Mary Mastroeni
GoogleLinked InYoutubePinterest
 
Mary Mastroeni

Mary's Blog

Fun, Fast and Simple Tips to Give a Tired Room an Instant Makeover

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Here are some simple tips, courtesy of Glidden, to help do-it-yourself enthusiasts liven up any indoor space this holiday season.

1. Pick the appropriate lighting for your paint color. The trick is to create a harmonious balance between color and light. Make up for the lack of light by adding in some table lamps, wall sconces, a chandelier or a mirror and watch how it makes the room look so much bigger even if you've painted it charcoal gray.

2. Don't forget about layering texture and pattern. It gives a room personality and stops the room from looking too flat. Silk curtains, a patterned pillow, or even a nice linen wallpaper are all things that can give the room dimension and make the room more interesting.

3. Look for ways to mix and match furniture. Just because the furniture you like is available as a set doesn't mean you have to purchase it that way. Mix it up a bit. Consider going with a white lacquer bookcase and a wood coffee table in your living room or a leather sofa paired with a beautiful upholstered armchair.

Tags:

Winter Heating Tips

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Cooler weather means the increased use of furnaces to stay warm and dry. Southern California Gas Co officials say if you haven't already, now is the time to prepare homes for an energy-efficient heating season, and to help keep gas bills low.

"With the cold and wet weather, we're seeing an increase in the use of home heaters, and that translates into higher heating bills," says Bret Lane, vice president of field services for SoCalGas. "To help keep a lid on heating costs while staying warm and dry this winter, we encourage customers to continue to practice conservation and use energy efficiently."

SoCalGas offers these tips for a warm, cozy and energy-efficient winter:

• Focus on the furnace. Home heating accounts for more than half of a typical customer's monthly gas bill;
• When using the home furnace, lower the thermostat three degrees to five degrees (health permitting) and turn it off when not at home. This can help save up to 30 percent on heating costs;
• Check furnace filters every month during the heating season and clean or replace the filter when necessary. When installing a new or cleaned filter, be sure to re-install the front panel door of the furnace properly so it fits snugly;
• Never operate the furnace without the front-panel door properly in place because doing so may create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning;
• Don't block heating outlets or return registers with furniture or other objects;
• Repair cracks or broken seams in forced-air heating ducts;
• Install or upgrade attic insulation;
• Caulk and weather-strip drafty windows and doors;
• Open the drapes or blinds during the day and let the sun help warm the home. Close drapes or blinds at night to keep the warmth inside;
• Consider adding another blanket or two at night to stay warm; and
• Choose a higher efficiency model when shopping for a new gas furnace.

For more information, visit www.socalgas.com.

Tags:

Top 10 Reasons to Go 'Real' this Christmas Season

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

As the variety of Christmas tree options continues to grow, consumers are facing the same annual question – should I go real or fake? Or, can a real Christmas tree really fit my budget and lifestyle?

As real Christmas trees arrive at local lots, the Pacific Northwest Christmas Association asked Luisa Santamaria, an assistant professor at Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, to share her thoughts on these common questions. Here are her top 10 reasons to go "real" this Christmas:

10: Wallet-friendly value. Real Christmas trees are available in a variety of species, shapes and sizes to fit any holiday tradition or budget.
9: Support the U.S. economy. Real Christmas trees are grown by individual Christmas-tree growers and farmers, often with many generations of families working on the same land, and purchases supports U.S. business.
8: Real Christmas trees are recyclable. Trees can be used as mulch along park trails, underwater habitats for fish and compost for gardens.
7: Bring a little bit of nature into the home. Extra tree branches can also be used as decorative greenery.
6: Selecting a fresh tree is easy with the “Smell and Snap” test. Give the branch a gentle crush and smell the needles to check for a clean Christmas tree fragrance. Then, bend a needle between your fingers; if it snaps, similar to a carrot, the tree is fresh.
5: Environmentally friendly. Real Christmas trees are grown on sustainable farms just like produce, nuts and other crops, and they do not threaten natural forests.
4: Easy to care for. With simple, proper care, your perfect tree can stay green and healthy throughout the holidays, minimizing clean up and maximizing the joy of your Christmas season.
3: Fun—and memories—for the whole family. Get everyone involved in the selecting a real tree by assigning fun jobs during the trip and take lots of pictures.
2: Real Christmas trees are truly a renewable product. Growers plant one or more trees to replace every tree they harvest.
1: The smell! You can’t replace the distinctive Christmas tree smell. Reach in to the middle of the tree every few days and gently crush the needles to release its fragrance.

