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How to Back Up Photos At Home

There have been a rash of fires throughout the country. Some areas like Colorado are getting hit hard with wildfires that ravage hundreds of acres of  wild life.  Even worse, the fires have taken homes and lives.

My home state has had many fires, a majority of those fires have required mandatory evacuations of the residents living in the fire’s wake.    Evacuation for a fire or any other disaster is quick. Most are given 10 or 15 minutes to gather their things, and that is if they are lucky to be home when the evacuation orders are instated.

What do you grab when you are given 15 minutes? What is your most prized possessions? I asked co-workers, friends and family and most everyone lists photos as the most important thing to grab.

But I can’t help but think, what if I’m not at home to grab photos?

Backing up your photos in case of a disaster is not only nice to do, it is smart. Losing years of memories is devastating, but it can be prevented. If you can’t relate to losing your photos in a fire, then think about if your computer crashed and destroyed all of your digital photos, or if you had a flood and lost your hard copies. Backing up your photos is necessary to preserve your memories from any sort of disaster.

You have many options for backing up your photos from online storage to an external hard drive. Read on to determine which mode of photo preservation is right for you.
Hard Copies. Printed copies of your digital photos ensures that you are memories are in at least two places. If your computer crashes or gets lost, you will still have those memories in a tangible form. Printing your photos is easy and relatively inexpensive. You can either upload your digital photos online to a photo printing company’s website or bring film or a thumb drive to a physical location. Either way should cost you between 10-20 cents per print, plus developing costs of the film. The downside with printing off your photos is organizing them and making sure you have enough room.

External Hard Drive. An external hard drive is a small memory device. Its sole purpose is to hold data and information. An external hard drive is perfect to upload photos, music and other documents that are hard to replace. If your laptop or computer has issues, you can count on your external hard drive. External hard drives can be purchased at any computer or office store. The process is simple: insert the external hard drive (like you would a flash drive) and copy over the data you want saved.

Online Photo Storage. With the popularizing of digital things, online photo storage has been all the rage. Many sites offer online storage at one of their data servers for a low, yearly cost. You can copy over selected data or allow the site to copy any new files on your computer. The data can usually be accessed anywhere.

Whichever you decide, don’t wait for something bad to happen to back up your photos.

How to Re-do Your Home Pantry

Imagine this: you have a serious snack craving that must be satisfied. You wander aimlessly through the kitchen opening cupboard after cupboard with no luck. You turn to the pantry and are greeted with a mess.  You can’t find anything through the bags of half-used pasta, a dozen or so half-used cereal boxes and a mishmash of spices.

Sound familiar?

If not, how about this one: you make a list of grocery items for dinner the following week. After spending an hour or so at the store, you come home to put away your groceries and realize that you already have half of the items already shoved in your pantry.

We all can relate to either one or both of those stories. Who hasn’t purchased something they already own or fail at satisfying a snack hankering because our pantry is so out of whack? You don’t have to live this way. Having an organized pantry will eliminate unnecessary stress and save you money (see purchasing the same item you already own). With these simple steps, you can whip your home pantry into shape with little stress and on a dime.

Clean house

First, clean out your pantry. Bring everything out and take inventory of what you have. Toss anything that is expired, stale or unwanted. Be realistic- if you will not use something anymore donate and it is not expired, donate it to a local food bank.

Once everything is removed, clean the pantry shelves and walls thoroughly. Take it one step further and paint. If you are taking the step to clean out the pantry, go all the way with a fresh coat of paint. Get creative and cover the wall behind the shelves with decorative paper. A fancier pantry will entice you to keep it clean.

Be smart about storage

Sitting items on a shelf is just a mess waiting to happen. Invest in glass jars for baking items like flour, brown and powdered sugar, pancake mix, etc. The clear glass will allow you to visually see when you are running out of an item, plus it is visually attractive. Baskets and other clear jars can hold items like fruit snacks, breakfast bars, etc. These are ideal for individual packaged items that often get jumbled once opened.

However you decide to store things is up to you but make sure that every item has a home. Take it one step further and get fancy with labels so everyone in the family will know where each item should go.

Storage bins will actually increase the space in your pantry by eliminating bulky (and usually ugly) packaging. For cans and other similar items, invest in a can storage rack for easy and economical storage.

Make it user friendly

Put frequently used items at eye level, and lesser used out of the way. Put kid’s items like fruit snacks, crackers, etc. at their level for easy access and less frustration. Heavy items should be near the bottom or on the floor to avoid injury.

