How to Prepare for Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy- or Frankenstorm, as many people are calling it- is going to hit New Jersey this Monday and Tuesday. According to the latest weather reports, we should have rain starting Sunday night, with the worst of the storm occurring between Monday and Tuesday. Are you ready?

Maplewood Patch’s Mike D’Onofrio  came up with an excellent list of steps to take based on recommendations from the Red Cross. Look it over, and make sure that you’re set in case of power outages.

Have the Following Ready:

• A portable kit, stored in a sturdy, easy to carry, water resistant container should have enough supplies for three days. Check your kit and replace perishable stock every six months. Whether you purchase a kit or choose to build your own, your three-day kit should include:

• Water — one gallon per person, per day.

• Food — nonperishable, easy-to-prepare items such as tuna fish, peanut butter, crackers, and canned fruit.

• Don’t forget to include a manual can opener.

• A battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.

• A first aid kit.

• Prescription and nonprescription medication items. Include medical supplies like extra hearing aid batteries, syringes, etc.

• Copies of important documents, including birth certificates, insurance policies and social security cards.

• Sanitation and personal hygiene items.

• Extra cash. ATMs and credit cards won’t work if the power is out.

• Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.

• One blanket or sleeping bag per person.

• Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowls).

Know what to do if a hurricane watch is issued.

• Listen to weather updates from your battery-powered or hand-cranked radio.

• Bring in outdoor objects such as lawn furniture, hanging plants, bicycles, toys and garden tools, anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.

• Close all windows and doors. Cover windows with storm shutters or plywood.

• If time permits, and you live in an identified surge zone, elevate furniture or move it to a higher floor to protect it from flooding.

• Fill your vehicle’s gas tank.

• Check your disaster supplies kit to make sure items have not expired.

Know what to do if a hurricane warning is issued.

• Listen to the advice of local officials, and leave if they tell you to do so.

• If in a manufactured home, check tie-downs and evacuate as told by local authorities.

• Secure your home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve.

• If you are not advised to evacuate, stay inside, away from windows, skylights and glass doors.

• Do not use open flames, such as candles and kerosene lamps, as a source of light.

• If power is lost, turn off appliances to reduce damage from a power surge when electricity is restored.

(Information found at

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Liven Up Your Morning Coffee


Most of us start our days with a nice, hot cup of coffee. But, delicious as plain coffee is, it can get a little boring after a while. We all crave variety; it is, as a wise man once said, the spice of life. So why shouldn’t we have variety in our morning coffee?

Yes, you can go to Starbucks and get a venti-latte-extremo-cream drink. However, you need not wander farther than your home coffee pot for a cup of interesting coffee. And no, we’re not talking about the flavored creamers that can pack a lot of calories and a too-intense flavor. There are actually a number of things you can add to your coffee grounds to perk up the taste of your brew without overpowering it. We’ve listed a few of our favorites. Do you have anything that you like to add to your morning coffee?


1. Cinnamon and Nutmeg

A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, added to the coffee grounds before brewing, will give you coffee a warm, comforting flavor. Cinnamon has also shown some health benefits, such as potentially lowering blood sugar in diabetics. Plus it is a powerful antioxidant! 

2. Mexican Coffee

This twist on a classic Mexican drink will really perk up your morning. Add about half a teaspoon of cinnamon and cayenne pepper to your coffee grounds before brewing. The result is spicy and warm, with just enough kick to make it interesting. You might want to add a sweet creamer to the coffee as well, to make it really indulgent. And if you’re having this as a treat rather than a morning necessity, a dollop of coffee liqueur such as Kahlua will give you a truly luxurious drink. 

3. Cardamom

To get a distinctive Turkish flavor, try adding ground cardamom to your coffee grounds. Alternatively, you can add a cardamom pod to the pot of hot coffee. This will give you a rich, interesting flavor. 

4. Orange Zest

You can add orange zest to your coffee grounds before brewing. The result is similar to the chocolate/orange combination: earthy, with a hint of bright citrus. If you’re using a French press, just add the orange peel to the grounds and plunge away! 

5. Extracts

You can add all kinds of extracts to your coffee grounds. Vanilla is perhaps the best place to start. Just add a few drops to the grounds before brewing, and voila! Here, it is best to let the entire pot brew before you grab a cup, to get the full vanilla flavor. It will be subtle, but comforting. This goes well paired with a light vanilla creamer or, if you’re having an after-dinner treat, a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


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The Origins of the Elephant and the Donkey

No, we’re not talking about a fable- thought that does sound like the title of something from Aesop!

We mean the political mascots of the Democratic and Republican parties. You’re probably seeing a lot of these animals, now that the election is drawing so close. But have you ever wondered where those mascots came from?

