Category Archives: Healthy Living

CHOOSE THE RIGHT CLEANING CLOTH

Duster with glovr 250w.jpgIt seems like a small detail, but the right cloth for the right job will yield better results every time. I found some tips from the pros:

  1. Lint-free rags are best, especially if you are cleaning fabric with fabric.
  2. Also for fabric cleaning, it’s best to avoid colored rags unless they have been washed many times. Otherwise you take the chance that dye will rub off onto the very fabric you are trying to clean.
  3. All-cotton rags make excellent cleaning cloths because they absorb water easily, dry fast, and do not leave lint. Cloth diapers and men’s undershirts are two excellent examples.
  4. Microfiber cloths and dusters are great for household and office use because they trap dust instead of letting it fly around the room.
  5. Old shirts and towels made of synthetic fabrics generally do not make good cleaning cloths because they do not absorb or dry well. They can be handy, however, for really dirty jobs, like cleaning grills, engines or outdoor furniture. Toss them into the trash once they’ve been used.
  6. Pop-up wet wipes are handy for kitchen and bathroom use, but avoid using them on wood cupboards or other porous materials. Also: don’t confuse them for hand wipes or diaper wipes! They are much too hard on delicate skin.
  7. Balled-up newspapers make excellent wipes for window and mirror cleaning. Though they aren’t officially cleaning cloths, they are made of paper pulp, which is highly absorbent.
  8. Lint-free flannel is a good buffing cloth.

HOW TO IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY IN YOUR HOME

VACUFLO fam 307x250As temperatures and humidity outside plummet, constantly heated indoor air can wreak havoc, drying your skin, hair and nasal passages. That can create a breeding ground for seasonal viruses and irritate respiratory systems. Keep you indoor winter air healthier this year:

  • Try to keep your home temperature no higher than 68°F. Adjust your thermostat to lower temperatures at night. A cooler temperature of 64 or 65°F makes for better sleeping and less open-mouthed breathing due to dried out nasal passages.
  • On milder days, open a window briefly on each floor of your home to allow fresh air to circulate.
  • Have ductwork cleaned every few years to remove dust and debris collecting there, which recirculates through the home.
  • If your furnace does not have a humidifier setting on it, you can improve humidity levels by placing a pan of water near heat registers. Also, fill your teakettle and heat it until it releases steam into the air for a few minutes. Cool mist room humidifiers can be helpful for people suffering with colds or allergies.

Keep indoor, air-borne irritants to a minimum. A central vacuum system is the most effective method for removing dust and allergens completely from your home environment. In contrast with a standard vacuum cleaner, which can recirculate dust and allergens back into the air, a central vacuum uses powerful suction to remove virtually all dirt and transport it through a system of in-the-wall tubing to a sealed container away from living spaces, such as in a basement, closet or garage. You can have an authorized installer easily retrofit your home with a central vacuum system with minimum disruption to your home.

TIPS FOR HEALTHIER DORM ROOMS

student girl portrait at university campus

Heading off to college is one of life’s most exhilarating experiences, and possibly also one of its most stressful. Incoming students are exposed to a host of new germs from all around the country and world, which can tax their immune systems. Add into that equation the adjustment to roommates, demands of coursework, new freedoms and frequent sleep deprivation, and overall health can suffer. Encourage these habits in your young adult children to help keep them healthier and happier for campus life.

  • Wear flip flops in the shower to avoid athlete’s foot, which thrives in moist areas and is easily spread.
  • Get a flu shot each season, and a meningitis vaccine before heading off to college. Avoid sharing beverages from the same container. Wash hands frequently, especially before eating.
  • While grungy sheets never killed anybody, at least pack some extra pillow cases. Changing the pillow case will keep the bed fresher. Sometimes bed bugs will show up in dorms for no apparent reason (they are not brought on by dirt or bad housekeeping). In that event, launder all bedding in hot water to eliminate the critters.
  • Keep things dry to avoid mold and mildew problems, which can aggravate the respiratory system and can be harmful to asthma sufferers. Don’t let wet clothes or towels lie around. Dry off bathroom surfaces. Use ventilation such as a portable fan.
  • Get enough sleep. College students often think they are invulnerable when it comes to sleep, but fatigue taxes the immune system heavily. Avoid all-night study sessions whenever possible by creating disciplined study habits. Try not to take long naps in the afternoon or drink caffeine after supper, which will make it difficult to sleep at night.
  • Don’t binge drink, which is not only dangerous, but has been proven to proportionately decrease grade point averages.
  • Keep healthy snacks around the dorm to help avoid temptations for late-night fast food. Bad eating habits in college have been shown to increase the possibility of creating long-term health problems, not to mention adding excess weight.
  • Call home. They miss you, too. A phone call to your folks may not keep you from catching the flu, but it can help stave off the common freshman-year virus known as homesickness.

MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE CLOCK

I had an elderly neighbor friend who moved through her day in a way I admired: unhurried, focused on the task at hand. Whether she was weeding her vegetable garden or sweeping the concrete stoop outside her kitchen door, she seemed to apply a kind of steady, sustained energy to everything she did.  I think of her now every time I catch myself rushing out my own kitchen door.

Somewhere in the last century it became fashionable to hurry. Perhaps it implies we have somewhere important to be, that we are in demand at all hours. Being pressed for time is no longer the exception for many people, but the rule.

storm-0914-scribble-206Could there be a different way to relate to the clock? It takes practice, but here are some simple strategies to try.

  1. Block out “empty” segments of time. The very idea of this may sound foreign.  Begin with short increments during the “between” times: between waking and work, between work and supper, between chores and bedtime. Resolve to take fifteen unassigned minutes. Just sit, or nap, or read, or walk around the block, or talk to your spouse or kids without an agenda. Watch the world go by without you in it. Work up to longer blocks. You may even learn to build into your calendar one day a month where you do absolutely nothing that isn’t restorative to your mind, body and soul. Imagine that.
  2. Aim lower. Decide what you really can accomplish in any given time—without killing yourself. What non-essential components can you eliminate from any task? If you’re a perfectionist, or highly driven, this is far more challenging than setting lofty goals. The sweet surprise to this strategy? You get more done, at a higher level of quality, and you are much more pleasant to be around.
  3. Think of time as your friend. We tend to look at time with a scarcity mentality: there will never be enough to do what we want and need to do. So of course we always feel time-starved. Try looking at time as a banquet of 24 of our favorite foods, lovingly prepared and laid out for us each and every day. Instead of wolfing it down like fast food from a drive-through, savor it one bite at a time. Everything tastes better that way.

NATURAL REMEDIES FOR ALLERGY SUFFERERS

187419911fall allergiesWhether you suffer from seasonal allergies or develop symptoms from exposure to dust or pet dander, finding relief can be a frustrating search. Moderate or severe allergies require the treatment of a qualified doctor, especially if over-the-counter products offer little results. If you have mild symptoms and prefer not to take medication for them, several natural remedies might be worth a try. Always consult with your physician before taking any natural remedy, especially if you have a chronic health condition, are pregnant or already take medication for other reasons.

I go with a common sense approach. Avoid the substance that triggers your symptoms whenever possible, even if it means staying indoors when climactic factors are at their worst. Get plenty of sleep, and don’t tax your immune system with smoking, a high consumption of alcohol, or by eating foods that cause even a mild stomach upset. Vitamin C supplements can also support a healthy immune system. This allows your body to use all of its natural resources fighting the adverse effects of allergies.

Some promising studies and clinical trials on the European herb butterbur (Petastites hybridus) are creating a stir in some circles of allergists and immunologists. Taken in tablets, it shows possibilities as an effective anti-histamine for controlling hay fever symptoms. Watch for more developing news on this substance as it is further researched.

Nettle, goldenseal, grape seed extract and quercetin are other natural remedies that can be effective, sometimes in combination with a saline solution. Consult a qualified naturopath for complete information and correct administration of any natural remedy.