How to Keep Your Home Cool in the Summer

Summer temperatures have hit. As the mercury steadily rises throughout the day, I begin to sweat. Sweating while working or playing outside is no problem; it is expected and not bothersome. But sweating while sitting in my home or car is a problem that is borderline miserable.

You and I do not have to suffer through the heat in misery. There are ways to beat the heat, or at least lessen the negative effects of the hot sun.

If you are dreading the hot heat in your home, follow these simple tips to stay cooler throughout the summer months.

  • Use air conditioning. Duh. Of course using air conditioning will keep your home cooler, but not everyone has a central air conditioning unit to keep the whole house at a perfect temperature. But just because you do not, does not mean that you have to suffer in heat. The best option, in my opinion, is a window air conditioning unit. These electrical devices sit in your window (or have a tube with an attachment to sit in the window). Plug into the wall, turn the temperature to desired coolness and, voila, cold air. These units vary in price which also means it can vary in how much it can do. Pay more for a digital one that can cool a room quicker, or go cheaper without any of the frills. The downsides to air conditioning window units is a higher electric bill and a bulky unit that will cramp your interior design. But at least you won’t be melting to death.
  • Open windows at night. For most, opening windows during the day will only let the hot air in. But a cool, summer night can be the perfect way to bring down the temps in your home naturally. The key is to focus on cross winds. Open up windows in more than one room and keep the doors open between those rooms. This will create a cross wind that is essential for cooling down a home quicker. It gives  the air somewhere to go, while giving you a nice breeze. Make sure to only open windows with attached screens to keep out any unwanted bugs and/or critters.
  • Change how/where you cook. An instant way to cook up (pun intended) the temperature in your home is to turn on the oven or the stove. To eliminate that extra heating source, cook in a different way. My favorite summer cooking method is grilling. With an outside grill, you keep any unnecessary heat outdoors. If a grill isn’t an option for you, consider cooking in a crockpot. A slow cooker will use minimal, centralized heat to cook a meal without steaming up your home.
  • Limit the used rooms in your home. Generally, the hottest rooms are in relation to where the sun is. For example, my kitchen is west facing, which means right about four o’clock it becomes a unintentional sauna. Figure out what rooms are hottest at which times of the day and avoid those rooms at all costs.

Easy Plants to Grow in a Home Garden

Growing a garden can take many shapes and sizes. For the serious die hards, a garden will take over a portion of the yard. Homemade grow boxes are filled with specially mixed compost, organic plants and a specialized watering system. If you are one of those gardeners, good for you. But if you are the other 98 percent, don’t get overwhelmed by overzealous gardening.

I used to think that gardening required fancy tools, hours pruning leaves and a very experienced green thumb. But then I learned something that changed my gardening perspective: your garden is a reflection of how much time you can spend. You don’t have to spend hours in the garden if you don’t want to. But the key is the time you put into it is how much you will get out of it. So if I only want a few tomatoes each year, minimal time can be spent. If I want to live off the land and teach my kids about real dirt, I will get bigger results.

If you are like me and want a garden but do not want to slave over it, you are in luck. There are many, hearty plants that are meant for gardeners like you and me. Here is a short list and inconclusive list of some easy to grow plants to get your garden started.

  • Zucchini. This is the ultimate easy to grow plant. The vegetable plant grows like a weed with minimal care. All you need is ample sun and good water (sprinklers are usually good enough), and you will have more zucchini than you know what to do with. The only caution about zucchini is that the fruit grows fast and discreetly. You will go out one day and find a three-foot long veggie. Keep an eye on the plant to pick the fruit  when it is about a foot long; that is when it is as its tastiest. Give the plant ample room to spread its leaves and enjoy. (The same rules apply for yellow squash.)
  • Tomatoes.  Tomatoes in any variety (cherry, grape, heirloom, roma, etc.) are easy to grow and often produce an ample amount of fruit. There are two ways you can grow tomatoes: plant the tomato plant in the ground and grow up with a wire trellis or get a hanging tomato plant and grow down. Tomatoes need ample water and sunlight, but don’t require any other special growing instructions.
  • Herbs. Heart herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme are perfect for newbies. In most cases, you can plant and forget (sun and water are needed) and these fragrant and tasty herbs will continue to grow perennially. In fact, all three of those plants have lasted through two winters in my garden. The plants perk up in the spring and I can use them all year long.

As a newbie, check with an employee at your local nursery for plants ideal for your area. Consider using plant starts instead of seeds for quicker results.

Happy planting!

