23 Ways To Make The Magic Eraser Work For You

Sometimes, when dealing with a mess, you have to bring out the big guns. In the cleaning world, one of the big guns is super-powerful melamine foam, known to all of us as Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Using a bit of chemistry (rather than magic), the company has created the sorcerer’s stone of cleaning supplies. If you’ve been in a cleaning situation where nothing seems to work, chances are good that a Magic Eraser might. This list contains some of the usual uses along with some lesser-known applications.

  1. Use it for its original purpose: Deep-clean set-in grease stains on your stove top. (Do this if you haven’t tried it yet: It’s just a great feeling when you swipe and everything’s gone.)
  2. Clean your shoes and remove grass stains.
  3. Remove tarnish from silver.
  4. Remove rust from pretty much anything.
  5. Polish jewelry.
  6. Did your child go nuts with crayons on your walls? Remove the marks quickly with a Magic Eraser.
  7. Use an eraser to scuff up that nasty, dried soap scum or bath ring in your tub or shower.
  8. In a bigger body of water, you can clean a water mark on a pool liner.
  9. In a smaller body of water, cut off a little piece of foam and let it sit in the toilet bowl overnight to clean it.
  10. It can clean grout! (How often can a cleaning product actually clean grout?)
  11. Fix your car’s finish after a minor run-in: Remove a scratch on your car’s paint job. You can also clean the steering wheel, the tires, and the hubcaps.
  12. Get out the most impossible-to-remove stains, like nail polish, hair dye, paint, and ink.
  13. If you like to do DIY projects that require old glass jars, get started by removing the labels and price tags and removing the sticky gunk left behind by rubbing with a Magic Eraser.
  14. Leather couches, jackets, purses, and upholstery can be cleaned with a Magic Eraser.
  15. Clean your outdoor plastic furniture.
  16. In your most difficult dish-washing situations, like tomato stains in plastic containers, rings in casserole dishes, or tea stains in mugs, try gently rubbing a Magic Eraser on it. (Make sure to wash out the container with regular dish soap afterward.)
  17. I personally find this very disgusting: cleaning bird droppings. But you can do it with this magical product.
  18. A close second in top disgusting things to clean up is removing dried-on dead bugs on a car windshield. That can also include bugs on siding on a house or on RV awnings.
  19. A great way to attack the built-up gunk made of mysterious condiments stuck on the inside of your refrigerator is with one of these.
  20. Clean window screens.
  21. Gently wipe down your electronics, like your computer monitor, flat-screen TV, smartphones, tablets, and keyboard.
  22. Get up scuff marks from baseboards and floors.
  23. If someone drew on your dry-erase surface with a permanent marker, don’t throw it out: Just try rubbing it off with a Magic Eraser!

Fun NYC Activities To Help Pass The Time This Winter

There’s one part of the year that most people like to run and hide indoors: winter (and by winter, I usually mean late January and mid-February). Though it may still be comparatively mild this year, don’t run and hide at the first glimpses of snow. There are still plenty of fun things to do during this largely depressing time.

Cool Events

  • NYC Restaurant Week: More than 300 restaurants are offering three-course dinners for $38 (with lunch deals at $25). (January 18 through February 5)
  • NYC Winter Wine Festival: Sip a huge, global selection of over 250 amazing wines while enjoying live jazz! You’ll get a custom-etched glass to keep too. (February 6)
  • Super Bowl 50 at a Great NYC Restaurant: Find someplace awesome to enjoy this historic football game, like one with several huge screens. (February 7)
  • Mardi Gras at the Bell House: Feel like your in New Orleans in New York when you visit a local party, such as the one happening at the Bell House. (February 9)
  • Cupid’s Undie Run: Cold? What cold? When you’re running a mile-or-so race in your underwear trying to raise money for neurofibromatosis research, you don’t feel cold. (February 13)
  • Chinese Lunar New Year Parade: This year will be the year of the monkey, and I think Chinatown will have a parade you’ll go ape over! (February 14)
  • New York Fashion Week: Posh fashion, editors, stylists, and models are going to be flooding the streets of New York. There are several free events that average folks can attend, too. (February 11 through 18)
  • New York Beer Week: Warm up by sipping fresh, local brews at one of the numerous events happening across the city during this week. (February 19-28)
  • New York Whiskey Live: If wine and beer isn’t warming you up, go for the good stuff. (February 24)

