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Presidents’ Day

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Presidents’ Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.

Presidents’ Day: Origin as Washington’s Birthday

The story of Presidents’ Day date begins in 1800. Following President George Washington’s death in 1799, his February 22 birthday became a perennial day of remembrance. At the time, Washington was venerated as the most important figure in American history, and events like the 1832 centennial of his birth and the start of construction of the Washington Monument in 1848 were cause for national celebration.

While Washington’s Birthday was an unofficial observance for most of the 1800s, it was not until the late 1870s that it became a federal holiday. Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas  was the first to propose the measure, and in 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. The holiday initially only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country. At the time, Washington’s Birthday joined four other nationally recognized federal bank holidays—Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving—and was the first to celebrate the life of an individual American. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, signed into law in 1983, would be the second.

Presidents’ Day: The Uniform Monday Holiday Act

The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Championed by Senator Robert McClory of Illinois this law sought to shift the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays. The proposed change was seen by many as a novel way to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers, and it was believed that ensuring holidays always fell on the same weekday would reduce employee absenteeism. While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill also had widespread support from both the private sector and labor unions and was seen as a surefire way to bolster retail sales.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s Birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s, which fell on the proximate date of February 12. Lincoln’s Birthday had long been a state holiday in places like Illinois, and many supported joining the two days as a way of giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous statesmen.

McClory was among the measure’s major proponents, and he even floated the idea of renaming the holiday “President’s Day.” This proved to be a point of contention for lawmakers from George Washington’s home state of Virginia, and the proposal was eventually dropped. Nevertheless, the main piece of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially took effect in 1971 following an executive order from President Richard Nixon. Washington’s Birthday was then shifted from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February. Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day were also moved from their traditionally designated dates. (As a result of widespread criticism, in 1980 Veterans’ Day was returned to its original November 11 date.)

Presidents’ Day: Transformation

While Nixon’s order plainly called the newly placed holiday Washington’s Birthday, it was not long before the shift to Presidents’ Day began. The move away from February 22 led many to believe that the new date was intended to honor both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as it now fell between their two birthdays. Marketers soon jumped at the opportunity to play up the three-day weekend with sales, and “Presidents’ Day” bargains were advertised at stores around the country.

By the mid-1980s Washington’s Birthday was known to many Americans as Presidents’ Day. This shift had solidified in the early 2000s, by which time as many as half the 50 states had changed the holiday’s name to Presidents’ Day on their calendars. Some states have even chosen to customize the holiday by adding new figures to the celebration. Arkansas, for instance, celebrates Washington as well as civil rights activist Daisy Gatson Bates. Alabama, meanwhile, uses Presidents’ Day to commemorate Washington and Thomas Jefferson (who was born in April).

Washington and Lincoln still remain the two most recognized leaders, but Presidents’ Day is now popularly seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives. Some lawmakers have objected to this view, arguing that grouping George Washington and Abraham Lincoln together with less successful presidents minimizes their legacies. Congressional measures to restore Washington and Lincoln’s individual birthdays were proposed during the early 2000s, but all failed to gain much attention. For its part, the federal government has held fast to the original incarnation of the holiday as a celebration of the country’s first president. The third Monday in February is still listed on official calendars as Washington’s Birthday.

Presidents’ Day: Celebrations and Traditions

Like Independence Day, Presidents’ Day is traditionally viewed as a time of patriotic celebration and remembrance. In its original incarnation as Washington’s Birthday, the holiday gained special meaning during the difficulties of the Great Depression, when portraits of George Washington often graced the front pages of newspapers and magazines every February 22. In 1932 the date was used to reinstate the Purple Heart, a military decoration originally created by George Washington to honor soldiers killed or wounded while serving in the armed forces. Patriotic groups and the Boy Scouts of America also held celebrations on the day, and in 1938 some 5,000 people attended mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in honor of Washington.

In its modern form, Presidents’ Day is used by many patriotic and historical groups as a date for staging celebrations, reenactments and other events. A number of states also require that their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents’ Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln.

FUN FACT

President’s Day never falls on the actual birthday of any American president. Four chief executives—George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were born in February, but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day, which is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month.

Valentine’s Day

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Every February 14, across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint, and where did these traditions come from? Find out about the history of this centuries-old holiday, from ancient Roman rituals to the customs of Victorian England.

The Legend of St. Valentine

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Origins of Valentine’s Day: A Pagan Festival in February

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Valentine’s Day: A Day of Romance

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt . (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Typical Valentine’s Day Greetings

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

FUN FACT

Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.

