Saturday, August 10, 2019

Reviews of Silicone Kitchen Tools and Accessories for Cooking and Baking Enthusiasts

Silicone sponges, potholders, spatulas, baking pan liners, muffin pan liners, food storage bags, cooking utensil rests, chocolate chip molds, ice pop molds and other silicone molds have become some of my favorite and most-often-used items in my kitchen.

Although I love cooking and baking, I don’t enjoy washing dishes, so I appreciate being able to toss my silicone kitchen tools into the dishwasher. It’s often just as easy to hand wash them with just a soapy sponge, since even sticky foods wash off easily.
Read on for my reviews of the best silicone kitchen tools and accessories!

Silicone Scrubber Sponges

I started using silicone “sponges” a while ago to protect our nonstick pots and pans. I liked them, but found them hard to handle because they were thin, floppy and a bit small. Also, when something did stick a bit, they didn’t work at all to remove the stuck-on food.

When one of them eventually ripped, I decided to look for something a bit larger and sturdier. I was a bit skeptical when I ordered this set silicone scrubber sponges, but I really liked the fact that they had the nubby silicone sponge “fingers” on one side and a sturdier scrubber pad on the other side. I find it much easier to hold these thicker, less floppy scrubber sponges while washing dishes, utensils, pots or pans. And, like the ones they replaced, they’re made of silicone, so they protect the nonstick finish, don’t trap bacteria and don’t get smelly, as cellulose sponges can. They’re also dishwasher safe.
These silicone scrubber sponges won't scratch nonstick pots and pans
The set includes 3 silicone sponge scrubbers, so I can keep one at the sink, one in the dishwasher and still have a spare. I wish the colors were a bit less drab, like the thinner, brightly colored silicone sponges I purchased originally, but I’m happy to trade less attractive color for more effectiveness in my kitchen.

Silicone Potholders

My hands are very sensitive to hot and cold temperatures, so I've gone through a lot of potholders over the years. The first silicone potholders I tried were the OrkaPlus cotton-lined silicone mitts by Mastrad. These long mitts were like barbecue mitts, providing great coverage that protected my fingers, hands, wrists and the lower half of my forearms. This appealed to me a lot, since I'm prone to burning myself in the kitchen! They also came highly recommended by a respected cooking magazine and had great reviews. Unfortunately, I found them very clumsy and had a hard time getting a good grip on the edges of cookie sheets without smooshing the big silicone thumb part into the cookies (or whatever else was in the pan I was trying to remove from the oven). Next, I tried a pair of small, ribbed silicone pinch mitts, also called mini oven mitts, that just covered my fingers, thumbs and palms. But I found them very awkward to use.
These ribbed silicone potholders protect your hands without getting in the way
Finally, I bought two Architec Silicone HotGrip ribbed silicone potholders that turned out to be the perfect solution. I use them every day, throw them into the dishwasher every evening and they still look like new. They're thick, large enough to protect my hands and grip well, thanks to the ribbed texture. Mine are red, since at the time the pretty teal blue color wasn't available. I can't imagine them wearing out, but if they ever do, I'll definitely be buying the blue ones!

Silicone Spatulas

I frequently use nonstick cookware and bakeware and silicone spatulas help protect the nonstick coating. I’ve added to my silicone spatula collection over time because I use them for so many things.

The first ones I bought (many years ago) had silicone heads attached to handles of a different material (wood, metal or plastic). I soon realized I’d be better off with a seamless, one-piece design. This eliminates the possibility of the business end of the spatula becoming detached from the handle (something that happened to me several times with two-piece designs) and eliminates seams and crevices that can trap food and breed bacteria.

Two years ago, I purchased 4-piece silicone spatula set made by UpGood. I was unfamiliar with the brand but bought it because I liked the shapes and sizes in the set, the reviews were great and the price made them an excellent value. The set includes a long, slim spatula for scraping out jars, a curved spoon spatula and both long and short traditional scraper spatulas with one curved edge and one straight edge, These are very nice quality and they're still going strong in my kitchen a couple of years later, And the charcoal gray color is a neutral that won't clash with your kitchen's color scheme. Here's a photo of the spoon/spatula (AKA "spoonula") from the set.
One of the spoonulas in my growing collection!
I find myself using the spoon/spatula shape the most for cooking and baking. Since I rarely have only one pot or pan going on the stove when I cook, I decided to get a couple more in that shape. I was delighted to find one in a pretty aqua/teal, my favorite color, so I ordered the GIR (Get It Right) 11-inch Premium Silicone Ultimate Spoonula in Teal. This high quality, seamless spoon spatula is made of pharmaceutical grade platinum-cured silicone that's heat resistant up to 550 °F. It also has a sturdy fiberglass core that doesn't heat up like the more common iron or stainless steel spatula cores. It's still one of my favorite cooking utensils - I just love the color and using it makes me happy. (It's the little things, right?) It also comes in Red, Orange or Gray.

