Sunday, April 30, 2006

In Love With Food

I have finally admitted to myself that I have an obsession with food. It is something that is tough to admit because we are taught that all obsessions and addictions are wrong. Plus when I think of other addictions, such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling, food seems so innocuous.

Then I really think about it. Is an addiction to food innocuous? Well, the answer is no. Food is good in many ways. It provides us with sustenance. It helps us to grow strong and to be healthy. It even sits with us as we talk to old friends or meet a new lover.

The bad side of food, though, can be dark. It also sits with us at night when we pine away our lives being sad about the state of affairs. It is there when we feel terrible for already being overweight. It is there when we need something to pick us up or something to allow us to wallow in self-doubt.

And that is when eating becomes a problem.

I am overweight, and I never thought that I would be at this point in my life. I have gained a good deal of weight over the past three years, and I am struggling with what to do about it. Only over the past couple of months have I noticed that I do, indeed, eat when I am not hungry. I do eat when I feel bad. I do eat good foods, like mashed potatoes and bread, when I am feeling blue. I am not sure that I can stop this obsession with food, but I know that I must.

The reason food is so dangerous as an addiction is because it can kill you. We think of the danger that alcohol and drugs cause to the body, but food is the same. The effects are blamed on heart attacks or strokes or whatever other health problems we have, but the underlying reason is the food we are eating. We are a nation making ourselves unhealthy with our poor food choices, but we are unwilling or unable to admit it.

Unlike the people in groups like Overeaters Anonymous, I do not believe that my obsession with food is beyond my control. I do not believe that it is something that I have to fight to give up forever. It simply is something that I have to change about my life.

I love food, and I do not want that to change. I just want to change the kind of food I love so that I can add to the joy in my life with food instead of taking away from it. I am going to begin by using the Sonoma diet plan to bring healthier foods back into my life. There was a time when I was very healthy. I ate well, and I enjoyed it. Over time, however, that eating has given way to foods that are not so healthy. I have stocked my cabinet with foods that I know are not good for me because they are easy to make or because I can grab and eat them without thinking.

Now I am going to make an effort to have a good number of healthy foods available for snacking. I can have fresh fruits and veggies. I also can have granola bars available and trail mix that I have made instead of brownies and cheese crackers.

And I am not going to deny myself the possibility of ever eating those brownies or cheese crackers. Doing that would defeat the purpose in my mind. I want to be able to choose what I eat and to know that I can choose to eat something that is not healthy once and then go back to my normal routine. I believe I can do that and that food can once again become my friend.
I have decided that I am going to begin with my next shopping trip. I am going to toss the bad stuff and begin anew with the good foods that I enjoy. Instead of stocking up on junk foods, I will fill my cabinets and my refrigerator with the good stuff, and it will be worth it in the end.

By Julia Mercer

The Final Four: Sonoma Style

The remaining four foods that make up the Sonoma diet are delicious foods. In the first article, we covered six of the foods: almonds, blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Each of these foods is versatile, though I do admit to some concern about whether or not we can eat enough of them to do the diet properly. The next four foods are whole grains, olive oil, grapes, and spinach. I will share with you my thoughts on these foods.

Whole grains are probably a bigger transition than I had imagined. They are one of the transitions that we have already begun to make although we are not completely there. Instead of white bread, we now buy wheat bread. If we get pitas or tortillas or any other bread-based food, we pick up the whole wheat variety. Where it will get a little more difficult will be in the cereals and the flour. We will need to begin to buy whole wheat flour. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure how much of it is available in our grocery store. We live in a small town where there are only standard chain grocery stores, and they are not even that big. Even our Wal-Mart Super Center does not carry a lot of variety. That means that we will have to stock up when we head out to the organic grocery stores, which we visit only occasionally.

The next of the foods is olive oil. We use mostly olive oil or a no-calorie cooking spray now. I actually did not realize that you can get a good portion of your healthy fats from olive oil. I had never really thought about it until I was planning out meals for my toddler. We switched to olive oil a while back. My husband has juvenile diabetes, and we knew that it was better for him. We still have canola oil, but we have had the same bottle in our cabinet for about a year. We rarely use it. I suppose that we will make the complete switch now if we are going to go to the Sonoma diet system. For even the most ardent users of vegetable oil or lard, this transition should not be difficult. You are basically talking about cooking your food in something different; there is little taste difference to notice.

I enjoy grapes, but I see the same limitations for them as with the other fruits. I enjoy having a handful of grapes here and there, but I cannot imagine that we will have anything else to do with them. I do not know how they would be with salads or other dishes, which are the only ways I can think of to use them. One of the reasons I am so excited about the move to the Sonoma diet is that I will be able to find out unique ways of using these foods.

The final food in the Sonoma top 10 is spinach. This vegetable, like broccoli, has a reputation for not being very tasty. Unlike with its counterpart, however, I am not so sure that I disagree. In reality, the verdict is out on spinach for me. I know that I do not like it plain. I do not want to have just plain old spinach. I will eat it in salads, and I enjoy having it then. I also enjoy having it in some dishes. We had spinach lasagna at a potluck once, and it was very tasty. I have never even made regular lasagna, however, so I am not sure how one goes about making spinach lasagna. Maybe I will learn.

I have now convinced myself that I have to get to the library and check out the Sonoma diet book. It is on a hold shelf waiting for me. All I have to do is pick it up, and I have decided that I want to get it. I have never been this excited about meal planning, but I think this could be the start of something really yummy. The Sonoma diet is based on the diets in wine country, where people are known for their decadent tastes in food. I am hoping that the diet turns out as well.

By Julia Mercer

Five Sonoma Diet Foods

We are thinking of trying the Sonoma diet. I am going to the library today to get the book, but I know the basics. I am not sure how it works, but I do know that I enjoy the foods that are part of the plan.

The basic premise of the Sonoma diet is that we should get a rich variety of foods. Instead of eating the same things day in and day out, we should be eating something that will challenge the taste buds. Often people think that are eating good foods when they have take-out pizza or Chinese. In reality, though, their taste buds rarely taste foods, and they become accustomed to the lack of variety.

That is where the Sonoma diet is supposed to be different. It gives people a range of foods so that they feel they are eating delicious meals. It will take some time for some people to get used to, I am sure, but I am confident that it will work well in my family.

The Sonoma diet includes some basic foods. All of them are said to contain antioxidants, which help keep one healthy, and they are able to provide a lot of vitamins and minerals as well. Blueberries and strawberries are two of the foods on the list. I am excited about that because I love both fruits. The trick for us will be to come up with unique ways to include those foods in our diets. We can have blueberry pancakes or slice up some strawberries in the mornings, but I think that will get old after a while. We will be looking for ways to include those fruits in our diets beyond those small uses.

The next food is bell pepper. I am a little less certain about bell pepper. I like them under some circumstances. I do not mind eating them on pizza, and I often include them in bakes or casseroles. That is primarily because I do not care much for the taste, but I know they are healthy. I do not hate the taste, but I have no desire for it either. Instead I am thinking about ways that we will be able to add bell pepper to our diets without forcing ourselves to eat something that we really do not care to have.

Almonds are also on the list of top 10 foods in the Sonoma diet. They contain calcium, protein, and other vital nutrients. They can be high in fat, but if you watch the amount you eat, then you will help to make sure that you are not getting too much in the way of fat. My concern here is the same. We can have a handful of almonds here and there, and we can sprinkle them over casseroles. Otherwise, though, I am not sure what we will do with them.

I do not have that problem when it comes to tomatoes, which also are on the Sonoma diet list. Tomatoes, which contain a great deal of Vitamin C, are a wonderfully diverse fruit. You can stew them, put them in casseroles, use them in quiche, make marinara sauces, and eat them raw. I could eat tomatoes everyday of my life and never think twice about it. I loved them when I was pregnant, too, which bodes well for my plans for the summer.

The final of the first five foods on the Sonoma diet is broccoli, which I really think is an underrated vegetable. Broccoli has this reputation for being disgusting. People think of it in the same category as Brussels sprouts (which, by the way, are pretty tasty, too), but broccoli really is delicious. My one-year-old loves broccoli, though he only eats the tops. My husband and I also eat it. Even one of the cats will nab a piece if she can. I do not see any problem with adding broccoli to our daily line up of foods that we eat. As it is, we probably eat it twice a week.

When I think about the Sonoma diet, I get excited. I want to run to the library right now and start reading so that I can learn to start using this tasty diet to change our lives.

By Julia Mercer

Getting Joy From Food Not Drink

One of the concepts brought up in the Sonoma Diet is that we should get pleasure from our food. There are two parts to that statement, but it is the second on which I hope to focus. The first part means that we should enjoy our food. We should eat slowly and savor our meals. We really should take the time to like our food so that we do not resort to quick, processed foods.

The second part is that we should not get our pleasure from liquids, but from solids. Now that is something that is tough for me. It is probably my biggest fear when it comes to the Sonoma diet and to my eating habits in general. I have been recording what I eat for the past week or so. I have discovered that I get about half of my calories from what I drink instead of what I eat. No, I am not kidding. I was shocked to find that out myself. I drink far too many soft drinks.

So the biggest diet change for me with the diet has been getting rid of soft drinks. Actually I did not get rid of them. They are still in my fridge, but I did that for a reason. For starters, I had just bought two 24-packs of drinks and could not see tossing them. Second, I have the power to choose to drink water instead of soft drinks. I am not drinking water because that is all I have, and that is a good choice to be able to make.

I also bought some herbal tea. I have never been a huge fan of hot tea, but I am learning to like it. I bought a decaffeinated nighttime tea that should help me to get to sleep gently and easily. Then I bought some vanilla hazelnut tea. I have tried the nighttime tea, which is mint. I have not tried the hazelnut yet, but I am looking forward to it. I really think that it is going to be very tasty and a good change from soft drinks.

