3 Germ-ridden items in the home that few people ever clean

COVID-19 has made most of us hyper-aware of viruses. We have, in fact, received a crash-course on virology, learning how long the critters live on certain surfaces, how they enter and leave our bodies and, most importantly, how to kill them.

A virus is but one of the many germs we interact with on a daily basis. Germs are everywhere–in the air, water, soil and even in food. These include viruses, but also bacteria, fungi and other gross stuff that can infect us.

These critters get into our homes through a number of different routes:

  • Open doors
  • Open windows
  • On our clothing and skin
  • Sneezes, coughs, breathing and speaking

Most researchers of germs in the home agree that the dirtiest room is the kitchen and the dirtiest object in it is the dish sponge.

And, no, the toilet isn’t the most germ-ridden feature of your bathroom, your toothbrush holder is.

Some other items in our homes, however, seem so innocent that we rarely, if ever, clean them. These areas are worthy of extra attention when cleaning.

How did they figure this one out?

The folks at tapwarehouse.com conducted a British study to learn which items in the home collect a lot of germs.

“… we swabbed 30 items in total from three different households. This included a selection from the kitchen, bathroom as well as electronic, family and dog items,” according to Tom Drake, on the company’s website.

They swabbed items from:

  • Retired household with dog
  • Young couple household
  • Family household

The swabs were then left alone for five days so the “icky stuff” could multiply. Finally, they were given to Amanda Jones, PhD, Associate Professor and microbial researcher at Northumbria University for analysis.

Surprisingly germ ridden stuff in the average home

Got a laptop or desktop computer? If so, you may never look at it the same way when you learn what Dr. Jones did.

The keyboard is dirtier than your bathroom

Most contain a veritable cocktail of nasty germs, such as “… staphylococci [aka “staph”], streptococci and some airborne bacteria such as micrococci,” Dr. Jones tells Drake.

The most common staph infection is to the skin but it can also cause infection of the bloodstream, leading to sepsis, bone infections, an infection of the heart, food poisoning, pneumonia and more, according to the experts at medlineplus.gov.

Strep infections include “… pharyngitis, pneumonia, wound and skin infections, sepsis, and endocarditis,” notes Larry M. Bush, MD, FACP, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University at merckmanuals.com.

Which household had the germiest computer? “…the younger couple that were working from home,” according to Drake.

Do yourself a favor and disinfect your keyboard at least once a week. If a number of people are using the keyboard, consider cleaning it more often.

Use a solution that contains at 70% alcohol to wipe it down thoroughly. And, no, a higher percentage of alcohol isn’t better. In fact, they evaporate too quickly to sanitize.

Overall, “Disinfectants don’t harm your keyboard,” notes the experts at webmd.com.

Where’s the clicker?

Be honest: Have you ever cleaned your tv remote? Think of how many family members touch the device on a daily basis.

Which is why this particular study nominated it as the second dirtiest electronic item. Most common germs found on it include staph and strep.

Use alcohol wipes or a microfiber cloth moistened with alcohol to wipe it down every day.

The retired household with a dog had the dirtiest tv remote but the household with a family was very close behind.

This one is really gross

“… the bathroom tap is often the first thing people touch after they go to the toilet,” Drake said. He also notes that it’s the germiest part of the average household bathroom. Dr. Jones adds that the nasties found on bathroom taps include e. coli “… and other fecal types of bacteria.”

Drake adds that we are literally washing our hands “… with poo … .”

Since that’s the last thing we want to do, we are committed to cleaning our taps far more often and leaving disinfecting wipes near them. This way, we can wipe them down after each use.

While Drake cautions against using bleach or other corrosive disinfectants, others recommend using Lysol, Microban 24 Sanitizing Spray, Comet Cleaner with Bleach and even alcohol. See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website for a list of disinfectants.

Overall, the study found that homes with dogs and kids are germier.

No surprise there.

Feeling SAD? Maximize the light in your home

Depending upon your outlook, you may enjoy gloomy winter days or you may want to hibernate until spring.

Even that may not be enough to stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or, in plain English, the winter blues. A subclass of depression, bouts can be mild or severe.

Thankfully, tricking your interior clock is all it takes to rid yourself of the blah feeling. Even if you don’t suffer from SAD, winter’s darkness has a way of creeping into the home, making it feel a bit dreary.