Anytime Ideas for Getting Warm

  • Enjoy winter sports: Go ice-skating at one of the several rinks in the area. The rink at Rockefeller Center may be far less busy now that the holiday season is over. You can also enjoy sledding at Pilgrim Hill or Riverside Park.
  • Visit a museum: Again, this low-traffic time of year is a perfect time to visit frequently trodden trails, such as those at great museums like the Guggenheim or MoMa. A balmy museum-like activity for families could include a visit to the conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden.
  • Take an arts or crafting class: If you’ve thought about learning how to do something, whether that be knitting, pizza-making, or tightrope-walking, February might be the time. Get out and start learning something fun at the Brooklyn Brainery or a local community college.
  • Snuggle up and enjoy some great new shows: I have a confession to make: This is my favorite thing to do in February. There’s nothing wrong with just taking a weekend for rest and relaxation. Get some hot chocolate and a blanket and curl up with any one of these great shows: Fuller House, Love, Chelsea Does, and Flaked will be coming to Netflix, as will the next season of Daredevil in March. HBO will be premiering Animals. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is coming to the CW. There are a lot of good things happening to hold us over before Game of Thrones comes back in April.

Lower Your Heating Bill With These 9 Quick Tips

I already talked a bit about some ways to winterize your home, but here are a few more ideas to help you stay warm. Besides taking the time to insulate your home and promote good airflow, there are still some other quick hacks you can employ. This list is aimed at specifically attacking and reducing your energy bill. If you’ve already used my 11 ways to winterize, here are a few more ways to save money.

  1. Hang fabric barriers between rooms: If you tend to hang out more often in certain rooms of your house, close off unused areas. If you don’t have doors, use beautiful tapestries or curtains. This won’t insulate as well as a door would, but it’s certainly better than big, open hallways. Try to pretend you live in a smaller place than you probably do, and concentrate on only heating your most often-used rooms.
  2. Program your thermostat to heat during off-peak hours: Energy tends to be cheaper after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. If you have a programmable thermostat (which you should invest in if you don’t), set it to heat your home during those hours. During the day, open your south-facing curtains and use the power of the sun to heat your house.
  3. Humidify your dry rooms: A dry home feels colder than a moist home. In addition to controlling the heat, also humidify to create the illusion of warmth. You don’t necessarily need a fancy, expensive humidifier to get that done, either. Just boil some water on the stove for a bit. If you live alone, shower with the door open to spread the humidity across other rooms. You could also air-dry some of your laundry.
  4. Buy an electric blanket: These use less energy than you think, and they tend to make you much more comfortable. Also invest in sweaters, blankets, slippers, soft rugs, hot water bottles for your bed, or anything else that will help you resist the urge to constantly turn up the heat.
  5. Bake more often: While you shouldn’t use only your oven to heat your home, baking on really cold days can help rooms of your home get warmer. When you’re done baking, turn off your oven but keep the oven door open to leak out that warmth into the whole house.
  6. Lower your electricity use in other ways: If you have a high electric bill, it might not all be a result of the heat. We live in a time when we use a ton of appliances: TVs, gaming systems, computers, etc. I personally have a charging station with a bunch of cell-phone chargers plugged in. Keep in mind that all things that are plugged in usually still use at least some energy. Many of your bigger devices have a “sleep,” “standby,” or “energy-saving” mode, but even those modes still use energy. Fully shut down your devices after using them, and check your time-out settings. Turn off whole power strips. Otherwise, your electricity bill might be high almost completely due to what some call “vampire energy.”
  7. Check for rebates and programs: Take the time to take a close look at your bill. Make sure the information is correct, and also see if your electricity provider offers any incentive programs. Do they offer deals if you do business entirely online, for instance?
  8. Put foil behind an old-school radiator: If you’re in an older apartment, you probably have one of these old radiators. An old hack is to put high-quality foil behind the radiator to reflect heat back into the room, rather than letting it seep into the walls.
  9. Create a fancy candle-powered heater: Use this tutorial to create a super-easy candle heater out of a tea-light candle and ceramic pots. It’s cheap and simple!

