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 bitsandpieces.com).

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.