Saturday, December 31, 2005

Kitchen Aid Mixer, Artisan Series

By Christina VanGinkel

Choosing a food processor / mixer that will last you a lifetime does not have to be a difficult task, yet with prices often in the several hundred-dollar range, choosing one that will last and fit all your needs and expectations can take some investigating before you plunk down the money for that model of your dreams. If you are looking for on that will keep you mixing away for a family on a continual basis, the Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, Flour Power - 9-Cup model from Kitchen Aid is a model that should fit all of your needs.

The construction of the mixer should be a main consideration when comparing models. Plastic parts have their place in life, but not in the life of a mixer. If you plan to use your food processor for mixing ingredients such as bread dough and pasta, then you should only be considering food processors that are going to hold up under the stress of the blades and parts working those heavy to mix ingredients. The Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, Flour Power - 9-Cup model from Kitchen Aid is manufactured with an all-metal construction.

Size of the mixer will depend on what uses you have planned for the food you intend to create. If mixing up a single serving meal is your only concern, with the occasional loaf of mini bread, then you can most likely get by with a model that is basic at best. If you plan to use yours to make bread weekly for a family, among a variety of other homemade pastas and foods, then a model with a capacity of at least five quarts would be my personal recommendation, the Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, Flour Power - 9 Cup model from Kitchen Aid has a mixing bowl capacity of five quarts.

One feature that in my opinion revolutionized the food processor / mixer is the simple addition of a handle to the bowl. If you work in your kitchen, preparing ingredients for basic to elaborate meals with the aid of a food processor / mixer, something as simple as a handle on the bowl will make your life so much easier you will wonder how they ever sold a single one without a handle. The five quart mixing bowl on the Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, Flour Power - 9 Cup model from Kitchen Aid has a conveniently located side handle made of the same durable steel construction as the rest of the bowl so you do not have to worry about it breaking off while you are handling a heavy bowl of dough or other ingredients.

Look for one with enough variable speeds that you can do anything from a slow stir to a whip. The Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, Flour Power - 9-Cup model from Kitchen Aid has ten variable speeds, capable of providing everything from a slow stir to a fast whip. It also comes with a special C dough hook to make mixing dough as easy and as uncomplicated as possible. The bowl and machine also work together so the bowl will tilt away from the machine so it is easy to remove when filled.

The five-quart mixing bowl on the Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, Flour Power - 9 Cup model from Kitchen Aid also comes with a flat beater, two piece pouring shield with wide chute, and a wire whip. It is available in a wide variety of fashion colors, so that no matter the color scheme you have going in your kitchen, you will be able to find on that you will not mind leaving out on the countertop, almost as a piece of working art!

At a price of around three hundred dollars, some may consider the five-quart mixing bowl on the Artisan Series, Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, and Flour Power - 9-Cup model from Kitchen Aid a bit on the pricy side. For those looking to add a quality piece of equipment to their busy kitchen, this may be the perfect mixer to fit their needs. It is backed by Kitchen Aid's Hassle Free Replacement Warranty, which states if your countertop appliance fails within the first year that you own it, they will deliver a replacement to your door and arrange pickup of the defective item so you do not have to even step outside in order to complete the exchange.

Friday, December 30, 2005

How Much Memory Should Your New System Have

By Christina VanGinkel

Some people might find this topic redundant, that as long as your computer is new, that it surely has enough memory. I would argue that point straight away, especially after I just spent some time helping two separate friends choose new computers in the past few weeks. I was surprised, to say the least, to see new computers for sale with only 128 Megs of ram. The last time I had a computer on my desk with that low amount of ram was nearly six years ago. It was a custom assembled computer, which a neighbor helped me build and even back then, I immediately wanted more memory.

128 Megs of ram is enough if, and it is a giant size if, the only thing you are going to use that computer for is some very basic word processing, a minimal amount of web surfing, and maybe to play a game or two of solitaire or some other innocuous game. If you plan to step up from any one of those activities, or even do those on a consistent basis for long periods of time, then I would recommend that you double the 128, or better yet, go right to 512 Megs of ram. The problem with only having 128 Megs of ram is that as far as multitasking goes, or if you try to access a website that is graphic intensive, there just is not enough memory there to keep your system stable. Sure, there are those of you who would argue this point, but when you think of those people who would purchase a system with that small amount of memory in the first place, you know that their computer knowledge is basic at best. That if they are in ownership of a system that is freezing up, stalling out, and even crashing because they are trying to get more out of the computer, activity wise, than it can handle with that low amount of memory, and then they are going to be as frustrated as someone in front of a computer can be. Where do you think all the cartoons about people throwing computers off cliffs and out windows came from, why from frustrated computer users who were trying to get a system with a low amount of memory to work like a system with lots of memory!

In this modern day with memory prices drastically lower than they were a few short years ago, buying a system with a low number of memory in order to save fifty, or maybe a hundred dollars is jut not worth it. Seriously consider what the computer is going to be used for before you buy a system with rock bottom memory. Ask yourself if you plan to download photographs from your digital camera and edit them, or if you plan to download and burn music. How about chatting with family across the country, because if you want to get hooked up to high speed Internet, most companies will recommend that you have at least 256 Megs of ram, while again, I would recommend 512 just to keep things running smoothly.

Which brings me back to all the systems I saw as I helped my friends choose new computers, which were being sold with the minimal amount of 128 Megs of ram, sure, the systems were dirt cheap, one major computer company even selling one system, complete with a flat panel monitor, for a mere two hundred and ninety nine dollars. For someone who knew nothing about computers, this price could be quite alluring, as the system looked on the outside to be quite comparable to the one sitting next to it for nine hundred and ninety nine dollars. However, under the cover, they were like night and day.

Knowledge goes far when shopping for a computer, especially where memory is concerned. With the price difference as minimal as it is between 128 Megs of ram and One gigabyte of ram, you should definitely purchase as much memory as you can afford. You will thank yourself for it many times over in the future as you surf the internet with ease, multitask, play a graphic intensive game, or fix that latest digital snapshot.

Kitchen Gadgets

By Christina VanGinkel

Kitchen appliances can be addicting. You would think that if you have a toaster for example, what in the world would you need another one for, but then you see one that toasts your bread and cooks you an egg all at the same time, and you just have to have it. Better yet, you discover one that will toast an image of Mickey Mouse or some other cartoon character's shape in to the bread slightly darker than the rest of the toast. Now who can resist a feature such as that?

I love kitchen gadgets, even though I am about as far from being a cook as anyone who has raised a family and been married for nearly a quarter of a century can be. What the draw is, I honestly cannot say. Most of the time, they are gadgets that I might use once or twice at best, though the toaster that serves up toast with an image on it I can tell you I will never get bored with! Toast is a ritual in our house and if it can make you smile at four o'clock in the morning, my family's usual wake up time, then more power to it!

Take for example a small grill that struck my fancy a few years back. While it came in larger sizes than the one that would grill a single burger, that model was available in all sorts of cool colors including my son's favorite, lime green, so of course that is the one we had to get. Never mind that there are always at least three people in need of eating at a single time in our home, but usually two or three more people on a regular basis. So a grill that can cook one burger at a time, when a small frying pan can accomplish this same feat for the one time of year that number of burgers will need to be cooked, would more than suffice and at a lot cheaper price than we paid for the lime green gadget. Still, it now resides in our cabinet in its very own spot.

Then there was the steamer, again individual sized, as I figured I would be the only one who would eat steamed vegetables, so a small personal sized model would be sufficiently sized. In addition, I am sure it would have been, except for the fact that steamed vegetables sounded better to me then they ever actually tasted, so grandiose model that it is it has been shoved in the back of my gadget cabinet since almost day one of its arrival.

Ah, and lest we forget the frozen yogurt slash ice cream slash sorbet maker that was going to let me make more nutritious but mouth-watering desserts for my family. Everything was supposed to be easy and automatic, but the first time I tried to use it I became so frustrated that not only is it not in the back of my cabinet, it is not even in my house. I gave it away, and I hear my sister got it to work perfectly! More power to her, except for the fact she normally despises kitchen gadgets, so it would take someone like her to get something so complicated to work like a charm!

Kitchen gadgets are alluring; there is no second thinking about it, at least to me. I will come to a complete stop if I am walking through our living room and the television has a commercial on for some magical kitchen aid that will dice, slice, shop, broil, or puree. Websites that have page after page of kitchen gadgets can mesmerize me into browsing them for hours on end. I dream about the perfect kitchen with a spot for each one of these amazing tools, and a cook who actually uses them all, and knows how to use them correctly. In my dream of course it is me who is the perfect cook, and while my family would laugh hysterically if they ever thought I would imagine that me of all people could figure out how to use a frozen yogurt slash ice cream slash sorbet maker as good as a pro!

Luxury Bedding

By Christina VanGinkel

Sometimes life demands that we bring a bit of luxury into it, no matter how small, and I have found that one of the perfect ways to do that without spending a fortune is to buy a smashing set of luxurious sheets for my bed! With colors, patterns, and fabrics available in such a huge variety, you are sure to find something that you consider fits the theme of luxury, whether your pocketbook is screaming champagne, or champagne like! Mine is usually shouting at the top of its lungs cheap wine, and I still manage to find a set that I find elegant enough to keep me smiling for months to come.

Actually, I am a big fan of bargains. Even if I have tucked away a few extra dollars for something, when it comes time to buy that item, I still try to get it for as reasonable a price as I can. As bedding is one of those things that I try to buy a new set of at least once a year, and the more luxurious the better, I still follow this rule. Through the years, I have even earmarked a few of my favorite places to shop for bedding, and have been known to browse even before my bedding fund is topped off and ready to shop. With the new year at hand though, I know I am quickly approaching that time, as it has become routine the last few years to purchase said bedding for my husband's and my self's anniversary right after the new year.

