Enhance Your Home’s Curb Appeal


Idyllic Home With Covered Porch

 

Although we’ve been told to do otherwise, people often judge homes based on curb appeal. Enhance your home’s exterior with these five tips.

 

Front Door

Wash your front door and polish hardware — replace if necessary. If the sun has faded the paint or you want a change, consider repainting with a bold new color that brings you joy.

 

Windows & Gutters

Remove debris from gutters and drain spouts before cleaning. Wash and repair windows or hire a professional. Clean or replace window treatments inside your home that are visible from the outside.

 

Landscaping

Mow, fertilize and water your lawn. Tidy up gardens; remove dead plants and branches; plant colorful flowers along any path or walkway; and add potted plants by the entry.

 

Porch

Sweep the porch; clear cobwebs from fixtures, railings and corners. Store toys, yard equipment and garbage cans. Clean patio furniture or consider updating worn pieces; add a swing or seating if space allows.

 

Exterior Touches

Check for missing or damaged shingles. Power wash and repair walkways and driveway. Clean or update light fixtures. Repaint shutters; repair, paint or replace mailbox. Check that house numbers are visible from the street; replace if needed.

3 Must-Have Home Amenities


modern kitchen

 

Some amenities that homebuyers once considered “nice-to-have” are moving into the “must-have” category. Below are three that experts say have grown in demand among home shoppers:

 

Smart Homes

More and more homes can be controlled via smart phone or tablet. Appliances and home systems can be turned on, off, or programmed via mobile devices. Some smart refrigerators have built-in apps that can create grocery shopping lists and smart ovens can be remotely controlled to start dinner or check on the status of what’s cooking.

 

Stainless-Steel Alternatives

Stainless-steel appliances have long dominated but some homebuyers are seeking alternatives. White ice and slate are increasingly growing as options to stainless-steel. Slate is being touted as an easy choice to blend in with other black, white or stainless-steel finishes. It can resist fingerprints and washes easily, too.

 

Energy Efficiency

Many homebuyers place a premium on finding a home with energy-efficient, cost-effective appliances. Energy Star-qualified appliances use 10 to 50 percent less energy than their older counterparts. Also gaining popularity are smarter appliances, including dishwashers with sensors that can determine the appropriate cycle length and water temperature and washers that can extract more water from laundry during the spin cycle so the dryer has less drying to do.

Tips for Selecting the Best Produce


Beautiful woman buying kale at a farmers market

 

If you have ever purchased produce only to have it turn moldy or mushy a few days later, the fruits or vegetables you selected may not have been in the best shape to begin with. By selecting the right produce at the grocery store or farmers market, you avoid wasting money while also maximizing the shelf life of your food.

 

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to stay away from pre-bagged or pre-cut produce. Pre-packaged produce is often smaller and pre-cut varieties simply won’t last as long. Picking your produce individually will result in better flavors and textures.

 

Follow these tips for picking your fruits and vegetables.

 

Fruits

Apples: Fruits should be firm, colorful, shiny and free of bruises or punctures.

 

Apricots: Select aromatic fruits with no green spots and slight give with gentle pressure.


Bananas:
 Select fruit that is yellow all over with no green or brown spots.

Berries:
 Look out for mold and mushy berries.
     Blackberries & Raspberries: Full and juicy, but not leaking.
     Blueberries: Select firm ones and avoid berries with red or green areas.
     Strawberries: Select colorful strawberries with green stems. Fruit should be fragrant and shiny, as well.

Cantaloupe:
 Select aromatic fruit that is heavy for its size.

Cherries:
 Select plump, firm cherries that look dark and glossy with green stems.

Figs:
 Avoid selecting dirty, bumpy or broken fruits.

Grapefruit:
 Select a deeply colored fruit with a slightly reddish hue and a heavy, plump feel.

Grapes:
 Search for grapes that are firmly attached to flexible stems. Grapes should be deeply colored, firm and plump.

Kiwi:
 Select fragrant, plump fruit. If you want ripe fruit, select the ones that yield to gentle pressure, or pick firm ones and ripen at home for a few days.

