Backyard Chats

Bath Sponges
August 27, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Homekeeping

If  scubbies are a part of the family’s bath routine, it’s important that they are laundered as routinely as washcloths.  An alternative to the nylon bath scrubby is the all natural, biodegradable loofah sponge.


Spinach Lasagna
August 25, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Recipes

Tired of the typical ground beef version of lasagna? Give this spinach version a try. Don’t let the list of ingredients intimidate you. The majority of the ingredients are thrown into a pot and stewed to produce the sauce. This is a revision of the original recipe, Lasagna Napoli from the Buffet on the Bayou cookbook.

In a large pot, add 2 T. vegetable oil, 1 T. olive oil and sauté 1 large onion finely chopped over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add 2-3 finely minced garlic cloves and sauté for about 1 minute.

Add:  1/4 lb. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced; 16 oz. can Italian tomatoes; 6 oz. tomato paste; 2 t. salt; 1 1/2 t. each of basil and oregano (I just used 2 t. of mixed, dried Italian seasoning); 1/2 t. pepper; 1-1/2 t. sugar; 1-1/2 t. chili powder (shocking, I know!); 1 cup water and  2 T. chopped parsley (don’t worry too much if you don’t have the parsley. I happen to have some fresh basil, so I chopped it up and threw it in too).

2. Cover and simmer for 2 hours over low heat stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

3. Add 4 oz. drained sliced black olives & 1 beaten egg (stir the sauce while you add the egg)

4. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 egg; 10 oz (thawed) frozen spinach (squeeze out the majority of the excess water); 1 cup cottage cheese (small curd is best); 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese; 2 T. water

5. The final step calls for 1 pound thinly sliced prosciutto or lean ham and 1-3/4 oz pepperoni slices. (I just used some leftover thin ham)

Assemble the lasagna in a greased 8″x 8″ oven proof dish. Layer 1/3 of the sauce, 3 uncooked lasagna noodles (break noodles to fit in pan if necessary).

1/2 the spinach mixture, 1/2 of the ham

and 4 oz grated mozzarella cheese.

Repeat layers; topping with last third of the sauce.

6. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Remove foil; top with an additional 4 oz grated mozzarella cheese; return to oven, uncovered and hear just until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let set 10-15 minutes to help solidify the ingredients. Leftovers are great and freeze well. As a mater of fact, doubling the recipe and putting one in the freezer would be a great idea!

Will feed 4 very hungry people or 6 regular appetites. Serve with a tossed salad, garlic bread and a vegetable of choice.

Cleaning Garbage Cans
August 23, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Homekeeping

Nobody likes cleaning out nasty garbage cans. Next time garbage pickup coincides with a nice rainfall, set the trashcans where they will collect the most water.  A full trashcan can be extremely heavy so  avoid letting them get too full. When the weather allows, add a bit of cleanser (earth friendly, of course), close the lid and “slosh” the mixture back and forth. Empty and let the sun freshen and deodorize it.

Disposing of Uncooked Meat Scraps
August 21, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Food

When the garbage pickup isn’t scheduled for another week, disposing of uncooked meat scraps can present a dilemma. Anyone tossing them into the kitchen trash is well aware of the potent aroma the following morning. A solution to the problem is to save bread bags for just such occasions. Using a wide felt tip pen, mark the bag “TRASH”. Place the meat scraps into the bread bag; tie the excess tail of the bag into a tight knot and toss in the freezer until the next pickup. Freezing the contents may also prevent all the neighborhood scavengers from ransacking the garbage cans.

Basic Waldorf Salad
August 19, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Recipes

We often overlook the basic items we have to work with. One common apple, some celery, optional nuts and a simple dressing can quickly be thrown together for an additional component of a meal.

Dressing: 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise,  a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon sugar,  just enough milk to thin to dressing consistency. (all ingredients can be adjusted to your taste)

Mix with: one apple, chopped

two stalks of celery, chopped

1-2 Tablespoons pecans or walnuts

Serves 3.

Home Security
August 17, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Homekeeping

Home security is an ongoing battle. Help protect your property with the following checklist:

1 –  Get the right doors. Exterior doors should be fiber glass, solid wood, solid wood core (a layer of veneer over solid wood), or metal. Hollow doors are merely sheets of veneer over a cardboard core and can be broken with ease. Make sure metal doors are reinforced inside, and have what is called a lock block. Otherwise, they can be bent out of the frame using a car jack.

2- Lock all doors and windows. In a significant percentage of burglaries, the criminal enters through an unlocked door. Even the strongest locks in the world are useless if you don’t use them. Lock all exterior doors whenever you go out–even if you’ll just be gone a few minutes–and also while you’re at home, particularly at night.

3 – Install deadbolt locks. With the exception of sliding doors, all exterior doors should have a deadbolt lock in addition to the lock built into the doorknob. The deadbolt should be high quality (grade 1 or 2, solid metal with no exposed screws on the exterior), with a throw bolt (the bolt that comes out of the door) at least 1 inch long. The lock should be properly installed. Many homes have lower quality deadbolts or throw bolts less than 1 inch. These must be replaced. *Install locks with an ANSI Grade 1 classification on exterior doors, doors between attached garages and living spaces and garage man doors (even if the garage is not attached to the house). *

4 – Install a dead-lock. Adding an additional lock will provide extra security when you are home. The dead-lock, sometimes called an ‘exit-only deadbolt’ is a deadbolt that does not have an external key. It is clearly visible on the door from the outside, but cannot be broken into without destroying the door, frame or lock itself. While this security won’t help directly when you aren’t home, the visibility may discourage an intruder from trying the door. Dead-lock warning!

