5 Easy spruce up ideas: more than a spit and shine

Do It Yourself

A few weeks ago I enjoyed visiting some dear friends who recently purchased their first home. As we were talking about DIY projects I realized that I was full of tidbits of information on where to find all sorts of stuff! A trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s can provide you with the basics, but if you really want to tackle a long-postponed project this weekend, here are a few pointers and resources.

1.  Paint Matching

If you are trying to match a paint color, be sure to visit the most comprehensive site I have seen yet! (If you have others, please share them!) http://www.colorcharts.org/cc/

2.  Wall Decals

Want to add some splash to a room?  Check out these fun ideas at www.dalidecals.com

3.  Replace Hardware and Knobs

Another easy way to change the look of a room is by changing the hardware or knobs on cabinets or dressers.  There are so many choices available, but my favorite place to shop is http://www.myknobs.com/

4.  New Faucets

Changing a faucet is not as hard as I thought!
So long as you have the right tools the folks at Faucet Depot make it easy!

http://www.faucetdepot.com/faucetdepot/main.asp

5.  New Lighting Fixtures

Maybe not a DIY project for everyone, but changing an existing light fixture can be done fairly simply- be sure to check for the safest way to tackle this one as to not cause injury or incident!  Get inspired by checking out: http://www.lampsplus.com I often find a good selection at Home Goods and Target.

Hope you and yours enjoy a long & productive holiday weekend!

 

Road Rage: 5 Tips for improving your social etiquette

smile

I recently attended a housewarming party where the topic of conversation landed on manners. The host (who is a new neighbor) thanked me for letting him pass at an intersection earlier in the week. I told him that I try to do one good thing on the road each day. As someone who spends a lot of time in the car I see many an angry, enraged, rude driver. It is a constant challenge to not become one of them!

When I was young, I was taught to be polite, to say please and thank you. I was also taught to hold a door for another person entering. When I passed my driving test it was because I actually stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk!

I recently had a door dropped in my face. A driver took a parking spot for which I was patiently waiting. Then, I overheard gossip in a public place about a well respected colleague. That’s a whole other topic for another day.

If you can relate to any of these, please share this with your friends.

Here are 5 tips to improving your social etiquette.

1. Be Courteous
2. Use “Please” and “Thank You” as often as possible
3. Hold the door open for others
4. Stop for pedestrians
5. Remember the GOLDEN RULE- One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself

You will be amazed at the number of people who will be surprised at these small gestures. Our busy, preoccupied society seems to have gotten away from the most basic form of human interaction- a smile. Try it. You’ll like it. Guaranteed.

5 Cheapest Places to Live

dollar sign

I just caught this informative article on Yahoo news and thought it was worth sharing with you. Having lived in many states, I can appreciate what MA has to offer (in addition to high taxes and high cost of living).  Personally, I would not trade the amenities, culture, diversity or opportunities for anything. Having access to great music, theater, hiking, biking, beaches, mountains, golf and educational institutions is worth a premium.  But I can see why others find a simpler life, and less expensive one worth pursuing.

5 Cheapest Places to Live

Andrea N. Browne of Kiplinger.com

September 21, 2011
Don’t mess with Texas when it comes to affordability. Major metropolitan areas in the Lone Star State reign supreme on Kiplinger’s annual ranking of the least expensive places to live in the U.S. Indeed, all of our picks are cities located either in Texas or the heartland of middle America.

The cities on our least-expensive list all have housing prices well under $250,000; homes in one city average less than $200,000. Overall cost of living in these metro areas falls 15% to 20% below the national average.

We ranked the least expensive places to live using data from the U.S. Census (metropolitan statistical areas only) and the ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which is assembled by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The index measures relative prices in several categories, including consumer goods, housing, transportation, utilities and health care, to come up with a composite score for each city. The national average is 100. So a score below 100 indicates a lower cost of living.

Here are the five cheapest places to live in the U.S.

5. Sherman, Tex.
Cost of Living Index: 86
Metro Population: 117,913
Median Household Income: $45,171
Average Home Price: $213,485

Located 60 miles north of Dallas, the Sherman metropolitan area includes Denison and Pottsboro. The population is the lowest of any of the city metro areas that comprise our least-expensive list. Families make up about 70% of the population. Health care is one of the leading industries, providing one of the highest median incomes in our least-expensive rankings. The extra money can go a long way, considering the relatively affordable costs of food and utilities. Monthly apartment rents run just $595, on average.

