Saturday, December 23, 2006

Charge This! (Cellphone Emergency Kit)

Never fear when your phone battery is about to fade. No more searching for a trusty electrical outlet or car recharging cord. The TurboCharge is here to save the day! This is the buy of the season – or anytime. Tiny battery pack runs on one AA battery that will give you up to 2 hours of talktime and 40 hours of standby. Love it and pronounce it one of my favorite gadgets. It adapts to most cell phones and is available at Office Depot, Best Buy, and many other retailers. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for operation.

Stash it in your car emergency kit. Pack it in your travel gear. Give one to everyone in the family and all your friends. It's a great backup that should give you time to get to "real" electricity.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Poinsettia Pointers

You're greeted by a sea of red, pink, and creamy plants at the entrance to every store during the holidays. Those poinsettias will definitely perk up the spirits during the season, won't they? If you are gifted with one, or can't resist the temptation to adopt a festive piece of vegetation for yourself, here are a few tips.
-Protect them from the cold and on the way home; leaf drop can rarely be repaired.
-Keep them in a cool-ish home climate – no more than 70º during the day and no lower than 55º F. during the day.
-Poinsettias love full morning sun and filtered afternoon rays.
-Don't let them dry out. Check the soil daily – and if it feels dry to the touch, give a drench and drain. Then back to its sunny – but cool – spot.

Anatomy lesson:
-The leaves are green – and should go all the way to the base of a healthy plant.
-The colored parts are called bracts – they're not the flowers. They should never be wilted or droopy or tinged with green.
-The tiny little yellow centers – those are the flowers. If they don't exist, the poinsettia is on its deathbed already.

If you grow inordinately fond of your poinsettia and want to pamper it through to another holiday, read this.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Carnivore Etiquette at the Dinner Table

If you're a carnivore and planning to host a Thanksgiving dinner – or any other feast for that matter – you should know the habits of your guests. Their eating habits, nothing more. It's not impolite to ask, especially if someone's bringing a date or other significant stranger to your home. You may be hosting a diverse crowd and you don't want any surprises: vegan or vegetarian? Low-carb, low-fat? Diabetic or simply no-sugar?

Guests also have their place, as we all know. They should keep it zipped and accept the foods they can eat. Remember, no critics on either side. Some people think it's perfectly all right to break eating styles on Thanksgiving. Even those who choose to go without meat and dairy could suffer serious gastronomical upset if they're forced to consume those products. Follow kosher rules, too, when preparing foods and use separate utensils. It won't hurt you.

If you need any other reminders about hostess and guest etiquette, especially at Thanksgiving, read this.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

No Flamethrowers Allowed

Cooking with alcohol adds flavor. You already know to use only the type of wine or other libation for cooking that you would drink yourself. When adding it to a dish, the inebriating part of it burns off, leaving great flavor. That’s the point in using a good-tasting wine. You shouldn’t waste money on expensive bottles, just not the bottom of the barrel, please.

When you’re ready to brave the flaming of a dish, there is always a certain risk involved. It is fire, after all. If you start a blaze, a lot of things could be ruined and who wants to lose an entire kitchen over one meal? Here are a few tips that will keep you out of the black.

- Use fireplace matches for lighting. An automatic lighter is OK, but that’s a second choice.
-Don’t pour directly from any bottle. The flame could actually be drawn into the bottle causing an explosion of sorts. Use an oven-proof measuring cup.
-If you have a gas stove, turn off the burner before lighting. In fact, it’s safest to remove from any heat source before lighting. And be sure there’s nothing overhead or flammable nearby – or you might have a surprise.
-Keep the pan’s lid within reach. This is the quickest way to douse an out-of-control flame.
-Have a fire extinguisher handy, too. You never know.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

What's Living in Your Pillow?

There is a down side to down pillows – or any other filling for that matter. And it’s alive! Yes, over time your pillow literally becomes weighted down with life – mites to be exact – and all their, um, excrement. They’re eating in bed while you sleep and that is not a pretty thing to imagine, is it?

Maybe it’s time for a new pillow. The choices are many and, regardless of how much or little you choose to spend, there are different types for the way you sleep. You can find more information here on choosing the right pillow – it will affect your entire body, so get it right.

On the other hand, if you enjoy companionship, then just keep your old one.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

When to Put an Appliance Out of its Misery

Most of us will wait until an appliance dies on the spot before we replace it. Unless it’s a water heater – and not on a weekend – you’ll have a few days to comparison shop and make a decision. The true lives of appliances are similar to those of dogs – depending much on breed (brand and type).

In general, you can expect a microwave to last about 10 years. The same goes for a dishwasher and a garage door opener. Even if you purchase a washer and dryer as a pair, expect the washer to go first (at 13 years), while the dryer may last another twelve months or so. Ranges may go to a grand old age of 19, but the water heater probably will barely make its early teens (13 on average). The fridge could make it as long as 17 before taking a dive.

Always keep your papers in order – the sales receipt and booklets. When you sense that a home essential is starting its journey to a better place, it’s time to start seeing what’s new and exciting on the market.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Speed Kills – and Does Some Nice Damage at the Gas Pump, Too

Every day, we watching speeding vehicles all around us – or maybe we are the speeders. If you prefer to be the safer of the two (um, that would be those who observe speed limits), you can relax and smile. You’re the one who is saving on gas.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you’ll realize greater fuel efficiency by keeping it to 60 mph. While that may sound a little slow to you, it will add up to big bucks. Really.

For those of you who believe you helping mankind by weaving in and out and endangering the lives of yourself and others, here are a few other tips to make those trips to the pump less frequent.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pelargonium Pandemonium

The International Herb Association has announced the scented geranium as the “2006 herb of the year.” They’re not true geraniums, of course, but in the genus Pelargonium. Don’t expect them to fill your garden or windowsill with flowering aromas – it’s the underside of the leaves that bear the scent glands. A little rubbing will tell you a lot about the flavor. Scented geraniums are grown for culinary use and as filler for gardens. There are many different fragrances – from rose to peppermint to orange.

Try before you buy, though. Some varieties may not smell as good as hoped (camphor, for instance). And when cooking or brewing teas, be sure you know which kind will work in what recipe. Here are a few more tips on scented geraniums.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tile a Deck in a Day

Non do-it-yourselfers were very excited when interlocking tile systems began making an appearance at home improvement centers. The commercials promised an indoor floor area could be completed in a day – or less – and just in time to throw a terrific party in the evening.

Now, there are tiles for the deck. They operate on the same premise – just lay and lock. No mess and certainly not much expertise needed. The wood is a teak-like hardwood that will withstand the elements. Check it out at

Friday, August 18, 2006

Don't Be a Drip

Summertime means frozen treats – and for kids the messy, melty, juicy kind. Whether you make them at home or purchase them, they’ll still leave a notoriously sticky mess on faces and clothing. While you may still have to wipe a few chins and cheeks, now there’s a way to reduce the need to do laundry after each dessert. They’re called Dripcatchers (patent pending). Made of safe cellulose they slide on the stick and begin to expand as they absorb the drips. Fun for kids and even better for adults!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What's In Your Bottled Water?

What’s in your bottled water? Probably nothing. However, studies show that tap water is tested more than 100 times each month to be sure there is not a single trace of fecal coliform bacteria. A great percentage of bottled water is tested weekly – that’s about four times per month. Now, which would you prefer?

If you don’t like the taste from the tap, purchase a filter. They make all the difference in the world. Even better, refrigerators with the front service panels and interior filtering system will also improve the taste.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sponge Grunge

When cleaning up the kitchen, do you grab a sponge and get to work? Think twice about that. Sponges are notorious harbingers of bacteria. You wipe up a few spills, rinse, and set it on the sink, setting up the perfect environment for spreading some very bad things around the next time you take a swipe.

