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.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Use and Abuse Your Basil

If you’ve fizzled out on feasting with dried herbs, it’s time to consider this little workhorse: basil. It’s such a hardy, sunshine-loving plant that no matter what elements come its way – human or nature – it just keeps on growing and restoring itself.

We have proven this to be true on a bare south-facing, sun-heated deck in East Texas. Our little packet of basil sprouted within days while our parsley and oregano petered out under the soil.

We left too many sprouts in the pot and the stronger ones survived and towered. A little behind schedule, we pruned and pinched selectively. In between this lack of tender loving care, the soil went horridly dry and the basil shoots would wither. A quick watering and leafy greens reappeared.

Alas, the cycle continued; perhaps we should be disallowed from propagating plants until we can prove ourselves worthy once again. But our little basil sprouts keep on producing – nice green leaves with little spurts of drought and downpours.

If you really want to know how to keep an herb garden in great spirits, read this article.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Kitchen Toolbox

Many of us have a drawer full of cheap knives: steak, paring, bread, and such. Some are serrated, others are just straight – and dull.

Yes, yes, the experts warn us of the dangers of using a dull knife. They also advise against those never-needs-sharpening serrated knives. Of course they don’t need sharpening; they just die of old age – prematurely.

If you’re in the market for a set of quality knives or are considering a gift set, make sure that those who have access to these knives know the rules:

-Never let a nice knife leave the kitchen
-Do not use a knife as a screwdriver
-Always hand-wash good knives; never place them in the dishwasher
-Do not use glass or ceramic as a cutting surface

Now, for those of you who are confused between the terms knife and screwdriver, check out this article.