Lemons & Limes:
 The best citrus will be bright and feel heavy for its size. Avoid discoloration and overly thick peels.

Mangoes:
 Selecting mangoes is best done by feel rather than color. The softer the mango, the riper it is. The stem end should be lightly scented.

Oranges: 
Fruit should be heavy for its size. Also look for smooth, firm and thin peels.

Peaches: 
Select aromatic fruit that is soft, but not mushy.

Pears: 
Ripe pears should give a little when pressed gently at the top.

Persimmons: 
Select smooth and plump fruit. The skin should be bright and glossy.

Pineapples:
 Search for large fruit with bright green leaves. The outside should be firm.

Plums: 
Select plums that are firm and heavy for their size.

Pomegranates: 
Darker colored pomegranates will be sweeter than those that are pink, which will taste tart. Fruit should be heavy and firm.

Watermelon:
 Select heavy, firm watermelon. When tapped, the inside should sound hollow.

 

Vegetables

Asparagus: Choose asparagus with firm, green stalks and tightly closed tips with no signs of flowering.

Avocados:
 If you’re looking for an unripe avocado, select a firm one that doesn’t give to gentle pressure. If you want to purchase a ripe avocado, choose a bumpy dark-green one.

Corn: 
Keep an eye out for plump corn with sticky, brown tassels.

Cucumber:
 Bright, firm cucumbers with even color are the best to take home. Keep an eye out for dullness, soft spots and bruises.

Eggplant: 
Select smooth, shiny eggplants with deep, uniform color. The vegetables should be heavy for their size, and the smaller eggplants are generally sweeter.

Garlic: 
Choose garlic that is plump and heavy without broken skin or soft spots.

Herbs: 
Select fresh herbs that are fragrant and do not appear wilted.

Lettuce: 
The outer leaves of a lettuce head should be intact and firm, and the whole head should be somewhat heavy.

 

Okra: The best okra will be bright green with no bruises or dark spots.

Onions:
 Select firm onions with papery skins that are still intact. Store at room temperature.

Peppers: 
Select shiny, firm, wrinkle-free peppers.

Potatoes:
 Select firm potatoes with no sprouts, slits, green tinge or wrinkles. Store at room temperature.

Rhubarb: 
The stalks of the rhubarb should be stiff and not limp. There should be no cracks or blemishes, and leaves should be small. Be sure to remove the leaves before you store rhubarb as they are toxic.

Sugar Snap Peas: 
The pods of sugar snap peas should be medium to dark green in color and feel firm and plump.

Tomatoes: 
Avoid fruit that is bruised, cracked or wrinkled. The leaves should be bright green, and the tomatoes should be heavy and smooth.

Yellow Squash:
 Select firm, small to medium squash, as the large ones contain too much water or fiber.

Zucchini:
 Be on the lookout for firm, shiny vegetables free of cuts and bruises. Pick out the ones that aren’t too big.

 

For a list of North Texas farmers markets to shop fresh, local fruits and veggies, visit Farmers Markets Offer Fresh Local Fare.

Protect Your Yard From Pests


Honey bee flying away

Recent showers combined with warmer weather will create the perfect habitat for pesky summer bugs. Here are some effective ways to prevent the common bites, stings and nuisances.

 

Bees

To prevent bees from establishing a colony in or around your house, it’s important to remember these three things: food, water and shelter — bees’ keys to life.

As with any other summer bug, stagnant water must be kept to a minimum. Drain pots and repair any faulty irrigation systems. And if you have bird baths or pet bowls outside, mixing in 2 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water will discourage any bees from setting up shop near your house.

Plan an exterior inspection and eliminate any potential nesting sites. Cover holes, chimneys and animal burrows. Make sure windows and screens are tightly fitted and sealed. If you have any debris in your yard, such as old tires, cardboard boxes or old appliances, throw them out. Bees seek out such items for nesting sites.

Removing flowers as a source of food is not recommended. In fact, it’s very important for bees to pollinate many plants, including crops. If you have a colorful garden, not to worry. As long as you have their other two resources tamed to a minimum, you’re in tip-top shape for the summer.

