Make Your Grill Gleam With These Cleaning Tips


This is pretty gross, huh? Don’t winterize your yard with your grill looking like this! Photo by Ken Bosma (Flickr)

We’re well into fall now, so it’s time to winterize the things you may have forgotten. While grilled squash is amazing, fall is a time when your outdoor cooker goes a bit unused. So now is the perfect time of year to clean it up and put it away.

What’s my secret ingredient for keeping the grill clean? Heat! Starting when the grill is a bit warmer makes getting the grates clean that much easier.

How to Clean a Propane Grill

This is the easiest and fastest way to do this that I’ve found:

  • Use aluminum foil to cover the top of your grill’s grates, and then turn your grill on. This may seem counter-intuitive, but getting your grill hot will turn much debris to ash and make it easier to clean. Shut the grill and leave it on for 15-30 minutes.
  • While it’s “cooking,” grab your supplies: work gloves, a big bucket of hot, soapy water, an old, clean towel, some tongs, more aluminum foil, a grill brush, and a stainless steel cleaner should your grill have a stainless steel exterior (WD-40 can be used for this, but something gentler like mild dish detergent also works).
  • Turn down the heat and let your grill cool. Use tongs to safely remove the foil. While the grates are still warm, you can simply use a slightly damp old towel to wipe away and debris. You also might want to flip the grates over and do each side. It’s much easier and faster to do this while they’re hot, huh? I’ve also heard that using half of an onion to clean the grates is very effective.
  • Let the grill continue to cool until it’s now only slightly warm. Turn off and disconnect the propane tank. While you’re down there, double-check your connections to make sure there’s no rust or issues. If there are, items might need to be replaced.
  • Next, you’ll be pulling your lovely grill apart, layer by layer. (Don’t be a doofus like me and forget how it all goes back in the end: You might want to make a chart as you go if you think you might do this.) Using the tongs, take off the grill grates and put them right in the soapy water bucket. There might be metal plates under your grill grates; do the same with them, too.
  • Now that your grill has cooled down, wearing work gloves, use the foil to protect your heating elements.
  • Go to town with your grill brush! Clean everywhere you can! Don’t do what a lot of grill owners do and forget about the flaky buildup on the hood: The hood can have a black buildup of smoke and grease. Clean the inside walls of your grill. After scraping away the grime with a grill brush (or a putty knife if you’re really having trouble), use your damp towel to wipe away excess. If you’re still having quite a bit of trouble here, a bit of vinegar can go a long way.
  • Take the foil off of your heating elements. Once you do, give them a good, hard look: Nothing should be clogging the holes for the flames. If there’s debris clogging them, brush it with your grill brush or poke holes in it with a thin, sharp nail.
  • Now for the really gross part: the drip pan. Dump it out into the trash, and then put it straight into the soapy bucket.
  • Clean the exterior of your grill with a gentle dish detergent solution and a sponge. If your grill has a tray or cabinet, get that clean, too.
  • Almost done! After giving the stuff in the soapy bucket another scrub with your brush, lean it against a wall to dry off.
  • Once everything is completely cool and dry, put it all back together, and then cover your grill with its cover. (We live in New York, and grills are expensive; get a cover!)

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

If you’re like many New Yorkers, you probably have a small charcoal grill. Cleaning it is really pretty easy, and it’s much faster and easier than doing a propane grill:

  • Dump out the ashes from the base and the ash catcher at the bottom.
  • Put the entire grate in a bucket of hot, soapy water and attack it with a grill brush.
  • Wipe out the bottom of the grill and the lid using hot, soapy water; grab a bristle brush or even a putty knife to help you if you have trouble.
  • Once it’s clean, let it dry for a while.
  • Put everything back together, and then store it in a dry, safe place away from the snow.

During the summer season, continuously clean the grill every time you use it, and cleaning it at the end of the season will be much easier!

The 5 Best Leaf Peeping Day Trips Outside Of New York City


Grab your camera: It’s almost time for leaf-peeping season! Photo by joyruH7 (Flickr)

If you are as much of a fan of fall as I am, you’ll probably want a break from the steel buildings of the city to see the leaves changing color. I could say to pick a direction and start driving; you’ll be likely to see the leaves changing color anywhere outside of New York City. But some places are simply better than others.

Before you go, be sure to check the fall foliage schedules for your destination, as many regions differ from one another on the best time to visit (though it is often in mid-October). Also, be sure to bring a blanket and pack a basket for a picnic, and don’t forget a warm sweater and, most importantly, a camera (hopefully one that’s better than your phone).

