Category: Advice

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.

Safe Entertaining Options

Entertaining has changed quite a bit in 2020. Government-issued restrictions dictated how many people you could invite into your home or even your backyard. Large family gatherings, such as weddings or birthday parties, were put on hold. Many people are still cautious about crowds and maintaining their distance, even from close friends and family and even as safety protocols have been loosened.

Those who are eagerly awaiting hosting dinner parties or backyard gatherings can take various steps to ensure the health and safety of their guests. These guidelines can help make entertaining that much safer.

Keep the guest list small

While you may want to invite as many people as possible, keeping the guest list small can help you keep better track of contact tracing should anyone develop symptoms or feel ill. It also limits the number of people with whom you come in contact. If you plan on entertaining routinely, stick to the same guest list over and over rather than inviting new people.

Maintain social distancing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to urge people to remain at least six feet apart from one another. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets also can be inhaled into the lungs. The CDC and other health organizations maintain that keeping at least a six feet from others reduces the likelihood that respiratory droplets will land on another person. More distance is always better. Leave room between seats around the dining table, and discourage crowding around entertaining areas.

Wear masks

Masks can be worn when maintaining distance is not possible. Although masks may not always be comfortable or fashionable, there are ways to incorporate them into the theme of your gathering. Ask everyone to wear a specific color or style of mask. Purchase extra masks for guests if you suspect someone may not own one.

Offer individual portions

Self-service buffets and drink bars may be risky. Instead, you can don proper safety gear and serve food to your guests to minimize the amount of people touching food or beverages. Have individual drinks Canned soft drinks, beers or small bottles of wine may also help limit the spread of the virus by providing individually portioned beverages rather than having people pour or ladle drinks out of communal offerings.

Provide hand-cleaning options

Encourage guests to wash their hands frequently and make sure there’s plenty of soap in the bathroom. Individual paper towels, while not as eco-friendly as reusable cloth towels, also can improve bathroom hygiene. Keep containers of hand sanitizer in high-traffic spots around the entertaining area as well.

Check for symptoms

No one wants to play bouncer at their own dinner party, but checking to make sure guests are well or experiencing symptoms can minimize risk. The CDC urges anyone who is feeling unwell to avoid gatherings.

Hosting a gathering in the era of COVID-19 can be challenging. However, it’s possible to do so safely if hosts and their guests adhere to safety precautions set forth by local governments and the CDC.

How to Prepare for a Unique Election Day

Like many days that came before it in 2020, Election Day figures to be unique this year. The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of life as people know it, and it figures to change how they vote this fall as well.

The right to vote and participate in a representative government should never be taken for granted. Many people across the globe have no such right, so citizens of the United States should be grateful they can vote and express that gratitude by doing their part and voting each year on Election Day.

State and local governments may be approaching Election Day differently as they try to juggle their responsibilities to make voting accessible to all while simultaneously keeping voters safe during the pandemic. Voters can do their part by taking the following steps prior to Election Day, which is November 3, 2020.

• Confirm you are registered to vote. Voter registration deadlines differ by state. According to Vote.org, some states, including Colorado and Connecticut, allow eligible voters to register on Election Day and cast their ballots that very same day. But many states, such as Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana, require voters to be registered 30 days prior to Election Day. A list of state-by-state voter registration requirements can be found at www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/.

• Learn the mail-in ballot policy in your state. Many voters may not vote via mail-in ballots on a typical Election Day, but 2020 is not a typical year. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. notes that all states offer some form of mail-in ballots. Many states are asking voters to vote via mail-in ballots in 2020 in an effort to reduce voters’ risk of getting and spreading the COVID-19 virus. Confirm the mail-in ballot policy and procedure in your state as early as possible to make sure your vote is counted.

• Return your completed mail-in ballot as soon as possible. Many states are urging voters who plan to vote using mail-in ballots to return their ballots as early as possible. In a mailer sent to all registered voters, the Superintendent of Elections and the Board of Elections in New Jersey noted it is critical that voters return their mail-in ballots early in the upcoming election season. Mail-in ballots can be returned via the United States Postal Service (all ballots include postage paid return envelopes), and voters also may be able to return their ballots in person at their designated polling locations or by placing the ballots in secure ballot drop boxes. Confirm your mail-in ballot return options with your local County Clerk of Elections well before Election Day.

Election Day 2020 will be unique. Voters should not hesitate to take all necessary steps in advance of November 3 to ensure their votes are counted this fall.

How to Effectively and Safely Sanitize a Car

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people live. One readily felt effect was spending more time at home. Vehicles sat idle in driveways and even some automotive insurance providers reduced rates because people were driving much less. Even with stay-at-home measures in place, people still need to leave their homes to stock up on essentials, such as food or medicine. In other cases, people may have been essential workers who drive for a living, including delivery drivers or health care personnel who were incapable of working from home.

Any time a person goes out in public, he or she runs the risk of contracting viruses. Bacteria and germs may reside on various surfaces, including those inside vehicles. People want to protect themselves and now are more aware of the importance of frequently cleaning and sanitizing their cars. Keeping a vehicle safe to drive without affecting its upholstery or electronic components is paramount. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes a distinction between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but can lower their numbers. Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. The following are some ways to deeply clean and sanitize a car.

• Wash hands. First and foremost, it is crucial to wash your hands before and after using the car. This can reduce the likelihood of growing ill because of transferred viruses or bacteria.