Of course, the diet still permits me to have my coffee although I have switched to artificial sweetener. My eventual plan is to wean myself to drinking black coffee, but I am taking things one step at a time at this point.

I have not had a soft drink in about 36 hours right now. That may not seem like much, but it is to me. It has been a very long time since I have gone that long without a soft drink. Yesterday things were rough. Mountain Dew was taunting me every time I opened the refrigerator. I was not sure how I was going to get through it. Today, though, I realize that I am able to make it without a soft drink. I do not have the problems doing that I would have imagined yesterday.

Interesting I am finding that the Sonoma Diet is right. I have enjoyed my meals more, and I think that is in part because I am drinking water with them. I am able to focus my taste buds on my food instead of on my drinks. That is an interesting experience.

Yesterday I had only two cups of coffee and then all water. Today I probably will have a cup of tea at some point, but for the most part I am drinking water.

I am ensuring that I have 64 ounces of water everyday. Today is only my second day, so I know that my body is still holding on to the water for a while. It will take about five days, according to what I have read, for my body to know that it can shed the water I am drinking. At that point, you are supposed to lose a good bit of weight in a couple of days.

Overall I am finding that pulling myself away from the sugary drinks and foods that make up much of the American diet is not as difficult as I had imagined. I am struggling a bit, but I feel confident today that I can make it through the diet to become healthier.

By Julia Mercer

Changing Eating Habits

We are on Day 2 of the Sonoma Diet. So far the food has been really delicious, and we are not hungry. This is the first time in my life I have ever been on a diet, so I was unsure how I would do. I was afraid that I would be starved the whole time. I am actually finding it easier already.

The Sonoma Diet right now is the most popular diet in the United States. For me, that is not very important. I tend not to go with trends, but I can see why it is appealing to so many groups of people. I want to share our experience with you so that you can see how the diet works.

The first task is to go through the cabinets. This process is called Day Zero in the book. We basically got out 2 bins. In one we put foods that are out of our lives now. Those foods were anything that had sugar or was not a whole grain. The Sonoma Diet book has a list of ingredients, and we have to get rid of everything that has any of those ingredients in it. Then in the other bin we put everything that is restricted for the first wave of the diet. These foods are ones that are allowable after you break yourself of your sugar habit.

We ended up with a decent-sized bin of stuff to throw away and a fair amount of stuff that will be restricted in the beginning. Most of the restricted stuff for us was canned fruits and vegetables that are not permitted right now. We will be able to eat those foods although we are supposed to wean ourselves off canned vegetables because of the sodium content.

Then we went grocery shopping. It was interesting because there were some foods on our list that I had never seen before. For example, we had to get two bottles of roasted red peppers. I was not aware that you could have roasted red peppers already cooked for you, but there they were with the olives. It was a fun shopping trip. We spent $98 for five days of the foods, but we discovered a couple of things when we got home.

First we had to buy a couple of condiments and spices that we will not have to get later in the diet because they will become staples for us. Then the recipes in the book are for four people. We have two adults and a one-year-old. We are making the full recipe, but we have leftovers. That means that the five days of food will end up being about eight or nine days. We will not be spending as much as I had thought.

The breakfast for the first two days is the same. We can have two scrambled eggs, which we make with Mrs. Dash and pepper, and one slice of whole grain toast. It actually is a good-sized breakfast, especially if you are like us and do not always eat breakfast.

Lunch yesterday was a Greek Salad with shrimp. We broiled salad shrimp in the oven and then combined the salad ingredients. It had fresh spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, radishes, red onion, and a homemade vinaigrette. The dressing was simple to make, and we poured it and some feta cheese on the salad right before we served it.

Last night we were supposed to have chicken pockets. Because we did not get parchment paper, we ended up having a casserole-type dish. It was not a casserole because it had no cheese and no creamy filling, but we put everything together and baked it. The dish had spices covering chicken, artichokes, asparagus, sugar peas, and tomatoes. It was amazing! We really enjoyed the meal, and we definitely will add it to the list of dishes we will have again.

We are weighing ourselves each morning when we get up. This morning my husband had lost three pounds, and I had lost two. I am sure some of that is just normal fluctuation, but it is very encouraging to us to see weight dropping. We will see how it goes for the rest of the diet.

By Julia Mercer

Friday, April 28, 2006

Curing your Home's Curb Appeal Problems

By Christina VanGinkel

A house's exterior can have a lasting impression of how someone else perceives your home, and it can be a good or bad impression. Even if the inside of your house is immaculate, the exterior can leave a bad impression. The curb appeal of a home should be as fresh and welcoming as it can be because of this. If your home's exterior is in need of some freshening up, check out these tips to get you started.

Consider the condition of your front door. Is the paint or finish chipped, or peeling? Is it scuffed, or marked? Would a good scrubbing fix these issues, or is it in dire need of a paint job or even replacement? A door that is new or newly fixed up can lend sophistication and inspiration to get going on the rest of the exterior's fixing up.

Is your home in need of a paint job or cleaning? Mold and mildew can be issues especially in certain parts of the country. A good scrubbing is all that is often needed to get your house shining like new. A power washer works well or there are companies that can be hired to come and clean them for a fee. If cleaning is not an option and neither is painting, maybe it is time to reside the house. There are many options to choose from and almost any new siding you choose will add years to the exterior of your home if it is installed properly.

If you have bushes around the home, do they need a good pruning or might the landscaping be better without them all together. Bushes were once standard in many landscape designs, but as we learn how well our homes can look with less 'stuff' around them, bushes are often the first thing to go. Consider replacing them, if you decide they need to go, with other plants that are not so overpowering.

If your home has shutters, could they do with a cleaning or painting? Are all of the shutters intact, and matched, and if not, maybe it is time for them to go too. Some house features such as shutters were overused in home designs. They actually look well on some house styles, but not every single house design. Yet I have seen them on everything from a colonial style, to a log cabin, to a Spanish style home. They look inviting on some, and ridiculous on others.

Do you have a dog that spends time outside on a run? Is this visible from the front of the house, and if so, does it at least blend in with some shrubbery? If not, maybe erecting a fence that would look well with the rest of the house to help camouflage the run would be a good idea. Besides dog runs, other exterior features that might not be very pleasant to look at could be camouflaged in much the same way. If you have an older tool, or garden shed for example, spruce up its exterior or camouflage it.

If a sidewalk runs in front of your house, consider the condition of it. If the cement or stone is broken or it has become uneven over the years, not only is it an eyesore, it could be an accident in the waiting. Consult with the city to see if you could replace or repair it. If it is in bad shape, most communities are more than happy to have residents fix the section in front of their own homes. To avoid problems though, be sure to get proper authorization.

If you have any large trees, now would be a good time to check for insect damage, rotting branches, or other damage from wind or lightning. Paying to have a few limbs pruned is going to be less expensive than to pay to have your neighbor’s roof repaired when a damaged tree limb from your yard falls on it.

Simply mowing your yard, taking care of a weed problem, or fertilizing the lawn to bring back a healthy green to it, can all be easy and relatively inexpensive fixes to get the outside of your home looking good.

If you have a driveway, could it use a cleaning or resurfacing? Are your garage doors in good condition or could they use a paint job or more?

It is oftentimes the things we see each time we walk in and out of our own front door, the things we see and take for granted, that are often in need of a bit of sprucing up or replacing. We see them so often; we no longer 'see' them. Try to assess your house the way a person seeing it for the first time might, and you may suddenly see all sorts of areas that could do with a bit of cleaning and redoing!

Small Houses and Apartments can be Organized Spaces

By Christina VanGinkel

Anyone who lives in a small house or apartment is often in a continual battle of the bulge with his or her belongings. Closets fill up, shelves overflow, and living spaces start to feel cramped as everyday byproducts of existence (think magazines and mail) start to build up.

Sometimes the thought alone of trying to gain control is enough to send someone into hiding, and with the maze his or her living space has become, that might not be very difficult to accomplish! Seriously, keeping on top of how you handle the influx of items into your living space can have a huge impact on how you essentially live.

Before you buy one more item, including the basics of living like groceries or a roll of bathroom tissue, think about where you are going to put it when you get it home. With this mindset in place, take a walk through your living space and consider if there are large items taking up too much space or not working to their fullest advantage. Also, take note of any piles of small items that might be better stored in some other manner.

When contemplating how your living space is working, consider if there are any pieces that might be better utilized if they had more than a single use. For example, if you have an ottoman and a coffee table, could you replace the two with a single piece that works as both, or a coffee table that has built in storage beneath the top. The space could be used to store anything from magazines to extra blankets. If your kitchen has a counter, and it is open to another room, and home to a small table, could you live without the space-hogging table and instead use stools at the counter for dining? Is there a hall closet that is an impending black hole of junk? Take the time to clean it out and organize it. A single closet can provide much more room than most people realize. It could be a craft cubby, an office, a sewing nook, or all sorts of things. It could just be a great place to store all your off-season gear or as a storage space for whatever bulk item, you are most in need of storage for. When a closet starts to become cluttered though, it has an increased probability of just going over the deep end where the clutter is concerned. What once might have been a decent amount of storage space is soon nothing more than one hundred percent wasted space.