These are the five top places you can visit that I’ve found in my wanderings:

For Those Looking for the Most Scenic Drive: The Mohawk Trail (Route 2)

This is a long drive away, but it’s so worth it! I’ve seen Japanese tourists taking pictures there; this route is world-famous for its beauty during autumn. The Mohawk Trail, along Route 2 and Route 2A in Massachusetts, maps an old Native American trade route. It cuts through Savoy State Forest toward the small town of North Adams, which is very close to the New York border and holds its own fall foliage festival. Not only do you get a nearly constant view of the beautiful Berkshire mountains, but you also see streams, waterfalls, and many quaint New England towns.

For Those Who Don’t Want to Drive: The Metro North (Hudson Line) and Hudson Valley

For those who are currently car-less who want to see some great fall foliage, the MTA offers a solution. It might seem counterintuitive, since the Metro North is not the most comfortable, luxurious train service. However, when one is stuck with public transportation, this is a very nice day trip that allows you to take in an area that inspired an entire art movement in the mid-19th century. The Hudson Line travels all the way up to Poughkeepsie and is largely parallel to the Hudson River (which gets cleaner the further up you go). You can see some of the greatest views of the mountains and their reflection in the blue water while sitting comfortably in your seat. When you’re in Poughkeepsie, journey by foot on the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is a pedestrian bridge that allows you get out, stretch your legs, and take pictures.

For Food and Wine Fans: The Finger Lakes (Route 20)

There are numerous regions of upstate New York that are great for leaf-peeping: Honestly, the whole state is full of beautiful places to visit. However, one of the best drives is Route 20 from Albany west into the Finger Lakes region. If you travel to upstate New York, be sure to indulge in great food and drink as well. The Finger Lakes area is known for its wine country, which is a ton of fun to visit in the fall. And if you’re going upstate and you’re a food fan, make sure to stop at an orchard along the way to go apple-picking! Did you know that New York is the second-largest producer of apples in the U.S. and produces 29.5 million bushels annually? Visit one of the thousands of orchards and also get other fun stuff like cider doughnuts, homemade pies, and more farm-fresh treats!

For History Buffs and Enthusiasts: Route 169 in Connecticut

If you have a history buff traveling with you on your day trip, take them to the gorgeous and interesting Route 169. Often called “the quiet corner” of the state, this region is notable not just for the amazing foliage but for the general fall ambiance. Stone walls, Gothic houses, and 17th century buildings also pockmark this route. When leaving Brooklyn, make sure you visit Brooklyn: Brooklyn, CT, that is. Also, be sure you check out the old architecture of Pomfret, the Prudence Crandall Museum, and Roseland Cottage.

For Those Who Want an Active Adventure: The Poconos

More than 100 varieties of trees decorate the landscape of the Poconos, which are only about two hours away from New York City in Pennsylvania. You can simply take Route 507 around Lake Wallenpaupack for a lovely drive, or you can indulge in some of the fun activities in the area. For those with small children, enjoy The Great Pocono Pumpkin Festival. You can also go canoeing or kayaking in the area with Kittatinny Canoes or even enjoy ziplining through the fall foliage for a really crazy time at the Camelbeach Lodge’s adventure course. There are numerous ways to enjoy an active leaf-peeping excursion, and the Poconos are close enough to still make it a day trip.

For Those Who Want to Stay in NYC

Bloomingdale Park is a huge, gorgeous, 138-acre park in Staten Island. It’s a stretch of land that has the color and calmness you’re looking for without the long drive. For free, on October 25 at 1 p.m., you can join in on a fall foliage hike that’s guided by naturalists. You’ll still need to take a ferry, but the beauty of the leaves will make you forget that you’re actually still in NYC. Central Park also has some lovely foliage this time of year as well, so if you’re really trapped in Manhattan, that’s the best place to go!

I must insist that if you’re an enthusiast, just take that extra day, though. Stay at a bed and breakfast and explore more of the regions that are world-famous for their foliage that are just a little too far away for a proper day trip, like Route 100 in Vermont (or any other major highway in Vermont, really), the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, or Route 1 in Maine.

Take the time to enjoy the season this fall!

