Saturday, December 31, 2005

Back to the Drawing Board

If you are finished mulching the winter bed and you’ve mulched everything else around (except the peonies – they need a good cold spell), now you can head back indoors and plan for the next year’s plantings. Use pencil and paper to draw out your beds and other planting locations. Play around with shapes, textures, and flower heights. Have fun blending in the annuals with the perennials.

It’s a lot of fun and as long as you have a good eraser you won’t make any mistakes – on paper.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Tool Time

Did you clean up those gardening tools when you stuck them in the garage or the shed for winter? Maybe not? Now is a good time to get them all out and make sure they’re in good shape for spring. Use linseed oil on the wood handles; wipe off after half an hour. If you find any loose blades or handles, fill in with silicon or epoxy. Sharpen blades with a file if appropriate.

Wait until early January and you may even find some good deals on tools that are tucked in some back corner of your favorite big-box store.

Don’t wait too long to make new purchases, however. Because by the first of February, the gardening displays will be coming back out to taunt and tempt – at full price.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Incubate Potential Sproutlings

If you’re keeping seeds over for springtime planting, you can pre-test them now to see if the batch is still good for germinating. Place a few seeds inside a wet paper towel and then inside a plastic bag. Seal it up and wait. At this point, you really need to know two things: the temperature for sprouting and the length of time it will take for the particular plant.

If you’re still left with a handful of seeds – minus sprouts - you may want to toss the rest of them as well. If a very few sprout, the odds are still high that there just isn’t any life left in your other seeds, either.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Put Those Seed Catalogs Down and Get Back Outside

Yes, gardeners love to while the winter away thumbing through tons of catalogs dreaming of that day when it is warm enough to begin planting again. But, if you want a healthy landscape this spring, now is the time to get back outside in the cold and start prepping.

Start composting now and let Mother N do her thing for the next couple of months. Use the lawnmower to crunch up those dead leaves and heave them back into your flowerbeds. This treat is as much for your lawn as it is the beds. Leaves are ugly when they’re left for weeks on end and underneath all that dead brown clutter, disease could be festering in your grass. On top of that your lawn needs to breathe. Leaves are suffocating. Bad.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ahhh, the Aroma of an Old Dracaena

What? A Dracaena that smells? If you’re lucky enough to own a corn plant that is in its second decade you may wake up one morning to the strong smell of lilac. Yes, it’s like magic – the plant has sprouted a bloom at the top. It will only last for a few days, so enjoy it. It may or may not ever happen again.

You can try to collect the seeds, but don’t store them; put them in a good natural soil right away and hope they’ll sprout. First, wait until the bloom has begun to fade. Find a paper bag that will fit over the top of the plant and punch holes in it for circulation. Attach it to the plant and wait. The seeds need to dry on the pod. They will soon fall off and you’ll have to tilt the top over a little so the seeds don’t fall out when you remove the bag. Good luck.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Bird Buffet

The holidays are a terrific time to string popcorn and cranberries and place them outside for the birds. Kids love these projects and will become birdwatchers in the process. Once you have attracted a few birds to your back yard with these treats, don’t be inconsiderate and stop. Purchase some extra bird seed, continue popping that corn and give them a little extra food on the buffet line. Remember, in colder weather, their food supply may be scarce. Keep it up until their natural food supply springs forth in a few weeks.

Here’s an article on other outdoor bird snacks.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

There's More to the Southwest than Adobe

If you are wanting to add a touch of Southwestern flair to your decor, keep in mind that you’ll find a host of styles within that category. It’s not limited to adobe and desert colors, by any means. You can expand your decorating touch to include Mexican Heritage, Cowboy Americana, and Rustic lodge.

You can blend these styles with what we think of as a traditional Native American Southwestern look. A saddle blanket rolled up beside a howling wolf is one example. Here’s an overview of some different themes that fall into Southwestern decor.

Friday, December 23, 2005

What's In Your Back Yard?

If you are in the mood to spiff up your home for the holidays or for any seasonal celebrations, you don’t have to look much further than your back yard. With a little ribbon and a bit of glitter, you can decorate on the cheap with found items.

Branches can be trendy, elegant, or casual – try placing dry, leafless twigs in a tall vase. Bundle them together and lay horizontally on a bar or mantel. Dried leaves can be piled in a bowl (watch for crawly creatures, though, and wash everything, if possible). Dust with a hint of gold spray paint for the holidays for a little festivity. You can find more simple decorating ideas here.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Comfy Quilts

Quilts are comfort coverings and so many of them are keepsakes as well. If you are fortunate enough to have someone in the family who has made a quilt for you, think about how long you want it to last. Go ahead and use them or display them, but be gentle.

First, don’t leave them lying about in sunlight – this will fade them quickly. In fact, quilts are best kept lying flat and spread out on a bed. You can also place them at the foot of a bed for display. If you’re going to use them as a lap warmer, however, be careful with snacks and drinks. If you should find a spot, try to clean with plain water first. Then go for a mild cleanser. Read this for more quilt care ideas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Center Parties Around Guests

Want to really make an impression at your next party? Give the guests a gift! This is nothing new, but you can come up with some really tasteful ideas that will have your guests talking about you – in a good way – long afterward.

If you’re planning a sit-down dinner – even a casual one – you can make individual centerpieces for each setting. These can be small potted decorative plants, ornaments that are individually painted.

The only word of advice here is to wait until the end of the evening to hand out your great little gifts. Guests do not want to wag something around while they’re juggling food, drinks, and conversation. You can pile the gifts in a basket and bring it out as the first guests begin to leave. Check here for some other hostess ideas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Those Tricky Clicks

If you surf the Internet frequently, you have probably been highjacked at one time or another. First, always look at the actual site-dot-com title. It can be a giveaway even though the header and description in the search engine may look innocent. For instance, you may be searching for Oriental decor and accidentally pull up a site that is featuring, um, young Asian women, instead. Worse, yet, some of these sites are notorious for embedding little gifts for your computer – as in a tiny little worm or virus. So be careful.

Others are a bit more sneaky. The title, site name, and description may all seem perfect for what you are looking for. Then you click and get highjacked with no way out. A box will pop up asking if you want to make it your home page, but the “no” and “cancel” buttons are inoperative. At this point, you’re stuck – just say yes and hope they are not planting any little presents in your system. Run your adware/spyware and then reset your home page. It’s a nasty virtual world we live in, isn’t it?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Are You Coming...Or Not?

If you haven’t returned those RSVP cards for holiday parties, it may be too late and you already look like a jerk. However, you should try to redeem yourself right now and let people know you’re not coming. This is assuming that you have certainly responded to those hosts with whom you will actually grace your presence.

There is absolutely nothing worse than worrying about no-shows or come-anyways at a party. A host has to plan for enough food and drink, often several days in advance, so the sooner he or she knows you’re not attending they can plan accordingly. They will also plan in the same manner for the next party – but you probably won’t be invited.

So, go do the right thing.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Goo Be Gone

If you have already used the last drop of GooGone and have an item with stickers all over it, what should you do? If it is dishwasher safe, you can probably put it in there and lose the advertising. However if it’s too large or won’t go in, here’s a quick and handy little hint for most glue types.

Fold up a really wet paper towel and anchor it over the sticky label. You don’t need to peel part of the label off; in fact, that will make the sticky stuff harder to remove. Let the wet towel soak on the label for at least half an hour. Come back and it should lift right – goo and all.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What's That Miter Box For?

Sooner or later, you may have to replace a baseboard or two. If this is something you’ve never done, you probably don’t have a miter box and saw in your garage, either. They’re easy to use and the best way to get the perfect angle on the end of a piece of wood, especially if it’s an occasional do-it-yourself project.

The miter box comes with a back saw that will cut consistent 45-degree angles so that two pieces will join to form a 90-degree corner. Straight cuts are easier with a miter box as well. You can get more details here.

Once you get the hang of using the miter box, you can graduate to making your own picture frames.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Root-sicles

If you live in an area that is not receiving enough rain during fall, remember that plants, shrubs, and grasses still need watering, even into the winter months. The landscape will be at risk if a hard freeze comes and the soil is rockhard and dry around root systems.

If you want to see healthy greenery next spring, keep your water bill at summertime rates and don’t put those sprinklers away just yet.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Color Blindness

If you’re thinking about changing the color scheme in your home, but are not sure which direction to take, there are several easy ways to begin experimenting with colors that won’t break the bank.

Start with a palette of your colors: primary, secondary, and accent. The primary will be the focal color and may already be in place; i.e., furniture coverings or window treatments. Both secondary and accent colors are complementary, but are used in a sliding scale of frequency.

Try a few candles in a secondary or accent colors and place them around the room. Check the discount material bins for your colors. Sew a quick hem on a yard of material and drape it across a table or on a chair arm. Create a table runner or placemats. Leave the colors up for a few days to see if you get a feel for a certain scheme. You can get more ideas here for how to make a quick change in your decorating color scheme.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Voltmeter or Multitester - Whatever it's called, you need one

This handy little electrical tool should be in everyone’s possession. It will tell you if a socket or wiring is live or not. An important little thing when you’re not real sure you hit the right switch at the main box. From the simplest job such as replacing a switchplate to cleaning the interior of the doorbell chime – these are all jobs where the multitester should be put to work. Read this for details on how to buy and use a multitester.