So, let’s do something about it. Just a few tricks and your biological rhythm will think you’re sitting on a sunny tropical beach.

Start with the windows

Windows are our homes’ eyes on the world. Maximizing the natural light through those windows is one of the best ways to chase away winter’s dreariness.

First, remove all the window screens. You’d be surprised how much more natural light will flow through those windows when it isn’t impeded by something that’s meant to be used only when windows are open.

Replace them in spring when fresh air becomes more important than natural light.

Heavy drapery is a smart move in winter, acting as insulation against drafty windows. Consider the addition of sheer liners behind them. During those days when you’re at home, throw back the thick curtains and the liners will provide privacy while allowing light to enter the room.

Reflect natural light

Now that you have an increase in natural light streaming through your windows, use it productively by adding reflective accessories in the rooms that require additional light.

Mirrors are ideal for this purpose but you can also use metals, crystal and mirrored accessories to throw light into dark corners.

Finally, consider light-colored slipcovers for your furniture or toss some light-colored pillows onto the sofa and add an attractive complementary-colored afghan. 

Consider repainting

“Current research suggests that there is a link between color sensitivity and mood disorders,” according to Teresa M. Kutchma, in the Journal of Undergraduate Research at Minnesota State University, Mankato (Vol. 3, Article 3).

It should come as no surprise that white is “the most reflective color,” states Chris Deziel at sciencing.com.

“When you look around a room, as long as the walls feel bright, the room feels bright,” interior lighting designer Nathanael Washam tells Laura Shinn at seattletimes.com.

“For your brain, the walls are what determines the feeling of brightness.”

And that’s what we need in the dead of winter: to trick our brains into a feeling of brightness.

Painting the interior walls a crisp white is a no-brainer. If you just can’t stomach the sterility that white lends to an entire house, however, choose another light color. The closer you can get to white, the better, but light blue is a brilliant mood lifter, for instance.

Avoid dark shades of blue and the overuse of the color yellow.

Add artificial light sources

This, too, may seem like a no-brainer, but have you considered adding a few new sources of light? Table lamps placed near a reflective surface will ramp up the cheer, and under-cabinet or shelf lighting will cast a warm glow to the area around bookcases and kitchen cabinets.

Fill those new light fixtures with full spectrum light bulbs. These bulbs produce a spectrum of light that is very much like the light spectrum of sunlight. Learn more about them at healthlighting.com.

If all else fails, consider purchasing a light therapy lamp, which “… gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light,” according to the experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Avoid eye and skin damage by choosing a lamp that emits as little UV light as possible.

The CDC also provides the following “3 key elements for effectiveness:”

  • Plan your daily light therapy sessions so that they occur shortly after you wake up.
  • Use a 10,000-lux light box placed at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches from your face.
  • Each daily session should last 20 to 30 minutes. If your light box has a light with less lumens, check the instructions that come with it to determine how long your sessions should last.

If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, talk to your health care provider about the treatment options that are best for you.

5 ways to pay less for appliances

Have you priced new appliances recently? First, they’re all over the map, with some dealers offering far less or more than others for the same models.

And, yes, prices have most likely increased substantially since you bought that range back in 1998. Much of this has to do with demand. The pandemic brought on a rash of folks performing home improvements and appliance sales skyrocketed.

“Some retailers are reporting a two month wait for certain brands of refrigerators or dryers,”

according to Leslie Brinkley at ABC7news.com.

If you’re in the market for a new appliance or two, take the time to strategize the purchase. In the end, it’s the preparation that will save you money.

Know your needs

While the bells and whistles that smart-home appliance offer are cool, do you really need them? If you’re on a budget, keep in mind that these features provide “… no basic performance benefit,” according to Andrea Waroch at clark.com.

Check out what’s on offer to get an idea of the features you truly need, such as a timer on a range or microwave.

Make a list of the features you need and stick to it if you hope to save money on appliances.

Consider used appliances

A friend recently purchased a brand new, never used Whirlpool range. She found it posted on her local NextDoor.com neighborhood by a couple who bought a new home and wanted stainless steel appliances (this range is black).

Our friend checked the home improvement stores and found the same model priced at almost double what her neighbors were asking. Yes, she snatched it up immediately.

