5 Tips for Protecting Your Outdoor Kitchen in the Fall and Winter

outdoor kitchen in winter

An outdoor kitchen is a great feature to have at your house if you enjoy entertaining and spending time outdoors. Nothing quite beats a warm evening spent cooking outside and socializing as the kids run around the backyard. As summer turns to fall, however, you will need to ensure your outdoor kitchen is prepared for the colder weather. Failing to winterize your outdoor kitchen can result in expensive repairs the next year. By knowing how to protect your outdoor kitchen in winter and following these guidelines, you can ensure that your appliances and features will be in good shape and ready to go when the warm weather returns.

1. Take Care of Your Plumbing

Water that remains in the pipes and plumping system of your outdoor kitchen can cause a big problem if you don’t manage it properly. When it starts freezing outside, the water in these pipes can freeze too, causing your pipes to burst. This problem can turn into a huge nuisance, racking up hefty plumbing bills, leading to flooding, and making your outdoor kitchen unusable for a period of time. By making sure to evacuate water from all faucets and supply lines, you can avoid issues with freezing pipes.

To clear your pipes, you should first find and shut off all water supply lines leading to the kitchen from the indoor plumbing system. Make sure to perform the shut off using a valve inside your home so that water does not rest in outdoor pipes. Once the water is shut off, begin draining the lines. Make sure you do not neglect water supply lines connected to refrigerators, ice makers, and sinks. Unless you have a gravity-based kitchen winterization system in place, compressed carbon dioxide often works best for clearing water from lines. Finally, ensure that all drain valves are in the open position for the duration of the winter. By guaranteeing that no water remains in your pipes as winter sets in, you can save yourself from expensive repairs.

2. Prepare Your Grill

It’s a good idea to do some maintenance on your outdoor grill at the end of the summer. Even if you plan to use the grill occasionally during the colder months, a good cleaning will make sure it’s working well when barbecue season rolls around. To clean and prepare your grill, complete the following steps:

cal flame grill
  • Use a degreaser to rid your grill of built up grease that will be difficult to scrub off.
  • Polish the grill with stainless steel polish.
  • With a metal grill brush, scrub areas that remain dirty.
  • Remove the grates and clean underneath.
  • Season cooking surfaces by applying vegetable oil to grates and allowing the grill to heat at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.
  • Turn off the gas line if you will not be using your grill during the winter.

Depending on the material and quality of your grill, it may be able to resist the elements without a cover. If you do choose to use a cover, however, make sure to use one designed for your type of grill that will allow moisture to escape. Synthetic materials work best for withstanding weather and allowing moisture to move through.

3. Cover or Seal if Needed

Covering surfaces and appliances in your outdoor kitchen can prevent wear, cracks, and stains due to cold and wet weather. Use caution when covering surfaces, however, as allowing moisture to get trapped underneath a cover can be more damaging than exposure. Ice makers and refrigerators, for example, often do better when left uncovered because they can easily accumulate moisture. It is advised to contact the manufacturer of your appliances for instructions on how best to protect them from the elements.

You can also apply sealers and finishers to protect surfaces from wear. If you have stainless steel appliances or cabinets, it would be a good idea to apply a coat of stainless steel finish. Make sure everything has been removed from cabinets and that they are free of dirt and debris. Wood cabinets and surfaces should be oiled. Weather can wear down the finish on stone countertops over time; you can purchase sealers designed for stone to prevent this from happening. Applying one of these products will help guard expensive outdoor stone surfaces from stains and damage.

4. Winterize the Refrigerator and Ice Maker

Before the weather gets cold, your ice maker and refrigerator should be prepared to handle the weather change. First, turn the power off on both units. You should have already shut off the water supply and drained the water lines leading to the machines. After these steps are complete, either turn off the ice maker and refrigerator’s circuits in your home’s electrical panel or unplug the devices. Then, clean the units according the following steps:

  • Empty the ice maker’s storage bin, clean it, and make sure the drain valve is closed.
  • Completely empty the refrigerator, and gently clean it with soap and water.
  • Take off the front grill of both machines and use a vacuum cleaner to clean the area behind it. Reattach the grill when done.
  • Do not cover your ice maker or refrigerator. This can lead to an accumulation of moisture that can damage the unit.

5. Get Your Fire Pit Ready

real flame fire pit

If you have a fire pit outside your home, you will also need to take steps to ensure it is ready for the cold and will function readily come spring. First, remove debris, ash, and wood that may have accumulated in the fire pit throughout the summer. If your fire runs on gas, make sure to turn off the supply. Then, you may want to cover the fire pit with a weather resistant cover to keep out snow, leaves, and animals. You can purchase a fire pit cover that is custom designed for the dimensions of your unit.

If you have faced repair costs in the past or are preparing for your first winter with a new outdoor kitchen, you may have questions as to how to protect your outdoor appliances in the cold. Keeping your kitchen safe from damage caused by the elements comes down to being prepared. Advancement of technology has made the winterization process much easier, but you still cannot be passive. By taking the proper precautions and taking care of all features, you can rest assured your outdoor kitchen will be in great shape come summer.

5 Ways to Clean Your Oven Racks

Cleaning Ovens

There is not a lot of things that are more irritating to clean than a dirty oven, except possibly stained oven racks. Even if you use your oven sparingly, chances are that sticky grime, baked-on grease and burned pieces of food will accumulate. Some people have self-cleaning ovens, but many repair companies are cautioning against utilizing this feature. Temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing damage to internal elements and the racks. The extreme heat level in the cleaning cycle destroys the shiny chrome finish. To prolong their life and avoid the racks looking dull, you should clean your oven racks the old-fashioned way.

Putting off cleaning your oven racks will only delay the inevitable and increase the amount of work needed to remove layers of baked-on food debris and grease. Rest assured that cleaning them is easy with the right technique. If you have a standard oven or a self-cleaning model in your home, you are going to need to learn how to clean your oven racks. Fortunately, by following any of these methods, you can get the job done quickly and with a minimum of hassle.