• Use rubbing alcohol. Solutions that contain 70 percent alcohol are effective against many viruses and bacteria, including coronaviruses, says the CDC. Furthermore, Jeff Stout, Executive Director of Global Innovation at Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, says that, for the most part, nearly every interior surface of a vehicle can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. Plastic to painted chrome to imitation leather have been tested to ensure they don’t degrade when exposed to pure isopropyl alcohol.

• Avoid bleach or hydrogen peroxide. While bleach and peroxide are very effective cleaners and sanitizers, they are likely to damage a car’s upholstery, according to Consumer Reports.

• Use soap and water: Experts say that vigorous washing with a soap-and-water solution can be effective against many contaminants because it breaks down the protective envelope that surrounds coronaviruses and other germs to disarm them. Friction also can help to break down germ cells during cleaning. “You want to do the best with what you have, so even soap and water can chip away at the risk,” says Stephen Thomas, M.D., Chief of Infectious Diseases and Director of Global Health at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.

• Address frequently touched surfaces. Pay attention to the steering wheel, door handles, buttons, touchscreen displays, shift lever, and more when sanitizing. Each of these items can harbor germs.

Deep-cleaning a vehicle has become a necessity since COVID-19 emerged. Frequently cleaning and sanitizing can help make vehicles safer to operate.

Recommended Tech for Students

Shopping for school supplies once entailed stocking up on pens, pads and notebooks. Students today still buy many of the same items, though they also now stock up on electronics. Technology and education now go hand-in-hand. For students to find success both in and out of the classroom, the right tech can make all the difference.

• High-speed internet: Connectivity is key in a digitally driven world. Students need access to the internet for homework, lectures, email, entertainment, and much more. The faster your internet speed the better. According to the resource HighSpeedInternet.com, streaming videos on a single device or web browsing requires between five and 40 Mbps. Downloading large files or using multiple devices simultaneously requires high speeds. When accessing the internet via smartphones, make sure your plan has unlimited data or provides enough data to ensure interruptions do not occur.

• Laptop or notebook computer: Laptops and notebook devices are similar in that both offer many types of software preloaded that a student will need. The devices seem interchangeable, but there are some differences. Laptops are generally larger than sleek, light notebooks. Notebooks are sized to fit easily into backpacks. Notebooks tend to have minimal features, including less RAM capacity and slower speeds, helping to keep their costs down. Some notebooks may have very small amounts of hard drive storage space, requiring users to purchase external storage devices.

• Headphones: Most schools now require students to have their own dedicated pair of earbuds or over-the-ear headphones so that work conducted on a computer does not disturb others also working on their own devices. Headphones also can make it easier to hear and comprehend videos and other digital lessons while doing homework.

• Chargers/battery packs: Devices must maintain power to help kids learn. Students can benefit from having a backup charger or battery pack to maintain functionality on their devices. • Storage and charging base: Keeping electronics neat and accessible for the family may mean rethinking countertop or other storage spaces. Charging stations hold multiple devices and allow them to charge simultaneously.

• Touchscreen pen: Many notebook and laptop computers have touchscreens that respond to pens/styluses and make drawing or writing on the screen more detailed.

• Printer/scanner: While many schools have adopted paperless formats, there may come a time when printing an assignment or report is necessary. A quality ink-jet printer can fit the bill. A scanner to scan photos or documents also makes it easier to complete assignments.

The above are just some of the many gadgets that can assist students with their studies.

The Benefits of a New Approach to Learning for Students

The validity of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” was on full display during the COVID-19 outbreak. People quickly had to learn to adapt to a new way of life, including an educational system that was transformed dramatically by social distancing guidelines.

More than 76 million students are enrolled in United States schools, per the latest Census Bureau information. In 2018, 2.12 million students were in Canadian postsecondary institutions alone. In a matter of days, millions of students who once attended classes in-person were forced to transition to virtual learning instruction. The process showed just how flexible learning systems can be, and how virtual instruction may become more than an emergency protocol in the future. Schools utilized systems like Google Classroom, Canvas and virtual meeting apps to connect and learn. While in-class lessons provide the socialization and one-on-one interaction that can be vital for students’ academic success, there are many different reasons why virtual instruction can be a key component of learning models as well. When virtual learning is used in conjunction with traditional teaching, students may have a more well-rounded experience. Here are some potential benefits that may unfold as more data is collected:

• Pace: Virtual learning affords students the chance to work on lessons at a pace that fits their individual needs. Students can go back and re-read or re-work problems until they’re satisfied they have learned their lesson. Lessons can be slowed down or sped up depending on proficiency, creating a customized educational experience.

• No more weather days. Many school districts include snow or extreme weather days into their calendars, adding on extra days at the end of school year to meet the specified number of educational days. Remote learning can take over in these times and keep school districts from having to pad calendars.

• Convenience: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to provide students the best chance to get the amount of sleep they need. Still, most adolescents currently start school before 8:30 a.m. Remote learning enables students to complete their assignments when it works best for them. This may help them get more sleep, too.

• Apps: Learning apps are a new wave of educational tools that have helped buoy virtual instruction. Primary school students or those with individual education plans may benefit the most from reinforced app skills that match their learning pace in fun ways.

Virtual home instruction may become a large part of the educational landscape even after it’s no longer a social distancing necessity.