I have usually gone with a patterned set, but have been looking at crisp, white sheets this year. There is just something about them that combined with the moderate amount of remodeling we have done so far, though none yet in the master bedroom, seems to call to me that they will fit more than any other sheet set that I might find. So far, I have found a 1200-Thread-Count 100% Cotton Sateen King Sheet Set, in Ivory, from the Grand Company, which feels as if they come right off the bed of a five star hotel. You know the feeling, soft, silky, smooth, and all rolled into one. The best part though is that as luxurious as these are, they are totally machine washable. The set comes with both a flat sheet, a fitted sheet, and two oversize pillowcases for king sized pillows, and it is still less than one hundred dollars. Originally, I saw it listed at a bit higher than three hundred dollars at a store nearby where I live; I found it through a direct link from FurnitureDestination.com for the reduced price.

I also have fallen in love with a Luxury 800 TC 100% Egyptian Cotton King Sheet Set in White. Also deeply discounted from an original price of three hundred and ninety nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, down to one hundred and nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, I was not able to find these locally, but did find them direct through FurnitureDestination.com. They also come with one flat sheet, one fitted sheet, and two pillowcases, but the pillowcases are regular size. While the thread count is not as high, I know from experience that Egyptian cotton is just the ultimate expression of luxury. Machine washable too, there is not a lot to dislike about them, including the fantastic price.

One other set caught my eye, though they are not white, but a baby blue. Also made of Egyptian cotton, the Luxury 1500 TC 100% Egyptian Cotton King Sheet Set In Light Blue, the included fitted sheet actually is fitted slightly larger than a typical fitted sheet, made to fit up to a nineteen inch deep mattress, complete with deep sixteen inch pocket corners to make sure the sheet stays on the bed and is not slipping off every time you turn over. The one downfall of these is that while they are also marked down, they are marked down from one thousand, six hundred and ninety five dollars, and ninety-nine cents, to what I still consider a king's ransom of three hundred and forty nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. If you are looking for the ultimate in luxury bedding, these will definitely fit your search.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Thoughts For Buying A Dog

If you are thinking about buying or adopting a dog, keep a few ideas in mind. You should not just wake up one morning and get a dog; instead take the time to determine if you are right to be a dog owner and the type of breed that may work best for both of you.

First you will need to commit to the dog for a period of ten to fifteen years. Basically you should not plan to get a dog and then move somewhere where you will not be able to take the dog. You also should not plan to get a dog and then leave him or her tied to a tree or chained up all the time. Neither of those situations will be good for the dog's emotional health. You should make the decision about whether or not you can commit to the dog long-term before you buy.

Also you will need to think about the short-term. Some dogs require more daily interaction than others. For instances, Labradors are notoriously needy dogs. If you have a job that requires a good bit of travel or long hours, you do not want to get one. It will be a frustrating situation for both of you. In general, keep in mind that puppies require far more attention everyday than older dogs.

Also check on medical issues. Some people cannot tolerate any type of dog while other people can be around some breeds with shorter hair or that do not shed as much. Check with your doctor before jumping on a breed with an ad that says your allergies will not be bothered. Getting a dog just to have to give it up in a few weeks will be heartbreaking for all of you, so it is best to avoid this problem now.

Think about your lifestyle. Do you spend a lot of time outdoors? Do you have little time or desire to walk your dog? Some breeds are happy with a 15-minute romp a day while others will want an hour or more and will need to be walked multiple times a day to get in enough exercise. If you have a dog who will be allowed free reign in a large yard, that may work. The same dogs, though, cannot be housed in an apartment. Look at your lifestyle and research any breed you are considering to find out how much exercise the dog will need and want everyday.

How much will the dog cost? Every dog will have basic needs. All of them will need to go to the vet, get shots, and be fed. Some dogs, though, will need professional grooming services and nails clipped. A golden retriever will eat far more than a toy poodle. Some dogs, such as German shepherds, have serious medical issues. Before you get any breed, find out about their histories and how much money they will cost. Do not get a dog if you are even slightly hesitant about having the money for that breed.

Back to grooming, think about how much time and money you are willing to devote to grooming a dog. Some dogs will need just a weekly brushing. Some dogs have special grooming requirements. English Bulldogs, for example, must have their skin wrinkles washed out, or they can trap bacteria and cause problems. Are you willing to take on those responsibilities? If you are getting a high-maintenance breed, such as a French poodle, are you will to pay someone to handle the grooming responsibilities? Those dogs are all wonderful pets but for the right people. It is most important that you find a dog who will complement your lifestyle not go against it. Do not think that you will change your ways just because you got a dog. Both of you will end up miserable, and one of you could be homeless as well.

Remember that you are not the only one in the relationship. Dogs are social animals. They need love and attention and do not want to be left alone. Yes, they expect that if they are living with you, then they are part of your life. You should work with your animals to be sure that the two of you can live together peacefully. If you do, then this relationship could be one of the most rewarding of your life.

By Julia Mercer

Making The Best Of Your Meatloaf

Meatloaf is one of those foods. It has become so popular that it has a place in many American sitcoms and movies. It represents a sort of wholesome set of family values that many people think we have lost. At the same time, it makes many people gag.

I am a firm believer that meatloaf has gotten a bad reputation for no reason. I actually never, ever ate meatloaf as a child, which may be why I am so willing to defend it. I never ate it until I was an adult and made it for myself, mostly out of curiosity.

Now, I am a fan, and it is definitely a food that my children will remember from their childhoods. Still, I have discovered in my meatloaf experiments that some are better than others. All meatloaves, in fact, are not created equal.

First, you should use ground round. We have made meatloaf with ground turkey, which we eat in favor of beef on most occasions. We have not found, however, that turkey is able to come together in the same way as beef. Ground beef is too fatty to work well either, so ground round is a good substitute. You can - make that should - add in a small can of tomato sauce or a sliced tomato to add some flavor to the loaf.

Also try meatloaf with a good cooking red wine. I personally have never been a fan of adding in alcohol to food. It is not because I have an aversion to alcohol, but I have never spent the money for a bottle of alcohol when I only need 1/2 cup of sherry. But I digress. Adding in a 1/2 cup of red wine will add some real pizzazz to your meatloaf.

If you are worried about the fat content of the beef, then you can try a couple of tricks. First, if you have a large family, then you can combine ground beef and ground turkey to cut the fat. You also can grind up some less overwhelming vegetables, such as carrots or zucchini and replace some of the meat with it. If you do, then you will be sneaking in some vegetables at the same time you are adding some substance to the loaf.

Also try a double baker type of approach. Basically get a cheap tin pan. (You will need a new pan each time you make a loaf.) Cut a number of holes in the pan. Then sit it in another baking pan. The benefit of this move is that you will not allow the meatloaf to sit in the pan in which it is cooking. Instead the grease will drip into the baking pan below, leaving the loaf clean.

You also can try spicing up the final product by cooking it until it is almost done. Then remove the meatloaf from the oven. Pour a can of seasoned, diced tomatoes on the loaf and add 1/2 cup or so of shredded cheese. Return the loaf to the oven for about five minutes until the cheese melts.

Using aluminum foil or baking tins, you can cook meatloaf in a slow cooker or in individual servings. I will admit that I am more of a fan of the traditional loaf, but these options are great if you need to set the loaf to cook in the morning for that night. Basically, you would make a small loaf in the bottom of the slow cooker. Protect it with foil and then add another small loaf. Continue until your slow cooker is full.

Remember that meatloaf is not a food that has to be bland and boring. There really are few truly unique recipes. All you are doing is taking something basic, in this case meatloaf, and then adding your own spice to it. You may find that you enjoy a sweetness with it and want to add baked apples. Other people add onions or peppers or other spices to make the meatloaf tasty! Just experiment, doing so with small servings if you do not want to ruin one of them. See what you enjoy and then add meatloaf to your regular line-up of mealtime snacks, and it will be a favorite for years to come.

By Julia Mercer

Green Bean Casseroles

Green bean casserole is one of the world's easiest dishes to make. It has become a holiday tradition in many families, and others are learning about it everyday. It is one of the few foods that I do not really enjoy but cook anyway. My husband loves it. For some reason, he has it in his head that green bean casserole is one of the tastiest dishes he has ever tried. I have learned, then, to love it too and have found a couple of tricks for making it a bit more enjoyable.

For starters, we make the basic green bean casserole. We take two cans of green beans. Then we rinse and drain them and put them in a casserole dish with a can of cream of mushroom soup. Stir that together and put half a can of fried onions on top. Bake for thirty minutes at 350 degrees, then put the other half of the onions on top and serve.

That is the basic recipe. Here are a few variations you can try. First you can move to fresh or fresh frozen green beans. It will take longer, but the taste will be better in the long run. If you are going to use fresh green beans, then you basically will need to snip off the ends and snap them into bite-sized pieces. Then allow them to soak in water for about 15 minutes. Rinse them and put them in the casserole.

Another option is to use fresh frozen green beans. This option is my choice. It is a bit easier than fresh although you will have to defrost the beans by soaking them for a couple of hours before you start the casserole. You will find also that the beans have less sodium if you use the fresh frozen as opposed to cans.

On the mushroom soup, you can play around a bit with it but be careful. For starters, you can try golden mushroom soup and a can of cream of mushroom but only if you are making an extra-large batch of the casserole. Otherwise you risk overwhelming the rest of the casserole with the soup. Be careful, too, if you true to spice up the casserole by adding extra liquids. The green beans should not be swimming, and they should be the main ingredient.