The Democrat’s comparison to a donkey was not meant to be flattering. Originally, it was a derisive slogan used against Andrew Jackson in the 1828 presidential campaign. Jackson, however, being the stubborn, strong-willed man that he was, took the donkey and twisted it to his own uses. He began using it in promotional materials, turning a vice-his stubbornness-into a virtue.

It was not until political cartoonist Thomas Nast that the donkey became permanently associated with the Democratic party. In an 1874 issue of Harper’s Weekly, Nast drew a donkey dressed in a lion costume that scared the other animals away from the zoo. One, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.”

That was all it took. From that point on, the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant became the unofficial symbols of the parties. Democrats claim that the donkey is smart and brave (not stubborn!), while Republicans like to say that the elephant is strong and dignified.

The cartoon that started it all.

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What You Should Know About Bedbugs (Redux)

Note: We first posted this in April of 2011. Since then, it’s been one of our most popular blog posts. Though the hype has died down somewhat, the threat is still out there, so we’re reposting this as a refresher course for our readers. Read this post before you travel to arm yourself against these nasty little creatures.


Bed bugs have been stirring up quite the controversy within the last year, and their
presence is unfortunately more copious than any of us are comfortable with. Hotel
guests are taking precautions to not take any unwanted souvenirs with them, and home
owners are getting paranoid with each surfaced bite. It is important that we all know how
to properly prevent, identify and exterminate these pesky pests.
Bed bugs are small non-flying insects about the size of ticks. They are reddish brown in
color and thrive off of human and animal blood. Bed bugs can hide in all areas of the
home and tend to reside in cracks and other hidden places such as inside box springs,
behind picture frames and even in popcorn-style ceilings. They earn their names by
concentrating in areas where people sleep and feasting on their blood as they sleep.
The face, neck, hands and arms are common feeding spots of bed bugs. The most
common sign of their bites are small bumps that are sometimes red, swollen and itchy,
much like mosquito bites. A distinguishing factor of bed bug bites is that they are often
lined up in a row. Bed bugs tend to leave dark fecal spots on bedsheets, which is also a
great indicator.
The removal of bed bugs can be a difficult process and usually requires the help of a
professional. For extermination, pest-control experts use sprays, dusts and aerosol
insecticidies, which must be applied in all areas where the bugs can hide. Mattresses
sometimes need to be disinfected or discarded. Mattress, pillow and box spring
encasements can be used trap the bugs with no way of escaping.
Prevention tactics are recommended for all home owners and hotel guests and are
worth not ever having to go through the grueling process of getting rid of bed bugs. In
the mornings open the windows and throw back the sheets because bed bugs do not
like light or fresh air. Change your sheets weekly and wash them immediately using the
hottest water and heat settings. After checking in to a hotel, examine the room for signs
of bed bugs by checking the sheets for stains and lifting the furniture to check hiding
places. Keep all luggage or personal items elevated on racks aways from carpets and
beds. Examine all personal belongings before checking out to ensure you wonʼt bring
any pests into your home.
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Dog Leash Safety

Are you walking your dog right?

The classic leash-and-collar method of dog walking has come under fire lately from many professionals. The problem is the pressure the collar places on your dog’s neck. This study from the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association shows how pressure on the neck can exacerbate existing issues in canine eyes, such as glaucoma and cataracts. There’s also the danger of a neck injury. Say you’re walking your dog, and an unfriendly animal approaches. When your dog starts barking and jumping at the other animal, you naturally pull on the leash, attempting to separate the two animals. With your pet pulling the other way, this is a good recipe for neck injuries such as pulled muscles and, in cases where the animal is prone to certain medical problems, worse issues such as a collapsed trachea.

A choke collar is just as dangerous, perhaps more so. Moreover, many people do not use the choke collar in the correct place. It should not be used in the same place as the regular collar. A choke collar is designed to sit higher up on the dog’s head, just below the  ears, so that they feel the correction better and also to protect their throats.

So where does this leave you?

A good alternative is a harness. Fitted properly, a harness removes many of the safety concerns of a regular leash/collar, and can be helpful in training your dog. Trainers disagree on whether a harness that fits on the back versus one that fits in the front is better (see images below). Many feel that the front-connecting harness is a superior option, because it draws the dog’s attention to the walker when you pull the leash, connecting the moment of discipline with the person and breaking the dog’s attention from whatever stimulus caused its agitation. However, which harness you choose may depend on your trainer.

Before you decide whether a leash/collar or a harness is right for you, talk to a professional dog walker, trainer, or veterinarian. They will be able to help you determine the right choice for your breed. For more information, here is a good, comprehensive page on the matter:

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Butternut Squash

Butternut squash! You see it in the grocery store, and maybe it’s a little intimidating. The skin is hard, after all, and there’s all those nasty seeds and strings inside. But if you can get past all that, you’ll see that butternut squash is the hidden powerhouse of the fall season.

