Beautiful and Energy Efficient Christmas Display Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADecorating for Christmas doesn’t have to result in breaking the bank for electrical costs. For many people heating costs add to the power bills already in December and although the lights aren’t the same as electric heat, they do add to the meter spinning. Decorating for Christmas can be beautiful and conservative. Here are some Christmas decorating tips.

If you are in an open area one easy way to make the most of the sunny days is using lights that are solar powered. These have a small charger that automatically charges as the sun comes out so long as the power cell area is cleared off. There is also a sensor that turns the lights on automatically at dark. This adds nothing to your power bill! Although the lights often aren’t as blazing bright the glow of Christmas doesn’t need to be neon!

Another option is using conventional lights but having them on a timer to come on at, for example, 6 p.m. and turn off at midnight. This allows your lighted display to be enjoyed in the evening hours but not run all night when there are few to see it. From midnight to 6 a.m. is 42 hours per week that the lights are not on – which can add up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChoose energy efficient lights and make use of timers on the Christmas tree as well as outdoor lights. This insures no one forgets to unplug the tree before bed and also gives a consistent turning on of lights that can appear someone is plugging them in.

Still another option is to have an unlighted display with solar lights illuminating it. These lights can be standard ones that often sell in a package for about $20. A soft glow on a manger scene, for example, can save money and capture the spirit of the season.

Look to non-powered displays such as candles set up in luminary fashion. Be sure to secure the bag or can solidly so it doesn’t blow or tip over and so the candle doesn’t start a fire in dry leaves or other debris.

Decorate posts on yard lights with safe tinsel or plastic wreath garland. These are very inexpensive and the evergreen looking garland can be offset with weatherproof ribbon for the maximum in energy efficient Christmas decorations – those that use no electricity.

Using evergreens in the yard is a natural way to decorate. You can even add a natural touch with securing suet feeders nearby to encourage live birds to add to a display. Brightly colored cardinals, wrens and other songbirds appreciate a treat and are resourceful if you aren’t able to feed the whole winter. You can even add sunflower seeds, dry unsugared cereal, ‘buggy’ oatmeal and castoffs from popcorn as extra goodies in a flat feeder where it won’t get wet.

For those with more than the average commitment a live nativity can be a touch of Christmas present. A doll can represent the baby, with a few sheep and a donkey and cow tethered as well as the people. Creative types might combine tradition with technology for a modern Christmas scene.

These are just a few ways that can spread the Christmas decorating while not resulting in high fees on your power bill. Energy efficient Christmas decorations need not be expensive or dull!


Tips to Cut Your Fresh Christmas Tree

treeslandMany people seem intimidated by if not puzzled by how to cut a Christmas tree. A fresh cut Christmas tree that is properly cared for is much safer than one that may dry out soon after you get it. Here are some tips to keep your tree safe and beautiful.

There are many farms where you can select a tree but when visiting them remember that their business – their annual income! – is on this season. As one who raised trees for the Christmas season there are many mistakes someone can make that cost you money and can also cost the farm money.

The biggest waste was from people who would cut a tree then see a “better one” and leave the first one to cut a second one. In effect this takes two trees while paying for one. Another one is in ‘topping’ trees – the 10 foot tree that someone liked the top 5 feet so they cut the tree half way up, leaving a bottom half that could not be sold or used as a tree, and reducing the big trees available for businesses or churches that wanted those big trees. Be considerate of your tree farmers!

One of the biggest errors is not measuring! That big beautiful 8 foot tree just is not going to fit in your six foot living room! Additionally a six foot tree won’t fit with room for the star or angel tree topper! Be realistic about the size tree you need.

Keep in mind also to allow 4-6 inches you’re going to take off before putting in water. Opinions vary about treating the water, using 7-Up, using just plain water – but not in that the tree needs plenty of it! When you get the tree home make another fresh cut at the base of the tree.

A fresh cut insures the water is soaked up and the pores aren’t clogged shut with sap. Use a solidly secured bucket or tree stand and remember that your tree can use a gallon of water per day. Keeping your tree watered is the #1 way you can reduce drying it out, which reduces the fire issues.

Ideally you’ll have two people to cut and, for most trees of the size you’ll be searching for a hand saw or bow saw will do the job fine. Have the helper hold the tree upright which reduces the chances of the tree falling and “tearing” the cut. Try to arrange a time that you can cut, get the tree home, do your “butt cut” and get the tree in water. The faster this can happen the better for the tree.

The Christmas tree cutting can be a family tradition and a fresh cut Christmas tree starts the season off well. Have a great Christmas and enjoy your cut Christmas tree.

How to Stain a Deck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALearning how to stain a deck is not difficult with a little research and a willingness to perhaps get a little dirty. If your deck is looking a little dingy it might be time for a facelift and a good deck stain can make a world of difference.

Look at your deck after a rain or with a little water on it – are there “puddles” or does it sink into the deck? If there’s drops on top your deck won’t need sealed, even if you stain it. If it seeps in, however, a good deck sealer is needed in order to maintain the structure of the deck as well as the appearance.

A good clear water repellant preserves the wood from fading, helps with sun and water protection. There also is a semi-transparent and the dark deck stains, which offer the most protection. If you don’t have a new deck, you’ll need to prepare the deck itself. Sand rough spots down, repair boards that are showing excessive wear. You’ll need at least two days between 50-90 degrees to properly get the deck stain applied. Do not apply in hot sun – if the deck stain dries too quickly it doesn’t soak in, and it needs to soak in to give the maximum protection.

Once the deck is prepared gently stir the stain to mix thoroughly – don’t shake it and keep the bubbles to a minimum for the best look when staining a deck. Have all dust, debris, sawdust and so forth swept off the deck and it should be completely dry. Working 2-3 boards at a time apply the stain, covering thoroughly but without allowing it to puddle. Working quickly to cover the deck it may help to have someone with a roller going behind you to insure it is spread thoroughly and evenly. Use a brush to get into the corners and joints, railings and steps to cover the deck evenly.

With a variety of deck stains available to consumers you can treat your deck with a light stain to let the wood grain show through or the darker, longer lasting stain that protects with a longer wear life. A good exterior stain greatly extends the life of your deck and allows you to enjoy it rather than replacing it.

There are others who don’t like stains at all and prefer to coordinate the deck with the house with the use of deck paint. These are often white, grey or other light colors but based on individual tastes.

Whether you paint or use deck stain, cover thoroughly and evenly and allow the deck to dry completely for at least 24 hours before stepping onto it or using it. Your reward is a beautiful deck that takes little other maintenance.

How to Make Goat Milk Soaps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you have an abundance of goat’s milk and you use it for drinking, cheese, ice cream and every recipe you can find that has milk it’s natural to want to find other ways to use it. With heavy milking Toggenburgs, Alpines, Saanens and recorded grades there was plenty of milk and soaps were a natural extension to make and sell.

Goat’s milk soaps have been credited with clearing skin conditions and milk soaps as a rule are gentler than those with harsh chemicals. Making goats milk soaps is not difficult but it is exacting.

You will need to gather supplies. These include a large stainless steel kettle for mixing the soap. Make sure this is stainless steel rather than aluminum or other materials as it not only has to stand the heat but the caustic nature of the lye reacting to make soap. A stainless steel spoon helps as well as a stick blender used just for your soap making. A wide variety of molds can be used including plastic containers providing they can handle heat. A couple of candy or meat thermometers are needed also as you’ll need to watch temperatures.

Highly recommended are plastic safety goggles and long sleeves with gloves. Keep pets and small children out of the room or confined when mixing soap for their safety and yours.

You can follow an existing recipe or as you gain experience create your own. An excellent source for soapmakers is as you can plug in your type of lye, liquid, what kind of fats and it calculates how much lye to use for you.

For example to use 12 ounces of corn oil and 36 ounces soybean oil (vegetable oil) it calls for 12-18 ounces of milk and, for the medium range, 6.18 to 5.98 ounces of lye, with the lower range making a softer soap.

Measure the oils into a pan and place on low on the stove, with a thermometer attached to the pan to watch the temperature. While that is heating work on the other half of the equation.

Measure the milk into the pot and add the lye to it. Always add it this way and with milk soaps watch carefully your thermometer. I found better success by placing the pan I’m working in in a sink of cold water. As you add the lye you will find the milk heats up considerablythe cold water outside the pan helps disperse this heat somewhat. By watching the temperature try to keep it less than 140 degreesas it starts to heat up slow down pouring and keep gently stirring.

The reason for this caution is to keep the milk from curdling, a problem some soapmakers have found. By watching the heat and doing it this way I never had a problem with this issue. Once all the lye is added you’ll need to carefully balance things to bring the lye mixture and the oils to the same temperature. I used 100 degrees as my temperature. The important thing is that both are the same temperature.

Once the same temperature is reached add the oils to the lye mixture, stirring constantly. Some soapmakers use a stick blender once the oils are added while others prefer to stir by hand. Be careful not to splash it or allow pets or children to stir it. As you are stirring you are looking for “tracing” which can take more than 15 minutes but with a blender can take less. Look carefully for this which will leave a drop for several seconds or leave a pattern where you have stirred for several seconds. Once this is seen quickly pour into your prepared molds as the soap is soft but can set quickly.

