Spring Gardening Time!

Spring is almost here and it’s time to think about your garden! You’ve been cooped up all winter, and now all you want is to surround yourself with bright colors: greens, reds, yellows, blues…it’s time to glow and grow!

Here’s a basic guide for what you should plan to do this spring in your yard:


Check your garden for winter damage. While we’re in Florida, we don’t have to worry about snow damage, but there’s always other elements that can affect our yard. Have any boughs broken off in storms? Is the mulch in good shape? You want to replant shrubs that might have been pushed up. Try not to walk on muddy areas as footsteps compact the soil.

You want to look at the hardscaping items as well. What is hardscaping? This is anything in your landscape that is inanimate. Your retaining walls, pavers, outdoor kitchens, decks, driveways…things like that. Check all of these for rot or other forms of damage. This would be a great time to toss new mulch in the beds, give that fence a fresh coat of paint.


Start the seeds of vegetables and annuals indoors 6-8 weeks before you plan to plant them. It’s a great idea to get a calendar and make a planting schedule so that seedlings mature at the right time for your area.


This is the time. Remove dead branches and shape plants once new growth appears. Hold off on pruning spring bloomers until after they flower.


Starting with areas where spring blooming bulbs are peeking out of the ground to enhance your color displays. Don’t forget to rake out surface debris and cut back on your perennials and ornamental grasses. It’s best to do this before the new growth appears. Pour on several inches of compost or manure which will add slow-release nutrients, suppress weeds, and conserve water.


When the new growth comes, it’s time to split. Transfer extra clumps into bare spots or give them away.


Remove surface debris such as leaves or mulch from vegetable beds. This helps warm the soil. You want to avoid compaction, so wait until the soil has dried out before tilling. If the soil crumbles when you try to make a ball it’s time to work the beds. Add compost, manure, and trace mineral sbefore planting early crops of lettuce, radishes, kale, peas, and onions. You might want to protect young plants from late frosts with a cloche or cold frame.


You want to place early season annuals around bulbs or in containers for extra color. This is when you’ll plant summer bulbs, so these will keep the bed colorful until they grow. Wait until all danger of frost has passed before you plant petunias and marigolds.


Make sure that fountain is clean, the filter is replaced. Turn on pumps and ensure the water is circulating. For natural water gardens like ponds, you can add beneficial plants or apply other algae control methods.


Birds and other wildlife are amazing at controlling pests. They balance the ecosystem and are just plan fun to watch. Add nesting boxes to attract different birds. Give consistent, clean water to encourage them. Plant natives that offer nectar, seeds, and berries and make sure they have trees and hedging for nesting and shelter.

The Wearing of the Green

St. Patrick’s Day is approaching and people all around the world are picking out their green clothing, preparing to dye their beer green, and are whistling old Irish tunes…but do you know what the traditions of St. Patrick’s Day represent? Here’s the story behind the symbols:


St. Patrick lived in the fifth century and is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. He was born in Roman Britain and then kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave when he was 16 years old. It is said he banished the snakes from Ireland and brought Christianity to the island.

The legend of him banishing the snakes isn’t very likely, however. The island nation was never home to any snakes. The concept of “banishing the snakes” is most likely a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the fact that within 200 years of his arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.


Did you know that if you don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns can see you and then they might pinch you? That said, the color first associated with the day was not green. St. Patrick was associated with the color blue, but in the 17th century that began to change, because green is one of the colors of Ireland’s tri-color flag. This has continued on to the “Emerald Isle,” and the lush green landscapes of Ireland, the color of spring, and even the shamrock.


These tiny gold-loving fairies were originally called “lobaircin,” which means “small-bodied fellow.” The belief is that they would use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, they were cranky and responsible for mending the shoes of other fairies. They were known for their trickery, which they used to protect their pots of gold. In Ireland, they have their own holiday on May 13th, but they do love to come out and party on St. Patrick’s Day!


While cabbage was a staple of the Irish diet, Corned Beef was not. They would traditionally eat the cabbage with Irish bacon, but when Irish immigrants came to America they couldn’t afford that, so they substituted it with corned beef…a cheaper alternative they picked up from Jewish immigrants.


The shamrock, also called the “seamroy” was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland. It symbolized the rebirth of spring. Later, as the English began to seize Irish land, the Irish protested the laws against use of their language and practice of their religion by wearing the shamrock as a symbol of pride in their heritage.


After the English conquered the irish and forbade the use of their language, the Irish turned to music to help them remember important events and cling to their heritage. It also stirred emotion and galvanized people, so the English monarchy, including Queen Elizabeth I, outlawed the music…even so far as decreeing that all artists and pipers were to be hanged on the spot. That said, music has always been a staple of Celtic culture, where religion, legend, and history have been passed on through stories and songs. Today, the music has worldwide popularity, with groups like the Chieftains, Clancy Brothers, and even the Pogues having made the style popular. They might use the fiddle, the uilleann pipes (which is an elaborate bagpipe,) a tin whistle (usually made of nickel-silver, brass, or aluminum,) the ocarina (which is often made of clay,) and the bodhran, which is an ancient type of frame drum which was used in warfare.

When Should I Replace my Water Heater?

Many cannot consider the modern home without the luxury of hot water. The lowly water heater is given little thought until the water runs cold or there is a puddle forming around it. Here’s how to determine if you should replace or repair a faulty one.


Most water heaters last a little over 10 years and newer models can be more efficient. If your is showing problems, it might be cheaper in the long run to replace the unit and lower your utility bill.

Tepid Water

If your water just isn’t hot any more, the problem could be with the thermostat, a failed heating element, or built up sediment.

Popping Circuit Breaker

If your water heater trips your circuit breaker, it could be that the heater is working too hard. Perhaps one heating element is out, the thermostat may be incorrectly set or there may some other damage responsible.

Water Everywhere

There are two ways water can come out of a water heater. The first is properly through its pipes and drain. The second way is through a leak. If a valve or any of the pipes or fittings are the source of the leak, the damage can be repaired cheaply.

If the tank itself is leaking, usually due to corrosion, it must be replaced.

