Category: Advice

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.

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 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.

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.

4 Ways to Uplift Small Businesses in Your Community

With nearly half of all Americans employed by a small business, these establishments need our support more than ever.

According to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, 46 percent of business owners surveyed have seen a drop in revenue over the past 12 months, with some entrepreneurs seeing even more severe impact.

“Small businesses are at the heart of our communities and the key to millions of jobs,” says Steve Troutner, head of Small Business, Wells Fargo. “Keeping spending dollars in local communities is an impactful way to rally around small business owners.”

Wells Fargo is sharing four ways to uplift small businesses near you:

1. Shop local. While one-stop shopping on leading e-commerce sites can be tempting, the simple act of purchasing something from your favorite local retailer can go a long way in keeping business afloat and money in your community. Returning or exchanging gifts? Ask for store credit instead of cash. It helps keep money with a small business and makes their cash flow more stable.

Many shops have safety measures in place, such as limiting occupancy or offering contactless pick-up.

2. Eat local. Support your neighbors by dining at locally-owned establishments. Getting takeout or having food delivered? Order directly from the restaurant rather than through third-party sites that take a cut. When it comes to food shopping, opt for neighborhood grocers, which often carry produce from small family-owned farms and other locally-sourced goods. Many offer the same curbside pickup and delivery options as major chains.

3. Uplift diverse-owned businesses. Keep in mind that minority- and women-owned businesses have been hard hit by COVID-19. Many are counting on your patronage to survive.

To help entrepreneurs stay open and support local jobs, Wells Fargo is deploying approximately $400 million from its Open for Business Fund to nonprofits serving small businesses. The initiative focuses on increasing access to training and flexible capital that businesses can use for rent, utilities, payroll and other business needs. If you are a business owner looking for assistance and resources, visit wellsfargo.com/shoplocal to learn more.

4. Shine a light on your favorite business. Whether it’s expanding outdoor patios and installing heat lamps or updating tech to facilitate contactless checkout, small businesses have had to get creative to stay relevant. One simple way of supporting businesses as they make these changes is to follow them on social media and give positive reviews on websites like Yelp.

As part of its “Many hearts. One community” campaign, Wells Fargo is highlighting the determination, resilience and creativity that so many small business have shown this past year.

“Community has meant everything to me,” says Kadijatu Ahene, owner of Dija’s Touch Designs, which benefitted from Wells Fargo and Local Initiatives Support Corporation working together. “The challenges we’re dealing with have brought us closer. Whether its friends and neighbors checking on me and my girls, delivering food and more, COVID has reminded us that we need each other to move forward in unity.”

How to Prepare a Garden for Spring Planting

The final weeks of winter, and even the first few weeks of spring, are still chilly in many parts of the world. Despite those last vestiges of winter chills, late winter is a great time to begin preparing gardens for the coming planting season. Gardens may have to withstand months of harsh weather each winter, and such conditions can take a toll. Gardeners can consider the following tips as they try to restore their gardens and get them ready for spring planting.

Disinfect your tools. It’s common to clean tools in late fall or whenever they’re typically placed in storage for the winter. But cleaning and disinfecting are not necessarily the same thing. If tools were not disinfected at the end of the previous gardening season, disinfect them before doing any work on the garden. Doing so can ensure any lingering bacteria or fungi on tool surfaces are killed prior to the beginning of gardening season. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, plant pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, can be transferred to and infect plants through bits of soil and plant debris left on shovels and pruner blades. Thoroughly disinfecting such tools prior to using them in the spring is a great way to reduce the risk of disease in your garden.

Clear debris from garden beds. Leaves, twigs, sticks, and other debris may have gathered in the garden over the winter. Such debris can inhibit the growth of plants and vegetables, so make sure all of it is removed prior to planting. Weeds might even begin to sprout up in late winter and early spring, so remove them before they go to seed.

Test the soil. Testing the soil prior to planting can help gardeners determine what their gardens will need to thrive in the coming months. Garden centers and home improvement stores sell home testing kits that are effective and easy to use. Once the results are in, speak with a professional at your local garden center about the best time to amend the soil.

Loosen compacted soil. Soil can become compacted over winter. If compacted soil is not loosened prior to planting, plants will have a hard time getting the water and nutrients they need to thrive. Loosening the soil also provides another opportunity to inspect the garden for any underlying issues, such as fungi or weed growth, that you may have missed when clearing debris or testing the soil.