Once in the molds lightly cover and cover with a blanket to regulate temperature. If the soap cools too quickly it can spoil a batch. Carefully check the soap daily to see when it is set soft but firm. If you are using a mold that requires cutting you’ll want to turn it out and cut while it’s firm but not hardened. Once your soap is cut place on a rack out of reach of pets and children to cure or harden.

As you gain experience you can add oatmeal and other things to your soaps after the oils but before tracing begins. Some even add shredded rose petals! The 48 ounce weight can make a dozen cut bars but if you pretty up’ the edges don’t throw away the peelings and pieces. You can make laundry soap and even soft soap also.

Don’t underestimate the danger of lye but don’t be afraid of it either. Treat it with respect and use it carefully. Always add the lye to liquid, not the other way around.

Soap making is a way to use some milk, although not large amounts, but is also one more thing you can produce at home. Milk soaps are not difficult to make.

Save Money in Your Small Business Budget

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASaving money isn’t simply the latest fashion buzzword. For many it has become a means of business survival. At a time when business is down how do you advertise more? How do you invest in your business when there’s little to invest? Get creative!

Take one more look at what you can do without. Many things such as phone or internet contracts, vehicle payments and building rent or payment can’t be changed. But many things can be! Consider an office area to meet with clients. Instead of a working lunch at a restaurant maintain easy to serve options and an on-site option.

Advertising is something that must be done but it doesn’t mean it must be expensive. Consider using social media to build a loyal customer base. It takes longer, it’s true but it also allows for a more loyal customer. It allows for personal contact with people. As many farmers and agricultural people have found it also is a great way to reach your end customer.

There are many ways social media can save money for your small business. Twitter and Facebook allow for short contacts several times daily. Informational YouTube videos need not be expensive – show your product, show what you do, give weekly minute long informational videos. This takes a little time and practice but chances are more will see it than a network spot for much less money. A blog is another way to reach out in a little more depth, with information related to your business, what you do and/or the products you deal with. This isn’t all about selling – it’s informing. Allowing others to learn from you and learn something they didn’t know before sticks in their minds more than most commercials they’ll hear.

Stock up when products are on sale. Have a cabinet or other storage area and when items are on sale stock up! Getting a year’s worth of staples, paper clips or other office supplies insures you have the items needed and at a good price.

Shop around for printer ink and other supplies. Don’t assume mail order is cheaper. Consider value as well – if a local place has the same supplies for a few pennies more supporting them may be good business. After all, if the shoe was on the other foot do you want their support or is it ok to send it out of the area?

Know when a better value is designating. Consider bartering as a means to get work done. Among the popular requests in barter groups is roofing and dental work but there are many ways that can bring in equitable trade. This usually must be accounted like cash, it just removes a step in the cash transaction.

There are many ways to save money in your small business budget. Shop smart. Invest wisely and seek the best value.

How to Tell If Your Home Needs a New Roof

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the first things people see when pulling into a home is the roof. A good roof is solid and attractive with no dips, weaknesses or missing shingles. Replacing the roof on your home is a major expense costing thousands of dollars. Replacing a roof is something we know we need to do someday but it is something we’d rather do at our convenience rather than because it has to be done this month! One way to tell if your roof needs replaced is to do a home heating inspection.

A home heating inspection tells you several things including how much heat is being lost through your roof. A good home heating inspection also tells if there are issues with the heater itself, checks for gas line safety, carbon monoxide safety checks for furnace recalls, chimney inspection and other issues that can keep your heating system working efficiently. This helps your home work more efficiently and when heat loss increases through the roof then there is little question a new roof is in order.

When considering a new roof is there a clause in home owners associations or area requirements for a historical roof or a certain color? This is a factor in the final cost as not all roof replacements are the same. Typically a new roof has a warranty but some advise even a good roof that is maintained has a 15-20 year lifespan.

A few questions come up with the lifespan being a factor. When was the roof last replaced? If there is a corner damaged you might repair just that corner but if it’s been 20 years then it might be a better use of dollars to get a new roof. How much do you want to change the look of your home?

Your new roof might be metal, asphalt shingles, wood shakes, slate, clay or fiber cement. Consider all parts of your situation from a safety standpoint as well as a home safety one. If you live in a dry area and use wood heat, combined with dry wood shakes on your roof this could result in a fire. Use extra caution.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour home’s roof withstands hot summer sun as well as hail, storms and in some places snow and ice. An effective inspection looks at the amount of insulation in the roof not just for heating but cooling as well. Does your home have areas of the roof that appear weakened or sag? Is there perhaps a section covered by a tree that stays damper and creates additional wear on the roof? One way to tell at a glance if the insulation is effective and the roof protected is during the snow how much snow is on the roof? If the snow sits there then you probably have enough insulation and a solid roof. When the snow melts off quickly this can indicate that heat is escaping from the roof, melting the snow. Check the attic or upper level to insure there is no leaks or bad spots from the inside also.