How To Best Prevent and Disinfect Your Home Against Winter Illness

When harsh weather hits, it tends to correlate with some pretty severe illnesses along with your regular cold and flu viruses. Illnesses in general just seem to linger longer in the wintertime. There are a lot of ways you can take care of yourself as well as ways you can take care of your home. If you have small children or elderly people living with you, it’s especially important to take at least some of these steps to prevent the spread of disease:

Preventing Illnesses 101

  • Make sure your cleaning supplies disinfect. This might seem obvious, but I’m honestly surprised that many people don’t do this. If you don’t see familiar phrases like “antibacterial” or “kills 99% of germs,” your cleaning supplies might not actually be disinfecting. I talk about a lot of DIY cleaning supplies, but during this time of year, it’s time to break out the bleach!
  • Use and teach kids proper hand-washing methods. Doctors have found that the type of soap doesn’t really matter; it’s the amount of time you spend scrubbing under hot water (at least 20-25 seconds) that’s important.
  • Stop sharing your drinks, utensils, and foods. You shouldn’t really do this anyway, but especially in the wintertime, don’t share.
  • Scrub your bathroom and kitchen more frequently. These are the places that most often have and spread germs, so during the wintertime, you might want to up the ante.
  • Keep germs out of your entryway. In the city, you’re likely constantly using public transportation. Don’t touch anything you don’t have to, obviously. But no matter what you do, you’ll likely have some germs on you when you get home. Where do you put your keys, your coat, your phone, and your shoes, and when do you wash your hands? What is your entrance routine like? When you clean, trace your steps. Clean the surfaces you touch first when you walk in the door.
  • Continue to exercise, sleep on a regular schedule, and eat well. If you exercise, you’re giving your immune system a good boost.
  • Launder winter clothing before you start using it. People sometimes forget to launder their scarves, which go directly near their faces! Regularly toss items like gloves, hats, mittens, scarves, and coats in the washer when you can.
  • Stop bad face-touching habits. Biting one’s nails, rubbing one’s face, or rubbing one’s nose or eyes can all be considered to be bad habits that spread germs.
  • Get fresh air every once in a while. When it’s not too cold, open your windows. Getting fresh air flowing can help to prevent breathing in the same germs over and over.

Clean these places that you touch often and don’t think about:

  • Remote controls
  • Your phone
  • Your purse or briefcase (exterior and interior, especially the bottom where you set it down)
  • Doorknobs and locks
  • Handles and knobs of dressers, kitchen cabinets, etc.
  • Your keyboard and mouse
  • Children’s toys
  • Light switches
  • Faucets and spigots and their handles
  • Your credit cards
  • Inside the dishwasher
  • Your bathroom floor
  • Your sponges
  • The containers of your cleaning supplies themselves (such as your soap dispenser)

When Someone You Live With Is Sick

  • Launder the sick person’s sheets, especially their pillowcases.
  • You can clean your pillows, too.
  • When doing laundry, use a hamper (don’t hug the laundry to your chest), and then wipe down the hamper with a disinfectant once everything’s in the wash.
  • Create a space for your loved one to be sick and try to avoid contact with them. Contain that person to one room of the house, like their bedroom.
  • Give them plenty of tissues or a space to throw up. Then, be careful when throwing out the garbage, and do it frequently. Don’t leave dirty tissues all over the floor.
  • When they’re better, clean the trashcan they were using.
  • Clean the heck out of the bathroom or any other shared space that they have with you.
  • Clean the bedside table or anything else they might have touched.
  • Sick, sleepy people sometimes seem like they need to be cuddled, and it’s hard to resist the urge. Leave them alone and go sleep on the couch for a bit. Sleeping together will just make you sick. (I’ve done this and regretted it.)
  • Throw out their toothbrush and give them a new, fresh one. Clean your toothbrush holder, too.
  • If you use a loofah, use bleach to clean it, or just throw it out. If you use bar soap, make sure to rinse it off before using it.
  • Control the air quality. Circulate fresh air, or at least make sure you have a clean air filter. Humidifiers often help people recover from a cold.

