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.

The Cliche NYC Landmarks That You Really Should See To Believe


The famous New York City skyline is a landmark in and of itself. Photo by Anthony Quintano (Flickr)

The Cliché NYC Landmarks That You Really Should See To Believe

Frank Sinatra sang it best in his famous “New York, New York”: Few cities rival New York City for history and excitement. Where else can you see the world’s most recognizable skyline, enjoy food and entertainment second to none, and see where your ancestors likely stepped off a boat and onto American soil? New York City has landmarks as famous as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Rome’s Colosseum, and yes, some are admittedly cliché, but you really should see them anyway.

NYC’s Top 10

In honor of one of the most famous late-night shows filmed in New York City, I’m going to give you my top 10 must-see cliché NYC landmarks. I’ll put them in alphabetical order; it doesn’t matter in what order you visit them.

  1. Broadway: Let me quote some more song lyrics about NYC: “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there’s always magic in the air,” and indeed, there is. When visiting NYC, you must visit the city’s famous theater district and wander down its equally famous street. Broadway shows are considered the best of the best in American theater, and for those looking for a cheaper ticket, off-Broadway productions make quite a splash as well.
  2. Brooklyn Bridge: I’m uncertain how the expression of having a bridge to sell you got its start, but I do know that most of the time, people are referring to the Brooklyn Bridge when they cynically offer the sales transaction. Aside from this reference, the Brooklyn Bridge got its claim to fame from being the longest suspension bridge the world had seen when it opened in 1883. This bridge was groundbreaking not only in its construction but also in its ability to join the NYC boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
  3. Carnegie Hall: While you are visiting the Big Apple, you should visit its most famous music hall (aside from Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockettes perform). It’s named after steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and New York had not seen a concert hall of Carnegie Hall’s magnificence until it was opened in 1891. Famous performers have run the gamut from Tchaikovsky, who was the first performer to conduct an orchestra in the hall, to the Beatles’ “invasion” on Feb. 12, 1964.
  4. Central Park: New York City is an asphalt jungle; there are buildings everywhere you turn. Nestled between Manhattan’s Upper West and East Side is the park to end all parks. Central Park offers tired New Yorkers and throngs of tourists a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of NYC within its 50 blocks of green space. There is a lake, a conservatory, Belvedere Castle, and even a zoo nestled among the greenery and walking paths.
  5. Chrysler Building: I like to think that the Chrysler Building is NYC’s second most recognizable building; we’ll get to the most recognizable next. This world-famous building takes Art Deco architecture to great heights, and so it should considering that it is currently New York City’s third-tallest building. The Chrysler Building’s shape is the epitome of Art Deco, with the embellished metal lattice and windows giving it its classic arches. The eagles jutting out of the 61st-floor corners are also amazing.
  6. Empire State Building: The most famous NYC skyscraper award goes to the Empire State Building. Featured in countless films, photos, and other media, this amazing structure was built in 1931. The Empire State Building is also a classic example of the Art Deco architecture style, and it is NYC’s second-tallest skyscraper. The cliché but must-do thing to do when visiting the Empire State Building is to take a ride up to its famous observation deck, where you can see NYC as you’ve never seen it before.
  7. Grand Central Station: Residents and tourists rely on New York City’s amazing public transit daily, and one of the most famous transit stations in the world is the Grand Central Terminal, more commonly known as Grand Central Station. This landmark has also made it into several Hollywood productions, and you’ve definitely seen it in photographs. When you visit it in person, stand with a friend at opposite ends of the “Whispering Gallery,” where despite the fact that you are far apart and talking toward the walls, you can hear each other.
  8. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island: New York City is one of America’s most famous melting pots, and one reason why is because immigrants have historically come to our country by sailing into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty and registering at Ellis Island. While visiting New York City, head down to Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park and catch a ferry out to see Lady Liberty herself. While there, visit Ellis Island and track your family history if your relatives immigrated to the U.S. through New York prior to 1954.
  9. Times Square: You see it every New Year’s Eve while watching the famous ball drop to usher in the new year. Times Square is one of the world’s busiest intersections, with neon signs, restaurants, and shops sure to please everyone visiting NYC with you. “See” the stars at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, check out the ABC and MTV studios, and shop until you drop at many designer stores. The most important thing to do when wandering Times Square? Take a photo of its famous neon billboards.
  10. National September 11 Memorial & Museum: This New York City landmark is definitely not cliché, but it is a necessary sight to see when you are visiting the Big Apple. Nothing has affected our modern history quite like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks upon America. We watched in horror as the famous twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed to the ground. Yes, there are tons of cliché NYC landmarks, but you will never regret taking a moment off the “cliché” path to pay your respects to the victims of 9/11 while visiting New York City.