I use an iSi Slim Silicone Spatula to scrape out my very tall Vitamix blender. It works extremely well for this purpose and I am very pleased with it.
This iSI slim silicone spatula is perfect for scraping the bottom of my Vitamix blender
Note: Any silicone spatula that is used to scrape out the contents of a blender will eventually get cuts or nicks from the sharp blades, at which point it should be replaced for sanitary reasons.

Silicone Baking Pan Liners

I've been baking for decades and, as any experienced baker will likely tell you, silicone baking mats are a baking staple. When I was younger, I used baking parchment much more often than I do now. But the older I get, the more concerned I become about the pervasiveness of wasteful habits that wreak havoc on the environment. So, increasingly, I've been trying to switch from disposable to reusable items.

For many years, I've used Silpat baking mats to line my cookie sheets. This French brand is so closely associated with this type of silicone bakeware liner that it's most often used as a generic term for them. But when I lost the use of my full-size double oven, I needed to get some smaller ones that would fit the smaller rimmed baking sheets for my tabletop oven.

I had been planning to buy the iconic Silpat brand again, but the name commands a premium and my income is not what it was when I worked in the corporate world. So, when I looked at a pair of silicone baking mats from an unfamiliar brand that had both great reviews and a great price, I took a chance.

Both my husband and I have been using these Quarter Sheet Silicone Baking Mats by WildCow several times a week. They're great for baking, of course, but we also use them to line our tabletop toaster oven rimmed baking sheets before inserting a rack to oven-bake regular or turkey bacon. We much prefer this method to pan frying, since there's no splatter, no turning and no watchful eye needed. These 11 3/4” x 8 1/4" nonstick cooking and baking mats fit inside the 12" x 10" rimmed baking sheets we use in our tabletop toaster oven (although I may trim the tips of the corners on a diagonal at some point). Despite the excellent price, they're thick and sturdy and have held up great. I can hand wash them quickly with my silicone scrubber sponge and hot, soapy water or just toss them into the dishwasher. (I can't figure out why the mat looks stained in this photo, since it isn't in real life!)
This inexpensive silicone baking mat works as well as my expensive Silpat mats
Be aware that these are heat resistant up to 400 °F, so don't use them for something that requires higher heat, such as browning the top of something under the broiler.

If you're using regular 18" x 13" pans — known in  professional kitchens as half size pans — I recommend getting the AmazonBasics Silicone Baking Mat Sheet, Set of 2 in the Standard size. AmazonBasics is one of Amazon's popular private-label "house brands".These silicone baking mats measure 11.6" x 16.5" and can also be used with 11" x 17" baking sheets (although they'll overhang two of the sides slightly). These mats currently have an average customer rating of 4.7 stars based on more than 4,300 customer ratings, are heat-resistant up to 480 °F and are also very well priced.

Silicone Mini Prep Bowls / Pinch Bowls

I've had a set of medium-sized stainless steel prep bowls for years that I still use. But when I set out and prepare all the ingredients before starting to cook or bake (an activity known in the chef / foodie / Food Network world as mise-en-place), it's also nice to be able to prep and measure out small amounts of ingredients, such as seasonings or garnishes.

My Norpro set of 4 silicone mini pinch bowls are perfect for that purpose. The four colorful bowls in the set are bright red, blue, yellow and green, respectively. These cuties are just 2.5" in diameter and 1.5" tall, so they take up practically no counter space, which is a big advantage if you're prepping a lot of ingredients. In the photo, you can see how tiny they are next to a 1-cup measuring cup.
These tiny, colorful silicone pinch bowls are perfect for small amounts of ingredients
The nonstick silicone means I can measure and set out even sticky ingredients, like a couple of tablespoons of molasses or honey, and easily scrape them into a pot, pan or mixing bowl. These bowls are also microwave safe and heat resistant to 500 °F, so I can melt small amounts of butter or coconut oil in them. And because they're flexible, it's easy to pinch the sides of these flexible prep bowls (hence the name "pinch bowls") to control and direct the ingredients as I'm pouring them into my pot or bowl or drizzling melted butter or chocolate or a sauce over a dish.