11 Easy Ways To Winterize Your Home

It finally happened. After a rather warm start to our winter, NYC has been hit with a cold snap. This has left us New Yorkers bundling up ourselves and our homes. We’re freezing, but many of us still manage to lose our cool when we see the energy bill. No matter whether your home is an apartment or a house, there are steps you can take to make your home warmer and safer while still saving on energy. Try some of these tips and tricks.

  1. Sew an adorable DIY draft-stopper for your door. All you need is a bit of fabric (which can be anything from a knitted tube to old jeans) and a filling (which is often rice, beans, pillow filling, or even old plastic bags). Sometimes called “draft snakes,” these easy-to-make tubes can be crafted into any design. They’re meant to be placed at the seams of doors and windows to help stop the steady stream of cold air flowing in.
  2. Reverse your ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can help keep you cool, but they can also help increase the airflow of a room to keep you warm. Turn your fan clockwise for more HVAC effectiveness.
  3. Wrap your windows in plastic. This project is cheap, easy, and only requires a hairdryer. Simply buy some plastic and place it over your tightly closed windows for a surprisingly effective layer of insulation. If you don’t want to buy or install the admittedly gaudy plastic coverings, thick curtains can go a long way as well.
  4. Turn down your water heater. You probably don’t need your water to be scalding hot, as this can waste a ton of energy in the winter. Lower your heater to about 120 degrees.
  5. Clean your chimney, fireplace, or stove. You probably should have done this already, but having a clogged or poorly maintained fire area can really suck a lot of heat out of your house. If you’re not using it, make sure it’s shut.
  6. Invest in insulation. If your home is really wasting heat, it might be time to insulate your attic and/or basement. In the basement, you can cover up windows and insulate crawl spaces. In the attic, old insulation may be the source of your woes. You can also better insulate your pipes and even insulate your electric outlets, which tend to leak heat.
  7. Better manage that thermostat. I’ve always been told that keeping the thermostat at one low, manageable temperature and not changing it was the best policy, but new thermostats can be programed to lower the temperature when you leave and raise it when you come back. Technology is so neat.
  8. Open your curtains during the day. If you have an apartment that faces the sun (or a room in your house that faces the sun), opening up the curtains during the day can bring in sunlight and thus warmth. It’s the cheapest and easiest thing to do to help make your place warmer. But don’t forget to close the curtains at night to provide better insulation.
  9. Make sure your vents and heat sources aren’t being blocked. If you have an old piece of furniture on top of your best heat vent in a room, that’s probably going to damage the furniture over time as well as keeping it from being warm in your room.
  10. Surround yourself in comfortable blankets. The old dad-worthy advice to “put on a sweater” works to some degree. Bundle up indoors: You don’t have to blast the heat until it’s 70 degrees. Make sure there are plenty of comfortable, welcoming blankets and throws for guests to bundle up with, and tuck in when you’re home.
  11. Lock your windows and doors. You likely do this anyway, but making sure that your windows and doors are locked creates a tight seal that can also lock in the heat.

If you’re still experiencing very low temperatures indoors and you live in an apartment, it might be time to talk to your landlord about other options, like sealing off ducts, replacing filters, or simply checking the furnace.

The Best Ways To Wind Down After The Holiday Craze

For many people, especially parents who also play host to family and friends during the holidays, January can be a welcome relief. The stresses of the holidays are over. But after the holiday season, there are still a lot of stressors, such as snow, traffic, and high energy bills. Take steps now to conquer the stress of late winter by using some of these de-stressing techniques. Keep calm and enjoy the empty house!