In fact, you can avoid quite a few calls to an electrician for simple tasks, as long as you use that little voltmeter first. Read this to get a list of other items to have in your electrician’s toolbox. As always, if you’re unsure about tackling any electrical job, hire a professional.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bracelet Backup

When we hear of medical jewelry, we think it’s just for people with epilepsy, asthma, or those with fatal allergies. However, there are many other uses for a medical bracelet or other type of jewelry (although bracelets are recommended because they’re easy to spot).

If you are on any temporary medication, whether it is for a few weeks or several months, such as prednisone or blood-thinners, then you are an ideal candidate for medical jewelry. If you’re traveling and require daily medication for blood pressure or other type of illness, this is another ideal time to be wearing a bracelet.

They’re lifesavers.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Fond of Fondue

Please don’t pull out your old harvest gold fondue pot. Go get a new one and get ready to enjoy an oldie but tasty fave.

It is the perfect way to entertain at a kitchen island, where everyone stands around dipping and tasting – a natural gathering spot with plenty of elbow room. You can display our culinary savvy by sharing that fondue means “melt” in French (fondre) and originated in Switzerland among the French-speaking population.

A proper cheese fondue needs a really nice cheese or two – such as Emmental and Gruyere - mixed with wine and other ingredients. Serve with crusty baguette chunks and a host of other accompaniments. You probably should brush up on your fondue etiquette as well by reading this. If you need other fondue information, check here.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wing it With Wines

If you’re preparing chicken or turkey and need a selection of wines, choose carefully. You don’t want to overpower the taste of bird or all the accompanying dishes. Stay away from cabernets – too heavy on tannins; leave those for the steak crowd.

A sparkling wine of any type is always a good choice – from appetizer, straight through the meal, and on into dessert. Other good whites include chardonnay and pinot gris. As always, it’s just fine to have reds with poultry and you can include a pinot noir and a dry rose. Just right.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Saggy Gate Syndrome

Is your gate sagging. Too many kids hanging and swinging on it? Remember how much fun that was when you were a kid? Now, it’s time to fix it.

You can attach a turnbuckle and torque it. You can also just replace the cross boards cut to a 45 degree angle on both ends or add one new cross-piece – either top right to bottom left or vice versa.

If you are interested in more ideas on privacy fencing, read this.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Holiday Limes

If you are thinking about starting an indoor citrus farm, it’s not too late, but you should do a little research first. You can get started here, then branch out by talking to the horticulture professionals. First, it’s pretty easy to get going with lemons, limes, cherries, and mandarins. Shop for plants that are established and that have already made the adjustment to local temperatures.

Some tropicals like to be outside during the summer and brought indoors in cooler months. Either way, they should receive about 8 hours of good sun every day. Four hours is a minimum with no guarantees. You can even get several growing seasons going annually. Pretty nice to pluck a lime or two off the tree for a margarita pie, huh?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pick a Perfect & Perfectly Professional Photographer

Normally, weddings are the most popular occasions for using a pro – and you should never trust anyone else to do this job – really. Price ranges will vary, but a good base for a photo shoot package will probably begin at $1500.

A great new trend is to create wedding albums that look more like a blend between an upscale scrapbook and a slick magazine. They’re pricy, but not as stilted as the traditional album – you can have one of those, too, of course. It’s your budget.

When shopping for a photographer, you want to make sure they utilize a range of equipment. Digital and 35mm cameras are all right for some shots, but if you want quality enlargements, you should ask if the photographer uses a medium-format camera.

Lighting is important, also. Ask how they will use fill lighting. You don’t want those bags under Aunt Minnie’s eyes to become the focal- and laughing- point of your group shots. Read this for some more tips on choosing the perfect photographer.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Takin' the Temp Down

Home energy costs are going up, up, up, and there is no end in sight. Since the power companies are not doing their part, it’s up to you to suffer a little more – through cold weather and hot. In winter, open all your blinds or drapes on a south-facing wall during the day. That goes a long way in heating up a room. Be sure to close them as temperatures drop – they’ll act as insulation.

You may not be willing to give up a long, hot shower in the wintertime and it will only save you about $50 a year, max, to cut back to five minutes. Who can get clean in that amount of time, anyway? Other options are to keep your home just a little cooler than normal in winter; heating is the major culprit of high bills. Every degree less can save a bundle. Get out the thermal underwear and sweaters.

In case you feel cocky about having gas; remember, some homes don’t have that option. And gas isn’t always cheap, either.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Germy Side of a Clean Knife

You better be washing those knives and good pots and pans by hand. That’s an order. I know you’re scrubbing the insides and blades clean – that’s the whole point. But be sure to get those handles, too. That’s where a lot of germs are hanging out, waiting for the next user. Give the handles as much attention as you do the rest of the utensil and no more nasty little buggers will be waiting to hop onto someone else.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lids on the Loose

An opened can is a dangerous item to have in your kitchen. That means there is a can lid lying around somewhere. Loose lids are accidents waiting to happen if they’re not stored properly before tossing in the trash. As you might find out the next time you poke around in the garbage or try to compact loose trash.

Obviously, put the lid back in the empty can. But that’s not enough, because that pesky little lid might come tumbling right back out. So, be sure to put something inside the can and on top of the lid. That could be used paper towels, food trimmings, or anything that will weigh the lid down.

Now, a second worry is a coffee can lid. You remove it, but don’t have a place to put it until all the coffee is gone. Take a thick section of your newspaper and slide the lid inside. Tape it down.

There. Now, you’re saved from slicing open a hand, cutting through a tendon, and rushing to the hospital with blood spewing all over. Been there?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jest Red

Just when you find a wine that you love, it’s out of stock! Yikes. Jest Red. This is a tasty and reasonably priced wine that every lover of reds should try. If you can find it. After a great deal of research, one wine shop did turn up on the Internet that stocks it. I’m not telling which one.

It’s a California table wine that fits in no particular category. But it has received plenty of praise and I encourage everyone to put it on their list. I have not tried the Jest White or the Jest Pink, but as soon as I can order them locally, they’ll be added to our stock.

We have had some very nice wines over the years and at many price points, but by far, I think this one is now my favorite.

Jest Red.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Stick This Vac In Your Closet

If you’re tired of dragging a heavy old vacuum cleaner around, try a much-lighter-weight stick vac. They are inexpensive and are the perfect choice for grabbing up the small stuff off tile floors. Dog hairs (plus yours), food particles, tracked-in grit; you know what I mean.

If you’re worried about the filterless system and spiky dog hairs becoming embedded in the little paper dust catcher, don’t. Just take a stiff toothbrush (an old one) and brush all the stuff away. Now, that’s a little better deal than those old foam catchers, for sure.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dire Space Heater Warning

The promise of higher heating bills puts a damper on staying toasty warm this winter. So, many of you may be pulling out those little space heaters to fill in the gaps. The fact remains that those little devils are still not very safe.

First, reacquaint yourself with the safety section of the manual, even if you skip the pictures about how to plug it in. The low-end units probably are not rated for outdoors – that means don’t use them in a bathroom, either. No liquid or water vapors should be in the same room with these heaters, in other words. Don’t tuck the cord under a rug and keep it out of traffic. And do not use an extension cord – those little heaters pull a lot of electricity and you can overload in a hurry.

The safest space heaters are the oil-based radiator styles. They take quite a bit longer to warm up, however. Don’t leave any heater unattended. Period.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Cure the Television Squigglies

Have squigglies on your television screen? The first thing some people do is race around in search of the cable/satellite/tv manuals. You probably won’t find anything in there that will help. If you feel like taking the time, go ahead and try to find information on the Internet. Good luck.

If you really want to feel like a fool, call the satellite or cable company. They’ll be laughing on the other end, guaranteed. What has probably happened is the darned cable attachment that goes into the television has come loose. Tighten ‘er up and you should be back in business, minus those squigglies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Eliminate Party Fidget and Fuss

Leave Nothing to Chance when you’re hosting a party. This is not the time to try to set up a new CD player or to figure out why the old one isn’t working.

Leave. Nothing. To. Chance. There. I’ve created a party brand.

Hosting a great party means being there for your guests. Don’t be struggling with a cork popper or reach for glasses, either. Have a bottle or two open and ready to serve so your guests feel immediately welcome. Avoid racing around fixing last-minute foods, too. Prepare as much as possible the day before – or earlier for frozen items.

Finally, test lighting, have music going, go get dressed, and be ready to party! If you need some other party hosting tips,
read this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bag Your Wine

You should always keep a snazzy paper wine bag or two on hand for those times when you need a quick gift – you’ll need a backup bottle of wine, too.

But, if you are little handy with a sewing machine, it’s pretty easy to sew up a few bags with discount bin material. All you need is a piece of material 17 inches high by 15 inches wide. Fold it over, and sew closed at the bottom and on the side. Add a folded over seam at the top. Cut a 22-inch length of ribbon and attach it from its middle with a few stitches at one side seam – about 3 inches down from the lip – and you’re all done.