Unfortunately, a leak may not be noticed when it first occurs and water damage and mold can result. Leak detectors will sound an alarm when a leak first forms. More expensive leak detectors can be installed to shut off the water automatically.

A Fluid Ounce of Prevention

By draining a water heater tank once a year, you flush the sediment and increase the heater’s efficiency. First, turn off the electric or gas, and shut off the water. Allow the water to cool to avoid scalding. Connect a garden hose to the drain valve and open slowly, checking for leaks. To avoid waste, you can then water your lawn, but delicate plants may suffer from the high mineral content.

5 Things Kids Will Love in their Backyard

Forget about lengthy car trips to the next park, you can bring adventure right into your backyard these days with some fun ideas to keep the children occupied for hours on end.


How do you find cheap backyard toys for kids? Read on!

Trampolines are popular with kids because they love to jump up and down on anything. So save your bed and sofa. Buying a trampoline for your backyard will give the children hours of laughter, a good workout and leave a happy tired child at the end.For safety reasons, one child at a time should use the trampoline and somersaults should be attempted only by experienced bounders. Your trampoline should come with an encircling net that will prevent the bounders from falling off the trampoline.

Swing Sets

Swings and slides have always been a number one favorite with children. You could build a swing from a tire or you could buy one of many available swing sets available today which are relatively easy to mount. These sets come with several swings mounted on timber and have a slide attached. You can mix and match several combinations to suit your tastes and the size of your yard.

Adult supervision is a good idea to prevent smaller children running in front of the swing in use. Secondly, Kids jump out of swings. Surround the swing area with a material that will ease landings, like sand, pea gravel, bark or recycled rubber. Place a weed barrier down before filling your surface material.


Sandboxes are great fun for children of all ages. Keep them occupied for hours as they build structures made of sand or dig tunnels deep into a sand hill. The cost it low, and you get double use out of their toys.

For safety and hygiene, keep your pets away from the sand pit. The sandbox needs good drainage so it can dry out, and you should use only high quality pure sand. Rake the sandpit regularly, keep it covered when not in use and supervise children so no sand gets eaten!

Inflatable Pool

On hot days and if you live far from the beach, hours of wet fun are possible by installing an inflatable above ground pool in your backyard. Use a slide for added fun or play with special water toys (such as water basketball) for fun family games.

Always cover the pool when not in use to prevent a child drowning. Always supervise children at play in a pool to prevent accidents. Make sure any installation such as drains or pumps are properly covered so no hands can get stuck.


You can build a playhouse for the children out of timber if you are good at woodwork, or you can buy a plastic one that you assemble yourself. Children love imaginative play. A small structure can be a castle, a clubhouse, or home just like mother’s. Their playhouse will keep them busy day after day. Make sure that:

  • Fingers and heads cannot get trapped in railings.
  • The structure is safe.
  • There are no sharp edges that a child can fall on.

Snakes and insects cannot get in. If this is an issue, raise the house off the ground.

Valentine’s Day At Home – Food Fun

Staying in for Valentine’s Day can be the best thing going! All you need to do is set the mood, set the food, and all is good! Sometimes, the intimacy of staying in can be the most romantic thing you can do. Who needs the noise and crowds of multitudes of other couples also trying to do the “Valentine’s Day” thing? The chance that you might meet friends who might distract you from the one you love?

Stay in, and make a super supper! Set the mood by setting the table, adding candles, a great playlist of romantic music, and let romance and love do the rest!

You can find many recipes online, but here’s a great easy to make gourmet Valentine’s menu:

APPETIZER – Shredded Brussel Sprouts and Ricotta Toast

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes


  • 30 (1/2″) slices baguette or rustic country-style bread, or 15 slices Pullman bread, cut in half diagonally
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
  • 1 pound brussel sprouts, trimmed, halved lengthwise through root
  • 2 cups high-quality whole-milk ricotta
  • Flaky sea salt


    1. Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 375°F. Arrange bread on 2 rimmed baking sheets and brush with 1/4 cup oil. Toast until lightly browned, 8–10 minutes.
    2. Cover raisins with very hot water in a small bowl and let sit until ready to use, at least 5 minutes.
    3. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high. Toast pine nuts, stirring often, until browned, 4–6 minutes. Transfer to a small plate; let cool.
    4. Whisk shallot, lemon juice, honey, mustard, kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a large bowl. While whisking, stream in remaining 1/4 cup oil.
    5. Thinly slice Brussels sprouts with a sharp knife or shred with shredding blade of a food processor. Transfer to bowl with dressing and stir in raisins. Toss to coat and let sit 15 minutes.
    6. Spread toasts with ricotta (about 1 Tbsp. each). Fold pine nuts into Brussels sprout mixture just before serving and divide among toasts. Top with lemon zest, pepper, and sea salt.

MAIN COURSE – Chicken, Mushrooms and Squash with Lemon Cream over Orzo

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 4-5 boneless chicken thighs
  • 3-4 cups of white mushrooms – washed, stem removed, and sliced
  • 2 medium squash – washed and either julienned, long thin strips, or chopped
  • 1 small shallot – finely chopped
  • 1 lb orzo
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lemon
  • chopped chives for garnish
  • seasoning – salt, pepper, paprika


  1. Start by prepping mushrooms, squash and shallots per ingredient list, set aside.
  2. Boil water for pasta per box directions. Season the water with salt (3-4 pinches) (Add 1 lb of orzo once water comes to a boil. Cook per package instructions, remove, drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking – set aside)
  3. While water is coming up to boil, Season chicken with salt, pepper and paprika – light coat of each on both sides. Note: go light on the paprika
  4. Add 1-2 teaspoons of canola or vegetable oil to heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) for 5 minutes on medium heat. Watch closely, once oil starts to lightly smoke you are ready to add chicken
  5. Carefully add seasoned chicken to skillet (be careful as oil may splatter)
  6. Cook chicken approximately 4-5 minutes per side until well browned. Given stovetop temps will vary, check every 2 minutes to ensure chicken is not burning. If you have food thermometer, cook until internal temp reaches 185
  7. Remove chicken from skillet
  8. Add Shallots, Mushrooms and Squash to skillet. Season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to coat with oil. Stir fry for 4-5 minutes until squash is tender. Taste and add salt if needed.
  9. Remove vegetables from skillet and lower heat to medium low
  10. Add heavy cream, juice from half a lemon, pinch of salt and pepper. Stir heavy cream frequently for 5-7 minutes until sauce thickens (stir frequently to keep it from burning, cook until sauce thickens). Taste and add salt, pepper, lemon juice if needed
  11. Add orzo to a bowl and add ¾ of the heavy cream and stir.
  12. Plate Orzo and top with desired amount of vegetables
  13. Top with chicken pieces and add sauce to chicken
  14. Top chicken and sauce with chopped chives as a garnish

