Resourceful Christmas Decorating

xmas tree 1 While the weather outside may be frightful, why not bring in the beauty without brining in the cold? Mrs. Hacker likes to celebrate Christmas by bringing the beauty of winter indoors.

Christmas Wreath

If grape vines grow around your residence, look for a vine the circumference of a pencil or bigger. Cut a long piece of vine and submerge it in water. The water will make it more pliable. Twist the vine around itself until it forms a circle. Allow the vine to dry.

Collect pine or cedar boughs, leafy plants with red berries (i.e., holly), pine cones, acorns and nuts. Once the vine base of your wreath is dry, place items you have collected on the wreath base. When you have found a placement you like, apply hot glue to the backs of each item to hold them in place. Top the wreath with a bow and a loop of ribbon as a hanger.

Natural Tree

Mrs. Hacker typically gets xmas tree 2her tree only about two weeks before Christmas because her primary source of heat is wood stove. As you know, wood stoves produce dry heat, which can quickly cause your beautiful Christmas tree to shed needles. To prevent your evergreen from turning into a weeping willow, be sure to give it plenty of water, place it as far away from the heat source as possible, buy/cut it as close to Christmas as possible, and always practice fire safety and prevention.

Choose a tree according to your space. We’ve all seen the Christmas comedy where the family chooses a giant tree for a tiny living room. Mrs. Hacker always chooses a narrow tree to allow enough space. Silvertip fir are usually narrower trees, if you have a small space like Mrs. Hacker. Look for a tree with lots of sturdy branches to hold up your ornaments, and make sure the branches are far enough apart that your ornaments won’t be crowded, especially if you have a lot of ornaments.

If you don’t have a tree skirt, wrap a white sheet under your tree to give it a snowy look. White felt can also be used without having to do any sewing.

If you want to select your tree in the great outdoors like Mrs. Hacker, buy a permit for about $10 by searching for “Christmas tree permit, [your state].” The permit will specify some basic rules like maximum height and minimum height. Be sure to follow these guidelines.

Basket of Gold

Add some sparkle to your Christmas display with a basket or glass container of metallic pine cones, seed pods, and nuts. Collect these items and spray paint them with gold, silver, and/or bronze paint. You can even sprinkle them with glitter to add extra dazzle. Mrs. Hacker treasures her basket of gold  made many years ago by her mother.

If you’re not a big fan of glitter and glitz, go natural with a basket of unpainted nuts, seed pods, and pine cones atop a bed of pine or cedar boughs.

A Festive Bouquet

To create a colorful Christmas bouquet, use pine tree branches and holly with red berries. Small pine cones can be placed at the base of the bouquet or hot glue them to branches or sticks.

It’s a Wrap

Now that you’ve mixed your DIY décor with your old favorites, tie it all together by wrapping your wall art in decorative wrapping paper. You can even apply ribbon or bows to make them look like real gifts.

We hope that you will try these tips, and show us how you use them to create your own versions. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tip: Stay away from poinsettia if you have pets as it can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.


Winterizing Your Flower Bed

Winterizing a flower garden is made easier by educating yourself on your plants in the spring. When purchasing your plants at your local nursery, check the facts on the tags inside the plant’s pot. There you will find facts about whether the plant is an annual that needs to be replaced each year or a perennial that will come back in the spring. It will also tell you best months to plant, temperatures the plant will survive, and best planting conditions.

Once you’ve planted your garden, you most likely won’t keep the tags that came with them, but you can if it helps you remember what to pull up in the cold months and what to leave for next year.

Mrs. Hacker’s technique for winterizing her garden is three-fold. First, place any frost-sensitive potted plants under shelter. She puts hers under the patio or in the potting shed where they are somewhat protected from the cold. Alternatively you can cover your plant with a tomato frame (wooden frame used for tomato plants) and staple plastic along the outside to form a makeshift shelter for your plant. Check your plant tags to see what temperatures they can withstand to get a better idea of what kind of shelter they need in the winter months. Each kind of plant has different cold and heat tolerances. It only gets down in the 30’s F where Mrs. Hacker lives.

Many perennial plants go dormant in the winter, so Mrs. Hacker lops off the top of the plant and places a stick next to it. This will allow her to locate it before it starts growing in the spring. If you can easily locate your dormant plants come spring, then you won’t accidentally dig them up or plant too close to them. You might also find it useful to cover the cut off plant with straw to protect the roots from the frost. This is especially good for people who don’t have a place to store their plants for the winter.

Plant your annuals together, so they are easy to locate when you have to pull them up. If you use “garden fabric” to keep the weeds out, pull up your annual plant before the winter, and place a rock where the hole is in the fabric. This way you will know where to place your new, replacement plant in the spring. A rock differentiates it from the perennials where you put sticks.

To help keep your garden beautiful all year long, cut the dormant plants off to the ground so that when they die you are not left with frozen leaves and sticks in your garden. Despite what you might think, there are colorful plants that flower all winter. Plant pansies and violas to brighten a drab winter garden.

Have any questions? We’d be happy to try to answer. Leave a comment/reply, and be sure to subscribe to our blog for the latest in DIY tips.