When I'm through with whatever ingredients I used them for, I just toss these brightly colored mini pinch bowls into the dishwasher.

Reusable Silicone Baking Liners / Baking Cups

I often bake in cupcake or muffin tins, and even more so now that I’ve switched to eating low carb. I love baking batches of low carb, high-protein, sugar-free chocolate muffins made with almond flour or low carb mini cheesecakes that I can keep in the freezer. Baking a recipe in muffin tins rather than full size cake pans helps me with portion control, since I can just grab one serving and defrost it.

While I could just grease the wells of my muffin tins for my protein muffins, that won’t work for recipes like the mini cheesecakes, since they're too soft to turn out onto a rack after they come out of the oven (and since if I chilled them first to firm them up, they wouldn't release easily from the greased muffin tin).

I stopped buying disposable, single-use paper cupcake liners a few years ago, so I decided to look for some reusable silicone baking cups. Also, since our wall oven died a year or two ago*, we’re using a tabletop oven that isn’t wide enough to fit a full-size, 12-cup cupcake or muffin pan. So, I wanted silicone baking cups that were sturdy enough to be used on a baking sheet, without the support of a muffin pan so I could bake a dozen muffins (or mini cheesecakes) at a time in my small tabletop oven. And, of course, they could also be used as cupcake liners for my 6-cup muffin pans, which do fit my tabletop oven.

After considerable research, I chose Pantry Elements Silicone Cupcake Baking Cups & Liners. They’re made from high-quality, 100% food-grade silicone with no fillers, as demonstrated by the fact that they pass the “pinch test” perfectly. (According to numerous sources, if you pinch or bend and twist a flat area on a colored silicone food preparation product and the color appears white in that stretched area, it can indicate the presence of fillers vs. 100% silicone.)
These reusable baking cups work so much better than paper cupcake liners!
They are also thick and sturdy enough to hold their shape after being filled with thick muffin batter. However, if you use them as stand-alone baking cups rather than as cupcake liners inside a muffin tin, place them on the baking sheet before you fill them with batter. Because they are flexible, moving them to the baking sheet after filling them with batter can be messy. (Ask me how I know, lol!)

Cleanup is easy. Sometimes I let them soak in warm, soapy water for a bit and wash them by hand with my silicone sponge, but they’re also dishwasher-safe. And they come in a rainbow of bright, pretty colors, which adds a nice, cheery pop of color to my kitchen.

Best of all, unlike paper cupcake liners, they release cleanly, so I don't end up losing the outer layer of crumbs to the trash. Just look at those sharp, crisp ridges on that muffin!
See how few crumbs stick to these cupcake liners?
I bake with these silicone cups every week and they still look and act brand new. You get 24 liners for around 50 cents each in a convenient, see-through, lidded storage tube. I can’t imagine ever having to replace them.

*In case you're wondering, our defunct double wall oven, which is original to this 1950s house, is too old to be repaired, according to several appliance technicians who have looked at it. Unfortunately, we also can't replace it because it’s surrounded by built-in cabinetry that runs the entire length of the wall and contemporary ovens don’t fit the opening. Believe me, we've tried!

Reusable Silicone Food Storage Bags

Since I switched to a low-carb diet, I’ve been baking grain-free, sugar-free rolls, bread, muffins and brownies to make it easier for this former carbohydrate lover to stay on track. To make this process less time-consuming, I’ve started measuring the dry ingredients for multiple batches and storing them in freezer bags. Now, I can just pull out a bag of my “baking mix” for that recipe, let it come to room temperature, add the wet ingredients and put the batter in the oven. Easy peasy!