Other practical steps I have listed below can be taken within your home environment to alleviate symptoms of allergies:

  • Wear a good dust mask while cleaning, and use damp dusting cloths to prevent particles from flying through the air and into your respiratory system.
  • Install blinds instead of curtains or drapes. Use washable throw rugs and tile, ceramic, wood or laminate flooring in place of wall-to-wall carpet. Wash bedding and rugs in hot water whenever possible to kill dust mites.
  • Keep pets out of bedrooms.
  • Keep windows closed during peak allergy hours and seasons. Use air conditioning if possible. If you must work outside, remove your shoes before coming into the house, and remove your clothing to the laundry room immediately.
  • One of the most effective methods of reducing allergy symptoms is investing in a central vacuum system. Unlike traditional vacuum systems, even those equipped with HEPA filters, a central vacuum hose suctions virtually all dust, allergens and particulate matter from your home, then transports it through a series of tubes between your walls to a sealed container away from your main living spaces, such as a basement, closet, garage or attic. A central vacuum system can be easily installed and retro-fitted to an existing home in as little as one day. It has the added advantage of being easy on the back. There is no lugging around of a vacuum cleaner, just a portable hose that connects to specially installed outlets throughout your home. Some models even allow for the hose to be stored in the wall, so all you do is pull it out, vacuum, and then let it retract back into the wall.

CREATIVE CENTERPIECES: USING WHAT YOU HAVE

Florist with tulipsMany people who enjoy entertaining avoid the question of a table centerpiece until the last minute—or often altogether. If you claim you aren’t creative enough to arrange your own table flowers, or loathe spending the money on a purchased centerpiece only to end up with a stiff, unimaginative triangle of blooms for your trouble, try these suggestions. I have found that many lovely centerpieces can be put together quickly and inexpensively using materials you already own.

  • Keep it simple and striking, especially if you are pressed for time. Generously fill a large glass cylinder vase with one type of flower that suits the season and style of the occasion. Sunflowers, tulips, daisies and even cut branches are all good choices. If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid to use the stuff growing freely in ditches and open fields, like Queen Anne’s Lace, wild daylilies, sweet peas or Black-eyed Susans. For an extra flair, add some small votive candles that pick up the color of the flowers, or stick with classic white.
  • An interesting mirror makes a stunning base for a centerpiece, with the reflection of flowers and candles giving you twice the effect, especially for evening gatherings. Scour discount stores, garage sales and flea markets for the mirrors—just make sure the size is appropriate for your table. Also, try using several small mirrors of varying sizes on a table, placing a different size or color candle on each.
  • One of the easiest and reliably attractive ways to dress your table: fill a beautiful glass bowl three-fourths full with water and float one or two spectacular flowers in it.
  • If you happen to have a handful of pretty bottles around the house—clear glass, old wine bottles, or cobalt blue are especially nice—place a single stem of bloom in each and weave them in a line down your table.
  • Fabric is an element that can be incorporated into centerpieces. Scarves, cloth napkins and bandannas can all be used to loosely wrap otherwise plain containers. Add flowers that match the mood and your table will be instantly accessorized.
  • Buy potted flowers from the grocery store and arrange them in a handsome bowl or basket. Arranging them snugly will allow you to tilt them at angles to create a rounded, natural shape overall.
  • If you have the time, you can make an arresting centerpiece by potting up some of what is in full bloom in your garden and displaying it in a gorgeous ceramic bowl or terra cotta pot. Try to do this a day in advance to give the plant time to acclimate to indoor surroundings. You can replant it later or use it as a container planting outside after your party.

Rule of thumb for table flowers: They should enhance the occasion, not distract from it. Centerpieces should be no taller than about 12 inches so as not to prevent seated guests from seeing each other over the top of the flowers. This rule can be bent somewhat if you have a very tall, elegant arrangement with a visual mass that rises above the heads of seated guests. Be careful not to get top heavy with it, though; you don’t want something so precarious it can crash into someone’s plate. Also, if you are serving buffet style, do not place lit candles where guests need to reach over them. Sleeves can easily catch on fire in such situations.

 

DEALING WITH ANIMAL DANDER

family with dog 500x300Dander is made up of the minute scales from fur, hair, feathers or skin of animals. Every animal’s dander is different, which is why some people can tolerate dogs but not cats and vice versa. Most people with allergic reactions to animal dander are responding to dog or cat dander, but dander from birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses and many other animals can also cause problems, depending on the individual’s sensitivity. Sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, sinus congestion and even difficulty breathing can be caused by dander allergy. Dander is sticky and can survive for months in an environment. It attaches itself to dust.