Share A Coke With Your Home: How To Clean With Coca-Cola


Are you ready to get cleaning with a cheap and often readily available substance? How about the world’s favorite soda? Photo: Photo by Oilpanhands (Wikimedia Commons)

Have you ever looked at the nutrition facts of dark cola? Don’t. It’s scary. Besides a copious amount of corn syrup, caramel color, and carbonation, this sticky-sweet beverage also has a high acidity. For us creative cleaners out there, that means that the fizzy drink actually makes a very good cleaning solution. As a child’s beverage, it might not be the best choice. As a miracle cleaner, though, it’s excellent! To quote the great Willy Wonka, “Few people realize what tremendous power there is in one of those things!” I’ve had fun learning about how many ways you can use cola to clean items around the house. Here are some of the uses I’ve found.

A Toilet-Cleaner

Yes, you can use this miracle beverage to clean the john. Pour a can into the bowl and wait an hour. Scrub with a brush, flush, and a sparkling toilet remains.

A Bug-Killer

This one is kind of scary, huh? But yes, it kills bugs; they try to consume the sweet drink, and it will often destroy them. Spray it on hills in your garden or even in your cupboards to get rid of ants. Farmers in poor countries have actually used Coke as a cheaper pesticide that they spray directly on plants.

A Rust-Destroyer

Demolish rust stains on your outdoor furniture, your tools, a rusty nail or screw, or other metal items around the house. Cola has phosphoric acid, which causes the rust to loosen. You can even use a mug of soda to get rid of the tarnish on pennies. (I’ve done that before. Shiny pennies just make me happier, and they seem luckier!)

A Paint-Remover

Have you ever been in the middle of a painting project and just a tiny drop falls on a bit of metal furniture, a sink, or a cupboard? I’ve been there, and it can be very frustrating, especially if you’ve found the spot after it dried. Put some cola on a towel and rub the spot out. It’ll be gone in a few seconds. Then, go back over it with soapy water so that it doesn’t leave a sticky mess behind.

A Dish-Washer

If you have those burnt, crusted-on pans and pots, pour some cola into them and let them sit. The grime will flake away, and you’ll have to do much less scrubbing.

An Oil-Eraser

Garage floors, driveways, and sometimes even kitchens get marked with those deep oil stains that seem impossible to get out. Cola eats away at tough oils quickly. Pour it on the area, let it sit, and then wipe it away. I do this on my driveway every once in a while and spray it away with a hose until it’s good as new.

Photo: Photo by Christopher Sessums (Flickr)

A Stain-Remover

Instead of an expensive stain-remover, used relatively cheap Coke to remove stains and deodorize areas. It’s especially effective against deep oil stains and can even get gum out of hair or fibers! Creepily, it’s something used in crime scenes because it’s so effective at cleaning up blood. And if you’re ever in a situation where a skunk has sprayed your clothing, use cola to get it out.

A Grout-Cleaner

Those dirty spaces between tiles frustrate me because they’re hard to clean and naturally become gray and dingy over time. I get them to shine like new again with Coke!

These are just a handful of ways I’ve experimented with cleaning with Coke. I’ve also heard that it can clean car batteries and be used as a last-minute defroster for your windshield. I might not want to drink the stuff after making these discoveries, but I’ll continue to use it as a great at-home, DIY cleaning solution!

Winter Is Coming: How To Prepare Your Yard

The Starks are always right eventually: Winter is coming. I don’t know about you, but fall has certainly snuck up on me. I often find myself panicking shortly after Labor Day, trying to figure out what to do next. Should I make an apple pie? Should I hang cinnamon sticks in the doorways and decorate for Halloween? When are the pumpkin lattes back? One of the first things to do with fall preparation, however, is to prepare the yard for winter. Doing so now while the weather is still fairly agreeable is a good way to stay ahead and avoid headaches during winter.

Got perennials? Use the three p’s: prune, plant, and protect.

If you have perennial plants (or plants that flower for more than one season), now is the time to take care of them. Older shrubs and plants need to be pruned down so that they can flower next season; do make sure you read the instructions for your specific plant, however. Transplanting and planting of perennials also happens now. Lastly, take care of your beautiful shrubs and flowering plants with a thick layer of fresh mulch, which can protect your plants’ roots.

Mow the lawn until the first frost.

Homeowners often make the mistake of not mowing after Labor Day. Most grasses are still growing throughout the fall until the first frost. While you don’t want to clip it too short, you also don’t want to keep it long, as potential fungi and diseases will often spread under long grasses. Owners who really love their bit of green will want to aerate their lawns as well during this time.

Look out for dead trees and limbs.

Dead trees can be very dangerous in the wintertime. They can fall on wires and do untold damage to one’s property. See if you can notice which trees are dead, and be sure to take care of them now. Most tree removal services don’t operate in the winter, so contact them now. You’ll need wood for your next fall bonfire, right?

