The New Way to Read

More and more, you hear people say things like “no one buys books anymore.” While this is patently untrue- you just need to walk into a bookstore to see plenty of happy customers- the fact is that a good portion of the population is also reading books in a new way: virtual.

This is not to say that the printed book will disappear. However, ebooks and eReaders such as Amazon’s Kindle are a convenient way to carry your library with you. Imagine having three or four or a hundred books available on the train, while you’re waiting for your kids to get out of soccer practice, or even during your lunch break. This convenience is one of the reason ebooks are growing in popularity so rapidly. They also provide access to books outside the traditional publishing system, which means that more authors are given the opportunity to get their stories in front of the public.  If you’ve any interest in indie authors, you might want to pick up an eReader.

And for those who say that an e-book will never find success, remember: 50 Shades of Grey was originally an e-book!

Your eReader options are many, and they are growing by the day. Here’s a quick rundown of the three most popular readers out there:

1. Amazon’s Kindle

Priced between 110$ and 500$, the Amazon kindle is one of the most successful ereaders out there. You get access to Amazon’s entire book library, which also includes a ton of indie novels that you might not be able to find elsewhere. The draw back? The Amazon kindle will only read certain kinds of files. So if you’re looking for something that’s very versatile, you might want a different option. That being said, Amazon.com is one of the largest online book retailers in the world, so the odds are that you’ll be able to find a kindle approved file for whatever you’re looking for.

2. The Nook

Barnes and Noble’s answer to the Amazon kindle, the Nook is a little lest expensive, pricing from 99$ to 200$. In terms of technical capability, it is quite similar to the Kindle. However, fewer independent titles are available on the Nook, so if you’re very interested in the indie market, you might want to opt for the Kindle.

3. iPad, and other tablets

The iPad is a good example of a different eReader philosophy. The iPad, like other tablets,  was not designed purely for reading. However, it has plenty of downloadable options that allow you to use it like an eReader. The extra benefits here, however, are that you also get easy internet access, a host of incredibly useful apps, and a variety of other functions that make this the most versatile option.

The iPad is also one of the more expensive options. It can be priced anywhere from 399$ to 500$, and may also require a monthly data plan in order to access the internet and app store.

 

If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a great article to get you started:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20009738-1/kindle-vs-nook-vs-ipad-which-e-book-reader-should-you-buy/

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Eight Great Things About Labor Day

Monday is Labor Day, a celebration of America’s hard work and the end of summer. A time traditionally set aside for barbecues and family, Labor Day has a lot to be excited about. Here are eight of our favorite things about this wonderful American holiday, starting with…

1. Barbecues: Who doesn’t love a barbecue? Grilled burgers, delicious potato salad, cold beers, chips and salsa–the deliciousness doesn’t end.

2. Sales at the mall! …unless, ironically, you’re working retail this weekend. In that case, labor day sales are probably less exciting and more exhausting.

3.  The end of summer, which means you can start to break out your cute fall wardrobe. Boots, anybody?

4. The end of summer part 2: The kids go back to school. For those of you with little ones, or who stay at home with the kids, this means an extra 5-8 hours everyday of child free bliss. Remember that novel you wanted to finish? The freelance projects you’ve been working on at midnight, after everyone gets to bed? Yeah. Here’s a bit of daylight for you.

5. A day off! …again, unless you’re working retail. Sorry, guys.

6. An end to white pants. Yes, white pants season is over, which should be a relief. You no longer have to worry quite so much about sitting in something, or avoid those delicious (if drippy) foods like salsa to save your white pants. Hello, jeans!

7. The beginning of football season. No matter what team you root for, football season is a fun, competitive time.

8. Parades! If you don’t have one in your town, you can always head to NYC to check out their annual Labor Day Parade. NYC also has a number of other events this weekend. This article from the NY Times has a number of ideas for weekend activities.

All kidding aside, Labor Day is a deeply meaningful holiday that celebrates the sacrifices made by America’s work force, and their contributions not only to America’s economy but to our society. Total Home Cleaning wishes everyone a happy, restful holiday, and is proud to be a part of America’s labor force.

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How to Clean Your Coffee Maker

Most of us just rinse our coffee pots out in the morning before making a new batch. But this can affect the taste of your coffee- adding extra bitterness to every cup that you brew.  Today, we’ll take you through the steps to properly clean your coffee maker, thereby improving your everyday cup o’ joe.

But first, you may be wondering why it is so important to clean the basket and coffee pot with soap on a daily basis (Besides hygiene, of course!).

The answer has to do with the oils given off by coffee beans. Oil, as everyone who has ever cleaned a stove knows, does not come out with water. You need an emulsifier to break up the oil molecules- and that’s where soap comes in. It is important to clean the basket of your coffee maker as well as the pot with soap, in order to remove coffee oil residues that can mess up the taste of your coffee.