If it turns out really nice, you can make up a batch of them and give them as a gift set – you’ll save the cost of a bottle of wine and someone else will have a bunch of bags ready to fill. If you need more details, check this out.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Let Them Eat Gumdrops

If you want to put together a quick and sticky arrangement, think gumdrops. The favorite decoration from olden days is back, along with silver gumdrop trees. You can even use a styrofoam cone or floral block and create a cute little arrangement for a last-minute party decoration.

While the urge to eat those things might be overwhelming, keep two things in mind. First, they’re loaded with sugar. Second, they’ve probably been exposed to plenty of germs, especially if building the tree was a group effort.

If you must eat them – and they are delicious and fun – keep a separate batch for actual consumption and enjoy the others as a visual –they’ll eventually turn to stone.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Attack of the Killer Floral Arrangement

Flower arrangements are always nice when they arrive in the hands of a skilled florist. But it is pretty simple to come up with your own creations if you know a little bit about how shapes and textures come together.

You have three general choices regarding floral style:

Line – those are the slender and stylish pieces that are tall.
Mass – these are often rounded or triangular and filled with a variety of flowers and greenery.
Line/Mass – obviously, a combination of the above two designs.

Now, all you have to do is choose some complementary colored blooms or buds, stick them in a vase and you’re done, sort of. If you really want more details, read this.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Up and Down, Not Around

Just as horizontal stripes make short, squatty people look taller, so will they add height to a room when applied as a wallpaper pattern. Light colors will also increase size, especially green and blue tones.

Now, if you really want to make your space seem smaller, go with deep tones; for coziness, you really should just add a fireplace.

Here’s a little more information on how to choose wallpaper designs if you’re ready for a change.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Shaken and Stirrred

If you’re into martini bars or even want to become a stellar martini shaker and stirrer, you’ll find tons of merchandise out there to do it with.

We have seen, but not tried, the mister bottle that holds vermouth (you supply the vermouth). It’s supposed to add just the right mist over the martini glass. Very cool. Neon-stemmed martini glasses are a neat touch - if you’re drinking martinis in the dark.

If you need to alert the neighbors to the fact that you imbibe, you can hang a martini suncatcher in the front window.

Don’t forget to order some “gourmet” olives. Just skewer them with a lighted cocktail pick!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

For the Movers and Shakers

If you have a bunch of movers and shakers in your household – those who need to rattle wrapped gifts to see what might be tossing around inside – here’s a little trick that might add to their frustration.

Place a set of jingle bells or other noisemaker inside and let it rattle around amidst the protective stuffing. That’ll put a damper on their nosiness.

Now, if you are tired of the same old gift wrap, try these fun ideas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Germ Warfare

Cold and flu season generally reserves itself for the winter months, but we should really be paranoid all year long. Only one in three people actually wash their hands after visiting a restroom. Now, doesn’t that scare you just a little?

As most people tend to grab the middle part of a door rail-style handle, hook your index finger around the top portion of it and I bet you’ll reduce the number of germs on your hands by a few billion.

And don’t forget all those handles at self-serve gas stations. Think about all the folks – sickly and sneeze – pumping gas before you. Kind of makes you want to carry a pair of gloves just for that chore, doesn’t it?

Read this article for a few more easy habits to slide into and that will help you avoid all those grimy, snotty, evil little bugs that are lying in wait – just for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Keep the Disposal Warm

Everyone puts things in the garbage disposal that should not be there. But you’re tempting fate even more if you put those bad things down without using hot water. Don’t be stingy.

Of course you should avoid all the obvious things such as bones and celery strings. Other objects spin themselves silly – and into long and strong hairy masses: cabbage and lettuce leaves, for instance.

Greasy stuff is the worst. Running cold water means that it will just ball up and stick like plaque to the sides of the disposal as well as the pipes. That will eventually lead to a complete stoppage. Just be free with the hot water and you can avoid most of this. If you still think you’re mistreating the disposal, read this. It’ll set you straight.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Up Against a Wall

If you don’t want to spend the time to build a stone retaining wall, there’s an alternative, but it’s not cheap. Unopened bags of concrete. Yes, a lot of weight and a bit of expense, but little effort. You just pile them up and let the rains come. Eventually they’ll harden and they don’t look too bad, either, once the lettering fades.

Some folks use them as retaining walls on lake lots as well as around the house to prevent runoff. Kind of an interesting notion, don’t you think?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Get Personal With Your Screwdriver

I bet your screwdrivers are a little dull – you’ve been using them for other things, right? Have you used them to scrape sticky stuff off? What about the old chisel trick? You know better. Screwdrivers are intended for one thing – that’s right. It’s why they are called screwdrivers.

Don’t buy cheap ones – don’t even think about getting them at the dollar store. They just won’t hold up. Get yourself a good set of Phillips and flathead drivers. For Phillips, start with a No. 1 and a No. 3. For the flatheads, or common screwdrivers, you should stock 1/8-inch through 5/16th-inch tips.

When you’re shopping, grip the handle and make sure it’s comfy in your hand. Steer toward the 6-inchers for all-purpose use. There’s a lot more to know about screwdrivers, so you should probably read this.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Light Up Your Own Life

You need many types of lighting in the home – just look around and you’ll see ambient lighting, general lighting, and task lights. The first two are great for mood-setting, but the last one is often the most important. It’s the one you use to put on makeup, wire a socket, or make the kids study under.

You can’t beat the old incandescent bulb for the best brightness. The halogens are probably second choice only because they’re not energy efficient, either, and they get really hot. Fluorescents are not bad, but they give off a greenish tinge that might make things interesting for an artist. In fact, while we should all be energy conscious, it’s not always practical. So, don’t feel guilty about using the good old light bulb – in the long run, it will save your eyes.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Keep Your Rosemary Out of Critical Care

Potted rosemary is an impressive little decorator item during the holidays. But it can be a little fussy. It likes sun, but cool temperatures and – heaven forbid – keep it away from heating vents. It won’t feel pampered in a dry house, either, so if yours is arid, get a humidifier. As much as rosemary likes the air around it to be moist, it doesn’t like wet feet, so don’t overwater.

When you have finished abusing it for the holidays, it can be placed outdoors at the appropriate time and in the proper soil and may even grow quite tall - if you live in the right climate. In the meantime, enjoy the pain you’re inflicting on your rosemary. It smells good and you can even decorate it with tiny lightweight ornaments. For basic rosemary tree care, read this.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Black Gunk on the Sink Stopper - It Grows!

See that black gunk on the sink stopper? Lean over and look underneath the silver piece that blocks the water. That gunk grows and goes way down and you really should remove the thing and give it a good soak in vinegar or your cleaner of choice. You can do most of this by feel; reach toward the back side of the pipes under the sink and you’ll be able to feel the back and forth, up and down action of the mechanism that goes from the stopper to the plunger unit near the faucet.

There’s a round button that will unscrew and release the plunger. Turn it counterclockwise (that’s Lefty Loosy) and remove the horizontal bar. That frees up the plunger so you can remove it and scrub it down. Place it back in the sink with the bottom opening facing front to back. Push the horizontal bar back in and make sure it catches the plunger. Tighten the button (that would be Righty Tighty).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

When the Toilet Overfloweth

It will happen and it’s a scary thing, because it will be when you least want it to. Those things never stop up unless something going down gets stuck. So, you better have a plunger on hand.

First, though, comes the fun part. You can’t just start plunging and flushing. You MUST bail out at least half the water in the bowl, so grab some rubber gloves and get to dipping. Now you can use the plunger. Flush and it should be all right. If not, bail again if necessary and keep on plungin’!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

If You Haven't Purchased a Toilet Lately...

There’s a little trick that may come as a surprise to some of you. That’s the two-step toilet flushing mechanism in the handle. These low-flow toilets aren’t the greatest things invented, but we must live with them unless you live in a really old house and all the plumbing is still working properly.

If you have the latest versions or are visiting someone with the newest low-flow models – especially if you’re visiting someone with this style – you should be in on this little secret. Use a quick flick of the handle for going the Number 1 route – that saves a lot of water and still gets the job done. For everything else, press that handle down all the way and hold it a second. There, all done.

Believe me, this has put plenty of people in a bind – and hiding in a bathroom furiously searching for a plunger. If you need to know what else to have handy, read this.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Rusty Nails

We all have heard the horrors of stepping on rusty nails – guaranteed trip to get a tetanus shot. Decks and fences can suffer, too, from rusty nail invasions. Fall and spring are good times to make a thorough inspection of all those nails and the holes they fit into. If you see them popping up, just drill them back in. If they look rusty, then someone put the wrong nails in to start with.

You need deck screws or nails and they’re not real cheap, but they don’t rust, either. Use them on the fence and deck.

No cheating. Don’t skimp and add just a few nails here and there. You won’t have much luck filling in holes with wood putty. It will not take deck or fence stain very well, and may even “wallow” out eventually.