DESSERT – Berry and Pound Cake Trifle

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes


  • 2 cups of raspberries – washed
  • 2 cups of blueberries – washed
  • 2 cups of strawberries – washed and sliced
  • 1 pound cake (you can pre-buy this or find a recipe)
  • vanilla pudding
  • Cool Whip
  • 1 lemon
  • sugar
  • fresh mint for garnish


  1. Trifle will be constructed with alternating layers of Pound Cake, Berries, Pudding and Whipped Cream. Use your judgment on how much to add for each layer, ideally thickness should allow for 2 complete layers of each to top the cup.
  2. Start by tossing berries with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar and juice from half a lemon. Let sit for 10 minutes, taste, and add sugar/lemon to desired taste
  3. Crumble pound cake and layer in bottom of glass
  4. Add layer of berries
  5. Top with layer pudding then whipped cream
  6. Repeat layers – pound cake, berries, pudding
  7. Topped with whipped cream and garnish with a few berries and fresh mint



Staffing Services and How They Work



With the economy falling on hard times in the last few years, many individuals have been pushed back into the job market after a long hiatus. The unfamiliarity of trying to find a job has left many feeling lost. Staffing services help bridge the gap between employers needing to meet company goals and qualified workers looking for employment.

A staffing agency can help you find the right job.

Apply to Several Jobs at Once

Staffing agencies help people who are searching for a job. It starts with employers listing jobs with the agency. Since the agency has already received applications, it looks for qualified applicants. If the agency thinks you are a match, it will have an initial meeting to interview you and give a skills or aptitude test to further determine your abilities. For positions requiring specific skills, agencies may advertise in the classifieds to find new applicants.

Early on, it will be necessary for you to consider their availability and willingness to relocate or work at home. A local agency can also help job seekers relocate to the area by helping them find a job before they move.

Assistance to Find the Right Job

A representative from the staffing agency will often work directly with you. Following the initial interview session, the agent will look for openings that fit your resume and experience. Whether it’s a specific opening or a recurring position, when the agent finds a match, they recommend you to the employer.

Once the staffing agency has made a choice on a candidate for a specific position, the candidate will then go on to interview directly with the employer. Pending the outcome of the interview, the employer will either directly hire someone or take them on a temporary basis.

Temp Work Can Be Long Term

As a temporary employee, you will work for the staffing agency, perhaps for more than one employer. The employers pay the agency and the agency pays you. In most cases, a temp position is project related and lasts a set amount of time. This is common for construction or manufacturing projects that need extra hands. However, secretarial positions can continue past the set time frame. If you are the great worker, you may be hired to a full time position.

Does Your Pet Get Enough Attention?

Deciding to buy or adopt a pet brings with it certain responsibilities, not unlike having a child. You should choose a pet that will match the amount of attention and time you have available to give it. Luckily, different pets have different needs and you have a wide choice.


Dogs are very sociable animals and need to live in a pack. Leaving a dog on its own for long periods of time will result in behavioral problems such as destructive behavior, howling/whining, dominant behavior or excessive urination.

Many dogs are returned to dog pounds or kicked out of the house because they have chewed shoes, carpets, doors; or they have started to bark excessively or whine; or perhaps they urinate indoors even though they are housebroken. All these problems can usually be solved by a change in the owner’s behavior.

Take time to exercise and groom your dog. Engage with him at feeding time. This will reinforce your position as pack leader and he will grow to respect you.


Although cats do not need to be exercised like dogs, they still need your love and attention. Cats like to be stroked each day and will love to hear the sound of your voice as you potter around with them by your side. They like to sit at your feet or in your lap while you read or watch TV.

Grooming is very important is long-haired cats. Many cats end up with skin infections or painful matting because the owner failed to take into account the grooming time needed.


Birds too need different degrees of attention. Some birds, like canaries, want very little attention, but other breeds such as parrots need a lot if interaction to be happy. Some breeds of parrots will mimic your voice and words. They will listen intently when you speak close to them and will come to you if you reward them with treats such as nuts or seeds.


While not known as affectionate creatures, if you plan on keeping reptiles it is a good idea to get them used to human handling during feeding and cleaning time. The only way to familiarize them with the human touch is to do so often. You will also find that handling your pet will be more enriching as an experience, always within the limits of safety.

Well-Meant Casual Promises of the New Year

Hey! It’s New Year’s Day! First day of the new year, first day to make things better, first day to embark upon those well-meant casual promises you made to yourself that you’re under no legal obligation to fulfill!

But where did the tradition of setting New Year’s Resolutions come from? How did it all start?

It is said that the ancient Babylonians were the ones who started this tradition. While this was in mid-March, when the crops were being planted, they celebrated a festival called Akitu. This is when they made promises to pay their debts and return objects they borrowed at the same time they crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king.

After Julius Caesar changed the calendar and set January 1st as the beginning of the new year, the Romans joined that practice. January is named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches. They believed he looked both back into the previous year and forward into the next…so they made promises to this deity of good conduct.

Early Christians made the first day of the new year the traditional occasion for thinking about past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, who founded the Methodist church, created a service for this: the Covenant Renewal Service.