How To Keep Your Outdoor Living Space As Clean As Your Indoor One


Summer’s here: Time to get the grill cleaned and ready to go. Photo by goodmami (Flickr)

We keep our indoors clean, but what about our outdoors? Outside often falls by the wayside, until we holler at the kids to quit tracking dirt inside. Summertime is outdoor fun time, so you want to keep your backyard and patio areas clean and accessible, not only for the times when you have family and friends over but also to prevent everyone from tracking dirt inside the house. Let’s talk about how to keep your outdoor living space as clean as your indoor one.

Clean the Glass

Let’s begin by cleaning the outsides of your windows and all glass accents in your yard decor and patio furniture. Mix a solution of water, white vinegar (a cup should be more than enough), and 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap or baby shampoo in a bucket. Using a soft cloth or sponge, wipe down all windows, outdoor table glass, lantern glass, patio light glass, and so on until clean. Rinse with water and dry with a soft cloth.

Furniture’s Next

Now it’s time to clean the patio furniture. A general cleaning recipe that is safe for all types of patio furniture is 1 teaspoon of biodegradable dish-washing detergent and 1 tablespoon of borax mixed in 1 quart of warm water. Using a soft sponge (not a scrubber sponge, as that will scratch aluminum and plastic furniture), gently wipe down all furniture surfaces until clean. If your patio seats and umbrella are made of canvas, you might be able to remove the material and machine-wash it. If not, wipe that down, too, and rinse everything with fresh water when done.

Don’t Forget the Grill and Fire Pit

Summer means barbecues and evenings around the fire pit, or at least, it does for me. Make sure these important components of the perfect backyard party are clean and in working order for warmer weather. Clean your grill with baking soda and lemon juice, clean your barbecue’s working components per the manufacturer’s directions, and make sure your propane tank is full and ready to go. The same goes for your fire pit; it’s best to clean it per the manufacturer’s instructions if it’s fueled by natural gas or propane. If it’s wood-burning, clean out the ashes and wipe down the safety grill.

Patio and Deck Time

Now that everything else on your patio is clean, it’s time to clean the patio itself. Carefully move all of your outdoor furniture and decor to a safe place. This includes potted and hanging plants and any other types of decor. Do not turn on the hose and wash down your patios and decks. Rather, sweep everything clean to avoid dirt and grime being stuck onto the patio and deck by moisture. Once you’ve swept your patio and deck, clean them according to their material. In other words:

  • Wood: Wooden decks and patios are a tough bird when it comes to cleaning them naturally. You want to clean them, but you don’t want to use a power washer or acidic cleaners, as they might damage the wood. For this, I recommend going to your home improvement store and selecting an eco-friendly wooden deck cleaner and protectant.
  • Concrete: You can usually clean your concrete patios with a simple solution of dish soap and hot water. Take a stiff broom and work on the areas that are particularly dirty, and then rinse lightly with a hose. You don’t want to waste too much water, so rinse as sparingly as possible. For tough stains, try adding baking soda or borax to your cleaning solution.
  • Stone or Brick: Here’s another patio surface you do not want to power-wash; it’s certain you’ll ruin your stone. Rather, clean your stone or brick patio with warm water and dish soap (about a tablespoon will do). Try cleaning dirtier areas with a soft cloth or sponge first to avoid damaging the stone. If that doesn’t work, use a soft-bristled nylon push broom and then rinse everything clean sparingly with fresh water, and replace your furniture and décor when dry.