If you feel the urge to spiff up your deck, read this.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fluffy Fibermesh

If you’re “into” concrete, fall and spring are perfect times – from a temperature standpoint - to mix up a little Portland cement, perlite, and peat. For added strength, you’ll need fluffy fibermesh. You can make planters, fake rocks, and a host of other things that require rubber gloves and a protective mask, all in the privacy of your back yard.

Fluffy fibermesh is not that easy to find – most folks will recommend you go on an expensive drive around town visiting all the concrete companies. Some of the instruction sites don’t even bother to tell you where to go or what it is.

This is such a simple solution. Go straight to the discount or home improvement store and buy the cheapest air conditioning filter you can find. Put on your gloves, remove the cardboard and there it is – fluffy fibermesh!

Now that you’re an expert on fluffy fibermesh, here are a few concrete recipes and projects that will keep you busy.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Get Thee to a Dollar Store

I would never suggest that you’ll find one-stop-shopping at a dollar store. Even at the not-quite-everything’s-a-dollar places. But you can get a few bargains on certain things that make it worth the trip.

Wrapping paper, tissue paper, and gift bags. You can make a killing on these items – stock up and you’ll be set for the year. Get yourself some bags for each giving occasion and match those up with tissue – all done. You may not have gifts, but you sure will have the presentation part wrapped up.

Another good deal is on holiday ornaments. Snag a few boxes of those and fill all your bowls and baskets. Instant budget decorating. If you need more budget decorating ideas for the holidays, read this.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Oh, Here's Something Those DVD People Don't Mention

If you have an older television (it doesn’t have to be THAT old), you can’t just plug and play a DVD player and expect to see anything. They don’t tell you this on the box nor anywhere inside the box – for instance, inside the installation guide.

Well, you have to have a converter because cables that come with the DVD don’t match anything on the television. This is an only option, not one of many. You can find them ranging in price from about $10 (when in stock) up to $30, which is about the cost of the DVD player. Kinda makes you want to go retro – as in VCR, huh?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tidbit Missing From Satellite Dish Information Manual

Maybe I have instruction manual blindness, but I still can’t find the following information in the troubleshooting section of our satellite dish manual.

I turned the TV on and got this beautiful pink – blank – screen. What to do? Go to the information guide, right? Nothing. After nearly an hour of research on the Internet (and I do a lot of that, so it’s not like the information was at my fingertips), I discovered that you can just unplug the satellite box – for at least 30 seconds – and then plug it back in. It worked. The dish had to do its installation thing with a little progress guide on the screen and we were done.

A week later, the same thing happened to our second TV. Easy fix. Yesterday, we got a blur of colors on one set. Unplug, replug.

So, if you’re reading this as a satellite dish owner, I’ve just saved you a little time on the phone or on the Internet and this certainly tells you what they don’t want you to know about pink screens.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pick Out the Perfect Persian

If you’re in the market for an Oriental rug, don’t go blindly down to the corner store for its third going-out-of-business sale. You must visit a reputable dealer who is more knowledgeable and low-key than one who should be on the street corner hawking used cars.

First, there is a difference between Persian and Oriental rugs. Persian rugs only come from Iran (Persia – get it?), while Oriental rugs come from many countries (the Orient). An authentic Oriental rug is made of wool or silk and is hand-knotted. New Oriental rugs can be made to look old, so you don’t want to get stuck paying extra cash for what you think is an antique.

Unfortunately, the Oriental rug market is an unregulated wilderness, so it pays to be careful. Do a little research on what to look for and then shop around. You can snag a few basics in this article.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tastebud Community

Did you know that there is an entire continent of separate sensory spots inside your mouth? You especially need to have this information if you’re attending any wine-tasting parties. Knowing where exactly to place that gulp of wine will tell you how to judge the flavor, or its palate.

It’s important when taking a sip to roll it around in your mouth, let it take a stroll from the tip of the tongue along the sides and as far back as you can get it. You’ll detect sweetness at the tip of your tongue, tartness on the sides, and any bitterness will kick in at the back. Once these sensations are combines, you’ll know whether you’re enjoying a nutty, woody, earthy, spicy, fruit, or floral bottle of wine.

There is a lot more to it than that, of course; this isn’t even a start to becoming a wine snob. But, if you need to knew a few more basics about selecting wines, read this.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Person's Pleasure Can be a Pet's Poison

If you share your home with pets, whether they are dogs, cats, reptiles, rodents, birds, or other living creatures, it’s a good idea to be aware of those innocent household items that can be toxic. Most of us know about chocolate and poinsettias. But did you know that Easter Lilies are often fatal while poinsettias may only cause temporary illness?

During the holiday season, we may become more lax about leaving special foods about. We may be less vigilant when tending to guests and not notice when Fido and Fluffy start nipping at a plant’s leaves. In fact, just about all plants can cause problems, so if your pet has not outgrown the gnawing stage, it’s best to keep these up high or eliminate them.

Onions and macadamia nuts can create side effects that will send you to the vet. Any products containing alcohol, zinc, and Xylitol (a sweetener) should definitely be stashed away. Animals don’t handle fat the way humans do and consumption of fatty foods can cause pancreatitis – a life-threatening illness. One last surprise: if you’re giving your pet grapes and raisins, you’ll find some experts reporting these can cause illness, too.

One last thing: if you decide that doggy breath has become unbearable, don’t use human toothpaste – it’s another evil product.

If in doubt about a pet’s behavior, always check with your vet. They may be able to walk you through the episode if you have the proper products on hand. Just don’t take any chances in the first place – do your own research and you’ll find several lengthy lists of household horrors.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Generate Some Energy

Living without electricity – even for a few hours – is not fun. Especially if your water pump or septic system requires current. Not to mention the large items that hold food and the smaller essentials that keep us from stumbling around in the dark.

Backup generators, both portable and whole-house, are becoming more affordable, but don’t expect them to return things to normal when the electricity fails. They simply couldn’t and shouldn’t. When shopping for a backup generator, decide which items are critical and base your decision on that – as well as budget. If you think a generator is in your future, read this first.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Jack Can't Do This

If you’re thinking that Monterey Jack can be substituted for a Mexican melting cheese, forget it. Even if the recipe calls for the addition of half-and-half, milk, or evaporated milk.

The cheese may look all right at first, but soon, the oils will begin to separate and if you try to reheat it after refrigeration, it becomes a gooey, balled-up, sticky mess. If you’re looking for a good dipping cheese, visit the Mexican section at the local grocery or big-box chain and pick something out that will do the job right. If you need a few good Mexican recipes, grab these.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ho-Hum Walls Need Depth

If you have a wall with a few flaws, but no cracks, and simply want to add some depth, texturing is an easy and fun application to really change things up. The stucco effect is a favorite, but once it’s done, you can’t go back.

Knockdown or skiptrowel are official terms for this Spanish-style look and it really is easy to apply. In fact, each “artisan” has his or her own technique when it comes to the actual appearance. All you need are a trowel (OK, I’ve used a pie server and it worked fine) and the appropriate plaster mix.

The hard part is the prep work and should be done according to what type of surface you’re covering. Then, just like putting icing on a cake, add a swath here and there; you can even add little peaks in places (note: those cute little ridges and peaks will gather dust and grime over time, so be forewarned).

When you’re finished, it will be like leaving your own special signature on the wall. Let it dry according to manufacturer’s instructions and paint. Read this for more information.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Get Those Lumps Out of the Air

All that unseen pollution in the home simply can’t fit through the plain old cheap air filters. Even if you change them once a month like you’re supposed to.

Pleated air filters do a little better job, but if you’re really into getting those large chunks of – whatever – out of your home, then have a look at the electrostatic filters. They are not only good for clearing the air, but they inhibit the blooming of such nasties as mold, fungi and the like. You can hose them down and they’re good for practically forever.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Charming Wine Glasses

Wine charms are way too easy to make and easy to personalize as well. You’ll need earring hoops and a collection of beads and charms. If you want to get fancy, get some jump rings – those are added to the main hoop and can hold additional charms.

If you find the initial-style block beads, buy two or three packages and you can personalize for each party guest!

Wine charms can also make terrific stocking stuffers, gift tags, napkin rings. Read this article for details.

Now, if you’re more into beer out of plastic cups, go buy a permanent marker and slap the initials on the side.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Is Your Home on the Skids?

When winter or the rainy season approaches, it may be time to slip-proof your home. Wood and tile floors are especially accident-prone when a little damp comes in on the bottoms of boots and shoes.

If you put down runners or rugs, you should really buy a non-skid pad. Tape is not the best option; we find that it doesn’t last very long as grit works its way under the rug and it leaves a really messy residue on tile that is not worth the work it takes to remove.

You can also find decorative treads for outdoor use. They look nice and are great for slick-when-wet surfaces.

And don’t forget that guest shower. If it is only used by overnight visitors, how do you know it’s not slippery? I’m glad I tested our new guest shower – even though it had a rough grid in the bottom, as the shampoo rinsed away, it became slippery. The next day we added little rubber skids.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wash It Outside

You’ll find tons of attractive and trendy outdoor sinks, some of them ranging into several hundred dollars. However, for practical purposes, you can now find these sinks for less than $100 – best of all, they are really usable.