 

Gnats

Although relatively harmless, these small creatures create quite the inconvenience with their constant swarming. Plus, you never know what germs they may be carrying as they travel from place to place.

If you garden, you want to make sure your fruits and veggies are staying fresh outside. If you happen to notice rotting or mold, act fast and pluck them out, then turn your soil or mulch to allow any moldy layers to dry out.

As with mosquitoes, be diligent in draining any standing water and drying out any moisture. With Texas humidity, the drying process may take a while. In this case, sprinkle a bit of sand on top of your soil, something very discouraging to gnats.

 

Mosquitoes

Unfortunately, Texas’ No. 1 culprit is here to stay. Aside from the traditional insect repellants and home remedies, it’s best to treat this problem at its source — water.

Turn over empty pottery to prevent from collecting water, drain plant saucers and fix any leaking outdoor faucets. Mosquitoes often lay their eggs in stagnant water, so the less the better.

 

Slugs

Like humans, slugs seek out shade on sunny days. And like many other bugs, they love moist areas.

To prevent slugs from damaging your plants and leaving their slimy evidence, get rid of any hiding places. Think cool, dark and moist. Try irrigating your lawn in the morning instead of the evening, allowing plenty of time for plants and soil to dry before the sun sets.

To protect plants, spray surrounding areas with soap and water. You can also create barriers around your plants, such as rocks, wire or anything rough and abrasive to slow them down.

Lastly, slugs have no bones. Therefore, they can fit in any crack or crevice they set their eyes on. Seal any cracks and cover any holes you notice throughout your house. By doing so, you not only eliminate the potential for slugs, but for other bugs as well.

 

If you’re experiencing bug problems not addressed here, contact your local nursery for expert advice.

Maximize the Joy of Fresh Flowers


Pastel cut flowers in a glass vase

 

Mother’s Day is this weekend, and that means flowers will be flying off the shelves.

 

In fact, “one-fourth of the flower and plant purchases made for holidays occur at Mother’s Day,” according to the Society of American Florists.

 

If you’re the lucky recipient of flowers, here are some tips on how to make your bouquet last longer.

 

Fresh blossoming flowers at at the florist shop (roses, ranunculus, tulips, carnations, mattiola,)

 

Clean vases are a must.

If whatever container you’re putting your stems in isn’t clean, bacteria will continue to grow and kill your flowers. Experts suggest scrubbing the vase with a mixture of 1-part bleach to 10-parts water before rinsing.

 

If a whole leaf is submerged underwater, tear it off.

When leaves remain underwater, they decompose and bacteria grows. You must keep bacteria at bay if you want your flowers to last.

 

The colder the water, the better.

When you want to cook vegetables, you steam them with warm water until they wilt and soften. Think about it like this, if you use room temperature or warm water, you’re causing the flowers to soften. The colder the water, the better your results.

 

Cut stems at a 45-degree angle.

When you cut flower stems with scissors, you are constricting the straw-like tube that allows nutrients to reach the top of the flower. Use a Swiss Army knife for soft stems and a pair of bypass cutters for woody stems. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle.

 

Measure flower food precisely.

Avoid taking the easy route and dumping flower food into the vase with your flowers. Too much flower food will poison your flowers, and too little flower food is somewhat pointless. Use the directions on the packet of flower food to follow the correct food-to-water ratio.

 

Fresh water is key.

Every two days, or when the water gets cloudy, replace the water in the vase. With each water change, it’s recommended to clean the vase. Use the same recipe as above.

 

Source: ProFlowers

Delightful Dog Treats to Make at Home


A patient dog with a dog treat balancing on his nose

 

Home is where the heart is, and for many of us, our hearts are also shared with our furry best friends.

 

Making dog treats at home is a great way to reward your dog and keep an eye on what he or she eats. Here are some quick and easy recipes that make safe snacks for your pooch.