If you haven’t joined your neighborhood on Nextdoor.com, you should consider doing so. Not only will you be kept up to date on the happenings in your area, but get to know your neighbors as well. The for-sale section is full of lovely merchandise at low prices.

You’ll also find used appliances for sale online at:

Don’t neglect the local brick-and-mortar stores that specialize in used appliances.

Buying used means that you’ll have to find a way to transport the appliance to your home and a way to dispose of the old one. Then, there is the cost of installation. If you can’t do it yourself you may need to hire someone to do it for you.

Tack these charges onto the price of the appliance when comparing the price to the cost of new appliances. Although, quite often, the big home improvement stores charge a delivery and take-away fee as well as for installation.

Scratch and dent

If you don’t mind a cosmetic defect or two, many retailers offer what are known as “out-of-box,” “scratch-and-dent” and “customer return” appliances at reduced prices. How much reduced?

According to Waroch,

you may save “… anywhere from 10 to over 50 percent on the retail price of appliances.”

Shop for these appliances online at American Freight (formerly Sears Outlet) and Best Buy Outlet. You might also check local dealers and the big home improvement stores.

Negotiate for a discount

“According to Consumer Reports, only 33 percent of surveyed shoppers negotiated on large appliance deals,” according to Waroch.

Of those who did try to haggle, 75% of them got an average of $100 off the price of the appliance.

“If the sales associate or manager is unable to lower the price, he or she may offer complimentary delivery and installation or free haul away, which is a tremendous savings. Ultimately, you never know unless you ask!” Waroch concludes.

Steer clear of extended warranties

That is the advice offered by the experts at Consumer Reports and it’s one of the easiest ways to save money on appliances.

Just say “no thanks”

Warranties are big money makers for retailers. In fact, sales of these warranties have become “a $40 billion business,” according to Consumer Reports.

“The chance that your refrigerator or dishwasher actually needs a repair during the extended warranty period is pretty low,” HomeAdvisor.com’s Dan DiClerico tells Consumer Reports.

Appliances typically come with a manufacturer’s warranty, which is usually offers sufficient protection.


Kitchen trends for 2021

Planning a kitchen renovation? According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, you aren’t alone. Home renovation and remodeling spending is expected to increase through the first quarter of 2021, at least.

Most DIY remodelers say they will concentrate the renovation dollars on the kitchen and bathroom, with 83 percent of them claiming high hopes that their kitchen remodel will increase the home’s value.

Here are some of the kitchen projects that they’ll be undertaking and the trends you need to pay attention to if you hope to sell your home in 2021 or beyond.

Kitchen cabinetry

If you’re going to remodel your kitchen with an eye to selling the home in the future, skip the raised panel or Shaker panel cabinets and opt for a smooth-front cabinet design.

In fact, minimalism is so in-demand right now, you might also want to consider forgoing handles all together, in favor of touch-release type of cabinets.

Ceiling-to-floor cabinets are expected to trend in 2021 as well. “… it’s becoming extremely popular to totally eschew the open shelving or no-uppers trend of years past in favor of wall-to-wall cabinetry,” according to the pros at HGTV.

Finally, while the stark white cabinet colors of last year are still popular, the trend is toward warmer colors, such as “…wine reds, deep greens and rich browns,” according to HGTV’s decorators.

Walnut cabinetry, for instance, is gaining in popularity, according to the folks at homesandgarden.com. “It’s rich, dark color, fine grain and natural warmth are prized by makers for its feeling of instant luxury.”


While kitchens with granite and quartz countertops were among the most Instagrammable in 2020, many designers are touting marble for 2021.

“If there’s one thing that’s storming the style charts and shaking up interiors, it’s the return of marble,” according to design pros at homesandgardens.com. Specifically, “… strongly veined marble, the busier the better for unmissable luxury and next-level style.”

Quartz took a huge leap forward in popularity last year and the experts at residentialproductsonline.com see a more specific surge in 2021: “… light-colored quartz will become the ‘it’ material.”

Kitchen flooring

Wood flooring and wood-look flooring in the kitchen has reigned supreme for the past decade and most designers agree it will trend even more in the new year.

The beauty of today’s technology allows for the look of hardwood in a waterproof, durable flooring, so necessary in a busy kitchen.

For a lighter, airier feel in the kitchen, designers with flooringinc.com predict homeowners will turn to blonde-colored wood or wood-look flooring.