One sink we have found (ranging in price from $80 - $100, depending on where you purchase) can be mounted to the wall at a comfortable height. The surface area slides open to access the faucet and sink; plus, it has a handy space to roll up a garden hose and includes a pullout drawer for extra storage.

This is a terrific wish list item for anyone who does a lot of potting in the spring.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Crowd-Pleasing Punch

Punch is not just for teetotaling afternoon get-togethers or for straight-laced anniversary parties. Nope, you can take just about any punch recipe and add a little zip to it. Just be sure you pair the right recipe with the proper bottle of booze.

Rum, for instance, will be a great companion to a banana-flavored punch, while vodka may be a better blend with lime and other light fruit bases. Don’t forget sparkling wines. Just as they go with any food at any time of day, they’ll be the perfect fit for any punch!

Here are a few punch recipes – you’ll have to add your own booze choice.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Save That Date!

If you are planning a party that is in conflict with any holiday, you have to discard the two week notice rule. December wins with the most number of parties spread out over the greatest amount of time.

In fact, you should send out a save-the-date postcard several months in advance. The official invitation should leave your hands at least eight weeks before the event. If you’re in need of other ways to make your guests feel welcome – before, during, and at the bar – read this.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Greetings From (Fill-In-Your-Name-Here)

You don’t have to be a great artist to create one-of-a-kind note cards for special occasion or everyday use. In fact, you don’t even need a lot of supplies. Make your own note or greeting cards using this elegant and ancient style of Japanese painting – it’s called taka-gu, which means “rubbing picture.”

All you need are some fun heavy papers (handmade ones are really elegant), ink in black or colors, a brush, and a few objects from nature, such as fresh flowers, leaves, and twigs.

Clean your found objects and let them dry. Lay them on a newspaper and, using a paintbrush, cover them with ink. Press the paper on top of the item, lift it and let it dry. You’ll have a beautiful piece of art on a card. For additional instructions, read this article.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Don't Chime In Here

This is more of an etiquette suggestion with a little handy advice thrown in. Chimes are lovely and make great gifts, right? But, are you really thinking about the neighbors when you hang those things?

After all, if you’re not home, you don’t know what they’re doing. That little light tinkling sound you hear when a slight breeze passes through may turn into a monster clanging during a fierce wind.

If you’re thinking about giving chimes as gifts, think twice. If you’ve just received a set of chimes as a gift, here’s an idea. Hang it somewhere inside your home, preferably near a ceiling fan. You can hear the lightest tinkle 24 hours a day and no one else gets in a wad about it.

We love ours and it’s in just the right spot to provide the best little noises – a nice reminder of the person behind the gift. Better yet, we get to hear our own tinkling chime and it’s not competing with all those ugly clanking sounds from surrounding neighbors.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Canine Rx

What’s in your own first aid kit that would be helpful in case your own pet is injured? We’ve created an overview of pet supply medical kits and contents here, along with a few tips about building your own first aid center.

It’s wise to keep a mini-kit for traveling, too. If you really love four-legged creatures, then you should keep this kit in the vehicle at all times in case you encounter a lost or injured animal. One word of caution, however: never approach an injured wild animal of any kind unless you’re a trained professional. And, if in doubt about a cat or a dog, it is still best to leave it alone and call for trained assistance.

If you are confident of your skills, however, a muzzle is one essential item to have handy - we think - above all else. This can be a gauze wrap, a leash, or any item that will keep the animal’s mouth closed without causing further injury. No matter how sweet a dog is when it’s feeling secure and healthy, if a creature is in pain, the first reaction is to bite. If you can get close enough to muzzle the animal, by all means do that first. Then proceed with first aid or loading and transport to a vet.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Your Special Stash

Need a little extra shelf space? Here’s a spot many people may not think of when looking for extra room to stash away little-used items.

Just above the doorway in a closet is wasted space, especially if the ceiling is high enough to accommodate even limited storage. You should find enough room to mount a shelf or two where things can go that are not used on a regular basis. Be sure you have room to set up a two-stepper or ladder inside the closet so you can get things down easily. A couple of brackets and board cut to fit and you have a little extra space to stash your stuff.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ice Is Not Nice

Winter will be here sooner rather than later. If you live in a part of the country that is prone to an icy patch or two, it’s time to begin the preparations that will keep things from freezing up. Yes, you know to leave faucets dripping and to open cupboard doors when temps dip into single digits and the double numbers on the wrong side of zero.

Gather up your water hoses and drain them. Coil them and put them away in the garage. If you haven’t already, purchase “blankets” for all exposed pipes such as those that go from the water heater.

Purchase extra bags of sand for icy sidewalks. Sand won’t corrode the concrete like salt does. Here are a few more tips for cold-weather prep and how to survive the wrath of winter.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Melt Your Candle the New-Fashioned Way

Maybe we’re late to the starting gate on this one, but candle warmers are really nifty. I just received one as a gift. You don’t have to light it, which eliminates one thing I don’t like about candles – fire hazard or just plain forgetting about it. You still get the wonderful smell and the candle lasts practically forever.

Ours is called “Signature Candle Warmer.” After looking around the Internet, I see that they’re readily available and come in several different styles, including a crockpot type. We’ll be snagging a few of those to put under trees this year. What a wonderful gift; just throw in a beautiful candle and you’re done!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Add Fiber To Your Home's Diet

Cement fiberboard is about the best thing you can do for yourself, not to mention your home. It resembles siding and has a wood grain, but it is oh-so-perfect from a maintenance standpoint. It won’t rot, won’t attract bugs (although other wood parts are still attractants), resists burning, and generally lasts a very long time.

You still have to paint it, but not as often as wood. You can even purchase it at the local home improvement store if you’re a brave do-it-yourselfer. We love it. If you need more info, read this article. There are a couple of companies that provide cement fiberboard. We chose the James Hardy Company for ours.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wallpaper Phobia

Wallpaper is back in style (again) and it’s much easier to apply – and remove. You can choose between prepasted or apply paste to the wall. There’s no booking involved, so a lot less time is involved in the process.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be a challenge if you plan on papering a room with lots of trimout. But at least you can now correct most mistakes by just realigning the paper. Fore more tips on the newest in removable papers, read this. Go here for an entire series of articles on wallpaper.

If the thought of wallpapering still puts you in a scary zone, try one wall first: pick a plain one with no doors or outlets and knock yourself out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tie Your Tamales

If you are just beginning your tamale-tying career, here’s the easiest way we have found to get those tamales wrapped and ready for the steamer. Of course, you can ignore this if you like to prepare them open on the end, which is easier, but just doesn’t seem to make as pretty a presentation.

You’ll need two ties per tamale – and, yes, it takes a little more time and twice the number of ties. Fill the corn husk with the masa mix and the meat. Leave the sides and ends clear. Bring up the sides and press them together. Now, fold them to one side, much like a French seam. Fold one end up and tie it, then do the same to the other end. Tie it and you’re done. If you need a few helpful tamale-making tips, read this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Buy That Mold A Drink

Well, here’s a neat trick – especially if you like cheap vodka. It kills mold and mildew. Just spray or wash it on that nasty grout or any other surface that is supporting the green and black stuff. There apparently are a lot of other things that vodka can handle that are not classified as drinking games, too. It supposedly will relieve toothache and remove the oil from poison ivy.

Now, if it will do all that, what is it doing to our insides? I guess we’ll find out after a few more Bloody Marys!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Is Your House Under Pressure?

A pressure washer that is. This is one of the latest and greatest gadgets that every homeowner must have. They are pretty affordable, too. You can choose from several different models and they all have a few really fun features that will get rid of grease and grime, mold and mildew, and other nasties on the outside of your home.

Read this for an overview before you go buy, however. Power is important: a 1950 pounds psi will wash the car and clean the concrete and that’s about it. For some real he-man cleaning, you may need to step up to a 3000 pounds psi model.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

When Bad Grass Must Go

Have some trouble spots in your yard where the grass is sort of there, but not really? Maybe a shady area with bald, brown spots, or a tough leggy variety that is impossible to mow? It needs to go and you’ll have to do the dirty deed before you can come in with hardscape or groundcover.

You must kill the grass while it is alive and it will take about a month to turn your not-so-lush vegetation into a dreamscape. Read this article for the full details.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Welcome, Neighbor!

There’s no better way to welcome new folks to the neighborhood than a cake or baked item. However, if you don’t do that sort of thing, then a gift basket is the next best thing. Don’t assume they cook, either. Just fill it with store-bought goodies and make it look pretty.

Fall, when apples are in season, lends itself to some really nifty gift basket ideas. You can easily incorporate the fresh fruit with a variety of low-cost gadgets that will core, peel, and make wedgies.

Visit the dollar store and stock up on little baskets and liners. You’ll be armed and dangerous when it comes to competing with the Welcome Wagon. Read this for some more ideas (if you’re into apple gift baskets, that is).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Spice Up Your Herb Knowledge

Really – do you even know the difference between spices and herbs? If you actually care, here are the details.

Spices are grown in the Southern Hemisphere (at least most of the time). They are all manufactured from seeds, fruits, nuts, and bark.
Herbs are grown in the Northern Hemisphere (again, at least most of the time). They come from seeds, flowers, roots, and leaves.