The experts recommend getting rid of those nasty sponges (or at least saving them for bathroom chores). Purchase some inexpensive dishcloths (try a discount/dollar store) – in fact, buy a couple dozen or so. Each time you clean up, use one and toss it in the laundry basket for the next hot water cycle. Remember – a dishwasher or microwave is not the ideal solution to killing sponge bacteria so just forgeddaboutit.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Grill It, Don't Spill It

Food safety goes well beyond handwashing and keeping the bacteria at bay. Anytime outdoor activities involve grilling, it’s time to review a few rules.

Never allow pets or children to play around the grilling area.
Be sure there are no ground obstacles between the grill area and the kitchen or serving area. Carrying large trays filled with food, you won’t be able to see the pathway.
Be sure the grill is always on a level surface.
When using propane, if you smell gas, shut off the valve and do not use until you know what the problem is.

If you’re still in the dark and don’t own a grill – you should definitely read this:
Which Grill or Smoker is Right For You?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summer Grillin' - Get It On!

There is plenty of summer left to fire up the grill or smoker and throw on the burgers, ribs, briskets, and steaks. Of course, some of us cook outdoors all year long, even if a spare hand is needed to hold an umbrella and the warmth from the fire is as much for the hands as it is for the food.

If you need a few tips about outdoor entertaining or are looking for a batch of recipes to spice up those back yard barbecues, then stop by here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Backup Your Bookmarks

We have already discussed the evils of not backing up computer files. One morning, you wake up, power up, and poof – nothing happens. Perhaps the computer takes an electrical hit and something blows. A virus/worm/intruder-of-some-sort creates widespread mayhem on the hard drive. These are all great possibilities. Sometimes a driver goes wacko – in this case, the NVidia GeForce 5200 graphics card driver to be exact. The screen began bouncing around and then went blank (not the blue screen of death – just blank). Seems to be a lot of that going around – with this particular driver, in fact.

For the moment it is disabled (after much research) and this computer is crippling along until we upgrade the driver (try to) or get a new graphics card. As we moved to a laptop to continue business, panic set in. E-mail addresses and bookmarks were irretrievable without access to the main computer. If you visit a lot of web sites, you know how disastrous it would be to lose all the bookmarks. So, it is essential to not only back up files, but to back up bookmarks and e-mail addresses. Words of wisdom: some CD burning software will not accept bookmarks because the string is too long. If you’re still lucky enough to have a floppy drive – that seems to be the only way. I’m sure there are other – more sensible - suggestions from true geeks out there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bag the Boxed Wine

Now, you can actually travel with boxed wine – and leave the box at home. For those who appreciate the “longevity” and “flavor” of boxed wine – here’s a truly handy way to have your boxed wine and bag it, too. The “Bag2Go” is a neoprene outfit – insulated and with a shoulder strap and spout. The liner is a one-time use and refills are available. Simply transfer the boxed wine into a pitcher – then fill the pouch. There you go – all ready to hit the road, or the park or the boat, or wherever you wish to consume boxed wine.

The color choices are nice, too. And, if you want to be a teetotaler, it holds that stuff (tea, Kool-Aid, etc), too. Visit for details.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Insure the Wedding, Not the Marriage

So, you’ve signed or not signed the prenup in the event of a divorce. You’ve sworn this one will last forever and are about to spend big bucks on a dress, invitations, and “the big day.”

Well – everything else may fall apart – either now or later. On the other hand, this can be a forever thing. But, what if – in the course of getting to the church, chapel, hotel, reception, wherever, there’s a disaster of some sort? This could be anything from the horrors of a tornado or hurricane or even an evacuation for a gas leak or something bigger.

It’s time to have a look at wedding insurance. It’s a one-time expense that only covers the event site and the costs involved. Prices are reasonable and if you’re planning a special wedding day in the midst of tornado or hurricane season, could well be worth it.

As always, read the fine print. While you may be clueless as to what the future holds, you should be clear on what exactly will be covered on “your big day.”

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Look Mom, No Screwdrivers!

While it is nice to have every piece of furniture in the home be of top quality, that is not usually the case. Somewhere there is stashed a piece of particle board covered in faux wood laminate or some such “horror.” And, likely, it arrived in a box with a package of screws and bolts along with a multi-language instruction manual.

Finally, some manufacturers are understanding that particle board and plywood do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with “some assembly required.” Yes, there is still a tiny semblance of putting together, but it’s the Lego type. Using a tongue-and-groove type of logistics, these new-fangled shelves and tables do arrive in pieces. They simply slide into their groovy places and you’re done. What a concept!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Stiffen Up Your Foods

If you’re wondering about the differences between cornstarch and arrowroot, there are a few. Price is one (cornstarch is less expensive). While they’re both great thickeners, they each have their fine points and faults. Arrowroot, combined with other foods, can be frozen while cornstarch cannot. It does not, however, pair well with dairy and cornstarch is much better for gravy and bold sauces. Cornstarch takes about twice as long to reach full thickening power in most liquids. It should not be cooked too long, however, or it will lose that stiffening prowess.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

When You Need a Non-Reaction

Specifically when you cooking – you don’t want a reaction with some foods. Don’t throw those tomatoes into an aluminum or cast iron pot. They’ll come away with a surprise taste. That’s because the acid in the food causes a reaction. If you see a recipe calling for a nonreactive pan, that means you must use nonstick, stainless steel, glass, anodized or clad aluminum, and enameled cast iron.

There are a host of foods that should not be prepared in anything but nonreactive cookware: dairy products, bottled or fluoridated water, egg dishes, fruits or juices, and alcohol.

There are still plenty of uses for those great cast iron pots. Keep ‘em seasoned and they may outlast all your other cookware – and yourself, for that matter.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Calling All Tomboys and Princesses

The fact is that more and more women are coming out of the woodwork to work on wood. Plus a host of other projects around the home that previously were deemed manly-man jobs. In addition to several sites that include a host of how-to articles like this one, there are several neat ones geared specifically toward women. Here are two in particular: BeJane and MrsFixit.

Now, women can also purchase tools that are tried and tested by female do-it-yourselfers. They also offer consultant opportunities and demonstrations that encourage women to get out there and do some repairs. The tools are somewhat smaller in size and may be a little easier to use. Those features are helpful for older folks as well. Men are really enjoying their women becoming “empowered,” too. This means a lot less work around the house for them!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Let Your Cakes Rise

They’re not your mom’s cake stands. But, they could be. In case you think cake pedestals have gone by the wayside, look again. They’re more decorative, trendy, and classy than ever. The best thing is, you don’t have to bake cakes to own one. These stands are the perfect presentation platter for a host of other foods. Cookies piled high, cheeses and fruits, and a host of other finger foods. If you do get the urge to bake a cake, you can pre-slice it and have a beautiful display. Drizzle a little chocolate on top and you have a whole new dessert!

It may be time to scope out a few flea markets and garage sales for that perfect presentation pedestal. They make great gifts, too!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Change Your Space for no Change

Some decorating professionals specialize in rearranging space utilizing things that you already own. The outlay of cash in those instances is only to the decorator. This is good when you’re at a loss for ideas.

You can, indeed, make some dramatic changes to your space with no moo-la. I call it the three “R’s of Redecorating.”

Refocus: change the focal point of a room. If your sofa is the center of attention, make a bookshelf or a fireplace the focus by re-grouping plants or items to create a nifty little new space.
Rearrange: play with your furniture. Angle a sofa or rearrange art and photographs on a wall or a table.
Redecorate: go shopping in the attic or make a sweep through your other rooms. You may find goodies hidden away that can be rotated into your decorating scheme. Don’t let it become cluttered, though. If you add a new-found item, stash another one away.