  • Use Breathing Exercises: The simple act of controlling one’s breath in and out can almost immediately relax a person. Take five minutes for yourself and literally just breathe.
  • Yoga or Meditation: One step above the breathing exercise is actual mediation, which can be done in many forms. Yoga is both a physical and mental act. Mediation in general can help to de-clutter your mind.
  • Hit the Gym: You wouldn’t necessarily think that exercising would relax you, but it does in the long term. Go outside and take a run if you can. If you can’t, it may be time to consider a gym membership. Work out your muscles and stiff joints and you’ll feel better.
  • Unplug: Give yourself a day of no social media, TV, computer usage, or phones. Just unplug and forget looking at any screen. Relax and read a book instead.
  • Get a Massage: Splurge one more time this holiday season and make the investment in your health by getting a massage. You don’t have to go crazy and spend thousands on a spa day; a simple massage can go a long way. If you really can’t afford it, you can give yourself an awesome, small massage of specific, high-tension areas of your body with these techniques.
  • Get Vitamin D: Not all of us have seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), but most of us are affected by the change in seasons. Many of us lose energy when the nights grow longer and the days grow shorter. You can counteract this by soaking in about ten to 15 minutes of sunlight every day outside or by taking a vitamin D supplement to make sure you’re not losing energy.
  • Use Lavender: Invest in lavender-scented candles, lotions, or sprays, as this scent is known for having stress-relieving properties. This simple bit of aromatherapy can help you relax more on a day-to-day basis.
  • Drink Calming Teas: Peppermint and chamomile are teas that can help calm those who might be suffering from anxiety, which might have been aggravated due to hosting or traveling. Green, black, or oolong tea contains a chemical called L-theanine that can calm the mind and relieve anger as well.
  • Manage Your Sleep: In the wintertime, people sometimes get too much or too little sleep. Try your best to schedule and clock in those eight hours. If you’re having trouble, try making sure you’re not looking at a screen right before bed, as this can hinder your sleep efforts.
  • Eat Better: You’re likely trying to keep up with a new year’s resolution anyway, but eating better to reduce stress isn’t necessarily about losing weight. Bad food stresses you out, and during the holiday season, we eat a lot of bad food. Cleanse with juices and greens for a few days.
  • Manage Your Social Situation: Sometimes, people are surrounded by other people during the holidays, and they just need to get away. Those people should schedule some alone time away from everyone, even their closest family. Conversely, if someone feels very lonely during the holidays, it might be time to reach out and make a few phone calls to the people they care about.
  • Keep a Journal: Even if you write, “Today, I felt terrible,” then you are one step closer to conquering (or sometimes simply understanding) your emotions.
  • Play With a Pet: Whether it’s your own pet or someone else’s, cuddling with a dog or cat can make you smile. Dog owners have been proven to be less stressed than those who don’t own a dog.
  • Clean the Post-Holiday Mess: I personally find cleaning meditative, naturally. (You might disagree.) But knowing that my house is clean after the holidays always makes me relax a little.

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How To Make The Most Of NYE In NYC

Times square

You don’t need to be in Times Square to have a great time in NYC this New Year’s Eve!
Photo by Anthony Quintano (Flickr)

I try not to needlessly judge people who are crazy enough to wander toward Times Square on New Year’s Eve in New York City just to watch the ball drop. But there are so many other parties, events, galas, concerts, and things to do that can lead to a great evening out without needing to be stuck in that mess. I feel like everyone should do it once, but after that, you’re free to wander the greater city to find the many other things the locals like to do in NYC on NYE (New Year’s Eve). Check them out; this city has so many great things to offer!

Fun Plans That Don’t Involve Alcohol

Free Stuff to Do

  • Enjoy a Fireworks Cruise: The Staten Island Ferry travels across the water and is in full view of some of the best fireworks displays in the city, including the Grand Army Plaza show and the shows happening in New Jersey. (And it’s free!)
  • Time’s Up Bike and Ride Event: Grab your bike and ride up to Belvedere Castle in Central Park and enjoy a free dance party.

When You Want to Start Your Resolutions Early

  • The NYRR Midnight Run: This four-mile trek in Central Park is accompanied by a fireworks display, strobe lights, DJs, neon face-painting, and a sparkling cider toast.
  • Yoga and Meditation: There are several places where you can ring in the new year while being at peace. Kundalini Yoga East offers inspiration, refreshments, and fun.