Did you know that there are numerous health benefits to butternut squash? The first thing you notice about this lovely gourd is its beautiful orange hue. Well, this means that it is packed full of carotenoids, the nutrients that protect against things like heart disease, macular degeneration, breast cancer, and birth defects. Butternut squash is also packed with Vitamin C, and in this cold-prone season, who couldn’t use some extra vitamins? Then there’s all the fiber, that good, necessary vegetable matter you need to be healthy. If all that hasn’t sold you on the nutritional content, you should also know that butternut squash is high in antioxidants, those anti-inflammatory wonders that you hear so much about.

At this point, you’re probably getting ready to run to the grocery store and buy a whole cartload of squash. But how do you choose the right one? Make sure the skin is unblemished, feels heavy for its size, and has a matte rather than glossy skin (glossy indicates it was picked too early). Take it home and store it in a cool place. These babies will keep up to three months if you don’t cut them.

We’ll wait a few moments, while you run to the store and do a little shopping.

Back? Good!

So what do you do with your squash now that you’ve got ’em? There are literally hundreds of squash recipes out there. On of our favorites is butternut squash soup. Here’s a link to a really excellent recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker blog. Our secret trick? Throw in a dash of curry powder with this, or any other savory recipe. You won’t taste the curry, but the flavor will deepen in the best kind of way.

Squash isn’t just good for eating, however. It can also make a wonderful DIY decoration for your home. Gonna Stuff a Chicken has a great list of ideas, from carving them like pumpkins to putting them on your porch as part of your fall decorations. Another great idea is to transform your squash into a table centerpiece, by turning it into a festive flower vase.

First, pick a squash that will stand up on its end. Then cut off the top, and carefully scoop away as much of the inside as possible. After that, just fill it with water and put your flowers in the top! This vase won’t last long, but it is wonderful for a fall dinner party and makes a funky way turn flowers into a unique present.

We hope you enjoyed our look at butternut squash. If you have any other squash ideas, or recipes you’d like to share, let us know in the comments!

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Fall Home Improvement Projects

We’re just one week away from the official beginning of autumn. The weather is turning chilly, the leaves are starting to brown, and the last of our summer tomatoes are being picked. The change in weather also comes with another season of necessary home improvements. We’ve rounded up five seasonal chores you need to do to keep your house healthy and whole this fall.


1. Clean Your Gutters

Autumn is the season of falling leaves and a lot of rain. This combination means that your gutters are going to be clogged, and fast. To minimize this problem, make sure they are clean before the season starts. To do so you’ll need a sturdy ladder, some kind of garden hoe or rake, and a hose. A pair of work gloves won’t go amiss; in addition to pointed sticks and dirt, gutters can house ticks and spiders that you don’t want to get a hold of your hand.

To clean your gutters, simply use the rake/hoe to scrape the debris towards you, then drop it to the ground where you’ll hopefully have a garbage can waiting. Then, use the hose to power wash whatever is left. And don’t forget your spouts!

Actually cleaning your gutters isn’t that hard. It’s staying safe that can be tricky! If possible, keep a spotter at the base of your ladder to make sure you don’t fall.


2. As we said on Facebook earlier this week: Clean your dryer vents! Soon it will be cold outside, and you won’t want to go out and do the dirty job. However, you also don’t want your house to catch on fire. The beginning of autumn is a good time to get this chore done.


3. Make sure your roof is in top condition. If you have any leaks (which we’re confident you’ll have noticed at this point, especially when it rains) this is the time to fix them, before autumn storms and heavy winter snows put more pressure on already weak spots. Most home owners will want to hire someone to do this job for them. It can be expensive, but it will be less expensive than a giant hole in your roof!


4. Check your windows and doors for drafts. Have you noticed a crack in your front door, the wind blowing underneath? This might be a good time to replace your door with something that will keep out the cold. How about those windows? Before the cold really hits, go around your house and check the seals on your windows. If they’re dirty, they won’t seal properly, and will let out your expensive heat (and let in that winter chill). If they’re too dirty to clean, this is also a good time to replace them.


5. Check out that chimney! A clogged chimney is more than dirty- it’s dangerous to your health, and can also be a source of cold drafts in your home. Most people have trouble cleaning a chimney themselves, so it is a good idea to hire someone for this job. However, be careful that you hire a reputable service. While they are not as common in the past, chimney cleaning scams are still a problem today.  Here are some good questions to ask any service you’re considering, courtesy of the Chimney Safety Institute of America:

  • How long has the chimney sweeping company been in business?
  • Does the company offer current references?
  • Does the company have unresolved complaints filed within the city or state consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau?
  • Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
  • Does the company ensure that a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep will be on the job site?
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