Do not overlook vertical space and space you do not see immediately. Can a shelf be placed along the top of a wall, or is there unused space in the backs of cabinets? Space is a visual thing, and if we do not see the space right out in front of us, we may not be using it to its fullest potential. Wall space is also often extremely underused in small spaces. Hooks on the backs of doors, racks on walls, a collection of hooks in the kitchen, can all be just what you need. Getting things up, off a floor, is a big step to getting control of any space big or small, but especially so in smaller spaces. When we have to step over piles, and walk around things, we can become overwhelmed with the clutter. By at least pulling the stuff upward, we can better see what is there in front of us, and we will at least have the chance to get rid of unwanted and extras. If that sweater you have not worn in six months is at the bottom of a pile on the floor, it is easy to leave it there and just keep stepping over it. If it is hung up on a hook, where you can see it, you are reminded to either wear it or else get rid of it.

Living in an organized small house or apartment does not have to be some wishful dream. It can be a reality. A bit of perseverance might be called for, to get to a point of organization if it is lacking, but stick with it. You will be happy you took the time and effort to discover all the space that was just waiting to be put to use.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Delphi MyFi XM2GO Portable XM Satellite Radio Receiver with Home / Car Kits

By Christina VanGinkel

A commercial airs on a local radio station about the cost of satellite radio. It relays that tale of a woman who wants to get satellite radio for her husband, but the sales person she is talking too comments that her husband must be a lucky guy. The sales person would love to have satellite radio but could never afford it. The commercial goes on with banter between the salesperson and woman about how if you want to listen to satellite radio in more than one location, say the car and at home, you have to have a separate receiver for each. It also goes on about how all of these receivers and subscriptions for each can really add up to a large amount of money initially and each month thereafter.

Let me tell you here and now that I believed this commercial without question. A big music lover, satellite radio is something that I had felt might be worth the cost, until I listened to them talk about how limiting the concept was on where you could use it, unless you were willing to purchase separate receivers and subscriptions.

So imagine my surprise when I was telling this all to a friend and she told me I should really check out the facts, as she had heard that there were portable units that you just took with you wherever you went. Sort of like an MP3 player or Walkman style unit, that you just used different antennas with, depending on where you were.

I decided to investigate a little further, and sure enough, the first thing I discovered was the Delphi MyFi XM2GO Portable XM Satellite Radio Receiver with Home / Car Kits. It comes with everything someone might want to have with an XM satellite Radio Receiver, including a car kit, portable kit, office (home) kit, and a remote. Their ad actually states that the 'The Delphi XM MyFi comes complete with all of the accessories needed to enjoy XM anywhere.' Bundled with all of this is a rechargeable battery, all necessary antennae, stereo ear bud headphones for those times you want to listen but other people around you might not want to, and a belt clip that doubles as a stand. Also included is a protective carrying case to keep your Delphi MyFi XM2GO Portable protected from life's little bumps, a battery for the included remote, and user manuals in both English and Spanish. This is truly a bundle of accessories that has contemplated every possible need and provided it, so there is no having to run back to the store for any forgotten items.

If all of these features were not enough to satisfy, the Delphi MyFi XM2GO Portable also comes with a nifty feature that allows you to record up to five hours of radio for those times the receiver might be out of range of reception. If you have ever done any off trail hiking (just think of being at the bottom of a canyon with the rock walls all around), and you will know just when those five hours of your favorite station, recorded, will come in handy.

Designed with such abilities as to skip to a track when using the recording element, and features such as an illuminated six line LCD screen, and music, news, sports, talk, weather and more will be literally at your fingertips wherever and whenever you want.

The unit weighs in at just over seven ounces, but after handling one, I can report that though small, the unit is sturdy, enough so to not feel as if you might damage it by transferring it from car to office and back. While care needs to be taken with any electronic device, this unit should hold up for many years of enjoyable use and service.

If you have ever considered satellite radio, but the limitations or cost of several receivers was daunting to the point that you just said forget about it, now is a good time to reinvestigate these nifty little electronic wonders. This unit retails for less than two hundred dollars, a subscription to XM satellite radio is required, and at a cost of approximately $12.99 a month, even that is reasonable.

Televisions in Kids Rooms

The other day when my kids and I were out shopping, my 5 year old pointed to a princess pink television set and asked me if she could have it for her room. It was an adorable television set, perfect for any fan of the Disney princesses. Of course I didn't buy it on the spot, but it did get me to thinking: when, if ever, is it appropriate to have a television in a child's room?

My daughter's friend Ashley has one--the same princess pink television set, in fact. Ashley's mom says that the TV helps Ashley to falls asleep at night. I ran that one by my husband, since some nights getting the kids to sleep is somewhat of a challenge. "Imagine," I said, "Tucking the kids into their beds and then just turning a kid friendly show on in order to lull them to sleep". My husband still said no.

I actually agree with him, but for different reasons. When it comes to televisions in kids rooms, I think a lot depends on the age of a child. A 5 year old probably already watches enough TV during the day, so there's no need to have it on at sleep time. Also, there aren't many preschool age shows on after 6 PM, so a DVD player would really be needed if we wanted our child to watch kid-friendly shows at night. Also, young children are still learning how to fall sleep on their own. I wouldn't want my child to have to rely on having the television on in order for her to fall asleep at night-- that would just be setting her up for a lifetime of sleep problems.

Do I think it's appropriate for older children to have a television set in their room? Well, it depends on the child. If the child is a good student and isn't laying in his or her room all day watching TV, then I think it's fine. Let's face it, most young adults don't really want to watch the same shows as their parents do at night, so I'm okay with an older child watching TV in their room once in a while.

Some people may not agree with me and may think that the family should watch TV together, but I don't really look at television viewing as a family activity. It's not really a social event and it's hard to find shows or DVDs that the whole family will enjoy.

Still, when it comes to the princes pink televisions set, I could find a place for t in my home. "How about the kid's playroom?" I asked my husband. He reminded me about the 1000 year old RCA that we have down in the kid's playroom.
"We don't need another TV", he said.

So I thought about that-- a TV in our kid's playroom. Last year we had our basement finished and it cost quite a pretty penny but it was worth it. The goal was to have an adorable playroom for our kids, a place for all of their toys, games, trucks, dolls, kitchen sets, and dollhouses. A place where they would frolic and play to their little hearts content. The room is painted a sunny yellow color and it exudes happiness. So when my kids go down there, what do they want to do? Do they play with their train table? Do they play with their Dora the Explorer kitchen set? No. Instead they head right over to that 1000 year old RCA model TV and put on Nickelodeon. Or the Disney channel.

My husband still didn't think that justified buying the princess pink television set. The playroom is for playing, he said. There shouldn't even be a TV down there.

Which brings me to last night. My husband and I like to watch the show "American Idol". We had Tivoed it the night before and were settling in in the family room to watch it. But our kids wanted to watch a "Blue's Clues" DVD. So what did we do? Well, we couldn't send the kids down to watch their DVD on the playroom TV, because the 1000 year old RCA model is so ancient that we need special cables to hook a DVD player up to it-- cables that we don't have.

So we let the kids watch their DVD in the family room. And yes, we had to wait to watch our Tivoed "American Idol" show. And suddenly, even to my husband, that pink princess TV was looking mighty good...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Appeal of Flat Screen Televisions

By Christina VanGinkel

Have you ever noticed how appealing certain electronics are? Items like plasma and LCD televisions for example. I have been intrigued by them from the very start. What it was that fascinated me, I honestly cannot say. I never wanted a large screen television; they just did not thrill me. The pictures were not always clear, the color was lacking, and they just took up too much space. Then some ingenious company rolled out the first truly flat televisions, the ones that could be hung on a wall, and both small and large format suddenly seemed quite appealing.

Living in a small town as we do, the first time I was able to see any sort of selection of LCD or plasma screen televisions was when our local Wal-Mart started to carry them. Every trip to town for a while included a side stop at Wal-Mart so I could browse the electronics section and admire them. I was coy about it, saying I wanted to see if they had any new clearance, or to check to see if the craft department had in any of the yarn I was using to make whatever project I was currently working on.

Let me clarify right here and now, that I do not own one, not yet anyhow. We have three televisions in our home, a 19" television that is about that same many years old, a 25" television in the living room that is about ten years old, and a thirteen-inch television in our son's room that he mainly uses for playing his Sony Playstation games. If he wants to watch a movie in his room, he usually pops a DVD into his computer and watches it on his 17" LCD computer monitor.

I have put one of the smaller sized LCD televisions on my wish list. I have told my husband at least a dozen times, that if he decides to buy me a television for any upcoming celebrations, such as our 25th wedding anniversary next winter, a 19" or 23" LCD screen television for the bedroom would be my number one pick. He just rather rolled his eyes when I asked, but I figure that if I keep dropping hints, I have a fairly decent chance of him buying us one, as he is always open to suggestions for gift giving. He would much rather go into a store knowing exactly what he is going to purchase than to walk around having to actually shop.

Some might wonder why I would not ask for a larger LCD or plasma screen television if I am going to ask for one at all, and I might sometime in the future if I felt that we needed a new television in the living room, but it is our one in the bedroom that really needs replacing. Not only is it small and old, at nearly twenty years old, but it has a bad habit of going fuzzy when we watch it, and we have satellite. We could not figure out what the problem was, and then when we had the satellite service hooked up, the service person was quick to show us that where the cable from the satellite feeds in, does not tighten up. We can, and do tighten it, but it does not stay tight. So every now and then, when you are watching it, everything goes fuzzy. The television has been like this from the day we bought it. The first ten years or so, we never had cable or satellite, just an antenna, and we just thought it was bad reception. By the time we figured out it was the television itself and not our reception, it was a bit old to be returning it!

When I think of how far electronics, televisions especially, have come in the last twenty years, it amazes me. Prices are constantly on the move too, with them becoming more affordable almost by the day. Some of the smaller LCD televisions are actually not much more than other televisions of the same size, such as CRT's. If you are considering stepping up to one of these newer televisions, be sure to check out the many sizes and formats including LCD, plasma, and various HDTV's. You are sure to find one that will fit both your needs and your wants! In addition, if you run into my husband, be sure to tell him that a 23" LCD television would fit in our room perfect.