Spotless Living Spaces

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Here are some quick and easy cleaning tips for some spotless living spaces.

Shine a light on hidden dust

Put on overhead light fixtures too see cobwebs and particles lurking on moldings, fans and fixtures. If out of reach, use an extension tool to wipe globes and trim. Hint – Oxo’s microfiber extendable duster is a washable and pivots to get every spot.

Take a floor-up approach

Pull furniture away from walls to vacuum under and behind. Nab the dust along the baseboards and clean the carpet dents with your vacuums upholstery tool. Hint – Fluff matted carpet tufts with a steam iron or garment steamer.

Toss drapes in the laundry

Wash or dry-clean curtains. Or if the need refreshing, tumble them on the dryer’s air-only setting to remove dust and you can add dryer sheets for a fresh sent. Hint – Try Dryel’s new in-dryer kit. It steams fabrics and includes a pen for stains , plus an odor and wrinkle removing spray.

Stick it to Pet Hair

You can spray upholstery and carpet with an antistatic spray, like static guard and it will break the charge that causes fur to cling to these surfaces. It will now be easier to gather or vacuum up the pet fur.

Groundhog Day

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Groundhog Day falls on February 2 in the United States, coinciding with Candlemas. It is a part of popular culture among many Americans and it centers on the idea of the groundhog coming out of its home to “predict” the weather.

What Do People Do?

Groundhog Day is a popular observance in many parts of the United States. Although some states have in some cases adopted their own groundhogs, the official groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, lives at Gobbler’s Knob near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The town has attracted thousands of visitors over the years to experience various Groundhog Day events and activities on February 2.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club plays an important role in organizing Groundhog Day in the town. Club members, news reporters, locals, and visitors meet at Gobbler’s Knob on February 2 each year to await Phil’s appearance and his weather prediction. Pennsylvania’s governor has been known to attend Groundhog Day ceremonies. Many weather researchers questioned the groundhog’s accuracy in predicting the weather, but some of the groundhog’s fans may not agree.

Public Life

Groundhog Day is an observance but it is not a public holiday in the United States. However, areas around parks and some streets may be busy or congested in towns, such as Punxsutawney, where Groundhog Day events are popular.

Roots in Nature

Thousands of years ago when animalism and nature worship were prevalent, people in the area of Europe now known as Germany believed that the badger had the power to predict the coming of spring. They watched the badger to know when to plant their crops. By the time the first German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania they probably understood that this was not true but the tradition continued.

Unfortunately, there were not many badgers in Pennsylvania so the groundhog was substituted for the badger. Tradition has it that if the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2 it will be frightened by it and will then return to its burrow, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring is on the way.

Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the United States in the 1800s. The first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob was made on February 2, 1887. It is said that Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) was named after King Phillip. He was called Br’er Groundhog prior to being known as Phil. Canada also celebrates Groundhog Day.

The movie “Groundhog Day” from 1993, starring comedian Bill Murray, made Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania famous worldwide. The film’s plot added new meaning to the term “Groundhog Day” as something that repeats itself endlessly.

Living Green – Cleaning Recipes

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When it comes to cleaning and household chores in general, you can work greener by making your own cleaners from some basic ingredients, and these products will save you money. Listed below you will find several different recipes for cleaning supplies to use throughout your home.

Freshen up

For a bathroom freshener, make your own air freshener using 1 teaspoon of baking soda , 1 teaspoon of vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups of hot water. Pour mixture into a spray bottle and spritz away. White vinegar has a slight scent while wet, but leaves no odor after drying.

All-purpose cleaner

Dish soap is enough for most cleaning jobs. For extra power, soapy ammonia is a versatile cleaning agent. You can use it in place of a commercial all-purpose cleaner for everyday kitchen and bathr0om cleaning. Dilute according to the instructions on the container od ammonia.

Mild abrasive scrub and stain remover

Baking soda can be used for a variety od purposes, such as removing stains from tile, glass, oven doors, china, cleaning inside of the refrigerator, helping to absorb orders and removing baked-on food from pans. It also acts as a stain remover for fruit juices and mild acids. It is also a mild abrasive for scouring delicate surfaces.

Window and glass cleaner

Just add 3 tablespoons of vinegar per 1 quart of water in a spray bottle and you have a safe, eco-friendly window cleaner. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows, try 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well.