Yet, despite the religious roots of New Year’s resolutions, it’s now mostly a secular practice. Instead of promising to do better to the gods, we’re promising ourselves. We usually focus on self-improvement – which might be why it’s hard to follow through on them. Did you know that as many as 54 percent of Americans make resolutions, but only 8 percent of us actually manage to achieve those goals? Don’t feel bad when you don’t fulfill that well-meant promise! We’re with you! Some of us have even adjusted our resolutions to be more attainable:

  • Lose weight or my temper. Whichever comes first.
  • Stop procrastinating. Starting tomorrow.
  • Get in shape. I choose round.
  • Stop drinking orange juice after I’ve brushed my teeth.
  • Lose weight by hiding it somewhere I’ll never find.
  • Lower my bills by digging a hole to put them in.

10 Ways to Make Your Job Interview Stellar

Applying for a job involves producing two very important pieces of work: a great resume and a stellar interview. Following are some tips to make you shine at that important interview and overcome the tight competition.

  1. Research the company you are trying to work for. You may answer questions about how you fit into the company in a specific way. Make note of any recent changes that have happened at the company or any awards they won. Mentioning at interview things that show you have researched them will make a good impression.
  2. Get there on time. Find out a least a day before where the interview is to take place exactly and if you can, go through a dry run where you time how long it takes you to get there. On the day, leave in plenty of time to compensate for unexpected traffic, a flat tire or similar. Arrive about ten minutes early for your interview.
  3. Looks count so make sure you are freshly showered with neat hair and nails. Do not make the mistake of forgetting to polish your shoes! Take a spare pair of stockings if you are a woman, in case you snag them on something. Make up should be appropriate for daytime or evening and not too over-the-top. If you are a man, don’t forget to shave. The stubble look is only okay if you are applying for a job in a band. Men should have clean fingernails too!
  4. Practice answering some typical questions with someone you trust. This will help you deal with nerves and make sure you are well-prepared with answers. Remember to smile.
  5. Prepare references by people who can sing your praises. Get permission beforehand so they are prepared if called by your prospective employer.
  6. Turn your cell phone off before the interview! Nothing says “I dont respect your time” like a cell phone ringing or buzzing through an interview. Answering it is a disqualification.
  7. Take any necessary documents and copies such as certificates, portfolio samples and the like. If you worked on a special project with a previous employer, say organizing a community event, bring the flyer or relevant newspaper clippings.
  8. Let them know why you are the best person for the job. Mention your strengths, relevant experience and generally highlight important parts of your resume. You can be more specific than your resume allowed you to be and give more detail as to projects you were involved in or achievements in previous jobs.
  9. Ask questions about the company and what they are offering with the post. The job ad was probably brief and not too specific. You will make a good impression by being prepared and asking relevant questions.
  10. Follow up the interview. If you do not hear anything, call up to see if they have made the final decision or if they are calling candidates back for a second interview.
  11. Finally, do keep in mind that competition is fierce and candidates are well-prepared. The company has to make a choice and sometimes there is an element of luck involved. If you do not get the job, put the interview down to experience and start preparing for the next.

Make Time for Manatees!

Winter is the best time to go to see the Manatees in Florida’s warmer waters. These creatures, known both as “Gentle Giants” and “Sea Cows” are very sensitive to cold temperatures, so they migrate in winter and early spring…giving us the perfect chance to meet these 1,000 to 3,500 pound creatures along Florida’s grass flats and aquatic meadows.

You can marvel at them from a platform viewing deck or even go swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking near them. The question is: Where?

And here’s the answer: five great places to spend time with these magnificent manatees.

Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River

This is the largest winter refuge for manatees on the Gulf Coast. While they can be found year round in Kings Bay, the area receives extra protections in winter months, so you can view them from the boardwalk vantage point. From April to November, however, visitors can swim, kayak, and canoe with manatees on scheduled tours. This location boasts crystalline blue waters the make viewing these manatees gliding below the surface ideal.

Blue Spring State Park, Orange City

This area covers more than 2,600 acres. Located between Sanford and Deland, visitors can come from November to March to see the West Indian manatees from the overlooks. There’ a half-mile boardwalk that runs along the Blue Spring Run where you can watch them and there are displays that provide history and education about the wildlife and ecological wonders of the area.

Lee County Manatee Park, Fort Meyers

From November to March the manatees come to this park for its warm waters. This is a protected sanctuary with an observation platform and landscaped park that spans 17 acres. It’s the perfect for a day out with the entire family. The waters are shallow, so visitors have plenty of unique opportunities to see the animals up close at this non-captive natural environment. The park also has many guided walks and educational activities, including a beautiful butterfly garden and a variety of picnic facilities.

Manatee Lagoon, An FPL Eco-Discovery Center, West Palm Beach

This beach has seen up to 800 manatees during a cold snap. There are two levels of exhibit and observation areas for viewing these manatees up close, where a 16,000 foot center features hands-on displays to learn about manatees and the eco-system around Lake Worth Lagoon. They also have guided walking tours of the exhibits.

Manatee Viewing Center, Tampa Electric, Apollo Beach

This is a designated manatee sanctuary where plenty of these gentle giants relax in the warm waters from November to April. Here, visitors can observe them in their natural habitat and there’s an education center where visitors can learn about them. This is a 50-acre facility, so you can take a break to see them swim through the Tampa Bay saltwater from atop the 50-foot viewing tower. There’s also a mangrove exhibit, butterfly garden, and gift shop.

But what about swimming with the manatees?

Crystal River has several companies which offer small, semi-private, and private manatee snorkeling tours. These are conducted from a boat and provide the snorkeling gear and the wetsuit, but of course, you can bring your own. They provide you an in-water guide who is with you from arrival to departure. These companies respect the ecosystem and avoid putting undue stress on the manatees and their habitat, so groups are kept small and you begin with educational videos, teaching you what you are allowed to do on your tour.

The Complete Kitchen: Gadgets for Greatness

Do you have a foodie in your life and you want to find the perfect Holiday gift for them? Or maybe you love to cook and the gift is for you? There are many wonderful kitchen gadgets you should explore! Here are just a few:

8-in-1 Kitchen Tool Bottle

This nifty tool combines multiple needs: 300ml measuring cup, two funnels, citrus squeezer, jar opener cheese grater spice grater, egg separator, and egg masher. It stacks up to form a cool and colorful wine bottle and is easy to keep clean!

