Category: Seasonal

Steps Anyone Can Take to Protect Local Wildlife

The opportunity to experience local wildlife is one of the many alluring features of spending time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, wildlife is being threatened in many parts of the world as the human population increases and spreads to regions that historically have not been home to large numbers of human beings.

Numerous local, national and international environmental organizations are dedicated to protecting local wildlife. But such organizations can always use a helping hand, and the following are some simple steps anyone can take to protect local wildlife.

Sign up for local trash pick-ups

The organization Environment America reports that scientists have found fragments of plastic in hundreds of species. For example, researchers found such fragments in 44 percent of all seabird species. Local park and beach cleanups can help reduce that figure and make these beloved spaces look even better. Signing up for park or beach clean-ups also provides a great reason to get outdoors.

Make an effort to cut back on your energy consumption

This effective approach can benefit local wildlife and animal lovers’ bottom lines. The Animal Welfare Institute notes that many power plants rely on fossil fuels, the extraction of which can be harmful to local habitats. That ultimately and adversely affects local wildlife. Reducing energy consumption can cut back on the need to extract fossil fuels, and it also can lead to lower energy bills for consumers.

Support eco-friendly legislation

Legislators fighting to protect local wildlife need all the help they can get. Individuals can lend a hand by supporting legislators who are working to maintain local habitats so wildlife can continue to thrive. Share information about political issues related to local wildlife via social media and volunteer to help local politicians and nonprofit organizations spread the word about the importance of protecting the species who call your region home.

Do not get too close to wildlife

The beauty of wildlife can be hard to resist, but the AWI urges animal lovers to keep their distance from animals they see in the wild. Do not handle young animals found in the wild, no matter how vulnerable they appear to be, as the AWI notes that it’s not uncommon for mothers to leave their young alone for long periods of time while they forage for food.

Wildlife faces an uncertain future in many parts of the world. Individuals can do their part to protect wildlife and ensure their long-term survival.

How to Protect Nature When Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Few getaways can reinvigorate the mind and body like a day spent in the great outdoors. The rewards of a day spent outside aren’t just figments of the imagination. The online medical resource WebMD notes that exposure to the great outdoors can improve sleep cycles, boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety, help people focus, and bolster the immune system, among other benefits.

The relationship between people and nature is not a one-way street. Just as nature takes care of people, people must do their part to protect nature. Whether nature lovers are hiking, relaxing at the beach or engaging in another outdoor activity, the following tips can help people protect the serene settings and landscapes they love so much.

Leave nothing behind

Anti-littering campaigns have been prevalent for decades. Despite that, litter remains a significant problem. A 2020 study from Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing litter, found that there are nearly 50 billion pieces of litter along roadways and waterways across the United States. Each piece of litter that finds its way into nature can be prevented. When spending time in nature, individuals can commit to brining out whatever they bring in. Leaving nothing behind reduces the issues associated with litter, including the negative effects it has on wildlife and marine life, and helps to maintain the idyllic look of natural settings like forests and beaches.

Reduce reliance on plastics and recycle the plastics you do use

Plastics adversely affect the health of the planet in various ways. But a staggering percentage of the plastics humans use are never recycled. A 2108 study published in the journal Science Advances found that, of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics that have been produced since 1950, only around 9 percent has been recycled. Plastics take roughly 400 years to degrade, so much of the plastics that have not been recycled are ending up in the world’s oceans. In fact, projections from environmentalists suggest that oceans will contain more plastics than fish by the middle of this century. By reducing reliance on plastics and recycling the plastics they do use, nature lovers can do their part to combat this significant threat and protect the natural settings they enjoy so much.

Plant trees

Planting trees could help combat the issue of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. According to Greenpop, an organization devoted to urban greening and forest restoration projects, trees absorb CO2, removing it from the air and storing it as they release oxygen. A day outdoors planting trees is a fun activity for people of all ages, and it’s also a highly effective way to help the planet.

The great outdoors is a respite for millions of people across the globe. Taking steps to protect nature is a great way to ensure it’s accessible and there to enjoy for generations to come.

Helpful Tips for Picking and Cutting Watermelon

Watermelon is a summertime staple. Each summer, stores, and farm stands have an abundance of watermelons on display, and many people feel no picnic or barbecue is complete without watermelon.

Watermelon is a refreshing option on hot days. It’s ideal sliced and served, or can be included in fruit salads, smoothies or even “spiked” cocktails. The key to a tasty watermelon is knowing how to pick one that is ripe while serving watermelon comes down to understanding some easy-cutting strategies.