Kate Tyndall, with internationalsurfaceevent.com, agrees. “Lighter stains rule, and shiny finishes are out.”

Kitchen wall colors

The big paint companies will soon be out with their Color of the Year, but kitchen remodelers don’t seem to care. They have their own preferences, which include gray, white and off-white, brown and beige.

We’ve put together a sampling of some of the year’s most popular shades of these colors for kitchens.

Shades of gray to consider:

Gorgeous white:

Longing for a brown kitchen?

Shades of beige for your kitchen walls:

Kitchen lighting

When you shop for lighting for your 2021 kitchen makeover, keep an eye out for two styles:

According to a survey by Houzz, homeowners “… are showing interest in swing-arm and other sconce fixtures, which can add some adornment while providing needed task lighting around a sink or range.”

Pendant lights came in second on the list of Tap Warehouse’s Instagram kitchen trends in 2020. Especially if you have a kitchen island, consider adding drama, texture and color in the form of pendant lighting.

Kitchen Appliances

While stainless steel appliances remain popular, matte-finishes are gaining. This is no doubt due to both stainless’ high maintenance requirements and the attractiveness of the matte finish.

Graphite gray from Viking (see it here), Slate from GE (it’s smudge-proof!) and black stainless steel finishes all made headway in 2020 and experts predict they will gain in popularity.

Tips for grocery shopping safety and success

One thing that the pandemic has created is a multitude of ways to shop for groceries. We can shop our favorite grocery store online and then pick up our order curbside.

We can use a delivery service such as Instacart or Amazon. And, we can still shop in person.

All of the various methods require an eye toward safety. Today we offer some tips on how to keep safe and get what you need while grocery shopping during the pandemic.

Tips for grocery shopping in person

Tip #1: Visit safe grocery stores

“Avoid small stores with poor ventilation,” Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., tells shefinds.com.

Even when it comes to larger stores with adequate ventilation, some are safer than others.

Ipsos, a global research firm, sent mystery shoppers to businesses across the nation to determine “… which brands have implemented adequate health and safety measures as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.”

Top performers included Wells Fargo Bank, Panda Express and, in the grocery store category, Whole Foods.

“Employees at 76% of Whole Foods stores visited were seen actively cleaning high touch areas, as compared to an industry average of 59%,” according to the study.

Other top performers in the grocery category include:

  • Trader Joe’s
  • ShopRite
  • Costco

Tip #2: Make a plan

To avoid impulse buying, psychologists have long recommended that we consult a shopping list while at the grocery store.

Since we now have the need for speed while in an enclosed environment, that list is even more important.

The experts at the Riverside Hospitals group suggest that you use a paper shopping list “… so you’re not touching your phone over and over again and possibly spreading germs on it before you have a chance to clean it.”

Plan on visiting the store when fewer shoppers will be there. For most grocery stores, the best time is when they open. A recent Google analysis finds that the best time to shop is Mondays at 8 a.m. Avoid grocery stores on Saturday between noon-3 p.m.

Take disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer with you on your shopping trip. Use the wipes to wipe down the shopping cart and the hand sanitizer immediately after paying.

Avoid touching products you don’t intend on buying.

Don’t forget your mask and to remain at least 6 feet away from other shoppers.

Unpack your groceries immediately upon returning home and disinfect surfaces on which you placed the bags of groceries.

Wash your hands following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

Tips for ordering groceries online

Tip #1 Decide if you want delivery or curbside pickup

Either method involves a shopper picking out the items on your list and both methods are deemed safer than in-person shopping.

Some grocers’ shoppers are better than others, however, and it takes trial and error to find the right one for you.

Tip #2 Give your shopper options

It happens: some of what’s on your list may be out of stock at the store. Most large grocers provide space to list alternatives should your choices be out of stock. Use this space to not only provide those alternatives but other instructions as well.

To avoid receiving a dozen eggs that will expire in three days, jot a note to the shopper asking him or her to “please check the expiration date.”

Hate overripe bananas? Let the shopper know.

Tip #3 Use best practices for safety when bringing in your groceries

“Although the FDA states there is no evidence that food packaging is a transmission point, best practice is to transfer the food out of the packaging, dispose of packaging, and thoroughly wash hands,” cautions the experts at the National Safety Council.

“Finally, clean the area where the bag or packaging was resting.”

