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.