Choose a watermelon that has a firm, symmetrical shape

Avoid melons with bumps, dents or cuts.

Watermelons should be relatively heavy

They’re 92 percent water, and that juiciness should be reflected in a substantial weight for the melon’s size.

Watermelon.org advises looking for a creamy yellow spot on the underside of the watermelon

This is called the “ground spot.” It indicates where the melon sat on the ground and ripened in the sun. Once cut from the vine, a watermelon has about three to four weeks to be consumed.

All parts of the watermelon are edible, including the seeds and rind

The rind can be pickled or cut up to use in stir-fry dishes.

When bringing watermelon to an event, it is a courtesy to bring it already sliced or cut up. This ensures the host or hostess does not have to tackle what can sometimes be a chore. Here are three techniques to cut a watermelon easily.

Cubes

1. Cut both ends off of the watermelon.

2. Stand the watermelon on one sliced end. Use the knife to slice down and cut off the rind.

3. After removing the rind from all sides of the melon, cut into discs about 1/2-inch in thickness.

4. Then cut those discs into cubes.

Slices

1. Cut the watermelon in half lengthwise.

2. Take one cut half and place it cut-side down.

3. Cut the watermelon into slices.

4. Repeat for the other cut half.

Strips

1. Cut the watermelon as you would with the slices. Rather than leaving it in large slices, turn the watermelon and cut the same size slices in the opposite direction. This creates strips that are easy for kids to grab and maneuver.

2. Repeat with the other half of the watermelon in the same manner.

How to Cut Costs on Your Summer Road Trip

The most memorable road trips are often the byproduct of ample planning. Careful examinations of maps months before a trip begins can help vacationers find the best sights to see and uncover must-visit restaurants. In fact, many people find pre-trip planning nearly as enjoyable as the trip itself.

Vacationers who planned road trips months ago likely did not think they would be forced to contend with extraordinarily high gas prices, but that’s precisely the position drivers find themselves in this summer. The average gas price in many parts of North America exceeded $5 U.S. dollars per gallon by early June, and economic forecasters predicted prices could climb even higher as June gives way to the summer travel season.

High gas prices likely won’t compel most vacationers to cancel their travel plans this summer. And those who are staying the course can rest easy knowing there are plenty of ways for them to cut costs and still enjoy a memorable summer road trip in the months ahead.

Book a vehicle maintenance appointment

Prior to heading for parts unknown, visit your local auto body shop and have your car or truck serviced. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that regular engine tune-ups to ensure a vehicle is running efficiently increases fuel economy by an average of 4 percent. Schedule an oil change and tune-up shortly before your departure date so your car won’t be forced to work extra hard, and thus consume extra fuel, during your trip.

Reconsider your ride

Vacationers with more than one car to choose from may want to reconsider which car they drive on their road trip this summer. For example, families with one SUV and one sedan may save money by driving the sedan instead of the SUV, which is likely less fuel-efficient than the smaller vehicle. In addition, consider the type of fuel each of your cars requires and let that inform your decision. For instance, certain vehicles require more expensive high-octane fuel. If you own a car that requires the more budget-friendly regular 87 octane fuel, take that one on the road with you this summer.

Look to save on lodging

Roadside motels have undergone something of a rebirth in recent years. Many motels have been given full makeovers but remain budget-friendly lodging options for road trippers. Motels won’t offer all the amenities of five-star hotels, but they’re affordable places for vacationers to lay their heads for a night before traveling on to the next adventure the following morning.

Take your foot off the gas

Another way to conserve fuel during a summer road trip is to resist the temptation to drive too fast. Avoiding excessive speeds isn’t just safer; it’s also more fuel-efficient. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy reports that fuel economy for a light-duty vehicle traveling at 80 miles per hour is about 27 percent lower than when traveling at 60 miles per hour.

Vacationers may be worried that high fuel costs will bust their budgets during road trips this summer. But there are various ways to cut costs and still enjoy memorable trips, even when fuel prices are especially high.

How to Conserve Energy While Keeping the AC On

Air conditioning is a welcome luxury come the dog days of summer. Few people can imagine getting through a hot summer afternoon without turning their AC on, which can make July and August some of the more costly months on the calendar regarding energy consumption.

Though the months of July and August may not seem well-suited to cutting energy consumption, there are ways to conserve that doesn’t require turning off the AC.