Finally, you can play around a little with the toppings. There are cheddar fried onions available, for example, and I have used them. We like them better than the traditional fried onions because they add a little taste. If you want to add even more of a cheesy flavor to your green bean casserole, then you can consider sprinkling a bit of cheddar or mozzarella on top of the casserole. I would not do that when you put it in for 30 minutes. Pull the casserole out after 25 minutes, add the cheese, and return it for five minutes. That way the cheese gets browned but does not burn, and you will have a wonderful topping for your cheese.

There are a number of other options for green bean casserole that you can try. If you really like the cheese taste, you can add chunks of cheddar in with the green beans or even try cheddar cheese soup if you make a big batch. Another choice is to add some milk, salt, and pepper for a little creamy version of green bean casserole.

You can try spicing it up by having spicy green bean casserole with fiesta seasonings. You can add chili powder or paprika to get this flavor. You also can add in fresh herbs, such as basil or rosemary. They will not overpower the beans but will add a bit of bite to them.

These options are just a few of the many variations you can make to your green bean casserole. Do not just stick with the traditional unless you really love it. Give some other choices a try. You may find that you will find a new classic green bean casserole for your family. Then when your kids or relatives eat green bean casserole with someone else, they will think of your version and say to themselves, "ah, it's better over there."

By Julia Mercer

Planning Your Meals

Okay, now we have gone over our food planning. Once you have your master shopping list and your regular meals list done, you are ready to begin preparing for your shopping adventure.

Remember that you are going to begin to shop monthly. First you will need to find a ready-made calendar. You can use a monthly planner as a template, or you can purchase an inexpensive desk calendar. You will need three calendars for each month - one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for supper (or dinner).

You will need to sit down and write out what your family will eat for each meal. Breakfasts are particularly tricky, especially if everyone is on his or her own to decide what to eat. If that is the case, then you are going to need to get everyone on board with the scheduling. You need to know that you have four people who will need cereal for seven days during the course of the month so that you can plan how much food to buy.

Remember to schedule in the new meals you planned to try over the course of the month. Create a copy of the master ingredient list. Close out the original. Once you have the list of meals in hand, then you will look at the regular meals. Copy the ingredients from any of these meals to your current ingredients list. Multiply them to determine what you need to buy. Let us return to a sample we used previously.

Chili
1 pound ground turkey
2 cans kidney beans
1 can basil-seasoned tomatoes
chili powder
2 cans tomato sauce

If you were having chili three times in a month (a chilly month), then copy this recipe, then multiply so that under your master ingredients list, you have

3 pounds ground turkey
6 cans kidney beans
3 cans basil-seasoned tomatoes
6 cans tomato sauce

Note that chili powder is missing from the later list. You will not need three jars of chili powder. Putting it on the list is simply a reminder to you to check to see if you have chili powder.

Once you have added in the regular meals and any new meals you are trying, then you will need to print the list. Now, look at the master ingredient list. Do you need those items? Circle or otherwise mark the ones you need to get and check now if you are uncertain whether or not you have enough eggs.

While the process of listing and then creating a monthly menu may seem difficult, it really will help you to get everything together. Once you complete this process once or twice, then you will begin to get the hang of it. After you go through the monthly routine, you will need to stop at the store weekly only for produce and other perishables. After a couple of months, you will be a pro.

The next step for you, which we will tackle later, is how to store your food once you get it home. Be sure that you have a plan and enough room for your foodstuffs or you could end up with tons of food sitting in your kitchen. The key to making cooking and other food-related tasks just another part of your day is to make sure that you are organized about the process.

After you have established this routine, you need to explain to your family that you have a monthly menu now. They are to consult the menu anytime they are making a meal. You need to have what is on the list each month. Do not be afraid to experiment with the list. While you may love your meatloaf, if you find that all of the other family members are begging to put it off when its time comes on the menu, then you should reconsider whether that should remain a regular meal. Expect some changes normally as your children grow up and then leave home.

The best part of this system is that you will be able to keep track of what new recipes you will try. Because you will pay attention to what you are eating, you will have a record of that meal you just loved and wanted to take to Aunt Emily's next week. Trust me. This plan will work.

By Julia Mercer

Omega-3 In Your Diet

If you have been trying to add more fish to your diet because of research about its health benefits, then you should educate yourself on what, exactly, those health benefits are. The reason that seafood has been in the news is because it is plentiful in omega-3. This fatty acid has become the wonder-drug of nutrition in recent years after a number of studies have suggested that not only does it help with depression, but it enhances the body's immune system and helps protect the heart. That research led to suggestions that people eat at least two servings of foods rich in omega-3 acids per week.

The problem is that seafood is pricy, and many people cannot stomach the cost. Seafood, especially if it is fresh, can be expensive. There are some ways around these problems, though. First, try to find fresh frozen seafood. Please note that fresh frozen is not breaded fish sticks. Go to your local grocer or a seafood market and look for seafood that is packaged and frozen. You often can find white fish, such as tilapia, this way. In many markets, you will even find catfish nuggets, crab pieces, and lobster tail. The fresh frozen varieties will not be as expensive.

Fish can be very tasty when you cook it right. If you do not care for baked fish, try it with seasoning. Pick up some packets of Chesapeake Bay seasoning or try adding garlic and lemon juice to a skillet with small pieces of fish. There also are many catfish stews and other soups out there that mask the strong taste of fish. Do not forget shrimp and other forms of seafood either as they have a weaker taste.

Other options are to check beef and eggs. Omega-3 is not present in large amounts in any of these products, but many producers are starting to catch on to the demand of the foods. For example, look for grass-fed beef instead of processed food-fed. Also check your dairy case. Many eggs are now only fed special diets that are rich in Omega-3. Look at the labels, and you should be able to find something for you. Also check the cholesterol content, however, so that you can be sure that you will not be hurting your health in other areas. You will need to eat an egg a day to get enough Omega-3, and you need six ounces of beef per week.

There are a number of vegetarian sources of Omega-3, too, so be sure to check them out. (Plus, you can add great variety to your diet if you look around for new ideas.) A number of nuts, such as walnuts, are great sources for the acid, but watch the fat content. Also try out soy-based foods, such as tofu. They have no fat, little cholesterol, and plenty of good nutrients. If you cook often, try using canola oil and bake with flaxseed flour.

Your last resort may be to try a supplement. Check your health food store or a nutrition store, and you may find that you will be able to use a supplement to help you get enough of the acid. Ask around and make sure that you are getting the right supplement. Check the label to see how much of the acid is contained in it. Just remember that it is always better to get your nutrition from your food, so do not rely solely on the supplement.

Do try to add Omega-3 whenever you can. It has so many health benefits that it is worth altering your menu a bit to try to add it in. Do not be afraid to ask questions of natural food dieters or people who work in the stores. You also should be on the lookout for good recipe ideas that will help you learn to eat fish. There are so many spices available that you can often dull the taste of the fish if it is that unappealing to you. Keep salads and other dishes in mind, too, as they can provide vegetables and other nutrients as well and give you a variation on cooking fish. If you keep experimenting, you will discover limitless ways to add Omega-3 to your diet.

By Julia Mercer

Living the Raw Diet Lifestyle

In a world where food is scare in some countries, people in other countries have decided to give up many of those foods. People who choose to live the raw diet lifestyle often do so because they want to preserve their health and believe that the cooking process destroys food. Other people look at the energy and resources wasted on processing and cooking foods and want to give back to the Earth by not partaking of cooked foods. Still others believe that they will feel better by focusing on parts of their life besides eating.

The raw diet is an extreme form of veganism, which means eating nothing with any animal by-products, in which the dieter eats only unprocessed, plant-based foods. Getting to 90 percent uncooked foods is considered ideal, but most people believe that a 75 percent raw diet is adequate.

Many people who live the raw diet lifestyle, so-called for the changes it requires in the way one exists in the world, point to the destruction of valuable enzymes through cooking. Temperatures in excess of 116 degrees, required for most cooking, can destroy some enzymes and rob the food of ingredients essential to a healthy body.

Raw dieters have some basic ways that they can prepare their food. Vegetables and fruits can be eaten as they are, or they can be juiced. Nuts and grains are soaked so that they soften up. Most people who live the raw life use a food appliance called a dehydrator that works similar to a steamer. The dehydrator blows hot air onto the food. It never reaches the magical 116 degrees, but it does soften up the food some for eating.

Still, if you are unfamiliar with the raw diet lifestyle, you likely are racking your brain trying to determine what it is that you can eat. Here are the basics of the raw diet: any fresh fruit and vegetable, including dried fruits; any nuts; seeds; beans; seaweed; grains; and legumes. Raw dieters drink fruit juice, freshly squeezed, purified water, and coconut milk.

Raw dieters believe that food is not meant to sit in our bodies. Instead each food is designed with a certain combination of enzymes that will lead to its own digestion without relying on the body's own system, such as the stomach's hydrochloric acid. By stopping the need for these enzymes, the raw dieter is stopping the body's production of acids.

People who live this lifestyle must be committed. It essentially means never going out, never eating at a friend's house, and never ordering Chinese takeout. That means that to convince people to try the diet and then follow it makes it necessary to cite some of the health benefits. People who use the raw diet report that they feel better and more energetic after only a short time on the diet. They lose weight, which probably does not surprise many readers, but they also have less risk for heart disease. In addition, raw dieters report that their digestive functions are improved from their lifestyle choice.

