Month: November 2013

Outdoor holiday decorating safety tips for homeowners

Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect opportunity to decorate the landscape and exterior of your home for the holidays. If you plan to decorate this year, it’s important to remember that doing so presents some fire and safety hazards.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), about 12,500 people go to emergency rooms to be treated for injuries, such as falls, cuts, and shocks related to holiday lights, decorations, and Christmas trees. Accidents do happen; but many are preventable if we just take some time and a few precautions while decorating outside.

1. Only use lighting sets and extension cords that are specifically made for outdoor use. They’ll have the Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) label.

2. Know how many sets can be strung together. It will usually be printed somewhere on the package, on a tag on the cord itself, or on a paper within the package. Usually, it’s 3.

3. Before you start, check all light sets for fraying, aging, and heat damage and throw out sets that show any signs of damage. Always unplug lights before changing bulbs, replacing fuses or making any other repairs.

4. Always test your light sets before starting. Replacing broken and burnt-out bulbs is much easier on the ground than on a ladder or roof.

5. Connect sets of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into an outlet. Be careful not to overload extension cords.

6. Use hooks or insulated staples to hold lights in place. Do not use nails or tacks.

7. Never pull or tug lights to remove or disconnect them.

8. To avoid potential shocks, plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with GFI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection.

9. Make sure to observe all safety precautions for the ladder. Know the weight limit restrictions. Avoid contact with overhead power lines when setting up your ladder. Make sure that it is set on solid ground. Have someone working with you to steady the ladder as you climb up or down.

10. Keep any connections between light sets and extension cords dry by wrapping them with electrical tape or plastic.

11. Check the wire on the Christmas lights occasionally to make sure that they’re not warm to the touch.

12. Always turn off all Christmas lights and decorations before going to bed or leaving the house. You can hook up a simple timer so you don’t have to worry about forgetting.

For more holiday decorating safety tips, check the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission website. (link to

Holiday party cleanup tips

The holidays aren’t quite in full swing, and that means it’s time to start planning for holiday parties. As you probably already know, when you host a holiday get-together, the worst part is the cleaning, of course.

Here are some tips to help you with the chore that you face after the party.

Clean up the prep work

Starting with an empty dishwasher is always a good idea. Make sure to clean up the pre-party prep work before the party begins. As the party progresses you can load at least some items in your dishwasher. Out of sight, out of mind.

Keep the boxes

If you buy holiday dishes, glasses and tableware, make sure to keep the boxes handy for quick cleanup and storage.

Less is more

When it comes to party decorations, keep it to a minimum. Remember that banners, balloons, streamers and centerpieces add to what you have to clean up and put away later.

Cutting down on cleaning

If you plan to cook anything in the oven, line your pans with parchment paper and you can avoid having to scrub them after your guests leave.


Sure, it’s not as elegant, but if you’re having an informal gathering, using disposable utensils and dishware means you’ll have more going into the trash and recycling, but less going into the dishwasher.

Party favors/decorations

If you choose decorations that also serve as party favors, your guests will take them home!

Pick up while you party

Stay on top of the cleaning as the party goes on, but not to the point where you’re not able to be social and enjoy your guests. Speaking of guests, one or two will ALWAYS volunteer to help you.

Plan for spills

Cleaning spills as soon as they occur – and they will – is important to keep them from setting in. A solution of white vinegar, dish soap and water in a spray bottle is a good, all-purpose cleaner.

Water rings

No matter how many coasters you have, you’ll still end up with a water ring or two. Rub a dab of non-gel toothpaste onto the spot then buff with a clean cloth.

Tissue paper

Help prevent wrinkles when you travel; save gift-bag tissue to separate layers of clothing in the suitcase.


Save ribbon to tie clusters of silverware or hang ornaments.

Replacing the driveway: asphalt vs concrete

Whether you’re building a new home or have made the decision to replace your existing driveway, you’re going to face a decision as a homeowner: asphalt or concrete?

Although they are similar, the key differences will tell you whether you should choose asphalt or concrete. Here are the key points to consider what material your new driveway should be.


Asphalt tends to be cheaper, but because it’s made of oil, when the price of oil is high, the cost of your asphalt driveway will be more. That being said, asphalt is more cost-effective than concrete, which means it could be a better choice if your driveway is very long.


Asphalt is more desirable in areas where it gets cold because it’s less susceptible to cracking. Concrete offers advantages in warmer climates because it doesn’t get soft like asphalt does.


Concrete driveways can last as long as 50 years when proper maintenance is performed. Asphalt, on the other hand, will typically last about 30 years.


Concrete and asphalt are both prone to staining; however, any discoloration is much less noticeable on the asphalt because it’s dark. The downside is that the oils in an asphalt driveway can be released and stick to the soles of your shoes, which can damage the carpet in your car or the rugs and furniture inside your home.


Concrete comes in several decorative options. It can be stamped and can come in different colors. Asphalt comes in black.


