image_print

How to Clean Painted Wood Floors

A message in my inbox this week came from Joan who asked, “What is the best way to clean a very grimy painted wood floor?”

072516IMAGE

Before I get to an answer for Joan, let’s talk generally about wood floors and the difference between a painted wood floor and a finished wood floor. I would never suggest that anyone treat them as equals when it comes to cleaning. Please, make sure you never use a painted floor cleaning formula on your finished hardwood floor because it will be too harsh and could cause damage.

Paint by definition is different than say a polyurethane finish, typically used on hardwood floors. Paint is tougher, especially latex enamel that has been formulated for wood floors. Although water isn’t recommended for cleaning finished wood floors because it raises the grain, it’s safer for painted floors because the paint prevents the moisture from soaking into the wood. Even so, Joan will want to dry her painted wood floor promptly to prevent the wood from absorbing moisture.

Because Joan used the word “grimy” to describe this painted floor, I’m going to assume this painted floor that has dried on spills and dirt that’s been ground in over a period of time—a worst case scenario.

Ways to Use a FoodSaver That Have Nothing to do with Food

My vacuum-sealer is one of my favorite kitchen appliances. I vacuum seal fresh fruit to extend the useful by at least two weeks, often much longer. I vacuum seal meat before I freeze it to stave off freezer burn, which keeps it perfect for six months to a year. I could go on and on about my FoodSaver saves our food bill, but today I want to tell you all the ways I use the thing that have nothing to do with food!

072116image

But first, two general vacuum-sealing tips:

CONVENIENCE. I’ve learned through trial and error that for my FoodSaver to work at maximum efficiency it has to be handy. It cannot be stuck in a cupboard or on a pantry shelf. If I have to make the smallest effort to get it out and plug it in, I stop using it because I forget, or it’s such a hassle I decided to skip using it “just this one time.” My FoodSaver has to sit on the counter with nothing obstructing it—always plugged in and ready to go. And the bags have to be equally handy. I keep them in the drawer immediately below the counter where FoodSaver resides.

How to Child-Proof a Forbidden Door Plus More Great Reader Tips

If you’ve ever had the need to prevent children from closing a door and unwittingly closing themselves in a pantry or bathroom, you may know the old hand- towel trick: Throw the towel over the top of the door. That’s it. No matter how hard a child might try to close it, “no can do!” I’ve always loved that handy dandy tip. But I have to admit, I’d never thought about how to use a similar trick to keep a child from opening a door. Well, I hadn’t until I heard from today’s first great reader ….

071916image

CREATE A TIGHT JAM. My 2 year-old grandson opened an outside entry door with a  lever-type handle and went outside while I was in the bathroom! I live in an apartment and am not allowed to install a chain or other hardware on the door. I searched for a portable lock and found several kinds—all about $15 to $25. I finally found a suggestion of closing a folded washcloth in the opening between the door and door jam. That effectively jams the door without harming it. Opening the door requires the strength of an adult to pull the cloth out. I’m so thankful to find this tip because it didn’t cost me a thing and it really works to keep a child from opening a forbidden door. Barbara

USE ‘EM UP TO THE LAST PEEL. Rather than throw out overly ripe vegetables, I simmer them in water to make vegetable stock*. I also keep a bag in my freezer where I add vegetable peelings and other vegetables odds and ends—even potato cooking water—  and potato cooking water until it’s full, then I make the stock. Cate

*Chop scrubbed vegetables into 1-inch chunks. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in a soup pot.  Add vegetables scraps and pieces (onion, celery, carrots, scallions, garlic and herbs and so forth). Cook over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt and water (more or less depending on volume of vegetables) and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain. Discard vegetables. Store covered in refrigerator or freezer. -mh

STACKED GRILLED CHEESE. My wife and I enjoyed your recent article on grilled cheese sandwiches. We may just try some of the suggested variations! We like to include pickle slices in ours. We typically use the pre-sliced Vlasic Stackers dill pickles. Timing is important with these. You really don’t want to heat the pickle itself, so you need to pull the sandwich apart right after it comes off the griddle, before the cheese-glue “sets,” to insert the pickle slice. An alternative is to incorporate a slice or two of deli ham next to one of the bread slices, so that this quick action isn’t needed. John

Your humble columnist, being a huge fan of pickles, found this idea to be a bit off putting, if not downright odd. Hot melted cheese and cold dill pickles?! I must apologize for jumping to conclusions. I tried it. Oh my! Absolutely delicious. Next, I’m going to try Vlasic Bread and Butter Stackers. Your instructions are spot on, John. -mh

RETIRED BUT NOT FINISHED YET. I have been reading your blog for years and have used so many of your fabulous tips and I would like to add one that I’ve never seen mentioned. As a dusting/cleaning rag, I have found nothing beats a good, old fashioned cotton diaper. I buy two dozen very clean (they’ll never be that white again!) “retired” diapers from Dy-Dee Diaper Service in Pasadena, Calif. for $22.90. They last an incredibly long time and I feel good about giving the diapers a second life and keeping them out of the landfill. Stacie

What a great idea. As I looked into this I find that mechanics, contractors and all kinds of service people buy up retired diapers just about as fast as they become available for purchase. Every diaper service I contacted across the country, including your Dy-Dee company, sells its retired stock as diapers are removed from service. Some sell by the dozen (as low as 50 cents per diaper), others by the pound ($3 to $5 per pound seems  standard). Some companies require local pickup but others will ship.

Rather than try to list all of the companies here, I suggest you search “diaper service” in your local area and then give that company a call. -mh

Make It Yourself—Cheaper, Better and Faster!