These are a few basics. You can find more information in my article at the March 2006 issue of Best Life Now: One Hour, One Day, One Weekend.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Brown Sugar Pylons

It’s called piloncillo and is Mexican in origin. This unrefined brown sugar (pronounced pee-lawn-SEE-yo) is made into a cone; hence the reference to “little pylons.” The taste is similar to its American cousin so it can be used as a tasty substitute. And, yes, it comes in dark – oscuro – and light – blanco. The art to using it is to crumble off the appropriate amount with a serrated knife.

Like many other Mexican foods, it is also known by other names: panocha or panela. It can be used for some delightful Mexican recipes. Try these very popular recipes for starters.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Jim Beam to the Rescue

You don’t have to be of drinking age to eat these sunflower seeds, but Jim Beam has taken to the food aisles with bags of them. Those wonderfully salty little devils are soaked in the bourbon, dried, and packaged in 5.5-ounce bags. At this point it merely adds flavor, not alcohol. So, the kiddies can go for it, but you probably will not want them actually toting the bag around, which is boldly emblazoned with the famous Kentucky name. You can get them shelled or unshelled and if you want to avoid the inference of boozing it up, try the other flavors: jalapeno or barbecue.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Do the Mango Mush

Mangoes are a mess to eat, literally. In India, they are sometimes called the bathtub fruit because children will remove their clothes before tangling with a juicy mango. The fruit stains clothes, so beware, especially if you aren’t going to eat it naked. In fact, the inner fruit is difficult to remove, which goes back to the mess of trying to release it from the skin. And don’t eat that skin – it’s not good.

Here’s one solution: cut the mango in half much like you would free a peach from its pit. Now, with a sharp knife tip make score marks on the inside – as close to the skin as possible. Press down the edges and the mango half will open inside out. Now you can release the cubes from the skin with almost no mess.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vanities for the Boudoir

Vanities are staging a comeback – those elaborate tables that are dedicated to putting on a happy face. At one time, they served double-duty as both a writing table and a place to apply makeup. The French term is table de toilette, and that is probably where this table was first recognized – perhaps in the mid-late 1600s.

There are plenty of terrific finds in antique shops, but the nice thing is that a host of furniture designers are creating new pieces that perhaps in a few decades will also be around. Some of the more amazing styles include those from the 1940s Hollywood era as well as any piece from the 18th Century. They’re great for little girls’ rooms but adult women are also taking quite a fancy to them.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Connecting with Quilts

If you think quilts are old-fashioned, have another look. Quilting made a comeback a few years ago, drawing in a younger crowd that began gathering in groups and at quilting shops to create their own versions of granny’s cover. Out of that revival came some very modern-looking quilts that are trendy enough to double as wall-hangings. Some of them are reminiscent of the psychedelic era in the vibrancy and others are “with-it” in a wonderfully artsy way.

While old-style quilts are still around today, a lot of retailers are carrying hand-stitched new versions that will fit into any decorating scheme for young or old.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Teak is Tops

You may be attached to those rusting outdoor tables or think you’ll repair the plastic or mesh strips in the lawn chairs – forget it and look into teak. It is more expensive initially, but will literally last for decades. You don’t have to do anything to help it along, either. It ages gracefully all by itself – turning to a beautiful, chic silvery gray over time. Teak is an elegant wood and the good pieces come from sustainable forests, so you’re being environmentally conscious as well.

You can start small: tables and trash receptacles. Soon, though, you’ll want to graduate to a lounger (as in chaise longue – and I am getting really tired of seeing it spelled incorrectly; however, so many people have been misusing the word for so long that the improper spelling and pronunciation are becoming acceptable), tables, and deck chairs. Teak also adds a most elegant touch indoors as well. Take the leap and shop for teak.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Organics of Organics

Organic gardening does not mean neglect and it doesn’t mean you have to be a tree-hugger. It only makes sense to use fewer pesticides and other toxic chemicals whenever possible. You can do a little or a lot, depending on your abilities and location.

While composting may not be your cup of tea, there are still ways to achieve an organic flowerbed or garden. You can purchase natural or organic materials instead. If you have insects, be sure first that they are the “bad guys.” Then you can shop for natural controls (if available). It’s true – healthy soil produces healthy plants. Once you get started, you’ll just want to keep on going. Nature calls!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Laws of Lawnmowing

Now that the weeds are beginning to burst forth, it’s time to review a few basic lawnmower safety rules. Yeah, it’s common sense, but accidents happen for lack of it. So, here goes.

-Wear appropriate clothing: shoes with traction, long pants, long sleeved-shirts.
-Always start the mower outdoors.
-Clear the yard of limbs and patrol for other objects before mowing.
-Don’t allow children or pets to play nearby – they could be hit by flying debris.
-Don’t mow wet grass. It could clog up the mower, but, worse, you could slip and lose control.
-Always disconnect the spark plug wire before making an inspection of the mower.
-Remove the key on riding mowers when not in use.

Last, hang onto the owner’s manual. Keep it handy and refer to it on occasion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Life on the Fringe

You may not be familiar with the fringe flower, but it’s a fragrant wild beauty that is fairly hardy and will surprise you with blooms at different times of the year. It’s also known as witch hazel and its fabled branches are used for “divining” water.

There are many species, some more fragrant and others more cold hardy. Most species love well-drained soil and will burst forth with blooms after a rain. The names are fun, too: razzleberri, Zhuzhou fuchsia, and snow muffin, for instance. Fringe flowers, depending on species, will grow to 10 feet in height or remain compact and bushy. For more info, start here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Caffeine O.D.

If you need a really strong jolt of caffeine and an espresso just doesn’t cut it for you anymore, then you must try a doppio. There are two ways to go about it. Espresso doppio is a double espresso in a larger cup. Doppio ristretto is a double shot of espresso in an espresso cup. Now that will put hair on your chest.

Give it a try the next time you’re around a bunch of caffeine elitists.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Wildlife Habitat for Humanity

If you have the urge to get back to nature in your back yard, there is plenty of information out there on creating a wildlife habitat. The experts will tell you that wildlife needs shelter, food, water, and a place to raise young; provide these – especially food and water – and you’ll have a bustling habitat before you know it.

Remember to include yourself in the big picture. If you’re going to all this trouble, you might as well enjoy it, too. Set up feeders and baths where you can see them from indoors. Create a few “people” spaces in the garden as well: add a bench or a large rock where you can sit quietly and take part in nature. It’s a great escape.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dutch Treat

Dutch ovens are one of the essential tools of camping and outdoor life. They’re manufactured in a number of sizes from a tiny 4-inch diameter unit to a whopping 160-pound honker that will feed an entire campground full of people. Lodge and Maca are the two most-known manufacturers of the cast iron variety. Maca also makes an oval Dutch oven that is perfect for larger birds and roasts. You can also find aluminum pots that are much lighter in weight. These won’t retain heat as well, but they are a heckuva lot easier to lug around in the woods.

Dutch ovens that are meant for the outdoors – because they’re set over hot coals – will have legs, and a lid that is designed to hold coals. You can find pots for indoor cooking as well – they’re sometimes called “kitchen” or “bean” pots. These will have flat bottoms and domed lids.

The most important sign of a good Dutch oven is the fit of its lid. A tight-fitting lid makes for a successful meal – keeps all the moisture in. Now, this kind of makes you want to grab a sleeping bag, some matches, and head out, doesn’t it?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Deep Into Deep Fryers

Fried foods are not the healthiest choice; that’s a fact. However, the taste of foods that have rolled around in hot oil for a few minutes is a clear winner for many of us. The two most important factors to a less-than-greasy fry are 1) a hot enough temperature, and 2) plenty of room in the fryer to keep each piece separate.

So, if you’re in the market for a fryer or getting ready to drag out your old one, make sure the temperature gauge reaches at least 375 degrees. This is good enough to give a nice crispy crunch on the outside and cook foods to juicy tenderness on the inside.