1. Dryer Sheets and Dishwashing Liquid

An effortless way to clean your oven racks is to line your bathtub with dryer sheets. Lay the oven racks on top of the sheets, fill the tub with just enough warm water to cover the racks and add a half-cup of dish soap. Allow everything to sit overnight. Drain the tub in the morning and use the soaked dryer sheets to wipe the racks clean. The power of the antistatic in the dryer sheets helps to separate the food from the racks by diluting the bond, while the fabric softening agents soften the baked-on food. Because this method happens in the bathtub, cleanup after you take care of the oven racks is easy.

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar Bath

For this method you will also be using your bathtub. Set the racks in the tub without any water. Once they are in place, sprinkle baking soda–which acts an a cleanser and deodorizer–over the racks and then douse them with vinegar. After the foaming stops, run the hot water in the tub until it fully covers the racks and allow them to sit overnight. Scrub the racks with an old dishtowel in the morning to remove the grease and grime. Use an old toothbrush to remove the baked-on gunk. For especially stubborn spots, add kosher salt to create a more abrasive scrubbing system. Afterward, rinse the racks completely before you place them back in the oven.

Wall Oven

3. Ammonia Trash Bags

This is a fairly standard and straightforward no-mess method. You will need a large plastic trash bag, ammonia, a trash bin, a place outside where you can leave the racks overnight and a hose connected to a water source. To remove the grime from your oven racks with this technique, you simply place your oven racks in the large, unused trash bag. Add a half-quart of ammonia. Tightly tie off the bag and put it in a garbage can. Then let them sit overnight. The racks do not have to be coated in the ammonia, because the fumes will circulate and do the job. That being said, some people have found better success after they set the racks flat while they are in the plastic bags so that the ammonia can reach every spot.

If you try this, be very careful to seal the bags tightly so that the ammonia cannot leak out. Also make sure to place the garbage can outside so you don’t allow these dangerous fumes to circulate inside of your home. The next day, open the trash bag in a well-ventilated area. Be cautious of the ammonia and the fumes! Use gloves and safety goggles and wear something that you do not mind ruining. Spray the racks down thoroughly with a hose and watch the previously cooked-on grease dissolve right off. Once the racks are rinsed and dried, replace them in the oven.

4. Commercial Cleaners

Most commercial cleaners produce toxic fumes, so if you plan on using one, be sure to clean the racks outside. Cover a work surface with a plastic shower curtain or old newspaper. Lay the oven racks down in separate layers. After you put on rubber gloves to protect your hands, spray an oven cleaner product liberally onto both sides of the racks. Leave them sitting for at least 10 minutes, or whatever the recommended amount of time is for that product. Scrub the racks with an old rag or toothbrush and rinse thoroughly with a garden hose before replacing.

5. Dishwasher Soap Bath

For this strategy, all that you need is a bathtub, dishwasher granules, old towels and a few old sponges. This simple method has you place old towels down in your bathtub. Alternately, you can lay a few old sponges in the corners for the oven racks to rest on so that they will not scratch or damage your tub. Place the oven racks in your bathtub carefully, on top of the towel or sponges. Next fill your tub with just enough hot water to cover the racks. Then add a cup of dishwasher powder. Let the racks soak overnight. In the morning, rinse the racks. The stains will usually wipe right off with a firm rub of a sponge or clean cloth.

If you follow this tip but the marks still persist, try something more abrasive, like a dish scourer. If you are cleaning an oven rack with an enamel finish, make sure you do not apply too much pressure. Also, do not leave the product in contact with the racks for an extended period. An old toothbrush might be helpful for scrubbing into the corners and completely removing old scorch marks. Rinse thoroughly, dry and replace them in your oven.

Cleaning oven racks is time-consuming, and the chemicals present in most conventional oven cleaners are toxic. In addition, stains from burnt on foods can be enough to put anyone off from cleaning their oven racks. Nonetheless, with these simple and practical techniques, your oven racks will be glistening like new sooner than you realize. There are many other ways to clean oven racks, but these are the methods that do not require much work from you. Cleaning oven racks is a neglected and dirty job, but by following these techniques you can return them to their original sparkle with very little effort.

11 Tips to Keep Your Lawnmower Running Correctly

lawnmower tips

When it comes to lawn care, you might dream of the day that you first brought your brand new lawnmower home. It used to start on the first pull and cut your entire yard evenly. After some wear and tear, your mower might not be as youthful as it once was, but that doesn’t mean it won’t do its job well. With some regular maintenance, you can get the most out of your mower for years to come. Follow these lawnmower maintenance tips to keep your mower and your grass in tip-top shape.

1. Use Fresh Gas

When a mower doesn’t start, old gas is one of the usual suspects. Gasoline is only fresh for about 30 days. Old fuel will cause moisture build up, loss of octane and gum deposits. After a mowing session, drain your gas tank, especially if you don’t plan to use the mower again for more than a month. When you refill the mower with fuel again, be sure to use only fresh gas instead of what is already in your garage.

2. Replace the Engine Oil

Like a car, you need to check the oil regularly. Monitor your mower’s oil level and check for debris. If the oil is dirty or a dark black color, drain it using the drain plug underneath your mower. If you can’t find a drain plug, carefully tilt the machine on its side to drain. You should get approximately 50 hours of operation from each oil change. Be sure to use clean SAE 30 engine oil.

3. Keep an Eye on the Spark Plug

Dirty or old spark plugs can cause a multitude of problems with your machine. In particular, your mower might lose power during use, which can be a dangerous situation. Spark plugs are easy to replace and inexpensive to purchase. Replace yours either once a year or after 100 hours of mower use. When installing the new plug, do not over tighten it as this can prevent the mower from starting.

