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The Do’s and Don’ts of Fire Pits

Many homeowners relish any opportunity to retreat to their back yards, where they can put up their feet and relax in the great outdoors. That retreat-like escape is made even more relaxing when sitting around a fire pit. Fire pits can be found in millions of suburban backyards across the globe. Fire pits have become so popular that a 2016 survey of landscape architects conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects revealed they were the most sought after outdoor design element. Fire pits remain wildly popular a half decade after that survey. Homeowners who are only now joining the fire pit revolution can keep these dos and don’ts in mind as they plan their summer s’mores sessions.

DO keep the fire pit a safe distance away from the home. Fire pits should be located a safe distance from the home at all times, but especially when they’re in use. Home design experts recommend keeping fire pits a minimum of 10 to 20 feet away from a house or other structure, such as a shed or a detached garage. The further away the fire is from houses and other structures, the less likely those structures are to catch on fire.

DON’T place the fire pit beneath trees or next to shrubs. Though fire pits should be kept safe distances away from a house and other structures, it’s important that they’re not placed beneath trees or next to shrubs. Shrubs and low hanging branches can easily catch embers and be lit ablaze, so make sure fire pits are not placed in locations that increase that risk.

DO clean out seasonal debris. It can be tempting to let seasonal debris resting inside the fire pit burn away during the season’s first s’mores session. But burning debris poses a serious safety risk, as embers can easily be blown out of the fire pit and catch nearby trees or shrubs or even a home on fire. The National Fire Protection Association advises homeowners that embers blowing from a backyard fire pose the same threat to homes as if they are from a wildfire.

DON’T let fire pits burn near flammable materials. Store firewood piles a safe distance away from the fire pit while it’s in operation. It may be convenient to keep firewood right next to the fire pit while the fire is burning, but that increases the risk that embers will land on firewood and start a fire outside of the pit.

DO check the weather report prior to starting the fire. Windy weather increases the risk of embers blowing around and potentially landing on the house, other structures around the property or trees. If the weather report is calling for gusting winds, burn a fire on another night.

DON’T leave a fire pit fire burning. Unattended recreational fires are illegal and incredibly dangerous. Homeowners should never leave fire pit fires burning unattended or allow fires to slowly die out overnight. Always extinguish the fire before going inside and stop adding wood to the fire roughly one hour before you plan to go inside. Water or sand can be poured on ashes to extinguish the fire. Once homeowners are confident a fire has been extinguished, ashes can be spread around to ensure there are no hot spots still burning. If there are, start the extinguishing process over again.

A night around the fire pit is a summertime tradition in many households. Safety must be as much a part of such traditions as s’mores.

How Doughnuts Became So Famous

Doughnuts are beloved breakfast staples. A glazed doughnut to go with morning coffee on the way to work is a morning ritual for many people. Despite their popularity, many people do not know much about how doughnuts came to be.

Oily Cakes Precede Doughnuts

The origin of doughnutss is widely debated. Desserts made from fried dough can be found in various countries and cultures. However, historians largely believe that the Americanized doughnut arrived thanks to Dutch immigrants. According to Smithsonian magazine, when Dutch settlers came to New York, they brought along olykoeks, translated to “oily cakes.” Records show the Dutch were making these creations as early as the mid-nineteenth century. These earliest doughnuts were balls of cake fried in pork fat until they were golden brown. Since the center of these doughnuts did not cook as fast as the outside, many also were stuffed with fillings that did not need to be cooked.

Literally Minded Name

In a similar fashion, Elizabeth Gregory, a New England ship captain’s mother, used her son’s spice cargo along with lemon rind to fashion her own fried dough. Gregory made these pastries so that her son, Hanson, and his crew could store them on long voyages, and eat something that would ward off scurvy and colds. Gregory stuffed walnuts or hazelnuts in the centers of the dough. She came to call the pastries “doughnuts.” However, others attribute the name to the original olykoeks, which were sometimes shaped into knots and called “dough knots.”

Seaworthy Improvements

While the doughnuts certainly were acceptable, Captain Gregory came up with a way to improve his mother’s concoction. Rather than stuff the doughnut to make up for the uncooked center, he punched a hole in the middle of the dough ball before it was fried. The hole increased the surface area and exposure to the hot oil, ensuring the entire doughnut cooked evenly. Other stories about the doughnut hole attributed the modification to the fact that Captain Gregory could then hang the doughnut on the ship’s steering wheel so he could use both hands to steer.