That’s it! You’re done and ready for some summer fun in the sun and cool relaxation in the evenings. A sparkling clean patio and backyard area invites your friends and neighbors to stop by for a wonderful visit, and it makes family time outdoors even more special as well!

Vinegar Is Sour, But It’s Cleaning Properties Are So Sweet

If Spider-Man isn’t available to wash your windows, white vinegar makes the task quick and easy.

Vinegar Is Sour, But Its Cleaning Properties Are So Sweet

Many people don’t like the taste or smell of vinegar; I don’t mind the smell so much when it comes to cleaning. Not only is vinegar’s odor non-toxic, as opposed to cleaning solutions made with bleach or other harmful chemicals, but the smell dissipates quickly and leaves the area deodorized. Alongside providing a safe way to freshen your home, vinegar also sanitizes effectively, removes scale and lime, and even softens your laundry without using flammable fabric softener. Vinegar is sour, but its cleaning properties are very, very sweet indeed.

How it Works

Vinegar contains acetic acid, and it is this acid that makes it such an effective cleaner. In fact, distilled white vinegar in particular helps prevent bacteria, mildew, and mold from growing on your clean surfaces. I recommend using white vinegar when cleaning. It’s pure, doesn’t contain any additives, has anywhere from 5 percent to 8 percent acetic acid, and works wonders throughout your home. Many call white vinegar “virgin” vinegar because of its purity.

Vinegar Uses

If I listed all of the ways you can use vinegar to clean your house, you’d eventually give up reading, and I don’t want that, so I’ll list some of the main things this natural wonder can do to make your home cleaner and fresher without harmful chemicals.

  • Cleans Kitchen Appliances: Vinegar safely cleans your most important kitchen appliances. To keep your dishwasher running like new, run 1/2 cup white vinegar through a normal cycle in your empty dishwasher. Clean out your refrigerator with an equal solution of vinegar and water: You don’t want to use harsh cleaning chemicals in a place where you store food. Fill your coffeemaker halfway with white vinegar and the rest of the way with water and brew the solution to clean and sanitize the inner workings of the machine.
  • Cleans Drains: White vinegar is the best “liquid plumber” you can find. Drain cleaners are poisonous, so it’s never a good idea to have them around the house. Rather, clean your drains monthly and unclog when necessary with white vinegar. How it works is Science 101, and here’s what you need to do: Take a cup of baking soda and pour it down each drain. Then, take a cup of white vinegar and do the same, slowly, allowing the mixture to react and foam. Leave your drains alone for 30 minutes. Then, take boiling salt water and pour it down all of your drains to rinse them clean. Repeat as necessary for stubborn clogs.
  • Remove Mineral Deposits: If you live in an area where the water is hard, you fight mineral deposits on a daily basis. To remove them from your shower heads and faucets, simply remove the plumbing fixtures and soak them in white vinegar overnight. If you cannot remove them, pour vinegar into a sturdy plastic bag and rubber-band it to the fixture. Vinegar also works well in removing the mineral deposits that settle on the bottom of your steam iron. Just as you do with your coffeemaker, pour equal parts vinegar and water into the steam reservoir and press the steam button to clean it. Be careful not to burn yourself, and be sure to dilute the vinegar; otherwise, you might ruin the inner workings of your iron.
  • Glass: Whether it’s for your windows or your glassware, vinegar comes to the rescue. White vinegar has been used to clean windows for years, and it’s much safer than inhaling dangerous ammonia fumes. You’ll find many differing opinions when it comes to mixing your window cleaner, but I find that 1/4 cup of white vinegar to two cups of water usually does the trick. You can also add a cup of vinegar to your rinse water when you’re hand-washing your fine glass and crystal ware for that special occasion. Just wait and see how much your glasses sparkle.
  • Laundry: Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle to not only soften your clothes but also disinfect them. As I mentioned above, vinegar is a fantastic sanitizer and works well against all kinds of mold and mildew (and not just on your clothing). Instead of using bleach and gassing everyone out of your home, toss vinegar in with the loads and enjoy fresh, clean, soft clothing that doesn’t smell of chlorine.