Put away gardening supplies and dry out hoses/tubing.

Don’t waste all of your hard work setting up an irrigation system and wrecking it or accidentally destroying a hose. Make sure your water supplies are drained and dry; otherwise, they’ll likely crack due to freezing. Some overachievers I know actually use an air compressor to blow out their irrigation systems. Also, make sure your gardening supplies don’t get needlessly damaged due to rust by tucking them away at the right moment.

Fertilize your garden and get a grip on weeds now for a better spring.

Many experts I’ve talked to tell me that now is the time to get ahead on weeds. Attack them now before they get away from you in the spring. Put out weed control and fertilizer now. I know, it seems like a waste. But this will give your lawn the nutrients it needs to survive the winter.

Rake consistently.

This is not going to make me a popular guy among all of the dads out there, but waiting to rake until all of the leaves have fallen is generally a bad idea. Fungus, suffocation, and a bad lawn can result from waiting too long to rake. (You can always do what I did and have the kids help. They’re fond of diving into piles of leaves, anyway.)

Protect potted plants with blankets.

Living in New York, I’m often a fan of simply bringing potted plants indoors, if that’s at all an option. If it’s not, you’ll want to go to great lengths to try to protect them. Place the pot on soil instead of pavement, and keep it on the shady side of your house. This can sometimes prevent the horrible freeze/thaw cycle of winter and spring. Yes, some people really do use blankets to protect their plants. Note that some species are hardier than others, so for some, this hardening off can be much easier than for others.

These are some of my tips for taking care of your lawn during the fall. Get this done quickly, and then move onto the really fun stuff about fall (like pies and lattes)!

9 Tips And Tricks To Clean Your Car Like A Pro

car wash

It’s time to get in there and take care of one of the places you visit every day! Photo by Przemo_W

Autumn is the perfect time of year to really get in there and give your whole car a deep clean. It’s not too hot like the summertime, when air-drying a car might result in spots and soap streaks, and it’s right before the frigid winter months. When you’re living in NYC, you understand: salt, dirt, snow, and ice can slowly destroy your vehicle. Make sure your car’s exterior is in good shape and its interior is comfortable during the winter by focusing on doing the hard work now.

Hand-Wash Your Car With a Soft Sponge

Even according to the experts, the best car wash is a hand-wash. However, instead of using the popular solution of dish detergent and water, invest in an actual car wash solution; dish soap cleans the car but strips away protective wax coatings. If you do decide to use dish soap and water, be sure to wax your car right after. Also, don’t just use a kitchen sponge, which can scratch your car; get a nice, soft sponge made for this express purpose. I’m not about needlessly spending money and would often rather do a cheaper, DIY project, but it’s important not to cut corners when you’re treating your car’s paint.

Wax On, Wax Off (Or Make Your Kids Do It)

Every few months (or whenever possible, really), put a fresh coat of wax on your car. This will help protect your vehicle from the relentless salt and snow that will happen over the next few months.

Clean Your Vents With an Air Compressor

This is very important. A thin layer of dust may have accumulated in your car, but make sure that it’s not all coming from the vents. You can either use an old toothbrush or a foam paintbrush to clean between the plastic parts of the vents, or you could be like a professional and blow out the whole vent system (including the ducts and the vents) with compressed air. This is also a good time of year to replace your air filter, too. If you’re trying to reclaim that “new car smell,” then this is one of the best things you can do.

Find All of the Trash

There are several people out there who may not have anything to pick up in their car, but if you have kids, a long commute, or simply not a lot of time, you’ll want take the time to pick up your trash. Remove water bottles, tissues, napkins, ticket stubs, or anything else that might be hiding in the crevices. Check under your seats, in cup-holders, and between the seats and the consoles. To alleviate this problem in the future, it’s sometimes easier to have a trash receptacle inside of your car. It could be a plastic bag or a small container.

Detail the Upholstery

Make sure you completely remove your floor mats and vacuum underneath. You can also vacuum your upholstery (especially if it’s fabric), and make sure to get into the nooks and crannies like the seams of your cushions or near the seat-belt connectors. Pour some baking soda over the surface of your upholstery if you want to catch more filth and have a nice, clean smell after. If your fabric is stained, there are several things you could do. For seat stains, use diluted all-purpose cleaner, a scrub brush, and some elbow grease; you’ll be surprised at what comes up.

Clean the Mats

If your carpeted floor mats are filthy, you may be able to throw them in the washing machine. If you have sticky, icky rubber mats, simply attack them with your hose for a while. If they’re really, really gross, attack them with a scrub brush and some detergent.