"You just can't duplicate the many positives of a real Christmas tree," says Santamaria. "Above the wonderfully rich smell, real Christmas trees are easy to care for and environmentally friendly, which should give people peace of mind when selecting one for the holiday."

For more information, visit www.nwchristmastrees.org.

Tags:

Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk:
• older adults
• infants and young children
• pregnant women
• people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune system
• people who take medicines that suppress the immune system; for example, some medicines for rheumatoid arthritis 

Combating bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other contaminants in our food supply is a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration. But consumers have a role to play, too, especially when it comes to safe food-handling practices in the home.

"The good news is that practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness," says Marjorie Davidson, a consumer educator at FDA. 

1. Clean:
The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean.
• Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. "For children, this means the time it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice," says Davidson.
• Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
• Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
• Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. "Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops," says Davidson. 

2. Separate:
Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination).
• Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals.
• Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
• Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
• Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices. 

3. Cook:
Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
• "Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness," says Davidson. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF. (Please read on for more pointers on stuffing.)
• Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
• Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
• Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs. 

4. Chill:
Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.
• Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie!
• Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
• Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
• Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
• Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. Davidson says, "A good rule to follow is, when in doubt, throw it out."
• Leftovers should be used within three to four days. 

5. Use care with stuffing
In its Holiday Food Safety Success Kit, the Partnership for Food Safety Education recommends:
• Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended.
• Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven.
• Mix wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using.
• The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.
• Any extra stuffing should be baked in a greased casserole dish. 

For more information, visit www.fda.gov.

Tags:

Word of the Day

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Real estate. The land itself and everything extending below and above it, including all things permanently attached, whether by nature or by man.

Tags:

Question of the Day

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Q: How can I get a low down payment loan?

A: Such loans are offered by government agencies and private lenders, including nonprofit groups and employers. In fact, there are government programs at both the federal and state level to help cash-strapped buyers. Under many state housing agency guidelines, borrowers must usually be first-time homebuyers or have a limited family income to qualify for low down payment loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that require down payments of 3 to 5 percent.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest supplier of home mortgage funds, has a popular program for low- and moderate-income homebuyers called Community Home Buyers. Under the program, borrowers may buy with just 3 percent down—with a 2 percent gift from family members, a government program, or nonprofit group—and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. The program is available through participating mortgage lenders and requires that borrowers take a home-buyer education course.

Tags:

Holiday Home Fire Safety Tips

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Family gatherings, entertaining and festive decorations are among the highlights of the holiday season. According to the United States Fire Administration, during the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s season, there is an elevated risk for home fires due to extensive cooking, decorations, home heating and open flames. 

Paul Davis Emergency Services, a provider of fire damage and water damage clean up and restoration services for residential and commercial properties offers the following tips to make the holidays safe for you and your family. 

Holiday Decorations: Decorate with non-combustible or flame-resistant materials. Never use lighted candles on a tree, evergreens or other flammable materials. Don’t place candles near children, pets or gift wrapping.

Lights: Make sure there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections. Check labels to be sure about the proper use of indoor and outdoor lights. Don’t overload electrical outlets.

Trees: Cut a few inches off the trunk of a live tree and fill the stand with water to keep it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. An artificial tree should be labeled "Fire Resistant." Place trees away from fireplaces, radiators or portable heaters.

Fire Escape Plan: Make sure everyone understands the escape routes and where to meet once outside.

Smoke Alarms: Make sure your smoke alarms are in proper working order and change the batteries at least twice a year.

Fire Extinguishers: Make sure there is a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen, laundry room, and garage. Learn how to use the fire extinguisher.

Fireplace/Chimney: Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. Never burn greens, boughs, papers, or other decorations in the fireplace. Check to see that the flue is open before starting a fire.

Keep a list with important emergency phone numbers: Include police and fire departments, doctors and the national poison help line. 

In case of emergency property damage, contact a licensed, professional fire damage clean up and restoration company. 

For more information, visit www.pdrestoration.com.

Tags:

Big Ideas for Less Party Waste

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Whether you're hosting a tailgate party at the stadium or a child's party at home, you know that a paper plate here and an empty can there quickly add up to a lot of trash. Eco-friendly actress and mom Ali Larter knows it too, and is here to share innovative and eco-friendly party planning ideas, so you can increase the fun, while decreasing your environmental impact. 

Larter believes tackling this problem is as simple as taking small steps to waste less, which is why she co-hosted a tailgate at the University of Southern California (USC) earlier this year. With an estimated 80,000 fans in attendance, Larter teamed up with The Glad Products Company to help tailgaters learn how to take steps to go "One Bag," working toward the ultimate goal of sending just one bag of trash to the landfill, with the rest being diverted to recycling and compost. 

