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.