Since I am trying to reduce my use of plastic wrap and food storage bags that end up in landfills. So, rather than using disposable plastic freezer bags for this purpose, I decided to get some reusable food grade silicone food storage bags. The ones I chose have bottoms that let them stand up on the counter, which makes them easier to fill. The sliding closure is a bit stiff at first, by design, but loosens up just enough after the first few uses so they’re easier to slide but still airtight. They can also be used in the microwave and for sous-vide cooking and they’re dishwasher-safe for easy clean-up. The one in the photo holds the remaining 1/4 of a psyllium bun from my last batch — time to get baking!
These reusable silicone food storage bags keep disposable plastic bags out of landfills
At roughly 9.5 inches x just under 7 inches, they’re a good size for my baking mixes. And, unlike rigid food storage containers, these fold flat for efficient, space-saving storage when not in use.

Silicone Cooking Utensil Rest

For many years, we’ve kept a marble spoon rest next to the stove. I bought it because I thought it was pretty. However, pretty is as pretty does, and this kitchen gadget has been a thorn in my side for a long time! Marble is absorbent, so the surface frequently stained when I was cooking a tomato-based sauce or dish. Also, I rarely use just one utensil when cooking. So, even though the marble spoon rest was fairly wide, it wasn’t big enough to accommodate multiple cooking utensils.
This easy-to-clean utensil rest holds up to 4 cooking utensils
I finally got rid of it and replaced it with a multi-slot silicone utensil rest. It’s certainly not the prettiest thing in our kitchen and the only color choices are a medium grey or a bright yellow-green, but both my husband and I love it. The four slots are wide enough to accommodate the handles of any of our cooking utensils, but also narrow enough so that the business ends of the utensils are held at an angle, so four utensils can fit without resting on top of each other. That also allows the base to be narrower than it would need to be if the “heads” of the cooking utensils were lying flat. In addition, there’s a small lip or rim around the edge of the base, so if there’s a bit of liquid that drips off a utensil, it doesn’t spill over onto the stove or countertop. The only cooking utensil we have that it isn’t large enough for is our enormous slotted spatula, which is nearly 5” wide!

Best of all, because it’s made of silicone, it’s stain-resistant, non-stick, heat-resistant up to 450 °F and dishwasher safe.

Silicone Chocolate Chip Molds

Most commercially available chocolate chips aren’t as high quality as those same brands offer in bars or chunks. In fact, many of the best quality chocolate manufacturers don’t make chocolate chips at all. So, if you’re a true chocolate lover like I am, whenever you use chocolate chips in a recipe, you’re usually settling for second (or third) best.

In addition, as I’ve matured, my taste buds have evolved. Now I prefer really dark chocolate, which has the added benefit of being heart-healthy in modest amounts. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find high-quality, very dark chocolate chips. The so-called dark chocolate chips in the grocery store are 60% cacao; but for heart health benefits, dark chocolate should be labeled 70% cacao or higher according to the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic.

If you want sugar-free chocolate chips, it’s even more of a challenge. The darkest I’ve found are Lily’s stevia sweetened chocolate chips which, while delicious, contain only 55% cacao – much too low to improve heart health.

Whether you prefer traditional or sugar-free chocolate, the lower the percentage of cacao, the higher percentage of other ingredients, which increases the number of net carbs per serving.
Sure, you can chop up a sugar-free dark chocolate bar instead, if you’re using them in a recipe. But sometimes you really want real chocolate chips!

So, I was delighted to find these silicone chocolate chip molds, which allow me to make my own healthy, sugar-free, dark chocolate chips that look as though they came right out of a bag from the store.
These adorable chocolate chip molds let you make better quality chips for less!
If I’m feeling lazy, I can just melt a sugar-free dark chocolate bar, smooth it into the molds, let the chocolate harden (or chill the molds for a bit during the hot summer months), then invert and twist the molds to release the chips. I store them in one of my silicone food storage bags until I’m ready to use them in recipes (or eat them just the way they are). The molds come in a set of three. I've shown two facing up and one facing down so you can see the shape of the chocolate chips it makes.

If I have a bit more time, however, I make my own sugar-free, melted dark chocolate from scratch and use that in the molds. Homemade chocolate chips are also less expensive for the quality you get. Either way, I can get sugar-free dark chocolate chips with a much higher percentage of cacao than I can buy commercially.