Information About The New HD DVD Format

Written by James Fohl

Do you remember those old VHS tapes? Of course you did; for over twenty years, pretty much every Hollywood movie was released on this format. Then the DVD format came out in the mid 1990's, and although it took some time to take control of the United States market, by the year 2003 new movies were only being released on the DVD format.

It has not even been ten years since the first DVD players were released, but already the DVD format is getting ready to retire. It is not because its a faulty format, it is just because every body seems to be adopting high definition television sets, and the current DVD format does not really take full advantage of the high definition television sets.

As a result, a couple of new technologies are starting to emerge with the ultimate goal of taking over the DVD format, and becoming the video format kind. One of these new video formats is something called HD DVD, or High Definition DVD.

Don't think that just because the new format has DVD in the title that you will be able to use your regular DVD player to watch new HD DVD movies. You will need a new HD DVD player, and because they are such a new technology they are not going to be cheap; the first HD DVD players, made by Toshiba are going to be priced between five and eight hundred dollars.

Getting back on the subject, new HD DVD discs are the same size as regular DVDs and CDs. The only difference is the way that the data is written to the disc. Instead of holding 4.7 gigabytes of data like a regular DVD, HD DVDs can hold fifteen to thirty gigabytes of data on a single disc. While this may sound like a lot, it is important to consider the fact that high definition movies require more storage space as opposed to older DVDs; as a direct result, a regular high definition DVD can store around four hours of video, while a dual layer disc has the ability to hold around eight hours of video, or a standard Hollywood move along with several hours of bonus materials.

The very first home HD DVD players will be released near the end of March, and various model will retail for $599 and $799. The first batch of HD DVD movies are supposed to be on sale at the same time at a retail price of around twenty nine dollars. Companies supporting the new HD DVD format are trying to get the players and movies out the door as quick as possible, in hopes of gaining a large market share even before the first Bluray players are released. One of the major problems is the fact that a lot of movie studios are having problems getting their movies in the HD DVD format in time for the launch of the HD DVD players. As a result, there are not going to be as many titles available as once thought.

The competition between Bluray and the HD DVD format is starting to heat up. Hardware companies every where are pledging to support one format over another, while movie studios are being pressured to only release movies on one format. Because HD DVD players are going to be available long before Bluray players make it to the market, many people are considering HD DVD to be the number one format, even though HD DVD is considered to be technologically inferior to the Bluray format.

Being technologically inferior really does not matter though in the world of video entertainment. Betamax delivered a better picture over the VHS format that it had competed against in the early eighties, but VHS was still able to win that media war. VHS also fought against the LaserDisc in the eighties, which was superior in a vast variety of ways, but VHS still came out on top.

If the players behind HD DVD are able to market the HD DVD players correctly, then chances are they have a relatively high chance of winning the high definition video war against the Bluray format.

Tivo Coming Back From The Dead

Written by James Fohl

When the popular television recording service known as Tivo was originally released in the year 1997, it met a lot of popularity a few years down the line due to the fact that it was a new technology and had no direct competitor. I mean, you could record your programs onto a VHS tape with your VCR, but you still had to program your VCR, and we all know how hard it is to program a VCR. Not only that, but the Tivo software allows you to pause live television, and even records programs that it thinks you might enjoy.

Even though the Tivo units were expensive, and they carried along with them a monthly charge, the device had a lot of people interested in it, mainly because of the fact that Tivo really had no direct competition.

Then a few years ago, cable companies, as well as satellite television companies started giving users free PVR units. PVR stands for personal video recorder, and pretty much did everything that Tivo did, but much cheaper. With the new competition of PVR (personal video recorders) and DVD recorders, Business started crumbling, and Tivo removed the device from the United Kingdom in 2002. From 2002 on, Tivo saw itself go from having a large fan base to a much smaller fan base.

Then in 2005, almost near the brink of defeat, Tivo decided that it was time to get back in to the market and make itself a popular brand again. The first thing Tivo did was the company made deals with several cable television providers such as Comcast, in which the cable companies would use the Tivo hardware instead of some other brand of personal video recorder.

With this, Tivo made a lot of new customers, but they still needed to appeal to users of other personal video recorders. Therefore, Tivo started releasing a bunch of new features on their service. The biggest of which was the ability to put recorded material on a DVD, or transfer the video directly to your laptop computer. Another great feature Tivo put into their service was the ability to log onto the Tivo website from anywhere in the world, and tell your specific Tivo unit what to record.

The list of new features, and the long list of new customers helped out, but Tivo wanted more market share. Therefore, as component prices dropped, Tivo started manufacturing new Tivo units for much less than what they used to cost. Instead of paying several hundred dollars for a Tivo unit, an interested customer can now purchase one for a mere fifty dollars, after a mail in rebate, and a commitment to one year of service.

So, Tivo a company that flourished in the late nineteen nineties and almost went belly up in the early part of this decade is back with more features, better pricing, and with the main intent of getting its market share back. If you have yet to ever hear of these wonderful things, and Tivo keeps going with its business strategies, then chances are you will be hearing about Tivo, and you might even be getting a Tivo soon enough.

A New Media Revolution?

Written by James Fohl

With the announcement of the new iPod with video playing capabilities, a lot of people have been discussing the fact that a new media revolution in going to occur. This media revolution refers to the fact that in the very near future we are going to be seeing a lot of people carrying around devices that allow them to watch their favorite television shows and movies.

Unfortunately, devices have existed for a long time, but the only people you had seen using such devices were nerds. I mean, pocket television sets have existed for quite some time now, but you still don't see everyone walking down the street carrying one and watching their favorite television shows.

Portable DVD players are another example. Although they are a little bigger, you still don't see a lot of people riding buses or on airplanes with these things. These things are pretty cheap too, and offer the user a library of thousands upon thousands of movies, cartoons, and television shows.

Lots and lots of other handheld media players have also existed, and pretty much failed. There were the Video Now players for children, and of course the new PSP handheld gaming unit by Sony that allows people to watch movies on the go.

Now all the sudden, people think that just because Apple, makers of the popular iPod music player have placed video playing capabilities into their product, the whole media world is going to be turned upside down.

While it sounds like a great business venture, it does not really have much of a chance at taking off. Music players are successful, because you do not have to devote one hundred percent of your attention to listen to the music. You can listen to the music in your car, while jogging, or even while shopping.


Portable video players have failed because well, you have to give them your full attention. You can not watch a movie while you are driving or going for a jog through the park unless you are extremely talented. Instead you have to sit down and devote your attention to the little tiny screen of the iPod.

If watching something on your iPod is going to require your complete attention, then why not give your complete attention to a television set? I mean, a TV screen is a lot bigger than a little three inch display of an iPod, and you will be able to actually see what is going on.

So really, will the new iPod video make a revolution in the media world? Probably not, considering that the iPod as a music player has been a revolution since it initially came out in 2001. People will purchase the new iPod for its music playing abilities, and probably will only ever use the video feature a couple of times to show their friends. In the end, its just a novelty feature that delivers more attention to Apple and their impressive line of digital music players; which is exactly what they want.

The End Of The VCR?

Written by James Fohl

Around this time last year, I was talking about how I still used my VCR pretty much every day. You see, a year ago I could still go to my local Wal-Mart, and find a lot of VHS movies for around six dollars each. These were not older movies either, they were some what new releases. I bought a bunch of these video tapes, because the DVD versions of the same films were around ten dollars more.

Here I am a year later, and well a lot has changed. First off, it seems that I can not find new movies in the VHS format anywhere. The small selection of VHS video tapes my Wal-Mart had is now gone; replaced with yet another rack of DVD movies. Another thing that has changed is the fact that while last year, my Wal-Mart had three different VCR decks, I was completely shocked when I noticed that there were no VCR decks; only a couple combination DVD / VCR decks.

But then again, a lot has changed in my house too. My VCR is not even hooked up to my television right now, mostly due to the fact that new movies are not released in the VHS format anymore. Not only that, but I do not even have to use my VCR to record my favorite television shows anymore.

Instead of using a VCR to record my favorite television shows now, I either just buy from online from the iTunes music store for a modest two dollar fee, or I use my new DVD recorder to record the shows onto inexpensive DVD-R discs. A lot of people think it is kind of stupid to buy a television show from the iTunes music store for a couple of dollars, but I have to disagree for a variety of reasons.

Topping the list is convenience. All I have to do is start up the iTunes computer program, search for the television show, and with a couple ofclicks I am watching the show. If I choose to record the show to a DVD recordable disc, I have to mess with all the settings of the DVD recorder, and make sure I have a blank disc available. In the end, it just seems that the two dollar iTunes solution is much easier.

I still have my VHS video collection; probably over a hundred tapes now. I do not know exactly what I am going to do with these tapes though. I have not watched any for a couple of months now, and those new DVD rental services allow me to watch all the new movies I could want for the price of one DVD a month. So, instead of buying new movies on the DVD format, and since I can no longer buy new movies on the old VHS format, I simply go online to the Net Flix website, find the movies I want to see, and a couple days later I am watching the movies on my DVD
player.

Since I can keep the movies as long as I want, I am not rushed in to watching the DVDs, and ultimately it is kind of like I own the movies, since I usually only ever watch a movie once or twice (which is oddly enough the reason why I have not touched my VHS video collection for a couple of months).

Yes, it seems very odd that just a year ago I was bragging about how I preferred the old VHS video format over the DVD format. But, in a mere year all sorts of things have changed. I can no longer go out and purchase new movies for six dollars in the VHS format; heck, I can't even go out and purchase any newly released movie in the VHS format. Not only that, but instead of recording my favorite television shows on bulky, cheap VHS tapes, I have several options that I now use. In the end, I really do not use my VCR anymore for anything.

I want to say that I am going to start getting attached to my DVD player, but with the new HD DVD and Bluray formats coming from around the corner, I guess it is safe to say that the DVD format will probably also slowly start to fade in the next year or so. In the end, all I can say is goodbye VCR, you were great for so many years.

Painting a Room

Painting a room can be one of the simplest and least expensive ways to redecorate. Many times over the years, since we bought our own home, we have had just enough money to buy a few cans of paint and new brushes; this might have been at a time when I would have liked to purchase a new quilt for the bed, a new sofa, a new kitchen table, or some other expensive item. Yet I found that even our old furniture looked better, fresher, and newer with a new coat of paint on the walls. And while color and shade is important, many times the color is irrelevant; the room simply needs a new coat of paint to freshen things up. Recently, because we thought we were going to be remodeling, my husband and I moved our room into another room in our home. The other bedroom had recently been painted bright yellow. While yellow was good for that room, it did not match any of our things; yet, the room looked infinitely better than our former bedroom. The reason? Our other bedroom was in dire need of a paint job. It had been eight long years since we had painted our bedroom, upon just moving into the house, and with children and pets and just living life, it had become drab and ugly. If you are ready to paint one of your rooms, here's what you do:

First, you need to prepare the room. Preparation is a huge part of painting, and in fact, it is the most time consuming. But do not skip this step. Remove everything from the walls, including pictures and electric socket covers, and move the furniture to the middle of the room or out of the room. Give yourself room on every wall to paint freely, bend over, and not worry about bumping into things. After everything has been moved, take some spackling paste and fill in any holes that have been left by nails, tacks or other objects. Smooth the paste with a spackling spatula, and then allow the spackling paste to dry overnight. Next, smooth down the areas where you pasted with sand paper. Once the walls are smooth, begin wiping them down from top to bottom. Use a warm, wet towel and rinse it often, depending on how large the room is and how dirty the walls are. Be sure to wipe all the baseboards and trim. Do not worry about cleaning stains or marks off the walls, just make sure you eliminate dust, cobwebs, or anything else like that. After every inch of wall has been wiped clean, allow it to dry thoroughly and then begin taping. Use masking tape or specific painting tape; either one is fine. Use the tape to mark off any areas where you do not want the paint to go. Tape off all the trim and baseboards, and even the ceiling. Use extra care to make sure the tape is even and straight along the trim. Smooth it down tight so no paint will seep beneath. The last part of preparation is to put something on the floor for protection: drop cloths, newspaper, tarps, or whatever you prefer.

Now you are ready to begin painting! This is where the fun begins. Go to your local paint store, discount store, or home improvement store, and choose your color. If you are unsure, ask for samples to take home. Once you decide, buy as much paint as you need (the paint sales person will be able to help you know how much you will need for your size of room) and if you do not have good brushes, buy some. Good brushes can make all the difference. Also remember to buy rollers and a rolling pan. Now you can go home and paint your walls. Paint all around the edges, trim, and electric sockets with the brushes, and do the large sections with the roller. Most rooms will need two coats of paint; some with a severe color change may need three coats. Allow the paint to dry at least four hours, preferably more, between coatings, and allow it to dry several days before putting things back on the walls.

When you have finished, you will find that you have a completely new room. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Painting a Mural on the Wall

By Christina VanGinkel

Painting a mural on a wall is a great way to add a design element to a room unlike any other. Whether you trace pictures from somewhere else, or design one freehand, a mural will bring a one of a kind look to the space. What is so fun about the use of a mural in a space is how unique a fit a mural can be, in both size and design. Even a mural that includes elements from various sources can be exactly what the room needs!

For example, if you are decorating a little girl's room, and she happens to be in love with butterflies and fairies, a mural on one wall of her room depicting a garden or forest, maybe with an enchanted castle with butterflies and fairies flitting about would be the ultimate design, but you do not feel competent drawing the fairies. Go ahead and freehand the rest of the mural, then find a good picture of a few fairies from a color book or storybook, or even from online. Trace these into the mural, and together, you will end up with a lovely mural that is still a one of a kind design.

If you are not comfortable creating any of the finer elements, just draw and paint the green of the garden's background with a blue sky, maybe sponge in a few clouds, and then create the flowers, butterflies, and fairies all with wall stickers. This technique is especially fun for kids, especially if you use stickers that can be repositioned. This way, they can change things around just for the fun of it, or if they become bored with the same old design. Elements of the mural could also be 3-D. The butterflies and fairies could be made of paper or other craft materials, and adhered with Velcro.

When trying to come up with a design choice for a mural, consider the room it is going to be in, and what the main purpose and use of that room is:

Sports themes are good for family rooms and children's rooms, even an office if it is done smartly. A mural of a stadium for example can be sophisticated and fun all at he same time.

If you have a child that loves animals, a farm, zoo, or safari, might be just what is called for.

Ocean lovers would feel right at home with a whale or aquarium scene filled with brightly colored fish.

A living room could be the perfect setting of a mural of a serene woodland trail, or a mountain vista.

Horse lovers could paint their very own stable with their dream mare and stallion stabled right in their own bedroom.

The sky is the limit when it comes to painting a mural, which when you think about it is an accurate statement, as you could also extend a mural onto the ceiling of a room if the picture theme was right, or even just on a ceiling. I once saw a fun mural of the stars painted on the ceiling of a bedroom, complete with glow in the dark paint used for many of the elements!

When choosing the actual mural elements, be sure to consider which wall the mural will be placed on too. If the room is filled with windows on nearly every wall, and furniture or a doorway takes up the one wall that is not and exterior wall, be as creative as you can be. Doorways can be incorporated into many designs; it just might take a bit of creativity. Also, if the use of a whole wall would be too awkward, do not let that stop you. Paint the mural on a partial wall if that is all you can spare. Even a mural that does not take up a complete wall can be quite a visual stunner. In the same breath, if you have two walls that could ideally encompass a larger mural, or a complete wall with a partial wall adjoining it, and if the mural will fill the space, go for it. There are no rules as to where to paint a mural, which is one of the best things about them. They allow you to be as creative as you want to be. Have fun!

Unique Lunch Ideas

Coming up with good lunch ideas can be a real pain. Many people find that they have sandwiches and crackers over and over and that they are really missing the type of variety in their lunches to which they are accustomed in their dinners. There are ways to spice up your lunch and still have something that you can take with you to work or make up quickly at home. Here are a few ideas for interesting and tasty lunches.

You can exchange the bread on your sandwich for a pita loaf. Slice a pita loaf in half and fill one half with shaved deli meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and other condiments. You can have a sandwich with a little variety. Having pita bread instead of white bread on occasion can make an ordinary sandwich seem fun. You also can get a container of hummus (or make your own if you really want to) and take it with a pita loaf. Tear the loaf into pieces, dip, and eat. This meal has enough protein to get you through the afternoon and is delicious!

Try a basic broccoli and rice dish with a little chicken. You can cut up a chicken breast and cook it in a skillet with cooking spray only. Add in broccoli florets and put on a pot of rice. When everything is done, mix it together, and you will have a tasty treat. You also can try cooking up the chicken and broccoli. When it is almost done, add in a can of cream of mushroom or cream of broccoli soup. Allow it to simmer for a couple of minutes and serve in pita pockets as a wonderful lunch idea.

Make a cup of soup in the microwave. You can take the ingredients already mixed with you to work and then put the soup in the microwave. It is tastier and better for you than canned soup. Use a can of chicken and combine it with rinsed and drained cans of sliced carrots and potatoes. Add in a little salt and pepper and a can of chicken broth, and you have created an impromptu soup. You can eat it with a nice loaf of French bread if you want a really tasty lunch.

Also consider having a salad. While you may think of them as bland, you can make them delicious. Add in spinach and romaine lettuce, not iceberg, and then top it with tomatoes, bacon bits, carrots, and even nuts and fruit. Add in enough that you will be full, and you will have an incredibly healthy and tasty lunch.

If you are at home, try a down and dirty quesadilla. Put a tortilla shell in a skillet large enough to permit the shell to lie flat. Then put some cheese and roast beef slices on the shell and top with another shell. Allow it to cook for three minutes, flip and allow the other side to cook. Cut the quesadillas in eighths and eat. Add a little sour cream on top for something even better.

Do not rule out baked potatoes. There are endless choices you have here. You can have a potato with the traditional butter, sour cream, and bacon bits. Or you can take some broccoli and cheese or some chili. You can even try combining ham chunks with cream of asparagus soup and having a great lunch on top of a potato.

Beans and rice is another quick lunch choice. You will have to cook the beans the night before, but you can simply put them in a plastic container and warm them. Beans are good for you, and they are super cheap. You can get a bag for about 50 cents, and you can eat from it for quite a while.

These lunches are just a few of the ways you can spice up what you are eating. Instead of always having the same old stuff, try something new. Lunch does not have to be boring. It is only that way because you have chosen not to experiment. Try to have at least one different lunch next week. You will find that you start to enjoy a little variety in your midday meal.

By Julia Mercer

A Reminder About Safety

We had an incident in our family last weekend that reminded me of the importance of safety when using power tools. My father-in-law was using a table saw. He was cutting a board into stakes to use in the garden. He reached around behind the saw to pull out one of the stakes, and the saw caught his hand.

He had a pretty serious hand injury, and when my mother-in-law first called us, we did not know how serious the injury would be. We soon learned, however, that he would need surgery. He severed the tendons all across his knuckles on his left hand.

They went to their local hospital, which is a satellite hospital for a larger one in the metropolitan area nearby. The doctors at the satellite center sent them to the larger hospital to meet with a hand surgeon. The surgeon said that he would do what he could but that the hand would need some serious work to be healed.

After a couple of hours in surgery, my father-in-law was done, and the doctor reported to my mother-in-law. They told her that he lost his ring finger and down past the first knuckle on his thumb and middle finger. He still may lose the remaining portion of his middle finger, but they are not certain at this point.

This incident will cost him about eight weeks worth of work. He will not be able to do any work because he will be in pain and will be rehabbing his hand. He will have to re-learn to use the hand. That will take an enormous amount of time and energy and probably will not be a fun process.

He works on a computer, so he will be able to work. It will mean a good deal of adjustment in the way that he types, but he is not out of work forever. This disability is one with which he can learn to live if he works at it. I am not sure how he will take it overall. My father-in-law has led a life without much trouble or trials. It is tough to foresee how he will take the loss of part of his hand.

At this point, he is still taking a good bit of pain medicine, and he does not quite make sense when you talk to him. It will be a few days before he starts to wean himself from the pain medicine and can begin to deal with the loss.

Then begins the physical therapy. I am afraid that it will be a painful process and that he will have a hard time getting his hand to do what he wants for a while.

His accident has reminded me that it is so important to be careful when we use power tools. I know what happens. You get so comfortable using them that you forget to take the safety precautions that you took so seriously when you first starting using the equipment. You begin cutting one corner, then another, until you leave yourself open to any accident.

You should not reach to grab any piece of wood in a saw, and everyone knows that. He knows that. Still, most people who use table saws have made that kind of mistake at some point because they stop worrying about being safe and just try to get the job done quickly. Now unfortunately my father-in-law will have to deal with that mistake for the rest of his life.

Should someone you know go through an accident with a power tool, you should not try to tell that person what he or she should have done, even if you think it. Instead be sympathetic because the person will need your support. Whenever someone does something that causes an accident, that person will remind herself or himself of what should have happened over and over again. There is no need for others to do it as well.

If you are unsure how much to say about an injury, let the person who is hurt take the lead. Do not try to make too much of the injury if the other person does not mention it, but do not be afraid to talk about it either.

By Julia Mercer

Barbecue Must-Haves

The summer grilling season is quickly approaching, so it's time to take stock and make sure you have everything you need for a delicious barbecue.

First on the list? A grill, of course. The type of grill you will need depends on many things-- your budget, where you live and how often you plan to grill. If you live in an apartment or a small space, a tabletop hibachi will serve you just fine. If you long for an old time charcoal barbecue grill, look for one of those kettle grills. Gas grills are also all the rage these days-- and they come in a variety of sizes. If you have a huge deck area that can accommodate a big grill and a bunch of friends, go for the extra big gas model.

Next, here are some must-haves that you should always have on hand for those impromptu barbecues:

Ground beef. You can shape the ground beef into hamburger patties ahead of time and store them in the freezer-- then just take a few out to grill them as you need them. You can enhance the flavor of the ground beef by adding a little salt, pepper and worstershire sauce before you shape them. There are recipes for burger mixtures that include eggs and breadcrumbs, although I find that the hamburgers can get too sloppy that way and sometimes fall apart during cooking. A dash of steak sauce in the ground beef is another delicious addition.

Good quality hotdogs. Nothing is worse than a generic hotdog. Really. Spring for the good quality, gourmet beef hotdogs. It makes such a difference. You can store these in the freezer as well.

Chicken breast. Chicken breasts marinated in bottled Italian dressing are great on the grill-- and they are so easy to make. Always have some chicken on hand for marinating or to coat with barbecue sauce. You can also cut chicken breast up and skewer them to make shish-kabobs-- I like to marinate the cut up chicken in a citrus flavored dressing before cooking.

Rolls. Good rolls are just as important as good meat. Buy them fresh and use them up as you buy them. You can store rolls in the freezer, but they taste so much better when they're fresh. For something different, try some potato or wheat rolls in lieu of plain white rolls.

Condiments: Keep some ketchup and a couple of types of mustards on hand (a yellow and a spicy kind should do you good). Also, even if you're not a relish fan, many people do like to slather it on their hotdog so make sure you have some. Barbecue sauce is another biggie-- use it on chicken or as a condiment for burgers and hotdogs. I like to shop around for unique barbecue sauces--check gourmet shops and websites for new varieties.

Cheese. No burger is complete without cheese, but try to think beyond basic old American cheese. Sharp cheddar cheese tastes great melted on burgers. For a southwestern flair, try some jalapeno pepper jack cheese. To add a touch of sophistication to your burgers, try stuffing them with some blue cheese.

Sides to always have on hand. You can keep some canned baked beans on hand to go with your barbecue meal. Canned baked beans can be doctored up by adding brown sugar, cooked bacon and barbecue sauce. Looking to bulk up your beans? Try adding a can of black beans or kidney beans. I sometimes add chunks of pineapple to my baked beans to give them a Hawaiian flair.

Super salads. I love potato salad at any barbecue. All you really need is a couple of potatoes and mayonnaise-- any other seasonings are up to you. For other summery salads, cook up some elbow macaroni or tortellini. Add whatever you wish-- olives, roasted red peppers, onions, cheese cubes-- and dress it in a tangy dressing. A Caesar salad goes great with a grilled steak dinner--look for convenient ready-made Caesar salads if you're short on time.

What about dessert? Summer fruits are made for barbecues--make a fruit salad using melons, grapes and strawberries. Add something unexpected-- like kiwi or raspberries. Or roast some marshmallows over the charcoal coals-- kids love to eat squishy, hot marshmallows.

Keep barbecue items on hand all summer long and you'll never be caught off guard when you're in the mood for some good grilling!

Distressing Furniture

By Christina VanGinkel

If you enjoy the look of old, rustic antiques and furniture, but any large pieces that you have found are well outside of your budget, maybe its time to antique your own! People restore furniture all of the time. They take an older chair or couch and reupholster it, or they sand down a well-used table and re-stain it to it original glory. With this same do it yourself attitude, it is possible to take a brand new piece of furniture and age, or distress it to blend in with your well loved antique pieces and nobody other than you or a professional need ever know the difference. I even know of one family who so loved the rustic look, that when they built their brand new log cabin, they aged their wood floors by beating them with chains and brandishing hot nails and other pieces of metal onto the floor's surface before they had the final seal applied. The floor is gorgeous, and they could not have found a more fitting backdrop for all of their antique furniture pieces and accessories. The floor actually looks like the boards were salvaged form a barn or other old building! One tip that I learned from them, that I had never really thought of, was that they first sealed their floor, then distressed it, then went back over it with their final seal. When I asked them why they bothered to put all of that work into it, before distressing it, only to have to re-seal it again, their reply was as sensible a one that I had ever heard. A naturally aged floor would have been sealed before the damage was done. By applying the seal, then distressing it, they created as much of a natural look for the distressing as they could. The final seal over the top of the distressing was the same care they would have taken had they been able to find aged boards to work with in the first place.

If you are interested in trying to distress and object, to give it an aged or antique look, and have never attempted such a thing before, I would choose something small to begin with, such as an end table or coffee table. This way, if the results are not quite what you expected, it is not as great a loss as if you tried something as grand (and expensive) as a floor. Next, consider how an item naturally ages. It becomes dented and nicked; paint is worn away from normal use, with certain spots worn right to a soft finish, such as an old rocking chair, with the seat naturally worn, in comparison to other parts of the rocker. While you cannot create these same actions in an amount to cause the aging in the item, you can recreate the look much of the time with other objects. My favorite tools in my self-assembled distressing kit is a child sized hammer and several different weights of sandpaper. I might go a bit overboard with the sandpaper on occasion, but one of the first things I do is sand away the edge of whatever item I am working on. Not the whole edge mind you, just parts here and there; in trying to keep, it as naturally aged looking as possible. I have also been known to use a nail or two with the hammer to make small indentations, or to hammer lightly on a chain laid across an item. Some people, as my friends with the floor did, actually use heat and metal objects to burn marks, though I am not as brave as they were. I have used a hand held wood burner for very small marks, and the results have been favorable. As with any technique, there is a definite trial and error learning curve when it comes to distressing.

Also, go with the mantra that less is more until you are comfortable with the details of your distressing. You can always go back and distress more, and while you can sand away some distress marks, it is easier if you do not have too. Once you are finished, go over the piece with a soft rag and a medium to dark paste wax. The wax will help the distress marks you have created really show up. Again, try the wax on a smaller item before attempting it on a large piece, as the results can vary depending on the amount and depth of the distress marks to begin with.

Articles About Consumer Electronics & Media Coming Soon!

Check back soon and check back often! Soon we will be posting articles related to consumer electonics and media including tips, reviews, and just general observations.

Painting

By Christina VanGinkel

Paint is the quickest, most inexpensive way to spruce up any room in a house, whether a bedroom, living room, kitchen, or den, a kid's toy room, dining room, or even an office, a fresh coat of paint can breathe new life like no other aspect of decorating or remodeling. It can cover imperfections, provide a fresh background for a new style, and the right color choice can even make the room feel more livable than it did before.

I have never been a fan of the actual job of painting, but after having several rooms in my house painted, I am a big fan of the finished job itself. A fresh coat of paint can take a ho hum room and make it feel much homier and comfortable. On the other hand, a fresh coat of paint can take a room from overboard back to sensible and realistic. The color, the freshness, the newness of paint evokes so many feelings that it is hard to describe until you walk out of a room that is in dire need of something, and walk back into the same room after it has been given a fresh coat of paint. Only then can you begin to realize just how encompassing the effects of a fresh coat of paint can be.