The average American goes to the grocery store 1.6 times a week and spends 44 minutes there, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

To remain safe, you’ll need to cut that time down to no more than 30 minutes, according to Linsey Marr, PhD, aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech (New York Times).

Shop like Mom is with you. “No dillydallying.”

4 shrubs that shrug off winter’s chill

Landscapes don’t have to be barren from late fall until spring. Hardworking, evergreen, cold-hardy shrubs can lend color and texture to your yard. Some will even offer you gorgeous flowers when the weather warms up.

CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


With more than 1,000 species, the Rhododendron genus has a lot to offer. They can be deciduous or evergreen, depending on species.

One of the most popular types of rhododendron is the azalea. These too are either deciduous or evergreen.

When looking for cold-tolerant evergreens to take you through the winter and explode into color in spring, consider Rhododendron ‘Elviira,” (Rhododendron x ‘Elviira’) pictured above.

Hardiness: Hardy to USDA zones 4 through 8. Elviira can tolerate temperatures to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Find your zone here.

Size in maturity: 3 feet in height and 3 feet wide. A very compact, showy shrub.

Light and water requirements: Partial shade. Water when the top 3 inches of soil is dry.

By Olaf Feillinger, via CC BY-SA 2.5


You’ll fall in love with the camellia’s glossy green leaves and then go head-over-heels when it blooms. Some call the camellia the “perfect” flower.

With hundreds of species and thousands of hybrids, you’ll have no problem finding one that is perfect for your landscape.

The most common for home gardening are C. sasangua and C. japonica.

Hardiness: Depending on species, camellia is generally hardy in USDA Zones 6 through 9. Some C. japonica species and hybrids can tolerate temperatures between 0 and minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Size in maturity: Height: 10 ft. to 13 ft. Width 5 ft. to 10 feet.

Light and water requirements: Plant your camellia in shade or partial shade and protect it from winds. Keep in mind, however, that flowering may be curtailed in deep shade. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Learn more about camellia care from the American Camellia Society.


Pyracantha and the winter holidays just seem to be made for one another. Also known as firethorn, this evergreen shrub bears small berries all winter long. Although the varieties with red berries are the most common, you can also find pyracantha that boast orange, white and yellow berries.

One of the questions many homeowners have is about the toxicity of the berries. “The berries have not been shown to be toxic to animals or humans, although swallowing large amounts might cause some mild stomach upset,” according to webpoisoncontrol.org.

Hardiness: Depending on species, pyracantha is generally hardy in USDA Zones 6 through 9 and temperatures as low as negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Size in maturity: Pyracantha can grow to a height of 15 feet and 6 to 8 feet wide.

Light and water requirements: Grow pyracantha in full sun to partial shade and provide water to keep the soil consistently moist in spring through fall. Allow the top of the soil to dry in winter.


By Joshua Mayer from Madison, WI, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Most gardeners are familiar with the common, pyramid-shaped arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) Although they’re lovely and solve a number of landscaping problems, we prefer the compact, “globe” types.

In fact, the dwarf, evergreen varieties are so versatile, you can use them just about anywhere. Gardening experts at Southern Living magazine suggest you take a look at the ‘Tater Tot’ and ‘Mr. Bowling Ball’ cultivars.

Hardiness: Cold tolerance is cultivar-dependent, but in general, you’ll find globe arborvitae hardy to USDA zones 3 through 7. According to the experts at Missouri Botanical Garden, ‘Danica’ and ‘Hetz Midget’ can be grown in zone 2.

Size in maturity: Dwarf arborvitae grow from 12 to 24 inches in height and are intolerant of dry soil. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not saturated.

Light and water requirements: For the fullest shrub, grow the arborvitae in full sun. For the first few weeks after planting, keep the soil consistently moist. Once established, keep in mind that it’s better to underwater than overwater the arborvitae.



4 Ways to ace 2020 holiday shopping on Amazon

When we think of holidays, “relax” isn’t a word that readily comes to mind. There is so much to do with shopping, cooking, cleaning, visitors and more.

This year, however, we’re all pretty exhausted from trying to maneuver this “new normal” that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon us. We don’t know about you, but we are making a concerted effort to take the “hectic” out of the 2020 holiday season.

And that starts with shopping. Will there be the same crowds at department stores? We don’t know and we suggest not waiting to find out.

