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.