 

GettyImages-4789929271-1024x694

 

Dog Biscuits

*2½ cups whole wheat flour (substitute regular flour or oats if your dog is sensitive to wheat)
*1 teaspoon salt (or less)
*1 egg
*1 teaspoon beef or chicken bouillon granules (can substitute beef or chicken broth/stock)
*½ cup hot water
*Optional: Bacon bits, eggs, oats, liver powder, wheat germ, shredded cheese

 

Directions:
• Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit
• Dissolve bouillon in hot water, add the rest of ingredients
• Knead dough until it forms a ball
• Roll out dough until ½ inch thick
• Slice pieces with a bone-shaped cookie cutter and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet
• Bake for 30 minutes

 


 

Pumpkin Balls

*½ cup canned pumpkin
*4 tablespoons molasses
*4 tablespoons water
*2 tablespoons vegetable oil
*2 cups whole wheat flour
*¼ teaspoon baking soda
*¼ teaspoon baking powder
*1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

 

Directions:
• Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit
• Mix pumpkin, molasses, vegetable oil and water in a bowl
• Add whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon to the mixture, stir until dough softens
• Roll small scoops of dough into balls
• Set the balls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, flatten with a fork
• Bake for 25 minutes, until dough is firm

 


 

Frozen Yogurt Peanut Butter Cups

*32 ounces plain or vanilla yogurt
*1 cup peanut butter (preferably unsalted and unsweetened)

Note: Check your peanut butter label to make certain it doesn’t contain xylitol, an ingredient which is toxic to dogs.

 

Directions:
• Melt peanut butter, combine with yogurt
• Pour mixture into ice cube trays
• Freeze mixture until firm (about a few hours)

 


 

Frozen PB&J Ice Cubes

*About 12 strawberries, washed and rinsed
*3 tablespoons peanut butter (preferably unsalted and unsweetened)
*¼ cup cold water

Note: Check your peanut butter label to make certain it doesn’t contain xylitol, an ingredient which is toxic to dogs.

 

Directions:
• Mix ingredients together, scoop into balls
• Freeze mixture until firm (about a few hours)

 

Recipes courtesy of Cesar’s Way and Pawsh Magazine.

Earth-Friendly Ways to Minimize Waste


chalkboard with the text make every day earth day

 

With spring cleaning underway and Earth Day inspiring us to develop greener habits, now is a great time to think about how the two intersect. You’ll find that a little planning can help reduce the amount of waste you bring into your home, and with a few simple changes, you won’t have as much to take out.

 

Americans can generate more than 254 million tons of trash in a single year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If that number is too big to fathom, consider this: that amount of trash weighs more than the combined weight of 1 million blue whales (the largest mammal on Earth).

 

Doing your part to make less trash can be as easy as remembering your reusable grocery bags. Read on to see our 10 suggestions of how to reduce waste in your home.

 

1. Swap disposable water bottles for a water filter and reusable bottles.

We all know we need to drink more H2O to stay healthy. Carrying a steel or glass water bottle will remind you to hydrate throughout the day and prevent you from buying a plastic water bottle out of convenience. Investing in a water filtration system — even as basic as a pitcher filter — will elevate the way your tap water tastes.

 

2. If on-the-go coffee is a must, bring a reusable mug.

If you can’t kick your addiction to a daily cup of coffee, bring your travel tumbler or mug with you and ask the barista to fill it instead of a disposable cup. Starbucks and many other cafes offer discounts for helping them reduce their cup waste.

 

3. Get to know your farmers markets and bulk bin section.

Frequenting farmers markets will not only keep you in line with your healthy-eating goals, it also supports local businesses. When you purchase whole foods there, you’re opting to reduce the amount of packaging brought into your home through processed and frozen foods. Likewise, shopping in the bulk-bin section eliminates extraneous packaging.

 

4. Keep your reusable bags at hand.

Have you ever entered the grocery store only to remember your stash of reusable bags is sitting untouched in your cabinets? If so, eliminate the need to remember by storing your reusable bags in more convenient places: a more noticeable area at home or in your car, handbag or backpack. That way you’ll always have a bag at hand, even for those quick, impromptu trips to get groceries after work.