Reusable Straws

These come in silicone or in stainless steel and are a wonderful way to sip and protect the environment. It’s great for keeping your lipstick in place!

Angry Mama Microwave Cleaner

This is a cute and funny design which looks like the mother who’s angry that her microwave was left dirty. She easily cleans the crud in minutes, steam cleaning your microwave with vinegar and water. The steam comes out of Mama’s head and softens the microwave stains to make it easier to clean.

Butter Spreader Knife

This knife curls your cold butter to make it softer and easier to spread. No more shredding bread! It can also be used with peanut butter! It’s dishwasher friendly and will not scratch easily.

Silicone Devil Oven and Toaster Rack Puller

No more oven burns! This devil stick pulls hot bakeware and oven racks closer, protecting you. It’s like a hand extension which hooks on the edges of baking dishes and the oven rack. This one looks like a devil…because who better to withstand the heat?

Whisk Cleaner

If you love whisks but hate trying to get the insides de-gooped and clean, this is the tool for you! It wipes the wisk in seconds, returns all of it to the bowl, and catches drips! Some even come with the whisk.

And for those who hate to cook but can never decide what’s for dinner…

Take Out Dice

If you’re always arguing about what to get for take out, this die will help you settle the argument! Each side as a different delectable dinner option, and depending on the type you get…they can be different things. The set pictured, for example, offers seafood, breakfast, Chinese, pizza, hamburgers, or tacos. Yummy food is just a roll away!

Ho Ho Holidays: Little Known Holiday Traditions

‘Tis the season for celebrating, and we’re pulling out our tinsel and plastic Santas. The lights adorn our houses, or in some cases, a menorah is placed in the window, ready for December 10th to come around for the first night of Chanukah.

We’re saying “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Chanukah,” or “Happy Holidays,” or “Season’s Greetings” and almost every radio station has been taken over with Christmas Carols.

We’re in the mood for giving, for loving, for peace on Earth and goodwill towards man.

What are some traditions for these holidays? Let’s take a peek:

One of the common threads in the Jewish tradition of Chanukah is eating fried foods. Because many of the countries on our tour involve the food, let’s start by explaining why fried foods are important.

Chanukah is the “Festival of Lights.” It is a celebration of freedom of religion, where the Jewish people, having been pushed out of their homes and temples by a polytheistic King who tried to get them to worship him, refused. They took to the mountains and hid. Eventually, they formed a rebellion, won their lands and temple back, and began the recovery. In the temple there is an Eternal Flame. It is said that when the flame goes out, the Temple in Jerusalem will fall…so it’s important to keep it lit. Sadly, when they began their recovery, they discovered only enough oil to last for one day. They used this oil to light the flame and began preparing more oil, but they knew it took eight days for this to be ready. A miracle happened though, and the oil kept the flame lit for eight days! This is why Jewish people across the world eat fried foods on Chanukah.

And now, our tour begins in South America.

Jewish people in Columbia have added a new fried food to their menu: Patacones, which is plantain slices fried in oil.

Meanwhile, Christians celebrating Christmas have a few unusual traditions. In Venezuela, for example, roads are closed to let people roller skate to early morning Christmas Mass. On their way, skaters will tug on the ends of long pieces of string tied by children to their big toes and dangled out of windows. Why was this tradition begun? Nobody knows…but guesses are that it is the tropical Venezuela’s alternative to sledding.

Mexicans perform the “posadas” which is a series of nine processions to re-enact the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary go in search of somewhere to stay. This ends in a Church service with food, games, and fireworks.

Moving our tour on to Africa, we come to Yemen and North Africa, where the seventh day of Chanukah is all about celebrating the heroines of the story. These communities mark this with Chag Ha’Banot, the Daughter’s Festival and celebrate Hannah and Judith, who fought against the oppression from the Assyrians. In Morocco, Jewish people also have a “Sfenj,” which is a fried jelly donut with juice and the zest of an orange.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, Christians enjoy their “tasty” Christmas treats of emperor moth caterpillars that are either sun-dried or deep fried. They say the bugs have a similar flavor to tea.

Continuing on to the Middle East, we have a few interesting traditions. In Israel, sufagniyot, round jelly donuts fried in oil, are enjoyed and menorah lights are burned and displayed for all to see them burning. In Istanbul, Turkey, Jewish people often sing a song in honor of the eight candles called “Ocho Candelas” and munch on fritters known as “burmelos.”

In Syria, Christians have its own local legend about the Nativity. Christmas presents are delivered, not by Father Christmas, but by the youngest of the camels that carried the three wise men to Bethlehem. Instead of a carrot for Rudolph, children leave water and hay outside their homes for this hard-working camel, and the load comes on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Eve.

Popping over to the Mediterranean, we can visit Jewish households chowing down on Precipizi, which is a fried pastry that involves a lightly sweetened, olive oil infused honey-covered treat.

Portugal’s Christian children eat a meal called a Consoada in the early hours of Christmas Day. They set extra places for “alminhas a penar…” the souls of the dead. Some believe that this is in hopes that the dead will provide a bountiful harvest.

There are many, many more Holiday traditions: Indian Jews dip wicks in coconut oil to light their menorahs, while Christian children there have Christmas banana trees or mango trees to light up instead of the Pine trees they lack.

Christmas brings more fun and funny traditions as well: In the Czech Republic, single Czech women stand with their backs to the front door on Christmas Eve and remove a shoe. They hurl it over their shoulder towards the door and how it lands predicts their romantic prospects for a year. If the toe faces the door, the thrower is destined to marry…sadly, the heel to the door is the opposite.

Whatever way you celebrate, and whichever holidays you observe, we wish you all an amazing Holiday Season!

5 Most Important Things when Buying a Car for Your Teen

As a parent, there are many ‘firsts’ you look forward to in your child’s life. First word. First steps. First day of school. First car. (Gulp!)

While a first car may be every teenager’s dream, it means sleepless nights for most parents. To help make the process of buying your teen their first car easier, there are several pieces

What’s the best car for teenagers?

of homework to do in advance. Insurance on teen drivers is significantly higher, especially during their first several years of driving, because of the high risk for crashes with young drivers. Now is a good time to evaluate your insurance coverage and make sure you can get discounts if your child makes good grades, takes driver’s education or goes crash free for a period of time. Insurance rates also vary based on the type of car your teen will be driving, so be sure to check whether a class of vehicle will get a lower rate.