4. Change the Air Filter Regularly

For most mowers, there will be a paper or foam air filter that will be easily accessible. These are fairly inexpensive and should be replaced annually. Clogged or dirty filters cause the gas to burn less efficiently and put more operating stress on the machine. It might make the motor lose power in the middle of use or not start in the first place. Either change the filter at the beginning of every operating season or after 25 hours of operation–whichever is first.

5. Clean the Mower Deck

The mower deck and its undercarriage often get clogged with grass and other debris. To a certain extent, this is normal and expected, but too much build up might cause uneven cuts or engine problems. For cleaning, disconnect the spark plug and use soap and water to remove grease, dirt and grass. If you have heavy build up on the undercarriage, use a tool to scrape it away.

6. Clean the Engine


The engine’s air screen and cylinder fins need to be free of dirt and debris to operate at full capacity. This might sound a little bit more difficult if you do not have mechanical experience, but consult your owner’s manual to familiarize yourself with your engine’s anatomy. Be careful to wear gloves if you do not want to get gasoline residue on your hands and make sure the machine is cool to the touch before you begin.

7. Keep the Mower Blade Sharp

A dull mower blade might be the reason you’ve noticed an uneven cut in your lawn. You can sharpen blades with a grinder wheel or file. Do not complete this task while the blade is still on the mower. Take special care to keep the blade’s balance. An unbalanced blade will cut unevenly and eventually damage the mower or engine. Once you believe you are finished sharpening your blade, you can test the balance by placing the blade’s center hold on a stationary nail. If the blade remains balanced on the nail, you are ready to go.

8. Use the Right Gasoline

Do not use weed-whacker fuel. It can be either too lean or too rich depending on the type of mower you have. If you have a four-cycle or two-cycle engine, take care to use the recommended type of fuel. Even if you use the wrong gas, your mower will probably run for a while, but eventually the engine won’t restart. If you make this mistake, just drain the fuel tank and see if the spark plug needs a change. Then, refill your mower with the right gas.

9. Look for Worn or Damaged Belts

If you have a power propelled mower, you will have to keep an eye on the machine’s belts. Once you notice any major wear and tear, replace the worn or damaged belts with new ones. To maintain the driver system, check the gear case and surrounding area. Make sure this region stays clean of dirt and grass build up. During your cutting season, clean the drive cover at least twice.

10. Read the Owner’s Manual

Just like with a car or any fancy new electronic, you should consult with the owner’s manual before you use it. This is true for lawnmowers as well. Each mower is different, so maintenance requirements might vary slightly between machines. Some machines might need more frequent filter changes or have an unusual tank placement. The best way to keep your machine in good shape is to know all about it. Thus, take some time to understand your mower and pay close attention to the location of the air filter, fuel tank and spark plug.

11. Get a Professional Tune Up

You don’t need to take your mower into the shop often, but an annual check up can be helpful, especially if you don’t often work with mechanical equipment. A professional will check your filters, plugs and engine as well as perform diagnostic tests. Plus, they’ll even clean the mower for you.

As long as you stay in tune with how your machine is running, you will be able to catch issues early before they become large problems. If you follow these lawnmower maintenance tips, you will get the most out of your machine for many seasons to come.

9 Tips for Having a Backyard Barbecue

BBQ party

There is no better time for a fun get-together than during the summer, when people come together outside and enjoy the weather. But the idea of hosting a party of your own can seem a little daunting with all the planning, cleaning and prepping necessary. However, with an organized approach it can be easy to get everything done efficiently so you can spend your time relaxing with your guests. Follow these 9 tips in order to plan and execute the perfect backyard barbecue.

1. Plan Ahead

As with just about everything, planning is key when it comes to pulling off a successful party. Creating lists of supplies, guests, food items and other necessities will help keep you organized and on track. You may even want to schedule different types of preparations by the day so you won’t be rushing the day of the event.

Start with a guest list and get your invitations out. Word of mouth or electronic invitations are fine for a casual barbecue. Next, plan out the non-food items you will need and get those several days before the party if possible. Once you’ve planned the menu you can make a two shopping lists: one for a couple days in advance and one for the morning of the backyard party. Some foods need to be bought fresh, and that’s OK as long as you plan accordingly.

You should also ensure that your grill is in good working order. Make sure you have plenty of the proper fuel for your appliance. If you are looking to purchase your first grill for the sole purpose of throwing this party, be sure you do plenty of research so you know you are picking the right one for you.

2. Create a Simple Menu

If you will providing all the food items, make sure to keep your menu simple. Most people like to eat lighter and healthier in the summertime anyway. Stick with the classics: grilled meats, a vegetarian option, corn on the cob, fruit salads, green salads and lots of beverages. Take extra care to not forget to include an option for your vegetarian guests, and certainly plan for a delicious dessert. Your final sweets should be light as well–gooey chocolate is less appealing during the hot months.

Another option is to make the party a potluck, which can help you save money. You might want to assign guests a specific category of items to bring. Otherwise you could end up with six fruit salads and no desserts.

3. Cooking Ahead of Time

You’ll want to make as many menu items as you can before the party. It can be very frustrating trying to prepare dishes while guests are in the kitchen and watching you expectantly. Of course, there will be things you cannot make until the day of the backyard party, but you’ll want to plan your menu accordingly to minimize those things.

Also, schedule yourself time to decorate your yard or set up the buffet. You want your guests to be able to make themselves comfortable as soon as they arrive.

4. Offer an Assortment of Beverages

EdgeStar Ultra Low Temperature Full Size Stainless Steel Kegerator

A warm summer day will mean thirsty party goers, so you’ll want to be prepared with several different drink items. Lemonade and iced tea are classic barbecue offerings. If you plan on serving water or soda, you might want to use a tub full of ice to keep the bottles cool. If you are catering your party more for adults, be sure to include several beer, wine and cocktail options for your guests to choose from.