Shopping online is the way to go this year. It’s safe and convenient (if you start early).

In fact, nearly 60% of “… consumers say they plan to purchase holiday items online this year,” according to a National Retail Federation survey published in late October, 2020.

More than 40% of U.S. shoppers “… plan to buy most of their holiday gifts on Amazon this year, and 11% say they plan to buy all of their holiday gifts on Amazon,” according to another survey from Episerver.

Will you be joining them? Here are a few tips to ace your Amazon.com holiday shopping experience.

1. Don’t “wing it”

Just as we’ve been taught not to shop for groceries without a list, so it goes for holiday shopping as well.

Start with a list of names–those people that you want to gift this year.

Next comes your budget. Know the total amount you will spend on gifts this holiday season. For instance, that NRF study we mentioned earlier finds that “… consumers plan to spend $997.79 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and additional ‘non-gift’ purchases for themselves and their families …”

So, decide how much you will be spending on those items and jot down your gift budget on the shopping list you’re creating.

Take it a step further and decide how much to allocate to each person’s gift.

2. The holiday shopping season has already started

Black Friday has come and gone so you’ll want to switch into shopping mode if you haven’t done so yet.

Last year, Amazon was inundated with unhappy customers who didn’t receive their orders on time – some waited for weeks after Christmas before finally receiving them.

The company chalked up the ‘Shipageddon’ to “… winter storms as well as increased demand,” according to Nat Levy at geekwire.com.

While we did search for whether the company has plans in place to avoid last year’s problems, we were unable to find anything. So, shop early. As in right now.

Start by taking a look at Amazon’s Holiday Dash deals which they promise will offer “Black Friday-worthy deals dropping daily …,” according to Kelly Tyko at USA Today.

You can also access the deals on the Amazon app (amazon.com/holidaydash) or ask Alexa “What are your deals?” Don’t have voice shopping set up? Learn how, at Amazon.com.

3. Need gift ideas?

Check out Amazon.com’s gift guides. Or, ask Alexa for help. CNET.com offers a guide on “How to use Alexa to buy holiday gifts.”

Other places to look for ideas include:

4. Save money while shopping on Amazon

Who knew that Amazon offered coupons? It’s true and you may just find the perfect gift at a discount by checking the site’s coupon section.

You might also want to check out Amazon Renewed, where you can shop for “Like-New Refurbished Products.” You’ll find bargains on everything from smartphones to tools, gaming and more.

If you haven’t started your holiday shopping yet, what are you waiting for? These tips should help you get it all under control.

What to know about fire prevention – Be safe in the kitchen

The pandemic has wrought many changes to life for the average American. More people are gardening, swimming pool installations have skyrocketed, certain household items, such as sanitizing wipes, are still hard to find at the supermarket.

Cooking at home has increased by 54% and, with it, kitchen fires have too. A recent report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) finds that cooking fires are the biggest cause of fires in the homes. They rank second when it comes to fire deaths.

“The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking,” according to the experts with NFPA.

We thought this would be the perfect time to remind you of some basic kitchen and cooking safety tips.

How to avoid kitchen fires and injuries

  • Never cook when you are overly tired or intoxicated.
  • Nearly 15% of kitchen fire deaths are the result of clothes catching fire while cooking. Avoid wearing long, loose sleeves and reaching into the cupboard above the stove while cooking.
  • Remain in the kitchen while you are cooking on medium to high heat.
  • Check on slow-cooking food frequently.
  • Keep flammable items, such as kitchen towels and hot pads, away from the stove.
  • Wipe up spilled food and grease so that it doesn’t catch on fire.
  • Keep children and pets away from the stove and never hold a child while cooking. The NFPA suggests creating a “kid-free” zone of at least 3 feet around the stove.

If you have a cooking fire

  • Leave the kitchen immediately.
  • If there is a door to the kitchen, close it behind you.
  • Gather others in the home and move outdoors.
  • Dial 911 once you are safe.
  • If the fire is in the oven, turn it off and keep the door closed to smother the flames.
  • The experts at NFPA suggest that you “Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.”

As we head into the holiday season, keep in mind that most home cooking fires occur at Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the NFPA survey.


5 Easy to care-for indoor trees

Although houseplants are seeing a resurgence in popularity, especially with our millennial generation, growing plants indoors is an ancient practice.