How To Treat Bug Bites At Home

Summer and bugs go hand in hand.Once the mercury starts rising, creepy, crawling bugs come out of their winter hiding spots.

Bug bites range from annoying and itchy to downright dangerous, depending on the bug. Here are some simple tips on how to recognize bug bites and how to treat them.

Mosquito bites

Those long-legged flying bugs are the culprits of the most common bug bite in the summer. Once the sun begins to set and the beautiful summer night haze sets in, bundle up! Mosquitoes thrive at dusk; and because it is so warm outside people rarely cover exposed skin. If you are unlucky enough  to get one, two or many mosquito bites, here is how to tell. The bump with be pink or red and it will itch, itch like crazy.

Treating a mosquito bite is simple: clean it with soap and water to get out any germs or irritants. A cold compress can help reduce itching. While it might be initially satisfying to scratch an itch, resist. This can break the skin which can lead to an infection. An old wives tale is to mix baking soda and water and putting the paste on the bite. If the itching is severe, take a Benadryl to help.

While most mosquito bites are just annoying, a bad bite can turn serious. Mosquitoes are one of the main carriers of the West Nile virus, which has very serious side affects.

Bee stings

Once a bee flies around a group of people, watch them dance around to avoid the bee. For some reason most people are terrified of bee stings; most people can remember their first bee sting vividly. A bee sting is like a welt. It rarely itches but it burns.

If the stinger is still in the sting, don’t squeeze it while you are pulling it out. That will squirt more of the venom into the bite. Instead, use a flat, firm surface edge to scrape it out. (Think a credit card.) Like all bug wounds, clean with with soap and water. If the sting continues to hurt, use ice (10-minutes on and 10-minutes off) to help numb the pain.

There can be serious side effects from bee stings. Hives can develop but are rarely serious. An antihistamine will usually clear that up. But some people are severely allergic to bee stings. This reaction is called anaphylaxis and the symptoms include a swelling throat and/or nausea. If this happens, call 911 immediately.

Spider Bites

These can be the worst because spiders actually have to crawl on you to bite. And some spider bites can be very serious. The most important thing to do is to use ice compressions to help slow the venom from entering into your blood stream.  Use a simple over the counter pain medication to manage the pain.

If you can, take a good look at what spider bite you. Some spider bites, like from black widows, can be deadly. Identifying the offender will help your doctor know who to treat the bite.

How To Prevent Skin Cancer At Home

It is safe to say that summer is finally here. Bring on the barbecues, parades and long summer nights. And don’t forget about the warm summer sun.

Summer and the sun just go together. While the sun is rejuvenating and a good source of ol’ vitamin D, it can be too much of a good thing.  And even those who casually enjoy the sun have become prey to skin cancer, one of the most common cancers.

Experts are worried because skin cancer is usually 100 percent preventable. But with the Jersey Shore GTL craze (gym, tan, laundry), tanning beds on every corner and the popularized tanorexic look, skin cancer is on a very scary rise.

We’ve all heard the skin cancer prevention rules: put on sunscreen, wear a hat, stay out of the sun and reapply. Most people can repeat this ad nauseum. But I want to talk to you about how to spot skin cancer. The first place to look is at your moles and all you need to know is your abc’s.

A: Asymmetry. Take a look at your moles and freckles. Are most of them pretty symmetrical? If so, you are in good shape, pun intended. Any assymetrical moles are worrisome and potentially cancerous.

B: Borders. Irregular borders, often paired with an assymetrical shape, is also concerning. Notice the shape of the border as well as the color. These should be uniform with the rest of the mole or freckle. Any abnormality could be a sign of cancerous cells.

C: Color. Moles and freckles should be one color. Two-toned bumps are a serious cause for concern. Notice the color of your current moles and freckles. If the color starts to change, get worried.

D: Diameter. Check out the size of your moles and freckles. Most should be pretty small. Anything that starts getting close to the size of a no. 2 pencil eraser needs to be check out, STAT.

E: Evolve. Moles and freckles that stay the same are usually fine. However, any mole that starts to change any of the above mentioned criteria are cause for concern. Skin cancer is moving and changing, which means that your moles and freckles will change if cancer is prevalent.

OK, so now you know what to look for. It is a good standard to visit with your dermatologist for a full body check yearly. If you are particularly moley or freckly, you might want to visit your derm at least twice a year. If you have a concerning mole, contact your dermatologist immediately for a check up. He or she will likely give you a full body exam to make sure you don’t have any other spots. The exam will require you to wear a paper gown so the dermatologist can exam every inch of your skin.

