Paint Before you redecorate, wash the walls with trisodium phosphate (a heavy-duty dirt-and-grease remover), rinse thoroughly and sand lightly, then paint, says Debbie Travis, host of the home decor show Facelift on hgtv. Ask the paint expert at the store to help you choose the correct primer and paint for the surface you’re tackling. Be brave! If you go for a safe choice, such as soft beige, it won’t make your heart sing. Pick a shade you love and will want to see for the next few years.
Cut flowers Vases, knives and anything else that comes in contact with your flowers should be as clean as your own dinnerware to prevent bacterial growth, which clogs up the vessels in the stems that take water to the flower heads. As well, add a packet of plant food, says Marianne Turley, owner of Turley’s Florist in Nanaimo, B.C. Besides nutrients, it contains bactericide and will make your flowers last up to twice as long. Place blooms in tepid water: it holds slightly more oxygen and dissolves plant food better. Change the water in the vase and cut the stem ends every two or three days. (You don’t need to cut the ends off initially, unless they were not stored in water.) And cutting stems on an angle has no benefit.
Wildflowers As you pick grasses or wildflowers (stick to species that are plentiful and not protected, such as daisies and goldenrod), put them straight into a bucket containing water and vinegar (8 cups/2 L water to ? cup/50 mL vinegar) – it’s a favourite trick of Elizabeth McMillan, a longtime volunteer with the Canadian Wildlife Federation in Ottawa. Leave them for two or three hours. If the flowers are still droopy, recut the stems under the vinegar water and leave a bit longer, then arrange in fresh water in a vase.
A memorable dinner party Prolong the fun by thinking of a meal as something organic: wave after wave of conversation, food, wine and companionship, says chef Christine Cushing, host of Christine Cushing Live on Food Network Canada. Eat a little, talk a little. Remember that a meal isn’t just about the food – it’s about enjoying life and getting to know one another. Instead of putting food on plates, serve different platters family-style. Offer lots of simple light fare, such as salads, which will keep guests eating.
Wine Add a few squirts of nitrogen gas from a can of wine-preserving spray (available at liquor stores and cooking-supply stores) before you recork. The gas forces out oxygen, which is what eventually turns wine to vinegar, says Ottawa-based wine writer Natalie MacLean. Refrigerate the opened bottle. Most of a white wine’s bouquet and flavour will last three or four days. Reds last a day or two longer since they have more colour pigments, which act as a preservative.
Potatoes Store spuds in a cool, dark high-humidity place, says Roland MacDonald of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board. Try a cupboard or the basement, but skip the fridge – it’s too cold and dry. And if you put a wrinkled peeled potato in water, it will firm up again.
Sour cream Scoop some into a dish rather than leaving the whole container on the table, suggests Lynda Lowry, a professional home economist in Neepawa, Man. The longer sour cream and yogurt sit out – and the more times you stick a spoon in them – the faster they go off. If you see mould (which looks like pink or green scum), don’t skim it off the surface. Toxins can be found throughout, so toss the whole thing.
Bread Lovely, grainy bakery bread with no preservatives…yum! Don’t put it in the fridge because it will dry out. Eat it fresh, then slice leftovers and freeze so you can grab a slice or two as needed.
Spices Spices won’t go bad – they just lose their oomph when their oils are exposed to heat, light and air. So keep them cool, in the dark and tightly packaged. In particular, the colour and flavour of red spices, such as paprika, cayenne pepper and chili powder, react badly to heat, so store them in the fridge, says Lowry.
Cheese Rewrap cheese tightly in fresh plastic wrap after you open it and return it promptly to the fridge. If you see mould on hard cheese, such as cheddar, cut an inch away from the mould and discard the spoiled piece. Mould on soft cheese? Lowry says to throw it out.
Non-stick frying pan Spend a little more money on a higher-quality pan, advises Cushing. Higher-priced non-stick pans have a more durable bond to the base, and there will be less peeling, she says. Cook at moderate heat (no more than medium-high), and use a scrubber and utensils designed for non-stick pans.
Jeans The chemical and abrasive processes that make jeans look aged and comfy are tough on fabric, according to Brian Chelsky, president of Careful Hand Laundry & Dry Cleaners in Toronto. Turn jeans inside out when you launder them. This way, the inside of the garment takes the stress of the washing process rather than the already fragile outside.