5 – Locking the door with a key – Install cylinder guards around the lock cylinders (the part where you insert the key). Burglars can sometimes remove or damage lock cylinders by hammering, wrenching, or prying. Protect these with metal guard plates or protective rings on both sides of the door. Install guard plates with round-head carriage bolts to prevent them from being unscrewed. Free-spinning rings around the cylinders will prevent the use of a pipe wrench to twist out the cylinder. Many locks come with these already, but if yours doesn’t, you can purchase them.  (Locks are now being offered with keys which cannot be copied except by specified locksmiths or by the lock’s manufacturer.)

6 – Replace flimsy strike plates. The strike plate is the metal plate that surrounds the  lock set (the hole in the door frame where the lock bolt enters). All exterior doors should have heavy-duty metal security strike plates secured by four 3-inch screws. Many homes are built with lower quality strike plates or have strike plates that are secured with short screws that just attach to the door jamb, not the underlying stud.

Installing a $10 box strike with 3-inch screws will make almost any door lock more secure.

7 – Secure exposed hinges. Hinges should be on the inside of the door. If yours are not, re-hang the door or secure the exposed hinges with non-removable pins. You can do this by removing at least the two center screws of the hinge (on each side) and replacing them with non-removable hinge pins (you can get these at the hardware store) or double-headed masonry nails. Even hinges that are not exposed should be secured to the frame with 3-inch screws.

8 – Fortify your frame. Even with a strong door and quality, properly installed locks, a burglar may be able to gain entry by breaking or prying the door frame. Most door frame moldings are simply tacked to the wall, and so a crowbar or a solid kick can easily separate the frame from the wall. Secure your door frames to the walls by installing several 3-inch screws along the frame and doorstop. The screws should reach the wall stud.

9 –  Install viewers. Viewers, also called peep holes, allow you to see who is on the other side of the door. Install wide-angle viewers at eye level on all exterior doors. If you have to open your door to see, your locks won’t do you much good. Try to find peep holes with covers to prevent people from looking back in with special tools, like a reverse peephole viewer. A wide-angle, 160° peephole on the door about 58 inches from the ground helps screen visitors to the home

10 – Reinforce glass. For maximum security, your exterior doors should be windowless, and you should not have windows close enough to the door so that a thief could break the window and unlock the door from the inside. If you do have sliding glass doors, glass door panels or nearby windows, however, cover the glass with a security grate or grill on the outside or a clear, unbreakable polycarbonate panel secured behind the glass on the inside.

11 – Secure sliding doors. The best way to secure sliding doors is to install keyed locks at the top and bottom. You can also make or purchase a bar that swings down from the door frame to the middle of the door to prevent the door from sliding. At the very least, place a rod (a thick wooden dowel, for example) in the bottom track of the door to keep it from being opened. Regardless of the method you use, it’s a good idea to reinforce the glass with polycarbonate panels as recommended in the previous step.

12 – Outdoor lighting: Auto-sensor or time controlled outdoor lighting can be an effective deterrent. Exterior security lighting should provide at least 100 feet of visibility.

13 – Burglar alarms. A burglar alarm alone may not be enough. Ineffective alarms may be little more than a nuisance to the neighborhood. Installation and maintenance can be expensive. Do your research. Consider checking with your insurance company on which alarms they recommend.

Family Budget
August 15, 2010, 7:00 am
Filed under: Homekeeping

Keeping to a budget may be tricky, but knowing how to “slice the pie” might help. The following  information is from For more details, visit their website:

Housing Expenses: mortgage – 32% – 35%;  rental -15% – 20%
housing expenses will likely be your largest expense item, especially if you own a home. Housing expenses include:

— your mortgage payment or monthly rental payment
— utility services (electric, gas, oil, water, sewage, garbage, etc.)
— telephone, internet, cable
— house repairs, maintenance & improvements

Transportation: 9%-12% of income
transportation expenses include:

— auto loan payment
— auto insurance
— fuel expenses
— maintenance and repairs
— taxes, licensing
— parking
— public transportation;  toll fees

Family or Personal Care: 18%-19% of income;15-25% of income  for full child/elder care services
family care expenses include:

— family care insurance (health, disability, life, dental, other care)
— doctor, dental, eye care, hospital visits
— veterinarian expenses
— prescriptions and over-the-counter medications
— child care
— elder care
— health clubs

Living Expenses: 27-35% of income
home living expenses include:

— food
— home living supplies
— school and work lunches
— snacks, vendors
— clothing
— education-related expenses
— home services (cleaning, gardening)
— postage and paper supplies

Family Recreation: 4-6% of income
recreation expenses include:

— dining out
— movies out and rentals
— outside entertainment
— cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor
— birthdays and holidays
— vacation travel
— weekend, day trips
— gambling, lottery tickets

Obligations: 18-28% of income (your goal is to reduce this percentage)
obligation expenses include:

— credit card payments
— student loan payments
— home equity line or loan payments
— personal loan payments
— alimony, child support payments
— judgment or liens
— other assessed taxes
— charitable donations

Savings: 2-10% of income (goal is to increase this percentage)
savings include:

— 401K contributions
— IRA contributions
— investments
— savings (personal, college, retirement)

Want to know how your family’s budget stacks up? ……..