Taking your teen to a car lot before you have set expectations and limitations may lead to disappointment and frustrations. To your teen, a car represents freedom and social status.Your concern is safety. So it’s a good idea to evaluate several considerations and discuss them before ever stepping foot out the door. AAA offers valuable information on buying your teen a vehicle through their dedicated teen driver education program, Keys2Drive . Beyond resources on insurance, licensing and shopping tips, the site offers tips and suggestions for keeping teens safe behind the wheel.

5 Things to Consider

There are five categories to consider: vehicle type, safety features, reliability, affordability and familiarity.

  1. Vehicle typeties back in to your insurance classifications – sports car, SUV, sedan, van. While your teen may covet a sports car or SUV, you may be concerned about the temptation to speed or roll-over risks and prefer a sedan.
  2. Safety features are fairly standard on recent model vehicles, but if buying an older model , you’ll want a checklist of the features you find most important: anti-lock brakes, airbags, automatic lights, etc.
  3. Reliability could become a factor when buying used vehicles. Perhaps you want to inquire about optional warranties, roadside assistance programs, check vehicle reports and make sure you get the vehicle privately inspected before purchase.
  4. Affordability is a big factor in most vehicle buying decisions, and in most cases, the cost of insurance, maintenance and gas mileage of that vehicle should also be included.
  5. Familiarity is an important category often overlooked. Is the vehicle you are buying your teen similar to what they learned to drive? If not, they need to learn to drive the new vehicle before being released onto the open road. Experienced drivers know how to adjust to different vehicles in terms of power, size and features, but new drivers do not have those skills yet.

By establishing expectations and guidelines, buying your teenager’s first car will be a shopping experience you both can enjoy. Visit the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles Web site to make sure you know all the rules and limitations on teen driving in the state, so your teen can enjoy their new car within the law. Once your teen has proven themselves, you can begin to enjoy not having to chauffeur them everywhere.

Holiday Pets: Pet Care When Visiting

Many pets, especially young puppies and kittens, seem to be at the center of any holiday disaster. Pulling down the decorations, marking presents under a tree, and nipping the one person who is a afraid of puppies. Even in the movie A Christmas Story, a pack of hounds destroy the Christmas turkey.

If this is your furry friend’s first Christmas with you, your pet may not know how to behave. Since your little friend is relatively new to your home, and maybe to holidays too, you need to be extra careful with his care and safety. Here are simple tips to ensure he survives with his good name intact.

Staying Home for the Holidays

  • Chewing: keep anything dangerous and chewable, such as ornaments, ribbons and wires, out of reach. Furthermore, do not let your pet chew on a real or artificial Christmas tree. Many holiday plants such as mistletoe, holly and poinsettia are also toxic if eaten by your pet.
  • Well–meaning guests can feed your pet tidbits that will make them sick, so make clear rules at the start of the visit. Chocolate and caffeine are big no-no’s where pets are concerned.  Sharp pieces of bones eaten by your pet may cause an intestinal bleed so it’s best to avoid giving bones.
  • Escape: Doors left open by distracted guests are also a means of escape so make sure your pet has an identification tag and you have a recent photo. Unusual activity in the house can confuse the pet, it may be better to close them in a quiet safe area until the visit is over. The same rule applies for New Year’s fireworks and noisy parades, these stress the pet so it is better to plan ahead ways of keeping them calm and happy.
  • Water should be available for your pet at all times; it is easy for them to get dehydrated. Do not let your pet ingest ice melt or antifreeze as they are potentially lethal. This is especially important when visiting friends and family during the holidays.

Visiting Someone for the Holidays

It’s important to be considerate towards other people and their homes, and remember that not everyone loves pets as much as you do.

  • Do not take the pet along if he might snap or bite at a stranger.
  • Do not let the pet bother other people with physical contact they may not want. Be tactful and let them ask to touch the pet rather than dumping the pet into their lap without being invited.
  • Do not let your pet run around breaking valuable items, or dropping hair on beds and clothes, or you will not be very popular with the host. Eliminating inside the home should not be allowed to happen either. All these behaviors can be avoided with some forethought and a crate suited to your pet.

Leaving Your New Pet Behind

Sometimes it is just not convenient to travel for the holidays with your pet. Someone in the family may be allergic, not have the space, be scared of pets and a variety of  reasons why you may have to leave you pet home. You may decide to leave your pet with a sitter or send them to an appropriate shelter for the period you’ll be away.

Pet Boarding Center

Make sure you visit the place and ask questions. The facility should look clean and welcoming. Do the pets look happy and well-cared for? Are the staff friendly to humans and pets?

Check with your vet. They may also board pets for the holidays.

There’s also some websites that can hook you up with people willing to board your pet in their home. This allows you to choose someone who might only have a couple of pets at a time, which gives your fur-baby more personalized attention.

Pet Sitter

Introduce your pet to the person (who may be an animal-loving friend or a professional sitter) a few times so that they already know each other and feel comfortable. Your sitter will need a list of emergency numbers to call as well as some information about your pet’s diet and exercise.

Lastly, leave your pet with a calm, confident goodbye to avoid upsetting them unduly.

What “Clear Title” Means

Simply put, ‘clear title’ means that ownership of the property (movable and immovable) in question is free from any outstanding legal claims or procedures. In simple terms, the items are yours. Alternative terms for the same meaning are good title, just title, or free and clear.

Another term you may come across in connection with titles is ‘lien.’ This means that the home or car in question has been used as security for a loan, in other words someone has given authority for the item to be taken if payments on the loan are not made. While a lien is in place, the item cannot be sold or transferred to other persons without being satisfied.

Car Title

Having a clear car title means there are no outstanding payments to be made on the car, and ownership is therefore clear and established. Conversely, if you are still paying off a loan for the purchase of your car, you do not fully own that car yet and do not have clear title. A clear title on a car is also known as a ‘pink slip’.