In fact, it dates back to the early Romans and Greeks, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. But it was during the Victorian period that we Americans went nuts for growing plants indoors.

Today’s holy grail of indoor growing is the tree. It adds height, texture and drama to indoor décor.

Thankfully, one doesn’t necessarily need a green thumb or a conservatory to be successful with indoor-grown trees. Shopping for those that are easy-growers is the trick.

We’ve rounded up five of the easiest-to-grow indoor trees.

Ponytail Palm

Serious houseplant gardeners know that every home needs a palm. While some are too finicky for the casual grower, anybody can be successful with the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata or Nolina recurvata).

Ponytail, however, isn’t a true palm, but it’s appearance is close enough to get away with faking it.

Well suited to a more modern interior, the ponytail palm thrives in normal household light levels and won’t up and die on you if the only spot you can find for it offers low light.

This is the ideal plant for the busy indoor gardener because it stores water in its trunk, saving it for those days when you forget or don’t have time to water it. This plant is so water-efficient, in fact, that overwatering it is the most common cause of its demise.

For best results, plant the ponytail palm in a loose potting soil. Cactus mix is ideal. When you water, do so deeply and then don’t water again until the mix is completely dry.

Learn more about the ponytail palm from the master gardeners at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rubber tree

It’s a testament to a plant’s popularity when the likes of Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore and a host of other popular singers put their voices to a song about it.

When you grow the rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica), you may just be singing about it too – it’s that easy to care for.

The rubber tree offers large, shiny, colorful leaves and lots of height (able to grow to 10 feet indoors).

Grow the rubber tree in bright light, although it won’t die if you offer less. In fact, “they grow best with the morning light from an east window,” according to the experts at Clemson University Cooperative Extension.

This is another houseplant that tolerates the forgetful owner, requiring infrequent watering. Learn more about rubber tree care at the aforementioned Clemson University website.


Corn plant

Virtually indestructible, about the only problem encountered by most corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’) growers is the brown leaf tips caused by a lack of humidity.

They’re not terribly unsightly and a small price to pay for a practically set-it-and-forget-it houseplant.

The bonus is that corn plant is one of those studied by NASA and found to help clean indoor air of various pollutants.

Don’t overwater the corn plant; it is quite drought-tolerant and may die if overwatered. Allow the soil to dry completely before watering.

Most experts suggest bright indoor light for the corn plant, although personal experience finds that the plant’s leaves fade with too much direct sun and it thrives even in dark corners of the home.

Avoid the brown leaf tips mentioned earlier by placing a humidifier in close proximity to your corn plant.

Learn more about this air-cleaning, statuesque indoor houseplant at the University of Florida IFAS Extension website.


Fiddle Leaf Fig

The current darling of houseplant collectors, the fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) can grow to 25 feet in the landscape (within its USDA hardiness zones 10B through 11). Find your growing zone at Gardenologist.org.

Most are grown indoors, as houseplants, where they can grow to 6 feet in height. And, by the way, don’t expect to harvest figs from the fiddle leaf – although it hails from the same biological family (Moraceae) as the fig we love to eat, it’s strictly ornamental.

Fiddle leaf thrives in bright but filtered sunlight. It will start leaning toward the sun, so rotate the pot occasionally.

While not as forgiving as some houseplants when it comes to forgetting to water, do allow the top of the soil to dry completely before watering the fiddle leaf fig.


Umbrella Plant

Not only is the umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola) easy on the eyes, but it’s one of the least-demanding houseplants you can grow.

We must warn you, however, that, if chewed on, the leaves can be harmful to pets and children.

The umbrella plant thrives indoors, where it can grow from 8- to 10-feet in height. Give it bright, filtered sunlight for at least three to four hours per day.

Like most houseplants, the umbrella plant is tropical in nature and requires somewhat warm temperatures. In winter, for instance, temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit may cause the foliage to turn black and fall from the plant. Sixty degrees is the umbrella plant’s sweet spot in winter.

When you water the umbrella plant, do so deeply and don’t allow the excess water to sit in the saucer under the plant. Water again when the top ½ inch of soil is dry.

“Schefflera is much more forgiving of too little water, than too much,” according to Dr. Leonard Perry, horticulture professor emeritus with the University of Vermont.