 

That being said, it is also important to give your coffee maker a thorough cleaning at least once a month. In addition to oil build up, hard water will also leave behind minerals and white residue. A daily rinse with soap will help, but to keep your coffee pot at peak efficiency you need the monthly cleaning as well.

We’ll start, as is so often the case, with white vinegar.

 

1. Mix a solution of 1 part water to 2 parts vinegar, making enough to completely fill your coffee pot.*

2. Add the water as you normally would. Make sure that you add a coffee filter, if you don’t have a reusable basket.

3. Run the coffee maker as if you were making a pot of coffee.

4. Discard the used filter and the vinegar solution.

5. Let the coffee pot stand for about 20 minutes, or until cool. This step is very important! If you add cold water to the pot while it is still hot, you can crack the glass and ruin your coffee maker.

6. Now, fill the coffee pot (to full!) with cold water, and run that through the machine. This will clean it of any lingering vinegar solution.

 

Do you have any tricks for preparing the perfect cup of coffee? Or for cleaning those troublesome home appliances? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear what you think!

 

*If you don’t want to use vinegar, there are also special coffee cleaners that they sell in stores.

 

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Understanding Organic Food Labels

Today’s supermarket is flooded with items that emphasis their eco-friendly natures. However, it can be hard to tell the difference between the dozens of labels used by farmers and grocery stores. We’ve gathered information on  a few of the most common labels, to help you decode the grocery store jargon.

 

1. Organic Food

There are three main distinctions that you need to know for foods marked as organic.

  • 100% Organic: Foods with this label can only contain organically grown and produced ingredients. If you’re looking for the most natural option, this is your best bet.
  • USDA Organic: These foods are 95% organic. That means that they could also include synthetic ingredients or additives that are not organic.
  • Made with Organic: These foods must be made with 70% organic ingredients. The other 30% does not need to be organic.

 

2. Grass-Fed

You see this label frequently on meat products, especially beef and lamb. Theoretically, it means that the animal was raised on a diet that only included grass, hay, and forage. However, this label is only trustworthy if accompanied by a “USDA Process Verified” symbol.  Otherwise, it might not have been verified by the government.

3. Natural

This label is vague, and so are the ingredients it includes. While a product labeled as ‘natural’ does not include any artificial ingredients, it can include genetically modified ingredients–which many would argue are not natural at all. Since it is so easily manipulated to fit different products, this label is untrustworthy.

4. Hormone Free, No Hormones Administered, No Hormones Added

Like the grass-fed label, this label is untrustworthy unless it comes with an additional, independently certified label. It is better to look for rBGH-free and rBST-free. This label means that the product, usually beef or milk, was not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is given to cows to increase milk production.

5. Go With Your Gut

There are dozens of food labels out there, and it can be difficult to decide which ones to trust. If the label’s promises seem vague, they probably are. Items marked with words like ‘natural’ and ‘local’ are nonspecific. If you are adamant about eating organically and want truly natural food, look for labels that are concrete, such as 100% Organic.

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Baking Soda – Your New Best Friend

You’ve heard us praise vinegar for its natural cleaning abilities. Today, we bring you a new household powerhouse, one which every home has but few use to capacity: baking soda.

Yes, that old sodium bicarbonate is good for more than keeping your cakes from collapsing. In fact, it has a number of applications around the home, especially if you’re looking for a natural, yet effective, cleaning solution.

Let’s start with your grandmother’s silver. Over the years, it’s accumulated tarnish, which is the cosmetic result of silver oxidation as the metal mixes with moisture in the air. To get rid of these dark stains, line the bottom of a pot with a layer of tin foil. Then pour boiling water into the pot, and add 1/4 cup of baking soda and a few tablespoons of salt. Now, add your silver items so that they both touch each other and rest on the foil. The resulting chemical reaction will remove the stains. Just let the silver sit for about five minutes, then buff gently with a dry towel.

Another quick tip: Keep your silver in a low humidity area, to stop tarnish before it happens.

“So baking soda fixes my silver,” you may be saying. “What else can it do?”

My fridge is starting to smell! Better call in Total Home Cleaning!

 

Well! How about dealing with those troublesome odors? Perhaps your fridge is a little stinky. There’s always that one cucumber that rolls to the back of the crisper and hides until your next refrigerator overhaul. Or maybe your linen closet is getting a little musty. An open box of baking soda will fix those problems quite easily. Just make sure to replace the box every three months or so- especially in the refrigerator.

Baking soda will also remove the musty smell from old sponges. Just soak a sponge in warm water mixed with about 5 tbsp of baking soda.