The biggest danger for somebody starting is to beware of detoxification effects. If you go to any alternative remedy set on ridding the body of the processing of modern culture, you will hear about detoxification effects. Your body essentially has built up toxins, to which you are immune, because of the way you live. When you seek out medical or nutrition treatments that deny the continued build-up of the toxins, your body expels them. You can experience diarrhea, headaches, nausea, and even depression from this process. If it does not go away within a few weeks, then you should seek out someone experienced in alternative lifestyles to help you.

Know that while you are making the transition, these symptoms are indicative only of how many toxins were in your body when you began. Waiting out the symptoms is the best solution to the problems. Raw foodists report that they feel much better after this initial period and would not return to a life of eating non-raw foods. Also keep in mind that you should watch your iron and calcium levels, as an unbalanced raw diet will leave out these two important nutrients. Chart your food and see how you feel.

By Julia Mercer

Learn About Vegans

Veganism is probably one of the least understood lifestyle and diet trends out there. People hear the word and either say, "huh?" or "what weirdos." There is a lot to learn about the vegan lifestyle, so let us start with some of the basics.

First, what is a vegan?

Veganism, more than vegetarianism, is a lifestyle choice and not just a diet. Vegans do not eat meats, which they define as beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and seafood. They also avoid any foods, such as honey, salad dressing, eggs, and milk, which come from any type of animal by-product. The place where vegans really differ, however, is that they also do not wear animals, such as in silk, fur, or leather. Most vegetarians avoid these fabrics, too, but it is important to the vegan lifestyle.

Why do people want to live this restrictive lifestyle?

Well, in short, they do it because they believe it is the moral decision. Some vegans are very interested in the health benefits to an appropriately created vegan diets. Others, however, have more concerns about the way animals are treated in slaughterhouses and hen houses. Still, other vegans believe that people should not eat animals at all because we could feed the world with the grains we use to feed cattle in the United States and because it is unethical to treat other animals as inferior. Vegans go a step farther than vegetarians because they believe that by eating by-products, it only encourages the meat industry.

What dishes do they eat?

People who are not vegan but are looking at the lifestyle often focus on what foods they cannot eat. If you look at the foods you can eat, though, you will see that there are plenty of choices. Plus, many vegans find that they eat a wider variety than do meat eaters because they have to search for good nutrition. A few good vegan dishes include vegan lasagna, hummus, eggless cookies (using applesauce as a substitute), and fried corn. There are many soy-based products as well, such as flour and milk that allow vegans to make typical dishes with only a slight variation. Trying out different spices sometimes can make the vegan diet seem like a much better choice. If you think in terms of bland foods, then the diet will not be appealing, but if you are willing to experiment a bit, then you will find some tasty foods.

Can They Go To Restaurants?

Many vegans tend to stay home. For one, they often find that when you accustom your body to less processed foods, which they must do to ensure that they are vegan, the body is not interested in taking on the grease and fat of restaurant cooking. That does not mean that vegans are forever kept away from restaurants, though. They may find that they can eat at Chinese restaurants if they select carefully. Other ethnic restaurants, such as Indian and Thai also are good choices because those diets naturally rely on meat less than American dishes.

Is It Safe To Avoid Dairy?

Vegans can safely avoid dairy foods if they work on using dairy substitutes. For example, there are several ways to substitute for eggs in baking recipes where the egg just serves to hold everything together. You can try a mashed banana, applesauce, two ounces of soft tofu, or an egg replacer. If you want to substitute for milk or cheeses, try soy-based replicas of the dairy product. Rice milk also is a choice for some people. If you need crumbled cheese, like bleu cheese, try adding crumbled tofu instead. Because tofu takes the flavor of its surroundings, it is a good choice for these dishes.

Being vegan does not mean giving up your lifestyle. Instead it means opening your mind to new possibilities for eating. While you may have to work on your vegan diet, it is possible to put the right combination of foods together to make for wonderful and healthy meals. The danger with veganism, and the obstacles potential vegans should watch out for, is munching on only lettuce or other veggies or stocking up on non-dairy-based carbs and not getting any real nutrition from their diets. If you are thinking about a vegan diet, be sure to research it and select good foods that will keep you healthy.

By Julia Mercer

Grocery Shopping Made Easy

I have an aunt who has a beautifully organized pantry. Everything in organized by size and shape and is in alphabetical order. Whenever anyone else in the family runs out of paper towels unintentionally or does not have enough mayonnaise to finish the potato salad, this aunt is the place to call.

Most people are not like my aunt. Their food cabinets are more of a smorgasbord of food than a really organized place where meals have been planned. If you would like to start to organize your time better, then one way you can do that is by being more organized about your food purchases. That will help you to save time with trips to the grocery store.

Chances are, though, that you know that already. You understand how you can save time by organizing your kitchen, but you do not know to get started. Well, I am here to help! Sit down for a crash course in Food Organizing 101.

First, make a list of the foods you frequently need. Many of these foods are foundational items, such as eggs, or items that you use often, such as milk. What foods do you always question if you have when you get to the store? Put these items all in a word processing program with a line between each item. If there is something that is always on your list, such as baby food, then put "baby food, ____ jars." This list is your master grocery list, and it will become your friend. Save the document. We will return to it shortly.

The second step will be to keep a list of the meals that your family eats often. Most families use some old stand-bys, such as meatloaf, lasagna, or tuna casserole. Once you have a list of foods that your family has eaten more than a couple of times, write down the ingredients you will need for each of those meals. You also should type up these ingredient lists. Your list may look like the following:

Chili
1 pound ground turkey
2 cans kidney beans
1 can basil-seasoned tomatoes
chili powder
2 cans tomato sauce

Then you can keep that list on hand. It is the regular meals list.

Next, you will need to decide how many times per week you would like to try a new dish. Do you want something every week? How about only twice a month? Part of this decision depends on how many regular meals you have. If, for example, you have only three regular meals but you want to only try one new dish a week, then your job for a while is to come up with a few regular meals.

To come up with new regular meals, then you will need to gather a few cookbooks. Try yard sales or book sales at libraries for some good cookbooks. You also can check out cookbooks from the library. If you are partial to certain ethnic cuisines, then you can look for cookbooks specifically with those types of recipes in mind. Another cheap place to find cookbooks is to use the checkout line at the grocery store. There are many cookbooks with themes, such as casseroles or one-dish, and they often cost $1 or less.

Begin looking for new regular meals by working through these cookbooks. Mark what you like and record the recipe in your regular meals list. If it is a meal you enjoy but will not eat often, then do not record it. Get a binder to put occasional meals in. Few people have the desire to try more than two new meals a week because the preparation takes longer for something you have never done before. That means that for the average month, you will need to have 10-15 regular meals to keep from having too much repetition in your diet.

Okay, you are ready to begin your monthly grocery planning. Yes, you read right. You are going to plan your meals monthly. By the end of the grocery-planning articles, you will find that you do not approach the food in your house the same way. Instead of dreading looking in the cabinet, you will find that your cabinets are stocked well in advance.

By Julia Mercer

A Slow Dietary Change

My health problems have been mounting and have reached the point where I have to make some drastic changes in my life. I have identify some key areas: career, personal fulfillment, and diet. My husband, the wonderful man that he is, just got a huge promotion at work that comes with a hefty pay raise. That means that we can make some real changes that will help us to feel better.

We have kept up with the few dietary changes that I have written about, such as moving to turkey or tofu instead of ground beef. We are ready now for some more significant dietary changes, and I have done a lot of research about the best way to add new foods and take the old ones away.

First, we will begin buying organic produce. We live in a fairly rural area, and the closest city is about an hour away. I am going to have to go there to get good quality organic produce for a decent price, but we are willing to make that change. I grew up on organic produce without realizing it. My grandparents plant crops every year and generally shy away from chemicals, but they do it because it is just the way they liked to garden. We also canned veggies that lasted through the winter months every summer. Those vegetables are canned without any preservatives, so they are healthy, too. There is a definite taste different in organic versus mass-produced, non-organic vegetables, and we are hoping to partake of only non-organic soon.

We also will be moving to soymilk in some instances. Instead of cow's milk, which contains some hormones that are not necessarily good for you, we will move to more soy-based milk products. Neither my husband nor I really like the taste of soymilk, but the chocolate-flavored one is not bad. Plus, we can use soymilk in our baking and other cooking without a noticeable taste difference.

Eggs are a source of concern for us. We are worried about cholesterol, and eggs really are the only product we eat on a regular basis that does have high amounts of cholesterol. As soon as we find a co-op or health food store, we will examine their egg substitute choices. We are also checking out the eggs at the supermarket. I think that we will find the same issue as with our milk - that we stick with the tried and true for our scrambled eggs or boiled eggs, but we will use some type of modified egg or substitute for cooking.

After we get these basic changes in, I am going to make some more cumbersome changes. After all, the shopping is the only thing different about switching to organic produce. We want to add some Omega-3 to our diet. Until recently, my husband, like many people, swore that he did not like fish. Little did I realize that it is because growing up in the Midwest, he had never had much good quality seafood! We have been experimenting with fresh frozen catfish, which is not as good as fresh but not bad, and he has decided that he does, in fact, like it. Because we have not bought much seafood in the past, we will get to experiment with seafood recipe so that we are having it at least twice per week.

We will be making these food changes slowly. A major change all at once works for some people, but for us, we know that we need to get accustomed to each change before we move on to another one. Still, by the middle of next year, we should be well on our way, eating all organics as well as soy-based milk, egg substitutes, and seafood twice a week.

