chief asset is husband John, who is immaculately neat, a great cook, and a wonderful kitchen cleaner-upper who can clean up faster than I can get things dirty. We make a great team.''
Olivia Buell, editor of Working Mother magazine, shares a Westchester County home with husband Ron, 17-year-old son Jeffrey, and 14-year-old daughter Suzanna. She says both children fix their own breakfasts and lunches, keep their own rooms, and also set the table for dinner and take the garbage out each evening.
While Mrs. Buell does all the grocery shopping and works out the menus, she can count on her daughter to prepare ingredients and even do much of the cooking of the evening meal.
Hired help for cleaning has aided in offseting the two hours she spends commuting each day.
Ron does his share around the house and also helps with the numerous Saturday errands.
All schedules, notes, and reminders of upcoming events are posted on the big bulletin board beside the kitchen telephone. ``Call-waiting,'' she is grateful to say, enables her to interrupt lengthy teen-age conversations when she checks in with her family every afternoon from her Manhattan office.