One of our favorites is cumin. It really can add a little extra zing to dishes. We continue to experiment with it in larger and larger quantities and haven’t been sorry, yet. On the other hand, the all-out winner at our house is chili powder. We make a double-batch of chili about every other week – throughout the year.

If you need to know more about caring for spices and herbs, read this.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Paper Trail

If you are searching for information on the Internet, more than likely, you’ll want to print it out, right? One of two things will happen at this point. You’ll get gobs of paper with only one page of useful information; the rest is ads and perhaps a blank page or two. The second scenario can be worse, especially if you’re depending on vital information. The words on the right side are cut off. Yep, that’s a biggie, especially of those words include important numbers, etc.

It’s really much more efficient to just highlight the needed information with your left mouse button, and under the Edit button at the top of your screen, click on copy. Open up your word processing program and go to the Edit button there and hit paste. Now, you can usually eliminate unwanted graphics. Set your page parameters to 1 inch on the sides and .08 on the top and bottom. That really saves a lot of white space. This little tip is good for when you just want snippets of information from several sources.

Now, with all that said, I have to remind about copyright infringement. It’s very serious and just plain bad to do it. Someone will come and get you, I swear: there are ways to do that, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sorting Out Your Apples

Whoa, cowboy! Before you go buying apples for that pie or to cover in caramel, you should know what species you are dealing with. Here’s a very short list. The longer one is here.

Granny Smith – use these for caramel apples. They’re a good all-purpose variety for baking, snacking, and making sauce.
Fuji – not good for baking.
Red Delicious – do not use for baking – it gets mushy when heated.
Rome – this apple is better for baking than it is for eating fresh.

Apple growing season peaks in October. You’ll see more varieties in the fall than any other time of year. Keep your apples in the fridge – they’ll last a lot longer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Skeeterville

With warmer, dryer temperatures still in effect around much of the country, mosquitos are taking advantage of scummy channels and ponds or just about anywhere they can find a little moisture. All they need for good breeding ground is one-half inch of water.

Do a check around your home and yard. Look for miniature, standing pools of water around gutters, in flower pots, and around unused water hoses. Even trash cans, if not covered properly, will become a nursery.

By the way, many mosquitos do not actually prey on birds – so they’re not the culprits for carrying West Nile virus. The Culex mosquito tops the list of carriers. But who’s going to take the time to ID one of those guys when they’ve landed looking for a little blood?

Monday, October 10, 2005

What's In Your Air?

We don’t have the answer to that one, but what we do know is that all those bottles full of cleaner sitting under your cabinet are emitting some toxicants into the air, even those that have tight seals. Can you believe that? Worse, yet, they’re all mixing together and hovering in an unseen cloud in the room.

That doesn’t make me stop purchasing things I need to keep the house clean. But it sure makes me think twice when I see labels that state the product has been banned in California. Any time you can use simple products such as vinegar for cleaning, do it. But even vinegar has its limitations. You should avoid using vinegar on grout because it is acidic. Never use vinegar on marble, either – even if it is diluted.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Thermostat Thingamabob

If you’re having a few heating issues, the thermostat may be the bad guy. Or at least a little faulty. While you may be facing replacement, here’s what you can do, first.

Turn off the electricity. Pry the cover off and check that all wires are nice and tight. Use a very soft brush to remove any dust. This is just for starters, but try this first and, if that doesn’t do the trick, then you’ll need to go buy a voltmeter for further testing.

If you need help on how to use a voltmeter, or multitester, read this.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tarry, Toxic Meat Not Allowed

When you’re firing up that smoker, remember to keep enough wood on hand to get the job done. Do not – ever – use mystery wood of any sort. That includes scrap pieces of treated lumber and anything evergreen. These varieties – along with anything of unknown origin – contain chemicals/resins that can make you very ill. We’ll use the word “toxic” here for clarity.

Acceptable woods include: oak and hickory. Depending on which part of the country you live in, you may be able to add some fun smoky flavors with apple, pecan, mesquite, and maple. Just about any seasoned hardwood is okay with us.


P.S. If you still haven't figured out how much fun it is to smoke foods, read this.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Go Ahead-Drink That Fine Wine Before Its Time

Not all wines improve with age and some people simply like the tart flavor of a newer wine, anyway. Generally, white wines can be enjoyed immediately. Many reds – those within a modest price range - should be consumed within a year or two.

Don’t bother to purchase any wine – at any price - unless you have the optimum storage conditions: cool, dark place; stable environment; and tilted to allow cork to remain moist.

If you need input on pairing wine with cheese and other foods, check this out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Get the Gutters

You don’t need a ladder to do a quick gutter check. And don’t save that chore for fall, either, after all the leaves have fallen. There are other hazards out there that can clog gutters such as bird nests and lightweight debris.

Straighten a coat hanger, but add a good-sized hook on the curled end. It should look like a “U” on the end. Attach the straight end securely to a broom handle and you can run this along the gutters without having to crawl up a ladder.

Check your gutters every couple of months.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Are You In The Dark?

You probably know where the flashlights are in case of a power outage. You better. There are a couple of other things you should do when you’re left in the dark.

-Keep a battery-operated radio next to your emergency flashlights. Make sure the batteries work and the radio is pre-tuned to a local station.
-If any major appliances are on at the time of the blackout, turn them off to avoid power surges that could potentially cause damage. I won’t remind you about computers, televisions, and recording devices.

Last, if you’re expecting storms to pass through your area, put all your emergency stuff in one easy-to-reach place. Dark is nice, but only if you know it’s coming.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Don't Over-Medicate Your Wool

You can wear your good wool sweaters several times before they require dry cleaning. In fact, it’s better not to dash off to the dry cleaners after even a couple of wearings. Shake lightly, let it air out, and hang it up. Too much professional cleaning treatment is like an overdose – it breaks down the fibers in good wools.

And stay on top of those pills, too. Normal pilling occurs in the underarm areas and anywhere there’s constant contact. Removing the pills by hand is our preferred method, but that takes some time harvesting all those little round pellets. A de-fuzzing comb is recommended; we have not had much luck with the battery-powered gadgets. After the pills are gone, brush up the fabric with a light touch to smooth out the fibers.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cupboard Fuzzies

If your cupboard doors don’t shine anymore, it may be caused by grease buildup, not old age or bad paint. Grease travels by air, believe it or not. Minute droplets hitch a ride and land on surfaces throughout the kitchen. They especially like those niches in cupboard doors. Look close and you’ll see all sorts of tiny, dusty, hairy, icky particles sticking to that top layer of grease.

Use a good cleaner that contains a degreaser. Spray it on the doors and leave for about 15 minutes. Use a plastic scrubbie to swipe the doors, rinse with a sponge, then wipe dry with clean towels. Your cabinetry should be returned to its normal shiny self.

Friday, September 30, 2005

What Clothing Labels Leave Out

We take them for granted, ignore them, or remove them entirely: clothing care labels. Some companies have started imprinting them into the material so you can’t complain about messing them up in the wash because the label is missing.

But there are certain things that are not mentioned on labels that will give you a little more free rein over the washer and dryer.

-If it states simply “machine wash, tumble dry,” that means at any setting. In other words, if a heat setting is not specificallymentioned, you are free to let some men and teenagers do the laundry.
-The care label may not have information on the type of material. That information can be placed separately on a piece of clothing or even on a tear-off tag.
-If a label states “dry clean,” that means it does not have to be done professionally. You can, often at your own risk, try the newer products for at-home use or take it to a coin-operated dry cleaning machine. If the word “professionally” is added, then take thee to a place that does it for you.
-If there is no mention of warnings against using bleach, then it can be assume that the product is safe to use.
-Ironing will presumably not be needed if you don’t see the word on the clothing label. That is, unless you leave your clothes too long in the washer or dryer. That’s a major wrinkle alert.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

How Far Should You Extend Your Cord?

In the case of extension cords, the shorter the better. Use the appropriate cord (indoor or outdoor) and only use a cord that is just long enough. The longer the cord, the less power you’ll end up with on the end. If it turns out that your tool or appliance requires more wattage than is arriving at the end of your cord, you could start a fire (worst case) or fry the motor (not so great, either).

Here’s an essential tip for extension cords. Purchase more than one; select them for gauge, wattage, and expected use. It’s written out on the label; read it, and file it away so you won’t be caught frying things around the home that aren’t on the stove.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Musical Notes

A musical instrument does not have to be played to be appreciated. Trumpets and saxophones are popular items of decor in some homes. Just find a suitable stand and mount the instrument of your choice in an obscure corner or even on top of a cabinet.

It helps if you can drag out your old high school musical instrument and shine it up. If not, cruise garage sales or check the newspaper for ads from people who are offering up their child’s pseudo-musical career for another fad.

If you don’t want to spring for a gilded piece of decor with keys and mouthpieces, look for a used music stand and find a piece of old sheet music. Interesting conversation starter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Don't Jolt Your Lightbulbs

Many folks will already know this, but I had to learn the hard way. So, I think it’s time to remind the remainder of those who are in the dark about how to clean light bulbs. Those bulbs that are still in the sockets are the ones I’m talking about.