 

Use your reusable bags for other occasions as well. Ask the waiter to place your to-go order in your bag instead of using their plastic or brown bags. Going on a shopping spree? Let the sales associates know you have your own bags for your new purchases.

 

When shopping for groceries, bring smaller cloth or netted bags to store produce, bulk-bin items and fresh flowers to avoid the thin plastic bags provided by stores.

 

5. Use glass containers to store food.

Display your farmers market and bulk goods in glass containers to keep them from going stale. Repurpose old glass containers from pasta sauce, jams and condiments for future storage.

 

Involving Daughters In A Healthy Hobby

 

6. Grow a garden.

Grow your own herb or vegetable garden, so you’ll always have the perfect amount of ingredients for your recipes. Doing so reduces food waste, which comprises nearly one-third of annual solid waste generated in the U.S., according to the EPA.

 

7. Dine at home.

Cooking and eating at home allows you to have more control — you can eat whole foods and add significantly less sugar and sodium than would typically be used in packaged and processed foods.

 

Eating fast food creates a plethora of waste, from the plastic straws and cutlery to the extraneous napkins and packaging.

 

8. Cut down on paper towels.

Instead of using paper towels, keep a stash of kitchen cloths and rags made from old T-shirts to do your chores. Eco-friendly towels made of bamboo and cotton can absorb big messes and dry dishes quickly.

 

9. Use Swedish dishcloths instead of kitchen sponges.

Your kitchen sponge can harbor as much (if not more) bacteria than a toilet. Experts suggest tossing sponges after a month of use, but that merely adds to landfills. Instead, use Swedish dishcloths, which are made of cotton and cellulose and are super absorbent when wet. The malleable form allows you to get into the nooks and crannies of dishes and silverware.

 

Invented in 1949, Swedish dishcloths come in a variety of designs to coordinate with your kitchen. Throw them in the laundry when they get dirty and reuse them again.

 

10. Use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.

Dryer sheets may make your clothes smell nice and keep your sheets soft, but they’re a one-time use product. Wool dryer balls can make your clothes just as soft, but can be used over and over again. Throw three of them into the dryer, and reduce the drying time of heavy fabrics, such as towels or jeans.

 

Use three to four drops of your favorite essential oil to each dryer ball to keep your fabrics fragrant.

Design-Inspired Easter Eggs


Easter eggs painted by hand in blue color on light background

 

If you’re looking for a fun twist on classic egg decorating, these design-inspired Easter eggs are the perfect DIY weekend project — and if you’re lucky, delicious egg salad come Monday.

 

Gold Leaf — Paint boiled eggs evenly and let dry (try two coats of craft paint or spray paint for a smoother finish). Using a gold leaf kit, apply random strokes of glue for an abstract look, wrap egg in a sheet of gold leaf, rub away any excess and voila!

 

Contemporary — Boil cleaned avocado pits and skins to create your desired pink hue and mix black ink with 1/4 cup of water for the grey shade. Carefully dip boiled egg into one color and let dry before dipping into the second dye, overlapping for a graphic pattern effect.

 

Happy Easter rustic background with copy space. DIY dyed various shades of blue Easter eggs and vintage wooden picture frame mock up.

Ombré — Mix one color of dye and create different shades by leaving boiled eggs in colored water for different amounts of time. Start by dropping the first egg in for 30 seconds, try one minute for the next one, then a minute and a half for the third and so on until you achieve the variety of shades desired.

 

Pantone — Stand boiled eggs vertically in small cups of dye, type up and print labels on temporary tattoo paper (remember, text backwards) and apply to the white area. If perfectionism is your thing, match the color numbers using a chip book.

 

Marbled — Mix food coloring for desired palette of dyes, color boiled eggs and let dry. Blot egg with rubber cement and dip it into the dye for a second coat. Once it dries, gently wipe away rubber cement and repeat until you’ve reached your desired aesthetic.

