Author Archives: aboone2001

Playroom and Toy Organization

Toy RoomIt happens in spite of our best intentions. A birthday party here, a doting grandparent there, a neighborhood garage sale with deals too good to pass up, and you’ve got a story titled something like Toys Take Over.

Looking for a happy ending? Try these strategies to keep your kids’ play stuff under control:

  • BE MORE SELECTIVE.
    Ever notice how your kids can have a room stuffed with toys and end up playing for hours with the box your refrigerator came in? Sometimes the simplest things give more pleasure and fire the imagination, as well. Make toy selections with this thought in mind: Is this an impulse buy? How long will my child play with this in relation to its cost—not to mention the space it takes up in my home?
  • RESERVE AND ROTATE.
    Too many toys at one time can actually overwhelm a child. Store a third of them away at any given time—chances are unless you’ve mistakenly picked a current favorite, they won’t even notice their absence. Every month or so, bring back the stored toys and stow away some more. Your child will feel like it’s Christmas all over again, and the house stays neater.
  • CHOOSE A STORAGE SYSTEM THAT SETS EVERYONE UP FOR SUCCESS.
    Resist the urge to aspire to a play area that resembles a stylish catalog photo, with a few lovely toys displayed for visual effect and the others stowed in neatly stacked, aesthetically pleasing containers, especially if you have toddlers. You’ll drive yourself, not to mention your kids, batty. Rather, be practical and set up reasonable expectations. Choose clear tubs or large baskets without cumbersome lids, so items inside are easily visible.
  • Sort smaller items separately from larger toys; otherwise the small things just sink to the bottom and the whole tub will get overturned in searches for Mr. Potato Head’s hat. Some parents tape a picture of the toy category on the front of a bin to help their tots stay organized.
  • If it’s difficult to keep toys confined to just one room of the house, you can hang a pretty gift bag on a door handle or stand one up in the corner to temporarily store playthings that wander in.
  • THINK SAFETY.
    Don’t stack bins more than two deep, and use low shelves. Avoid storage units with sharp edges, or add small adhesive cushions to their corners. Tall units are too tempting for little ones to climb in search of out-of-reach toys, with results that can be tragic. If you must use a tall unit, bolt it securely to the wall and keep items attractive to children only on the low shelves. Also, while your grandmother’s toy chest might be sentimentally valuable to you, it may not be practical. Heavy lids can smash fingers and heads, and if it’s painted, there may be a lead hazard.
  • CHOOSE CLEANUP SESSIONS THAT WORK FOR YOU.
    Depending on your personal tolerance for mess, you can schedule mini-cleanup sessions a few times a day, or wait until bedtime for one clean swoop. Either way, expect your child to participate. Just make cleanup sessions age appropriate in length, and try to insert a measure of fun, like straightening up to the tune of their ABC’s or a favorite song.
  • THIN THE RANKS.
    While it’s unfair to force your child to part with a favorite toy, there’s also something to be said for reassessing their treasures every so often. Some parents sneak out bags of old toys like thieves in the night, convinced their children never notice, but you can engage them in the process by offering some incentive for letting go of things they no longer really want or need. Have a garage sale and let them keep the money for the items they sell, for example. You can also introduce them to the idea that rather than letting unused objects collect dust in a closet, they can be passed along for some other child to enjoy. Again, keep the process age appropriate, and don’t think that just because Timmy won’t let go of his old blue race car that you are raising a selfish child; these things are best learned in small, easy-to-digest bites.

Grill Cleaning Tips

grillGrilling is synonymous with summer itself: sizzle of steak, aroma of burger and barbecue chicken, tender-crisp spears of marinated fresh veggies. Keeping your grill grate clean is crucial to tasty food and healthy cooking, and you needn’t waste elbow grease on the chore. Follow these easy tips I found:

  • To remove crusted food and grease on a gas grill grate, turn up the heat to high, close the lid and leave undisturbed for about twenty minutes. Turn burners to low, then brush the remaining white ash with a wire brush. You can do this after you are finished cooking, while you are eating, so you can start with a fresh grill the next time. Just set a timer on your oven or cell phone so you don’t forget to turn the grill off after the mess is gone.
  • Alternately, leave the mess and use this grill cleaning tip the next time you cook, while prepping your food. The grill will be clean and hot and ready for use.
  • Some people swear by laying a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill during the above method for best results, but opinion seems divided. Try it both ways and decide for yourself.
  • Commercial oven cleaners (such as EZ-Off) can be sprayed onto grill grates, left to sit for 20 minutes, then sprayed off with a strong stream of water from the hose, but this is messy and less than environmentally friendly. Think twice about whether you really want to spray a surface with harsh chemicals that will come in direct contact with your food, no matter how well you rinse.
  • If you are working in advance and have the time, remove your grill grates and place them in your kitchen oven. Set the oven to self-clean, and your grates will come out looking smooth and brand new.
  • After cleaning, some grill chefs like to season their grates by rubbing them with Crisco or vegetable oil, then baking them for an hour in a 400 degree oven.

Bon appétit it!

Quick Landscaping Tips for the Not-So-Green Thumb

AA014490You sigh with envy at the neighbor’s lush garden, but when you see how much time she spends digging, weeding, planting, fertilizing, deadheading, staking and pruning, you know it’s not for you.
Good news. While your landscape may not match the look of your neighbor’s, you can enjoy a pretty outdoor setting without being a slave to it. The key is selection, simplicity and strategy.
Selection: Choose slower growing, high-performing foundation plants that require little maintenance. Ask your nurseryman for recommendations on shrubs with year round appeal.

If possible, invest in some quality “hardscaping” like a brick walkway or stone retaining wall that will go a long way to create a handsome yet no-fuss appeal. If you want to augment the look with flowers, go for larger sweeps or masses of one kind of flower rather than an assortment of several kinds; it will have the biggest impact. As an alternative, install window boxes and plant them with tried and true annuals with a colorful splash: geraniums and trailing ivy or the newer cascading petunias are good choices.
Simplicity: If digging in the dirt is just not your thing, buy several colorful annual plants already potted up in containers and place them strategically in your landscape and at entryways. Use various sizes and try “tripod” style garden structures or shepherd style hooks that allow you to place pots at various heights in the garden for more interest. You can even bring in your own special containers and have the nursery custom plant them with whatever you desire, then pick them up when they are established in their pots.
Strategy: Decide exactly what you are willing to do in the landscape. Don’t over-estimate your enthusiasm for weeding and watering. In the spring, when the weather is balmy and emotion is running high, it’s easy to over commit. Remember that plants will need care when the thermometer reaches 90, too. Adjust your expectations realistically and you’ll end up with a landscape that looks good and doesn’t stress you out.

Best Techniques for Cleaning Porch Furniture

Patio FurnitureCleaning porch furniture in preparation for fair weather can be a reasonably quick and easy process, but it’s important to choose the right technique for the material it’s made of.
The newest outdoor furniture is made of synthetic resins in a multitude of colors and styles. Not only are they easiest to clean, they are the most durable and weatherproof. Even the cushion fabrics are specially designed to drain moisture, dry quickly, and resist damage from UV rays. If you need furniture that can take full sun, rain and wind, these are good buys.

  • To clean, first brush off accumulated dust and dirt with a whisk brush, or vacuum with a brush attachment. Then mix a solution of light detergent and water and apply with a textured microfiber cloth, which will penetrate nooks and crannies and lift dirt, rather than just spread it around like a sponge does. For hard-to-reach areas, try a vegetable brush, a toothbrush, or a denture brush.
  • If mold or mildew is a problem and stains are stubborn, mix a cup of bleach or Oxyclean in a gallon of warm water and repeat cleaning process, but rinse well with a garden hose. Bleach residue will break down even the most resilient fibers, so make sure all of the cleaning solution is rinsed away.
  • Let furniture dry in full sun for 24-48 hours. A good breeze will speed the process. If rain threatens, cover furniture or put it under shelter until it is fully dry.
  • Some cushion covers can be removed and washed on gentle cycle in the washing machine, but machine drying is not recommended. Put the covers back on the cushions while they are still damp and allow them to dry in place in a sunny spot. This will help retain their shape and prevent shrinkage.
  • True wicker furniture (not made of modern resins) is another matter altogether, and should not be used in outdoor settings unless it is kept under cover, such as a porch or sunroom. “Wicker” is actually a term that refers to the weave, not the materials from which the furniture is made. Wicker can be made of rattan, wood, or even tightly rolled paper, which was a form popular in the first half of the 1900’s. All wicker can be painted or stained for increased durability, but it should not be exposed to water for long periods of time or it will lose its shape and eventually deteriorate.
  • To clean wicker, brush or vacuum trapped dirt and dust first. Then apply a mild detergent solution with a damp, not dripping, microfiber cloth, using a toothbrush if necessary on stubborn spots. Rinse with a cloth that has been dipped in fresh water and wrung well. Repeat until soapy residue is gone. Do not rinse with a hose, as this will apply too much moisture and pressure and could affect the weave as well as the condition of the material. Let dry in full sun on a breezy day for several hours.
  • To repaint wicker, first brush gently with a wire brush to remove flecks of loose paint. Vacuum away residue, using a brush attachment. Then use a sprayer to apply at least two coats of new paint. Don’t even attempt painting wicker with a brush unless you are a glutton for punishment; you will find it impossible to avoid dripping through the weave of the wicker, which will spoil the appearance and value of your furniture.
  • Cast iron furniture is less common now, though it enjoyed great popularity for centuries. To restore it, brush with a wire brush, using WD-40 to remove rust. Wash it down thoroughly, rinse and let dry completely in the sun. Paint with a sprayer using even, light passes. Two or three light coats are better than one heavy coat, and will generate best results. To extend the life of the finish, cover or store indoors during harsh weather.

Clean, Recycle and Save Money at the Same Time

green homeThe headline reads like one of those mini-lectures on multi-tasking, but fear not. Truth is, do you really need to juggle three tasks at once? Only if they can be combined into one easy movement.
I have found ways to clean, recycle and save money all at the same time without exhausting yourself.

Collect all those orphaned socks you keep finding in the dryer. The next time you dust, wear a sock as a mitten – pull one onto each hand if you’re super efficient or cleaning small, delicate objects — and put those lonely socks to good use.

There. You’ve cleaned your house efficiently, you’ve repurposed something that could have gone in the waste stream, and you’ve saved a few bucks on store-bought cleaning cloths. As a bonus, you can let a young child join in by giving them a dust-eating sock with a face drawn on one side. A child can easily dust windowsills, cleared tables and book shelves. They don’t see this activity as work, but a fun way to spend time doing grownup stuff with a grownup.

The same method can be applied to washing small, nonporous objects in a sink. Don a sock on each hand, squirt a dab of liquid soap on each, and lather up with water. Wearing sock mitts is a great way to clean crevices and angles without applying harsh brushes or scrubbers.

Children love using sock mittens to wash themselves (and their rubber ducks, their toy boats, etc, etc.) in the bathtub.

Spring Cleaning Tips

111779891Whether you chomp at the bit to get started or find it sheer torture, there’s no debating that the time-honored tradition of “spring cleaning” is a tonic for the home. Dig in to the deep cleaning and not only will your home look, feel and smell better. You will, too. Here are some tips for making it easier:

  • Make your own rules. Who says spring cleaning has to happen in the spring, just as warm weather beckons not only for outdoor recreation but for yard chores? Maybe you want to do your spring cleaning in the winter, when it’s too cold to play outside and the outdoor chores are less demanding. Or try deep cleaning one room a month, or two rooms a season. Don’t be a slave to convention. Lives moved to a different rhythm when these notions were first made doctrine.
  • Lighten the load through delegation. Yes, you’d do a better job than anyone else in the house. Do you want stuck doing it all? Make different family members responsible for some of their own contributions to accumulated household mess. Children can organize sports equipment if given some containers, and sort through clothes for items they’ve outgrown or no longer wear. They can push a broom in the garage and haul stuff to the curb. If they are old enough to have lost the sweet enthusiasm for “helping mommy and daddy” and you feel compelled to make the work pleasant for them, offer some small reward for an agreed-upon time period of work, or order in their favorite food for a treat after the work is done.
  • Choose your strategy. Again, make the process work for you. Some cleaning pro’s insist on completing one room at a time, starting with the most difficult. That can be quite satisfying, to have one perfectly sparkling room in the house; it may motivate you to keep going. But you might get so obsessive with every detail in that one room that you exhaust yourself early on, and decide it’s not worth THAT much sweat. Alternately, try one CHORE at a time that is applied to every room in the house. For example, you might focus on removing every recyclable piece of paper, plastic container, old paint, and unused or broken electronic gadget in the house. Imagine! Once that is accomplished, you schedule a day where everyone cleans a closet. Another day, you wipe down all the woodwork. Another, you move the furniture and vacuum every inch of carpet as well as the draperies.
  • Play music. Choose your favorite tunes and crank up the volume. Dance with the dust mop and sing over the vacuum cleaner. It passes the time more pleasantly, puts a spring in your step and burns more calories to boot.
  • Schedule a date to host company. Nothing motivates more than knowing that you’ll be entertaining. Somehow the clutter and dust we turn a blind eye toward becomes blindingly obvious as the date draws near. We cast a more critical eye on our dwelling, seeing it through others’ eyes. No matter that anyone you want as a friend isn’t the kind who gives the white glove test. There’s something about having company that brings out our best housekeeping.

Keeping Good Health Records

health recordsI find that keeping good health records for you and your loved ones will serve you well not only in an emergency but in everyday situations, too. The time the task requires is insignificant to the benefits it offers, and once you have a simple system in place, health records are easy to maintain. Even though doctors and hospitals keep patient records, it is best to think of those as backup documentation, not only because your own records will provide a more detailed synthesis of all of your health-oriented experiences, but also because things happen: floods, fires, relocations, computer crashes, human error, to name a few.

Start by creating a hard copy file for each individual whose health you are tracking. Keep the files in an easily accessible place; you will use them more often than you might think, even when everyone is in excellent health. Having files handy will help you avoid the temptation to add a recent blood work result to a pile of bills or school papers with the vague intention of filing them later.
Depending on individual circumstances and your own need for detail, you can have sub-category files for each person in the household. Dental and vision records would be an example. Athletes might consider a separate file that documents injuries, prescribed therapies and experiences related to sports medicine. Immunizations are an easy thing to lose track of, but if you keep a document of them, you will be immensely pleased with yourself for being organized should you have the occasion to travel out of the country, and each August when the time comes to fill out children’s school records, which need updated annually.
Consider, also, printing up a record of current medications your family is taking, including vitamins and supplements. If confidentiality is an issue, put the information in a sealed envelope labeled “Current Meds” and tape it to your refrigerator. In an emergency, you can grab it for the trip to an urgent care site. In dire circumstances, where emotions run high and stress hampers clear thinking, or an ill or injured member is alone or unable to communicate, paramedics are often trained to look for such documents on the refrigerator. In fact, some hospitals and medical practices give away magnetized versions of these forms, which can be updated with a dry erase marker, at health fairs and other events. Keeping information current is a crucial component of the value of this document.
Long term, your medical records can inform future generations. Consider making a copy of your health records to pass along to your children when they grow up and leave home. This information will be invaluable to them and their healthcare practitioners for determining risk factors of inherited diseases and conditions, and may assist them in implementing preventative measures that could prolong their own good health.