Home Remedies for Your Four-Legged Friends

As a lover of pets Mrs. Hacker knows her way around a vets office, but with a yard full of aging pets, she knew there must be a better way. Her sweet cat, Puss Puss, was constantly screaming from her litterbox, and her husband’s dog, Madison, loved to eat grass but couldn’t digest the stuff. What is a compassionate pet owner to do?

puss puss

After several trips to the vet, many rounds of antibiotics, and little to no improvement in the frequency of UTIs in her poor four-footed friend, Mrs. Hacker turned to common sense. Instead of filling Ms. Puss with antibiotics that had just as many side effects as they had benefits, she decided to try cranberry capsules along with some simple advice from her vet.

First, take about a quarter cup of good quality dry cat food that is a uretic feline formula. I realize good quality is not very specific. Mrs. Hacker uses Wysong, purchased at the pet store, but if you are interested in other brands, ask your vet for a uretic feline dry food recommendation. Open a cranberry capsule, the kind you get from your pharmacy in the vitamin aisle, and pour it over the dry cat food. Shake the food around until the powder from the capsule coats the dry food. Cranberry capsule should be given once a day. If your cat eats multiple times a day, use the steps that follow, but skip the cranberry for all but one meal. Now that your cranberry powder is mixed with your dry cat food, cover the mixture with warm water, enough to cover all the food. Stir until the water begins to look like broth. No matter how many times you feed your cat throughout the day, always mix water with the dry food to avoid further urinary problems. Next, spoon two tablespoons of good quality canned cat food with gravy on top of your mixture. Mrs. Hacker uses Science Diet canned cat food with gravy. Use a good amount of the gravy in your two tablespoons. Mix it all together and let your fur baby dig in. Obviously if you do not see an improvement in your cat’s health, seek professional advice from your vet.

Some would argue that dogs are smarter than cats, but at times Madison proves them wrong. She has a habit of eating grass, which results in her vomiting. Not only is this gross, but it probably means she’s feeling pretty lousy. Mrs. Hacker found another simple solution. If you can’t keep your dog away from grass, you can at least keep the grass from upsetting their stomach. To avoid stomach upset give your dogs human probiotics, but be sure to call your vet and ask what ingredients are good for your pet. Probiotics are also helpful if your pet is on antibiotics. Antibiotics can mess with your pet’s system. Probiotics can help during the time they are on antibiotics. The capsules can be given the same way as the cranberry capsules described above. Just open the capsule, pour onto food, and mix.

I call my mom the Dr. Quinn of the animal world. The pets are a part of the family, and they deserve the best. Sometimes the best is going to the vet for a serious injury or illness, and sometimes the best is staying home in their cozy beds and lush backyard.

Have a pet home remedy you want to share? Comment on this blog post. We’d love to hear from you, and while you are at it follow us and share us too.

Menu Planning 101

A few weeks back I bought a muffin mix because I’m not as domestic as my mother. I poured my mix into my bowl along with the eggs and other ingredients. Then I swung around to the fridge to grab the milk. Wait! What?!? There was no milk. I pulled on my hoodie and my flip flops and grabbed the keys. Let me tell you, 7-Eleven in East Oakland is not a fun place to be at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night, but then again, who makes muffins at 10:00 p.m.? Needless to say, these wise words will resonate with you when you reach for the milk and realize it’s still at the store.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Mrs. Hacker should be giving classes on menu planning. It’s serious business. I remember when I lived at home and she’d be preparing her menus. She would read the recipes and ask me to check if we had this or that ingredient. I’d be running all over the kitchen, but it was all very organized. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen besides snack was alphabetizing the spices. Everything is well thought out and orchestrated to be very efficient and cost-effective. With that said, I warn you that her strategy is a bit “extreme” in that it plans a two-week menu and involves a lot of time shopping at different stores, so use what parts work for you. It works for Mrs. Hacker because she lives in a rural area, so stores are not that easily accessible.

First Mrs. Hacker gets the sales papers (like the things you usually throw out if you are like me), and she sees what type of meat or main dish items are on sale. Then she looks up recipes in cookbooks and online that include that sale item. For instance, if chicken is on sale, perhaps she would choose chicken tacos and one or two others, depending on the price. Next she reads the recipes while making her shopping list to make sure she gets all the ingredients. She takes an inventory of what she already has based on the menu and recipes to ensure that she doesn’t buy more than she needs. She also lists side dishes that go well with each of the main dishes. Hint: Choosing one theme or cultural cuisine helps instead of trying to make up combinations.

When making the grocery list itself, she uses “x”s and circles to distinguish between where she will buy specific items. In the past I’ve also seen her use different colored ink pens. You could also use highlighter to color code your list. She also marks down items for which she has coupons. Mrs. Hacker shops at about seven different stores in about four to five hours one day every two weeks, so all this color coding helps her to be most efficient in each store. Aside from color coding, she lists meats first along with other cold items that would be found near the meat section, and brings insulated bags and blue ice to keep these items cold in the car while she shops. Not only does she buy her ingredients for dinners at this time, she also purchases her breakfast and lunch foods as well as household items like toiletries and pet food to avoid additional trips to town.

After developing her menu and grocery list, she posts her two-week menu on the refrigerator. Each morning she chooses from those meals on the menu, so she can thaw what she needs to prepare dinner later in the day. After she prepares it, she just marks it off her list so she knows she’s already made that meal.

By taking about a full day to plan and shop, you can save a lot of money and time that would be spent running to the store for missing ingredients. Instead you get the health of home cooked meals, and the joy of eating (and sharing) something you made yourself.

We hope you have enjoyed Mrs. Hacker’s tips, and that you will use these tips in whatever way works best for you. Let us know what you think, like and share us with your friends and family. We look forward to hearing from you.