Create a DIY Air Freshener

Do you have baking soda? Do you have essential oil? Do you have a spare mason jar? Do you have a spare bit of fabric? (If you’ve been experimenting at all with any of the exciting things on Pinterest in the past, then you likely have all of these things.) Use this recipe to create an air freshener that will keep your car smelling much better than any of those cheap, dangling fresheners (and it won’t get in the way while you’re driving).

Clean Your Headlights

I’ve not tried this yet, but supposedly, you can clean your car’s headlights with toothpaste, water, and an old cloth. I believe it, though. Toothpaste sure is a miracle cleaner. You can clean your headlights with dish detergent or window cleaner as well.

Get Rid of Rust

Rust is a menace that will slowly destroy the value of your car. This DIY project requires an investment: paint that’s similar to your car’s original color and a “rust-killer” or primer. This is certainly worth it, though, if you’re living in the northern part of the country. Rust will often keep spreading, and the salty winter months will only make your rust worse. Take the time to clean up and fix this now and you can save a real headache later.

Remember that besides cleaning, you’ll want to do several other things to winterize your vehicle, such as checking your wiper blades, your tires, and your air filters. Something that a professional can do for you (I don’t advise doing this yourself) is an under-body coating, which protects all of the parts underneath your car with a coat of sealant. With these tactics and these tips, you can have a more comfortable and safer winter in your car!


How Parents Can Help Beat Those Back-To-School Blues

Kids at school

It’s back-to-school time! Is your child ready to get back into the routine?
Photo: Photo by US Department of Education (Flickr)

My kids are all grown up now, but I completely empathize with all of the parents struggling to get their kids ready for school after such an awesome summer. I remember hearing a fair deal of whining over the years, especially from the younger ones. What can parents do to beat the back-to-school blues and make sure that their child is mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to take on the new year? Here are some tips I’ve gathered over the years.

1. Spend about a week developing a morning routine.

During the summer, sleep schedules tend to go haywire. For at least a few days before school starts, start waking the kids up earlier and earlier. Get them to the point where waking up at 6:30 a.m. is no big deal anymore. Start to have breakfast in the morning (which is another habit that can be abandoned in the summer). Practice getting ready to go somewhere. Then, you’ll have a few days to get both them and yourself used to being up at that hour. Trust me, less complaining will happen on the first day of school as a result.

2. Gather school supplies together.

I can’t stress this enough: Allowing your child to pick out their own school supplies (from the colors to the type of notebooks to the pencil cases) provides them with autonomy and independence. When they pick out their own school supplies, they’ll already be invested in school. School can be something they secretly get a little excited about. So splurge on that notebook that has a famous character on it; it could make them happier all year.

3. Get and mentally rehearse the schedule for the day.

Some kids get really nervous on the first day. Mine did, and it’s normal. To stave off some of those nerves, make sure that your child has a copy of their schedule and has mentally rehearsed it enough so that they know basically where they need to go and when. This is especially true for high school kids, whose schedules can be quite complicated. Of course, last-minute changes may happen, so let them know that they also may need to just go with the flow. Also, they may want to record important information, like their locker combination, in one place ahead of time.

4. Get those gears turning.

Not all children are the type to enjoy summer reading, but it’s important to keep them thinking. Nudging them back into academics is kind of like jump-starting an engine. Give them some workbooks, reading, or homework to do before the summer ends. Or at the very least, ask them about what they had been learning at the end of last year.

5. Emotionally support them in whatever way you can.

What I loved to do when my kids were younger was to write little messages on napkins to be tucked into their lunchboxes. Some parents like to give a positive pep talk about having fun and making new friends before school starts. Some like to walk their kids to and from school or drop them off at school for the first couple of days. Others simply give extra hugs. While us adults know that the first day of going back to school is just a normal part of everyday life, for kids, it feels absolutely life-changing. Sit them down before and after and talk about the positive aspects of this experience.

These are some of my tips from one dad to the parents of New York. Reassure your kids that they’re going to learn a lot and have fun, and they likely will!

How To Use Essential Oils Throughout The Home

Essential oils may be great for aromatherapy, but can they really be used to help clean your home? In fact, lemon, tea tree, rosemary, lavender, and peppermint essential oils are all naturally antibacterial, whereas many more, like orange, pine, and eucalyptus, are often major ingredients in less-natural cleaning products. For me, the initial purchase of a bunch of essential oils was absolutely worth it; only a few drops are ever used at once, and they have plenty of uses around the home. Here are just a few of the ways you can clean and freshen your house with them.