If there is missing or torn shingles then it can call for replacement of a roof. Thoroughly check the walls on the inside of the roof line. Are there areas where there is water damage or moisture, blistered paint or other indications of water coming into the home? If this is visible it indicates a new roof is needed as soon as possible before additional, more expensive damage is done to the home.

If the design or materials of the roof are inferior the roof might not last the expected 15-20 years and may show signs of home distress in 10 years. If this is indicated and the roof needs replaced don’t go just on the time since it was done last. Obviously if there has been storm damage, fire or other damage to the roof then a new roof is in order. This part of your home protects the rest of the home and contents. Look carefully at a home heating inspection recommendation and at the condition of the roof itself. If you need a new roof get a quality one and hopefully it’ll be the last one you need to get!

Green Business Ideas for Rural Areas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose who live outside the cities often are seen as a disadvantage when it comes to having a business. Think outside the box! Here are five businesses you can do in many areas especially those that are more rural.

Composting This is about as low input as you can want and one of the lowest cost businesses to start. You’ll need materials to make compost bins often these can be recycled. Old barrels, metal garbage cans, remnants of fencing materials, wooden pallets and a host of other materials can be used to create bins. Often this is materials other people are throwing out. You can surround your bins with flowers to block the view or even bushes that give the birds shelter and food. You’ll layer raw materials manure, vegetation matter and soil and mix occasionally. People with livestock often have plenty of manure they’d happily give you a pickup load. Vegetation matter is yard waste as well as wood shavings (often used as bedding with livestock), much kitchen waste and grass after mowing the lawn. A little good soil keeps the compost starting good.

Start up costs are as minimal or deluxe as you want to be. This is something that can be done discreetly alongside a garage or in a back yard on a small scale. It takes about six months to “cook”- the inside of the pile when deep enough heats up. Stir the pile occasionally to mix all the “ingredients” together. You can get started with a pickup for hauling things and recycled materials; or if you are looking at more volume, a small tractor with a loader on it to mix the pile and handle heavier work. The compost is wonderful for gardens. Some studies show that the #1 “crop” in the US is lawn grass and a great deal of that goes “away” into landfills.

Build bat houses Did you know that bats consume thousands of mosquitoes every night? Many bats are facing housing issues due to lack of habitat making bat houses for home owners to put in their trees can be a way to help the bats survive and help ourselves without sprays as well. Bat house plans are easily available online. For the person with basic tools already the only cost is the wood to make it with and often you can get free wood, with permission, from scrap bins on construction sites.

Build bird houses and feeders bird watching is a popular hobby bird houses and feeders give the birds housing and food. There are many varieties on the market but dig deeper. Many owls take a larger house with special dimensions in order to be happy and many of these raptors are losing habitat. This is a chance to not only help your income but also create a range of bird houses for those birds few think about that perhaps aren’t as well known and loved as the cardinals and finches. You can also go for simplicity making bird feeders from pieces of wood with the bark still on them. A few holes drilled to put hangers in, some perches and slather a peanut butter (chunky is good!) and bird seed mix that gives the birds more than the typical bird feeder. A small “roof” over it helps deter squirrels as well as extend the life of the feeder’ and can be as simple as a clean can over the end nailed or screwed in place. For those with tools the startup cost may be minimal scrap wood, cans and other “recycled” items have a use besides clogging landfills!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrow something good! Do you love to get in the garden? Grow herbs, vegetables or even a small fruit orchard and sell at farmers markets. You can start seeds, make “natural” crafts from gourds and other crops, sell the finished crops or maintain a “pick your own” format. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Cost for basic garden tools and seed under $1,000. If you are eyeing larger areas a small tractor with attachments makes work much easier. Alternately, natural animal power can do the work although a big slower they don’t use fuels.

Just spin it natural fiber from sheep is, for many, a byproduct. Fiber can be from. Alpaca, llama, angora goat (mohair), angora rabbit and even dog hair can be spun, mixed and used to create yarn for weaving and knitting or crocheting. You don’t have to have the animals for this you can probably find those contacts that have fleeces for sale. These can make not only clothing but wonderful wall hangings and other items for around the home. Many of these fibers are available around the world and the cost is reasonable. If you are taking “raw” fleeces you need a way to wash them, card it (separate into sections for spinning). You’ll need a spinning wheel and loom which can vary greatly in cost. You might consider natural fibers or natural dyes. Cost to start under $1,000 US for spinning wheel and loom, additional $400-1000 for a drum carder which allows carding of fleeces faster.

The economy can close doors but it can open others. What are your talents and how can you use them for green and green business?