If you are buying a car, check the car’s history at carfax.com. Repossessed cars do not show up on the title, but they do show up on the car’s history. You will need to go to your local DMV to remove any names still holding title over the car.

Property Title

If you are buying a property you need to make sure there are no liens in place. The way to do this is to hire a company to research public documents for you and establish if the seller has clear title and is free to sell. If you pay for a property that was not rightfully the seller’s, then you have wasted your money and own nothing for your trouble.

Not having a clear title on your property may actually mean that you pay less tax and may be advantageous to you. This is because the interest payments you make on a home loan are deductible from your income for tax purposes. Owning your home free and clear will mean you pay higher taxes. If you have finished paying for your home, you could remortgage it for part of the equity value to carry out improvements and raise the value of the property.

4 Ways to Make Extra Money for the Holidays

Everyone feels the cash crunch at the end of the year. Just as in the lesson of the ant and the grasshopper, the winter months often need a little extra, especially for celebrating the holidays. Here are 4 ways to bring in the green.

1. Get a Job

Many retailers and shipping companies are looking for extra help during Christmas. Mall stores and big box retailers often hire temporary seasonal employees. Merry gentlemen can don the Santa suit, and elves that can get kids to smile for a photo are always in demand. Sometimes these seasonal jobs can lead to permanent employment, but usually the position is eliminated after ReGiftmas has ended.

2. Start a Business

If the weather cooperated, you could shovel snow. Many a seasonal business has started by doing similar work. Some seasonal business ideas include:

  • Hanging Christmas lights
  • Cleaning gutters and downspouts
  • Making and selling gift baskets
  • Sleigh rides or carriage rides
  • Selling yule logs, mistletoe, or Christmas trees

3. Sell Your Stuff in the Classifieds

Take a look in the garage, check all the closets, and clean out the kid’s rooms.  Sell old stuff and buy new gifts with it. Help someone stretch their holiday dollar by selling your used items in the classifieds.

Some people worry about when they can sell the item they are replacing. The answer is sell the old one as soon as possible. Let’s say you are getting a new washer and dryer. Selling your current set won’t “ruin the surprise” or leave unable to do laundry for more than a day or two. The best time to sell will be before the holidays.

4. Spend Time Not Money

Most people can remember a handful of gifts from their childhood. But we can remember all the people we shared those moments with.  Make sure that all the extra time and effort you put into the holidays give your family what they really want — time spent with you.

Is Your Child’s Crib Safe?

When thinking about crib safety, the focus is to prevent accidents and SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, for your baby. Being alert to the possible dangers will help you avert problems before they arise.

6 Ways to Make a Crib Safer

You can make a crib safer by being alert to potential problems.

The basic requirements of crib safety are:

  1. A firm tight-fitting mattress so the baby cannot get trapped between frame and mattress. Most mattresses have adjustable heights which you will need to lower when the baby can stand.
  2. No loose screws or other pieces that the baby can swallow.
  3. The slats should be close enough that the baby cannot slip through.
  4. No corner posts for the baby’s clothing to catch on.
  5. No places that the baby’s head can get trapped in the headboard or footboard.
  6. Keep any cords from nursery mobiles or nearby blinds out of the way.

Has This Crib Been Recalled?

If you want to make sure the crib has been tested for safety and quality, look for Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association certification. To learn if a crib has been recalled, check BabyCenter Product Recall Finder.

Safety Standards Have Changed

From 2011, drop-side cribs have been banned because the drop side can come loose or detach itself, trapping the baby or allowing her to fall out. Be aware of this issue if you are buying an older model crib.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now advises against crib bumpers or sleep positioners. The extra padding could potentially cover a baby’s airway and increase the risk of SIDS.   Continue to stay abreast of new developments and latest advice regarding the safety of your baby.

If buying an old crib, make sure there are none of the following:

  • Sharp edges
  • Peeling paint
  • Lead paint
  • Discontinued features
  • Missing/broken slats

Remove Dangers and Monitor Crib Activity

Make sure bedding fits the mattress properly and cannot come loose as there is a risk of suffocation. Do not overdo the amount of bedding as babies quickly overheat.

Sleepwear should not have ribbons or buttons which can be swallowed. Avoid drawstrings on clothing and toys, or baby gyms, as these present a hazard.

For added safety, do not leave your child unattended in a crib with a feeding bottle. Small pieces of rubber from the teat present a potential choking hazard. Put the baby to sleep on his back and consider getting a baby intercom, which will allow you to monitor your child even while he is asleep or playing in the crib.

Don’t forget a rested mom is an alert mom. Grab a quick nap every time your baby dozes off.

Save Money by Insulating Your Home

When you install good quality insulation for your home, you can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs. Insulation can be applied around doors and windows, ceilings and outer walls, and floors. Before starting out, conducting an insulation audit is a good idea. You can hire someone to make a thorough check or decide to do it yourself. Compare the thicknesses of insulation you find against the U.S. Department of Energy’s online fact sheet to determine the quality of the insulation you have.

Insulate as Much as You Can

Properly installed insulation can reduce your electric bill.

There is little risk that you will insulate too much, especially in an older home. Air leaks and drafts should be eliminated with spray foam, caulk or weather stripping. If you are worried about air quality, you can hire a technician to check your combustible appliances for emissions. This means that you can have peace of mind that your appliances are not leaking harmful carbon monoxide into your home.

Insulation types

Various types of insulation are available, each better-suited for application to a particular area. You can find out what should be applied by asking at the home improvement store or getting an installer to do it. The following are some types of insulation:

  • Fiberglass Insulation– Fits between joists in walls and attics.
  • Blown In Insulation– Fills in gaps and voids creating a seamless thermal blanket of protection
  • Rigid Foam Board Insulation– Used in the building of the exterior walls. Also used to insulate garage doors.
  • Spray Foam– This expanding foam fills cracks and gaps around doors, windows and pipes.
  • Reflective Insulation– This foil bubble wrap used to insulate walls, roof, and water heaters.

Understanding R-Value

Insulation is measured using the R-value, which indicates its ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness. You can find the R-value printed on the insulation. When calculating the R-value of a multi-layered installation, add the R-values of the individual layers. Keep in mind, the insulation must be properly installed to achieve its maximum R-value.