 

Easter eggs

Wax-and-Dye — The traditional Ukranian pysanky technique calls for hollowed-out eggs, a kistka (styling tool for drawing with melted wax), dyes and beeswax. Use the kistka to draw a design with the heated wax and allow it to fully harden before dipping into dye for five to 10 minutes. After the egg has fully dried, carefully remove the wax, wipe clean and seal with shellac.

 

Keep in mind that despite their beauty, some designs require non-food safe materials and should not be consumed.

How to Create a Greener Home


Color photo of a beautiful modern kitchen.

There are many different ways to go green at home. Even if you do just one or two of the below five things, you can make a big difference for our environment — and you’ll see the results on your bills.

 

Monitor your temperature

Nearly half of a home’s energy usage goes toward heating and cooling. Keep filters clean, consider a new/more efficient furnace, and make good use of ceiling fans.

 

Upgrade outdated appliances

It’s estimated that almost 20 percent of the typical home’s energy bill can be attributed to appliance use. By upgrading to newer appliances, you’ll consume significantly less energy.

 

Save water

Putting an aerator on faucets can cut your annual consumption by half. Consider installing low-flow toilets, which use just over half the normal amount per flush.

 

Let the sun shine

The cheapest and most environmentally sound heat and light source is just outside your window. Open blinds, drapes, and shutters to let solar energy warm and brighten your home naturally.

 

Use greener cleaners

There’s an abundance of green cleaning products available these days. A simple online search will reveal which products are gentler to the environment than others.

Tips for Flawless Outdoor Entertaining


Candle and string lights outdoor dinner

 

Summer will be here before we know it, which means longer nights and warmer weather. What better way to spend a summer day with family and friends than at an outdoor gathering? If you’re hoping to host a backyard soirée, here are some tips that will help things run smoothly.

 

Prepare your yard

Tidy up your yard before hosting guests. Mow the grass and pick up any tools, hoses or toys.

 

Choose the right seating

Patio furniture with thick, comfy cushions are the best option for homeowners who frequent their outdoor space. When hosting a gathering, make sure you have enough seating. Benches and tree stumps are a casual, rustic way to add seating to your outdoor space. Make sure all the seating is clean of debris before your guests arrive.

 

Keep guests comfortable

Guests will be more inclined to stay for the duration of the party if they are comfortable. Have ample shade coverage and consider running a fan near the dining area to keep guests cool. You may also want to set out a basket with warm-weather essentials for guests to grab — think sunscreen, insect repellent, handheld fans and iced spray bottles.

 

Plan a simple menu

Opt for recipes that can be prepared in advance and will withstand crowds and heat. Fresh grilled vegetables, pasta salads and guacamole are all popular (and colorful!) choices.

 

Add lighting

Outdoor globe lights, lanterns and LED candles are all great options for setting a relaxed summer atmosphere. Setting out candles with an open flame is a bit riskier — instead, use hurricane lanterns or jars to shield the flames.

 

Play relaxed tunes

Set the right tone with a playlist that is easy and laid-back. You don’t want to overpower any conversations among guests. Create a long enough playlist to avoid repeating songs too many times while guests are there.

 

Display fresh cuts

Use flowers and foliage from your own yard as centerpieces. Arrange your fresh cuts in jars or buckets and set them out to brighten up your display.

 

Offer activities

Providing lawn games like cornhole or croquet will keep your guests occupied and happy. Use butcher paper as a tablecloth and set out crayons for creative people of all ages.

 

Keep pests away

Be sure to protect food with mesh food coverings and light citronella candles to keep bugs away. Eliminate any standing water in gutters or the bottom of flowerpots to keep mosquitoes from breeding there. Offer guests bug wipes and insect repellent.

 

Create a beverage station

Make sure your guests are hydrated by preparing a beverage bar or cart stocked with the essentials. Include straws and plenty of ice.

 

Opt for melamine

Melamine is an affordable and durable option for outdoor dinnerware. Using the break-resistant plastic will help you reduce waste and also keep the area clear of lingering paper cups and plates.

 

Visit ebby.com to view all of the extraordinary outdoor patios on the market that are begging to have you as a host.