Silicone Ice Pop Molds

Who doesn't love to cool off with a sweet, refreshing ice pop during the dog days of summer? Many years ago I stopped buying them and started making my own at home. My homemade ice pops are healthier, more nutritious and much cheaper than what I can buy at the store. More importantly (to me), I have complete control over the choice and quality of the ingredients. I use organic produce, dairy, coconut milk and other ingredients as much as possible. No food coloring in my food, thank you! Now that I'm eating low carb, I've also cut out not only processed sugars but also organic honey, maple syrup, date syrup and other natural sweeteners. So, pretty much the only way to ensure that the ice pops I eat meet my strict criteria for food quality and nutrition is to make them myself.

One of the low carb ice pop recipes I've really been enjoying is called Creamy Keto Fudgesicles. Personally, I think they taste much richer and creamier than their namesake, more like a chocolate pudding pop. They're made by blending ripe avocado, unsweetened cocoa powder, full fat coconut milk, erythritol, vanilla and a little sea salt, pouring them into frozen treat molds and freezing them. The first time I made the recipe, I discovered that the pudding-like mixture was too thick to go through the silicone funnel that came with my Lebice Popsicle Molds (which are very nice unless you're trying to make a frozen treat such as pudding pops or cheesecake pops that involve a very thick mixture). When I tried spooning the mixture into the molds with a teaspoon, even though I was extremely slow and careful I was unable to prevent some of the mixture from getting on the lip and exterior of the ice pop molds.

Since I knew I'd be making this recipe often, especially during the summer, I decided to look for a set of molds with wider openings. I wanted these new molds to have not only wider openings but also reusable lids and sticks. Ideally, they would be dishwasher safe. They would need to be made of BPA-free, FDA-approved food-grade materials and release the frozen ice pops without a struggle.
These brightly colored ice pop molds make nice, big popsicles
The pudding pop recipe makes 6-8 pops, depending on the size of the molds, so I decided to buy a Silicone Popsicle Molds Set with two molds that can make up to 8 ice pops. One of the molds is a deep, bright pink (which the manufacturer calls "rose red" for some reason) and the other is a bright lime green. The set comes with integrated one-piece lids/sticks, two each in pink, lime green, orange and aqua-turquoise. (Kids probably would love getting to choose their favorite color.) And each well holds a generous 3.38 ounces.


Believe it or not, I've got even more silicone kitchen tools, and I'm sure there will be more in my future! If you have some favorites, I'd love to hear about them.



Silicone Kitchen Tools and Accessories for Cooking and Baking Enthusiasts reviewed by 
Margaret Schindel


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Friday, August 9, 2019

Clean Your Bathtub Without Harmful Chemicals or Fumes

Clean a porcelain bathtub without any fumes or harmful chemicals!  The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser does a better job of cleaning the tub too.
  

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers Reviewed


For many years, actually decades, I knew cleaning day would end with a migraine headache.  Even if I took a pain reliever before I started, I still ended up in excruciating pain.  

I knew the smell of the strong chemicals was to blame, but we had to have a clean home.  Therefore, week after week, I toughed it out, cleaned and suffered.  

Even with fans and open windows, the fumes were just too much for me, until I discovered Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.  No only do they erase dirt and grime, they do it without harmful chemicals.  Therefore, they also erased my cleaning day migraines and I am most grateful!

Though it may no longer be necessary because of chemicals I can smell, I still protect my skin by wearing disposable nitrile gloves when I clean.


The Mr. Clean Magic Erasers


My husband's aunt was the first person to recommend the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to me.  She shared how they easily cleaned scuff marks off her kitchen floor, baseboards and walls.  I purchased a package for that purpose.  

Then one day, not too long after I started using the awesome erasers on my baseboards, I had an epiphany.  If they work so well on baseboards and scuff marks, why not try them on the bathtub?

Eureka!  I had finally found a way to clean a porcelain bathtub without any fumes or harmful chemicals!!!  What's more, that little eraser does a better job of cleaning the tub, in my opinion.

Clean a porcelain bathtub without any fumes or harmful chemicals!  The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser does a better job of cleaning the tub too.
The Magic Eraser shows the Dirt & Grime Removed From This Bathtub

The bathtub in the photo is used every day for showers, and it is over 20 years old.  This particular tub is in a windowless bathroom.  It was the one I dreaded cleaning the most because I had only a fan to help eliminate the fumes while cleaning, and that simply was not enough to forestall the migraine.   

I have no doubt my body was trying to tell me something, loud and clear, with those migraines.  Believe me, it wasn't that I didn't understand, nor was I ignoring their warnings.  It was simply a matter of necessity.  I had to clean our bathrooms!  Now, I can enjoy a clean bathroom without paying a painful price.