Asphalt has the advantage over concrete. Asphalt driveways take about two days to install and you are able to drive on them the day after installation is complete. Installation of concrete driveways can take up to four days to install and you’ll have to wait 5-7 days after the installation is complete to drive on them.

A new driveway is not only functional, it increases the curb appeal of your home. When you make the decision to replace the driveway, make sure to check with the city codes administrator to determine what permits and licenses are necessary. Do your research before choosing a contractor and get several estimates before hiring one

Enrich your garden and landscape soil by making leaf mold

Building soil is important to any home gardener. One of the best ways to build soil is by creating leaf mold, which is a type of compost that uses only leaves and nothing else.

Different from composting, making leaf mold is a cold process, done primarily by fungus while composting relies on bacteria for decomposition. With composting, you’d add green material (grass clippings, manure, kitchen scraps, etc.) In addition to adding different nutrients, it also adds heat.

This process recreates the environment of the forest floor in a small space and results in a nutrient and mineral rich soil additive you can use in a number of ways.

How to make leaf mold

The other way this process differs from compost is that you can just throw the leaves in and leave them alone. You don’t have to mix or turn the compost periodically to promote decomposition.

The first thing you’ll need to do is build a wire mesh bin to hold the leaves. Put the leaves in and soak them. You can shred the leaves in order to accerlerate the process. Moisture is important to helping the leaves break down. If the bin is too dry, you can cover with a tarp to retain moisture. You can also weave slats from old window blinds into the mesh or line it with sheet plastic to help retain the moisture. If you live in a cooler climate, the process can take as long as three years. In warmer climates, it can take as little as nine months.

Over the course of a year, your leaf pile will have lost about half of its volume. Open the bin and give the leaves a stir to get some aeration. Move the bin over and start the process again. By the third year, the first pile that you created should be broken down, black and crumbly. It should smell like you’re walking in the woods after a rainstorm. It’s now ready for use and you can start a new pile on that spot.

Another method is to just store your leaves in lawn bags. Stuff the bags full of leaves and wet them down before closing the bag. Use a garden fork to poke a number of holes in the bags to let some air in. Mark the bags and put them in some out-of-the-way nook of the yard.

Leaf mold is not only organic and environmentally friendly, it is also one of the most effective ways to create the nutrient-rich soil essential for growing vegetables, flowers and shrubs.

Why you should be eating apples

Apples have been cultivated as far back as 6,000 B.C. The conquering Roman armies planted apple trees wherever they traveled. Apples have played a crucial role in Biblical stories, myth, culture and tall tales the world over for centuries. Don’t just think Johnny Appleseed; think Greek mythology.

The American proverb is “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The original proverb: “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread” originated in 1866. And that’s not the first time apples were mentioned in regards to their medicinal properties. According to Chinese medicine, apples strengthen the heart, quench thirst, lubricate the lungs, decrease mucous and increase body fluids.

15 reasons why apples are a super food

  1. The contributions that apples make to a healthy diet are wide and varied. Here’s why you should make shouldn’t be eating one a day; you should be eating two!
  2. Apples have about 5 grams of soluble fiber, which has a variety of health benefits, including
  3. Reducing intestinal disorders, including diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and possibly some types of cancer
  4. Reducing cholesterol levels, which is good for the heart
  5. Helping control insulin levels by releasing sugar slowly into the bloodstream
  6. Cleansing and detoxifying, which helps eliminate heavy metals such as lead and mercury
  7. The pectin in apples helps to reduce cholesterol levels by lowering insulin secretion
  8. Research has shown that eating five apples a week lowered the risk of respiratory diseases, including asthma
  9. Eating an apple shields your teeth from decay-causing bacteria, earning it the nickname “nature’s toothbrush”
  10. Studies indicate that eating apples daily can reduce skin diseases
  11. Apples help you feel full. According to a Brazilian study, women who eat an apple before a meal helped them lose 33% more weight than those who didn’t
  12. Depending upon its size, an apple contains between 50 and 80 calories and has no fat or sodium
  13. The skin of the apple contains 10% of your daily allowance of vitamin C. They are also packed with vitamin A and flavonoids and have smaller amounts of phosphorus, iron and calcium
  14. Apples are a good source of potassium, which may promote heart health
  15. Crunchy and delicious, apples are a satisfying snack that can curb hunger pangs

Interesting apple trivia:

There are more than 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide and 2,500 in America.

Apples are grown in all 50 states, but are grown commercially in 36 states.

World’s top apple producers are China, United States, Turkey, Poland and Italy.

The average U.S. consumer eats about 19 pounds of fresh apples a year.

The apple tree is a member of the rose family.

25% of an apple’s volume is air, which is why they float when bobbing for apples.

In ancient Greece, when a man proposed to a woman he would toss her an apple; if she caught it, it meant she accepted the proposal.

Apples contain about 5% protein.

Apple trees start to produce fruit in their fifth year and can live to be 100 years old.

The largest apple weighed three pounds.

One apple requires 50 leaves to feed it and help it grow.