In addition to a yearly exam, check yourself monthly to keep tabs on changing moles. Do not forget to check places like behind your ears, in between your toes and hands and on the bottom of your feet. Anything odd warrants a visit to your derm.


Cheap and Inexpensive Family Reunions Close To Home

Family reunions and summer go together like peanut butter and jelly. Without the time restraints of school, family reunion plans come out in full force.

Family reunions might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are a part of a family that regularly hosts a reunion, get used to it. Attendance is expected, so get on the bandwagon.

Family reunions do not have to be a big to-do at some far away destination. With high travel and food costs, many families are centering their gatherings closer to home to save money. If you are planning a reunion close to home, consider these tips to help keep the reunion inexpensive and chaos free.

  • Sleep at home. Yes, the cheapest way to host a family gathering is to stay at home. By staying at home, this will eliminate expensive hotel rates and you will have the everyday luxuries like a closet full of clothes, a full kitchen and hot water whenever you need it. This can also help out of town guests cut costs by couch surfer or staying in extra bedrooms. It creates an easy home base for other activities, but with the ease of having everything that you need.
  • Turn family reunion into a stay-cation. Sure, Disneyworld would be nice with all of the family members, but with the increasing entrance fees, that is not reasonable for most families. Pick local events, museums and activities close to home to give your wallet a break.
  • Change the definition of family reunion. Family reunions for most people mean spending every waking hour with strange family members (aunts who are too cuddly and cousins with bad breath) with no chance of respite. Who says that family reunions must be an all day affair? An easy way to keep your own personal space and cut down on costs is to do an evening reunion. Plan a week full of evening activities: picnic in the park, murder mystery party, flag football, seeing a play, etc. and ask family members to attend then. This is ideal for families that live close by each other and with members who have a difficult time getting work off. No family overload and no work missed. Win, win.
  • Head to the woods. Don’t outdoors and family reunions just go together? If you must go somewhere for the reunion, head to into nature. Camping is a no-frills, cheap alternative for a family reunion. Tell attendees to bring tents, tin-foil dinners and outdoors-y gear (fishing poles, guns, four-wheelers, etc) for activities. And for those needing a little pampering, don’t forget the air mattresses. Since most activities in nature, such as hiking, are free, you can plan a relatively cheap family reunion.
  • Host a one-day reunion. If your family is extremely large, host a one-day reunion with a pot-luck lunch and lawn games (think frisbee). Large groups are difficult to accommodate overnight, but are perfect for an afternoon up the canyon or in the park. Do what works for your family.

Happy reunions!

At Home: How to Find A New Babysitter

A night out is one of the most illusive things to a parent. New and old parents dream of the fabled evening, often unable to find a way to make it happen. Busy parents, I am talking to you. For the sake of your sanity and your marriage, get a night out! A break from life, reality and your duties as a parent is vital to maintain any sort of order and mental capacity.

But taking the night off and getting out of the house is easier said than done. There is a lot of prep that goes into a night out and that is even before the actual date part. Two things are generally holding parents back from a night away: money and a sitter.

Thankfully, we live in a day and age where there are plenty of free events so you can easily squeeze by with a cheap date. (Cheap dates can be very romantic.) So the real issue is finding a sitter.

A good babysitter is one of the best things a parent can have in his or her arsenal. A good babysitter can play with the kids, clean up after them and put them to bed, all within a few hours. A good babysitter is responsible, reliable and good natured. There are plenty of teenage kids that fit this bill, right? Unfortunately, finding a good babysitter is not always easy. Here are some tips on finding a good sitter.

Where to Find A Good Babysitter

The best kind of babysitters are the built in kind. If one or more of your children is old enough to watch the younger ones, you are set to go. This built in babysitting system can free up many nights for you with very little cost. You do not have to pay your own child to watch his or her own brothers, but you can sweeten the deal with a movie or a treat if the sitter does a good job.

The next place to find a sitter is family. Grandparents are wonderful babysitters and often are anxious to spend more time with their grandkids. Aunts, cousins, etc are another great place to look. If your kids already know the babysitter well, it will make their whole evening go much smoother.

If family is an option, ask around. The best babysitters are found by word of mouth. Be careful, though. Some parents are not willing to share their regular sitter. If that is the case, ask if their sitter has a friend who might work for you.

How to Know If the Sitter Is Good

You need more than a warm body to watch your children. If you are asking family to help, consider if the person interacts well with your children and likes kids in general. Before you hire a sitter you do not know,  sit down for an interview to see if the potential sitter would do well with your children. If not, get back on the hunt.