Doughnuts Get Automated

Prior to 1920, doughnuts were made entirely by hand. Adolph Levitt, a Russian refugee and baker, began selling doughnuts from his bakery in New York City’s theater district. To keep up with the crowds, Levitt invented a gadget that could make the fried rings faster. A circle of dough shaped like a ring dropped into a vat of boiling oil, circulated, was flipped over, and emerged from the oil on a moving ramp. Many modern doughnut companies still make their doughnuts like this.

Modernization and mass production brought a shortening of the name “doughnut.” Various doughnut companies use “donut” for the cakes. Whether you call them dough knots, doughnuts or donuts, the treats are delectable.

Interesting Facts About Memorial Day

Each year on the last Monday of May, Americans celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a federal holiday that honors and mourns American military personnel who died while performing their duties in service to the United States Armed Forces. Memorial Day has a rich history and one that’s worth revisiting as the nation prepares to honor the sacrifices made by its military personnel over the centuries.

• Freed slaves played a role in the establishment of Memorial Day. The American Civil War is the deadliest military conflict in American history, as the Union and the Confederacy each suffered more than 800,000 casualties by the time the war ended in 1865. According to History.com, as the war drew to a close, hundreds of Union soldiers who were being held as prisoners of war died and were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp in South Carolina. After the Confederate surrender, more than 1,000 now-freed slaves honored those recently deceased Union soldiers during a ceremony in which they sang hymns and distributed flowers. The ceremony was dedicated to the fallen soldiers and served as a precursor to what is now celebrated as Memorial Day.

• Confederate soldiers were honored, too. Confederate losses during the Civil War outnumbered Union losses, and those losses were not forgotten by southerners who survived the war. History.com notes that, in 1866, the Georgia-based Ladies Memorial Association, one of many similar organizations to arise in the aftermath of the war, pushed for a day to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. In fact, these efforts are believed to have influenced General John A. Logan. In 1868, General Logan, a Civil War veteran who was then serving as commander-in-chief of a group of Union veterans, ordered the decoration of Union graves with flowers on May 30. The day would ultimately be known as “Memorial Day.”

• It took a long time for Memorial Day to become a federal holiday. Despite tracing its origins to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Memorial Day did not become an official federal holiday until 1971, more than a century after the war ended. This is the same year the holiday was officially designated as taking place on the last Monday in May. The designation has periodically drawn the ire of veterans and military supporters who suggest it is now more widely seen as the unofficial beginning to summer and not a day in which the sacrifices of fallen U.S. soldiers are honored to the extent that they should be.

• Debate exists about which town has the longest history of celebrating Memorial Day. A handful of towns claim to be the first celebrants of Memorial Day. That debate figures to continue in perpetuity, but History.com notes that Waterloo, New York, was officially recognized by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966. Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Rochester, Wisconsin are some other towns that claim to have celebrated Memorial Day since the mid-1860s.

Memorial Day has a rich history that highlights the importance of honoring the men and women who have given their lives while in service of the United States military.

4 Tips for Backyard Barbecue Success

When the weather warms up, the opportunities to enjoy more time outdoors increase. For many people that means firing up the grill to cook dinners in the backyard and also to host friends and family for outdoor gatherings around the patio. Barbecuing is enjoyed around the world and is especially popular in the United States, where even presidents have touted the virtues of cooking outside. Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and even Ronald Regan hosted barbecues with tasty grilled or smoked food during their terms.

Barbecues are especially popular in spring and summer. Memorial Day often marks the unofficial kickoff to the summer barbecue season. After Memorial Day weekend, the smell of barbecue often can be detected on a nightly basis in suburban neighborhoods. Follow these tips to make backyard barbecues even more successful this year.

1. Make food safety a priority. A successful barbecue is one in which everyone goes home sated and stuffed with delicious foods. However, ensuring people don’t fall ill also is vital. Keep in mind that the temperature outdoors impacts the rate of spoilage for raw and cooked foods. Always keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold (place items on ice or in coolers). The Food and Drug Administration, advises moving leftovers indoors promptly and discarding any items that have been sitting outside for longer than two hours at room temperature. Items should be moved indoors or discarded even more quickly in especially hot conditions.

2. Learn how to smoke. Grilling is one skill, and smoking is another. As the popularity of food smokers has increased, prices have come down. Novices can visit barbecue competitions and talk to professionals about their tips for smoking foods, or learn more by watching tutorials online. Smoked foods take a lot of time to cook, allowing hosts an opportunity to mingle with guests.

3. Keep things simple. Serve only a handful of items to cut down on the amount of preparation required. Two main proteins and maybe three side dishes is adequate. Chips or other pre-made snacks can fit the bill. Condensing options also reduces how much you have to manage. Be sure to have options for those with food allergies or intolerances when planning the menu.

4. Set up clusters of seating. Grouping sets of chairs at tables around the yard encourages guests to mingle. Also, it helps space out people for social distancing and avoids a bottleneck around the food.

Make the most of barbecue season by embracing strategies to be successful hosts and hostesses.

How Families Can Give Back to Their Communities Together

Strong communities are built by strong people who recognize the importance of giving back. Children recognize when their parents give back to their communities, and often that recognition compels youngsters to want to do the same.

Volunteering as a family is a great way for parents to instill their values in their youngsters while strengthening the communities in which those children live. Volunteering also provides a host of additional, potentially surprising benefits. For example, a 2003 study from researchers at the University of Texas found that taking part in helping one’s community lowers rates of depression and anxiety. In addition, research has indicated that adolescents who volunteer may perform better at school and take a more positive approach to education. Family-friendly volunteering opportunities abound, and the following are some ways that families can give back together.

Feed the hungry: The role of charitable organizations that feed those in need was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic fallout of the pandemic was significant, as tens of millions of people lost their jobs and, subsequently, their ability to feed themselves and their families. Local food banks stepped in to feed those families, and organizations are always in need of volunteers to help prepare, deliver and serve food. Volunteering at a local food bank or soup kitchen is a great way for parents to show their children that they have a lot to be thankful for while instilling in them a sense of responsibility to community members in need.

Create art: Art can be as beneficial to its creators as it is for those who appreciate it. That’s especially so for children in relation to their development. According to a report from Americans for the Arts, art education strengthens problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Art also encourages kids to innovate, a benefit that will pay dividends throughout their lives. Art also is fun to create, and parents can turn kids’ natural inclination toward fun and creativity into a way to give back to their communities. The New Jersey-based organization Color A Smile distributes cheerful drawings to senior citizens and overseas troops, among others. Adults and children can volunteer to bring smiles to the faces of strangers, all the while reaping the many benefits of engaging in art projects.

Nature clean-up: Local park and beach clean-ups help to keep the great outdoors pristine and pollution-free. Such clean-ups, which are a fun way to get outdoors, also provide a great opportunity for parents to teach children about the environment and the importance of protecting it.

Whether it’s helping those in need, exploring one’s inner artist or helping keep local parks and beaches clean, the opportunities for families to give back together are numerous.

Creative Mother’s Day Celebration and Gift Ideas

On Sunday, May 9, 2021, millions of people will celebrate the special women in their lives, particularly the mothers, grandmothers and stepmothers who often tirelessly care for those they love.

Created by Anna Jarvis in the early 20th century and designated an official United States holiday in 1914, Mother’s Day is a special day in many families. Apart from birthdays, primary female caregivers may not always get the recognition they deserve, nor be entitled to a day to kick back and relax and let others take the helm. Mother’s Day entitles them to something special. Even though the way people have been living has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mother’s Day may be the first holiday on the calendar when the world can finally regain some sense of normalcy. But caution should still prevail during Mother’s Day celebrations. Thankfully, there are plenty of creative ways to celebrate mothers and mother figures this year:

Dine truly “al fresco.” Outdoor dining has become commonplace, and even before it was a safety measure, enjoying a meal on a sun-soaked patio or overlooking a body of water was popular. If you’re worried about limited restaurant space or crowds, plan a picnic at a scenic location, such as a botanical garden or county park. Include Mom’s favorite foods and enjoy the fresh air and delicious foods together.

Create a photo slideshow. Digital photos have eclipsed prints in many people’s hearts. But too often digital photos never get seen after they’re initially taken. That can change when you compile a slideshow of favorite photos from childhood and even present-day photos that Mom is sure to appreciate. Use sentimental music or Mom’s favorite songs as the soundtrack, and include some inspirational quotations or personal voiceovers. This is one gift that can be shared in person or over group meeting apps.

Get involved together. An especially meaningful way to honor a mother who is always giving her time and love is to become involved in a difference-making organization. Joint volunteerism is a great way to spend more time together working toward a worthy goal.

Enjoy her hobbies and interests. Devote a day or more to trying Mom’s interests and hobbies, whether they include hitting the links, knitting, singing in the church choir, or digging in her garden.

Send an edible gift. If you can’t be there to celebrate with Mom in person, have a special meal delivered to her door. Then enjoy the same foods with her via Google Meet, Facetime or Zoom. Don’t forget a tasty cocktail so you can toast the special woman in your life.

Mother’s Day celebrations can be unique, heartfelt and customized based on family needs.

How Families can Help Communities Rebound After the Pandemic

The global pandemic that began in late 2019 and spread into 2021 had a devastating impact on the world. The human toll was significant, as millions of people across the globe lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus. The virus also had far-reaching economic consequences, many of which were felt in small towns and communities that had been thriving prior to the pandemic.

Vaccination rollouts that began in the final weeks of 2020 gave many people a glimmer of hope that life would soon return to some semblance of normalcy. The effort to restore towns and cities will require a community-wide effort, and families can do their part as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic.

Support local businesses. A recent survey from the expert business mentors at Score® found that just 34 percent of small business owners indicated their operations were currently profitable in late 2020. The numbers were even worse for minority-owned businesses, as the survey found that just 26.5 percent of Black business owners had businesses that were currently profitable while the number was 29.2 percent among Hispanic-owned businesses. A thriving local economy is a vital component of a strong community, and families can do their part in the pandemic recovery by making a concerted effort to support the small businesses in their towns and cities, especially those owned by minorities. Support locally owned restaurants instead of chain restaurants when dining out or ordering in. Even visiting a locally owned barbershop instead of a chain hair cutter can be a great way to help community-based businesses recover.

Lend a hand to the elderly. At the onset of the pandemic, public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization identified elderly men and women as among the most vulnerable to serious illness if they were infected with COVID-19. As a result, many aging men and women spent much of 2020 isolated from their friends and families. Families can help seniors in their communities recover from that isolation by volunteering at local senior centers, inviting aging neighbors over for weekly dinners or inviting them along on family outings to the beach or park. Such efforts can reassure seniors, many of whom played vital roles in building the communities they call home, that their neighbors have not forgotten them.

Take active roles in the community. Recovering from the pandemic won’t be easy for any community. Some small businesses closed for good while others struggled to stay afloat, and local towns and cities lost significant tax revenue as a result. Residents, including adults and children, can help their towns and cities overcome budget shortfalls by becoming more active in their communities. Organize initiatives like park clean-ups to keep communities clean if budget constraints have forced local officials to cut back on such services. In addition, attend town or city council meetings to lend support to programs or even recommend new initiatives to help the community recover from the pandemic.

Restoring communities after the pandemic will be a tall task. But it’s one that will be more easily accomplished if families pitch in and do their part.

How to Reduce Risk for Lyme Disease

When the weather warms up and hours of daylight increase, few people can resist the allure of the great outdoors. Nature beckons each spring, and those answering that call must do so safely. Lyme disease is a potential threat for people who live in certain regions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Lyme disease cases have been reported in nearly every state, though residents in certain states are more vulnerable than others. For example, CDC data indicates that incidence rates were highest in several states in New England, including Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, while rates in Oklahoma, Missouri and Wyoming were especially low.

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected tick. Playing, hiking, camping, or working in wooded or grassy places where instances of Lyme disease are high increases a person’s risk of being bitten. But that doesn’t mean those in areas like New England, the mid-Atlantic or the upper-midwest must avoid such activities. However, they should take steps to prevent tick bites when going out into the great outdoors.

• Recognize where ticks live. The CDC reports that blacklegged ticks cause Lyme disease and that such ticks live in moist and humid environments. In addition, the Lyme Disease Association notes that ticks are most likely to be in certain areas, including woods, areas where woods meet lawns and where lawns meet fields. Ticks also may be living in tall brush/grass, under leaves, under ground cover, near stone walls or wood piles, or in shady areas. Ticks also may be drawn to areas around bird feeders or outdoor areas designated for pets.

• Wear insect repellent. The CDC recommends wearing insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Repellents should contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. The EPA even has a tool on its website that can help people choose the right repellent products for them. That tool can be found at https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you. The CDC advises people to treat clothing and gear, including socks and tents, with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin, which can remain protective even after several washings. Pre-treated clothing may be protective even longer.