This wonderful household product also makes a fabulous scrubbing solution for bathroom tiles, kitchen counters, and refrigerator shelves. Just sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge, and scrub as you normally would. Then rinse the area and wipe it dry. Be careful to rinse thoroughly, however. Baking soda left on the surface can form a white stain. Easy to remove, but annoying when you’ve just scrubbed your kitchen clean.

Baking soda is especially potent when you combine it with that other home-wonder, white vinegar. The combination can do more than just ace your child’s science project (hello, volcano!). Mix 1/2 cup of soda with 1/2 cup vinegar and pour it down your drain to clear clogs without resorting to dangerous chemicals. After pouring in the solution, cover the drain with a damp cloth and wait five minutes, the flush the drain with hot water.

These are just a few of the ways you can use baking soda around the house. It’s a great way to avoid harsh chemicals that leave dangerous residues in your home. If you have a favorite ‘alternative’ way to use baking soda, let us know in the comments. We’d be happy to try out any new suggestions!

 

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Olympics Uniforms Through the Years

We’ve all been watching the Summer 2012 Olympics. Likewise, we’ve been listening to the debate over the American uniforms (famously designed by Ralph Loren and outsourced to China). No matter which side of the debate you fall on, it’s always interesting to see what our athletes are wearing. Today, we brought together a glimpse at the Olympic uniforms throughout the years. Starting with…

Ancient Greece

Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

The ancient Greeks didn’t have to worry about corporate sponsorship for their uniforms. They went with the cheap and scandal-free (well, maybe not) – by wearing nothing!

1896 Summer Olympics

Thomas Burke via Wikipedia

1896 was the first of the modern olympics games. America took part, and has taken part in every modern Olympics with the exception of the 1980 Summer Olympics. As you can see, our Olympians wore a stylish tank top and long shorts combination.

1936

Credit: NYTimes.com and Associated Press

Here you can see the Spalding Co.’s attempt at uniform design.

1984

Credit: NYTimes.com

People may complain about today’s preppy uniforms, but there were no cowboy hats at the Olympics this year. That, at least, we can be grateful for.

2004

Credit: EliteDaily.com

These uniforms were designed by a Canadian company called Roots. I don’t recall any scandal because the company was Canadian. Perhaps it was a different era?

 

We hope you enjoyed this look back into Olympics history. If you click on the pictures, they’ll take you to even larger collections of Olympics uniforms. Check them out, and let us know which years were your favorites (and which were total duds).

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Clutter and Your Health

We are all familiar with the never-ending battle against clutter. Some of us are better at it than others. There are also those that need a certain amount of clutter to feel at home- they find inspiration in piles, an oddly logical sense of order in stacks and mish-mashes. For all of us, though, there is a ‘clutter-line’ that, when crossed, means some serious house cleaning is in order.

The bottom line is that clutter, whether on your couch or in your email inbox, is very annoying. But can it also be dangerous?

One of the biggest, most obvious dangers of an overly-cluttered house is the accumulation of dirt. Dust, stray hairs, and pet dander happily gathers in the extra nooks and crannies created by clutter. For those with allergies, this is a nightmare scenario and a constant battle. Even those without allergy problems can experience health issues due to clutter.

There’s also a psychological drain. We’ve all felt it; the feeling of helpless exhaustion you get when you look at a very messy table, or the piles of toys your children have left scattered around the living room. Clutter can exacerbate emotional and mental problems, including depression.

So what do you do? Here’s some tips from Jennifer Nelson on WebMD.com, designed to help ease you into a de-cluttered environment:

Organize in bite-size bits:If the thought of getting organized completely overwhelms you, set a timer for just 15 minutes a day. Knowing you won’t spend hours working on an organizational project might make working in small nuggets easier to manage.

Mainstream email: Instead of checking email with each ding of the inbox, read your emails on a regular basis only twice a day. When you open an email, answer it immediately and don’t save it for later.

Handle snail mail only once: Create a special time and place to read your snail mail regularly. During the appointed time, open the mail and immediately take action on it. File it with bills, shred it, toss it in the trash, etc. Commit to touching each piece of mail immediately and only once.

Avoid horizontal piles: When possible, avoid putting paper in horizontal stacks in your home or office. Save time and frustration by categorizing and finding a home for paper as soon as it comes through the door.

Purge regularly:This applies to every room in the house but don’t forget the kitchen and bathroom. Check expiration dates regularly on medicines, vitamins, supplements, and cosmetics. Stick to the “when in doubt, throw it out” rule. If you can’t remember when you purchased it, let it go.

 

Let us know if you like any of these tips, or you’ve got any tips of your own!

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