There is no such thing as a true hypoallergenic animal, but some breeds of dogs do seem to cause fewer allergic problems than others. People with dander allergies can safely keep pets without fur or feathers, such as turtles, snakes or fish. But if you have someone in the home with a dander allergy who simply cannot give up their beloved creature, there are strategies you can follow to keep symptoms at a minimum.

  • Keep animals out of the bedroom at all times, and create other pet-free zones in the home.
  • Change the filters in your furnace and air conditioning frequently.
  • Consider removing carpets and replacing them with tile, wood, or vinyl flooring. Wash throw rugs in hot water frequently.
  • Use blinds instead of drapes, especially in bedrooms.
  • Wash hands after handling animals, and never hold the animal close to the face.
  • Launder bedding in hot water to remove dander that may travel into the bedroom on clothes or shoes.
  • Use portable air purifiers in the home.
  • Feed pets high quality pet food and consider a coat supplement. Both efforts will reduce shedding and increased flaking of dander from the pet.
  • Vacuum frequently with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. For best results, invest in a central vacuum system. Unlike traditional vacuum cleaners, which re-circulate some of the dander and irritants back into the home environment, a central vacuum system will remove virtually all contaminants through the hose and into behind-the-wall tubes which lead to a sealed container away from living space, such as the basement, garage, or even a closet. This unit can then be easily emptied by a non-allergic member of the household.

GROUT CLEANING

480742343 shower doorI find getting soiled grout to look good again is a chore that confounds many homeowners, especially if stains have been left untreated for a long time. But with the right product, grout can be cleaned well enough to sparkle like new.

Start with the mildest solution and then work your way up to stronger stuff if stains are stubborn. For example, some people swear by plain old vinegar or baking soda to clean grout. If using vinegar, dilute with an equal part of water. Baking soda can be mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste. Then spray or dab on a short length of grout and scrub with a stiff brush. Avoid metal brushes, as they can erode grout. An old toothbrush is generally not stiff enough. Use a small circular motion for best results. Rinse well with water and mop or sponge dry.

If after testing a small section, the grime remains, consider the following options, always remembering to use good ventilation and keep all cleaning products well labeled and out of the reach of children. Never mix cleaning products, as the combined chemicals can give off harmful gases.

  • Everyday household cleaners like Mr. Clean, Lysol or Spic ‘n’ Span can work well on grout, using the above technique.
  • Powdered oxygen bleach is nontoxic, doesn’t give off harmful fumes, and is safe on colored fabrics and grout alike. Stain molecules are literally broken into pieces by the oxygen ions, which makes them easy to rinse away. Mix oxygen bleach with water as directed and apply to dry grout so it soaks in deeply. Let sit for at 15-30 minutes, then scrub with a stiff brush, applying more solution to each section as you scrub. Wipe clean with fresh water. To keep grout looking good after the initial deep cleaning, use oxygen bleach in the cleaning water each time you wipe or mop the tile, and let sit for 30 minutes without rinsing. Then rinse with fresh water.
  • Hydrogen peroxide sprayed, mopped or sponged on grout can be an effective stain remover. For stubborn stains make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub with a sponge or brush. Wear gloves and avoid getting on clothes.
  • A solution of half bleach and half water can be sprayed on shower grout at night after everyone is in bed and all items have been removed from the shower. Rinse off in the morning. Again, use adequate ventilation when applying bleach, and never mix bleach with other cleaners.
  • Some homeowners get great results on grout by using scrubbers that are powered by rechargeable batteries and come with different attachments. Available for around $30 retail, they can be a small but worthwhile investment.
  • Steam cleaners can also be effective on grout.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A HOUSE CLEANING SERVICE

111779891If you’re seeking relief from the constant cycle of housekeeping chores, there are many options to choose from in housecleaning services. Here are some considerations to help you make a good choice for your personal needs:

How often? If you can’t afford weekly cleaning service, other options are usually available. You can get bi-weekly service, monthly cleaning, or even one-time assistance for a special occasion. If the latter is the case, don’t wait till the last minute to arrange for it. Cleaners have set schedules and they will need to work you in around their regular customers.