Since the day I learned to make my own homemade laundry detergent (it did take a few attempts to reach perfection), I’ve become semi-obsessed with making my own household cleaners and some grocery items as well.

My benchmark is that what I make myself needs to be cheaper, better and faster than the store-bought version. Here are a few of my favorites and (I’m certain), soon to be yours, too!

071816image

BROWN SUGAR. Add 1 tablespoon molasses to 1 cup granulated white sugar for light brown sugar; or 2 tablespoons molasses to 1 cup white sugar for dark brown sugar. Do this in a bowl that is an appropriate size for the amount of brown sugar you’ll make. Using a fork, a pastry cutter or electric mixer, mix well until the molasses is completely incorporated and the color and texture are even. Store the fluffy, soft brown sugar in an air-tight container. That’s it—the best brown sugar ever.

GRENADINE. Adults know Shirley Temple for her beloved, innocent roles in films. But, most kids know her for the non-alcoholic cocktail named after her. Grenadine is the red ingredient in a classic Shirley Temple, also other cocktails like the Jack Rose, tequila sunrise and scofflaw. To make grenadine, place equal parts white granulated sugar and pure, unsweetened pomegranate juice in a sauce pan. Bring it to a boil. Cook just until the sugar dissolves or about one minute. That’s it. Done. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator for up to a month. To make a classic Shirley Temple “mocktail,” mix together ginger ale and a splash of grenadine. Top it off with a maraschino cherry. 

Stop the Carnage! No More Rotten Produce in the Garbage

I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around this documented fact: Half of all produce grown in the U.S. is thrown out, while at the same time there is growing hunger and poverty right here in America.

071416

As I read the first paragraph of the news story, I assumed naively that all U.S.-grown produce makes it to market then consumers like you and me get it home, let it go bad before we can consume it and into the garbage it goes. That is a factor, but not the whole story.

The truth is that vast quantities of fresh produce are left in the field to rot, become livestock feed or hauled directly to the landfill because of (get ready) cosmetic standards. Not every potato, watermelon, strawberry or grape cluster turns out photo-perfect. Some are ugly and these days, that means they do not meet retailer and consumer demands for blemish-free, perfect produce. Just imagine how the retail cost of produce might plummet if all that is produced—even the still-nutritious but ugly produce—were available for sale.

Compulsive Chopper

I just did something I have not done in years. I took the weekend—plus the holiday—off. It was wonderful. Had friends over. Moved our backyard barbecue inside as it was terrifyingly hot and windy.

And I made salsa. From scratch.

071316image

I used my absolutely favorite kitchen gadget, the Vidalia Chop Wizard to chop the stuff that needed chopping (tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro). This thing is amazing.

It chopped the tomatoes fast and uniformly—without launching seeds and pulp across the room or turning the whole thing into a squished mess.

Then the onions, peppers, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic all mixed together with lime juice, salt and pepper—done in about 5 minutes start to finish. Yum!

I love my Chop Wizard. I look for things to chop just because it’s so much fun. I’m a chopping fool! And the results are always so amazing. I even took Chop Wizard to the office a while back and held a demonstration for my tolerant staff.

Easy Ways to Plan for College, Save Money, Read Books and Carpool the Kids, Too!

BIG FUTURE. Planning for college? BigFuture.CollegeBoard.org is a website set up by the College Board to help students navigate the often confusing and overwhelming world of choosing, paying for and getting into college. It’s a college-planning headquarters of sorts.

friends laptop

BigFuture not only helps you find a school that fits your aspirations and your bank account, but also helps with personal decisions such as whether living on campus is a good fit for you or not.

You will find it to be a very comprehensive site covering scholarships, loans, campus visits, interviewing techniques, and so on.

SAVE UP. The purpose of SaveUp.com is to get people saving money again and out-of-debt. We like that! The site helps by offering incentives. The more you save and pay off your debts, the more incentives you win (credits towards prizes and free plays). They even have a powerball-like drawing each month to win $2 million—not that anyone has ever won it, but still.…

Savers and debt-payers earn credits at SaveUp by linking financial accounts, watching informational videos, answering profile questions, paying off debt and saving money. Then they can spend their credits to play games and win prizes like iPads, cash, Kindles, etc.

Surprising Ways to Use a Slow Cooker that Have Nothing To Do with Food

They’re bulky and take up precious cabinet space, but we’ll never get rid of our slow cookers. They can be such a lifesaver those days when time is scarce and we just want to make a big batch of something deliciously comforting to get us through.

070716image

A slow cooker, aka Crock-Pot®, is one awesome household appliance for hands-off cooking. If you have one (a recent study says at least 80 percent of us do) you may know what a great time- and money-saver it is. Surprisingly, your slow cooker is good for other tasks that have nothing to do with eating. Everybody needs a slow cooker!

RE-MAKE CANDLES. We all have those old candles that are lopsided or have holes burned through one side. Rather than toss them in the trash, toss them in the slow cooker instead. Once melted, fish out the old wicks and gather your heatproof containers. Tie a weighted candle wick (you can find these at any craft store or online) on a pencil laid across the container’s rim and let the other end dangle into the empty container. Carefully ladle the melted wax into the container without disturbing the wick and let cool. There you go, new candles!

HOMEMADE SOAP. Looking for a great homemade gift idea? This could be it! Homemade soap is wonderful because you can customize your soap bars with the scents and ingredients you prefer. While there are many recipes and instructions available online, you can skip the tedium with a clear melt and pour soap base. It’s detergent free. An hour in the slow cooker plus essential oil (20 drops lavender essential oil would be an awesome choice) plus colorant and any variety of botanicals and you’ve made your own beautiful soap products.