Our next step will be a bigger change for my husband. When we have eaten vegetarian meals in the past, it was because we could not afford meat. Now, though, we will be able to choose to eat vegetarian meals. We will experiment with them at least once a week. Now, though, we can make more expensive food choices, so there will be plenty of new food experiences to try. At this rate, we will feel like new people this time next year.

By Julia Mercer

A Nice Christmas Dinner

My husband and I went to my in-laws' house for Thanksgiving. We had many of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner foods, including the turkey and mashed potatoes. My mother-in-law makes some foods, though, that are...odd, such as pickled asparagus and other veggies. I skip out on those dishes, polite or not. Still, we end up with our share of the traditional Thanksgiving fare. We will be going to my parents for Christmas, and we will have ham and the fixins' on Christmas Eve there and at my grandparents' house on Christmas Day.

Hubby and I are having our Christmas dinner with our infant son on December 21, winter solstice, because we will be leaving the next day. When we were talking about the menu, I decided that I would be tired of the traditional food by the end of the holiday season. Instead we opted to try something new - something that we hope will become a tradition for our family. We are having a seafood Christmas.

While we have not bought the food yet because we want the best available seafood, we went to the store and looked around to pick out what we want. It is odd how a simple change in menu can make something that seems otherwise mundane feel like a new experience.

The first dish we will have will be pieces of snow crab. We will buy shelled crab pieces at our seafood counter and serve them in melted butter as the appetizer to our Christmas meal. While other people prefer to cook their crab in seasoning, I love the natural taste of crab, so melted butter only works for me.

Our main course will consist of shrimp scampi, rice pilaf, and asparagus. I have never made shrimp scampi, but I am excited about it. Our dish calls for only adding onion, garlic, green pepper, and a couple of other spices. The dish is simple and takes little time, making it ideal for our Wednesday evening dinner. We experimented with the rice pilaf this past week, and we are confident that it will work out. We cook the rice in chicken broth and add in chopped onion, a little bell pepper, and some Parmesan seasoning. Next comes the asparagus. I cannot for the life of me understand where asparagus got such a bad rep. This vegetable is delicious! I love it by itself, steamed or boiled, or with some variety of seasoning. For Christmas, we likely will have fresh asparagus lightly steamed.

Then I will be making fresh bread. While we will not have it with dinner, I will bake some fresh bread, which will give the house a wonderful aroma and will last through the night, and we will have it out with dipping sauces, butter, and preserves. We can munch on the bread during the rest of the evening. Freshly baked bread is a treat few Americans experience often. Instead we are happy with processed, standardized loaves that are a good shape for sandwiches. Fresh bread, though, is a different experience. It makes the house smell great and warms the tummy.

Our plans for this Christmas dinner are inexpensive, despite the seafood menu, and simple to make. We will be spending no more than $20 on the entire meal, which is not bad for a special meal. In addition, prepping and cooking the food should not take more than an hour. Once hubby gets home from work, we will begin dinner and by 7 o'clock, we will be engrossed in our own holiday fare. There will be little clean up and little chance for leftovers.

Tradition is important to me and to my husband. Because we live hours away from both families, we are afraid that we will end up traveling to someone else's house every Christmas and Thanksgiving. While we certainly enjoy spending time with our families, we want to make sure that we have our own traditions. We want our son to have something to look forward to when he thinks about Christmas every year. While there will be presents and singing and videotaping, the dinner should be special, too. There is something wonderful about treating yourself to a delicious meal to celebrate a wonderful holiday. Food really does soothe the soul.


By Julia Mercer

Tips For Vegetarian Eating

Being vegetarian seems to have become all the rage today. More people than ever are trying out vegetarian diets, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Still, most people are a little confused about what it means to be vegetarian and how it affects your life choices.

First, vegetarian simply means not eat meat. There are a number of variations on this theme. Some people only give up beef, pork, and poultry. They still eat fish and other seafood. Other people call themselves lacto-ovo vegetarians, and they are probably the most common. They eat no meat of any kind, including fish, but they will eat eggs and drink milk. Vegans are one of the more restrictive dietary choices. Vegans eat nothing with any animal by-product, which includes milk, eggs, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and the like. They also do not wear fur or other fabrics made from animal products. There are other variations, such as fruitarians, who eat only fruit that has already fallen from trees, but these few are the most common.

The vegetarian diet is healthy if done right. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that vegetarians in general have a lower rate of obesity and are less likely to get certain cancers as well as various types of heart disease. That said, it is important to eat the right kind and combination of foods if you are vegetarian. For example, you can get enough protein without eating animal products, primarily through plant-based sources, such as nuts and soybeans, but you need to be sure that you are getting enough. Simply leaving the meat off your pizza is not enough to give you a healthy balance.

Be sure that you eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, such as greens and spinach. While most people need three to four servings per day, vegetarians need more because these foods are a rich source of iron. This mineral is one of the hardest to get in a vegetarian-friendly diet. Dried beans and dried fruits also are good sources of iron. There is a bonus to plant-based iron as well; these sources have little or no cholesterol, unlike the animal-based iron sources.

The greens also help with calcium. Vegetarians actually tend to get more calcium that the average person because of their dietary choices. A few vegetarian foods rich in calcium include spinach, broccoli, and enriched soybean products. Everyone, vegetarian or not, should seek to get more of these foods in his or her diet as the body absorbs these forms of calcium better than animal-based sources.

Vitamins B-12 and D are two areas of concern for vegetarians. Vegans will not be able to get enough of these products in their diets, and many vegetarians are in the same situation. You can look for fortified cereals and make homemade bread with Brewer's yeast to try to come up with enough of the vitamins. The reality, though, is that unless you are very conscious of everything you are eating, it will be really tough to get enough B-12 and D as a vegetarian. In this case, you should consider a supplement to make up for any possible deficiencies.

Vegetarians need to keep a few key points about food in mind. First, they should do more than the average person to avoid empty calories, such as those found in soft drinks and other sweets. While no one should consume many of these calories, it is very important for vegetarians because they need to make all of their calories count for nutritional needs. Vegetarians also should stick with whole grain or unprocessed flour and other products when possible. They have more vitamins and minerals. Vegetarians also need to be careful about eating eggs. The regular variety has massive amounts of cholesterol, so be sure to use other sources of protein. Use low-fat milk to avoid getting too many fat calories from dairy products.

Vegetarianism should not be viewed as a restrictive diet. Instead, people who are vegetarian often consider their eating habits more fun and experimental than those of their meat-eating counterparts. There is something new and exciting about not eating meat that will force you to look elsewhere for enjoyable food. The end result often is a more-balanced and healthy way of eating.

By Julia Mercer

The Basics of Casseroles

Reese Witherspoon was on Oprah recently, and the two Southern women started talking casseroles. Witherspoon, a Tennessee native, explained that you just toss everything together, and voila! You have a casserole.

The truth is not far from Witherspoon's quip. Casseroles are one of the easiest dishes to make. If you are new to cooking, if you are a man who has never cooked suddenly living along, if you are a newly minted college apartment dweller, you should learn the art of casserole making.

First, what exactly defines a casserole? Most people think that a casserole must be cooked in the oven or must be a mix-match sort of dish that is mostly unidentifiable. Neither is completely true. Here are the basics.

All casseroles must have at least one of the five basic parts: protein, vegetable, carbohydrate (or starch), sauce, and topping.

The protein typically is meat although tofu and other non-meat alternatives work well. In fact, tofu, which is far better nutritionally, is able to take on the taste of its surroundings, making it a great choice for casseroles. Chicken and tuna also are popular ideas for casseroles. Beef can be used but is a little more difficult to work in because of its texture.

Vegetables are self-explanatory. Some of the most common vegetables are carrots, broccoli, and sweet peas. If you are looking for something new, or if you want to add some vegetables to the meal, zucchini always works wonders. Zucchini, which many people mistake for cucumbers, look a similar pale green color. They are easy to cut and absorb other flavors really well, making them a great choice. You also can try adding yellow squash or red onion for a little extra umph.

Some people suggest that you pre-cook the vegetables, but that really depends on the vegetable. Broccoli, for example, cooks pretty quickly, and if you do not like your vegetables mushy, then you should not pre-cook. You will want to be sure that they are defrosted, but otherwise, they should be fine.

Most people use white rice or a basic noodle for pasta. Fettucine and spaghetti noodles are popular. You can try different sizes and shapes of noodles if you would like. They can make a tuna casserole look more exciting, especially for children. If you experiment with rice, then you should be careful. Brown rice, for instance, does not cook as quickly as white rice, so you need to adjust your cooking times and temperatures depending on the starch option you select.

The sauce is what makes the casserole gel. Otherwise you are simply making meat and veggies in a baking pan. The most common sauces are a broth (which is rarely used), a "cream of" soup, and tomato sauce. These sauces will help to hold together the entire casserole. It needs to be something complementary, and it does not have to have much flavor. Cream of chicken soup is not a flavorful soup but works well with a great combination of flavorful vegetables and meat. The only general rule that you should follow is the same as with wine. Beef needs a red (tomato) sauce while poultry and pork need white sauces.

The topping usually is cheese. In the case of green bean casserole, it is fried onions. Other topics include bacon bits, croutons, or bread crumbs. In most cases, the best idea with the topping is to add some of it at the beginning, then to remove the casserole and sprinkle a bit on top before returning to the oven for no greater than five minutes.

Casseroles really are great dishes. Few of them take more than half an hour to bake. Because your greatest preparation work is chopping vegetables and putting everything into the dish, you are talking about 45 minutes max before you have a delicious, balanced meal. Casseroles should become a staple of your diet as you are learning to cook. they work for any busy lifestyle, which is what makes them great for so many people, regardless of their cooking skill level or schedule. They will serve you later when you need to throw together a quick dish, even if your culinary talents have moved far beyond casseroles.