We have a ton of vanity bulbs and probably let them sit a little too long accumulating dust and webbies. Oh, yeah, we look at the dust and think that it’s time to clean them; then we go about the rest of our daily lives.

Never, never use a wet sponge on a hot bulb. The bulb will break and make a scary noise. Like I said, this may be common sense for some people, but for those of you who don’t have any sense whatsoever, that’s today’s handy hint.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Your Bricks Need To Breathe

If you have a brick home, especially an older one, you may hear some talk about sealing the bricks. Actually - from what we know - if you are experiencing any kind of water penetration, it is probably from deteriorating mortar. It could also be coming from cracks around windows and doorframes.

You’ll be much better off identifying and repairing those problems than sealing your bricks. They presumably have already been fortified for weather wear and tear and a sealer could potentially cause damage to the brick itself.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Don't Let Your Wood Floors Wallow in Water

Wood, linoleum, and tile floors should be cleaned – or dusted – regularly to protect sheen. We have already talked about leaving some of the grime at the entry with area rugs.

While dust mops work well, a good wet mopping is often necessary. This practice won’t harm your tile or linoleum, but you should be very careful with wood floors. Too much water will certainly damage the wood. I’m not talking about dumping a bucket of water on the floor; I mean you should be careful about any type of wet mopping.

If you’re going to wet-mop a wood floor, do it in small sections and towel dry the floor before you move on. Seriously.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Rug Is Your First Line Of Defense

For dirt, that is. If you have wood or tile floors, especially, dirt and dust can act like sandpaper on the sheen. You can’t stop all of that grit from going underfoot throughout your home, but you can stop a good bit of it by installing mats at the outer doors and a second set of easy-to-clean rugs just inside.

Actually, wool rugs are recommended for easy-to-clean dirt collectors. The fibers leave the grime sitting on the top of the rug. Synthetic rugs trap the tracked-in stuff and, like a venus flytrap, seem to devour it into the depths of the fibers.

You can learn more about caring for wool rugs here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Don't Call the Dentist for Tree Cavities

With concerns for the spread of West Nile Virus, we’re all looking for ways to eliminate standing water. We are constantly on the search for hidden pockets of standing water.

Once such overlooked spot is in a tree cavity. These can be great rainwater collectors and perfect mosquito nurseries. However, if you want to avoid doing any harm to your tree by drilling a drainage hole into the bark, here’s an alternative solution.

Drop a thick piece of cotton rope down into the hole; shove it as far down as it will go. Then attach the other end to a branch at a higher elevation. Standing water will be drawn away from the cavity and up the length of the rope.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Groom Your Grimy Grout

Over time, grout around tiles becomes a little grimy and stained. Especially on kitchen countertops. Even when it is sealed properly, you will eventually add something food-wise to the mix that will leave a tell-tale trail of gook.

You can try digging it out and replacing it, but I can tell you right now that this procedure should be a last resort. Some experts tell you all that’s needed is a beer-can opener to start digging, but even with the right tools, you’re buying into some lengthy elbow time.

Check out the tile supplies section at your home improvement store. Grout colorant has been on the market for a few years, but we didn’t use it until a couple of years ago. What a great product. The colors are limited, but you should find one that is close. Once you get started, you’ll realize how grimy the rest of the grout is, anyway, and you’ll feel driven to re-color the entire counter.

It’s easy to use and is the equivalent of a new coat of paint for giving your counters a facelift.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Who in the Heck Designed This Sink?

I have a couple of observations about kitchen sink design. Maybe three.

The first is those silly, useless, back-breaking built-in soap dispensers. Just look at the little spigot. It sits at the back of the sink. Does anyone wonder how that thing gets filled? That’s right, you have to reach underneath – waaaay in the back and unscrew the container, which is often made of glass. Don’t drop it. Then you fill it and try to screw it back in place – blindly, I might add, because at the back under the counter it’s dark and you’re dodging all the stuff that you were too lazy to pull out in the first place.

The second is those gorgeous brushed aluminum sinks in which the main faucet detaches and doubles as the sprayer. Wow, that’s the kind we just bought for our new home. It’s sleek and sexy – for right-handed people. The handle that controls the flow and operation of the entire sink is situated on the right side. If you’re a lefty, you have to reach over or under the appendage that is holding whatever it is you’re filling and try to angle that left hand into position to move the handle around.

The third is a silly one. Double sinks as opposed to single bowls. As we shopped for sinks, we asked ourselves what in the world did we really need a double bowl for? I know there are still folks around who don’t have dishwashers – that explains that. But what do you really need two drains in a sink for, anyway? The divider cuts down on things that can get washed or rinsed efficiently, like large cutting boards and turkey-sized roasters.

Sometimes I think designers and companies don’t use real life during the testing phase.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Hidden Horrors of Heating Your Home

Sooner or later, cooler weather will arrive and we will begin shivering in our timbers. Plan ahead for the coldest weather and you won’t find yourself battling frostbite taking care of those last-minute chores.

A couple of things here about heating devices. Electric space heaters in bathrooms are serious trouble because of the proximity to water. Don’t be tempted to leave the oven door open as an extra heat source, either. It’s a fire hazard and can emit noxious – even toxic – fumes.

Have the chimney cleaned if it has been a couple of years. If it’s gas, be sure all connections are tight. If you don’t have a firescreen, get one now. Have the furnace maintenance guy in for a visit; not because you like him or his price; but because you need him.

If you don’t have your own list of winter preparation tips, read this.

Monday, September 19, 2005

There's a Stain on the Deck!

Ready to stain your new deck? We just finished ours and it was a bit of a process to get a color we wanted and to do it right. In fact, we learned a big lesson while staining the steps.

We had a great color chart – so many choices. We did not want a redwood stain, but more of a complementary beige shade – but darker – than the house. We picked up the smallest container available to test. As it turned out, it was exactly the same shade of the house, although the color swatch had appeared much darker.

We then decided on a really dark – almost black – tint, which turned out to look a little scary at first. It was certainly a contrast. We really like it now, and ours is the only house in the neighborhood with dark railings and steps. However, we were afraid to paint the deck floor the same color as it would draw too much heat. Our first can of test stain didn’t go to waste – it went on the flooring and makes a good combo.

Oh, yeah. The steps. In order to have access off the deck, we painted down one half of the steps and let it dry. Then we painted down the other half and walked on the dry side. Not the best of ideas. There is a “seam” in the middle where the two sessions meet. Too late, now, of course.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Numb Your Lobster

If you’re on the prowl for lobster, you should be clued in on crustaceans before you head out.

If you have a larger pot, go for size; as in 1 ¾ lb – 2 lbs per. It is said that these have the sweetest taste. A 1-pounder is OK, however, if you don’t have the space. Experts also recommend steaming rather than boiling.

If you’re overly sensitive about your lobster’s feelings (by the way, it doesn’t have any spine, so...) then just stick it in the freezer for about ten minutes. It will go numb and you can pretend it’s already dead.

And don’t overcook your lobster feast – the meat will turn to rubber. Here are some more details about lobsters – the delicious kind.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Four-Wheelin' in the Kitchen

Kitchen islands are great for extra prep and storage space and for gathering around during parties. If you’re yearning for the added ambience of an island, but don’t have space, consider the mobile carts. All you need is a nook where you can tuck it away when not in use.

Mobile islands are really handy, even if they are smaller than the average kitchen island. You can turn it into a mobile bar or roll it outside for extra grilling and serving space.

Some come with butcher block tops and some are plain. If you want to really spiff it up, think about making your own mosaic top. It’s fairly easy and you’ll get lots of comments. Here’s what we did on top of our mobile island (scroll down to bottom of page). It’s our “personal Texas swoosh.”


P.S. If you want to make your own, visit the Mosaic section under Hobbies.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Be All That You Can Be - With Tea

Because tea is loaded with tannic acid, health claims abound.

So, who doesn’t want to reduce stress, increase metabolism, fight cancer, lower the risk of a stroke, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and aid the digestive system? If you smoke, “they” say you can drink tea to remove nicotine from the blood stream; a swish around in the mouth helps reduce the chance of mouth cancer.

You can learn more about the different types of tea here. In the meantime, sit down and relax with a cup of hot tea or a tall glass of iced tea. You obviously can’t go wrong there.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Make a Fashion Statement With Switch Plates

You can liven up a room with just one small change: add color to your switch plates! It’s easy and is a fun project for the entire family.

You can use existing plates for light switches and power outlets or replace with wooden plates. The plastic units are inexpensive and can be replaced with you’re tired of the decor. Just be sure and rough them up before painting or attaching objects.

Switch plate decoration techniques can include decoupage, glue-ons, and even rubber stamping. Let kids add sparkle to their rooms with glitter and other shiny objects. Use complementary wallpaper trim and a little glue to add a sophisticated look.

Check here for more tips and techniques on adding creative touches to your switch plates.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Attack of the Killer Caulking Gun

As cooler weather approaches, one of the easiest, cheapest energy-saving tips is to go on patrol with caulk. So, get out that caulking gun and start filling in those cracks and crevices that can let in extra cold breezes this winter.

