Spring cleaning is applies to more than the inside of the house; the outside of our homes require attention this time of the year, too. Think not only of the yard and garden or planting beds, but also of the house structure itself.
Spring is the ideal time to fertilize, starting with the yard. Check with your local garden center or home improvement store for the right fertilizer for your area and your lawn. You may need to thatch and/or aerate first, to allow the nutrients in the fertilize to penetrate the lawn. Thatching is basically raking with a special double-sided rake that gets out all the dried bits of dead grass in between the living blades. It can be time consuming and a bit arduous, but you will be amazed at the amount of dead stuff clogging your lawn. Aerating is basically poking holes in the surface of the lawn to allow the fertilizer and water to get down to the roots. You can hire it done, rent a machine or simply walk a few laps around your yard wearing golf spikes.
Next, look at the trees, plants and shrubs in your landscaping. Pull any weeds, rake up dead leaves and prune back any old growth on perennial shrubs as necessary. Fertilize with the appropriate fertilizer for the plant material and your area. (Fertilizing flowering trees and shrubs encourages more blooms.) To stop weeds from coming back, apply a weed preventer such as Preen. Finally, trim back any tree branches encroaching on your home; a real estate agent recently told me that wind is the number one cause of house damage, so keep an eye out for errant branches!With the winter debris out of the way, you can start to envision a brighter, sunnier place to come home. Start planning your annual plantings; even a window box or container garden by the front door will enliven the exterior of your home. If the budget is tight, start putting a few dollars a week aside now (stash an envelope in your desk drawer) and by Memorial Day, you’ll have a nice kitty to take to the garden center.
Now on to the house: windows are first. You can hire a window cleaning company to clean just the outside, or take a weekend day to tackle the project with some hot vinegar water and a squeegee. The difference in the amount of light coming in to the house can be dramatic! If you have screens, be sure to brush them down and rinse with the garden hose.
Next, look at the roof, eaves, trim, gutters and downspouts; clean and/or repair as needed. This is a great time of year to have a home inspector come out and do a full assessment of the interior and exterior of the home. Any problem signs that he sees can be added to your “to do” list and taken care of over the next several months. (Of course, take care of the emergencies right away!) Deferred maintenance can add up over the years, so take baby steps along the way to prevent a major headache down the road.Always remember that the right tools are essential to getting the job done more easily and efficiently. If you aren’t sure what tool to use, check with the folks at your garden center or home improvement store. Always wear gloves when working outside to protect your manicure, and of course wear safety glasses if there is any chance of debris flying in your eyes.Read More
According to a survey by the National Confectioners Association, 88 percent of adults carry on the Easter tradition of creating Easter baskets for their kids. If you are one of them, here are some ideas to make this Easter more special.
Sure, you can purchase a pre-made basket at a superstore, but with just a few extra minutes, you can put together a totally custom Easter basket as functional and as healthy as you want.
Each spring, my dad had to go up into the attic and bring down our Easter baskets. While we used them for years, they just took up space. Do you have a tangle of ratty old baskets in the garage? This year, think about replacing the wicker basket with a functional container that can be used by your recipient. The container becomes part of the gift.Anything can be an Easter “basket,” from a CD holder to a colorful storage box or bin or a tool caddy. Since baskets aren’t exactly inexpensive any longer, these alternatives may actually be cheaper! For children, try a garden theme and use a large clay or plastic pot. Include garden gloves, a hand trowel and seed packets among the candy and toys. This idea provides an activity perfect for curious youngsters, in addition to the sweets.In lieu of plastic “grass” substitute recycled crinkled paper shreds, available at craft stores, or natural fiber excelsior. Another green stand-in is plain newsprint paper run through a ribbon-cut shredder.
Now that you have a great alternative base, think about what to include in the basket, and think beyond store-bought sweets. Here are some ideas.
For younger children:
- Coloring/activity book
- Playing cards
- Plush toy
- Lip balm/gloss
- Fresh fruit
- Homemade treats
- DVD movie
- Music CD
- Music download gift card
- Bath & body products
- Fresh fruit
- Homemade treats
The Finishing Touch
Wrap the basket in clear or colored cellophane: Cut a length of cellophane about two and a half times the height of the finished basket. Place the basket in the middle and bring up the cellophane from the front and back and gather in one hand. Temporarily secure with a rubber band. Now bring up the sides, tucking and folding the cellophane into the basket. Secure with a small piece of transparent tape. Tie a grosgrain ribbon or colored raffia around the top of the gathered cellophane, tucking in a flower or small bauble if desired.
With the “basket” ready to go, think about presentation. Every year my parents would hide our Easter baskets somewhere in the house (or, if it was warm enough, outside in the yard). It lent an air of the surprise and anticipation of Christmas morning. Why not start the tradition of playing a little hide and seek on Easter morning?
When making your shopping and errand list for this weekend, be sure to include a few items for your Easter basket needs.Read More
Easter is the second largest holiday in terms of candy consumption, behind only Halloween. From jelly beans to chocolate rabbits, Americans buy a lot of candy this time of the year. According to the National Confectioners Association:
- -90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are made for Easter each year.
- -Each day, five million marshmallow chicks and bunnies are produced in preparation for Easter.
- U.S. manufacturers produce more than 16 billion jelly beans for Easter. That’s enough to completely fill a plastic Easter egg 89 feet high and 60 feet wide (about the height of a nine-story office building).
The jelly bean has a long history; as we know it, the jelly bean first appeared in the 1800’s, and there are records of Union Army soldiers receiving the treat during the Civil War. But the concept of a jelly candy dates back thousands of years. “Turkish delight,” a citrus, honey and rose water jelly candy, has been produced since biblical times, while the jelly bean’s shell coating process (called “panning”) was invented in France some 300 years ago as a coating for Jordan almonds.