Reconsider the location of your thermostat

The Performance Building Institute, Inc. notes that thermostats are sensitive to heat. Thermostats located near heat-generating appliances like lamps, televisions, and computers may be fooled into thinking a home’s interior is warmer than it actually is. That will keep a temperature-controlled AC running longer and more frequently than is necessary. If necessary, move the thermostat to a part of the home where there are no electronics and appliances.

Emphasize maintenance of the AC unit

Even the most energy-efficient AC unit will be forced to work harder, and consume extra energy if it’s not well-maintained. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy notes that ENERGY STAR-certified HVAC equipment can yield annual energy savings of 10 to 30 percent. But such products must be maintained. Annual maintenance appointments with an HVAC technician can ensure the unit is clean and refrigerant levels are correct, helping it run as efficiently as possible.

Embrace natural ways to keep a home’s interior cool

Cranking the AC is not the only way to maintain a comfortable temperature inside a home during the months of July and August. Closing curtains on hot days keep the sun out and makes it easier to maintain comfortable temperatures inside without lowering the temperature on the thermostat. Avoiding the stove on hot nights and preparing cold meals or firing up the grill outside is another way to keep the house cool.

Address insulation issues

Cracks around windows and doors affect the temperature inside the home, making it colder in winter and warmer in the summertime. Seal cracks around doors and windows to keep the cool air in during the summer. Keeping that air in should allow you to raise the temperature on your thermostat without compromising comfort.

Come the dog days of summer, conserving energy needn’t come at the cost of comfort. Various strategies can help people reduce their energy consumption and keep their air conditioners on.

Turn Your Yard Into a Vacation-Worthy Oasis

Warm weather means more time to relax outdoors. For those homeowners lucky enough to have entertaining spaces outside, spring and summer provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the fresh air under the sun or stars.

Over the last few years, families have become especially familiar with what works about their yards and where there is room for improvement. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and early stay-at-home mandates resulted in plenty of time spent in backyards on staycations. Even though many such restrictions have been lifted, homeowners may have seen the benefits of having functional respites right outside their doors.

A backyard renovation can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. The American Society of Landscape Architects suggests homeowners budget the cost of a major landscaping project at between 5 and 10 percent of their home’s value. Large or small, here are ways to make an outdoor oasis at home.

Create living privacy

Living in close proximity to neighbors may make privacy harder to come by. Wood or vinyl fences, however effective, may not provide the all-natural look many people desire. Vertical gardening, which trains easy-care vines like English ivy, Clematis or various climbing roses to grow on trellis or fencing adds greenery and privacy. Hedges and fast-growing shrubs also can be used for natural barriers.

Install a pool

Pools are the ultimate spots to cool off on hot days. An elaborately shaped inground pool can blend in with the landscape and offer the ultimate hang-out zone. However, above-ground pools also serve the purpose and are more budget-friendly. Stock tank pools are popular among those who want minimal pool expenditure or have small spaces to work with. Stock tanks are metal vessels traditionally used as watering holes for livestock. They also can be “adult kiddie pools” when combined with some plumbing. Galvanized steel frames make them sturdy. With floats and other accessories, they can become the perfect oasis.

Provide outdoor atmosphere

Create a bespoke bistro vibe by using freestanding planters and posts along with hanging lights to make an intimate outdoor hangout spot at night. For those with permanent structures, like a deck or a gazebo, lights can be strung across the area or on railings or edging.

Extend the living space

Decks and patios can help make outdoor entertaining areas more comfortable by eliminating the need to sit on the grass or gravel. Plus, they add another “room” to the home. When paired with weatherproof patio furniture, such as sofas, loungers, and tables, a private seating area can be crafted and utilized for any number of entertaining desires.

Hang a hammock

Few things evoke feelings of relaxation better than a hammock. Fitted between two trees (or two posts if trees are sparse), a hammock is an ideal place to grab a nap or read a book.

Additional oasis-inspired ideas include outdoor kitchens, letting up lanterns, cascading water features, and bird feeders to attract the sounds of nature.

All-Natural Ways to Protect Food Gardens From Pests

Homeowners frequently enhance their outdoor living spaces with attractive plants and trees. When that greenery also produces food, the results can be both beauty and bounty.