By Julia Mercer

Protein In Your Diet

Protein is an important part of a healthy diet, and while most adults know that, they are unsure why. Protein contains enzymes, which form to make amino acids. These amino acids are often called the "building blocks of life," because they are essential to our growth and development. There are 20 amino acids, but they combine to make different forms of proteins. Adults need eight of these amino acids, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine, regularly. The body cannot do without them. Infants need these eight in addition to histidine for growth and development.

The other amino acids, known as non-essential amino acids, are either made from the essential, or the body can make them on its own. Getting enough protein, then, is not the only factor to consider when selecting protein content in dishes. Getting the right kinds of protein is important, too. What, exactly are the right kinds of protein?

There are a number of vegetable sources for protein although we do not often consider them. Only one of those sources, however, contains all of the essential amino acids. That source is the soybean, which is one of the most amazing foods cultivated. Other vegetable-based proteins, such as those found in legumes or nuts, are not complete. It is still possible, however to get all of the essential amino acids on a vegetarian diet. It is just important to know which sources have which amino acids and how you can combine them.

Animal-source proteins contain the correct amount and proportion of amino acids. Non-meat sources of protein include eggs and milk although meats, including fish, are the most concentrated sources of protein.

The benefit of a vegetable-based protein diet, however, is that the foods do not contain many of the harmful substances, such as saturated fat and cholesterol, found in the animal-based proteins. Instead, these vegetable sources provide other vitamins and minerals and may make you feel healthier.

Protein benefits the body in numerous ways. It helps to lose weight and stay lean as well as to build muscles, making protein-based foods a good choice for people who are trying to lose weight as well as people who are trying to bulk up, for athletic contests for example. Protein is lower in calories per gram than fat and the same as carbs. One gram of food with protein in it makes up four calories, while the same gram of fat has eight calories. Understanding that protein foods have the same number of calories regardless of the type, animal or plant-based, makes it easier to calculate what you are getting from the protein in your diet.

Excess protein becomes heat and energy if it is not used. The body will let it go in other forms of energy, and it is essentially wasted. Instead of being stored, the body must burn it off. That means that the all-protein or no-carb diets that have been popular in recent years may not be as beneficial as people have thought. While that does not mean that you should not cut carbs, know that protein benefits only go so far before they do become too much of a good thing and the body cannot process them.

For example, most doctors suggest that you eat beef once a week or less often. Most people eat beef far more often, but the reality is that the other substances, such as fat and cholesterol content, can undo the positive benefits of eating beef for the protein. When you do eat beef and other meats, be sure that you are monitoring the portion size. A portion is no larger than a deck of playing cards, so keep that in mind when you visit a steakhouse.

Healthy eating is important to everyone's lifestyle. The most important part of healthy eating is finding the right balance. Do not deprive yourself of any one type of food or binge on another. Instead you should eat a little of all of your favorite foods. Also you will need to be sure that you find the right type of diet for you. Some people can count calories while others take a more holistic approach. Try out various diet plans and see what works for you.

By Julia Mercer

Choosing a Watch as a Gift

By Christina VanGinkel

Buying someone a piece of jewelry often brings with it a sense of closeness to that person. For those rare times that you do want to give someone a special gift though, yet an item of jewelry would be overstepping those bounds because you are, for whatever reasons, not quite that close to the gift recipient, then a watch may be just the present you are in need of.

A gift of a watch can convey that you cared enough to purchase them something of value, which though not as personal as a gift of jewelry, it definitely has the possibility of becoming personal. Therefore, with that thought in mind, be sure to put some deliberation into choosing the perfect watch to gift them with.

Consider the person's present likes and dislikes. Take note if they usually wear gold or silver, and if their current jewelry is flashy or more refined. A person, who lives in jeans and t-shirts for example, may not have much use for a diamond-encrusted watch, whether the diamonds are genuine, or replicas. The same goes for a person who spends his days, and nights, in a business suit, and is given a watch with a leather band and a compass. Knowing if they have certain hobbies can help you decide on the perfect watch though. In addition, with that in mind, here are a few watches geared specifically for that sports enthusiast.

Scuba divers, surfboarders, and swimmers may be thrilled with a watch that is not only water resistant, but also water resistant to a depth worth diving down to. Take for instance the Citizen Promaster AJ0100-02E men's professional diving watch, it is water resistant to 200 meters (660 feet), and it comes with luminous dial markers and hands, a stainless steel case, rubber band, and Japanese quartz movement, completely covered by a five-year warranty. Hunters, anglers, hikers, even joggers, may be impressed with a watch that has a compass plus many other useful features. The Timex Expedition Analog Compass 48751 for example has a built in electronic compass, considered very reliable, with a 4th hand compass needle, the red hand pointing north, based on the Declination adjustment scale. The strap is made of leather, and the watch itself is water resistant to 100 meters. The case of the watch is stainless steel, and comes with a useful INDIGLO night - light. If your gift recipient takes things a bit more seriously than the average person does, maybe the Suunto Vector Wristop Computer Watch with Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and Thermometer would be a better choice. The altimeter works at a range of up to 29,500 feet, and the watch is so full of features that it even has an automatic 24-hour memory that stores things like the altitude and even your ascent or descent rate for climbers. To help keep track of possible changes in the weather, a very important feature for many types of outdoor sports such as back country skiing and mountain climbing, this watch will even display the current temperature and barometric pressure. The Suunto Vector Wristop Computer Watch also has some basic watch features including alarms, pre-programmed calendars through the year 2089, a built in stopwatch and a countdown timer. The Suunto Vector Wristop Computer Watch is a bit on the large size, but this company is known for making watches a bit bigger than life, yet they usually fit comfortable.

What if the special person in need of a gift is a child who has just discovered the exploring bug? Then bestow the Disney Kid's Buzz Lightyear Compass & Sound Digital Watch upon them complete with Magnifying Lens. It has features that will make your special little explore feel as if they are ready to climb Mt. Everest, including a swing-aside lens that doubles as a magnifying glass, and a real working compass incorporated into the strap of the watch.

A watch can be the perfect gift, as long as you take the time to choose the perfect one for the gift recipient on your list. Spend some time getting to know whoever it is you are thinking of buying a watch, and before you know it, a gift of jewelry may be the next gift you give them when another occasion rolls around.

Buying an OTT - LITE Crafting Light

By Christina VanGinkel

Crafts people put hours upon hours of work into their various creations, whether it is something sewn, cross stitched, painted, crocheted, knitted, made of plastic canvas, beaded, or any number of other handcrafts. Artists who work with pens, paints, and pencils also invest uncountable hours on projects. After all these hours of work, it can be heart wrenching to step out into the daylight with the project in hand to realize that the colors are not what you thought they were, or that they do not even match at all. The lighting that craft people work under can have a profound effect on the finished product; especially if colors are being chosen as, the craft is being assembled, as bad lighting may make colors appear to match, when in all reality they are anything but matching.

Several companies make lighting products that are considered the equivalent of daylight, which produce light that allows you to see whatever project you are working on in a natural light condition, thus providing you with the opportunity to avoid costly and disastrous color mistakes. Some of these lamps are also equipped with magnifying lenses attached, providing one more additional feature to see your work easier.

The lighting options produced by OTT - LITE are considered by many in the hobby and business world of crafting, to be the ultimate choice when choosing one of these daylight lamps. With models ranging from floor lamps, to desk lamps, to even smaller models that clip right onto your workspace, you are sure to find an OTT - LITE to fit your needs and your desires. One in particular, the OTT - LITE TrueColor (TM) Portable Magnifier Lamp not only provides the user with 2X magnification, it also features a 13 watt bulb that should last for over 10,000 hours. The bulb itself is a low glare bulb to help avoid eyestrain so that you can work comfortably for longer spans of time if this has been a problem for you in the past. Even if eyestrain has not been an issue, it is still a feature that is well worth having, to help avoid any future issues along these lines. Prices of even these smaller OTT - LITE lamps can be pricey in comparison to similar models of other names. However, this is one of those times many of those people who have used both the OTT - LITES and some other brands, will tell you that the extra is well worth it for the quality of the product that comes with the name.

If a floor lamp is more to your liking, be sure to consider their OTT - LITE TrueColor(TM) Lexington Floor Lamp in a Brushed Nickel finish. It is elegant enough to use next to your favorite chair, say in the living room, and with its 18-watt bulb, and the ability to adjust its height from 46-1/2'' to 64''H, the OTT - LITE TrueColor(TM) Lexington Floor Lamp will work well for a wide range of projects. With no glare, details of the project you are working on will pop right out at you, and the colors are so true to life, you will soon be wondering how you ever worked without the aid of one of these truly amazing lamps.

For the serious crafter, looking to add a light to their craft room or dedicated craft space, and also in need of serious magnification, the OTT - LITE Easy View Craft Lamp with Bonus 3x Magnifier would be a perfect fit. It is fashioned after a gooseneck lamp, with an adjustable height from 50.75" - 62", and the magnifier attachment in a generous 6" diameter and an extension of the flexible magnifier 16" to 22". The OTT - LITE Easy View Craft Lamp is suitable for all types of detailed work. With its 18 Watt True Color tube, it will last over 10,000 hours. The bulb is manufactured to not put out a lot of heat, and be low on glare, which will help reduce any eyestrain that might occur when working under poor lighting. The OTT - LITES are energy efficient on top of all their other features, so if you are in the market for a daylight simulating craft light, be sure to check out the full line of OTT - LITES today.