Late winter is a good time to assess a garden and address any issues that developed over the winter so plants and vegetables can thrive come the spring planting season.

The Many Benefits of Houseplants

The lines between the outdoors and indoors are being blurred. Homeowners build extensive outdoor living spaces so they can relax on weather-resistant furniture and even cook in lavish kitchens in their backyards. In addition, indoor three-season rooms full of bright, open windows that showcase outdoor vistas challenge the boundaries between outside and inside.

For those working with limited budgets, there are some easy, inexpensive ways to enjoy the majesty of natural landscapes indoors. Houseplants can be used to improve indoor spaces, and they also provide various health benefits.

Help with allergies

According to WebMD, rooms with houseplants tend to have less dust and mold in them than those without any foliage. Leaves and other parts of the plants serve as natural filters, catching airborne particles and allergens. Plants with textured leaves might be especially effective at trapping particles.

Put more oxygen into the air

The human respiratory system works by bringing in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Plants do the opposite during photosynthesis. They absorb carbon dioxide and then release oxygen. Plants can put much more oxygen into the air, improving indoor conditions.

Increase indoor humidity and reduce illness

Studies from the Agricultural University of Norway found that indoor plants can increase humidity in indoor spaces, which decreases the incidences of sore throats, dry coughs, dry skin, and the common cold. Higher absolute humidity can decrease the chances of survival and transmission of the flu virus.

Filter the air

Researchers who presented their work at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society found certain houseplants can combat the potentially harmful effects of volatile organic compounds. Plants may help filter out VOCs like benzene, acetone and formaldehyde, which can enter indoor air via cleaning supplies, dry-cleaned clothes, furniture, printers, and paints.

Improve interior atmosphere

Prevention magazine says plants can be used to screen unattractive areas, moderate room temperature by shading spots from the sun and even reduce noise. Plants also can improve ambiance and create a pleasing atmosphere in a room.

Can improve mood

Growing and caring for plants can alleviate everyday stress. A nationwide study from UK Magazine Gardeners World found 80 percent of gardeners declared themselves satisfied with life compared to 67 percent among non-gardeners. Gardeners were more positive mentally. Greenery can help people feel more at home and improve mental health. A rehab center in Norway found patients reported a greater increase in well-being four weeks after having greenery added to their surroundings.

How to Avoid Foggy Eyeglasses

Billions of people across the globe need eyeglasses to drive a car, read a book, watch television, and perform a host of other tasks of daily life. Although glasses are highly effective, people who wear them understand they may have to make a few concessions while doing so. Unlike contact lenses, which sit directly on the eye, glasses rest on the bridge of the nose. They may slightly impede peripheral vision or even slip down if not properly fitted. Those accustomed to wearing glasses in the cold weather understand fogging of the lenses is a nuisance they may be forced to confront. That nuisance became even more profound when masks became a must-have accessory to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Glasses may fog due to the formation of condensation on the lens surface, which happens when moving from a cold outdoor environment into a warm indoor one. This is a problem that has affected eyeglass wearers for some time, including health professionals who often wear masks. The issue has become even more widely known due to the sheer number of people who have been wearing face masks as a public health safety measure. So how does one counteract the condensation and fogging that occurs from both winter weather and increased mask usage? There are a few different methods, but eyeglass wearers should always consult with an optometrist to verify the safety and efficacy of any method before trying it.

Use soapy water

A 2011 study published in the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England found that washing eyeglasses in soapy water and shaking off the excess can help reduce fogginess. Afterward, let the spectacles air dry before putting them back on. The soapy water leaves behind a thin surfactant film that reduces surface tension and causes the water molecules to spread out evenly into a transparent layer. This can help prevent fogging.

Use a commercial product

Antifogging products are widely used to prevent fogging of scuba masks or ski goggles. Get a mask that fits tightly Make sure the mask fits securely over the nose, advises The Cleveland Clinic. Also, a mask with a nose bridge will help keep warm exhaled breath from exiting up to the glasses. Use your glasses to help seal the mask on your face by pulling the mask up higher on the nose.