People who plant vegetable gardens and fruit trees in their yards can be blessed with an abundance of fresh pickings once it’s time to harvest. In fact, many home gardeners may have visions of warm evenings pulling vegetables right out of the garden and tossing them on the grill or in salads. But insects and animals enjoy fresh produce just as people do. The joy of harvesting from a garden can be diminished when unwanted guests have gotten there first.

Homeowners can employ these all-natural strategies to protect their fruits and vegetables from lawn pests and critters.

Plant gardens in raised beds

Though they’re not a fool-proof deterrent, raised beds can eliminate some garden infiltration by small critters that come up and under from the ground. A raised garden bed can deter rabbits, gophers, groundhogs, slugs, and some other crawling pests. Raised beds also are ergonomical and easily accessible.

Prepare homemade insecticide

The environmental information site Treehugger provides information on making a homemade insecticide from vegetable oil and mild soap. Use one cup of oil with one tablespoon of soap (such as Dr Bronner’s castile soap). Add this mixture to one quart of water in a spray bottle. This concoction can eradicate aphids, mites, thrips, and more by coating insects’ bodies and effectively suffocating them. Soap-and-water sprays or even neem oil sprays work similarly.

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth, commonly known as DE, is an abrasive powder comprised of fossilized algae diatoms. It’s commonly used as a filter medium in swimming pools but also makes an effective pesticide. The material’s abrasive and absorbent qualities draw moisture out of insects, essentially dehydrating them to death. DE can be sprinkled around the base of plants but will need to be reapplied after rain and watering.

Space out plants

One way to reduce insect or animal pest numbers is to ensure ample space between plants. Tightly planted crops create a breeding ground for fungal diseases and also provide hiding spots and warmth for pests. Leaving room between plants can help avoid these issues, according to Gardening Channel.

Use row covers or garden mesh

Specialized covers and meshes protect fruit and vegetables against insects and animals. Many plants can be covered all year long as long as the covers are lifted during flowering if the crops depend on pollination by bees. Veggiemesh® is a cover that can be laid over plants.

Interplant crops in the garden

Interplanting is a technique that involves alternating crops, herbs, and flowers to confuse the pests so they have a difficult time finding what they want to eat. Alternate rows of vegetables with herbs and flowers that appeal to beneficial insects.

Keeping pesky insects and animals from damaging food gardens can involve techniques that are safe and natural.

How to Host a Memorable Memorial Day BBQ

Memorial Day is a bittersweet day on the calendar. Memorial Day is a day to pay homage to the brave men and women who lost their lives defending the United States. However, over time, Memorial Day has evolved into the unofficial beginning of summer.

As temperatures start to heat up, so, too, do backyard grills. In fact, grilling is an essential component of a good Memorial Day barbecue. There are many other ways to put your mark on Memorial Day cookouts as well. These ideas can make your event all the more memorable.

Keep it simple

Guests have certain expectations when they arrive at Memorial Day barbecues, and simplicity often tops the list. A simple playlist of recognizable, popular songs playing in the background, classic yard games like corn hole or horseshoes, sack races or water balloon tosses for the kids, and tasty classic fare on the grill, including burgers, hot dogs and chicken drumsticks, is likely all you need to put smiles on the faces of your guests.

Prep the grill and yard in advance

Memorial Day may be the first big event of the season, and chances are that the grill and yard could use some attention. Make sure all the burners are clean and working properly. Clear clutter from the yard and give patio furniture a thorough cleaning. Add outdoor furniture if you need more seating. Have a spare propane tank on hand so you won’t run out of fuel. If you have a pet, be sure that the yard is cleared of waste.

In addition to cleaning the yard, stock up on citronella candles or insect repellents. Bugs may want to join the festivities, too.

Create a red, white and blue burger

No barbecue is complete without delicious burgers cooking over an open flame. Those burgers can give an extra nod to the Stars and Stripes by showcasing the nation’s well-recognized colors. Place your grilled burger patty on your bun of choice. Top it with raw or grilled tomato slices (red), a slather of mayonnaise or a more dressed up aioli (white), and some blue cheese crumbles (blue). Carry the color theme over into a side salad as well, with your favorite greens topped with beets, blueberries and chunks of feta cheese.

Serve buffet style

One of the easiest ways to serve a number of people is to put the food out on long tables so that guests can pick and choose what they want. Place condiments and beverages in a separate area to keep the line flowing.

Separate beverages

Make sure that alcoholic beverages are kept separate from non-alcoholic options so that children do not get into the wrong drinks. Coolers placed on opposite sides of the yard can eliminate confusion.