How to Clean a Porcelain Bathtub with the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser


The erasers need to be wet to work.  I leave the bath water running and draining while I rub the entire surface of the bathtub with the wet Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.  Then I swoosh the water around to rinse the residue.  It really is very easy and odorless.  My biggest complaint now when I clean the tub, it won't stay that way for long.  They shiny porcelain beckons one to bathe.

Now, I can sing while cleaning.  I can take deep breaths and hit high notes that are not related to pain and suffering.  

The Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are one of the greatest discoveries in my life!  








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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Review of Nobska Lighthouse and Sharing Photography with Children


On a recent July morning I was able to visit this historic lighthouse on Cape Cod and share my love of lighthouse photography with my granddaughters.

Brief History of Nobska Lighthouse

When we arrived at this historic lighthouse on the southern point of Cape Cod in Falmouth we took a few minutes to read the signs and learn a bit about the history of the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is nestled between Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay with Martha's Vineyard spread right out in front of it.

From the early colonial days until the twentieth century the route from Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds provided the shortest route to bring passengers and goods from Cape Cod to all points south and west.  In the 1800's vessel traffic through this area was second only to that of the English Channel.  Because of this a need for a lighthouse to keep vessels safe was imperative.

Nobska light was first opened in 1826 as just a tower above a keepers house.  It was replaced in 1878 by the present 42 feet cast iron tower.  This tower sits 87 feet above sea level.  It flashes every 6 seconds and is visible for 17 miles.

Photographing the Lighthouse



The above is a photograph of my granddaughters, Kate and Emily in front of the lighthouse.  They both brought along their new cameras to learn about photographing the lighthouse with me.

The next two photos are ones that were taken by the girls.  The first, a close up shot of the lighthouse, was taken by Kate.  The second one was taken from across the street by Emily.



I too enjoyed the view from across the street from the lighthouse.  Here are two photos that I took looking back at the lighthouse.



Across from the Lighthouse

After looking at the lighthouse closeup we crossed the street and took a path that led down to the beach.  It was a fantastic view of the islands that lay just off the coast.  Here is a map that tells about what we saw.


It was very interesting to see the map and then look at the scene ahead of us.  We watched ferries leave from Cape Cod heading over toward Martha's Vineyard.  It was early morning when we arrived and the fog was rather heavy, but as the morning progressed the fog started to lift and we could see more of the islands.



Photographing with my Granddaughters

It was a wonderful experience sharing my love of photography and lighthouses  with Kate and Emily.  They listened carefully as I showed them how to look for interesting photos.  After they took a few of the lighthouse from different angles, their interest was more toward photographing the bees in the flowers.


Zazzle Products from our Photos

This keychain design was made from one of Emily's photos and the mug is from my photo.




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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mid Summer Heat and Your Garden, It's Time to Rejuvenate!

Oh the Summer of 2019 will probably go down as one of the better ones we have had in a long time.  But, the heat can do some pretty mean things to your garden.  Let's do a quick review on how you can make those baskets and annuals look a little nicer than they do right now!

When May and June rolled around, everyone was just so happy to see the weather become warmer.  Garden centers everywhere were busy selling plants of every kind under the sun to people who had the worst cases of itchy fingers ever!

Who didn't go out to buy at least one or two hanging planters with bright colored geraniums or petunias?  I know I did and the garden centers thanked me.  

This is what they looked like when I bought them:

*photo from pixabay

Now that we are well into August, they are looking tired and sparse.  The stems that were so full of flower buds, have elongated into wisps of bare stems with maybe a flower or two at the end of the stem.  Nothing at all like they looked when I first purchased them.

                                            portulaca looking sad

But wait a minute, these plants can be revitalized with just a little tender loving care.  I'm here to help you make the next two to three months much nicer again with the same plants that you already have.

How to Revitalize Your Plants 

Let's get started.  

Cut back the long strands of petunias, calibracoas, or moss roses (portulaca). Dead-head your geraniums so that more flower heads will appear.  

1. Let the plant dry out just a little, so that you can remove it from it's hanging pot.
When you have the plant out, place it (soil ball and plant) into a pail of water.  You will notice that the soil around the plant has probably gotten very solid and holds the shape of the pot it was in.  That is part of the problem.  When you water this plant, the water just falls right out of the bottom of the pot.  The soil no longer holds any water close to the roots.  We need to fix that!  