Do they provide their own cleaning supplies? If so, that will affect the price. If you have particular products you prefer, ask if you can supply them, and how it will affect the fee structure.

Are they bonded or insured? Residential cleaning services with offices and overhead cost more, but their employees are usually bonded and insured. On the other hand, if an independent cleaning person is referred to you from a friend or professional you trust, that might be satisfactory, and their rates will probably be more reasonable. At any rate, always ask for more than one reference, and follow up on them.

What services will be rendered for the fee? There is a difference between a maid service and a housecleaning service. A maid will often do light housework, including changing sheets and making beds, tidy up and do some laundry. Most cleaning services will not do laundry, make beds, or do windows. Some will take out the garbage and load the dishwasher—ask. The standard housecleaning package includes cleaning and sanitizing kitchen and bathrooms, vacuuming, and thorough dusting. For an extra fee, the package can accommodate laundry, polishing woodwork, cleaning light fixtures, windows and/or floor waxing.

How does payment work? Typically, prices are based on square footage of your home. Ask people around your community about going rates. Arrange payment systems up front. Will you pay each visit? Monthly? What form of payment is accepted?

Last, consider a house cleaning gift certificate for new parents or someone undergoing extensive treatment for an illness. It is a thoughtful gesture that will be greatly appreciated.

RAGWEED ALLERGY PREVENTION

Beautiful yellow goldenrod flowers blooming

It’s a shame that a plant as pretty as ragweed causes so much misery. But come midsummer, with its proliferation in the Midwest and Eastern states, along with each plant’s ability to produce up to a billion grains of windborne pollen, ragweed is a scourge to thousands of allergy sufferers.

Though the plant itself is not harmful, the oversensitive immune systems of the allergy-prone convince the body to treat it like an invader, causing the runny nose, puffy eyes, itchy ears and general respiratory discomfort that are the hallmark symptoms of pollen allergy. Asthma sufferers may also find that ragweed season triggers or intensifies asthma symptoms.

(A side note: While similar in appearance, ragweed is often confused with goldenrod, a valuable native plant also used increasingly in garden design. Goldenrod generally does not cause allergic reactions. Research photos of both plants so you can tell the difference).

While there is no cure for ragweed allergy, several strategies I have found can help sufferers breathe easier when the plant reaches its peak season. While you should consult your doctor with serious allergy concerns, these common sense tips will augment any medications or treatments offered by your medical practitioner.

Keep tabs on pollen counts in newspapers, or on the web. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology on the Internet publishes pollen counts by region. Avoid the outdoors when pollen counts are high. If possible, stay in an air conditioned environment equipped with a HEPA filter, especially when you sleep. At the very least, keep windows closed during peak pollen hours.

Predawn hours are peak time for ragweed pollen in rural areas, but depending on weather, urban areas will peak between 10 am and 3 pm. Damp, rainy and cool temperatures below 50 degrees F will slow pollen release.

I have everyone remove their shoes when they enter my home. A great deal of pollen and irritants are tracked in the house on footwear.
Pollen is carried on clothing, too. Remove clothing to a laundry area when you undress, and wash promptly.

You can leave ragweed-dense areas and go to other parts of the country during midsummer for relief, but don’t feel you have to move away from where you live. Research has shown that people with pollen-related allergies often will develop allergies to different plants in different locales.

A worthwhile investment for comfort, health and cleaner living is a central vacuum system. Traditional vacuum cleaners, even if they are equipped with HEPA filters, can suck up and then re-circulate dirt and fine pollutants back into your indoor air. A central vacuum system, by contrast, collects and contains even the tiniest particles of dust and pollen, virtually all of them, then transports it through the hose and interconnected plastic tubing behind your walls to a sealed container. When the container is filled, it can be emptied and the contents disposed of. Many allergy sufferers maintain that their central vacuum systems are the most important allergy-fighting tool at their disposal.