When it comes to parties, it is super helpful to have an extra beverage fridge to keep drinks cool until it’s time to put them out for guests. A kegerator with a beer tap is a particularly useful appliance to keep the brew flowing for your visitors, and no one will have to pump a keg all night! Kegerators can also be equipped with root beer if you are opting to keep your cookout dry.

5. Have Extras of Everything

Make sure to buy or make extras of everything. Not just the food and drinks–also remember to have extra plates, cups and seating. It’s easier to send people home with leftovers than it is to run to the store if you run out of something. Even things you don’t think you’ll need extra of, such as propane, should be bought early and held in reserve.

6. Be Prepared for Your Guests

Plan to have appetizers ready for your guests as soon as they arrive. They likely will be hungry, and it’s nice to have something to munch on while waiting for the main course. Chips and dip are just fine, but maybe offer some fruit skewers, finger foods or mini cups of barbecued beans to keep your guests satisfied.

When you are placing food out early for party goers, remember that things with mayonnaise or dairy products cannot sit out for a very long time without a bed of ice or other cooling device. You don’t want the potato salad hanging out in the sun for four hours: it may be unsafe to eat and certainly won’t look appetizing.

7. Crank Up the Stereo

Be sure to have music going in the background at your party. You don’t need to have a full backyard stereo system, but you can turn one of your interior speakers toward the window to help magnify the sound. Even a small boom box will do, though this will limit the selections you can play.

If you have music stations by theme or time period available through your cable TV provider or internet radio, this can be a good, commercial-free option. If you are super organized and ambitious, you can even create your own playlist for the night and save it on your computer or mobile music device to play throughout the party.

8. Prepare Some Games

If you will be inviting children to the barbecue, plan to have some games or other outdoor activities available to keep them occupied. Of course, the adults might want to get in on the fun as well. If you expect the party to last more than three hours, it can very helpful in keeping everyone occupied to have lawn games, water toys or decks of cards set out for the guests.

One fun game idea is to use non-toxic spray paint to paint a Twister board–just big dots in four colors–onto your grass. The rain or lawnmower will remove the paint eventually, and in the meantime, the board creates a wind-proof, outdoor-friendly format to enjoy this classic group activity. Other games to consider are hopscotch, volleyball, soccer, or even basketball, if you have a hoop.

9. The Cleanup Process

Depending how late the night goes, you might want to leave cleanup for the morning. Just make sure to put the food away at night before any outdoor critters find their way into your yard. Paper plates and cups are helpful for the cleanup process, but you might consider the reusable type of disposable serveware to cut down on waste. If you have the room, consider hanging garbage bags in convenient areas of your yard to discourage your guests from littering.

Hosting a backyard barbecue is a great way to connect with friends and enjoy the summer weather. With a little work in advance, you can pull a cookout off without worry.

7 Tips for Hosting a Summer Pool Party

Pool Party

It is the peak of the warm months, and the sun is sweltering. All you can think about is nostalgic warm days at the pool as a child. Revisit these memories by hosting an exciting summer pool party, but with a little more adult flair. However, before you invite your friends over for the perfect refreshing summer bash, there are several things to consider during the planning process.

1. Decorate to Impress

First, you want to work on creating a fun summer backdrop that clearly transports your guests to paradise. With a pool party, it is important to think more fun and simple rather than extravagant and elegant. Pops of color can quickly add excitement to the décor. Pick vibrant shades of pinks, greens and purples and place them around the pool. Use small paper lanterns or bunting in bright colors to add the sense of an outdoor fiesta or barbecue. If you want to go with a theme, you could add touches of tropical elements like vibrant flowers and subtle bamboo details, or hang beach balls from tree branches and awnings to add a fun childhood element.

If you want something a little more grown up and sophisticated, you could use a nautical theme with deep blues and reds accompanied with white details, adding touches of anchors and sailboats.

2. Refreshing Cocktails

Sangria cocktail

Make vibrant fruity cocktails that are reminiscent of tropical pool cabanas in the Caribbean. Mai tais, mojitos and margaritas are perfect refreshing poolside drinks that will leave people impressed. You can easily find recipes and add small touches of your own, such as adding hints of watermelon or mango. Sangria is also an excellent refreshing option for wine drinkers.

If this is a family event, don’t forget the kids. You can easily make virgin versions of poolside cocktails and punches that will have them coming back for more.

3. Summer Wine

While wine is often ignored at outdoor barbecues and events, don’t be so quick to count it out! Many people are not liquor or beer drinkers, and it is important to have something for everyone. As you select wines for the event, consider light refreshing options that will be optimal for the heat of the outside setting.

Rosés are an excellent option for a hot summer day. While traditionally they were extraordinarily sweet, many new dry rosés are light and refreshing. Lighter white wines, such as the floral Viognier, can be ideal picks for your gathering. Overall, look for wines that are off-dry with a hint of sweet that come from cooler climates and are derived from lighter grape varieties. These qualities will help you find the perfect summer wine.

If you have the space, consider installing a wine refrigerator in your kitchen. This will help you store your collection of wine for your pool guests and ensure that the wine is perfectly chilled in time for the party.

4. Pool Side Beer

Nothing screams warm summer day like a crisp cool beer. As you begin to select beers for your party, you want to look for beers with lower alcohol by volume. Because your guests will be hanging out in the warm sun all day, you want beers that they can sip on throughout the afternoon without getting a little too intoxicated. Remember that safety should always be your first priority!

Secondly, you will want to consider lighter refreshing options. A number of breweries release summer editions that will add an excellent touch to your event. There are a wide variety of summer wheat beers, blondes and ales to choose from. Select a range of refreshing options to satisfy even the pickiest beer drinkers.

If you have an outdoor kitchen, you might want to invest in a kegerator for your guests. A kegerator will allow you to serve your favorite beers on tap in your very own backyard.