Fly Away From Home: How To Get Cheap Plane Tickets

With the unpredictable spring weather a far away destination begins to call your name. A friend of mine recently scored $200 roundtrip tickets to Mexico. For those who do not travel often, that is a steal of a price.

Often times the transportation portion of the trip is the priciest. And the more money you spend getting there, the less money you have to spend while on your trip.

Finding cheap plane tickets is often considered an art. Some are lucky enough to stumble on to cheap prices, but others have developed quite the technique to find good deals. If you do not consider yourself lucky, try these tips to score the best deals.

  • Check often. Whether you have a specific location you want to visit or wanting to travel wherever, you need to check flight prices often. This will give you a good idea of what the going rate is for your intended destination, which will let you know if a low price is good enough to pounce. Plus, flight costs are very fluid, bouncing up and down with just a day’s notice. Check consistently to score rock bottom prices.
  • Use travel websites. Often times, travel websites get a bad name for themselves, which is disheartening because travel websites can do a lot of the leg work for you. It is time consuming to visit each independent airline for specific prices. Travel websites like Expedia or Hotwire can do the legwork for you. My personal favorite flight website is Kayak. The easy to use site gives you a variety of options and, in my opinion, the cheapest fare on the same flights.
  • Sign up for a price alert. One of Kayak’s greatest attributes is its handy price alert system. You enter in your intended destination and it can send you an alert if the prices drops or gets below a price that you indicate. This will save you time and will update you constantly on what you need to know.
  • Use your rewards. Loyalty to one airline can benefit you. Big airline companies often have a rewards system in place. If you accrue so many miles, you can often get free flights and other insider swag. Many airlines offer reward credit cards that can be used to gain points for future flights. Be careful of any type of credit card you sign up for, however. Sometimes rewards flight cards have high interest rates and may not yield as great of reward as promised.
  • Get deals sent straight to your inbox. If you have an open intinerary and don’t have a specific destination in mind, sign up for weekly (or daily, if you prefer) newsletters from travel websites sent to your email inbox. These emails often boast deeply discounted flights, hotels, cruises and excursions. Most have an impending deadline, but you can get great deals if you have the flexibility.
  • Check out Bing. The new search engine has a great price indicator that will show the history of flight prices, giving you a good idea on when to purchase.

How to Keep Your Home Safe From the Internet

The internet is becoming more and more prevalent in our homes. Just 20 years ago, it was very uncommon for anyone to have a computer in their homes (remember that one guy who said no one would ever have a personal computer in their homes?). Nowadays, computers are everywhere: in laptops, desk tops, smart phones and even certain iPods. Getting on the internet has never been easier.

Being able to access information at the touch of the button has made life wonderful. You can quickly look up a quick fact to settle a bet, find cheap flights and scan barcodes to find the best deal. You can instantly update your whereabouts on Facebook and send a quick email to a friend. The possibilities are endless.

However, all good things have bad qualities. Is it really that great to have such immediate access to the internet?

It is so easy for kids to access anything on the internet, and that includes sites that parents would rather their kids avoid such as pornography and other suggestive sites. But how can your child safe when there is a good chance he or she is accessing internet on a small portable device like an iPod touch.

There is no one way to determine what will work for your family, but here are some tips on how to stop the internet from invading your home.

  • Get involved. As a parent, you need to know what sites your kids are spending time on and how long. This will keep you in the loop which will help you keep tabs. If your child is on Facebook, get on their too. No, you shouldn’t constantly write ‘i love yous’ on your kids wall for many obvious reasons, but connecting on Facebook will give you an inside look into your kids real life. This is a really easy and non-invasive way to get involved. Monitor how much time is spent on the internet. Just like other sedentary activities like watching TV or playing video games, too much sitting and staring at a screen is bad for your kid.
  • Get smart. Keeping your kids away from troubling sites on the internet needs to be calculated. First, keep any technological devices in a public area or make a rule that any electronics can be used if the bedroom door is open. Next, add on filtering software to all devices that can access the internet. This software can block any site that you choose, or any type of site in general. There is another great software that will limit the time that can be site on any particular site. This will limit the total screen time your kid can have without you constantly nagging.
  • Get talking. The fact is your kids will find a way to access things on the internet. But you can nip it in the bud with an open dialogue about things that are OK and things that are not OK to look at on the internet. Be very clear and specific about what is acceptable and what is not.