"Being green is something I strive for in my daily life, which is why I've teamed up with Glad," says Larter. "My goal is to inspire others to go one bag, no matter the occasion. Whether I'm hosting a family reunion or a birthday party for my son, it just takes a little bit of planning to cut down on waste. Before long, planning an eco-friendly gathering becomes second nature." 

With that spirit in mind, Larter suggests these tips for hosting your own One Bag event:
Send Electronic Invitations: Rather than mailing a printed invitation for your next party, use online invitations such as Paperless Post, or Facebook. 

Buy in Bulk: A large package of hot dogs for a tailgate uses less plastic than four or five packages from the super market for the same amount of food. 

Ditch the Disposables: While it's tempting to break out paper plates and plastic cutlery, most dining disposables end up in the landfill rather than the recycling stream. Instead, use real cutlery and plates or look for options that are compostable. I'm a fan of mixing and matching vintage china patterns for a shabby chic look. 

Turn T-Shirts into Tablecloths: Recycle gently used clothing or logo-wear to create party-themed tableware. For example, old college t-shirts or jerseys make the perfect tablecloths for your next tailgate. If sewing is a challenge, try cutting clothes to create napkins instead. 

Use Better Bags: Glad recently unveiled a new tall kitchen trash bag that is stronger, yet uses less plastic. This innovation saves 6.5 million pounds of plastic per year—that's the equivalent of keeping 140 million extra trash bags out of landfills annually. Recycling and compost bags are also available from this family of products. 

Save Your Skewers: Kabobs are one of the easiest party appetizers to make, especially if you're grilling out for a tailgate. Instead of using disposable wooden skewers, purchase reusable stainless steel or wire ones that are dishwasher safe and better for the environment. 

For more information, visit www.GladtoWasteLess.com.

Tags:

5 Modern Twists on the Time-Honored Tradition of Giving Thanks for Food

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

While celebrating the end of harvest season is a tradition that can be traced back for centuries, modern-day twists on the custom have evolved since the 1621 Plymouth Colony fall feast. Just as pilgrims rejoiced in their first good harvest, Americans today have found meaningful ways to honor the bounty, and express gratitude: 

1. Give #foodthanks. Farmers long ago traded in their oxen for tractors and other technologies to raise nutritious, great-tasting food. This year, a group of farmers and ranchers is cultivating a social media campaign to initiate meaningful conversations about food with Americans on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and beyond, says Kansas farmer Darin Grimm of the AgChat Foundation. "For farmers on the go, social media is a great way to connect with consumers," he says. "We're hoping to see everyone from chefs to foodies to farmers using the #foodthanks hashtag." Check out www.foodthanks.com, then tweet what you eat, using the #foodthanks hashtag, now through Thanksgiving. 

2. Plan your meal with an app. New recipe and meal-planning applications are a bounty in their own right. Try the Thanksgiving Menu Maker from Fine Cooking, which allows you to "tap your way to a customized holiday menu," offering more than 75 of the magazine's all-time favorite Thanksgiving recipes, along with a shopping list and schedule. 

3. Preserve the flavors of fall. Early American settlers would salivate over modern-day canning equipment. Once dismissed as a bygone art, canning has attracted a growing number of enthusiasts in recent years, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which provides tips on canning, pickling, freezing and more. To really make a food statement, create your own labels at www.myownlabels.com. 

4. Host your own tasting party. The holiday table inspires us to create treasured traditions at home, including exploring new foods in the company of friends and family. Home entertaining expert Domenica Marchetti suggests a trend-worthy twist on the wine and cheese tasting party. The author of Big Night In (Chronicle Books, 2008) says, "Embrace the season's bounty and host an apple tasting party!" 

5. Share in the bounty. Thanksgiving is a great time to talk with your family about helping others in need, whether it's a family down the street or a hungry child on the other side of the world. Charitable organizations like Farmers Feeding the World and Heifer International believe that giving families a source of food, rather than short-term relief, is a more sustainable way to lift them out of poverty and hunger. 

For more information, visit www.agchat.org.

Tags:

9 Tips to Help Someone Grieving during the Holidays

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

For many people, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. For those struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a difficult time full of painful reminders that emphasize their sense of loss. 

Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays. 

Hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, offer some suggestions:
1. Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It's okay to do things differently.
2. Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
3. Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
4. Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or at a holiday meal where they are a guest.
5. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
6. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person's loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
7. Never tell someone that he or she should be "over it." Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
8. Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
9. Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch. 

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten. 

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. 

For more information, visit www.caringinfo.org.

Tags: