Your baby nursery is beyond cute — but is it safe?

The reality that you’re bringing a new life into the world is never more evident than when the nurse rolls the bassinet into the delivery room, right?

It’s at that moment that you realize (between contractions, most likely), that without a doubt, you’ll soon be a parent.

It may also be when you begin to question whether you’re ready. In all the excitement of choosing paint colors for the nursery and shopping for baby paraphernalia, did you miss something important?

Bringing baby home, at least for first-time parents, is joyous, but it can also be stressful. After all, books can only tell us so much about caring for infants. Reality is the real teacher.

So, let’s get rid of some of that stress by ensuring your home is a safe and welcoming place for the new addition to your family.

The best nursery is a safe nursery

Did you know that babies cry more in yellow rooms? The color apparently “activates the anxiety center of the brain,” Carlton Wagner, director of Wagner Institute for Color Research, tells Ava Van de Water, Cox News Service.

“In infants, it results in crying. In adults, it results in shortness of temper. We notice a lot of fighting,” in yellow rooms, he said.

You may want to keep that in mind when choosing the color scheme for the infant’s nursery. And, maybe the master bedroom as well.

More important than color, however, is the paint’s chemistry. It could be one of several sources of air pollution in the home. To be safe, choose a water-based paint that has no VOCs, which is short for “volatile organic compounds.” Then, skip the primer as a base coat.

To make it even more complicated, the Federal Trade Commission cautions that you also choose a zero-VOC colorant.

“And while the base paint may be low-VOC or VOC-free, the colorant may be anything but. In fact, tinting can significantly increase the VOC level of a paint, depending on the color choice,” they warn.

“The bottom line: if you want low-VOC paint, look for low-VOC base paint and low-VOC colorant.”

But wait — there’s more. According to an Underwriter Laboratories study, “paint VOC content should not be used as a proxy for paint VOC emissions into indoor air, as there is no correlation between the two measures.”

If this is of particular concern to you, consider choosing paint from companies that specialize in baby-safe formulations, such as Bioshield, Lullaby Paints, Colorhouse Paints, Green Planet Paints and Ecos Paints.

Read the labels carefully and compare the ingredients to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) database at msdsonline.com, msdsprovider.com and the Environmental Health and Safety Department at the University of California.

Airborne chemicals affect the smallest among us far quicker and easier than they do older children and adults. Sadly, they’re emitted not only by paint, but furnishings, household cleaning products and floorcoverings as well.

Most of the gasses are released from carpet within the first 72 hours after installation, but it will continue emitting gasses at lower levels for up to five years, according to the EPA. Suggested replacements include tile and hardwood, although there are newer versions of vinyl that boast low emissions.

Even the furnishings you choose for baby can be a source of toxic emissions. ABC News furnished a nursery for an expectant Mom and Dad and then brought in an indoor air quality technician to test the air.

The result? The lab results of the air in the nursery tested positive for a whopping 300 chemical compounds.

For comparison, they also tested the air right outside the home and found only two chemical compounds. Watch the video here.

From the crib mattress to the rocking chair, keep an eye out for non-toxic products when shopping for nursery furnishings. Avoid buying used cribs, look for GREENGUARD Gold Certification and avoid products made overseas. In 2015, for instance, nearly 5,000 cribs and other furniture manufactured in Chile were recalled when it was found they were painted with lead-based paint.

Learn more about making your nursery baby-safe at consumerreports.org and the U.S. Product Safety Commission.

5 Blogs for new homeowners

Although homeowners have been DIYing home improvement projects for more than a century, the growing popularity of HGTV has resulted in a surge of its popularity and an explosion of America’s home renovation and décor market.

Last year, Americans spent $314 billion to upgrade their homes and that number is expected to grow by 7.5 percent in 2018, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

While home improvement TV shows get a lot of the credit for the rise in DIY project popularity, don’t discount the contributions of the many expert bloggers who help us get the jobs done.

We’ve rounded up five of our favorites (posted in no particular order) that we feel every new homeowner should be following.

Vintage Revivals

One of the first things you’ll notice about Mandi Gubler of Vintage Revivals is that she is fearless. Take a look at the “home” she fell in love with and what it would take to get it where she wanted it and you’ll agree.

When she began blogging, she admits she knew nothing about decorating, and understands that her average follower may not either. She’s sure come a long way.

Redoing a 1973 Bell camper is impressive, but as far as we’re concerned, taking on “The Merc” (the home she bought) gives her serious DIY cred.

The next thing you’ll notice is that she’s brutally honest. The “DIY Gone Wrong” section of her site attests to that.

Finally, it’s her brilliant sense of humor that keeps us coming back. For instance, she decided that she wanted to compete with other bloggers so thought about transforming Vintage Revivals into more of a lifestyle blog. So, she started with fashion. See her hilarious post here.

Keep up with Mandi on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and on her YouTube channel.

Get Busy Gardening

Oh, how we love, love, love this blog! With so many DIY blogs dedicated to interior projects, and our love of the exteriors of our homes, this one sounded a note with us.

Although Minneapolis resident Amy Andrychowicz, creator and head honcho of Get Busy Gardening focuses on “DIY gardening for the beginner on a budget,” you’ll find lots of interesting tips for even the most experienced green thumber.

One of the things we like most about Amy’s blog is that it’s not only easy on the eyes, it’s a snap to navigate.

At Get Busy Gardening, the beginner can learn how to figure out your garden’s sun exposure, how to transplant and she offers garden plans to help you get started. And, if you crave yet more newbie information, check out her books on everything from propagation to pest control.

Follow Amy and Get Busy Gardening on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and on her YouTube channel.

Poppytalk

Earl Einarson and Jan Halvarson, the talent and brains behind Poppytalk, hail from north of the border (Vancouver, to be more specific). With more than 9 million followers and features in Wired, House and Home, InStyle and others, they must be doing something right.

First, Poppytalk isn’t a DIY blog, per se, but more of a curation of brilliant ideas. If you’re looking for inspiration, we suggest you start here. From Ikea hacks and how to create a jungle on your urban patio to where to buy summer-themed art, there is no shortage of ideas on how to decorate your new home.

Follow Poppytalk on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram.

Addicted 2 Decorating

If you’re addicted to room makeover before-and-after photos, you’ll love interior decorator Kristi Linauer’s blog.

Reupholstered wing-back chairs? See the brilliant before and afters here.

We love the variety of project walk-throughs Kristi offers, from how to clean an area rug and make your own stunning artwork, to a complete kitchen remodel.

She calls herself an interior-decorator-turned-blogger and Addicted 2 Decorating is dedicated to bringing you tips and tricks for low-cost decorating.

Follow Kristi’s DIY decorating escapades on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

Remodelaholic

Take one look at the “Projects” section at Remodelaholic and you’ll understand why we included this one on our list. Here, you can learn everything from edging your yard and painting a concrete patio to drywall installation.

The tutorial we like the best is DIY stains. Seriously – Cassity teaches us how to make stains from household items.

Cassity is a mom, a wife with a husband she describes as “a dream” and a brilliant DIY blogger. Follow her on Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

Prevent home repairs by breaking these 5 bad habits

“Deferred maintenance.” It’s a term that real estate professionals hear frequently. It describes a home that has been neglected and raises red flags concerning its condition.

Putting off routine home maintenance can not only lead to big, ugly, expensive problems down the line, it causes a significant loss of your home’s value when it comes time to sell.

Let’s take a look at five of the most common problems and all of them can be prevented by changing bad habits.

1. Kitchen drain abuse

Although it’s easy to assume that the garbage disposer can grind up just about anything you throw at it, use caution. Everything that you put down there will end up in the drain pipes. Some of it will exit with ease while other substances can sit, accumulate with others and cause a great-big headache of a clog.

Grease and oil are the most common culprits when it comes to clogged kitchen drains. Plumbers recommend pouring the grease into an old coffee can or something similar. Let it sit until it cools and congeals and then throw the container in the trash.

Garbage disposers don’t properly grind up certain fruit and vegetable peels, such as apples and potatoes. Peel them over a trash container instead.

Starchy foods, such as rice and pasta will swell with the addition of water and coffee grinds should never be poured down the drain.

In fact, according to the pros at atomicplumbing.com, “Nothing causes more blockages and clogged pipes than coffee grounds and grease. Even if you don’t put them down the drain at the same time, they’ll meet up and form a sludgy impenetrable nightmare.”

2. Neglecting the gutters

Whether it’s your fear of heights or because they’re easy to forget, the gutters around your home need your attention. When debris, such as leaves and twigs, builds up, it blocks the free flow of water. The water will back up and can damage both the exterior of your home and the roof’s eaves.

“If you let gutter cleaning go by the wayside, it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars,” Jeff Lambert with The Gutter Man in Houston tells angieslist.com.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to clean out the downspout as well. Lowe’s has produced a handy video that will walk you through the process.

Gutters should be cleaned out every three months, according to the experts.

3. Not replacing the AC filter

Allowing your HVAC filters to become clogged with fuzz can end up costing you a fortune.

“A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or ‘blow-out,’ resulting in no air infiltration at all,” according to Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko with the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

This causes the system to have to work harder and “any mechanical component that has to work harder to run efficiently puts undue stress on the whole system, which can lead to premature failure, resulting in repair or replacement,” they continue.

Here’s some incentive to help you remember to change the HVAC filter every month to three months: The average cost, nationwide, of a new air conditioning system is $5,369 (according to homeadvisor.com) and you can pick up a new filter for less than $1 at the big home improvement stores.

4. Taking the water heater for granted

We don’t know why, but one of the most common complaints of new homeowners is that the water heater broke down shortly after they moved into their home.

The purchase and installation of a new water heater averages to $1,048, nationwide. If the unit failed because of a burst pipe or leak, plan on paying an additional $4,000 (after the insurance deductible) or so to fix the damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

But, with a little maintenance you can extend the life of this oh-so-important appliance. Check out the video walk-through of water heater maintenance at thisoldhouse.com.

5. Ignoring plumbing leaks

Homeowners can save 10 percent on their water bills just by fixing leaks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But, that’s just the beginning of how much you’ll save.

Leaky plumbing allows moisture to seep into floors and walls and, if ignored long enough, can cause damage that may cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Some leaks are easy to diagnose (a dripping bathtub faucet for instance). Others may take a bit of sleuthing.

Plan on performing a routine inspection of the home’s plumbing system at least once a year. Check the toilets for worn flappers and check all under-the-sink valves for signs of moisture leakage.

To determine if your home has hidden leaks, the EPA recommends that you check your water usage “during a colder month, such as January or February. If a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, there are serious leaks.”

Another way of detecting hidden leaks is to jot down the reading on your water meter and then don’t use the water for two hours. Check the reading again. If there’s a change, you may have a leak.

Colorado’s Thornton Water Works offers a video to walk you through looking for hidden leaks.

3 ways to wreck your home’s value

As a homeowner you know that the best way to protect your home’s value is by maintaining it. And, when it comes time to sell it, you’ll find lots of ways to increase its value.

On the flip side, there are few folks willing to tell you how to wreck your home’s value. Until you met us, that is.

Use this list of tips as a cautionary tale – unless, of course, you really want a decrease in value.

 1. Convert your garage

More than half of homebuyers want a 2-car garage and 86 percent want a garage with storage, according to a survey conducted the National Association of Homebuilders.

So, although you may think of yours as wasted space or just an oversized junk drawer, carefully consider what a garage conversion can do to your home’s value.

A Sacramento appraiser found that homebuyers paid between 6 and 10 percent less on homes with no garage, regardless of what replaced it.

On a $200,000 home, that’s a loss of between $15,000 and $20,000.

Ouch

If you are thinking of selling the home, consider some garage upgrades that may increase its value and make it more attractive to homebuyers. These include:

  • A new garage door. According to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value” report, homeowners who installed a new garage door saw a 98.3 percent return on their investment.
  • Adding additional storage options, such as shelves and cabinets. Consider overhead storage, suspended from the ceiling, to utilize the wasted space above the cars. It’s quite popular and will catch a buyer’s eye.
  • Make the garage look brand new by power-washing the floor and applying an epoxy floor coating (This Old House offers a walk-through of the process). Then, paint the walls with a semi-gloss paint.

2. Don’t snitch to the HOA about bad neighbors

If your community is governed by a homeowners association, you pay dues. Even homeowners with low fees should expect their association to enforce its rules and regulations.

To not take advantage of their power when a neighbor is messing with your home’s value is just not smart. Consider becoming a “snitch” if any of the following occur in your neighborhood:

  • The hoarder: Nearby property that is cluttered with a homeowner’s junk can reduce your home’s value by 5 to 10 percent, according to the Appraisal Institute. If the exterior is extra-packed with debris, you may lose even more value.
  • The loud neighbor: Most associations have a noise ordinance in their rules, and for good reason. Not only are loud neighbors disruptive to other residents, but their (and their pets’) noise can reduce home values by another 5 to 10 percent.
  • Unsightly vehicles: Many HOAs prohibit residents from parking commercial vehicles, boats and large recreational vehicles on the property. If yours does, and a neighbor is violating the policy, contact your HOA and file a complaint.

3. Install a pool

In some parts of the country, such as Las Vegas and parts of Arizona, a pool adds value to a home. It may also add value if you live in a neighborhood where most of the other homes have pools.

In other regions and other neighborhoods it may or may not and in yet others, a pool is considered an expensive inconvenience and a liability and can drag down the value of your home.

Not only that, but a pool knocks some buyers out of contention. Unless it offers security features, the pool won’t be popular with families with young children.

Consider that the average cost for a complete pool installation will cost between $30,000 and $100,000 according to Jean Folger at Investopedia.com.

Then, in some states and municipalities, fences around the water feature are mandatory, so factor in that cost. Find out if yours is among them at signs.com.

Ongoing maintenance may cost a bundle as well. “The pump and heater, if you have one, could drive up your utility costs by $100 a month or so,” according to the folks at daveramsey.com.

“You’ll spend about $600 during the swimming season on chemicals if you maintain your pool yourself. If you live in a climate where you’ll use the pool year-round, budget $15–25 a week for DIY maintenance,” they continue.

If you must install a pool for your own enjoyment, keep in mind that it won’t pay for itself when you sell the home and you’ll likely take a hit on your home’s value.

No, these aren’t the only things that negatively impact a home’s value. Many of the others are out of your control. For those issues that are within your control, act on them.

Speak up and protect your investment when the airport decides to change flight paths, when something negative is about to impact the quality of your local school and when value-killing zoning changes are afoot.

Back-to-School: Are you Ready?

Back to pencils, back to books . . . we are getting closer to the day our students head back to class.

This means it’s time to start gearing up for the fall routine ― the back-to-school shopping for clothes and school supplies, getting used to a new sleeping schedule and trying to get a handle on those transportation issues.

Thankfully, we have some tips for you to help make the transition a bit easier.

Ease everyone into the fall routine

Think back to those first days of summer vacation. If you have teenagers, especially, you know that they went from waking to an alarm at the crack of dawn (at least to them) to snoozing half the day away without missing a beat.

Yanking them into the reality of fall isn’t easy. Ease them into it instead by starting the new schedule a week or two before school starts.

Set the alarm clock for the time they’ll need to rise to get to school on time and put them through the paces of a normal school morning with breakfast, making lunches and whatever else your family does to get ready for school in the morning.

Be extra attentive to the Kindergartener

I vividly recall my first day of Kindergarten. I remember feeling apprehensive, yet a little excited.

My father walked me to my classroom and then left. I followed him, screaming at the top of my lungs to him, begging him to not leave me there. I even recall reaching my pathetic little arms through a gate, coaxing him to come back for me.

For some kids, the very first day of school can be traumatic.

Easing them into what will become years of routine is important. A lot of their anxiety centers on the teacher and fellow students. So, meet this angst head-on by attending your school’s back-to-school night.

This way, your child can meet the teacher before classes start. And, there’s a good chance he or she will meet fellow students as well. When next they meet, during school hours, they’ll have a bit of recognition of one another, making it easier to break the ice.

Shopping Tips

Some shopping experts claim that parents should buy only enough clothes to last the first few weeks of the new school year. Why?

First, in around the middle of September, retailers hold sales. It’s the very best time to buy the bulk of your child’s school wardrobe.

Next, it will take your student a couple of weeks to determine the latest fashion and which items he or she wants to add to the wardrobe.

School supply shopping, on the other hand, has to be done before school starts. Many of our local schools post a supplies list on their websites which you can print off and take with you when you shop.

Take your child with you on the shopping trip. Not only will the trip result in buying what the child needs and wants, but it helps the little ones build excitement when you point out how each item will be used at school.

If you can’t afford the required supplies, contact the Kids in Need Foundation, a nationwide program that helps parents get what their kids need. Check the list of resources to find one near you.

If there isn’t a resource center in your area, contact the school’s or district’s social worker.

Getting back to school is a tough transition for both kids and parents but getting off to a strong start is critical to your child’s success. With your planning and support, your children will thrive during the school year.

Keep your home safe while on vacation

Planning for a vacation is distracting. Sitting at your desk at work, mentally going over what you’ll need to pack, visions of sandy beaches and cool water dancing in your brain – there’s not a lot of room to consider anything else.

But you need to make room

Crime rates increase about 10 percent during the months of June, July and August, according to the FBI and summer-on-the-brain and the distractions it causes most likely accounts for many of them.

So, before you pack another beach towel and bathing suit, take steps to protect your home from the burglars that may be lurking around your unoccupied home. 

Check all doors and windows

If you open your bathroom window to let the misty air out while bathing, don’t forget to lock it when you’re finished. Many Americans don’t remember, which is why most thieves check the bathroom window first, according to a convicted burglar, Jerome Gilgan.

“Bathroom windows have always been one of the best ways” to get into a home, he tells Kyle Iboshi, KGW News in Portland, Oregon.

Thirty-two percent of burglars gain entry to homes through an unlocked front door. But locking the door doesn’t guaranteed that you won’t become a victim.

If the door is locked, many burglars will check the most common places homeowners hide the key.

But, not finding the key doesn’t stop them. “If they know you’re not home, many thieves will simply kick in the door or remove it from its hinges,” according to the pros at Crime Prevention Security Systems.

Don’t let newspapers and mail pile up

Gilgan told KGW News that one of the things he looked for when casing which homes to burgle was overstuffed mailboxes. Hire a neighborhood kid to pick up your mail while you’re gone. Or, have the post office hold it for you.

Don’t forget to tell the newspaper delivery person to cease delivery for the period you’ll be out of town. A collection of newspapers in the driveway is a dead giveaway that nobody is home.

 

Mind your landscaping

Professional thief Michael Shayne Durden, who performed hundreds of burglaries in Texas over a period of 20 years says that one of the things he looked for when casing homes was overgrown lawns.

Durden focused on neighborhoods with well-maintained homes, so a home with an un-mowed lawn, is a “dead giveaway” the owner is on vacation, Durden admitted in a jailhouse interview by the Allen, TX police department.

Then there’s that privacy landscaping around the front of the house. Sure, it keeps out neighbors’ prying eyes, but it’s something that burglars are happy to see. Just like you, they don’t want neighbors watching them, so a home with lots of cover becomes a target.

Before leaving on vacation, have your gardener cut back anything that provides a screen between the street and your windows and doors. 

Leaving a light on isn’t enough

I “would drive through upper class neighborhoods looking for many things, like a porch light on with all window blinds closed,” one burglar inmate told KGW News.

Gilgan wholeheartedly agrees, saying that “keeping the blinds or drapes closed” while on vacation is one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make.

So, open the window coverings, and turn on some lights and the TV.

Other ways to deter burglaries

The best way to deter a burglary while you’re out of town is to make the home look occupied. One of the best ways to do that is by parking a car in the driveway. If you’ll be leaving your car at the airport, ask a neighbor to use your driveway while you’re away.

Install a wireless security system. “It’s a major deterrent,” according to Durden. When he sees signs for these systems implanted in front and backyards, he feels that “There’s no point in even going there.”

In fact, homes without security systems are three times more likely to be broken into, according to SecurAmerica, LLC.

Then, put a sign advertising the system (ensure that it says “wireless” on it) in both the front and back yards. 

Hide your valuables

The most commonly stolen items from a home include:

  • Cash
  • Prescription drugs
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics (TVs, gaming consoles, computers, iPads and smartphones
  • Firearms

Don’t hide any of these items in the master bedroom while you’re on vacation because it’s the first place a thief will look. “Put jewelry in your garage, and mix it in with your tools,” Durden suggests.

“Or, put it in the ceiling or in the attic.” Burglars are in a home for such a short period of time, these are places they typically don’t get to.

“People really need to pay attention to their offices,” Durden continued.

He’s found credit cards in home offices (which he then used at Walmart to buy popular electronics that he sold on the street) and financial records, including bank account numbers with routing numbers.

Before leaving on vacation, do a tour around the home, ensuring that doors and windows are locked and that valuables are hidden away.

Then, go and have some fun!

Do these 5 things as soon as you move into your new home

In all the excitement of moving and trying to get settled in the new home, the last thing you want is a honey-do list, right? Some things, however, shouldn’t be put off but need to be taken care of now.

So, push the boxes aside for a day or two and let’s get ‘er done!

1. Change the locks

Although this may seem like a no-brainer, changing the door locks on a new home is something many homebuyers neglect doing. Hey, when you consider all the little details that need attention, such as changing over the utilities, registering the kids in new schools and ensuring everyone has your new address, something is bound to fall through the cracks.

Since you don’t know exactly how many people have keys to the home and who they are, put this one at the top of your to-do list.

Unless you’re opting for a smart lock, changing the locks on a door is a common DIY project and costs very little.

2. Locate your home’s main water shutoff valve

Scrambling to figure out how to shut off the water in your new home wastes precious time in an emergency. Scout out the location of your main water shutoff valve now and share the location with other household members.

Unfortunately, there are a number of places that it could be located. In cold-climate areas you’ll typically find the water shutoff valve somewhere indoors, such as in the basement. In warmer weather regions it may be located outdoors or in the garage. If the home is on a slab foundation, check for the valve near the water heater.

3. Secure your home purchase paperwork

Before putting away all those documents you signed at closing, make copies of them and store them in a safe place, off-site. No, you may not need to refer to this paperwork, but then again, you may, so it’s a good idea to keep everything.

While you’re in the paperwork groove, consider purchasing an accordion file and use it to hold all the paperwork you’ll accumulate as a homeowner. This includes receipts for repairs and improvements, insurance information and warranties.

When it comes time to sell the home, you’ll be glad you have all of this important information in one place.

4. Open a new savings account

Yes, you paid a whole lot of money at the closing table, but that was just the beginning of what it costs to own a home. Routine maintenance and emergency repairs need to be factored in as well.

“No new homeowner, myself included, can ever feel fully prepared for the maintenance costs and renovation costs associated with homeownership,” Pamela Capalad, a Brooklyn NY financial planner tells NerdWallet.com.

But a savings account, dedicated specifically to pay for home maintenance and repairs can go a long way toward being prepared.

Most financial experts say to set aside 1 to 2 percent of the home’s value each year for both maintenance and repairs. For example, if your home is worth $250,000, you should dedicate from $2,500 to $5,000 a year.

Make it less painful by having a monthly amount (from about $210 to $420) automatically deducted from your pay and sent to the dedicated savings account.

Deferring routine maintenance may impact your home’s future value, by the way.

5. Replace your air filters

Changing an old HVAC filter just one time is enough to convince many of us to make changing them a routine. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Many homeowners neglect this inexpensive and easy home maintenance chore and end up breathing in that brown fuzz that clings to old filters.

Not only that, but they’re setting the entire system up for failure. “A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or ‘blow-out,’ resulting in no air infiltration at all,” according to Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko for the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).

Change the filter in a busy household with kids and pets once a month, otherwise you may be able to wait three months before installing a new one. Learn how to change the filter at thefamilyhandyman.com.

Win hearts at your next tailgate party: Margaritas for a crowd.

Sure, beer is the official beverage of the great American tailgate party. But it’s time to step out of the rut and add a little flair to this year’s festivities.

Every tailgate crew has that one person who has a signature tailgate dish. Well, this year it’s your turn to take the spotlight.

You’ll have people waiting all year for tailgating season just to wrap their lips around the salted rim of one of your frosty margaritas.

Whether your tailgate crowd is nibblin’ on sponge cake or somebody had the good sense to bring a huge platter of nachos, you, my friend will be toting the frozen concoction of everybody’s dreams.

History of the Margarita

It’s hard to believe, but there is nobody to thank for this classic Mexican cocktail. Yes, there are plenty of people that want the credit, but nobody is quite sure which one of them is the creator.

Back in the mid-1930s a bartender named Willie, from Matamoros, Mexico, was smitten with one of the bar’s regular customers. Her name was Marguerite Hemery. Legend has it that Willie concocted the first margarita in Hemery’s honor. But, if that’s so, why don’t we drink marguerites?

Then there was Danny Negrete, a bar owner who created the margarita as a wedding gift to his future sister-in-law. Another tale is that he made it for his girlfriend, who was fond of salt in her drinks.

Bastante Gutierrez is said to have created the margarita to honor his favorite actress: Margarita Cansino, whom we know as Rita Hayworth.

Finally, we have Francisco “Pancho” Morales, to whom the Mexican press gives credit for inventing the margarita. Seems a customer ordered a drink he’d never heard of. Rather than asking the lady what was in it, he created his own concoction. She loved it and it became the margarita.

Types of Tequila

At one time only wine and scotch and, more recently beer, had snooty aficionados. Today, tequila has joined those ranks. There are two main types of tequila: 100 percent agave and Mixto, which is a blend of at least 51 percent blue agave and other stuff – which varies according to manufacturer

These two types are further broken down into:

·        Silver, also known as blanco, white and platinum. This is pure blue agave; it’s clear but not aged.

·        Gold tequila is typically a mixto type of tequila, although there are exceptions. It’s also generally less expensive than the pure forms of tequila.

·        Reposado is a lightly aged agave – usually stored for between two and 11 months. Sometimes stored in wood barrels, the tequila may take on the flavor of the type of wood

·        Añejo is agave tequila that is aged for at least a year. Before pure agave tequila can bear the Añejo label it must be aged in barrels that hold a maximum of 600 liters. Añejo is a darker colored tequila.

·        If it’s aged more than three years it can be called Extra Añejo, for “ultra aged.” Barrel capacity requirements are the same as for añejo. After aging, the tequila is quite dark in color and extremely smooth. This is definitely a sippin’ tequila.

Concoct It, My Friend

The basic margarita mix, according to the drink masters at Jose Cuervo, contains tequila, Cointreau (a high-end brand of triple sec), and fresh lime juice.

You won’t, however, be famous for your tailgating margaritas if you stick with the basics, now will you? Here are two margarita mixes to get you started:

Sin City Top Shelf Margarita

Courtesy of an ace bartender at Las Vegas’ famed XS Nightclub. This recipe is for one cocktail so you’ll need to multiply the ingredients by the amount of margaritas you want to make.

  • 3 oz. sweet & sour
  • 1 oz. añejo tequila
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • Fresh limejuice from ½ lime

Shake all the ingredients except the limejuice in a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the lime over the top before serving.

Wastin’ Away Again Margaritas

Thanks to Portland’s Clyde Common bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler for this margarita mix for the masses. Although the recipe is his, the name is mine.

  • 6 cups of your favorite tequila
  • 2.5 cups triple sec
  • 2.5 cups fresh lime juice
  • 2.5 cups fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups simple syrup

Mix ingredients together in gallon container – such as a clean one-gallon milk or water container. Keep it refrigerated until the tailgate party. Makes 20 margaritas.

By the way, Jeffrey says that you’ll need two 750 ML bottles of tequila and you’ll have a bit left over after you measure out the 6 cups. You’ll need one 750 ML bottle of the triple sec.

If you don’t happen to have simple syrup in your pantry, whip some up.

Simple Syrup

Bring 2 cups of water to a full boil.

Slowly pour in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is clear. Allow the syrup to cool and then pour it into a bottle.

For the designated drivers in the group

Call it a virgin Margarita if you like but we prefer the term “mockarita” for this one.

  • 2 oz. simple syrup (see recipe above)
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • Ice
  • lime wedge

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously.

Pour into a mason jar for easy transport. Refrigerate until game day.

When serving, garnish with a lime wedge.

It’s Tick Season

When we think of ticks and the diseases they spread, we typically think of Lyme disease. But, did you know that the nasty little critters also spread ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis?

The former is more common in the southeastern and south central United States while the latter is caused by the same tick that spreads Lyme disease, in the country’s Northeast, mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest and West Coast regions.

In fact, a bite from a tick infected with both Lyme and anaplasmosis can infect a person with both diseases, according to merkmanuals.com.

What ticks are – and aren’t

Ticks are small arachnids (related to spiders and scorpions), so they aren’t insects or “bugs.” They are also parasitic, meaning they live off the blood of birds, mammals and even reptiles.

Most varieties of ticks live in grassy or wooded areas. The deer tick (which spreads Lyme disease) thrives in “shady, moist areas at ground level … no more than 18 to 24 inches off the ground, according to New York State Department of Health.

Deer ticks are also frequently found on our pets, especially in regions with high humidity, with the exception of Hawaii. Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are the five states with the highest incidence of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease – in a nutshell

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried by the deer tick. It may take from 3 to 30 days after a bite from an infected tick for symptoms to occur, according to webmd.com.

These symptoms typically (but not always) include a rash, fever, headache, chills and other flu-like symptoms.

These symptoms comprise the first of three stages of Lyme disease. The second stage is known as “early disseminate Lyme” and symptoms include weakness and/or pain in the arms and legs, heart palpitations, chest pain and even facial paralysis.

The third stage of Lyme disease may occur “weeks, months or years after the tick bite,” according to webmd.com. Symptoms of late-stage Lyme include severe fatigue, vertigo, mental confusion and arthritis.

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics and around 10 percent of patients don’t shake the symptoms even after treatment. See the Centers for Disease Control’s website for additional information on symptoms.

Preventing tick bites

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests using a repellant on your skin and clothing to ward off ticks. Use the tool on the agency’s website to choose the repellent that fits your needs.

The CDC recommends that you check your body (and your children’s and pet’s) for ticks after spending time outdoors. If you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it.

Place the tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull upward on the tick. Wash the bite area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

Learn more about how to remove ticks on the CDC’s website. After removal, the CDC recommends monitoring your family for symptoms of Lyme disease.

Is your waterfront home a cliché?

Whether you live in a condo with a water view or a multi-million-dollar beach house, there is an ever-present temptation to overdo nautical or other beach-related décor.

Wicker, white and blue ― if this describes any element in any room in your waterfront condo, you’re living a cliché, according to Phoebe Howard, with Mrs. Howard and Max & Company.

She tells Coastal Living magazine that there’s nothing wrong with “coastal touches” in your design scheme but keep them subtle.

Place “an antique sailor’s valentine over a bed, a sea star that hides amid the swirled pattern of a throw pillow. The result is a home with . . . trappings that accent, rather than exploit,” the views out the windows.

If you love the coastal look but have grown tired of your home feeling like an airbnb or VRBO tourist rental, consider a more natural, neutral beachy look.

Fabric

If you’re new to beach living, it’s easy to go overboard in a coastal decorating theme. Remember Howard’s words above and resist the cliché.

Instead, find subtle ways to work the coastal look into the home’s decor and one of the best is through your choice of fabrics.

From bedspreads to sofa and chair upholstery, eschew the bold floral prints for a solid, neutral color and use lightweight or nubby fabrics, such as anything linen-like. Then, go bright and bold on the accent pillows and artwork.

Wood

The heavy, dark woods are stunning in Mediterranean and neoclassic design schemes but they don’t offer the breezy feel you should aim for in your coastal décor. Homeowners seem to instinctively understand this and typically opt for bamboo or rattan.

Although lovely choices, they are best suited to furnish patios or sunrooms. Using them in the living areas makes it looks as if you’ve brought your outdoor furniture indoors.

Between the two extremes lies weathered dark wood, or even pine or maple, especially when upholstered with a cotton/linen blend fabric. Yes, it’s subtle, so use your accessories to add in the bolder colors.

An example of this is a sea-glass green for sofa throw pillows or, take a tip from the pros at Coastal Living and “use a color wheel: hues that sit opposite each other on the sphere, like purple and orange and pink and minty green, are guaranteed to look pretty when paired.”

If you decide you must have rattan, cover the upholstery with something nubby, such as burlap or linen. Get ideas for some heavily textured fabrics at etsy.com, perennialsfabrics.com and vintagefashionguild.org.

Color

As with any décor scheme, your aim should be to get the message across without clubbing visitors over the head with it. So, choose your colors carefully.

Tone down the typical coastal décor palette by taking a cue from the view. Consider neutral colors that you can pluck from the scene right outside the window: seaweed, sand, driftwood.

Keep in mind, however that “if not done right this look can seem plain and boring,” warn the experts at JustDecorate. Be mindful of the balance required between the dark and light neutral colors and keep the darkest colors in your accents.

Layer in a variety of textures as well, such as plumes of dune grass in striking vases, a sisal rug and woven roman shades.

Whether you’re decorating your new home or just looking for a fresh approach to the typical coastal decorating scheme, you’ll find all the inspiration you need right outside your window.