4. Fort Smith, Ark.
Cost of Living Index: 85
Metro Population: 288,468
Median Household Income: $37,363
Average Home Price: $235,168

Nestled in a bend of the Arkansas River and bordering Oklahoma, the Fort Smith metro area includes Van Buren and Ozark. Low prices for groceries and utilities make it a budget-friendly place, as does a meager average rent of just $456 per month. Owning a home runs a bit higher than some other cities on our least-expensive list, but the average cost of a house is still $320,000 less than in San Diego, the tenth-ranked city on our most-expensive list.

3. Ft. Hood, Tex.
Cost of Living Index: 84.8
Metro Population: 368,682
Median Household Income: $46,183
Average Home Price: $210,383

The Fort Hood metropolitan area, which includes Killeen and Temple, is about 60 miles north of Austin, the capital of Texas. The local economy is anchored in part by a major U.S. Army base. The high concentration of soldiers and military families may help explain why close to 15% of the population is 25- to 34-year-olds. Rent averages $596, and home prices are among the five least expensive in our ranking.

2. Pueblo, Colo.
Cost of Living Index: 84.1
Metro Population: 153,814
Median Household Income: $40,805
Average Home Price: $194,302

Located about 100 miles south of Denver, Pueblo has an enviable combination of decent paychecks and super-low housing costs. Median household income ranks in the top five among the cities on our least-expensive list, yet the average home price is the lowest here. Grocery prices are higher relative to a place like Brownsville, where a T-bone steak, for example, will run you about $8.49. The same cut of beef costs about a buck more in Pueblo. The metropolitan area includes Boone, Avondale and Stone City.

1. Brownsville, Tex.
Cost of Living Index: 80
Metro Population: 383,171
Median Household Income: $30,034
Average Home Price: $209,177

This metro area, which includes Harlingen and San Benito, is at the southwestern tip of the Lone Star State, hard against the Mexican border. The Gulf of Mexico and the popular beaches of South Padre Island are just a stone’s throw away. Rents in Brownsville average $659, more than four times cheaper than New York, the most expensive city in our annual rankings, where rents average $2,778. Utilities can be pricey, but costs for groceries and other consumer goods are exceptionally low. An affordable South Texas alternative to Brownsville is the McAllen metro area, just an hour’s drive away along the Rio Grande.

http://realestate.yahoo.com/promo/5-cheapest-places-to-live-in-america.html

Like wings? 5 reasons why you’ve got to try The Bone!

Wings at The Bone

When I first learned that a favorite local bar & restaurant was being filmed as part of a SPIKE TV series I was elated! I have been a long time fan of the Chicken Bone Saloon (now known as THE BONE). Having gone to school in upstate NY, wings are a common thread of any party, occasion, game or event. Great wings are hard to come by in New England.

The original establishment had not been updated or altered in decades and was desperately in need of a face lift. While the host of the show, Jon Taffer, was critical and harsh at times, he was able to persuade the owner that change was vital to his success.

The fresh approach and new menu has been well received. I especially liked the plastic serving tray that held the wings in compartments. There was an opening in the center for the bones so when your meal is complete you are not left staring at the carnage of your meal. It’s ingenious!

5 reasons why you should visit The Bone:

1. The flavor of the secret sauce is intense and left me licking my fingers
2. There was ample carrot and celery sticks and individual containers of blue cheese dip so I did not have to share
3. The homemade mac-and-cheese was decadent enough for an adult, even if it was on the kids menu
4. The music selection was awesome!
5. The prices are moderate for the area and the menu truly has something for everyone

One flaw- do not expect great service. I practically had to tackle my server to bring me a check. But it was truly worth it!

Stop by for a quick lunch or a hearty dinner. Framingham is lucky to have The Bone!

http://www.thechickenbone.com

THE HOTTEST BACKPACKS- September News from Ali

MadPax

Please check out my recent email newsletter!

http://tinyurl.com/AliSept11news

Penne All’Arrabiata
1/4 C olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp crushed dried red pepper
1 Can (28 oz) peeled Italian plum tomatoes with juices – or can of crushed
salt
8 oz penne pasta
2 Tbs chopped parsley 

heat oil in large skillet over low heat. Add garlic & red pepper. Saute’ stirring until garlic turns golden, do not brown garlic.

Puree tomatoes and stir into oil, simmer stirring until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, about 20 mins. Season with salt to taste.

Cook penne in salted boiling water until form about 10 mins. Drain, toss with sauce and sprinkle with parsley.