Also, buy the largest unit with the highest wattage you can afford. First, you want the oil to heat fast. Second, a larger basket or interior cooking chamber will leave plenty of space for foods to float around like tiny little islands. The end result is a lot less grease to cling to those arteries.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Lose Power, Not Food

When the power goes, the first thing you go for is candles, matches, and flashlights. The second thing you begin to worry about is the food. So, then you open the freezer and fridge to look at the food. Wrong. Never open the doors to the fridge or freezer. It doesn’t take but a few seconds for all the circulating cold air to recirculate outside.

If the freezer is full, the food may be remain safe for about 48 hours; less full and you may have no more than a day. A refrigerator will keep its cool for about 6 or 7 hours. Most foods that remain about 40 degrees for more than two hours should be pitched. It’s not an easy thing to do – throwing away food – but it’s a wise move. Read this for a few more tips on food safety during a power outage.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Down and Dirty Carpet Care

You may be diligent about vacuuming and cleaning up spills on your carpet. You may even own a handy-dandy steamer. The fact remains, however, that no matter what you have on hand for cleaning is just not enough. At least once a year, you should welcome a carpet cleaning company into your home. A reputable one. Because even your nice little steamer is grinding more dirt in and leaving more soap residue behind every time you use it.

A good carpet cleaning company will send a representative to your home. He or she will inspect each area; heavy traffic areas require different treatment from the dusty corners. Steam cleaning, or water extraction, reigns supreme as the best solution to getting ground-in grit out. The bigger the equipment the better the job will be and with less drying time. If you need more details, read this.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Orange Rhymes with...Decor

Orange - from burnt to bright – is spicing up more than the contemporary scene. No stranger to overall design, orange is enjoying a rebirth in furniture showrooms and fabrics around the country. From rugs to settees to ottomans, you’ll find orange where it has never dared to go before.

Don’t think of orange as, well, orange, either. It can be presented in skin-friendly peach tones, a lightweight cantaloupe, or an exotic coral. Now you have some new shades to work with that will certainly add some fun and/or frou-frou to your space. If you choose to use bold and beautiful in-your-face tones, read this.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Do New Products Warrant a Warranty?

Maybe not. That fact is, more and more products are lasting longer and may not warrant an extended warranty. The experts say that a product will either go out in the first year or is destined to live long past the extended guarantee.

It pays to do your homework regarding what parts are actually covered. Are they the ones that could actually break down? And in-store warranties may offer extra benefits that would come in handy, such as on-site repairs. Cutting-edge products – those that have not been around for long – may also warrant the extension.

If you really want peace of mind, get the extended warranty. Now you can go worry about other things.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hazard Duty

How do you handle pesticides? With a little extra caution? Before disposing, it’s best to use each product up. Ideally, you’ll only buy as much as you need to treat the problem, but that’s not always the case. Always read labels carefully – and before each use, just in case you forget something.

Another thing you’ll find in that tiny little print is how to throw the stuff away. Unless your city ordinances state otherwise, this is how you should do it. Some will recommend wrapping tightly in newspaper or soaking up the leftovers with kitty litter or vermiculate. Don’t be tempted to pour the stuff out – not even in the gutters during a good rain. Here are a few more tips on handling pesticides.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Crape Murder

That was the title of an article in a magazine some years back on the senseless suffering crepe myrtles undergo during trimming. If you must, trim back branches that are less – way less – than the width of a pencil. Even better, though, is to leave those dried pods on as long as possible – now those are for the birds. The upside to removing pods and twigs, though, is increased flowering. That’s your choice.

Now, here’s a hint that you can use even if you are inflicting pain on the upper portions. It is perfectly all right for some of the roots to show. Experts claim that most crapes are buried too deep in the soil to begin with. So, resist the urge to cover with extra soil or compost. Here’s more on crape myrtles.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Change the Oil in Your Coffee

You already know about cleaning out the coffee pot with vinegar on a regular basis. This cleans the pipes and keeps everything sparkling clean. There’s more labor involved, however, in getting a nice, clean cup of coffee. When coffee grounds become wet, they emit oils and other residue. This sticks to the filter basket. Some of that old sludge will be added to the next pot of coffee and affect the taste.

So, the trick is to rinse the filter basket after use. And if you’re one of those who waits to clean the pot until there’s a light brown film on the insides and around the lip, that’s a big no-no, too. Clean with hot soap and water while you’re cleaning up the filter basket. Now you can be sure you’re getting a truly fresh cup of java/joe/jolt/whatever.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Leave the Candles Burning

Now you can really enjoy the romance of a lighted candle without the danger of fire and with no wax buildup. Manufacturers have designed waxy lookalikes and filled them with LED bulbs. They last a very long time and are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. For now, they are more expensive than the traditional wicks, but what price will you put on safety?

Some can even flicker like the real deal. Flameless candles are indeed the next hot wave of the future.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Do-It-Not-Yourself Thank You Notes

If you’re a busy new bride who just doesn’t have time to crank out all those personal thank you notes, there’s help right around the corner. Services are beginning to pop up that will take care of those little details such as thanking Aunt Gertrude for the lovely purple and orange comforter.

First, you’ll have a meeting to discuss your personality and style. That is usually at no charge. Then the service will write up three variations on a thank you note with fill-in-the-blanks to personalize giftors and gifts. Once you approve the paper, language, and handwriting style, the service takes your list and off they go. They write, stuff, stamp, and lick all for a cost of about $2-3 per card (not including postage).

What a deal.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Test Drive Your Kitchen Cabinets

Buying new cabinets is a chore – too many choices. You need to be confident and have a pretty hefty budget, too. While you can get into more detail here, there are a couple of things to check for quality-wise.

First the doors. Hinges – cheap ones – are pretty awful. They may limit the door’s mobility – you may not be able to open it as wide as you’d like. Also, find out if the doors are removable. This makes installation quite a bit simpler and if you ever choose to refinish, you’ll be glad.

Next, the drawers. Pull them out and make sure they slide with no resistance. Once you have pulled the drawer out, jiggle it. If there’s any play, you should move on. The joints should have dovetail construction instead of staples. (Dovetail means they look like fingers that are interlocked.)

There is plenty more you’ll have to decide on, but quality comes first.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Microwave Messes

Forget to place a paper towel over that bowl of chili? Didn’t cover the spaghetti sauce with plastic wrap? Left a mess in the microwave, didn’t you? Little red spots are stuck everywhere, deep into the liner crevices and across the mesh that covers the light bulb. If your microwave is sitting on a countertop, the angle is all wrong for getting in and cleaning every little spot.

So, here’s a handy little hint that could make things easier. Place a lemon wedge in a microwave-proof glass or measuring cup. Boil it and then let it sit while it cools down (keep an eye on the water – every microwave heats differently). The mess should now come up without a lot of rubbing and back and forth trips to the kitchen sink.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Libation Leftovers

Really – how many times do you have leftover wine? In the real world, some folks have a glass or two with dinner. So, what to do about the rest of it? The truth is, no matter what you do, the wine will lose its flavor in a couple of days. That deterioration process begins when you open the bottle. Some products can prolong the life a little. You can use a cork, a pump, or replace the oxygen with gas. Regardless of which method you choose, the wine will not last forever. So, just drink it, enjoy it, and look forward to opening the next bottle.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sedimental Pomp

French Press coffee is a fun way to add a little pomp and circumstance to your drinking pleasures. Many folks enjoy the change of texture and flavors that come from French press pots. You can find the carafes at most discount stores and at on-line shops. The whole process involves steeping coffee grounds in a special pot and using a plunger to remove most of the grounds while reserving the liquid.

The type of grounds you use is important. They should be somewhat coarser than regular grind. Even some of those granules may still slip through the metal or nylon screen on the plunger. It’s a fact of life to expect a little sediment in the bottom of the cup. So, whatever you do, don’t take that last sip.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mite You Dust?