Check around doorframes and windowsills. Have a look around the outside of your house especially and fill in all those small, random spaces.

Be sure you purchase the right kind of caulk. Read the label carefully and follow all instructions. Guns are really easier to use for large jobs, but you can get by with a little caulk squeezed out on a paper plate and a wet index finger.

For greater details on closing cracks with caulk, read this article.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Birdbath Bloopers

If you have a birdbath with a smooth bowl, fix it right now! Birds simply cannot get a grip in a smooth bowl. Purchase some shower and tub grippers and put them down in the bowl. Reserve some of the strips for when the old ones get too dirty.

Birds also need a place to perch, as they don’t necessarily like to soak in a tub. If you have a plain and simple bowl on a pedestal, add rocks and your birds will have the perfect landing zone.

Also, if you want to see hummingbirds hovering around the birdbath, set up a drip faucet over the bowl. Hummers do everything on the fly, including bathing. They’ll simply give you a fly-by shower performance and let their compatriots land for a splash.

I don’t need to say anything about proximity to prowling cats, do I? If you need other tips and reminders about how to keep birds clean, read this.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Houseplants Have Their Own Agenda

Your houseplants are really plotting against all of you who like regular schedules. You can’t just water the whole batch on Mondays and expect them to be happy. In fact, if you’re a stickler for this kind of drudgery, you may be drowning your greenery.

It’s not as simple as setting up Tuesdays for dieffenbachia and Saturdays for ivy, either. The time between watering depends not only on location and species, but on time of year, temperature, and humidity – all of which vary from season to season.

If you think you’re overwatering, read this to determine the symptoms and how to correct the problems you’ve created by following the calendar and not the whims of the soil.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Don't Climb Your Walls; Comb Them!

If you have walls that are painted and they show a few – umm – blemishes that are noticeable, you may find an easy solution in faux painting. I like comb painting because it’s easier than some of the other techniques.

First, you should always determine the underlying cause of any paint/wall issues. If it’s bleed-through or an ever-enlarging crack, then you should repair the problem or consult an expert.

If, on the other hand, it’s just a faulty paint job, or someone got carried away with some odd-ball paint color, here’s an easy fix. Purchase 2 or 3 complementary wall colors and a special “glaze” that will be mixed into one of the colors. You’ll also need a “comb” that will create rows in the topcoat. You can get all this stuff at the local home improvement store, including a rubber comb. Roll on the base coat and let it dry thoroughly. Add the glaze to your second paint color and mix thoroughly. Starting with a 2- or 3-foot wide section, add a thin layer of the glaze mix and comb downward from ceiling to floor. It will leave marks on the wall that look sort of like wood grain or a silk moire pattern. You don’t have to limit the design to straight lines. Make the wavy, directional, or criss-crossed.

Remember to always prep – that means taping off baseboards and covering objects that you don’t want to try scraping paint and glaze off of (this little tip is called foresight – don’t come racing over here to check it out it in hindsight). Read this article for exact details on combing your walls.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Is It Time To Send Your Hummer Packing?

Some folks believe that leaving feeders up will discourage hummingbirds from keeping their winter migration appointment. In fact, it is better to leave feeders up to provide a last burst of fuel for the long trip south.

Hummers leave according to a strong migratory instinct combined with the amount of body fat they have built up. The general advice is to leave a feeder filled and hanging until about a week has passed with no visible hummer activity.

On that note, we often hear that red food dye is harmful to hummers. These statements are based on no verifiable scientific studies. Still, experts stress that plain sugar water – table sugar only – is still probably best for the long-term health of the birds. A worse hazard is letting sugar water go cloudy and become fermented; that, indeed, is a deadly combination.

Keep a feeder in shade, if possible, and clean it out at least once a week; twice if possible.

For more tips on attracting these delightful little hummers to your yard, read this article.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Add A Few Hundred Years To Your Birdbath

No, your birdbath won’t last that long, even with our aging technique. We are talking about taking away that “this decade” brightness and giving your new concrete sculpture a patina that will make it look like it was created by an artisan from the early ages.

All you need are a few basic outdoor latex paint colors, bowls of water, and a sponge. Old clothes and a dropcloth you should already know about.

Choose small cans of the subtle colors, such as a rusty red, deep mossy green, black, beige, and a couple of brown shades. Pour some of each into small bowls; dip your sponge into the paint and then into the water. Press the sponge onto the concrete. Let it drip, let it soak in, and then start layering with each of your colors. You can’t mess it up; whatever you do will just give your concrete piece that “just-dropped-in-from-ancient-Rome” look.

Read this article for more specific tips and techniques.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Kabob Control

We see lots of pictures of beautiful kebob skewers stacked with meat intermingling with veggies and other goodies. While this is a pretty way to display your grilling techniques with bite-sized foods, it’s really not very practical or safe.

Why? Because meats, poultry, shellfish, vegetables, and fruits such as pineapple require different cooking times to achieve the proper texture and temperature.

Your grilling supply cabinet should include a basket with compartments that enclose several kabobs. You can use the compartments and skewers for each food type and rotate as needed. For example, place all onion bites on one skewer, and all shrimp on a second. Add or remove to control the proper cooking times of each.

Here is our short list of other favorite grilling gadgets. It’s never too early or too late to start hinting around for new grilling goodies.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Odor Eaters

While not as attractive as a discreet box of baking soda, charcoal briquettes are great for absorbing odors, especially when something in the trash is getting out of hand and offending your nose. Just place a few unused briquettes in an open plastic bag and put the bag in the trash can. (Note: charcoal may not be allowed with some trash removal services - check first - or remove them when bagging for pickup and continue using.)

If you’re planning to sell you home, you should be especially conscious of maintaining odor-control in and around the home. For indoor areas, baking soda is much less of a mess; but for large-scale smell control, a handful or so of fresh briquettes in a bag should do the trick.

For other great tips on preparing the exterior of your home for sale, check here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Use the News - Picture This

One of our favorite newspaper tips may save a lot of vertical climbing and lifting when you’re ready to rearrange pictures on a wall. When designing a grouping or adding a new photo or piece of art to an already existing arrangement, it’s much easier to create a mockup directly on the wall.

Cut newspapers sheets to the size of your frames. Tape sheets together and then size them for larger art pieces. Use masking tape to attach the sheets to the wall as you decide balance and white space. The sheets are obviously much easier to move around while you eyeball the visual appeal of your decorating scheme.

You could play with the arrangement on the computer or on a small-scale grid, but it so much easier to visualize at full-size.

For additional tips on arranging pictures, check out this article.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Are You Allergic to Your Ceiling Fan?

Have you inspected your ceiling fan blades lately? I’ll bet you’ll find a little dust blanket clinging to the tops and sides. If it has been a few years since you last checked, the grayish coating may be thick enough to lift off in one solid sheet. We hope you haven’t waited that long, because it is this kind of stuff that can cause an increase in at-home allergies.

Generally, a quick blade dusting once a month will prevent allergy reactions in susceptible people. But you’re also doing your ceiling fan and a favor as well. The dust, regardless of thickness, acts as a drag on each blade and will cause the little motor to work harder.

If you need a reminder about monthly general maintenance, check here.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Credit Card Hitch

You may or may not realize that credit card companies are getting to know you very well. They track the timing of your expenditures and graph the amounts. This can cause a huge problem if you one day buy something that doesn’t fit your personality profile.

Yep. You will suddenly be rejected when the card gets swiped through the computer. You’ll most likely be rejected in front of a bunch of people; perhaps even acquaintances.

This did happen to us when we purchased a laptop. It was a larger expenditure than we normally put on any of our cards. We were rejected three times – one was my card; two belonged to my husband. We were completely embarrassed and bewildered. We tried a fourth card, one which the corporation behind the card wasn’t as picky. We got our laptop.

When we arrived home there were three messages on the answering machine. Representatives from the credit card companies were calling to alert us to an unusual purchase. They suspected our cards had been stolen. Of course we were appreciative they were so vigilant, but we also wondered how in the heck we were supposed to prepare ourselves – and the card companies – for unexpected purchases.

Typically, when the cashier is met with a rejected card, the secret screen that you can’t see will instruct the clerk to place a call to a specified number. They can then verbally verify that the card is not stolen; the credit card rep will probably ask to speak to you and then grill you with a series of questions from your application form.

For some reason, our laptop cashier could not get through on the phones lines that particular day, which caused serious hassles all the way around. Luckily, we had options.

Now you know.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Put CO2 to Work for You

If you haven’t yet tried the cartridge-powered wine bottle openers, give one a try. There are a couple of different styles, but it’s a sweet sound you’ll hear with the easy push of a button.

Of course, you really don’t need another wine bottle opener if you have a nice bar-mounted model that cost a couple of hundred bucks. But I bet you still have a few older manual devices tucked away, which is a really good idea.

Note for cartridge users: always keep a regular wine bottle opener on hand; you’ll need it for champagne. If you try to use the CO2 on an already pressurized bottle, at the worst you’ll blow your head off and at the very least you’ll put a cork deep into the outer orbit of your rafters.

You can find information here about wine bottle openers.