5. Expert Grilling

Laguna Grill Smoker

A summer party would not be complete without some delicious food hot off the grill. There are a variety of options when planning your menu for the party. You can go with more casual burgers, hot dogs and sausages, or you could go with something a little more impressive like steaks, fish or kabobs.

Whatever you may be putting on the grill, there are some important steps to follow. First, you want to make sure that you are not putting the food on the grill too early. You need to let the grill sit for at least 30 minutes before cooking to ensure the best results. Also, avoid babysitting the food. Every time you lift the lid of the grill, heat and smoke is lost and your meat loses flavor. In addition, over flipping the food can result in flare-ups which can cause your food to burn. Look up appropriate cooking times and set a timer so you only have to check on and flip your food once. You can also ensure perfectly cooked meat by using a meat thermometer. Finally, you want to wait until the end of the grilling process to add your sauce. If you add it too early, it will simply burn off onto the grill.

6. Delicious Salads

The sides you serve along with the barbecue are just as important as the main course. Consider providing a spread of light summer salads. There are many options that go beyond a traditional green or potato salad. Bring back memories of corn on the cob by creating a light refreshing concoction from the kernels. There are also a variety of salads that use bright green asparagus, broccoli or kale.

Consider serving fruit salads, which can provide a sweet and refreshing touch to your summer soirée. Adding a hint of vibrant herbs to your fruit, such as lavender, mint, basil or rosemary, can make for a truly unique dish. You can even bring a little bit of influence from the grill to your salads. Grilling more obvious vegetables like squash, eggplant or mushrooms create a savory dish, and grilling more adventurous items like avocado or fruit provide an element of surprise.

7. Fun and Games

Games are not just for the kids. On a hot summer day, the adults want to spend just as much time playing in the pool. Throw some fun floating tubes and lounges for people to relax in the pool. This not only provides a place to cool off but also adds to the décor. If you want to incorporate more active games, get a beach ball and set up a net for some pool volleyball. Get everyone involved and create a little competition while enjoying the water. If you’re feeling a bit more nostalgic and adventurous, purchase some inexpensive water guns and water balloons for a water gun battle. Fun activities such as these will ensure that everyone has a fantastic time.

You have a lot of options when hosting your party. Just try to be creative and have fun with the process. Vibrant decorations, delicious barbecue, impressive drinks, and fun activities will have your guests talking about the event for weeks and months to come.

Top 11 Gifts for Your College Freshman

college dorm

So your child isn’t so little anymore, and the time has come for you to send him or her off to the exciting new world of college. While you might have a hard time containing your own nerves, you can help make the transition as easy as possible for your kid.

If you want to help set your freshman up with some of the comforts of home in their tiny college dorm room, there are some key items that can make their transition to self-sufficiency a little smoother. Because space and access to electricity might be limited, it’s best if you can carefully narrow down your list of potential gifts to the most practical and useful. Here is a list of the top 11 gifts for college freshmen to get you started.

1. Bedding


Your college student’s dorm room will more than likely come with a bed platform and a mattress. However, you’ll need to purchase your own sheets, pillows and blankets for your child. This is one of the best gifts you can provide your college-bound child because you know they will need them and use them every single night.

Be sure to choose a collection made of light, breathable fabric because you never know if the heating and cooling systems in the dorms will function properly. Also, see if you can find out if extra-long twin sheets will be needed. This often is the case for college dorm beds. Many students use their beds as places to study, so include several pillows of different sizes and firmness levels.

2. Computer


Although your student might have had a serviceable laptop that got them through high school, now might be the time to upgrade. A college student is likely to need more memory, computing power and certain software that an older machine might not come with.

When picking out a newer model, make sure to get something durable–multiple daily moves in and out of a backpack, plus routine bumps and bruises can really take their toll on the lighter versions.

3. Bicycle


For kids that will be attending a large college, a fast mode of transportation can be crucial for getting from one end of the campus to the other before the next class starts.

Unfortunately, bikes are one of the most stolen items at any university. Make sure you also provide a hefty bike lock, and consider a seat that has a quick release mechanism so that it can be removed between uses to help dissuade thieves. If your state has a helmet law for adults, new head protection should be part of the gift.

4. Mini Fridge

Mini Fridge

Where will your student store his or her leftover slices after a late-night pizza run? It’s times like these that a mini fridge can come in handy.

If there is space in the dorm room and an ideally placed electrical outlet, provide your freshman with an appropriately sized fridge so he or she can keep their soda and perishable foods cool and safe to eat.

5. Extra Storage

extra storage

Under-the-bed space and other nooks and crannies are prime real estate for additional storage in a small dorm room. Look for shelf or drawer units that will fit in these spaces in order to inspire organization in your student.

Consider getting something portable for your kid to use as storage. College students do a lot of traveling and always need a sturdy trunk to keep their belongings in. When they are not traveling or moving, they can use the trunk to store items under their college dorm room bed or in their closet. They come in all kinds of materials, but you want to purchase one that is light enough to carry up the stairs if necessary. In some cases, a trunk can be used as additional seating or as a coffee table in a pinch.

6. Small Appliances

Coffee maker

Depending on the rules of the dorm, you might be able to provide a variety of small appliances to help out your freshman. A coffeemaker or compact espresso machine might be vital to some students, while others may prefer a toaster oven or hot plate for times when they can’t make it to the cafeteria.

Irons and light vacuum cleaners could be smart options as well, depending what kinds of resources the kids can expect to be provided for communal use in their college dorms.

7. Comfy Chair

Desk Chair

Your freshman likely will spend a great deal of time at his or her desk, either working on the computer or studying for exams. Even on down time, you still want your child to have a comfortable place to be when hanging out with a roommate or other friends. A cushy rolling desk chair could be a good fit, or else they might want a large bean-stuffed loveseat for extra seating space.