To make your next paint job as successful as can be, start by shopping for your color choices with both the time to shop and the knowledge of what type and finish of paint you are shopping for. With flat, gloss, semi-gloss, high gloss, and satin finishes, matching up a finish with what the room will be used for is essential. For example, a kitchen has the tendency to accumulate dirt quicker than say a bedroom, so a paint finish such as a gloss or even a high gloss will be easier to keep clean. Any good sales person in a home decorating store or store that specializes in paint will be able to help you sift through the various finishes, brands of paint, and what each type is for. A sales associate will also be able to help you choose a paint that will last as long as possible, or point you towards a lesser priced brand that is still of good quality if you are the sort that paints as often as you rearrange your furniture. Be sure to pick up any needed supplies such as rollers, brushes, trays, etc. at the same time.

Prepping the room itself and the walls is as important a step as choosing the right quality and type of paint. If you have dirty walls, or particular surfaces, they will need to be thoroughly cleaned and / or stripped; otherwise, you risk having your paint peal or not even adhere in the first place. If you do not think that is a possibility, just ask someone who has tried to paint over a greasy wall in a kitchen without first cleaning off the grease. Paint will literally slide right off. Other surfaces such as some types of paneling will need to be at least partially sanded to give the paint a better surface to adhere to, especially if the paneling ahs a slick feel to it in the first place.

Empty the room of furnishings big and small to make the job as easy as can be. Cover anything left in the room with tarps or sheets, including the flooring. If new flooring is part of the room's new look, do the painting before installing the new flooring to save yourself the worry of paint on new floor coverings.

Once you have applied the recommended coats of paint, be realistic when judging how the room looks and if you see obvious thin areas, apply one more coat of paint.

When you have finished painting, allow the paint sufficient time to dry before moving furnishings back into the space. The more coats of paint, the longer it will take to dry, so keep that in mind. Paint will harden as it dries, but will remain tacky and somewhat easy to damage until it has completely dried. Save yourself having to touch up a brand new paint job by avoiding causing any damage to it while it is in the drying process.

The Church Lady Secrets

There is a lady at our church who is a master chef, baker, and otherwise any type of cook. She does not cook professionally, but she grew up in a family that owned a restaurant, and the simple fact is that she loves to cook. Recently as a gift, her husband had their kitchen completely refurbished, since that is the room in which she spends most of her time. She has countless recipes, most of them in her head, and she gets a large amount of joy making cakes, coffee cakes, cookies, tarts, muffins, and other goodies to have on the kitchen counter at church every Sunday morning. Church goers always look forward to what she will bring each week, because each week promises something new and different, and always something delicious. One day I asked her about her joy in cooking. She explained to me that not only is it a hobby, she also has many little tricks that make her cooking easier. While she is willing and able to spend long hours in the kitchen, slaving over a special meal, most of her cooking is the type we all do, but she has a few little secrets that simple add a special touch. Following are a couple of the secrets she has been willing to share with me, and the rest of us at our little church.

Chocolate-covered brownies. This may sound like something we can all make at any time, but as to be expected, my church lady friend adds her own special touch. She uses a regular brownie mix from a box and she almost always adds chopped walnuts into the mix, which, let's face it, is suggested on the box, but most of us do not go to the trouble. But the big secret is the chocolate sauce or frosting that she puts on the top of the brownies. The chocolate sauce is devastatingly delicious, and almost too sinful to be in church! So I asked her, what is in the chocolate sauce? She explained that all she does, after baking the brownies according to the directions on the back of the box, is to take out a couple of large, stashed-away Hershey's chocolate bars, and lie them across the surface of the brownies while they are warm just out of the oven. The chocolate bars begin to melt almost immediately, and when they have melted sufficiently, she simply spreads the chocolate around evenly, making a perfect chocolate frosting. This sauce gives the brownies a whole new flavor and puts them into another dimension.

Lemon cake. This is another easy one that tastes like it must have been very difficult. For her lemon cake, my friend from church, again, simply uses a boxed cake recipe. She uses regular white cake mix and she prepares and bakes it according to the directions on the back of the box. While the cake is baking, she mixes together equal parts of sugar and Real Lemon juice. Usually about one cup of each will suffice. It makes a very sugary, lemony sauce. Then, when the cake is fresh out of the oven, my friend puts the cake on a safe surface while still in the pan. She pokes holes all over the cake with either a tooth pick or a fork; she is careful to put holes down the sides next to the side of the pan, as well. When there are a very many holes, she pours the lemon and sugar mixture onto the hot cake and it oozes down into the holes and around sides. After the cake has cooled, it can be served as is, as a coffee cake, or either lemon or cream cheese frosting can be spread all across the top. Either way, it is an incredibly moist, decadent cake that will have everyone asking for more!

The thing I have learned about my friend at church is that she adds special touches to otherwise every day dishes. I am thankful that she is willing to share her secrets with me and the rest of our friends. Now, perhaps, as I continue to learn from her, I can make special dishes for my friends, family and guests!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Seasonal Clothing Changeovers

Every spring I dread this time of year, those few weeks here on the East coast where it's not quite cold enough to wear winter clothes, yet it's still too chilly for summer clothes. This means I have to have access to my entire wardrobe. Even worse, I have to have access to my daughter's entire wardrobe (which is much larger than mine is).

Every year at this time I go through all of my drawers and closets, as well as my children's. It's time o take inventory, clean out the old, make way for the new, etc. It's a daunting task, mostly due to the fact that my children are still young enough that they tend to grow out of their clothes from season to season. This means we have to have a "fashion show", which is what I call it when we try on all of the clothes to see if they still fit. By the time she tries on the third dress or the fifth pair of capris, however, my daughter is bored of this game. And my 3 year old son? Well, he won't even participate in the game at all.

So how do I eventually muddle through the task of changing over my family's r clothing wardrobes? It takes patience and organization, but it feels so good when it is finally done.

First I take every piece of clothing out of all of the closets and drawers. Everything-- even socks, underwear, etc. Then I painstakingly go through every item and put them into three piles:

Pile 1 is for the items that I am keeping.

Pile 2 is for the items that no longer fit or items that my family no longer wears, but that are in good enough condition to sell on EBay (I only sell items that are in like new condition).

Pile 3 is for Goodwill.

I also have another pile-- for items that are just plain worn out (that's called the rag pile, because my husband is always looking for new work rags).

Also, when I clean out my daughter's closets and drawers, I sometimes put aside some of the cutest items that no longer fit so that I can pass them on to a relative.

Once I have the drawers and closets cleared out (keep in kind, I do this task one room at a time, over a period of a few days) I start restocking. I usually put the items from the last season in storage bins in the closets, to make more room for the current season's items. I'm always careful to leave out a few must-haves, like a sweater or two, even if summer is just around the corner. It's easier to keep a few pairs of jeans and sweater or two available, instead of trying to dig through the storage bins if it gets cold.

As I put everything put back into the closets and drawers, I can better see what gaps are in my children's wardrobes. For instance, this season my daughter will need all new shorts-- none of her shorts from last year fit her, which is good because it means she is growing. She actually wore size 4T for the past two summers, so I'm glad we're finally moving on.

I the tackle my other two piles. The clothing for Goodwill gets folded and bagged, then dropped off at the nearest Goodwill site. I tend to do this right away, because I don't like to keep stuff laying around and also to prevent myself from attempting to pull that skirt I haven't worn in 10 years out of the bag in a last ditch bout of remorse.

The Ebay pile takes a bit more effort. I first inspect the items to make sure they are indeed in as good condition as I think they are. If they pass the test, I take a digital photograph of each item and then I list them on the auction site, using a description template to make the job easier. True Ebay aficionados use EBay's "Turbo Lister", which apparently makes the job of listing multiple items much easier-- I'll have to try it sometime.

Once I have all of the family's clothing sorted through and put away, I feel a true sense of organization and calming. True, the closets and drawers will be jam-packed again soon-- I need to put all the new summer fashions somewhere! Still, there's less guilt in buying new when you have passed the old on to someone else.

Recovering the Piano Bench

Recently I decided to redecorate our living room a bit. More than redecorating, it merely needed a few new touches to give it an updated feeling. We have lived in our house for nearly eight years and we have had the same furniture for much longer. Our piano dates back to my childhood, a fancy bookshelf holding all our leather books dates back to my husband's childhood, and we have various other hand-me-downs, antiques, and even thrift shop items. Our sofas are relatively new at only about three years old, but the only redecorating we can do where they are concerned is to add various throw pillows or even a slip cover. The large Oriental rug in the room was a hand-me-down from my mother. I'm not very fond of the colors, but it's a good, sturdy, expensive rug and I can't justify getting rid of it and buying another one. One of the things we realized we could do that would be inexpensive, yet would really help to change the look of the room was to recover our piano bench.

As aforementioned, the piano and its bench date back more than thirty years to my childhood. Apparently it was given to my parents as a wedding gift in the early 1960s. I remember my mom recovering the long, rectangular bench twice: once in the 1970s, when she put a bright orange and gold tweed cover on it, and once in the early 1980s when she put a light blue and silvery cover. The light blue and silvery cover is the one we had been living with. The colors were muted and forgettable, so in truth, we did not really notice it. But one day, as I was trying to decide what we could change without spending much money, I eyed that blue and silver piano bench cover, and then looked around at the rest of our living room that was basically decorated in browns, reds, dark greens, and other earth tones. Although the bench usually sat up close to the piano and was not noticed, the blue and silver bench suddenly stood out for me like a beacon.