For Kids

  • Dave and Buster’s New Years Eve Party: Enjoy this kid-friendly bar/arcade, which is located right in Times Square. (There’s also a five-hour open bar for parents, too.)
  • The Children’s Museum of Manhattan: Watch the ball drop at noon instead of midnight and have a blast with your child at this cute dance party. This is great for when you have little kids who won’t stay up until midnight.
  • The Countdown Bus: Instead of hiring a sitter, make sure your child has a great night on the Countdown Bus, which involves movies, snacks, and a lot of family-friendly fun.

Party Like it’s 2016

  • Casino Battle Royale: Famous for their ridiculously creative parties, Gemini and Scorpio have created a new theme for their New Year’s Eve bash: 1960s spies.
  • BangOn!NYC “Time & Space” Party: If you want your new year to involve pyrotechnics, 3D projection mapping, and cuddle puddles, this is where you want to be. (I’m too old for that.)
  • The Celestial Ball: If you’d rather hang out with gods and goddesses, puppets, magicians, and performers while drinking champagne, you might prefer this party.
  • Rinsed 5: Party until morning with this huge team of excellent DJs.
  • Disco Extravaganza: Is it possible that disco is actually, really coming back? Well, this party in Brooklyn might fool you.

This list just barely scrapes the surface of what’s out there. And who knows? The best option this year, if the weather stays nice, might just be to climb to your roof to watch the fireworks with someone special. Whatever you do, remember to stay safe and drive sober, and have a happy new year!

14 Perfect Gifts For The Clean Freak In Your Life

Let me guess: There’s one person on your list this year who’s hard to buy for. And it’s not because you don’t know what they love; they love to clean! But buying them baking soda, a vacuum cleaner, soap, and brooms might seem a little bit gauche for the holiday season, even though those are the things they want and love. Even though you know they’d enjoy soap and sponges, it might still feel a little off, and it may cause anyone else who’s around on Christmas to raise an eyebrow. Never fear! Here are some cute gifts for the neat freak in your life that will still be very appreciated (by both them and the rest of the family)!

  1. Put robots to work for them! I can’t think of one cleaning freak in my life that wouldn’t adore the Roomba. Another cute cleaning robot comes in the form of a furball named Mocoro. He cleans everything he touches; your friend will just need to wash the outer, furry cover.
  2. Invite other people to clean for them by hiring a maid service for a few weeks to give their home a deep clean.
  3. Dustpans are gross. Get an electric one instead. Using infrared sensors and a canister-base system, this little standing vacuum will suck up what the broom has to offer.
  4. Gloves can be very fashionable. Why can’t dishwashing gloves also be cute and glamorous?
  5. Cleaning slippers allow your recipient to clean up their floors while walking around. They can just shuffle about a bit for a no-crouch shine.
  6. Maybe they can deck the halls a bit more merrily with these green, tree-shaped sponges. They’re perfect stocking-stuffers.
  7. When cleaning, we often forget about electronics. Well, if your friend is a cleaning fanatic, they don’t. And let me tell you, getting into the nooks and crannies of a keyboard is very frustrating. Luckily, there’s a simple cleaning putty that sucks up the dirt.
  8. Get a re-washable, feathered floor-to-ceiling duster to help reach difficult areas and pick up more dirt because of its wide surface area. Did we mention it was shaped like a blossom?
  9. This is more of a neat-freak thing, but I personally hate looking at cords. Help your recipient keep their cords out of sight with this minimalist box from Ikea.
  10. Do they need it? Probably not. Do they want the perfectly folded shirts that come from having a FlipFOLD Laundry Folder? Probably.
  11. Speaking of laundry, if your recipient has a pet, give them an actually fashionable, retractable lint roller, which can fit into a purse or travel bag easily.
  12. If your friend is into green cleaning and making their own scented solutions, pick up an essential oil kit; they’ll get a lot of use out of it!
  13. The grossest thing you own is what you touch every day. That’s why neatniks love this smartphone sanitizer: It uses UV technology to zap those germs away.
  14. One of the best and simplest gifts to get for a clean freak in your life is a lovely, well-arranged gift basket full of biodegradable, high-quality brushes, natural sponges, and quality scented soaps. Throw a candle in there and you have a really beautiful gift.