Different flow values are recommended depending on the climate where you live. You can find detailed online guides for your state.

Attics and ducts merit special attention. About 20% of air circulating in the ducts used for heating or cooling is lost, resulting in higher electricity bills. Where the duct is exposed, seal leaks with sealant and check all the connections at registers and vents. Most duct work is in the attic or under the floorboards. If possible, hire a qualified contractor to do the job for you.

An easy way to improve the insulation in your home is to check the attic. As a guideline, your attic insulation should be above the joists. The recommended level for most attics is R-38 or about 12-15 inches of insulation. R-49 may be recommended for very cold climates.

Classy Camping: What to Know When Buying a Used RV

Ready to buy an RV but you want to save money? Knowing the pros and cons of buying a used RV is the best way to make sure you buy a vehicle that is perfect for your needs.


  • You save a significant amount of money. Deprecation on an RV is immediate and substantial.
  • Can opt to rebuild, redecorate and restore the RV to your liking. Customization is easier when you start from used.
  • The RV you want might not be made anymore. This is the best way to find it.
  • Insurance will be cheaper for a used RV.


  • You never know what might be wrong with the RV: It might not be visible, so make sure you take extra precautions.
  • You may not be aware of how depreciated the RV is in value.
  • Often the manufacturer’s warranty has run out.
  • Can spend a considerable amount of money on upgrades.

Ten ways to improve your chances of getting a good used RV:

  1. Check it out. Make sure you do a walk-through before you buy the RV.
  2. Look very carefully for signs of mold. Even if you don’t see any water damage in the usual spots, sometimes there’s mold on the interior which can be signs of leaks or other water problems. Check the corners of ceilings and floors, the walls, and the corners and caulk in the bathroom around the fixtures. Don’t hesitate to check cabinets and closets. If they feel warmer than the rest of the RV, that may be a sign of mold. Bring a flashlight!
  3. Go over every inch of the ceiling. Look for brown spots, whether it’s bowed, or even coming down. Yes, a damaged ceiling can be repaired, but there’s a chance that’s a sign of more substantial problems being hidden.
  4. Do a close inspection of all the floors. The floors should be stable and sturdy. Too much give can indicate rotting.
  5. Look under the exterior trim and check the screws. Visible corrosion or rust could indicate water is getting in. If the screws still look clean and painted, the RV is probably in good shape.
  6. Open up and look inside all the exterior panels. Everything should look clean and dry.
  7. Test the walls. If you push with a fair amount of force and there isn’t too much give, you’re doing fine!
  8. Give the roof a thorough inspection. Look at all of the caulking to make sure everything is sealed. Check around the skylight and vent as well as the entire perimeter. You’re looking for old, blackened, crumbling or moldy caulk.
  9. Check that the roof is stable. Walk around the roof and make sure it feels sturdy and stable beneath your feet. This way, you can tell if there’s rot.
  10. Check the engine. Make sure it doesn’t smell burnt. Even if the oil has been changed, this is a way to tell if it’s been overheated to an extreme degree.

Halloween Stories, Snacks, and the Spooky Origins

Halloween is coming, so now’s the time to have some hauntingly good fun!

This year, we present: The origins of Halloween, a nice little Florida ghost story, and a fun and easy treat to make!

The Origins of Halloween

Before Halloween became the holiday we know, it was an old Celtic festival called Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. This superstition was passed down from generation to generation until the eighth century, when Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as the time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain, and the evening before became known as All Hallow’s Eve…and this eventually turned into Halloween.

Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, and of course, costumes. Oh. And candy. We mustn’t forget the candy! Did you know that one quarter of all the candy sold annually in the United States is bought for Halloween? Naturally, it’s one of a child’s favorite holidays!

And For the “Scary” Story

If you travel to St. Augustine, you might get a chance to meet the ghost that haunts Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill.

The building was constructed somewhere around 1745 and was home to Juana and Fransisco de Porras and their nine children. One of their youngest children was Catalina.

In 1770, when Catalina was about 18, she married Xavier Ponce de Leon. At this point, the house was owned by the British, who had used it as a storage barn. In 1783, the Spanish regained Florida from the British and they returned to St. Augustine. She found the house and she and her husband asked the governor to return it to her. They regained ownership in 1789, but she didn’t get to enjoy the house for long.

In 1785, a mere six years after being back in her childhood home, Catalina passed away. This all was pretty normal, and not much happened until about 1887 when the house was destroyed by a big fire that swept through St. Augustine. Thankfully, there were drawings of the house made in 1840, so a year later, the house was rebuilt on its original foundation to look just the way it had when Catalina had lived there.

There isn’t any particular story of why this house seems haunted, although there are two possible ghosts: Some believe the ghost may be Catalina, but others claim the ghost is a woman named Bridget who appears in a wedding dress. They say it’s a fleeting glimpse: Here and gone in a moment. Most of these sightings happen around the ladies room.

Some people have even caught a scent of the perfume. Of course, sometimes the aroma of the delicious food being cooked at the restaurant do cover that.

And they are not the only ghosts! There’s also supposedly a man in a black suit and hat who has been seen. As two men did die in the building: one in the 1887 fire and the other of illness in 1900.

Breathe easily, though! These ghosts don’t cause harm, and are believed to be friendly. You might get the feeling that someone is watching you, and the lights might flicker…but maybe, just maybe, they just want to enjoy a good meal with you?

Speaking of Food…

Do you like Devilled Eggs? Well…here’s a fun twist…

Devilled Egg Eyeballs!

First, hard-boil eggs and then peel the shells off. Want to make the perfect hard-boiled eggs? Click here to find out how!

Next, cut them in half and scoop out the yolk.

Combine the yolks with pesto, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise and mix until it’s smooth and creamy, then set it aside.

Here’s where the fun comes in: Dip a toothpick into red food dye and draw “veins” on the flat part of the whites.

Fill the holes with the yolk mixture then put a round dab of mayo in the center.

Stick a sliced olive in the middle of the whites, and there you go! A yummy Devilled Egg Eyeball!