It doesn’t take much to make Memorial Day barbecues enjoyable. With delicious food and close friends and family in attendance, fun is guaranteed.

Outdoor Improvements That Boost Home Value

Whether home improvement projects are designed to improve the interior or exterior of a house, focusing on renovations that make the most financial sense can benefit homeowners in the long run. The right renovations can be assets if and when homeowners decide to sell their homes.

So how does one get started? First and foremost, speak to a local real estate agent who is knowledgeable about trends in the community. While a swimming pool may be something coveted in one area, it may impede sales in another. It also helps to study generalized trends and data from various home improvement industry analysts to guide upcoming projects.

The following outdoor projects are just a few renovations that tend to add value.

Firepit

A fire pit is a great place to gather most months of the year. Bob Vila and CBS news report that a fire pit realizes a 78 percent return on investment or ROI.

Outdoor kitchen

Many buyers are looking to utilize their yards as an extension of interior living areas. Cooking, dining, and even watching TV outdoors are increasingly popular. Outdoor living areas can be custom designed and built. In addition, prefabricated modular units that require a much smaller commitment of time and money are available.

Patio

Homeowners who do not already have a patio will find that adding one can increase a home’s value. Patios help a home look neat, add useable space, and may help a home to sell quickly. The experts at Space Wise, a division of Extra Space Storage, say that refinishing, repairing, and building a new patio offers strong ROI.

Deck

Decks can be as valuable as patios. A deck is another outdoor space that can be used for entertaining, dining, and more. Remodeling magazine’s 2018 “Cost vs. Value” report indicates that an $11,000 deck can add about $9,000 in resale value to the home, recouping around 82 percent of the project’s costs.

Door update

Improve curb appeal with a new, high-end front door and garage doors. If that’s too expensive, a good cleaning and new coat of paint can make an old door look brand new. These easy fixes can improve a home’s look instantly.

New landscaping

The National Association of Realtors says an outdoor makeover that includes well-thought-out landscaping can net 105 percent ROI. Installing a walkway, adding stone planters, mulching, and planting shrubs are ideas to consider.

Many different outdoor projects can add value to a home.

How to Plan a Special Mother’s Day as Pandemic Restrictions Are Lifted

Mother’s Day has felt a little less than normal over the last couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of many Mother’s Day gatherings in 2020, and while things felt more familiar in 2021, this year may mark the most normal Mother’s Day celebrations since 2019.

Pandemic-related restrictions have now been lifted in many towns and cities. Though it’s best to confirm if any rules and restrictions are still in place before making any plans, individuals who want to make sure Mom has a special day can consider these planning pointers.

Revisit old traditions

There’s many ways to let Mom know she’s special, but after two years of living under the specter of a pandemic, few things might be as meaningful to Mom as a return to pre-pandemic traditions. Book a trip to a destination you’ve visited on Mother’s Day in the past. If possible, visit a locale where Mom spent her first Mother’s Day as a parent, ideally staying in the same hotel or rental home that hosted you back then. If it was once tradition to spend Mother’s Day in a big city, return there and enjoy a day that recalls pre-pandemic life.

Book a special trip

Millions of people canceled or postponed travel plans during the pandemic. Now that many places, including foreign countries, have lifted travel restrictions, families can feel safe taking off for parts unknown. Such a trip can be even more special if it’s a surprise for Mom on Mother’s Day weekend.

Make it a family affair

Even Mother’s Day celebrations in 2021 were likely smaller affairs than some moms might have preferred. If Mom spent some time wishing more family could be around on Mother’s Day over the last two years, make a concerted effort to include as many family members as possible this year. Encourage grown children to travel home for the holiday and invite Mom’s parents and siblings over to celebrate as well.

Get out of the house

A homecooked meal might have warmed Mom’s heart in recent years, but a day out of the house might be especially welcomed this Mother’s Day. Book a reservation at Mom’s favorite local restaurant so no one has any cooking or cleaning to do this year. Just be sure to book a reservation early, as the competition for a table figures to be especially stiff this year.

Start the day off with a spa visit

Moms might have put pampering on hold during the pandemic. Now that public health agencies have given the go-ahead to lift restrictions, a good pampering is undoubtedly in order. A Mother’s Day morning spa trip can start the day off right.

Mother’s Day celebrations in 2022 should feel more normal than they have in years. Families can capitalize on that by planning a day Mom won’t soon forget.