Be sure not to get a chair or mini loveseat that is too big though–we all know that dorm rooms can be criminally small. Before your purchase, be sure to take thorough measurements of their room to make sure this item will fit.

8. Decorations

wall calendar

Help turn your kid’s dorm room into a home away from home with fun and festive decorations that match their style. However, there may be college dorm room regulations that dictate what kinds of things can be hung on the walls of the room, so it’s important to be aware of the rules before making any purchases.

You might also want to stick with serviceable wall hangings such as dry erase boards, rewritable calendars or hanging mirrors. There likely won’t be a lot of space for knick-knacks, so don’t choose those for gifts unless you know for a fact there will be a place for them.

9. Laundry Supplies


If they are lucky enough to live nearby, your child may visit home most weekends to get a good meal and do his or her laundry. However, that won’t be the case for every family. Help your college freshman be prepared for long hours in the laundry room by providing a kit that includes a compact laundry basket, detergent, bleach, dryer sheets and rolls of quarters.

If they don’t already know how, it might be a good idea to teach them how to do their laundry before they move off to their dorm. This can help them avoid bleaching the wrong items or shrinking others.

10. Basic Tool Kit


It may not seem likely that your child will need to make a lot of repairs in the college dorm room, but there will be times when a bike repair or broken chair can be remedied by having the right screwdriver on hand.

Having a tool kit allows students to be problem-solvers and take care of themselves in a self-sufficient manner. Tool kits may not be needed every day, but when you do need one, they are good to have on hand.

11. Reloadable Credit Card

reloadable credit card

You may want to believe you are done handing out cash all of the time to your student, but it may be a while before he or she gets used to managing money properly. In the meantime, it can be convenient to give them a prepaid credit card that you can load with money without a trip to the bank.

Be sure to let them know this card is just for emergencies, though, and won’t be refilled very often. Before you give them the card, it might be a good idea to set up a monthly budget or allowance for your freshman so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to their expenses.

10 Tips to Help You Stay Cool During the Summer Heat

Summer sprinkler

Staying cool in the summertime can be a real chore. Not only can the heat make you generally uncomfortable, you can also suffer heat-related illnesses if you’re not careful. These 10 tips can help you learn how to survive the summer heat while still having fun.

1. Air Conditioning

Air conditioners can be lifesavers in areas with high humidity, where fans often just can’t cut through the mugginess to provide proper cooling. To help you save on energy costs, set your thermostat to a higher setting when no one will be home. When you are home, choosing to set the thermostat just a few degrees higher than your desired temperature can have huge positive effects on your energy bill. Also remember to properly maintain your cooling system and replace filters monthly for superior performance and top cooling power.

2. Dress Appropriately and Protect Your Skin

Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing is going to help you stay cool and dry when the weather is hot. Loose clothes will help air circulate on your body to keep you cool, and clothing in light colors will reflect heat and sunlight. Cotton clothing tends to be the best choice for summer weather, as the natural fibers allow for better air flow and they help wick sweat away from the body to increase cooling.

Don’t forget to protect your head, eyes and skin. Wear a large hat that will provide shade and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Don’t forget to use lots of sunscreen for skin protection, and reapply it often!

3. Eat Right

When the weather heats up, the right food choices can help keep you cool. Colder foods, such as salads, fruits and fresh raw vegetables can all help keep your body temperature from rising after a meal, as they require little energy to metabolize. Cucumbers and watermelons, for example, are both well known for being high in water content, so snacking on them can provide heat relief as well as some much-needed hydration.

watermelon slice

On the other hand, protein-rich foods, such as meats, fish and cheese, require higher energy levels to metabolize, which can increase your body temperature as you digest them. Try to avoid these foods when you are feeling overheated.

4. Fan Yourself

Using fans, whether electric, battery powered, or hand-propelled, will all help circulate the air around you and reduce the mugginess of a hot summer’s day. Ceiling fans work well in homes without air conditioning to create a breeze and increase cooling, and smaller fans can be moved from room to room to circulate the air wherever you may be. Create a cross-breeze by positioning a fan across from a window, so that the wind outside and the fan can combine to cool you down. Small, battery-powered fans can be brought with you outdoors and can even be attached to stroller trays to keep babies cool in the heat.

5. Go Swimming

Many times the only way to cool down is to get wet. Take a dive into your pool, put your sprinklers on and run through them with your kids, or take a cool shower or bath and let your body air-dry. A small plastic kiddie pool can be the perfect place to splash and cool down, both for little ones and grown-ups alike. Swimming is a fun summer tradition that can help protect you from the dangerous heat, but be sure to always follow our pool safety tips.

6. Home Tips

If you are without air conditioning, there are other ways you can reduce the temperature of your home in the summer. Keeping your curtains closed during the day will help reduce the heat coming through your windows, and you can even invest in specialized “thermal drapes” that can reduce the amount of light and heat that come in through your windows. Light bulbs and even small electronic gadgets give off heat, so keep the lights off as much as possible and unplug your devices. Do your laundry and cleaning during the cooler times of the day if possible, as running the dishwasher and doing your laundry will also generate indoor heat.

Consider purchasing a portable air conditioner if you are without a built-in A/C system. Portable air conditioners allow you to cool individual rooms efficiently. By only cooling the rooms that you need to cool, you can save a lot of money on energy.

7. Schedule Activities Carefully

Stay out of the sun when it is at its highest and hottest points during the day, typically between 10am and 4pm. You should avoid activities in the afternoon sun as much as possible, which means that you’ll need to schedule your outdoor activities carefully so you can avoid being outside when the day will be the hottest. The morning is a great time for outdoor activities, especially for younger kids.