• Check for ticks every day. Ticks can be found anywhere on the body, and the CDC recommends checking for ticks every day. Pay particular attention to underarms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, the back of the knees, in and around all head and body hair, between the legs, and around the waist.

Ticks pose a threat when spending time in the great outdoors. Various preventive measures can help people reduce their risk for Lyme disease.

What is Maskne and How Do You Treat It?

Public health guidelines advising people to wear masks have proven effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19, but such recommendations have led to some unforeseen and unwanted side effects. For example, wearing masks that cover the lower portion of the face has led to an uptick in instances of acne.

U.S. Dermatology Partners advises that regular mask wearing can lead to skin health issues, including flare-ups in chronic skin conditions. It’s become such a widespread issue that the term “maskne” has now become a part of the lexicon. According to Dr. Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, maskne is a real thing. The most common kind is acne mechanica, which is the type of acne that occurs when something rubs up against the face. Oil, sweat and a lack of fresh air to the face can cause the formation of acne just about anywhere beneath protective masks. Health care workers may be especially susceptible, but just about anyone who wears a mask for an extended period of time may develop maskne.

Dr. Shari Lipner, an associate professor of clinical dermatology and an associate attending physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says anything that causes friction on the face can cause the skin to become irritated and inflamed. Couple that with trapped bacteria, sweat and oil, and acne can result. Dermatologists are seeing a rise in patients visiting their practices for acne issues and treatments. Mask-related skin issues have become such an issue that the COVID-19 task force of the American Academy of Dermatology has released advice on the subject, including ways to mitigate maskne formation.

• Wash masks frequently. Those who opt for fabric masks should look for ones that are made of 100 percent cotton or silk for the most breathability. Also, wash the mask as frequently as possible to avoid reapplying dirt, oil and sweat to the face.

• Follow single-use mask use. People who prefer disposable masks should use the mask and properly discard it after using it once.

• Reduce beauty product usage. Consider going without face makeup under the mask to reduce the potential of it contributing to the formation of oil and bacteria. Otherwise, look for products that are noncomedogenic or oil-free.

• Use gentle, fragrance-free products. Wash the face with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser each morning and night. Harsh products can further irritate the skin. In addition, apply a light, fragrance-free moisturizer to serve as a friction barrier between face and mask.

• Try OTC products. Over-the-counter solutions of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may help treat acne. However, if acne does not improve within a week or two, visit a board-certified dermatologist.

Maskne is a condition marked by a flare-up of acne from prolonged mask use. There are ways to keep skin issues at bay with self-care and the advice of dermatologists.

Low-Maintenance Lawn Alternatives

A traditional lawn may not be right for every property nor desired by every homeowner. There is no denying that lawns take time and effort to establish and daily or weekly maintenance to thrive. Homeowners who find that a traditional lawn is not practical can explore some low-maintenance alternatives.

Wildflower meadow

Homeowners with wide swaths of property may discover meadows are cost- and time-efficient. Stores sell special wildflower meadow mixes of seeds or homeowners can use wildflower plug plants throughout areas where grasses are left to grow longer. This natural area can be a home to wildlife and an idyllic backdrop to a home. Most meadows only require a spring or summer and autumn cut to thrive and look good.

Ornamental grasses

Partition areas of the property for ornamental grasses to grow. The gardening resource Elemental Green says ornamental grasses tend to be drought-resistant and low-maintenance. They won’t need much fertilizer and are often resistant to pests as well. Ornamental grasses grow in tufts or sprays and will not require mowing. However, they are not ideal for areas that get foot traffic.

Moss

Moss can thrive in shady areas and ones where the soil tends to stay a bit damp. Moss is velvety soft and green, so it can mimic the look of a traditional lawn but won’t require mowing and other upkeep. Because it spreads quickly, moss can take over quite rapidly. You will need to protect areas where you do not want moss by creating barriers to stop spread.

Gravel

Stone and gravel areas can reduce maintenance in the landscape and require very little upkeep. When gravel is installed correctly, weeds may not grow readily. Gravel installation may include laying heavy-duty, semi-permeable landscape fabric, which is available in home improvement centers. Gravel is cheaper than pavers and can be just as beautiful.

Artificial turf

If the desired look is a lawn without all the upkeep, there are various artificial grass options on the market. Homeowners who opt for artificial turf can save money and space devoted to lawn mowers and other lawn tools.

Grass may be ideal for some, but there are alternatives for people who have troublesome landscapes or desire a low-maintenance product for their homes.