Furniture polish

Mix 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in 1 pint of mineral or vegetable oil, and wipe furniture. Microfiber cloths work best to polish and dust furniture.

Rug deodorizer

Deodorize dry carpets by sprinkling liberally with baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes and vacuum. repeat if needed.

Silver polish

Boil 2 to 3 inches of water in a shallow pan with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and a sheet of aluminum foil. Totally submerge silver and boil for 2 to 3 more minutes. Wipe away tarnish. Repeat if necessary. Another alternative is to use nonabrasive toothpaste.

Air Fresheners

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To breathe easier indoors, nix air fresheners. They can contain volatile organic compounds and phthalates that can cause headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation and even worsen asthma symptoms. As an alternative, get rid of the source of the odor and leave an open box of baking soda in the area. or consider natural fragrances, such as herbs and spices boiled in water.

Making your home, apartment, or office a positive place to be is sometimes as simple as making it smell good. Scents can affect a person’s mood or work performance, as crazy as that sounds. Think about walking into your home after a day of work and smelling fresh cinnamon and baking cookies… How could you not be in a good mood and love everyone you see after that? It makes sense why consumers spend thousands of dollars on candles, oil diffusers, scent sprays and more. A fresh smelling space makes us much happier than a stinky, gloomy one (just think of how you felt in your gross college apartment). However, you don’t have to run to the store if you want to make sure your place is smelling great. These simple DIY projects are not only cheap, but they’ll leave your house smelling great in no time.

1.) Lemon-Rosemary Simmer Pot

To make this simple concoction, all you need is: -A small stockpot -Water -Rosemary -1 lemon -Vanilla extract. Fill the pot about 2/3 full with water. Add 1 lemon (sliced) and a few sprigs of rosemary. Then, add the 1/2 tsp of vanilla. Let this mixture simmer all day, it’ll fill your rooms with a heavenly scent. You can use the same mixture for about 2 days, but you’ll want to change it after that or else it’ll smell a little weird.

2.) Scented Wood Blocks

Making scented wood blocks is easy. Just make sure you have: -Wood blocks -Scented oil or perfume -Small paint brushes. By either painting or spraying it on, cover the wood blocks in the oil/perfume. After covering them, you can even put them in a closed container with extra oil. Shake it up to make sure they are coated. Let it sit in the oil overnight so that everything is absorbed. Then you’re done! You can even refresh your wood blocks over time by simply adding more oil to them.

3.) Orange Peel Candles

You thought oranges were just for eating? Think again. You can make simple candles out of them (without wasting the fruit). -An orange -Knife -Oil (canola, vegetable or olive) -Candle lighter The steps are simple, too. 1.) Begin by cutting your orange in half. 2.) Take your knife and run it around the edges of the orange. This will loosen the fruit from the peel. 3.) Take a fork and scrape out the inside of the orange. BE CAREFUL to NOT remove the inside stem. This is the white piece that rests in the center of the orange. It is rather tough, so just continue to scrape away the fruit around it. 4.) Once the inside of your orange is nice and clean, you can fill it ¾ of the way full with oil. Remember you can use any oil of your choosing. 5.) Let the oil sit in the orange for about 45 minutes. It is important to let the oil sit and the stem of the orange (the white piece) absorb it. This is what will help keep it burning well. 6.) In 45 minutes, you can try lighting your orange. You will need a candle lighter to do this as a match or cigarette lighter does not stay lit long enough to get the job done. Hold the lighter to the stem and let it heat up the stem. You will need to do this for 2-3 minutes. 7.) Let the stem rest for a moment. It should be nice and brown/black at this point. To the touch, it should feel dry now. 8.) Try relighting the stem. This may take a few seconds. You should hear a little crackling and then the flame should take off on its own.

4.) Gel Air Freshener

If you love air fresheners but don’t want an open flame in your home, this DIY gel air freshener may be just for you. You’ll need: -Heat proof jars (like mason jars) -4 packages of unflavored gelatin -Food coloring -Salt -Essential oils/fragrance 1.) Clean and prepare your jars. (This entire recipe filled up one pint jar, but you can use several smaller jars.) 2.) Add a few drops of coloring and approximately 30 drops of essential oil or fragrance (the more you add, the stronger it will be). 3.) Boil 1 cup of water on the stove. Pour in your gelatin packets into the pot. 4.) Make sure to keep whisking or the stuff will clump up. 5.) Once dissolved, add 1 cup of cold water and 1 tbsp of salt. Stir it all in. 6.) Pour into your prepared jars and stir. 7.) Let it sit overnight until the gel is set. 8.) Time to decorate your scented gel jar any way you choose.