Those nasty little dust mites are responsible for a host of allergies and milder symptoms that make it hard to breathe, especially in the bedroom. They’ll never die off, but there’s plenty you can do to keep a vast amount of them from sharing your space.

Dust and vacuum often – that’s a given. Be sure to get those out of the way places like the tops of door and window frames and the insides of lamps (the bulb, too). Picture frames are a big culprit. A long-handled duster is a priceless investment. Use it in every corner and squeeze it behind furniture to reach baseboards. Last of all, keep the space underneath the bed clean and free of dust. Those mites love it under there.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tramping About for Art

Tramp art. Have you heard of it? Maybe not. Originals are getting harder to find, but reproductions are starting to find their way into the marketplace. In the 1800s and early 1900s, many folks began whittling on cigar boxes and crates, which were readily available. They would hand layer the thin pieces with glue and use a pocket knife or other simple tools to create geometric cuts. Some were crude but elaborate in design. Out of these carvings came boxes, frames, ornaments, and even furniture.

Tramp art is a style that can fit into any decorating theme. If you locate an original, know that it is unique – truly – as no two pieces will be alike. Read a little more about tramp art here.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Keep That Motor Running

Keep That Motor Running

You just can’t go on the cheap with a ceiling fan. Low-priced fans will be wobbly, have cheaper parts, and will soon or later make obnoxious noises. First, buy the right size fan for the room. Don’t situate it too close to the ceiling unless you have tiny rooms. Look at the motor “grade” – it’ll be listed right on the box: “performance grade” is the best. That means you can run it all day every day without problems. If you promise to only run it a few hours each day, then you can go with the lesser “medium” or “economy” grades.

Now, do you really think that a $10 ceiling fan is going to last forever? Learn about ceiling fan basics here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An Untarnished Reputation

If you hate polishing good silverware, the best solution is to use it! This doesn’t mean you have to put your heirloom items through everyday hard labor, but regular usage will keep them from tarnishing. If you do bring them out, though, be sure to never expose them to sunlight or heat, salt water solutions, and plastic wrap.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Snoozers are Losers with this Clock

Here’s a great gift for those who can’t let go of the snooze alarm in the mornings. It’s called the puzzle alarm clock and is being regarded as the gadget of the year. It’s a cube with the clock on the side. Four jigsaw puzzle pieces sit on top – until the alarm goes off. Then they fly through the air and the alarm cannot be turned off until the pieces are all put back in place. Don’t you just hate it? To compare prices, just key in “puzzle alarm clock” in your favorite search engine (you can find it for $14.99 at

Monday, February 20, 2006

Trashcan Warfare

Don’t want to think about it, do you? You have already carefully cleaned up all traces of raw chicken around the sink and all the used utensils are safely in the dishwasher. But, what about the scraps. Did you haphazardly toss them in the trash? Did just a bit of wet paper towel used to wipe up the last bit of chicken skin brush against the edge of your kitchen trashcan? Uh oh.

The fact is, kitchen trashcans are a literal minefield of germs; those that are leftover from the cleanup on top. There are practical remedies, of course. Always use a liner on trashcans. If there’s space add a smaller can for raw waste and replace the liner as soon as it is used. Another easy solution is to keep a stash of plastic grocery bags within easy reach. Double them up to prevent leakage and throw all raw scraps in the bag as you work. Tie them up and take immediately to a safer place. Oh, and give your regular trashcan a good dose of disinfectant just in case.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ammonia is a Loner

Ammonia is a good cleaner, but it should always be allowed to do its own thing. That means don’t combine it with anything else – ever. That especially means vinegar and bleach. But it is good for lifting nasty grimy gunk off the insides of the oven. You’ll need an overnight to make it work. First, preheat the oven on its lowest setting for about half an hour. Turn it off and place a small bowl of ammonia on the highest rack. Preheat a small pot of boiling water and place it underneath. Leave overnight. Open the door, remove ammonia and water and let it air for a couple of hours. Then you can go in with soap and water and the mess should come right up.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Back Up To Benches

They’re backless and they’re coming back in high style. Go shopping and you’ll find an array of styles for every taste: Curved X-shapes, settees, retro-sectionals, and traditionals, all in a mind-boggling array of patterns and fabrics.

The new styles are sexy and pretty enough to go on display. They’re great as extra seating in a living area or at a dining table. They’re also perfect in small spaces such as bathrooms where they can be used as seating (of course), but also as a spot to stack neatly folded towels that complement the decor. The open space underneath is a nifty spot for a basket with extras such as soaps and other goodies.

You may go bench-crazy. Place one at the foot of the bed or in a nook near the breakfast area. Benches are the perfect little go-to piece of furniture!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Witchy Wax

If you have a penchant for candles, you also have to deal with the meltdown. If you’re lucky, you have a cabinet full of candle holders that catch the hot stuff. If not, you probably have a few waxy tidbits clinging stubbornly to holders, not to mention the little drips that have taken a dive into a tablecloth or carpet.

You’ll treat one problem with heat and the other with cold. First the candleholders. They go in the freezer. Leave them for at least an hour and the wax should lift right off. For carpets and table linens, round up an old brown grocery sack and cut out a piece that is plain (no graphics or printing). Heat up your iron (warm setting). Place the brown paper over the spot and iron it. You’ll see the greasy wax spots begin to form on the paper - good. Keep going with fresh pieces of brown paper until it’s gone. Good luck.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cap Windows with a Cornice

Cornice boards are known for their elegant appearance in traditional homes. But they can also be fun and whimsical in a kid’s room and also be used as a display shelf.

You can make your own with very little in the way of handyman skills. You will need to locate the studs on either side of the window. This is where you’ll mount the inner brackets. Then, from a 1 x 6 or 1 x 8, cut two corner pieces approximately 8 inches in width. Now, create the longer horizontal front piece and a top section. These will extend over the end pieces. Nail together. Sand any rough edges and paint.

You can even get the kids involved with adding decorations. Jewels, stones, glitter, or stenciled designs. Mount with the brackets; make sure it’s secure. Now you have an instant shelf for those items that never get dusted anyway.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Who Invented Those Over-The-Stove Vented Microwaves?

There may be issues with these things – over-the-stove vented microwaves. First, if they are mounted exactly as some manufacturers suggest, then it is simply impossible to place a large pot on the back burner. First, it is hard to raise the lid and keep the condensation from spilling everywhere. Second, a long-handled spoon will not fit between the pot and the bottom of the microwave. Third, taller people have to lean over to view the stove controls. Fourth, even with the vent going, steam builds up on all surrounding areas.

Of course, the over-the-stove microwave can be raised. Then, it becomes dangerous for shorter people to remove hot liquids – much too easy to have spills that could potentially burn skin. Why have one? If you are building a new home or remodeling an old one, you may find that the combo – vent and microwave – is less expensive than a traditional vented hood.

It would appear, at least from this angle, that this is not the greatest or safest combination for kitchens.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Color Picks

Working with a tiny paint chip on one large wall is a scary proposition. You simply can’t tell much. However, it’s much easier to play with color chips than quarts of paint. Don’t trust the store’s lighting to test a color, either. Use your own home lighting – both daytime and evening – to choose among the many shades.

One tip that may help: when you find a shade you like, go up three shades in lightness. Paint colors will look much darker once they are on the walls and reflecting off each other.

If you’re still in doubt, go ahead and spring for a quart. Try it in a spot where you can see it across a spectrum of conditions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Class With Glass

Thinking about open up your kitchen space with glass-fronted cabinets? Consider this change carefully, especially if anyone in your family is less than a neat-nik. The fact is, this style is very elegant and is effective in a variety of settings. That is, if you have the space to spread out dishes and glassware. Everything should be stacked neatly to create the effect you will ultimately want.