I went to the local fabric shop and found some dark red fabric with tiny brown and yellow flowers on it; sort of a calico pattern. Doing the actual recovering was quite easy; the padding was already in place, so I simply put the new fabric on over the old. I removed the top of the piano bench (the part that opens) with a screwdriver and kept all the hardware together in a small, plastic sandwich bag. I then cut the fabric to size; I left about four inches of leftover fabric on each of the four sides, so I could attach it without a problem. Then, I layed the fabric on the floor and put the piano bench cover upside down onto the fabric. Then I pulled the fabric and folded it over onto the underneath part of the cover. Next, I used a staple gun to attach the fabric into place.

After stapling the fabric all the way around (at least five or six staples on each of the four edges) I then attached it back to the piano bench. It was amazing how the new fabric changed not only the look of the room, but even the look of the piano. It looked newer, different. I also realized how much the piano bench did show. I had grown so used to the old fabric that had covered it, that although I did not notice it, it was apparent that it showed and others had surely noticed.

Now that a bit of time has passed and I have grown used to the newer, better piano bench cover, it does not jump out at me like it used to; but I still think it looks much better. It was funny, however, when my mother came for a visit. The first thing she said when we walked into our living room was, "Wow, you recovered the piano bench!" And then she went on to tell me that she thought it had been long over due for a recovering. She asked why I hadn't done it sooner? Go figure.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

When Teens Need New Clothes, Now!

By Christina VanGinkel

When teenagers assemble a wardrobe, it is never a cut and dried occasion. It is a constantly evolving picture. What works on Monday might be old vogue by Tuesday, with no exaggeration of that time frame. Teen fashion is dependant not only on what is fashionable in the magazines and with their favorite teen idols, but also with what their friends are wearing, and what they themselves feel is both good looking and comfortable.

Because of this, shopping for your teen is an ever-evolving fact of life. They may not need anything for weeks on end, even for a month or two, but then they will require an almost total overhaul of their closet's contents. Trying to keep up with this can be a fact of stress that many parents experience or it can be just another day in the life of a parent of a teenager. I try to keep it in the perspective of just another day in the life of having a teenager in the house.

If you are at your wit's end though, talk to your teenager about their wardrobe. Tell them that you understand their need to be fashionable and comfortable, but at the same time, they need to figure out some way to give you warning that their wardrobe is in need of change. You could go the extreme and tell them that ever two weeks, or once a month, on a set day, they can go through their closet and then come to you with their needs and wants.

If cost is a big issue, be sure to discuss this openly with them. If your finances are not something that you share with your kids, still provide them with some guidelines, as to what you deem acceptable for them to spend on clothes. Even if it a small amount, it will still show them what is available. If they need to spend more, maybe it is time they kicked in towards their ever-evolving wardrobe with some money of their own. Even young teens can make money via babysitting or raking leaves and shoveling snow.

If you have a teen that finds it fashionable to shop second hand stores and outlets such as eBay for vintage and retro look clothing, instead of trying to talk them into looking more mainstream, compliment them on their individuality, and say a small prayer for the money you and they might possibly save for their shopping style.

At the same time, tell them that if they are no longer wearing some of their finds, they might want to consider selling some of their clothing in the same manner that they found them in the first place. Even kids whop do dress mainstream may be able to recoup some of the cost of outfits to put towards new. EBay is a great place to sell old clothing that is still like new. Help them by showing them how to photograph what they want to sell, then tell them once they build a listing, you will post them. When items sell, have them pack the items up for shipping, then either have them ship the items too if they are old enough to drive to the post office or shipping store, or if not, you will then have to ship the items for them. Either way, reward them for being responsible enough to sell off some of their unwanted clothing by allowing them to keep the funds made to purchase new items with. By agreeing to cover the costs of the listings and sell fees, it will cost you a few dollars, but not nearly, what it would to provide them with the same amount they have earned towards new pieces.

If you have a teenager that just keeps growing and growing (I happen to have one of those!) you might have to buy clothes when you least expect it. Try to budget a few dollars for those times when you or they realize that all of a sudden, nothing fits! You can budget the money, but guessing when they will have a massive growth spurt is impossible, so prepare however, you can. I had recently thought that there was no way my son would grow another inch at least for a while, when he suddenly shot up just that, another inch, and gained another show size, all in a matter of a few weeks. Considering he grew over four inches in one six-month span of time, you would think that I would be use to this, but every time he surges skyward, I am still amazed!

New Carpeting and Laminate, a Year Later

By Christina VanGinkel

We have had our new laminate flooring installed for almost a year now, and it looks as good today as it did the day we installed it. The only thing we would have done differently if we had to do it all over again is we would have installed it not only in the entryway, front bathroom, and hallway, but also into the living room, in place of the carpeting we installed. Yes, we do like our carpeting, and we chose a good quality STAINMASTER brand that will hold up for years to come, but when comparing the cleaning between the two, the laminate wins each and every time. We happen to have a spattering of stains in front of our loveseat of an undetermined origin, and while I have attempted to scrub them as I have other accidental spills and stains, such as a spilled cup of cappuccino, which wiped right up, this area of staining, has not been easy to clean.

The laminate is usually swept and then gone over with a Swiffer brand mop and cloth that is safe for the finish on the laminate. I have also been known to use just a squirt of mild dish soap in a bucket of hot water and with a cloth; I get down on my hands and knees for a quick scrub. I have only done this a few times, when I found myself out of Swiffer cloths, a dirty floor, and company on the way. It works well though, and leaves the floor as clean and shiny as when I mop it in the traditional way.

Also with the laminate, if mud is tracked in, it is easily wiped up, and it is not a big deal at all. Before, with carpeting in our entryway, it was a nightmare each time someone came in with dirt on his or her shoes. Living rurally as we do, this was a common occurrence. Still, we felt that using the laminate where we did and putting carpeting back into the living area was by far the best choice.

Having chosen STAINMASTER, I did not think that a stain would be a huge concern, yet it is. Most stains do come up easily, and I have been assured that the spattering of stains that are on the carpet in front of our loveseat will clean away with a traditional scrubbing, but when compared to how easily the laminate cleans up, there is no comparison. I was not able to wipe them away easily when company was arriving just hours after I noticed the stains.

Another reason we have realized that laminate throughout would have been a better choice has to do with our grandson. While adults understand the concept of shoes off at the door, and our grandson learned quickly enough, there was a span of time that he would just tromp right into the living room, before his mother or father could wrangle him out of his shoes. If his shoes were wet or mud covered, it did not matter.

Our dogs are yet one more issue, and the chance of them learning to stop when they have mud covered paws is not too promising. One of four will stop, while the other three find it a challenge to see how fast they can get past me on their way through the door and get across the laminate onto the carpeting! Good thing I love them and have a sense of humor where they are concerned.

The carpeting still has it positives, such as being extremely warm on the feet. We live in Wisconsin where cold winters are a given and a warm floor is not. The carpeting is always comfortable, even in January. While in comparison, a trek down the hallway without slippers on during the cold months is quite a trial and we all quickly learned to don our slippers first thing in the morning. If you are planning to replace flooring, if you have children, pets, or even family who are resistant to taking off their shoes, even when they are tracking in dirt and mud, be sure to take it all into consideration before choosing carpeting over laminate or some other just as easily cleaned surface.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Finding a Prom Dress at the Last Minute

By Christina VanGinkel

Prom season is upon us, and most girls already have their dress picked out, ordered, and in hand. On occasion though, someone may make a last minute decision to go to prom, when for weeks that have been sure that they were not going. Now, the clock has wound down so much there is no time for the traditional means of ordering and buying one. What is a girl to do if she finds herself in such a predicament? First, have faith in her self that she will be able to find one! Then, ask for help from friends and family.

Call around to girls or the parents of girls who have gone to prom in the past few years, especially those who are no longer in high school. Fashions for dresses vary from year to year, but in the past few years, the styles have been so wide-ranging, that wearing something that was picked out two, three, even four years ago, has a good chance of still being stylish.

If you do not know of anybody that has been to the prom, try to remember if you know of anyone who has recently stood up as a bridesmaid in a wedding. Not all bridesmaid dresses are as horrible looking as they once were. As people have become more prudent about the money they spend on such things, oftentimes a dress style is chosen that will allow the girls standing up in the wedding the opportunity to wear the dresses elsewhere.

Do check with all the regular stores that sell prom dresses. They might have a few on the rack dresses left, or a return, or a dress that was ordered and never picked up. All of these scenarios and others do happen more than you might realize. You can often get them at a discount too, because once prom season is done, the value of the dress is going to plummet. The advantage of possibly finding one in this manner is that if the store has an in house tailor and some minor alterations are needed, they can usually do them for you, even if time is short.

Second hand stores are also good places to check for second hand prom dresses. If you happen to live in a large city, or even in an area where several smaller towns are located close together, chances that you will choose something that would be recognized by the previous owner are almost none. If this is a worry, consider how you might alter any dress you do find to make it a bit more personalized. A wrap or shawl over the dress might be enough to give the outfit a totally new look. If you know someone that is good at sewing, and if they are willing, bring them along with you when you shop, and they might be able to lend you some ideas on how to alter a used dress to make it a unique, one of a kind creation. With their help, you might just end up with the most stylish dress ever!

Check the ads in any penny saver newspapers that you receive. At this time of year, many people list those that they want to get rid of, in hopes that someone might be looking for a good, last minute deal on one.

Once you find a dress to wear, pick up a pair of new shoes, add some flashy jewelry, get your hair all done up, pin a corsage on, and go have some fun! Prom only comes a few times in your life, so missing it because you have not found the perfect dress is just not an option. You can try each of these suggestions, or even wear the same dress you wore last year if all else fails. Finding a prom dress at the last minute can be a trial, there is no doubt about that, but if the size is right, the style is not too far of a reach, and the color is becoming to you, go for it. You are going to be having so much fun at the prom, what you are wearing is not going to seem as all-important as you might think.