8. Stay Hydrated

Water glass

Drink plenty of water when the weather is hot even if you aren’t feeling thirsty, as it is essential to help your body regulate your core temperature. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are participating in any outdoor activities or if you are in the sun. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks, as they might increase dehydration. Alcoholic beverages should also be avoided, as they might increase your chances of falling victim to heat illness and impair your balance, coordination and judgment, leading to possible accidents and injuries.

9. Stay Inside

Take advantage of any the public libraries, aquariums, museums and other public buildings or commercial venues that are near you when the days get too hot. And since they’re always freezing, the summer is a great time to enjoy that local indoor ice-skating rink or cool movie theater. These public venues are always air-conditioned, protected from the sun and a fun way to spend the day when you just can’t handle the heat at home.

10. Try A DIY Cooler

If your home doesn’t have air conditioning and fans just aren’t cutting it, try some do-it-yourself cooling techniques to bring the temperature down in your home. You can create a small cooler by placing a bowl of ice in front of a fan, thus blowing cooled and moisturized air where you need it most. Moist towels or sheets can also be hung in front of fans for the same effect. You can also soak towels in water or even freeze them and place them directly on your head or the back of your neck for instant cooling, which can be especially useful when nights are oppressively hot and you need something to help you cool down and fall asleep.

This summer, beat the heat, don’t let the heat beat you!. By taking advantage of these tips to help you survive the heat, you can enjoy the sunshine and warmer temperatures without losing your cool.

5 Basics for Measuring Baking Ingredients

Baking Ingredients

When it comes to creating the perfect meal, it is imperative that you measure your ingredients correctly. Even when you’re just experimenting in the kitchen, finding the right amount of any ingredient is critical for creating a delicious end-product. There are many different options for tools to help you measure foods and spices. Here are five basic ways to measure common baking ingredients, including how to properly use tools such as cups, spoons and scales.

1. Measuring Cups

If you have a kitchen and you do any sort of cooking in it, then you probably already have a set of measuring cups on hand. There are a couple of different types of measuring cups available. Some are designed for measuring dry ingredients while others are designed specifically for measuring liquids. Dry measuring cups often come in nested sets that range in size from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. Liquid measuring cups typically come in a wider range of sizes with more precise readings. They may have notches located somewhere on the cup that indicate an amount in cups or by ounces.

An accurate measure of dry ingredients meets the rim of the dry measuring cup. You can usually take your finger and run it across the top of the cup to push off any excess ingredients. Make sure you do this away from your bowl or pot where you are combining the ingredients in order to avoid accidentally adding too much of the ingredient. Whether or not you need to pack the ingredient into the cup depends on the ingredient. Brown sugar, for example, should be packed down into the cup. Ingredients that are bulky, such as oats, coconut or shredded cheese, do not need to be packed down. Packing down these softer ingredients can damage them and ultimately create undesired results in your cooking.

Accurately measuring liquid ingredients usually just involves filling the liquid measuring cup to the indicated line. Use a clean, dry measuring cup before pouring the liquid in. If you are measuring a sticky ingredient, such as molasses, syrup or honey, you can lightly coat the measuring cup with vegetable or olive oil to help it slide out more easily.

2. Measuring Spoons


Measuring spoons are another necessary tool to have stocked in your kitchen. Similar to dry measuring cups, most measuring spoons come in a nested set that ranges from 1/8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. Measuring spoons can be used for small amounts of dry or liquid ingredients.

If you can, it is useful to have two sets on hand, one for measuring dry ingredients and one for liquids.

3. Measuring Scales

Kitchen scales can be used for a wide variety of dry ingredients. If your recipe calls for an ingredient by weight, then a kitchen scale will come in handy. Kitchen scales are usually able to measure very light ingredients, which is particularly useful when measuring out portions of meat or chocolate. If you are more comfortable measuring out dry ingredients by weight rather than volume, then a scale is likely to be an asset in your kitchen.

When using the kitchen scale, be sure to zero the scale with any additional container you will be using already set on it. For example, if you are using a measuring cup to hold the ingredients that you plan on measuring on the scale, be sure that you calibrate the scale so that it does not measure the weight of the cup and the ingredients, but only the ingredients.

4. Unusual Ingredients

Some ingredients will simply not sit well in a measuring cup or spoon. At the same time, they are probably not suitable for measurement by weight. These are items that might not necessarily fall into either a liquid or dry ingredient category, or perhaps they are a chopped ingredient that sits awkwardly in a cup.

For ingredients with difficult or abnormal consistencies, such as butter, scoop it in the cup, pack it down and level it off, then add it to your ingredients. For chopped ingredients, chop them as best as you can and measure it out as directed. You do not necessarily need to level off these types of ingredients; rounding is usually just fine. For eggs, remember to crack them into a separate bowl to check for shell pieces before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.

5. Unusual Measurements

Sometimes a recipe has an unusual phrase that is not an exact measurement. If you have ever run across a pinch of this or a dash of that, you may have wondered how much it is in exact measurements. Believe it or not, a pinch and a dash are two different measurements. Here are some unusual measurements that you may come across with some of your recipes:

Dash of salt
  • Dash

    A little over 1/16 of a teaspoon for dry ingredients. If you are using a dash for liquid ingredients, use about three drops.

  • Jigger

    For dry ingredients, approximately three tablespoons. When measuring liquids, it equates to approximately 1.5 fluid ounces, or your standard shot glass.

  • Heaping

    A scoop that heaps up and over the edges of the cup or spoon. There is no need to level off ingredients that require a heaping.

  • Pinch

    An amount that you can pinch between your thumb and finger. It is about 1/16 of a teaspoon, but slightly less than a dash.

  • Scant

    This is a term that means to use slightly less than the specified measurement.

Additional Tips

Accurate measurements are important for the outcome of your recipe. The best way to learn how to accurately measure ingredients is to practice. Over time, you are more likely to become familiar with small measurements, saving you a lot of time during preparation.

You might also consider having two sets of each type of measuring device so that you have something to use with dry ingredients and something to use for liquids without having to clean and dry in between.