Block breath with a tissue

The AARP suggests placing a folded tissue between your mouth and the mask. The tissue will absorb the warm, moist air, preventing it from rising up to reach the glasses.

Adjust the fit of glasses

Choosing glasses that sit further away from the face can improve air circulation and reduce the formation of condensation.

Consider other options

If these tricks seem like a lot of work, you also can speak to an eye doctor about contact lenses or eye surgery.

6 Ways to Be Kind to Food Servers

These are unprecedented times. As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, people have had to adapt to many significant changes in a relatively short period of time. Throughout the pandemic, many hardworking individuals have helped to keep the world moving forward in an uncertain time. Though many food servers have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs during the pandemic, many more have continued to work.

Restaurants are vital components of local communities, serving as more than just somewhere to enjoy a great meal. Restaurants are gathering places and have helped people get out of the house during the age of social distancing. Servers are at the heart of the restaurant industry, and there are various ways to show them how much their efforts are appreciated.

1. Leave a sizable tip. Etiquette suggests customers tips servers anywhere between 15 and 20 percent. Because servers today are increasingly putting their health on the line, why not increase that tip to 25 or 30 percent? Such tips can provide some financial relief to servers whose earnings have been adversely affected by the pandemic and a bigger tip lets servers know their efforts are appreciated.

2. Write a thank-you note. Jot a few words of encouragement on the back of the bill or receipt. If time allows, thank the server in person for a job well done.

3. Don’t forget school staff. While certain schools are still serving breakfast and lunch to students, others have had to forego in-person dining at school due to local regulations and capacity restrictions. However, food servers and other staff may still be distributing food to those who qualify for financial assistance. Food services is often an overlooked job in the school system and parents can offer small tokens of appreciation to these workers.

4. Be courteous and kind. Food servers experience all sorts of personalities during a typical workday. Being kind and respectful brighten up a server’s day.

5. Be a tidy customer. Do your best to leave a tidy table behind when you finish your meal. Collect trash and dispose of it properly. Try to be as neat as possible, stacking dishes and preventing items from falling on the floor so servers and bussers have an easier go of it.

6. Follow restaurant rules. Policies regarding in-person dining and mask usage vary depending on local laws. Follow the rules so you don’t put servers’ health at risk.

Food servers have faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. Customers can do many things to show their servers how much their efforts are appreciated.

Simple Ways to Save on Heating Costs This Winter

Comfort takes center stage each winter. As people look to stay warm, many may be quick to turn up the thermostat so their entire home is toasty warm. But much like cranking air conditioners during the dog days of summer, turning up the thermostat each time the winter winds begin blowing can prove costly for homeowners. According to estimates from the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, homeowners spent an average of $911 on home heating costs in the winter of 2019-20. The winter of 2020-21 could prove even more expensive, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force much of the world to practice social distancing. That means many professionals are still working from home full-time, while even those who aren’t are no doubt spending more of their free time at home. All those hours spent at home figure to increase reliance on heaters this winter, which means heating bills are likely to go up as the temperatures go down.

Finding ways to save on heating costs will no doubt prove a priority for many homeowners this winter, and the following are some ways to do just that.

• Add insulation. Extra insulation throughout the house can dramatically reduce home heating (and cooling) costs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, adding insulation in attics, crawl spaces and basement rim joists can help homeowners save as much as 15 percent on heating costs.

• Lower the temperature on your water heater. Another way to trim your energy bill this winter is to lower the temperature on your water heater. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that, for every 10 F reduction in temperature on their water heaters, homeowners can save between 3 and 5 percent on their water heating costs.

• Close the flue on your fireplace. Fireplaces can keep a home’s inhabitants warm in winter, but only when they’re in use. When they’re not being used, fireplaces can allow heat to escape a home. When the fireplace is not being used, close the flue to prevent heat from escaping the house. Keeping all windows and doors closed throughout the day is another way to prevent unnecessary heat loss.

• Have your HVAC system serviced before winter begins. Inefficient HVAC systems cost homeowners considerable amounts of money each year. Annual maintenance performed by a certified HVAC professional can ensure filters are clean and operating at peak efficiency, saving homeowners the costly trouble of having to turn up the thermostat to overcome dirty systems.

Home heating costs figure to increase this winter as people spend more time at home. Various simple strategies can help homeowners stay warm without overpaying to heat their homes this winter.