PREP: 5 min
COOK: 20 min
Serves: 4 entrees

The Orange Room Story

orange wall

I recently offered to paint our son’s room.  When he said he wanted orange I felt a moment of regret. Would I regret giving him the freedom of choice without limits or would I truly regret painting his room orange?At 5, he has some definite style sense.  I can only imagine what the teen years will hold! I tried to encourage him to consider green, turquoise or even blue.  But he was insistent on creating a “basketball room”.  I never claimed to be a talented designer, but I am very proud of this joint project!

It turned out better than I hoped in the end.  We agreed to paint one wall orange and he was amenable. We then toured many stores and web sites for the perfect basketball decals.  (Thank you Groupon.com for leading me to  www.dalidecals.com)  It is continually amazing to me how a simple addition of color can change the entire look of a room. It is relatively inexpensive and anyone can learn how to do it successfully.

If you are ready to re-paint a room or just learning to paint a room, you probably already know that it can be an intimidating process that seems to take more time and effort than it is worth.  But before you decide to hire a contractor, check out these easy tips that will make painting faster and much easier.

Masking tape

The best way to make sure that your painting is even and doesn’t get on your ceiling or woodwork is to line the edges of the room with thick painter’s tape or masking tape.  Your edges will look as straight as possible without leaving pencil or pen marks all over the unpainted surface, which can often show through. You’ll want to mask all the edges of your walls, including door frames, window panes, ceiling molding, floor trim, anywhere you don’t want paint.  If you feel like getting really creative, you can make designs on the wall using the tape. Then run a roller full of paint right over it. When you take the tape off, you’ll have instant patterning on your wall.

Roller

Instead of using a paintbrush, you may want to consider using a paint roller instead.  Not only does it make the job faster, but also makes an even coat with each stroke. And correcting mistakes is easy. If you’re afraid of heights or just don’t like to use ladders, using a roller with an extended rod will make your job that much easier.  You can paint to the very top of your walls while keeping your feet safely on the ground.

Look for paint + primer combos

Sometimes you need to use a primer to cover over dark paint, mildew stains or other blemishes that might show through your new color. To speed up the pace of painting, you can look for a paint that has a primer mixed into it.  By doing this, you save money and will have an easier time giving the room a more finished and brighter look.  The primer makes any color you choose look like it came right out of a home decorating magazine.

Rolling corners

Corners may be one of the most difficult parts of painting a room. You can buy special corner rollers to make it a little easier. Many experts recommend you paint the corners first, and then blend outward to the main wall space.

Floor covering

Last but not least, remember to cover the floor when you are working!  There is a high risk of paint falling or splattering and it can be extremely difficult to get out (especially on a carpet.)  Most paints can permanently damage your flooring, so be proactive and do this small step before you begin. This can be done with a simple piece of canvas drop cloth or plastic sheeting.

It’s really true what they say–it’s amazing what a coat of paint will do. Whether you need to get your home ready to sell, or just want to lift your spirits, repainting a room can be one of the least expensive ways to get a great home makeover.

Happy painting!

Chillin’ and Grillin’: The Summer Staycation

BBQ

Feeling stressed out? Need a vacation?  How about a staycation? Summer is a great time to stay put and enjoy your surroundings.  Have a few friends over, grill up some favorites and enjoy!

Time to bring out that grill – here are some top barbecue sauce recipes.  What secret ingredient do you use in your sauce?

BBQ
BBQ

http://bbq.about.com/od/barbecuesaucerecipes/tp/10barbecuesauce.htm

If you are looking to stay local but get out of the house, here are a few suggestions from Patch (from Natick, MA).  Garden in the Woods is a wonderful place to stay cool in the shady trees, as is Broadmoor.  We enjoy both of these local attractions.  The Ecotarium has a wonderful polar bear exhibit and lots of things for little hands to touch.  Older kids and adults will appreciate the Natick Historical Museum and the Danforth.  Each have special exhibits throughout the year- check their web sites for more detail.

5 Staycations to Help You Get Away

By Alissa Letkowski

1. Natick Historical Society Museum: 58 Eliot St., Natick; 508-647-4841

It may be small, but a walk through the Natick Historical Society can transport you back in time to Natick’s rich historical roots. Natick Indian Community founder John Eliot’s Bible from the 1600s, items once belonging to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Horatio Alger Jr. and the 20th vice president of the United States Henry Wilson, all who once lived in town.

2. Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary: 280 Eliot St., Natick; 508-655-2296

Broodmoor Wildlife Sanctuary offers nine miles of trails to wander through fields, wetlands and woodlands.

3. Danforth Museum of Art: 123 Union Ave., Framingham; 508-620-0937

This museum focuses on American Art from as early as the 18th century. The musem offers around 400 classes and workshops year-round so you can brush up on your art skills as well.

4. Garden In the Woods: 180 Hemenway Rd., Framingham;  508-877-7630

The New England Wild Flower museum features more than 1,000 types of indigenous New England flowers and 40 acres of space. Tours are available to the public once each day. Space for private parties is available.

5. Ecotarium: 222 Harrington Way, Worcester; (508) 929-2700

This indoor and outdoor museum offers a wide variety of exhibits, animals and activities to offer.

Electric Bills Too High: 13 tips for reducing energy costs

lightbulb

With the price of everything these days, it is nice to be able to save money in some areas. The cost of utilities can account for a significant portion of the family budget every month, and the two biggest electric users are heat and air conditioning. It is possible to shave a few dollars off your electric bill every month with some easy to implement conservation measures.

1. Check with your electric company and find out if they offer “off peak” hour usage. An off peak hour is a time of day when consumer energy costs are lower. It’s typically when energy demand is at its lowest. If your energy company does offer off peak hour energy hours, you may find out those hours coincide with your schedule. If so, do your heavy cleaning, laundry, and cooking chores then, instead of during more costly hours.

2. When purchasing new appliances, make sure they are energy efficient. One appliance can cut $100 or more off your yearly electric bill. Imagine what a kitchen full of energy efficient appliances will do to your yearly electric bill.

3. Keep refrigerators and freezers out of sunny spots in the kitchen. The warmth will keep the refrigerator in cooling mode and running more often than necessary. Also, make sure there is air space around the appliance to allow for proper air circulation. Be sure to keep the refrigerator closed. Unnecessary opening will just make the refrigerator work harder. Replace the sealing gaskets around the refrigerator and freezer doors periodically to be assured of a tight fit.

4. Only run the dishwasher when it is full, unless it has a setting for small loads. If your dishwasher is an energy efficient model, it may have an efficiency setting, allowing it to use less water for each wash cycle.

5. When you replace light bulbs, use CFL light bulbs. CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamps. They use about 75% less energy and cost a little more than the light bulbs you may be using at present. But in the long run, the savings in electricity will offset the cost of the CFL light bulbs. Consider using LED lights when possible. LED’s are highly efficient.

6. Consider painting the walls in rooms in light colors, and installing light carpet. The rooms will appear lighter, longer. Which means you won’t need as much artificial lighting.

7. Unplug electronic devises when not in use, especially chargers for cell phones and music players. Unplug power strips when not in use, too. An item that is plugged into a power strip will use electricity even when the device is off.

8. Install programmable thermostats and preset the heat and air conditioning to go off at night and when no one is at home or to turn on just before occupants return home. That way the house is not being heated or cooled unnecessarily and off at times when there is no one home.

9. Install insulation in the attic, if there is none, and apply weather stripping around doors and windows. That will keep cold air from seeping in around doors and windows and eliminate, or at least minimize greatly, heat from escaping through the attic.

10. When doing laundry, hang clothes on a clothesline outside to air dry rather than using the dryer all the time. If the weather is not cooperating, dry the clothes on a clothes rack in the house or on an enclosed porch.

11. Instead of using your air conditioner all the time, install ceiling fans. The fans will circulate the air and make the air feel cooler in the warm weather and warm in the cooler weather.

12. Plant shade trees and other vegetation around the perimeter of the house to provide shade and insulation from the cold.

13. When cooking on an electric stove, always boil water in a pot with a cover. An open pot will lose two thirds of the energy. Turn off the stove about 5 minutes before the food is done cooking or turn the oven off about 10 minutes before the food is done cooking. The food will continue cooking even after the cook top and oven are turned off.

Implementing even just a few of these ideas can save you significant amounts over the course of a year.

What can you do to save electricity right now?

Time for a splurge: 5 things that are worth the extra bucks

usaa_spring_2008_cover_cb51

I recently read an article in USAA’s member magazine that discussed 5 items that are worth spending a few extra bucks.

Below, I will share an overview with you in hopes that you too will agree that these things are certainly worth paying top dollar.

1.  Running shoes- there is just no point in buying cheap sneakers.  They will only hurt your feet and not last as long as a well constructed pair. After all $50 a few times a year is worth running or walking pain-free.

