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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.


Brass statue of the jockey on a horse

Tiny objects and tight spaces require special treatment when it comes to cleaning. While routine cleaning is the norm, sometimes it’s necessary to zoom in and clean the corners, crevices and creases of our home furnishings. Here are some tips to help.

Your first line of defense: frequent dust removal. This will prevent build-up that makes cleaning more difficult. Microfiber dusters can work well if you use a gentle and thorough approach. Even better: you can buy a great vacuum attachment kit for exactly this kind of cleaning, complete with an array of tools so diminutive they’re cute. Attach the tool and the adapter included to any vacuum hose and whisk away dust from keyboards, sound systems, sewing machines and more.

Decorative knickknacks and figurines: If dust has slowly turned to fine grime in the tiny angles of decorative objects, you have a few options. If objects are nonporous and submersible in water, it may be easiest to soak them in a solution of mild dish soap and warm water. Carefully clean objects with an old soft-bristle toothbrush, then rinse with a vinegar and clear water solution. Towel-dry with a clean cotton cloth. If water immersion isn’t an option, you’ll have to go with a more tedious technique. A tiny, good quality artist’s brush with very stiff bristles can be used to work out the dirt. You may be able to dip the brush slightly in a mild cleaning solution of white vinegar and dab at the corners. Avoid liquid soaps, which will leave a dull residue.

Window frames, baseboards, cupboards, fine cabinetry, picture frames, leather furniture. Gently vacuum what you can with a soft bristle attachment, or the artist’s brush may be useful if you are working around a delicate photo or painting. Another technique: wrap a credit card in thin flannel and run it carefully along straight edges or seams. Repeat with a fresh section of flannel until clean. If area to be cleaned is not sensitive to moisture, you can dampen the cloth slightly in a mild vinegar and water solution.

Keyboards, motherboards, electronics. These objects can’t be cleaned with anything wet or even moist without risking damage. Use the tiny tools vacuum attachment mentioned above or a can of special air propellant designed for this task.

Other tiny tasks: Old toothbrushes are time-honored scrubbers, of course. A clean cotton swab is another handy cleaning tool for corners or hard-to-reach small places. If the surface is impervious to moisture, dampen the swab with mild cleaning solution first. If you tend to the obsessive side, try wrapping a layer of thin flannel around a chrome needle used to inflate basketballs. How’s that for an itsy-bitsy cleaning tool?


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.


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.


…on energy, that is. Are your drawers stuffed with old batteries and cell phones you Internet_icon_6(rightly) don’t want to toss in the trash? Is your closet space jumbled with outdated computer monitors and printers? Is that old refrigerator in the basement worth the hefty watts it racks up on your monthly electric bill? Probably not, but who wants to haul it up the steps?

Solutions abound for recycling unwanted, energy-consuming devices. Check out local sources online by typing in key words on Internet search engines, and soon you’ll be freeing up space in your home, doing the environment a favor, helping out someone in need and maybe even earning a few bucks.

Refrigerators: Some utility companies and other organizations will pick up old refrigerators in working condition and even pay you for them, anywhere from $35 to $50. The refrigerators must be empty and clean, plugged in and running the day they are picked up, which is scheduled in advance.

Computers and Electronics: Did you know full-service Best Buy stores will accept many working and nonworking items for free recycling and disposal, regardless of where they were purchased? Certain restrictions apply, but no appointment is necessary. You can drop off items any time during regular business hours.

C-PAP Machines: Machines used to restore adequate oxygen intake to those who suffer from sleep apnea can save lives. If you upgrade to a newer device, the old one can be recycled and distributed to a patient who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Cell Phones: Corporate stores of both Verizon and Sprint will refurbish used cell phones, chargers and headsets regardless of make, model or service provider, and donate them to victims of domestic violence. Drop off items anytime during regular business hours. Nonworking cell phones are properly recycled and disposed of.

Batteries: Some Batteries Plus stores will recycle batteries from laptops, cell phones, cameras, watches, even motorcycles and cars, as well as your everyday rechargeable and single-use lithium batteries. They don’t take alkaline batteries.


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.


nx_light_bulb energy saving_LABEL2black2Major holidays mean heavy kitchen use in most households, as families prepare large meals for festive gatherings. High efficiency appliances have come a long way over the years to reduce their carbon footprint. You can also reduce the cost of kitchen energy during the holidays and all year round in simple ways:

  • Try not to peek at what’s cooking.Every time you open a heated stove, it’s forced to work harder to restore its set temperature.
  • Plan your fridge forays.Don’t open the door multiple times to retrieve multiple items. Instead, remove what you need for any given task at the same time.
  • Use the right burner for the right pot.A small pot on a large burner is a waste of energy. A large pot on a small burner takes longer to heat food to the appropriate temperature.
  • Rethink the freezer setting.If your ice cream is rock hard, the temperature is probably set too low, using unnecessary energy to freeze food.
  • Use an energy-efficient small appliance like a toaster oven or crock pot when possible, rather than heating up the whole stove.
  • Only preheat when the recipe calls for it.Time the preheating so you are ready to put the food in when the oven is ready.
  • Water will boil fasterif you put a lid on the pan.
  • A self-cleaning ovenwill consume less energy if you start the cleaning process immediately after cooking something. The oven temperature will be that much closer to the high heat it must achieve to clean itself.



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.


preparing cookingAfter everyone has happily stuffed themselves on turkey with all trimmings, there is the dreaded cleanup. Make the process easier on yourself with these tips:

  1. Don’t scrub yourself silly. To remove stubborn crusts from roasting pans, wipe out as much of the residue with a paper towel first. Then fill the pan to a manageable level with soapy water, and place in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remove pan carefully, allow it to cool, then scrape up loosened food with a rubber spatula. Dump out the pan and wash it with a sponge. You’ll get a squeaky clean pan without risking damage to the surface with harmful abrasives, and give yourself more time to nap on the couch.
  2. Don’t overlook disposables. With many communities now embracing recycling, aluminum pans are an easy choice for big dinners, especially if you’re traveling by car, and they don’t have to end up in landfills. Bonus for the family pet: You can let the pup lick the pan, then simply rinse and recycle. Make sure you choose a pan heavy enough for its contents, though, or you could end up with the biggest mess of all, and risk burning yourself if it collapses. Look for aluminum turkey roasters that include a sturdy wire support frame, and use a new roasting pan every year as a precaution against leaks. Nothing will dampen appetites more than the smell of charred drippings smoking on oven coils.


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.