If you insist on glass-fronted cabinets, you may also be in for a new place setting spree. Those see-through doors will certainly make your space look larger, but you don’t want a bunch of mis-matched pieces peeking out from behind, either.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Who's Got the Button?

You may find yourself hooked on buttons the first time you spot an antique brass picture button at a yard sale. Next, you’ll be calling older family members, asking to go through their sewing supplies or old treasures. Button collecting is big and odd or old buttons can make a wonderful display and conversation piece.

Buttons were an art form in France during the 18th century. By the turn of the century, however, most were machine-made, but fascinating and collectible all the same. “Modern” buttons refer to those that were machined after the early 1900s. Those that are plastic and made in a variety of shapes are called “plastic realistics.” Picture buttons also remain popular and were in production well into the 20th century.

Button collecting makes a wonderful family project and may well get the kids interested in a little family history as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Can You Tansu?

The tansu, which is Japanese for chest, is a unique and appealing way to store items. They come in many variations with many different names that indicate their specific purposes. For instance, the mizuya is two-pieces that are stacked and used for kitchenware.

A tansu comes in many sizes; it is also stackable and can be staggered with other chests or set on separate piece of furniture. The most notable feature of a tansu is its numerous drawers and doors with many handles and other embellishments. You’ll find the tansu both functional and decorative.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Stylish Sleighs

Sleigh beds have been around for a long time and have retained timeless appeal. You can even find them in metal with designs that will fit into any lifestyle or decorating trend. Americans first saw sleigh beds introduced in the early 1830s. These were fashioned following the French enthusiasm for Empire-styled beds.

These delightful beds – reminiscent of the front end of a sleigh, of course – are notoriously known for bringing together a range of styles. So, if you find yourself with a mix of furniture, include a sleigh bed to establish continuity.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wallpaper Overs and Unders

When beginning a wallpaper project, the scariest part may be in not ordering enough. You always want to be sure you order from the same lot (the numbers will match), so the shades will be in the same dye run. This is very important. That means ordering more than you need – but how much is too much? Then you’re left with rolls that take up storage space. Some stores will let you return the unused rolls; be sure and ask.

To calculate how much you’ll need, take a complete measuremen of the room’s perimeter; do not deduct for rooms and doors. Measure the wall height and multiply with the first number; that’s your square footage. You can now divide this by the number of square feet in a roll of wallpaper; that’s how much paper you’ll need. By leaving in window and door spaces, you will probably have enough for the job. You may, however, need more if using a paper with a repeating pattern.

If you are allowed to return unused rolls, then add an extra roll for mistakes. Also, before you leave the store, check the first 24 inches of each roll for imperfections. You can find a few more tips here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Porcelain Posterity

If you want a tile to last, check out the porcelain variety. If you can withstand the higher price tag, they’re a much better investment than ceramics. There are many differences, but appearance is the first: ceramics are made of a white base and topped with a color. Porcelains are solid color through and through. They’re tougher, making them more difficult to cut, too. The variety of surfaces makes them ideal in any room and many are skid-proof – a necessity for floors and showers.

They’re not for amateur installers, either. Be sure you select a professional who has had extensive experience in porcelain installations.

Now you know why they’re pricier; but if you’re going to stay in your space for many years, they will probably outlive other types of tiles a couple of times over.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Knife Hideaway

If you have no children at home, here’s a handy little space-saving hint. Instead of setting a knife block on the counter, install a flatter version on the inside of a lower cabinet door in the part of the kitchen triangle where you do your slicing and dicing. (Note: you can also install a safety lock on the door if you have young visitors.)

Safety first: make sure the blades are completely encased when in the slots. You’ll find a few options if you search the Internet using the keywords: under cabinet knife block.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Style with Tile

The aisles at home improvement stores are loaded with tiles that just call out for do-it-yourself installation. It’s not a job for the novice, but with a little research, prep work, and careful measuring, is a job that can be done without the added expense of a contractor. Oh, you should have the proper tools, too.

Start small and scour antique shops or garage sales for a unique side table to practice on. You should always start from the center for measurement – regardless of the surface. If you do, then the edges will all match, if there’s cutting to be done. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, especially if you’re working on a diagonal from the corner. That’s a different discussion entirely.

Here’s what you need to get started.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Add Swagger to Your Windows

If you want to add a seasonal spot of pizzazz to windows, visit the dollar material bins at the local big-box store. You can buy up a few yards and make swags quickly and easily. No sewing, either. Just cut the material in strips and use no-sew tape to lengthen the ends. If you really want to be creative, add fringe.

Swags are fun, casual, or elegant depending on the type of material you choose. All holidays are game as well as the seasons. No installation – just layer them over your existing drapery rods.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Is That Your Face in the Furniture?

Forget the dulled sheens of coffee tables and chests. Gleaming, reflective surfaces are arriving from major designers. Mirrored furniture first appeared in France (17th Century) and then in America’s Art Deco period. Now, it’s time for another round of it. Showrooms are displaying chests, tables, and a host of other accent pieces in varying mirrored shades. You’ll certainly find a piece that will blend into any style of decor.

Don’t take a shine, however, to too many pieces. One or two, max, is enough for any space.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

In Your Face Wallpaper

Please don’t try this in a small space unless you’re one of the brave. The newest wallpapers with in-your-face boldness and large daring graphics are hot, hot, hot. As great rooms in newer homes make a comeback, so is the need to dramatize all that space. And wallpaper designers have met the challenge with brand new colors and sprawling magnolias, leaves, and geometrics.

It’s true, too, you can add a little glam to the bathroom. Choose carefully for a confined space, though, or you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

When is a Cedar not a Cedar?

When it’s a Juniper. The Eastern Red Cedar is really a juniper and, depending on who you ask, is a fast-grower or a slow-grower that will last forever. It is a perfect evergreen, however, in that it is found in zones 3-9, is drought-resistant (a very good thing in some areas), and requires little or no maintenance.

As a young adult, it forms a wonderful Christmas tree shape and makes a great windbreak that will give you a green view all year long.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Things That Go Bump in the Bathroom

Do you find yourself always bumping into things in the bathroom? Could be your space is too small for your, uh, self. If you keep butting into toilet paper holders and grinding elbows against towel rods, go recessed and circular instead.

You’ll find it fairly easy, with a little advance knowledge about studs and wiring, to cut into your walls with a saw made for the purpose. Your home improvement store will have an array of space-saving toilet paper holder styles that will recess into the wall. They usually come with complete instructions.

For protruding towel rods, remove them and replace with the circular types. These can be mounted higher up and have a flatter profile. Now you have to watch your head.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What Terrors Lurk in the Bathroom?

Probably, you don’t think much beyond slipping in the tub or cutting yourself shaving. There are plenty of other opportunities to hurt yourself in this tiny room that mixes hot water, electricity, and humanity. You already know the basics of not drying your hair while taking a bath.

When is the last time you had to use the grab bar in the shower or tub? Have you really tested it and can it stand up to its job? Or does it roll around and slide sideways out of one hole? Is it solid plastic without any texture? A soapy hand would slide right off. What’s the point of that?

If you have an older home and the shower unit has a latch on the door, remove it. Also, if you have a choice, make sure the door swings outward, instead of in.

These are just a few things to check on; you’ll find more here. The bathroom is one of the most dangerous areas of the home for individuals of all capabilities and ages. Be careful.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Spiff Up Your Entry

Is your porch plain? Your sidewalk sadly missing something? Adding tile and pavers is a fairly easy do-it-yourself project that is long-lasting and will add aesthetic and monetary value to your home. Plan on a good amount of manual labor, however, because you’ll be lugging the pavers from the store to your car to your yard and then handling each one during the laying process. That’s part of the fun, right?