2.  Estate Planning- While this is a complicated issue, there are a lot of good options available. You can do it yourself, or consult a professional.  For a referral to an expert, please contact me.

3.  Mattress- Think about the amount of time you spend sleeping and then consider this one of the BEST investments you can make.  Be sure to check coil count, gauge and filling materials when selecting a mattress.

4. Kitchen Knives- Ever tried to cut a carrot with a dull knife?  You will either cut yourself or exert so much force the cutting board flies off the counter!  Look for a high-carbon steel blade that is made from a single sheet of metal.  Plastic handles can easily crack so wood or metal are a better option.  Don’t forget to have them sharpened yearly (or more frequently for heavy usage).

5. Interior Paint- There are a lot of mixed reviews on paint. Most professional painters will have their favorite products and I encourage you to go along with the expert advice.  Higher quality paint will spread more evenly, require fewer coats as it is more viscous and in the end last longer than a thin, cheap, watery paint product.

I hope that you also find these tips helpful! Happy shopping and enjoy spending those extra bucks.

 

 

 

What’s That Smell???

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After my last post, I received a few requests for more detailed information about getting your home ready for showing.  While I can’t give away ALL my trade secrets (you have to hire me for that!), I thought the following might be helpful whether or not your house is on the market.  If you have pets, messy kids or smoke, these tips will help you set the stage for a clean scent!
Natural Ways to Scent Your Home

Let’s face it, artificial air fresheners can only do so much to make your house smell “fresh.” Some can even be toxic to your health.

Even candles or wall scents often smell heavy and full of chemical fragrances.  An overpowering smell is not something anyone wants to walk into, especially if you’re allergic to chemical fragrances.  There are lots of ways to make your house smell like it has just been cleaned, like dessert is being baked, or just naturally beautiful.  The best way to do this is by simply using your stove rather than a spray bottle.

Stove scents

Aromatherapy is a wonderful tool to help you relax or re-energize using familiar scents.  You can create the feel of a crisp autumn afternoon or a day at the beach throughout every room in your house using only your stove and a few simple ingredients.  One great way to do this is by boiling a few teabags in a pot of water.  You can also add scents and extracts to this water to create a steam that releases these pleasant smells.  If you’re looking for an even fresher approach, try taking natural herbs and spices like mint leaves and boiling those as well.

It’s a great idea to match the scent to the room decor or the time of year. A Christmas mix of cinnamon and cloves is wonderful in the winter. But you may want to go with a floral version in the summer.

 

Pleasing scents for the home

Cinnamon-Best if used in sticks for a stronger overall impact.  Good for a heavier spice scent indoors.  Remember to only use a small amount because it can be overpowering if too much is used.

Cloves-You can use whole cloves, ground cloves or a drop of clove oil in water to create a Christmas feel in your home. Cloves and cinnamon make a nice mixture.

Ginger-For an Oriental smell.  It can be very strong depending on the dosage you choose to use.  Do not hesitate to mix this with cinnamon.  Together they create a spicy and delicious smell.

Lavender-If you like the smell of flowers then your house could have the feel of walking into an English garden in summer.

Lemongrass-Being more of a citrus scent, this isn’t for everyone.  Either you love it or you hate it.  It is perfect for making your house smell like it was just cleaned.

Vanilla-Almost everyone loves the smell of vanilla.  Whether it is faint or heavy is completely up to you.  Most commonly it is associated with baking, which is great for your kitchen. (be cautious, this can also be a sensual smell if overdone- I recommend sticking to fruity fragrances!)

Mint-Like lemongrass, mint is great for making your house smell like it was cleaned just minutes ago.  Make sure you don’t confuse “mint” with “peppermint” when using extracts. Mint smells clean, peppermint smells like a candy cane at Christmas.

Rose-A light floral scent that is very calming. You can use rose essence or rosewater

Tea- Tea bags of any variety are prime for this because they contain multiple herbs, which make for a variation in scents.

 

Simmer but don’t burn

Put about five cups of water in a saucepan on the stove. If you’re using an extract or oil, you only need a drop or two in the water. If you’re using whole herbs or spices, just a teaspoon or so is all you need. Let the mixture simmer, but be sure not to let all the water evaporate. You don’t want to burn the ingredients. That smells terrible!

Gentle scents are a wonderful way to make people feel welcome in your home. And using natural ingredients like these are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than any chemical fragrance. Give these recipes a try for your next party or open house.