Fast forward to the mid-1800s when more than 380 American factories were making candy, mostly hard “penny candy” sold by the piece from glass cases in general stores across the country. Candy makers began to experiment with jelly candies. The Goelitz Candy Company (now Jelly Belly®), began making the confection in 1900, and hasn’t stopped since.It wasn’t until 1930 that jelly beans took off as an Easter candy. Due their egg-shape, and the old tradition of an Easter Bunny who gave out eggs on the holiday, it was a natural evolution.Jelly beans come in two varieties: traditional and gourmet. Jelly Belly® is credited with inventing the gourmet variety in 1976 when a Los Angeles candy maker approached the company about making a jelly bean with natural flavorings and ingredients. The first eight flavors to debut that year were: Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape and Licorice. Ronald Reagan was so fond of the candy that the company made a Blueberry flavor so he could serve red, white and blue jelly beans at his inaugural parties!
Whether gourmet or traditional, a jelly bean takes a whopping six to ten days to make. The manufacturing process starts with the center of the jelly bean. A center of sugar, corn syrup and other ingredients are molded in pans coated with corn starch and allowed to rest for up to 48 hours. Then the centers are given a moist steaming and coated with sugar before the panning process begins. The centers are placed in a rotating drum called an “engrossing pan.” While the center is rotating, sugar is added gradually to build up the shell. This slow, labor-intensive process used to be done by hand. Colors and flavors are added, and confectioner’s glaze is added to give the beans a shiny look. After the beans are “polished” (a process that can take two to four days) they are ready to be shipped.While jelly beans are enjoyable on their own, they are incredibly useful for decorating Easter cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Try arranging orange jelly beans in the shape of a carrot on top of a carrot cake, and top if off with green-tinted flaked coconut as the carrot tops. (Simply mix in a few drops of green food coloring in a small bowl of flaked coconut.)
So when you reach for that bag of jelly beans this Easter season, you’re picking up a sweet piece of candy history.Read More
What do hares, Jesus and Moses have in common? They are each the focus of festivals and holidays celebrated in Spring, highlighting rebirth and renewal.
Like Halloween and Christmas, aspects of the Easter holiday have their roots the pagan festivals surrounding the vernal equinox. Likewise, the Jewish holiday of Passover, which commemorates the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, is tied to the date of the vernal equinox. The name “Easter” likely derives from the Teutonic (ancient German) goddess Eastre, who represented spring and fertility. She was often depicted with a hare, since rabbits and hares are known for their fertility; they have come to symbolize new life and rebirth.
Today’s Easter Bunny also originated in Germany, where the people believed a bunny would visit their homes on Easter Eve and bring brightly colored eggs to good children. German immigrants brought the tradition to America in the 18th century. Children would build nests made of leaves and sticks in their gardens for the Easter Bunny to fill with the eggs; over time, this morphed into baskets filled with not only eggs, but egg-shaped candies, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and other small gifts.
From the first crocus peeking through to snow to the fragrance of an Easter lily, flowers bring life back into our homes after a long, barren winter. Even if you’re not a certified floral designer, there are easy ways to bring flowers into your home this spring.
Art: Rotate the art pieces in the foyer, the powder room or your bedroom for spring. If you don’t have blooming paintings or posters, look through your scrapbook for photos of a garden you visited on a trip. Photos can easily be cropped and enlarged, either on your home computer, a kiosk at the grocery or drug store, or a copy shop. Still no luck? Grab your camera and head outside. Look around your yard, the neighborhood, a local park or nursery for flowering plants. For the best close-ups, use your camera’s macro setting (see the owner’s manual). Snap, print and frame for instant freshness in any room.
Textiles: Any photo can be printed on iron-on paper and transferred to cotton fabric. Then the possibilities are endless: pillow covers for toss pillows; drapery panels; placemats and table cloths … any textile in your home can be embellished with blossoms. The transfer paper (available at office supply stores) works best on 100% cotton fabric and it’s washable. Be sure to follow the instructions included with the transfer paper.
Arrangements: Relax! With a few tricks, you can make arrangements like the pros. Keep in mind:
- If purchasing a mixed bouquet at the store, not everything needs to go in one vase. Split up the flowers into two or more containers and spread the color around the house.
- Containers matter, but don’t get stuck on vases. Drinking glasses, pitchers and jars work well, too, depending on the look you want to create. For example, if you want to place several small arrangements down the center of a dining table, most people are more likely to have matching glasses than matching (or even coordinating) vases.
- Glass marbles in the bottom of the container help keep stems where you want them. They are widely available at craft stores, and relatively inexpensive. Clear marbles coordinate best with any arrangement and season.
- For a mixed bouquet, start with the largest floral pieces, then fill in with smaller floral pieces and finally greenery.
- For a simple and elegant look, try a single stem of a boldly colored flower, such as a Gerbera daisy, or a single stem of large bloom, such as a star gazer lily in a bud vase or wall vase.
- For an abundant, high-end look, use a large quantity of the same flower. A few years ago, I put three dozen (yes! 36!) yellow tulips in one vase for my Easter table. The effect was stunning. I frequently use about 20 to 24 roses in a small cut glass tumbler to create a nice round bouquet. Sometimes I’ll add a sprig of rosemary or other greenery, but usually I let the flowers make the statement. It doesn’t get much easier. (Check mega marts like Costco or a floral warehouse for better prices on bulk purchases.)
The Unexpected: Use flowers where your guests may not expect them. Freeze edible flowers in an ice cube tray and use the cubes in lemonade or punch. Tuck a single sprig of lavender or lily of the valley in the napkin ring holding a pretty pastel napkin. Sandwich greenery between two nesting glass containers and place a candle inside the smaller container.
With just a bit of imagination, you can experience flower power in your home this spring!Read More