Buying Guide For Basic Televisions

When you are ready to buy a new television, be prepared to spend some time looking for what you want. One day of shopping will not work, especially if it has been a while since you purchased a new television set. The first job you have is to determine the maximum size of the television. If you already have an entertainment center, measure the space for the TV. While you do not want the television to be too large, you do not want it too small either, or it will look odd in the space. Bring the measurement with you to the store so that you can compare it to the different options available.

Think about how far you will be from the television. If you have a very small living room, for example, you do not want to get a plasma television. You will not be able to see the television's picture well enough to make watching shows enjoyable. That means that your job will not be to find the biggest screen you can afford and go for it. Instead think about how well you will be able to see the screen. Another consideration if you are going the flat-screen route is whether or not people all around the viewing area will be able to see. One of the problems with this type of screen is that it appears black from some angles, so you need to keep that in mind if you have semi-circle seating in your living room.

Look at the special features that the television has. Are they features you need? For example, one of the popular features right now is ambient lighting, which projects from the back of the television to illuminate what you are watching. Will you use that feature? Will it enhance your television watching experience? How much extra are the televisions with this special feature? While you may decide that you can afford it and want to spring for the ambilight TV set, you may decide that you would rather get a nicer screen than spend on features you do not want.

Also be sure that any peripherals you have, such as speaker systems, DVD players, and VCRs (yes, people still use them) will work with the television you are getting. Be sure that they will go well and that you will have enough room in the space that you have for the television for all of the extras you have to go with it. Include these pieces in your space calculation if you need to. Consider the remote controls as well. If you do not mind having 24 remotes, then go for any television. If you do, then think about whether or not you can use your current remote or get a universal remote that will work for you.

Finally consider how much you watch television. That may seem like a silly point to consider, but if you are spending what could be a nice chunk of change for a television set, be sure that it will be used. If you watch the occasional movie, then you probably want to go to a lower-end model and spend your money on something you are more likely to use. If, however, you keep the television on constantly or are a fanatic about a number of shows, then you should spring for something nicer.

Be sure that you do not go over budget on your television set. While they are something that most people have, they are not a necessity for your life. You can get by without a television set for a while if you need to. Do not go into debt to buy one. If you need a little more cash, you can consider going without for a bit, or you can consider buying a really cheap one secondhand and keeping it until you get the money. You can find TVs secondhand for less than $10, and if you want to wait, get one of them to tide you over so that you are not out much in the end. Either way you should be sure that what you are spending is worth the value you will get from your new television set.

By Julia Mercer

Some Basic Considerations When Purchasing A Car

If you are in the car-buying market, chances are that you have at least some idea of what you want. You know that you would like a coupe or a mini-van, but that may be as far as you have gotten. In fact, if you are like some people, you are not even that far. You need a new car, but you are not sure what.

Well, I am here to help. I am not going to stress safety ratings and other issues that everyone will tell you. Here are the more practical points for your everyday life that you should think about when you will buy the car.

First, how many people will use the car on a regular basis? Is there ever an occasion when a larger group will need the car? For example, my sister-in-law drives a convertible that does not fit her three children. She has finally (and who knows why it took this long) decided that she needs to sell it. Although she usually is the only one in it, on the occasions when my brother-in-law has his SUV while she needs to go out, the kids are crammed. You need to think about these issues, too.

Next, what will you be transporting? Most people will transport themselves and the occasional suitcase. For other people, your job or frequent hobby requires that you will need to have more space. If you are a home improvement nut, then you will discover that you will need a certain amount of space to be able to carry home wood, plants, and other items. Be sure that you mention your transport needs when you are buying the car.

Where will you go in the car? If you will be traveling interstate miles only, then you have different needs from someone who may go off-road the car. If you travel in the mountains a good bit, for instance, you should look for models with all-wheel drive and that sit higher off the ground.

Beyond these basic concerns, you also need to think about whether or not you can afford the car. It is no coincidence that SUV sales have plummeted since this year's hurricane season when prices skyrocketed. People are not sure that they want to spend the money to pay for gas in these huge vehicles. Also call your insurance company to get a quote on the price of insuring the car.

If you will be getting a mini-van, think about the sliding doors. These days you can get them on the passenger and driver sides. Some vans also come with automatic doors now that will catch when the car "thinks" someone is trying to open or close the door. While those features are awesome additions for some families, they could be more of a danger for others.

Finally, will you need an automatic or manual transmission. While you may shiver at the thought of driving a car with manual transmission, they have some benefits. For one, they are less expensive to begin with the selling price of the car. They are less expensive to fix and are less likely to break down than automatics. Cars with manual transmission also get better gas mileage on interstates, but automatics are better if you will be in stop-and-go traffic a good bit.

These considerations are just a few of the ones that go into your decision to purchase a car. Many people do not think about front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive. Instead they purchase a car based on if they like the color or the interior or the special features. In reality, those issues are ones that you can worry about after the big decisions are out of the way. The most important point for you when buying a car is to remember that you absolutely should not go over your budget.

Determine your budget before you go shopping (even if you know you are not buying that day) so that you are not tempted to go overboard because you saw a car that you loved. This decision is a major one, so be sure to take your time so that you can make the right one. You need to be happy with your car for years to come.


By Julia Mercer

Buying A Wood Stove

Going back to the old days can be fun, if you have the right equipment. One such piece of equipment is a wooden stove, which you can get to put into your modern home.

If you plan to buy a wood stove, check out your floor plan first. Is there somewhere you can put the stove? You will need to decide how much room you want the stove to heat. Some floor plans have good designs for drafts and airflow, so you can plan to get a stove that will heat an entire floor. In other houses, that is not possible. You will need to scale your stove to the size of the are you think it will be able to heat. Keep this number in mind as you are planning because the size of the stove you get will depend on it.

If you have never bought a wood stove, take a sketch with you to the store. Explain to a knowledgeable (and make sure he or she is knowledgeable) sales clerk that you need a wood stove. Break out the sketch, complete with measurements, and ask for an opinion on how much you can heat. You need to be sure that the sales clerk is honest with you because you will waste your money if you buy a stove that is too big. You will end up with a smoky house, too, so the money will be wasted. Once you have determined the number of Btus, or British thermal units, you need, you are ready to select a wood stove.

Consider getting a wood stove with a catalytic system if you want a slow, controlled burn. These stoves are design to burn materials at lower temperatures to give you a more even heat. A non-catalytic wood stove will give you quicker heat, though, so compare the benefits of each. This system sends jets of air into the fire so that they burn more quickly. Deciding between the systems does not have much affect on your prices, except that non-catalytic systems have a wider range of price options available.

Pellet stoves are becoming more popular. They are about three times the price of the other two, but they give a clean burn. Instead of chopping logs and hauling in the wood, you will have to purchase wood pellets. They are processed wood waste that comes in easy-to-burn pellet form. You also will have a thermostat to control the temperature of the burning in pellet stoves. They are the safest of the options for wood stoves.

You will want to be sure that your stove does not have the combustor in direct contact with the flame, which is a problem on some older and less expensive models. Also look at other safety features. How high is the stove from the ground? How likely is the burning material to get out of the stove? How easy will it be to clean?

These options all should play a part in determining the correct wood stove for safety. Once you have made these determinations, you can turn to aesthetics. These stoves come in many varieties. Some of them have pedestals, for example, that will make them fit in more Victorian-era homes. Other wood stoves have steel or stone finishes, and these work for a rustic cabin look. If you have a modern home, then you can try to find a wood stove with a porcelain top. They come in many colors and will look great in any type of house.

Wood stoves are not for everyone, and you should consider that as well. Some people will not want the hassle of the wood stove. Even the pellet stove will need some cleaning that your typical heater system will not require. The plus side is that it is a unique addition to your house, and you may find that you enjoy being able to pay to heat only the rooms you use most often. Be sure that you think long and hard about buying a wood stove. Ask around. Get recommendations. Talk to friends who have purchased them. While they are a big investment, they are worth it if you feel good about the purchase and your family saves on heating costs over time.

By Julia Mercer

Buying A Toaster

A toaster is one of the most basic of home appliances. The ironic thing is that most people do not know what they need or want in a toaster, mainly because they are unsure of what is out there. Instead of learning about toasters, people pick up the first one they see, but there are options ranging from less than ten dollars to close to a hundred.

So, you are on a great toaster-buying expedition. Where do you begin? Well, start with what you need. How many people will use the toaster? How much toast will they make at the same time? How often will the toaster be used? Will they make toast only or hash browns, bagels, and other items?

Now that you know what you want, determine the size of the space you have. It is best to decide where the toaster will be and get something to fit than vice versa. Remember that it needs to sit flat and be close to an electrical outlet. Measure the space. Yes, get out the measuring tape. Determine the largest size toaster that you can accommodate. Now do not go beyond these measurements.

Next, let us return to the questions you asked yourself. How many slots did you decide? Your typical toaster will come with two or four slots, but if you have a large family or feed your entire neighborhood on a regular basis, you can spring for a nicer toaster with six or eight slots.

Do you make those bagels? How about Belgian waffles? Do you toast homemade bread? If you do any of those, then you should opt for the extra-wide slots; otherwise, the normal slots will be fine. Also think about the depth of the slots. While it may sound silly, there are some deep slot toasters that hash browns, toaster pastries, and other goodies will be too short to use without turning the toaster upside down to get to. You can find toasters with side-to-side slots or back-to-front slots. There really is no difference other than personal preference, but this is the time to decide.