For a pathway, you’ll need to dig down and add a layer of sand. Then you can place your pavers and pour sand in between the spaces. For an entryway, be sure to choose outdoor tiles that are sealed. This requires a little more skill, but if your concrete surface is square and level, should be completed in a weekend. You’ll need thinset mortar for the base layer, the tiles, and a cement-based grout. Your home improvement store folks can help you with the details.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Toxic Tansy

You may have heard that Tansy is an effective ant-repellent. It may be way more trouble than it’s worth. If you plan to grow your own, remember that this herb may be toxic to pets and can cause an allergic reaction when in contact with skin. Plus, the leaves have to be chopped up and then placed around active ant trails.

Depending on who you ask, however, it can attract beneficial insects and is sometimes planted at the edge of a garden. It grows wild and is considered a nuisance weed in some areas.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Play With Clay

If you want to make a quick and cute little place card, or napkin ring, or little table ornament, polymer clay can’t be beat. It can be baked and painted and you don’t have to be a master craftsman to add a fun look to the table. For Valentine’s day, hearts, of course. For Easter, create a half-egg shape and carve a groove down the middle. Use it as a place card holder.

Any time of year is an excuse for an informal table decoration and clay is fun for both kids and adults. Look for the flexible products, such as Sculpey, and you’ll come up with plenty of other ideas on your own. Craft paints, glitter, spray paint, anything goes. You’ll find more fun ideas here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Smelly Drawers

You may have just spotted the perfect little chest or cabinet at a garage sale. Perhaps you’ve had a nightstand in storage and are retrieving it for your new home. Open those drawers, though, and they have acquired quite an odor. The easy first effort you can make is to load the drawers up with charcoal briquettes and let them sit for awhile. They’re great odor-eaters.

However, if can still detect an odor, it’s time to take serious action with some heavy-duty sealant. Yes, it’s tedious, but may be your only resort.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Say No to Low

If you have shopped for bedroom furniture lately, you’ll know that beds are getting supersized just like everything (and everyone) else. When you introduce a new-style bed into a room, you may suddenly realize that your nightstand has just become dwarfed by the big bad mattress set.

Bachelor’s chests are becoming more popular for this very reason and, with their extra drawers, may be just the boost you need. Also, a counter-height table may also work in your space. Shop around for some unusual finds such as outdoor tables that might fit into your decor. Many places will allow you to purchase tables without committing to the chairs.

And, if you find that the table works, but is a bit out of proportion, invest in extra pillows for the bed. Pile ‘em high and you’ll have both a trendy and upscale look.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fire Patrol

Fire extinguishers – you almost can’t have too many of them. And now that they can be purchased for around $10, go get yourself a few.

Hotspots include:
-Hall closets
-Laundry Room/Garage entry
-Garage and storage areas

They’re so easy to use; train the kids (who are of age and can act responsibly without being tempted to treat them as a toy in some unsupervised moment). Hold reminder drills on their use, too. If you can afford the larger canisters – get at least a couple of those, too. And read the instructions.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Those Fine Foundation Folks

If you find yourself in need of foundation repairs, be very cautious. You are likely to find only a handful of reputable companies in a good-sized city and should be able to narrow that down to one or two quickly by asking around.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions (and this goes for any contractor):
-How long have they been in business? If a company has changed its name in the past, that could be a sign of trouble in the woodpile.
-Make sure they use their own crews and do not subcontract out.
-Be sure that they are bonded and insured and willing to show proof.
-Ask if they inspect plumbing and sewer lines both before and after the job.

Asking a contractor for references is often a wasted effort. After all; they’re not going to pass along customer names who were unhappy with them, right? So, when seeking references – just get those on your own.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Bathing Beauties

When you’re stuck indoors on a winter or rainy day with nothing to do, it’s time to turn your hand to the greenery. What a perfect time, don’t you think, to give all your plants a good cleaning? That includes dusting and washing the leaves.

You don’t – and most experts recommend against it – even have to purchase products that will make your leaves shine. Plain water is best and won’t clog pores (unless you have water that has been softened, which will).

While you’re at it, clean the insides of your windows – your plants will appreciate the additional rays.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Pressure Check

Just a little reminder. If you are using any type of household spray that is under pressure – that includes hairspray, Endust, Glade air freshener, whatever – don’t use it around a gas stove and don’t be smoking those cigarettes while you work.

If you insist on that little combo, you may find out what the word flammable really means.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Trash Talk

You’ve been warned about the dangers of mixing common household products together. You know that poisonous clouds could engulf and make you ill or even kill you.

Now, what about when you throw two or more of those products away? Are the lids on tight? No leaks? Because if you haven’t checked those two things, you’re sure to have a chemical mess in the trash. It won’t be any different from doing it while cleaning, will it?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Door Shush

Tired of hearing cabinet doors slam closed? You may not be able to control the person behind the slamming and you probably can’t slow down the actual speed from open to closed. You can, however, buy the little pads that fit on the corners and that will go a long way toward noise reduction.

The little cushions are easy to mount (they’re self-adhesive) and are inexpensive (felt or plastic) to boot.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Keep Crystal Clean by Hand

Like good knives, your best crystal should never go into the dishwasher. Gently, please, wash it by hand. The combination of hot water and detergent will etch fine glass – something that doesn’t happen with everyday stuff. Once a nice glass looks cloudy – too late, it is permanently marked.

By the way, etching problems seem to be worse when the water is soft.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Flowers are Sweet - But Does Your Guy Need Sweet?

Florists may hate to hear this, but most guys really don’t want to receive flowers at the office. If you must do something like that, have them delivered to his home.

Even if your special male is OK with the gesture, you have no control over the other males in the office – they may not be as “mature” and will proceed to tease unmercifully. Not a good thing for a boss to overhear, either.

If you need some advice on how to send flowers to acquaintances and co-workers, check this out. You’ll find more details on what to really send a guy as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Don't Get Jerked Around

Do you have those decorative knobs that stick out from kitchen drawers? Here’s a little safety advice about that. If you are wearing any type of clothing that is open in the front – like an overshirt or robe – make sure the inner material on both sides of the shirt (button and buttonhole) is sewn down. Have a look; if it is just folded over, that little bit of flap can – and will – catch on those knobs. Big sleeves are also another safety pitfall.

You’ll find yourself jerked backward or sideways and you don’t that to happen when you’re carrying a hot bowl of soup, do you?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

High-Profile Mattresses

It’s true – mattresses are getting deeper and heavier. If you’re in the market, you may need new sheets that will fit as well as a new frame. The older frames simply can’t handle the extra weight – combined with yours, that is.

There’s more to think about. The deeper, fluffier mattresses and box springs mean that it’s a lot further to the floor. Some frame manufacturers are thinking about you – especially if you’re shorter. They’re producing metal frames that are lower to the ground. That eliminates your underbed storage space, but gets those legs over the bed and onto the floor without having to scoot over the edge.

If you haven’t purchased your mattress, yet, read this.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Lawnmowers Need Vacations, Too

If you live in a part of the country where you don’t need to mow during the winter months, lucky you. Of course, you probably know that mowers can’t just be rolled into the shed or garage without a little pre-vacation prep.

Removing gasoline and oil is most important. These will gum up the works and could put you in the market for a brand new mower. Don’t let the oil drain into anything but an approved container that can be discarded of properly. Turn the lawnmower over and let it drain. Mowers aren’t light and you may need extra help.

Tip the lawnmower on its side and give it a good cleaning, too. Get the old dried grass off the blade. Inspect the blade and if you see any dings, it probably should go to a lawnmower specialist. They do charge nicely for their work, but if you are unsure how to remove the blade and sharpen it, then it’s worth it for peace of mind.

Remove the sparkplug. So you don’t get confused, take it with you to buy the new one. It doesn’t have to be gapped, just replaced. Now, you’re ready to stash that puppy away for a long winter’s rest.