2.  Take the roots and gently pry them apart (or if you are not too scared, take a knife and cut the root ball into quarters)   Do this inside the pail and place the pieces back into water.  You may notice that some of the old soil is starting to fall away from the roots.  Don't worry, that's what you want to have happen.  

3.  Get some fresh potting soil.  I like to use Miracle Gro soil.** I'll tell you why later.  Now take those quarters and place two or three back into the hanging pot.  Fill the rest of the space with fresh soil and water well.  You can even bury the crown of the plant in the new soil.

4.  Leave these plants in the shade for a day or two, just to give them some time to get over the shock.  Keep them watered well, but not drowning.  

5.  In a week, you should be able to see new growth coming up from the original root system.  In two weeks they will look like brand new plants, even though there isn't a garden center around with fresh planters.  

6.  Sit back, relax and enjoy your hanging baskets for another two months or more.  

If your hanging baskets are full of annuals, they will  keep blooming until frost arrives and that could be late October or November even.  They will slow down in blooming naturally once the long summer days are done, but they will bloom!  They will also look so much nicer than those long wisps with only one flower on the end of each stem.   

Now why do I like Miracle Grow Soil?**  I told you earlier that I would explain.  So here it is:
Purchased hanging planters from Pop-up Garden centers use plain potting soil for their planters (it's cheaper).  Miracle Gro soil is not just soil, but Sphagnum peat moss, perlite and compost.  It is also infused with Miracle Gro fertilizers that are time released for better blooms and healthier plants.  I have used this for years and I can't remember ever having a summer of disappointment with my hanging plants.  Now that I am in my apartment, I use this type of soil in all my balcony planters too. 




Annual plants are wonderful for their color, long lasting blooming period and they are not too expensive either.  So you really get a good bang for your buck.  At then end of the season, remember to compost your annuals or if you are really keen, start seed saving so that next year you can make your own hanging baskets with Miracle Gro soil from the start and seeds that you have saved.  

You can find out more about seed saving on another review right here: Let's Review The Best Proven Seed Saving Practices





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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Numerology Bible Reviewed

The Meaning of Numbers (Numerology)

numbers in numerology
Do you know your numbers?
image courtesy of pixabay.com
I've been reviewing the meaning of numbers quite a bit lately. Numerology plays a minor role in my newest book Campground Corpse. Aunt Flossie has been known to tell her niece Taylor more than once that 'it's in the numbers, dear'. Even the name of the series (Cabin 9 Mysteries) that my book belongs to was chosen consulting the numbers. I didn't just pull the number 9 out of a hat. Nope, there is a reason Aunt Flossie can be found most of the time in or around that cabin in particular.


Lucky Numbers or more?


We often hear people say they picked a number because it was their lucky one. Maybe it was for a lottery or to open a door on a game show but their reasons can often be that they feel that number or numbers were lucky ones for them. Thirteen is often considered an unlucky number. Tall buildings can be found around the world without a 13th floor because the builder felt it might bring bad luck. Do numbers bring luck, good or bad? Do the letters that make up your name (when changed to their numerical value) tell something about your personality? Since the time of Pythagoras in the B.C. 500's many people believe that they do. In mathematics numbers never lie, could it be so in the study of numerology? Just as in astrology when we look up the traits of our "sign" we see similarities in the descriptions; our Life Path Number, Soul Number, Dream Number often show an uncanny resemblance to ourselves. 

In a scene in the book Campground Corpse, I have Taylor question whether numerology was something she should avoid due to her faith. Aunt Flossie reminds her that God has often been called The Great Mathematician and that numbers were important to Him and can be found repeatedly holding significance in the Bible.  The number 3 stands for the Trinity and is suggested for different practices. The number 7 is looked at as a most sacred number in the Jewish Faith. The seventh day, the seventh year and seven cycles all hold importance. Revelations mentions seven a lot; seven seals, seven bowls, seven trumpets, etc. 

It was with this idea of the role numbers play in the Bible that I decided to intertwine numerology into the books that will be in the Cabin 9 Mysteries. It won't play a major role in the solving of mysteries but every once in a while...a number will come up. (See what I did there?)