Create Your Own, Cheaper Air Freshener

  • This is an obvious one, but it’s very useful. Pick your favorite scent and put it in a spray bottle with some distilled water. Spray as necessary. I like to spray a lavender freshener on linens.

Repel Pests

  • Put a drop of oil on a cotton ball, and scatter a bunch of these around your kitchen. Peppermint oil repels mice and spiders, while lavender, citronella, lemongrass, and rosemary oils repel flying insects.

Freshen Clothes

  • Either put a nice scent, like lavender oil, on cotton balls and put them in your dresser, or create a sachet out of rice, a few drops of oil, and spare cloth.
  • You can also put a few drops of your favorite oils onto a damp cloth and throw it in the dryer as an alternative to scented dryer sheets.

Take Deep Breaths

  • Eucalyptus oil in the shower, in your humidifier, or just in a pan of simmering water on the stove can help you breathe easier.

Kill or Prevent Mold

  • Mix tea tree oil and water and spray onto the affected area to get rid of mold and mildew. Let it sit and then wipe it away.

Deodorize Trashcans

  • Mix hot, soapy water with some eucalyptus oil and swirl it in the bottom of your trash can if it needs a freshened smell.

Repel Foot Odors

  • Use basil or lavender oil in your shoes. I like to put a cotton ball with basil oil on it in my shoe caddy.

Make Your Dishes Sparkle

  • Put a few drops of lemon oil into your dishwasher before running it.

Create a Dry Wash

  • If you have non-leather upholstery, you can freshen it with oils combined with baking soda. Dust it on and then vacuum it off. Lemon, peppermint, lavender, and ylang-ylang oils work best.
  • Combine baking soda with the powerful germicide eucalyptus to destroy dust mites on your mattress or your child’s stuffed animals.

Repel Pet Odors

  • Mop up strong pet odors with hot water, a cleanser, and either lemongrass or geranium oils.

Keep the Toilet Fresh

  • Add drops of tea tree oil to your toilet tank so every time someone flushes, it fills the bathroom with a nice scent. It also cleans the inside of the toilet.

Get Gum Off

  • Lemon and orange oils can get rid of many different sticky materials. (Launder immediately after using it on clothing to avoid stains.)

Clean Wooden Cutting Boards

  • Use the powerful thyme essential oil to destroy germs.

And there are plenty more ideas out there! I have to admit that whenever I see a new cleaning tip that includes essential oils, I get a little excited. They can make your house smell great in no time! Find out more about the top essential oils for cleaning, then get some and try them yourself!

End-Of-Summer Fun In NYC

Summer’s certainly slipping through our fingers, isn’t it? Before you know it, us New Yorkers are going to be readying ourselves for cold weather (often by wearing more plaid and enjoying more pumpkin-spiced things). Before it comes, be sure to soak in the sunlight and enjoy the last bits of summer before it slips away. Don’t worry: There are plenty of fun end-of-summer NYC events to enjoy.

Late August

  • SummerStage concerts will still be taking place well into late August and September, so be sure to check out the often free programming happening in Central Park. (During late August, there will be events on 8/19, 8/23, and 8/30.)
  • Celebrate Harlem during this month-long festival called (somewhat confusingly) Harlem Week, which lasts until late August. It features free and fun events including everything from hip-hop concerts to auto shows. (Now until 8/22)
  • Do you want to catch the next big Broadway hit before it gets a Tony Award? Perhaps you’ll find something artsy and fun during the theater festival FringeNYC. It showcases 200 shows, all of which are $18 per ticket. (8/14-8/30)
  • This may be one of your last chances to enjoy a block party on the beach: the Annual Brighton Jubilee Festival, which takes place at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. This event has brought people together with music for 38 years! (8/30)
  • Perhaps you need an event that will be fun for a summer date night. In that case, definitely check out some of the free movie screenings happening throughout the city. Some of the best screenings are happening during the Syfy Movies with a View events, which are in full view of the Manhattan skyline, under the Brooklyn Bridge. (8/13, 8/20, and 8/27)
  • The Central Park Conservancy also is showing off free movies, this time in the middle of the equally beautiful scenery of Central Park. (8/25-8/29)
  • Perhaps you want more of a party scene for your date. Check out Warm Up 2015, which brings DJs from across genres to the artistic setting of MOMA PS1′s courtyard. (Saturdays until 9/5)