Keep in mind that fluid ounces measured in a liquid measuring cup and ounces measured on a kitchen scale are not the same thing. Fluid ounces measure volume while ounces are a measurement of weight. Once you have ingredient measuring down, you’ll quickly gain the confidence to create delicious meals.

9 Tips for Using a Chainsaw

Chainsaw Tips

Consumers, construction workers, and landscapers alike are realizing the benefits of owning a chainsaw. From tackling large tree-cutting jobs to home-improvement projects, there are many uses and benefits to owning this piece of equipment. Regardless of what type of home project you’re using it for, it’s important to understand how to use this powerful tool correctly and safely from the start. The following are nine helpful tips for using a chainsaw safely and effectively:

1. Read the Instructions

As with any new machinery you purchase, you should read the instruction manual completely and thoroughly to understand the specific functions, components, and modes of the product before you begin using it. While the basic operations of all chainsaws are essentially similar, there can be variations. If you’ve owned a chainsaw in the past, don’t assume that the one you’ve just purchased will operate in the exact same way. Again, reading the instruction manual that comes with the product is the only way to determine what the product can do. This should absolutely be done before using the product for the first time.

2. Take a Class

Because a chainsaw is a powerful piece of equipment–more so than most over-the-counter machinery sold today–having some initial in-person instruction as to its functions and operation can help you acclimate to the product more quickly. Many retailers offer one-on-one tutorials or even classes in properly using chainsaws when you purchase the equipment from them. It’s important to take advantage of these tutorials or classes if you can. Indeed, fully understanding how to use a chainsaw requires a bit of a learning curve–you need to get used to the nuances of holding the equipment and cutting through wood or other materials. In short, the more you correctly handle the equipment, the better you’ll get.

3. Pay Attention to Safety

Because chainsaws cut through things at a rapid speed, it is inevitable that they produce a lot of debris. As such, safety measures should be taken, including wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as goggles. Other PPE to consider, particularly if you’re using a chainsaw to cut down trees, are helmets and “chainsaw chaps”. Chainsaw chaps are made of several layers of Kevlar beneath a nylon outer shell to protect against both debris and potential accidental “kickback” from the chainsaw. Finally, ensuring that the chainsaw is not operated within close proximity to people or pets should be a standard safety measure.

4. Use a Work Station


Setting up a work station goes hand in hand with tip number 3–that is, paying particular attention to safety–and is especially important when you’re working with lumber or other pre-fabricated construction materials. By giving yourself the proper radius to work, you’ll keep yourself and people around you safe from flying debris and potential accidents. A work station also provides a controlled space to put the chainsaw down safely as well as a place to hold the lumber or other materials that you’re cutting through. This step may seem simple or obvious, but it is often overlooked.

5. Know the Risks

If you’re planning on going into the woods and cutting trees with your chainsaw, knowing your surroundings and the trajectory that the tree will fall is paramount to both your safety and a successful operation. Just as setting up a work station is key to creating a safe environment for chainsaw use, so is ensuring the environmental safety of a specific situation when you’ll be using the machinery out in the woods. You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there an escape route to take when the tree falls?
  • Is there a clear path for the tree to fall?
  • If the tree goes in an unintended direction, what would be the consequence?
  • Are there any other people or animals that could potentially be harmed by the falling tree?

6. Double-Check Before You Begin

Before starting up your chainsaw, make sure that everything is in working order to get the job done safely and effectively. A quick check of the controls, handles, bar, and chain sharpness and tension will help mitigate potential malfunctions. In addition, it’s important to make sure that the gas and oil reservoirs are properly filled before beginning a project. Aside from the obvious frustration of running out of oil mid-way through a job, this can also cause friction and heat that can seriously damage the chainsaw.

7. Startup and Operation

You should always start a chainsaw while it’s on a flat surface, especially if you are a first-time user of the machine. This protocol ensures the safest startup method for you and anyone around you. Know that it’s still important to consult the instruction manual, professionals, or both before trying this for yourself. Before you start your chainsaw, always make sure that the chain brake is engaged, that the choke is closed, and that the start switch is in the “on” position.

8. Proper Stance and Form

Often overlooked, a key aspect of operating a chainsaw effectively is proper body stance and form, which translates to better overall handling. For instance, no matter what you’re using a chainsaw for, it’s important to maintain good footing, to watch for tripping hazards, and to keep a good balance by not overreaching with the saw. It’s also important to employ common sense measures. For instance, know that you should never run with the chainsaw, even if it is off. Finally, when operating this piece of equipment, remember to keep your hand (including your thumb) firmly around the front handle to maximize performance.

9. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Last, but not least, consider what you’re going to do with your chainsaw when it’s not in use. Storing the machinery safely and securely–away from curious children, for instance–not only brings peace of mind, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Keeping your chainsaw in an industrial storage locker or similar container will also protect it from dust, dirt, and other environmental conditions that could cause damage. This final tip, combined with the previous eight, will keep your chainsaw safe and operating to its fullest potential.

14 Simple and Effective Home Cleaning Tips

We are well into spring–have you started your spring cleaning yet? Although tidying up your house is probably not as exciting of a spring activity as relaxing outdoors is, you can’t deny that a neat living space looks great and really does improve your mood. Here are some of the top tips for keeping your home clean this spring.

Appliance Care

Clean Kitchen Ice Maker

Instead of putting all of your cleaning off to do in a single day, remember that it’s easier to do small, daily maintenance tasks. By practicing this method of cleaning, you can avoid doing a major cleaning project every week or two–giving you more free time to enjoy the springtime. A good place to start is in the kitchen: try to wipe up spills and clear away stray crumbs as soon as you notice them. Also, make sure that your appliances are cleaned often: remember to wipe down your mixer, blender, ice maker or hot plate right after using to avoid stuck-on grime and streaks.

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