Now, you can move on to the fun stuff - well, what fun stuff there is when it comes to toaster purchases. Some toasters come with special features. Reheating is one feature that works if you often forget your toast. It will not re-toast it, which will burn it. Instead, it will simply heat it up, kind of like a combination microwave-toaster. Another possible choice is the defroster, which I recommend if you put frozen pastries in your toaster. They do not toast right if they are frozen, and this feature is handy. Finally, some toasters have extenders that will pop the food higher in case you need it. See the previous note about short slots here. There are ways around the deep slots, and the extender feature is one of them. Just make sure that it will work well, and you will not end up with toast split in half.

Once you have the basics down, then you can move to the less functional options. Some people prefer a toaster that permits individual control of slots. If you and your honey make breakfast in the same area but not at the same time, this option may be one you want to consider. Some people also prefer a single-slot mechanism, so go for it. Your last decision will be the color of the toaster. Most of them are white, but there are an increasing number in black, as well as more eccentric colors.

Before you buy, you may want to check warranties. That is only necessary if you are buying a higher-end toaster. Otherwise, you are not out much if it goes kaput in six months, but if you are getting a pricey model, you should look for some assurance that you will be able to replace it if you need to. The warranty should be in the box and do not bother with purchasing additional store warranties or insurance. The cost of the toaster versus the cost of the protection will not make it worth it.

Now that you have picked your toaster, you can move on to bigger items, like the microwave, dishwasher, and stove. Before you know it, you will have picked all of your appliances.

By Julia Mercer

Buying a Futon

Futons are a great furniture choice. They work for small apartments and college dorm rooms as well as for homes with a family room. They are versatile and modifiable, making them a solid investment in furniture.

The first point you should remember is that a futon is a purchase that you make and expect to last. You should not go into a futon purchase without at least a five-year warranty. This warranty is especially important if you will be using the futon as a couch and a bed because there is a danger of body damage in that situation.

Next check out the mattress. A futon is made so that people can sleep on it, whether for one night or permanently. You should purchase a thick mattress so that people who are sleeping on it will not be uncomfortable. Also ask to be sure that the mattress you are purchasing with the futon is a standard size so that you do not run into problems trying to replace it or find sheets.

One of the biggest choices you will have with regard to the mattress is the material. The typical futon mattress is a cotton-foam combination. Some are all cotton or have a cotton/polyester blend, though, so check to see if you have any allergies or a major preference for one type of mattress. You should try to purchase a heavy futon if you will not be moving it. If you will move it or alternate between the bed and mattress frequently, then you will want to check that it is light enough to move. Otherwise, a heavier mattress and frame will help ensure that your futon will last longer.

If you will need to make the conversion frequently, then you should consider the cotton and polyester mattress. It will be easier to roll up tightly and is lighter, so one person could take care of the conversion alone. Cotton and wool mattresses are available as well, and while they are a little more expensive, they will be the softest of the futon mattresses and will resemble most closely a regular bed.

When you are out shopping, be sure that you check to see how the mattress feels. You should go to a store where there are displays. Sit on it and put your arms back. Lie down completely. Make sure that it will be large enough and that it will be roomy since you will want to stick with it for several years.

Many futons come with a wooden frame, which is wonderful if you want something durable and elegant. Try to be sure that you get yellow pine or another very hardy wood. Otherwise, the futon will not last. Avoid softer woods, such as cherry, because they get damaged easily, and most people who have futons use them often. That means that the softer woods will not be able to live up to the wear and tear that you will put a soft wood frame to.

A final point to check before getting your futon is whether or not it has a wall clearance. Some futons are designed so that they rest against the wall as couches and do not need to be pulled out as beds. Others, however, need to be pulled out several inches before they can be converted to a bed. Make sure that you will have enough room to use a pull-out futon or look for one that does not have a wall clearance.

Futons are great investments for long-term furniture options. They are wonderful because they are so versatile. You can buy one for a dorm room and convert it to the couch only when you get an apartment. Futon covers are readily available (and you need one, by the way), so you can change the look of your futon as your tastes and price range changes. You will be able to use it as a bed in a spare room when you are out on your own and then can use it as additional seating or a foyer bench in a larger house. Think about this purchase carefully before you jump into it. You could be living with it for a long time to come.

By Julia Mercer

Buying Guide For a Safe Crib

There are numerous considerations when you are buying a crib from your baby, and they range from the color of wood to the style of the design. Some of the most important questions you should have, however, deal with the safety of the crib. Be sure to keep these points in mind when you are purchasing a crib for your little one.

First check the design. Each corner will be secured with a post. That post should not stick up more than 1/16th of an inch over the top of the crib railing. If it does, that means that an older baby can get caught on the crib railing and cause a fall - or at least torn clothing.

Avoid buying a crib with cut-outs. Some cribs have designs that have cute little cut-outs of dolls or teddy bears or hearts. They are adorable, and parents love them. They are also adorable for babies, who may get their little heads stuck in the cut-outs. Avoid these cribs altogether. There is no way to alter them to make them safe.

You want to think about the height of the crib both from the ground and between the mattress springs and the top of the crib railing. It will work best if the side rail lowers. When baby is first born, then you will find that lowering the railing will allow you to put baby into the crib more easily. When he or she is older, however, you will want to be able to put the crib up to keep baby from climbing out.

A large or particularly active baby or toddler will find that he or she can climb out if the side rail is too low. In addition, a crib that sits too high off the ground can cause a problem if the baby climbs out. Consider the safety not only for a tiny baby but for an older one as well.

There are a number of safety factors to consider when the crib is put together. If you are getting a used crib, ask to see it put together before you buy. If you are purchasing a new crib, then you will need to be sure to see a store display before you buy the crib.

The biggest issue is the width between the slats. While some parents believe that safety concerns have gone overboard, this is one area where no parent should look the other way. If the spaces between the slats are 2 1/2 inches wide or wider, a baby will be able to fit between them or get stuck. Avoid these cribs. A good rule of thumb when you are out shopping is that slats wider than a soft drink can are too wide.

The crib should be stable when it is put together properly. You should find that when you put your hand on the corner post or lean onto the crib, it should not move. You should be able to shake the corner posts slightly and find that the crib stays fairly still. If there is any instability, the move on to another model.

Also do not settle for any broken or missing parts, whether they are structural parts or screws or other small pieces of hardware. If you purchase a crib that has any parts missing, then you need to return it. If you are considering a used crib, then you should pass on it if it has any parts missing.

The mattress fitting is the last place you should check. When the mattress is on the crib, it should fit snugly. If you can put more than two of your fingers between the side of the crib and the mattress, then the mattress does not fit. A baby could roll into the space and suffocate. You will need to purchase a larger mattress for this type of crib.

Be sure that you check out all of the safety features of the crib before you buy. Also look for safety seals that let you know that the crib meets (or preferably exceeds) the government's required safety standards. Once you have a safe crib, then you can look for models that are aesthetically pleasing as well.

By Julia Mercer

A Guide To Buying Paving Stones

What are paving stones, you ask? Well, in most cases, I would say that if you do not know, then you should consider not buying them. Paving stones, however, are a little different. They are a gardening secret. If you are a gardener and have gravel, mulch, or steppingstone paths in your garden, then you need to know about paving stones.

They are small stones, typically square, that have interlocking pieces. They work like some wooden or tile floors. You will get the tiles and then put them together to create a beautiful and elegant path for your garden. The bonus is that they look better than less expensive options, such as gravel, but they are far less than brick and hold up better over time.

Once you have made the decision to take the plunge and get the paving stones, then you should think about the budget you have in mind. It is important with the stones to know your budget because you will find that you can spend more than you wanted if you are not careful. Once you have a budget in mind, measure a rough area that you want to path.

You will not be able to cut the stones with the interlocking pieces. They will not work if you do, so that means that while you need a rough idea of the size, you need to be a little flexible in case you find something that you love but will require a little adjustment. Next, think about the color that will go with your garden plans. Stones come in most colors, but the most popular are red, white, gray, brown, green, and blue.

The next decision will be what type of foundational material you want. The choices are sand, concrete, and gravel. Sand works the best and is the least expensive, but avoid it in areas with a lot of rain. Concrete is much more difficult to put in but worth it if you want to spend the time on it. Gravel is a simple choice but not if there will be little bare feet in your garden area. Once you have decided on a foundation, then you can move on to selecting the stone.

Now, you know your budget, the colors, the size of the space, and the foundational materials. It is time to pick the stones. Take your time. Go to a nursery as well as quarries or rock stores. Look at all of the options out there and then pick what you think will work best with the space you have.

If cost is not a factor for you, then you can ask for a custom-build. Some builders will make a cast of the area you want to path and then work on making a paving stone path that is the perfect size for your area. These paths are great if you will be in the area a long time and do not anticipate any major changes to your gardening area.

There is nothing that requires you to use the same type of paving stone in every area of your garden. You can create internal paths that have set stones, for example, and then make a "crazy" path on the border areas. With a crazy path, you would get pieces of stone instead of pre-made paving stones. These pieces are more unique and less expensive. Then you will be able to put down the foundational material and lay out the paving stones as you go, leaving spaces between them.

Buying good paving stones is a great way to make your garden more beautiful. These stones work better than brick because brick is prone to crack over time. It also can become uneven unless you are skilled at it, and that can be rough for walking. Paving stones, however, allow for a lot more flexibility in putting them together. Ask around and you may find that there are discount stones available at quarries that have excess rock. You also may come up with new ideas that you had not yet considered for your garden. At the very least, you will be creating an amazing space that looks elegant and hosts your garden for years to come.

By Julia Mercer