Labor Day Weekend

  • This year, the Electric Zoo Festival will be celebrating its seventh year. Bringing the electronic-dance scene to beautiful Randall’s Island Park (by way of ferry), this year’s celebration is called Electric Zoo: Transformed, and it is bringing some of the top names in underground music to one place. This event is definitely for those looking to party. (9/4-9/6)
  • Dance beats are cool, but what about steel drums and calypso music? Also during Labor Day weekend is the West Indian American Day Carnival, which celebrates Caribbean culture in a dazzling festival that includes everything from jerk chicken to stilt dancers. Get down to Crown Heights in Brooklyn and start dancing! (9/7)
  • Families in Manhattan can enjoy a full day of carnival rides, games, bands, and performers in a traditional county fair setup on the Upper West Side: Check out the West Side County Fair. (9/6)
  • If there’s one late-summer activity to not miss out on, it’s the free Shakespeare in the Park events. The last show of the season will be The Odyssey. (9/4-9/7)


  • Those working in Queens will notice a huge influx of people as the U.S. Open 2015 tennis championship takes place in early September. (8/31-9/13)
  • The Feast of San Gennaro will be entering its 89th year and happening in Little Italy. It features colorful displays, parades, and, most importantly, a whole lot of amazing food. (9/10-9/20)
  • Early September is the best time to visit Broadway. Don’t miss out on Broadway Week, when you can get 2-for-1 tickets. (9/7-9/20)
  • Food fans may also enjoy the Harvest in the Square event taking place at and benefiting Union Square Park. It’s a premiere fine food and wine-tasting event, entering its 20th year! (9/17)
  • The Queens County Fair is perfect for families and complete with everything rural, from hayrides to pie-eating. (9/19-9/20)
  • After the kids have returned to school, families can celebrate all things STEM during the Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Celebrate the tinkerer, inventor, and creator inside of you, and meet some pretty cool makers. (9/21-9/27)

12 Landscape Tips To Make Your Outdoor Space Eco-Friendly

Green Roof Garden

Let’s turn New York City green this summer!
Photo by ToniTheTiger (Wikimedia Commons)

While being focused on creating an eco-friendly indoor space, sometimes, we forget to create an equally eco-friendly outdoor space. Luckily, the summer is the perfect time to make your outside space as green as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you have a lawn or just a window: Making your available outdoor area natural, efficient, and eco-friendly can be really easy and fun. Try any of these tips:


Use normally thrown-out items as plant containers
Photo by jd_09 (Flickr)

Reuse plastic bottles as plant containers.

When creating an eco-friendly space, it all goes back to the three “R’s” that we were taught in school: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Container gardening is all about reusing. Use any of the things that you look at every day and pile up in your bins: plastic bottles, egg crates, tin cans, etc. (I personally love starting seedlings in egg cartons because they’re the perfect size.) This awesome New Yorker created amazing window gardens out of plastic bottles and tubes using hydroponics. For city-dwellers with only a window serving as their outdoor space, window farming using bottles is a new and attractive option.


This method of gardening is perfect for herbs.
Photo by Tutto Giardinaggio (Flickr)

Create a vertical garden out of used pallets.

There are locals who have only a window, and then there are others who have a bit more space, but not much: balconies, fire exits, or small outdoor areas. Maximize the green in those spaces by creating a vertical garden rather than a horizontal garden. Trust me: It’s a great way to decorate your space while reusing materials.

Get rid of a water-guzzling, boring green lawn.

Many people in New York City don’t own a bit of green, but some may be lucky enough to have a small lawn. For those who have a lawn, eliminating grass may be the better thing to do. Green lawns are not only water-guzzlers (they need frequent, regular watering to stay healthy and verdant) but gas-guzzlers (most people have to use gas or diesel lawnmowers to maintain them). Cut the sprawling homogeneity with some colorful ways to re-imagine the classic suburban landscape: walkways, sculptures, raised garden beds, or something unique to you!

… Or use an old-school mower.

Don’t want to get rid of that classic green? In that case, swap out your motorized mower for a push mower and get better exercise while you take care of the lawn.

Xeriscape to the max.

“Xeriscaping” might sound like the landscaping done on a far distant planet, but it really means landscaping for better water conservation. Wasting water damages the environment, and xeriscaping tactics like irrigation can help avoid it. Follow xeriscaping advice like remembering to water your plants in the morning rather than at noon, as evaporation rates are lower in the morning.

Light your summer evenings outside with solar-powered lights.