P.S. Always check the manual, first, to make sure you're doing things their way.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sending Flowers is More Than a Phone Call Away

While it is true that your floral professional is there to guide you through the amazing process of sending flowers, he or she can’t know everything. You have to help out a little. Don’t be afraid – even if you’re a first-timer. When you’re ordering flowers for a special occasion – or for no occasion – you should have a little information of your own to pass along.

Helpful little details about the giftee include:
-Personality – energetic, quiet
-Decorating taste – trendy, casual, traditional
-Favorite colors; least liked colors
-Flower dislikes (does he or she absolutely abhor roses for some reason? Are they allergic to any particular species?)
That’s a pretty good start. Now, you can step back and let the florist do the rest of the work. Except for what you want to say on the gift card – that’s back at ya’.

For more detailed instructions on the etiquette of sending flowers, read this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Water World

Freezing pipes, busted hoses, a gushing water heater – these are all reasons to know exactly how to turn off the main water valve until you can get help. Winter is a bad time to be without these items, but it’s even worse to have water spewing forth across floors and carpet.

Grab the flashlight and head straight to the main water cutoff valve. You have to turn it off, now. Chances are, it’s going to be a nasty little pit filled with all sort of things: mud, leaves, critters, etc. Wear gloves, if you must. The valve itself may be a little stubborn as well.

If you don’t have the strength to turn the valve, try this handy little hint: take a large-sized adjustable wrench and set it to fit over the center part of the valve. Place a screwdriver through the hole in the wrench handle and use it for leverage to turn the valve. Most valves should be turned clockwise for “off.”

If at all possible, wait until regular operating hours to call a plumber or other professional. If you simply have to replace that water heater after hours, it’s going to cost you four times as much. Really.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Put This Where The Sun Doesn't Shine

Thinking about an indoor water garden? If you’re new to the project, then you should know that algae will grow if sun can penetrate the water. Sometimes the algae dies off by itself. That’s not to say the surface plants won’t need to catch a few rays and some ambient light should reach below the surface.

Choose plants carefully. You can have floaters, emergents, and submergents. They should all be members of either the cold-water family or the warm-water types. Some will prefer sun and others will be fond of shade. Cold-water plants will be a bit less complicated to install.

The nutrient base is also important, so you’ll need to study up on that. You can learn a little bit more here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

What Else is in Your Doggie Bag?

We all know the rules about food sitting out on the counter: it’s two hours max. Then all sorts of nasty things begin to happen – some of them can make you really sick. For those who have never undergone a bout of food poisoning, take their word that it is similar to going through a prolonged death scene.

Now, let’s get to those doggie bags. You think nothing of having those leftovers pitched into a Styrofoam container or lunch sack, right? But before you get those goodies home, think about how long you took to eat in the first place. The food arrived at your restaurant table when? Now, how long did it take to get home after your meal? Really? Are you sure you didn’t stop off for a rental movie?

So, now, you need to do some math. Has the delicious stuff in your doggie bag been out way longer than two hours? Forget about it.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Shades of Polarization

You may own only one pair of sunshades, but that may not be enough. If you live in an area that sees a lot of snow, you need glasses that are polarized for glare in addition to UV protection. These also are good for sandy beaches and on the water. If you have ever walked a distance on bright white concrete, you’ll know that the effects are similar – and painful. Shades of amber also improve visibility.

Golfers can benefit from gray shades, but with the highest UV protection. If you play tennis, you need protective lenses in a teal shade. That shade breaks out the contrast between yellow balls and the background.

Some sunglass tints may lessen acuity in driving conditions, so keep an approved spare pair in the car. And watch those gradients – make sure the lightest portion is at the bottom and not in the middle. This also lessens the ability to see the readings on a dashboard.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Awash in Color

Decorative color washing is easy and will make a dramatic difference in your rooms without breaking the bank. You can use rags, natural sponges, or brushes to achieve the look you want: clouds or other textures. You’ll also need a couple of complementary base colors – one lighter than the other - as well as a top coat to protect your work.

Most decorative painting techniques acquire their special effects by mixing the complementary colors with a glaze. This adds an amazing depth to the wall. Also, if you’re afraid of trying something new on a room, try a small wall, first; one that has no doorways to tape off.

Enjoy your new-found creative skills – you can’t mess this one up! More color wash details here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Switch Out the Switch Plates

Want to add a little fun to a room? Create decorative switch plates. You can also have fun with the electrical outlet plates, too. Be sure to turn off the electricity, first, though, or you could have a little too much fun.

Most plastic plates can be covered in fun fabrics, decoupaged, or painted with the right kind of hobby paints. Scuff them up first so they’ll bond with your choice of decoration. You can also find wood plates at craft or woodworking stores.

It’s fun for the kids to get in on the act, too, and can really liven up a room for just a few pennies. You don’t have to be an artist, just add a few swooshes or polka dots – anything goes! Decorative switchplates can be elegant or trendy, too. If you need a few more ideas, check this out.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Where Are Your Manners?

If you have not sent your thank you notes out, yet, what are you waiting for? Embarrassment? Dissing by the entire family? Do not wait another day – if you do, you’ll keep putting it off and then, you’ll have to create a New Year’s resolution for next year about procrastination.

While it is perfectly all right to ignore the thank you note business if you open a present in front of the giver, or by phone or whatever if it’s a family member, society’s great mavens still insist that a thank you note is the right thing to do. It not only makes you look like a nice and thoughtful person, but also increases your chances of getting a better gift next year.

It’s a fact that people love to be thanked-in the form of an envelope with a stamp on it, so what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Would You Please Clean Your Wood?

If you have inherited an old piece of furniture and are wondering how to clean it, first find out its value. If it is “priceless,” forget it and call an expert. However, if it’s in fairly good shape and just a little bit dirty, water may not be the simplest answer at all.

If furniture has a shellac coating, do not use water. Remember those white rings on coffee tables? Water and shellac met there. Try a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and olive oil; rub in going with the grain.

Mineral spirits actually work on most wood finishes without any surprises. Mineral spirits will remove grease and wax buildup as well, whereas water will not. For painted pieces that have a dirt buildup, use a mild dish detergent. If you need more details on preserving favorite family furniture, read this.

Many experts recommend a product called Finisher’s Formula for polishing. It’s made of oils and beeswax and is better for wood than many products that are petroleum-distillate based. Just follow the instructions and remember to use twice a year.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Tanked Up or Tankless

If you’re hearing all sorts of good things about tankless water heaters, you should do a little more research. First, figure out what kind of FHR you need – that’s how much water is used in your home at peak periods. More than one person taking a shower? Running the dishwasher and the washing machine at the same time?

Many experts are still recommending the conventional tank heater is best and some state that energy efficiency is no different between the two. Tankless heaters require a burst of energy to get that water hot immediately, which balances out over time against running water to reach the hot stage from a tank heater. Also, the flow rate on a tankless is much less, so you may not get to run multiple showers or appliances at the same time.

Do your homework – read this - and then make your decision.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Protection From Policy Providers

Gotta have it. And most folks recommend that when you’re checking into a company, find out how quick a payout occurs in case of a disaster. Especially if you have flood, earthquake, or hurricane insurance. There are a few additional questions you should ask – but not of current policy holders. You really need to find those who changed policies.

Why? For one thing, when a major disaster occurs, many insurance companies would go bankrupt if they paid the full amount owed, so they begin paying 10 cents on the dollar, or something like that.

A second problem occurs after you receive the payout, even on a small claim. Will the company dump you once you make a claim? It happens a lot (with experience on that from the folks with whom you’re supposed to be in good hands with). Now, how you obtain that information is up to you – but once you’ve been dumped over a small claim, it may not be easy trying to get into the good hands of another insurance company.