I’m Dreaming Of A Green, Eco-Friendly Christmas

gift wrapping

Wrap your gifts in fabric to lower waste from wrapping paper! Photo by katorisi (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s the season of overabundance and generosity. As such, many people find themselves both spending and consuming a great deal. When this happens, there’s a huge negative impact on the planet as a result. It’s ironic that during a time of year when we’re supposed to be the most hopeful, we’re also the most wasteful. Luckily, there are some ways to be both fiscally and environmentally responsible.

The Season of Lights (and Energy Usage)

  • Don’t “Griswold” it: Don’t play the old “keeping up with the Joneses” game of trying to have the most well-lit house on the block. Excessive outdoor lights can both look ridiculous and draw huge amounts of energy. Sometimes, creativity is more jaw-dropping and inspiring than excess. Instead of going big, go better and come up with some new and cool ways to arrange your lights. For instance, instead of wrapping lights around your house, wrap them around a tree. Use an LED spotlight to light up your house so you don’t need to put as many bulbs up. Find a focal point, like your entryway, and concentrate on that. I’ve always believed that less is more.
  • Put your lights on a timer: If you’re like me, you’re constantly forgetting to turn off your outside lights. Get a timer and get rid of excessive energy waste.
  • Or just use the power of the sun: They make solar-powered lights now. How cool is that?
  • Stop unnecessarily lighting your living room: Most people worry about outdoor lights, but you can use a lot of energy with indoor lights as well. This is the darkest time of year, so during dusk hours (which start ridiculously early at four in the afternoon now), use candles or your fireplace to give your living spaces a glowing ambiance.
  • Use fewer string lights on your tree: The things mentioned about outside lights go for inside holiday lights as well: Don’t go overboard, and also don’t forget to turn them off with the help of a timer.
  • Take charge of your thermostat: Use less energy by keeping your heat at a low-but-livable temperature. When guests come over, make sure they have blankets, and don’t let random family members mess with the heat. Remember that your house will get warmer when you start baking!

A Local Holiday Meal

  • Host a cookie swap: This season is all about excess not only with the lights but the food. Rather than having dozens and dozens of cookies just for your and your family, get a sampling of many different types of cookies during a cookie swap. That way, you won’t waste food and energy producing a huge amount of cookies that won’t get eaten.
  • Consider a new protein: Sure, roast beef might be a traditional option, but is it good for the planet? It’s a bit hard to say, but probably not. Poultry can be better for the environment, but the great machine that is poultry production isn’t helping anyone. In my personal opinion, it’s better to try something that’s local to America, like bison instead of beef and turkey instead of chicken.
  • Buy local veggies: You’d be surprised how many foods can be produced locally at this time of year. You’d also be surprised at how ridiculous the emissions are as a result of moving your favorite produce from a distant farm to the grocery store. Find out what’s seasonal and close to you and work with that.

Celebrate With Care

  • Use a real tree: This seems really counterintuitive at first: Why cut down a lovely, real tree when a fake one will last for years? Well, those real trees come from tree farms, which are not as bad for the environment as you may think, and fake trees are made from petroleum products. When real trees are discarded, they decay. When fake trees are discarded, they don’t. There is a third option, though: Buy a live tree and re-pot it for several years of continued use.
  • Be home for Christmas, but don’t travel unnecessarily: You don’t have to drive or fly everywhere; be smart when you’re visiting family and friends. This travel season pumps a huge amount of emissions into the atmosphere. Carpool with other people if you’re traveling by car, or fly coach if that’s an option.

Smarter Gifts and Wrappings

  • Use unusual wrapping paper: Wrapping paper is inherently very wasteful. You can get around both spending money on and encouraging the production of wrapping paper by coming up with cute alternatives: comics sections of newspapers, old maps, last year’s wrapping paper, fabric, or old calendars.
  • Forgo wrapping paper altogether if you can: I love getting mason jar gifts because you get a gift and also the awesome jar that can be used for pretty much anything. Or you can give your gift in a basket or tin. You might also wrap something in another gift. For instance, you could wrap a DVD or Blu-Ray disc in a scarf and tie it with string.
  • Wrap with eco-friendly string: I’ve been wrapping my presents with hemp string. They look really nice so far, and I didn’t have to use up rolls and rolls of tape.