Introducing solar-powered mood lighting to your outdoor space is one of the cheapest ways to “go solar.” You don’t have to spend a lot, and you don’t have to increase your energy bill. (There’s also the old-school, romantic approach of candles, which don’t waste electricity.)

Collect rainwater in an old bin.

This is something that’s really become big in California due to the drought, but it can always be done here in New York, too: Reduce the amount of water you’ll need to use later by collecting rainwater in bins. This cuts down on your clean water usage, and rainwater is perfect for gardening.

bottle cap mosaic

Put your mind to it and create something beautiful!
Photo by Bo Basil (Wikimedia Commons)

Create recycled outdoor art.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle your way to amazing art pieces. Be creative and create something fun out of weather-resistant junk like bottle caps, plastic bottles, old spoons, or repurposed furniture.

Use organic weed killers, and pull weeds regularly.

You don’t need to spray toxic chemicals everywhere to take care of your lawn or garden. There are plenty of alternatives. Salt and vinegar kills plants effectively, for example.

Invite the “good” bugs, and avoid using unnecessary pesticides.

Prevent problems with plant-chomping bugs by planting marigolds to attract pest-killing ladybugs.

Plant native species.

This is one of the absolute best things you can do for the environment: Respect the natural, local ecosystem by planning native, or at the very least non-invasive, species. Don’t worry: Wildflowers look just as nice as the non-native species.

Reduce food waste and get free fertilizer.

If you have the room and time to start a compost pile, do it! It’s a great way to reduce your non-protein-based food waste. Create a compost pile in a box or bin, and occasionally turn and aerate the pile. Months later, you’ll have reduced the amount that you’ve thrown out and have nice, organic, nutritious soil. This reduces the amount of manure you’ll need to buy, which comes from diesel-guzzling farms.

You Can Do It! Keep Up Your Cleaning Motivation When It’s Hot Outside


Jump in after you clean!
Photo by Mathew Ingram (Flickr)

You Can Do It! Keep Up Your Cleaning Motivation When It’s Hot Outside

Summer vacation has many good and not-so-good aspects. The kids are home, it’s family vacation time, and you get to soak up some much-needed rays. Those are the good aspects. Summer is also hot and humid, especially if you live in New York City, and nothing can zap your motivation more quickly than a 90-degree day coupled with high humidity. That’s not so good. Even I don’t want to clean on those days, and I own a cleaning business. You don’t want your house to become a pigsty during the summer months, but it’s sure hard to stay motivated. Don’t worry; you can do it. Here’s how.

Be an Early or Late Bird

Even on the hottest of days, the weather cools off some after the sun goes down. If you’re an early riser, take advantage of the cooler weather prior to mid-morning and noon and get your chores done early. For those of you who like to sleep in, you no doubt stay up later, so schedule your house cleaning in the evening, as long as it’s not so late that you disturb your neighbors.

Motivate Yourself

You’ll still need additional motivation to tackle the household chores in the morning or evening. Some things that I find always help me are grabbing my favorite coffee beverage and cranking up the volume. If you have a favorite mocha or latte, go get it, and then come back and put on some tunes that are sure to make you want to move. Who says you can’t dance while you’re cleaning?

Motivate the Kids

It is summer vacation, and yes, your kids have definite plans to sit in front of the television and conquer the latest video-game villain, but this doesn’t mean they can’t help. One of the best motivating factors to get the cleaning done is to turn it into a game. Assign chores and then see who can get their jobs done first. You’ll be surprised how quickly the housework will be done, and you can all do something for fun as a reward afterward.

Don’t Have Kids? No Problem

Turn cleaning into a game for yourself. Write down your chores and assign a certain number of points to each one depending on its difficulty. Write down a list of rewards and assign the total points you must earn for each reward. Tackle your housework, with your beverage close by and the music blaring, and keep track of the points you earn. When you’re done, reward yourself accordingly.

Understand What Not Cleaning Does

If you are finding that none of the above are helping to motivate you or your kids to clean, keep in mind one simple thing: A dirty house is a dangerous house. Dust, pollen, and pollutants all make their way into your home daily, whether through open windows or doors or tracked in from outside. These irritants can harm anyone with allergies and respiratory problems, not to mention give your home an overall dirty look and feel.

Bacteria and mold grow on moist, unclean surfaces, and your raw meats can contaminate your kitchen’s counter space. All of these things are extremely dangerous and in some cases deadly. You don’t want to turn your home into a giant petri dish; it will harm your family. For that reason alone, you can do it. You can keep up your cleaning motivation even when it’s hot outside.

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