But Don’t Use Vinegar Here…

Yes, vinegar is the wonder cleaner, and its acid content is the reason why. This acid also makes it undesirable on some household surfaces, so I want to caution you on where not to use it. In most cases, vinegar is a safe and effective cleaner, but don’t use it on any granite, hardwood, or marble surfaces, as the acid will definitely damage and strip these types of countertops and floors. It’s also wise to avoid using vinegar on natural stone, as this will damage the porous surface. If you’re uncertain whether vinegar will do harm on a surface in your home, test a small, inconspicuous area to see if you notice any damage; if not, you’re good to go on using this very safe and wonderfully effective household cleaner.

The Best Ways for New Yorkers to Celebrate the 4th of July


It just doesn’t get any better than Fourth of July fireworks in NYC. Photo by Anthony Quintano (Flickr)

The Best Ways for New Yorkers to Celebrate the Fourth of July

It’s almost America’s birthday again, and if there is one thing that the Big Apple does better than anyone else, it’s celebrating the Fourth of July. What could possibly be more breathtaking on the Fourth than watching the annual fireworks extravaganza? Well, not much, but there are other July 4 traditions that equal the fireworks’ grandeur and fun, so you’ll want to check those out, too. What is the best way for New Yorkers to celebrate the Fourth of July? I have some suggestions that I think you’ll want on top of your list.

Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular

Let’s begin with the granddaddy of fireworks shows, not to mention NYC’s most popular July 4 celebration, and that is the Macy’s annual 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular. The show is held on the East River, and if you are in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens, you can see the amazing fireworks flying off of the barges anywhere your view of the river is not obstructed by buildings. Some good places to watch the fireworks include the sections of FDR Drive that are elevated, Vietnam Memorial Park in Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, and Center Boulevard between 48th and 49th avenues in Queens.

World-Famous Nathan’s International Hot Dot Eating Contest

This annual July 4 celebration is not for the weak of heart or stomach. Every year, hundreds of people make their way to Coney Island and many more watch on television as gustatory competitors line up to see who can eat the most Nathan’s Famous hot dogs. You might not believe this, but this is one serious sporting event, with male and female competitors and qualifying rounds leading up to the final hot dog frenzy. New Yorkers take pride in their dogs, and it’s quite a battle over international competitors in an effort to ensure that a New Yorker is donning the champion belt and collecting the prize purse.

Liberty Belle Extravaganza

If watching tons of people shovel massive amounts of hot dogs into their mouths isn’t your cup of tea, another Fourth of July tradition in New York City is the annual Liberty Belle Extravaganza. This “vintage” celebration takes place at Hudson Terrace at 621 West 46th St., and you’ll be propelled back in time as you watch dancers and listen to orchestras and bands play patriotic music appropriate for the celebration. What are not so appropriate are the burlesque dancers, sure to bring a new twist on any July 4 celebration you’ve ever been to, and you can enjoy delicious barbecue at this event while overlooking the Hudson River.

Revolutionary War New York Nighttime Walking Tour

This is one of my favorite events. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love the Fraunces Tavern Museum’s annual Revolutionary War walking tour, held on July 4 from 3 to 7 a.m. Many people don’t realize the critical role New York played in our nation’s fight for independence. We often associate the Revolutionary War with more famous people and events, such as Paul Revere and the Battle of Bunker Hill. But New York City has its revolutionary heroes as well, including Marinus Willett, and you can learn all about him and NYC’s involvement in the war by walking through history on this guided tour. What a fantastic way to celebrate our nation’s birthday: walking in the footsteps of the men and women who fought for our nation’s independence and gave us a reason to celebrate.