For When it’s Over

  • Save paper, bows, and ribbons: Why buy something again and again year after year? Save your ribbons, bows, and decorative items. This is both frugal and eco-friendly, and no one will ever know.
  • Recycle old electronics: When you buy new stuff, you sometimes throw out old stuff. If that stuff includes cameras, cell phones, tablets, or other electronics, make sure you recycle them rather than just throwing them away. This can have a huge impact on the environment.
  • Use green cleaning supplies: Find greener alternatives to harmful chemical cleaning products as you’re cleaning up post-party. Common household items like vinegar, baking soda, liquid dish soap, and lemon juice, in the right combinations, can clean just about anything.
  • Dispose of your dead Christmas tree wisely: Your tree can be very useful as wood chips or mulch for landscaping. Some recycling yards will take them as well.
  • Create decorations out of old cards: Rather than throwing out old cards, create a beautiful work of art with the kids instead.

So yes, you can get away with having a green Christmas without overabundance without having to be a Grinch! This year, make smart choices to help our planet (and your wallet).

There’s Nothing Quite Like Christmas In The Big Apple

No city in the world celebrates Christmas quite like old NYC. Now, if you’re a local like me, you’ll probably avoid a lot of the ruckus of Manhattan throughout the month of December. But just because something is very well-liked by tourists doesn’t mean you have to run and hide. A lot of those things are well-liked for a reason, and if you’ve never taken the opportunity to stop and take in the holiday spirit of your own hometown, maybe this is the year you should.

Rockefeller Center Tree-Lighting

On December 2, the massive tree in front of Rockefeller Center was lit during an event celebrated with live performances and observed by tens of thousands of people. But if you missed it, don’t worry; the tree will stay lit until January 6. In the meantime, you can enjoy a classic activity for holiday shoppers in the city and go ice skating in front of it. Just be sure to book well in advance. (If you miss skating at that rink, there are plenty of other places in the city where you can wow your date with your skating skills, too.)

The Rockettes

Nothing quite says Christmas in the city quite like the Rockettes and the incredible Radio City Christmas Spectacular. These high-kicking, smiling dancers are as much a part of the fabric of the city as the Empire State Building (which is lit with green and red and worth its own viewing). It’s always fun to watch the show, even if you’ve been before. They’ll have new sets and the old routines that I love. The falling toy soldiers bit, for instance, is great to see in person! While you’re there at Radio City Music Hall, check out the giant ornaments they’ve installed. If you can’t get in to see the Rockettes, the less-known but equally awesome Winter Solstice Celebration is a lot of fun as well, and it takes place in a cathedral!

Window-Shopping

Window-shopping is a lot of fun on any day, but during the holidays, the businesses on Fifth Avenue and in many of the main walkways of the city pull out all the stops. Try to find a less-crowded part of the day and then take a peek at some of the incredible creations, which tend to get more ridiculously beautiful every year. My favorite is always Macy’s, of course.

… Or Actual Shopping

Is anyone else really sad that FAO Schwartz is gone? Don’t worry though, because there are plenty of other places to go in the city if you want your kid to have a field day. Toys “R” Us is huge, and the official Lego stores are fun. But feel free to give the smaller places some love; they work hard to give your kid a great experience. I’ve heard really good things about Kidding Around and ToyQube. If you’re brave enough to go shopping in the city during the busiest times of the year, you’re probably brave enough to take your kid to this classic Christmas spot: Macy’s Santaland. If your child wants to talk to the big guy, this is the real big guy! (Trust me: I’ve seen Miracle on 34th Street!)

You know this is a great city for the holidays because this is nowhere near a comprehensive list of all of the really cool things you can do in the city during this festive time of year. Every local concert house has their own great performances at this time of year, and you can find some really fun activities off the beaten path, too, from the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show to the various sledding days in city parks to the spectacle of the Christmas lights at Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. If you don’t go to the tourist hot spots, that’s OK. Just be sure to take in some of the magic the city has to offer before January!

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