5.) DIY Reed Diffusers

Oil diffusers are also a simple solution to scenting your home without using heat or an open flame. You don’t need much, either: -Vase -Baby Oil -Essential Oil -Bamboo Skewers (or rattan diffusing sticks for better scent) -Ribbon & Washi Tape (optional).  1.) Fill your vase with essential oil (as much as you want) 2.) Fill the remainder of the vase with baby oil 3.) Place washi tape at the end of the skewer and fold over (for decoration) 4.) Place skewers in the vase and tie a ribbon around to finish The oil will diffuse into the room up through the skewers. You’re done!

6.) Cinnamon Stick Candles

All you will need is -Pillar candle, at least 3-inches in diameter -Cinnamon sticks -Floral shears -Hot-glue gun -Dish or coaster.  1.) Measure candle height; cut cinnamon sticks to size with floral shears. You’ll need about 20 lengths per candle. 2.) Run hot glue along cinnamon stick; affix it vertically to side of candle. (Use low-temperature setting to minimize melting.) 3.) When first stick is dry, glue next stick snugly against it; repeat to cover candle. 4.) Place finished candle on a dish or coaster. Not only will it be pretty, but you can also smell the glorious cinnamon!

7.) Custom Potpourri

Potpourri isn’t just for outdated offices and homes. It can be a simple and brilliant idea. Just follow these steps, -Dried flowers -Essential oil -Any herbs, spices or other trinkets you want to include (have fun with it!).  1.) Prior to making your potpourri, you’ll need to dry out your flowers. Gather a bouquet and tie the stems together with some twine. Hang them upside down and give them a couple of weeks to fully dry out. 2.) Once your flowers are dry, put them in a container and add a few drops of essential oil. It’s recommended that you close the container and allow the flowers to absorb the oil for a couple of weeks. 3.) Then, arrange all of your ingredients in a bowl or jar. You can add any extra oils or scented ingredients that you’d like.

8.) Baking Soda Air Freshener

Baking soda isn’t just good for making your fridge smell fresh! This recipe can make any room fresh, too. -1/2 cup baking soda (per jar) -Essential oil of your preference (8-12 drops) -Mason jar -Scrapbook paper -Tapestry needle -Scissors and pen 1.) Take the scrapbook paper and trace out the inner lid of the mason jar (not the screwable ring). Cut out that piece of paper. 2.) Pierce the small piece of paper with the tapestry needle, making holes so the scent can waft through. 3.) Pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into the mason jar and add in 8-12 drops of essential oil of your choice. (Start off by adding less oil and if you find it’s not strong enough to scent your room add in a bit more. A bigger room will need more oil and a smaller room like a bathroom will use less.) 4.) Place the scrapbook paper inside the mason jar ring and tighten it onto the jar. Gently shake up the baking soda/essential oil mixture. This air freshener is more natural than chemical sprays… and it’s flameless.

9.) Pouch Air Freshener

You can keep a car, small room or closet smelling fresh with just small sachets or pouches of scents. Plus, this is easy. -Light weight fabric -Thick hemp or thread -Makeup pads or cotton balls -Scented oils/spices/incense cones -Items to decorate the pouches such as stamps, paint, or dried flowers -Scissors -Sewing machine (or needle and thread) 1.) Begin by cutting rectangles of fabric 5×10 inches. 2.) Then, start the sewing process by sewing a loop on each end of the rectangle. 3.) Then, with the edges of the loop facing outward, fold the fabric in half and sew each side up to the loop. 4.) Next, flip the pouch right side out and begin decorating. 5.) Then, thread a large piece of hemp through both loops to where both ends come out of each loop, facing the same direction. 6.) To add scents to your pouches, pour in spices, incense cones, and oil soaked makeup pads or cotton balls (you’ll want to change out the spices regularly to keep them fresh). And that’s it. The most difficult part will be sewing the little pouches, but it’s still not hard.

10.) Lemon-Basil Spray

Room sprays keep your place fresh, but many contain harmful chemicals. This one, however, does not (and it’s just as effective). http://hellohomeshoppe.com/blog/2013/8/22/lemon-basil-linen-spray -16 oz spray bottle -1 1/4 cups water, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/2 cup -4 tablespoons of dried basil -Coffee filter -Funnel -1 tablespoon vodka -5 drops of lemon essential oil 1.) In a small pot, bring 1/2 cup water to boil. Add your 4 Tablespoons of dried basil to the water and let steep for a few minutes. 2.) In another pot, bring 3/4 cups of water to a boil. 3.) Line your funnel with a coffee filter and place funnel in your opened spray bottle. 4.) Pour in your steeped basil water mixture into the funnel, making sure that the coffee filter catches the tiny pieces of basil. Remove the filter. 5.) Pour in the boiling water, vodka, and essential oil. 6.) Put on the spray bottle top and shake to mix.

 

 

Cleaning Countertops

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Countertops

Sponges, dishcloths, and cleaning rags are havens for germs and bacteria, so using them to clean countertops can leave more bacteria behind than were originally there. Use paper towels to clean countertops instead. Thaw food in the refrigerator rather than on the countertop to keep from breeding food-borne bacteria. Specific care, cleaning and disinfection directions will vary according to the material from which the countertop is made.

Butcher-block countertops

This type of countertop dents, scratches, burns, and stains easily. It is also vulnerable to fluctuations in humidity, so it is a poor choice for use over a dishwasher. Cleanups will be much easier if you seal a butcher-block counter with a least two coats of polyurethane; make sure it is suitable for use on surfaces where food is prepared.

Do not prepare raw meat on butcher-block counters. Clean the surface with water and a little dishwashing liquid after each use. Rinse thoroughly and let air-dry. For light stains, scrub the surface using a nylon pad. If the stains remain, apply a diluted solution of bleach directly to them and let it sit for a couple of minutes before rinsing. To remove deep stains, as well as scratches and burns, sand the affected area with very-fine-grade sandpaper. It may be necessary to apply another coat of polyurethane to the places you have sanded. If the countertop is severely stained, scratched, or burned, y0u may want to hire a professional to refinish the surface.

Granite countertops

Granite is very resistant to scratches, nicks, and scorching. A granite countertop is almost always treated with a protective seal and is easy to clean. Just go over it with a sponge dipped in water and a mild detergent. To remove stuck-on dirt, use a plastic scrub pad. In bathrooms, wipe down granite surfaces frequently to minimize soap scum. Id soap scum does build up, clean the surface with an all purpose cleaner.

Laminated countertops

To preserve the appearance of laminated countertops, you need to exercise a little care when working on them. Laminates nick and cut easily, so you should never chop directly on them. The advantage od laminated counters is that they are easy to clean. Simply wipe surfaces with warm water and mild detergent. Never allow standing water to remain on the countertop because it can seep through the seams or between the countertop and backsplash, weakening the material underneath. To remove stains, follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Marble countertops

Marble is extremely porous and stains easily. Only use marble in a kitchen or bathroom if it has been treated with a penetrating stone sealer. Wipe marble countertops routinely with a clean cloth or a sponge dipped in warm water and mild liquid detergent, and dry the surface with a soft cloth. Be careful not to use too much soap and to rinse thoroughly, because soap can leave a film on marble and cause streaking. Soap buildup, is a common problem in marble baths and showers. wipe these surfaces down with a soft cloth or a squeegee after each use and occasionally clean them with a commercial bathroom cleaner that is safe to apply to marble. If you find a stain, apply a paste of baking soda and water to the area, let it dry and wipe it off with a damp cloth. You may be able to minimize damage form oil or grease by  sprinkling the area of the spill with cornmeal, leaving it for several hours and then wiping it up with a warm, damp cloth. Some red wine or wine stains can be remove with hydrogen peroxide.

Solid-surface countertops

These material imitate marble and other types of stone and consist of polyester or acrylic resins combined with mineral fillers. They are sold under various brand names. Solid-surface countertops are much easier to maintain than the stone surfaces they imitate. Knives can easily scar the surface and the countertop mat discolor when exposed to prolonged heat. Clean with a paper towel dipped in a solution of warm water and detergent.

Stainless-steel countertops

Stainless steel is quite easy to clean and maintain, but unfortunately water is your number 1 enemy with these otherwise serviceable surface. It leaves spots, so you should wipe a stainless-steel countertop with a clean dry cloth every time it gets wet. Stainless-steel surfaces usually come clean readily with hot water and detergent. Do not use abrasive scouring powders or scrub pads, they can scratch the surface. Be careful, when using special stainless-steel cleaners because many are formulated for industrial use and can harm a home countertop.