Lingerie Wash by hand with warm water and a gentle soap, such as Forever New, says Diane Thomson, owner of Dianes Lingerie in Vancouver. The churning action of the washer is usually too much for delicates, although you’re safe washing pantyhose and bras by machine if you use a hosiery bag.
Pantyhose Make sure you have the right size so you’re not pulling them too taut. Put them on slowly so you don’t poke a toe or fingernail through. Use the palm of your hand rather than your fingertips to ease them up your legs. And put on both legs at the same time. If you pull one leg up to the thigh, you’ll cause a huge stretch through the gusset.
Bras Don’t wear the same bra two days in a row – the elastic needs a break so it doesn’t get stretched out. Wear a sports bra for working out because a regular bra can’t handle that much action. Creams, deodorants and perspiration cause elastic to deteriorate, so wash your bras after they’ve been worn once or twice.
TIP Grab a few, take them in the shower with you and wash with gentle soap (not shampoo).
Shoes “Shine your shoes!” says FranÃ§ois Rollin, a shoemaker for Ontario’s renowned Stratford Festival. Coloured polish will take the beating instead of the leather. Avoid silicone products because they don’t allow leather to breathe. Mink oil is a much better choice if you want to waterproof leather. For suede shoes, try a product such as Suede Renew. Leave wet shoes to dry where it’s cool (in your entryway, for example). If you leave them near a heat source, the leather will cook, leaving it dry and ready to crack.
Gasoline If you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds (except in traffic), turn off your car. According to Natural Resources Canada, idling is hard on your engine and wastes gas – just 10 minutes of idling a day uses 100 litres of gas a year. And slow down. You burn a whopping 20 per cent more gas at 120 km/h than you do at 100 km/h. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations about engine oil, tire rotation and alignment, air and fuel systems, brakes and ignition. If these components aren’t in top condition, your car guzzles extra gas.
A vacation Return to work on a Tuesday rather than a Monday. You’ll have a shorter week, and you’ll hang on to that holiday buzz a bit longer. If you’re a manager, have an assistant or co-worker screen your e-mail so you only have need-to-see messages when you come back, suggests Ottawa lawyer Barbara Kincaid, who spends long hours at the Supreme Court of Canada. You don’t need to waste time reading about meetings that have come and gone.
Love Forget the little things, suggests Kelly Schiedel of Waterloo, Ont., who has been blissfully married to her husband, John, for 36 years. If you catalogue every little misdemeanour – that forgotten anniversary 12 years ago, for instance – your marriage is going to feel long but not in a good way.
A manicure Nails are jewels, not tools, insists esthetician Tara Swainson of Hair Peace Day Spa and Salon in Calgary, so always wear gloves for housework and gardening. Stimulate circulation to keep cuticles and nails healthy by massaging and moisturizing your hands. Between salon visits, apply a clear coat over the manicure every few days. If you’re doing a home manicure, make sure your nails are free of cuticle oil or moisturizer because the polish needs a clean non-slippery surface to adhere to. And don’t forget base coats and topcoats – they protect your nails as well as the manicure.
Orgasms Ottawa sex therapist Sue McGarvie, author of Quivering Jello: How to Have Mind-Blowing, Toe-Curling Orgasms (Northern Exposure), says women are turned on by imaginative and auditory cues the same way men are turned on by visual ones. So, try reading erotica or ask your partner to leave you a voice mail so you can start to think about the fun stuff that’s going to happen later. Or strengthen your vaginal muscles with Kegel exercises. (Clench and unclench these muscles the same way you would to stop your urine flow midstream.) Try “working out” every time you reach a stop sign or red light, and aim for 100 Kegels a day.
Make it go away!
There are some things you definitely don’t want to last. Here’s how to handle them:
A chatty phone caller If you’ve made futile attempts to get away, it’s OK to tell a little white lie, says Pamela Bedour, director of The Protocol School of Ontario in Zurich. For example, say: “I’m terribly sorry but I really have to go. My daughter needs help with her homework.” Or set off the timer on your stove and then say, “Oops, my oven timer just went off.”
A hangover Wine expert Natalie MacLean explains that alcohol is a diuretic, so the most important strategy is to drink lots of water before, during and after you imbibe. Others swear by popping an acetaminophen before bed (do not exceed the recommended dose).
The smell of onions Wash your hands with soap and cold water, then wipe them well on something made of stainless steel, such as a spoon or the kitchen faucet, says Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill Office for Science and Society in Montreal. The metal reacts with the compounds that create the smell to help destroy the odour.