School’s Out! Keep Your Kids Busy in NYC This Summer


Get your kids outdoors and into some summer fun! Photo by Ian D. Keating (Flickr)

School’s Out! Keep Your Kids Busy in NYC This Summer

As Alice Cooper sings in his raspy voice, “School’s out for summer!” This is your kids’ favorite time of the year: no more school, homework, or teachers. As the Staples commercial humorously depicts, the end of summer is parents’ “most wonderful time of the year!” There’s a precious span of time in between when your children have a lot of free time and you don’t, and there’s nothing worse than allowing them to while away the hot summer days in front of the television set. There are plenty of things to do in New York City during your kids’ summer vacation, so here are some suggestions for keeping your munchkins busy.

Fun at the Park

Many of the New York City parks offer summer recreation designed to educate, enlighten, and enrich your children, and the best part is that they’ll be having so much fun that they won’t realize that they’re learning something! These activities are sure to beat romping on the jungle gym or kicking a soccer ball around.

  • Mad. Sq. Kids: Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday throughout the summer and into October, the Madison Square Park Conservatory hosts a program that will put a smile on your little ones’ faces. In the “Explore!” program, kids are encouraged to explore many different things through fun activities. Whether it’s learning what animals eat, going on a scavenger hunt, or identifying all of the Madison Square Park monuments, your kids are sure to enjoy getting out of the house and into the summer sun for this exploration activity. Please note that an adult must accompany your kidsYou can learn more about the program on the Madison Square Park Conservancy website.
  • Pop-Up Audubon: New York City is a concrete jungle, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t learn about nature during summer vacation. The Prospect Park Alliance and Audubon New York have partnered to bring NYC residents and visitors the Prospect Park Audubon Center. Here, your kids will be immersed in an urban setting full of plants and animals sure to please even the whiniest of summer vacationers. A majority of the habitat has been restored to its natural condition, and a trip to the historic Boathouse is definitely worthwhile. Visit the Prospect Park Audubon Center website for a list of summer activities.

Summer Camp

For most parents, summer presents the conundrum of what to do with the kids during the day while you are at work. Fortunately, NYC has plenty of summer day camps sure to capture your little one’s interest no matter what they’re into. Whether your child is a future engineer or the next Taylor Swift, your kids are sure to have fun at these summer day camps.

  • Brooklyn Design Lab Summer Lab: For kids in kindergarten through sixth grade, Brooklyn Design Lab’s Summer Lab gives your children the chance to play with just about every art medium imaginable under the sun. Each week, kids will learn how to design and create their next masterpiece using paint, collage, clay, fabric, print, wood, and even 3-D construction with LEGOs. As you can imagine, these summer labs fill quickly, so you’ll want to plan ahead and get your kids in the lab or on the waiting list. Please see Brooklyn Design Lab’s website for more information.
  • Brooklyn Music Factory Camp: Brooklyn Music Factory lets your children ages 5 to 15 get their inner rock star on with three separate summer camps. Whether your little one wants to jam with a band or learn how to write and record music, they will have an absolute blast performing on stage in this summer camp. Alongside playing music, you kids will have fun with other art-inspired activities such as designing logos and posters for their bands, and there is a playground where they can blow off steam when suffering from songwriter’s block. Check out Brooklyn Music Factory for all of the details.

These are just four of the many activities that New York City offers you and your children during the hot summer vacation months. One of the best things about living in NYC is there is always something to do, and if you check out the city’s Parks and Recreation page, you’ll find that plenty of the fun is free. Instead of listening to the incessant “I’m bored” whines, get your kids outdoors and into some summer fun!

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