 

 

New Years

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Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia. Today, most New Year’s festivities begin on December 31 (New Year’s Eve), the last day of the Gregorian calendar, and continue into the early hours of January 1 (New Year’s Day). Common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Year’s foods, making resolutions for the new year and watching fireworks displays.

Early New Year’s Celebrations

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

January 1 Becomes New Year’s Day

The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. A later king, Numa Pompilius, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation); Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582.

New Year’s Traditions

In many countries, New Year’s celebrations begin on the evening of December 31—New Year’s Eve—and continue into the early hours of January 1. Revelers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes-symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year’s Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, round out the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere. In Sweden and Norway, meanwhile, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever-popular “Auld Lang Syne” in many English-speaking countries. The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.)

In the United States, the most iconic New Year’s tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Over time, the ball itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing public drops of items ranging from pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) to possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia) at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

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Today, resolving to change and improve yourself and your life is an almost unavoidable part of the transition to a new year. Though it’s a pretty well documented fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail, we keep making them—and we’re not alone. The custom of making New Year’s resolutions is most common in the West, but it happens all over the world. Take a look back at when and why the New Year’s resolution tradition got started, and how it’s changed over the course of history.

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.

A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome, after the reform-minded emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. Named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, January had special significance for the Romans. Believing that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year.

For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year. Now popular within evangelical Protestant churches, especially African-American denominations and congregations, watch night services held on New Year’s Eve are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.

Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement (which may explain why such resolutions seem so hard to follow through on). According to recent research, while as many as 45 percent of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals. But that dismal record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice.

Cleaning Tip – Toys

Occasionally washing small plastic toys in the dishwasher is an excellent way to keep germs at bay. Use a twist tie to keep the toys in place on the upper rack or in the silverware basket. Clean marks off of plastic toys with a toothbrush, to which you have applied a solution of baking soda moistened with some dishwashing liquid, then sponge it off. Use rubbing alcohol to remove tough stains.

If a stuffed toy is marked ” all new materials,” you can safely machine-wash it. If it has long hair or other long fibers that might get caught in the agitator, put it in a mesh bag before placing it in the machine. If a stuffed toy can’t be washed, put it in a plastic bag filled with baking soda and shake thoroughly, then brush off the powder over a sink or outside.

 

Christmas

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Christmas is so full of wonder, meaning and tradition. But, where did all these things that we now call “Christmas” come from? Let’s briefly sketch the origin and development of what we now celebrate as Christ’s birth.

Christmas is the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church. The traditional date of December 25 goes back as far as A.D. 273. Two pagan festivals honoring the sun were also celebrated on that day and it is possible that December 25 was chosen to counteract the influence of paganism. To this day some people feel uncomfortable with Christmas because they think it is somehow tainted by the pagan festivals held on that day. But Christians have long believed that the gospel not only transcends culture, it also transforms it. In A.D. 320 one theologian answered this criticism by noting, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”

There are two specific theories for why we use the date of December 25th for Christmas.

First, people and religions of the day celebrated some sort of holiday around that time. From Jewish Chanukah to Pagan Winter Solstice to Germanic Yule to Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquered Sun); the sheer number of celebration days with trees, decorations, yule logs, mistletoe and feasts seem to point to a season of celebration to which Christians added the birth of Jesus as a counter-cultural event and possibly even an escape from the pagan holidays for early believers.

December 25th was the Saturnalia Festival of emancipation, gift giving and the triumph of light after the longest night. The Christian sees the truth implicit in this pagan tradition that reflects: Christ the Light of the world, His triumph over the night of sin in Luke 1:78-79:

“…Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

The second theory centers around the date “accepted” by the Western Church of March 25 as the Annunciation or Immaculate Conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. December 25 is 9 months later and thus celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. Regardless of the possible reasons for the date, the church calendar was set in the West during Constantine’s reign while the Eastern Church held onto the date of January 6 for some time.

For centuries, Christmas was celebrated not as a single day, but as a whole season in parts of the world, beginning with this day, December 24, Christmas Eve. Perhaps the practice of celebrating the evening before the big day is an echo from ancient Jewish reckoning. Among earlier Jews, a day began at six in the evening and ran until six the following evening. Had not Moses written: “An evening and a morning were the first day”?

Christmas means “Christ-mass.” Although the date is a guess, the tradition of observing it goes back to at least the fourth century. Under the influence of the church, Christian traditions replaced pagan solstice festivals throughout Europe. Often the more innocent pagan practices (such as bringing in a Yule log, decorating with holly and the like) were carried over into the Christmas observance, transfigured with new meaning.