To Find Out More About Numbers


You can dabble a little about numerology by reading my newest book, if you like. I would love that! I think you might enjoy meeting Taylor and Aunt Flossie and the rest of the characters. Did I mention that Aunt Flossie is also the resident spirit at the campgrounds? I didn't? Well, she is and she is pretty funny for a person who isn't on our side of the veil anymore. 

If you would like to delve more into the actual meaning of numbers and how they add up in your life, I recommend this book.



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Monday, August 5, 2019

Book Review: A Curve in the Road by Julianne MacLean

Abbie is a woman with a great life. She has a successful career as a surgeon. She has been married to Alan, a cardiologist, for 27 years. Zach is their son. Zach is a good kid who will soon be on his way to college. Winston is the aging family dog. They have everything a happy family could have. Until it literally comes crashing down. Will Abbie survive? Will she be able to put the pieces back together? This novel written by Julianne MacLean kept me interested and kept me turning the pages well past my bedtime.

Abbie's family lives in a city in Nova Scotia while her mother lives in a small historic town nearby. Abbie and family typically spend Sunday evenings with her mother. However, on this particular evening, Abbie and Winston have gone alone. 

While they are headed back to the city, Abbie anxious to catch Zach's hockey game, an oncoming car crosses the center line. A drunk driver nearly kills her and her dog in a horrific wreck. Abbie is trapped and Winston has been thrown from the car and is missing.

With the tragedy of the wreck, devastating family secrets are revealed. Between the discovery that her life was not as she had believed and the resulting physical problems from the wreck, she finds she has to reinvent herself. The decisions she has to make from the crash forward are not easy ones. And many of the dilemmas have no "right" answers. These are not things that anyone can plan for in advance.




There was one point in the story that I thought, "hmm, I'm not a doctor but I really don't think that would have happened that way."  But for me, the rest of the story kept me engaged. There were a couple of times that I thought I could guess what was happening next. Happily, I was wrong. And while this is a love story, about life and adult relationships, there were no sex scenes. I am not against gratuitous sex scenes but I know that some readers prefer not to read them. So I thought I would mention that there are none in this book.

After I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens I had a really hard time starting another book. The characters and scenes of Barkley Cove were so vivid in my mind that subsequent
books just didn't seem interesting. I started several books but wasn't able to get past the first chapter or two before laying them down. But A Curve in the Road was easy reading and interesting enough to get me going again. Some reviews refer to A Curve in the Road as "stunningly emotional" and "gripping".  I would not refer to the story as that intense for me. However, I did want to know what would happen next. It says a lot when a book keeps me up long enough to read a few chapters each night before bed.


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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Getting Ready to Sell Your Home - 7 Simple and Necessary Improvements that Don't Require Renovations

Getting Ready to Sell Your Home Without Renovating

If you're getting ready to sell your home but can't afford any major renovations, lets review a list of updates you can do that won't cost a fortune.

1. Declutter

When getting ready to sell, the first step is to declutter your entire home. Include the basement, sheds, and garage as well. Go through all cupboards and closets and get rid of or store items you don't/won't need during the selling process. Remove unnecessary knick-knacks. Keep coffee and end tables sparingly decorated with lamps, candles and plants.

About the garage: Empty out the clutter so prospective buyers can easily determine whether their car(s) will fit inside. 

2. Paint Rooms

Painting can be time consuming, but it's an affordable first step to give your home a face lift before selling. Keeping the color scheme neutral will attract a broader range of potential buyers. Think in terms of grey, tan, beige, or white. Keep the baseboards and doors a nice crisp white. Avoid multi-colored baseboards! White baseboards provide a lovely border against the wall, rug/floor. Add pops of color with accessories only. Colorful pillows and throw blankets can bring interest to a space.

3. Create a Feature Wall(s)

A feature wall is an affordable and faster way to give your home something extra.  As an example, in the master bedroom, consider a focal wall behind the bed. Ideas for feature walls include faux brick, real brick, vinyl designs, wainscoting, and murals. Anything 'peel and stick' is the easiest.

4. Remove Personal Photos

Some sellers resist doing this. The general thought by those who aren't keen on removing their personal photos is that they feel displaying photos promote the family aspect of their home. However, that's not the way to think about this. 

When potential buyers walk into a home, they're not thinking about your family, they're thinking about how their own family will fit with the property. 

From the moment a buyer steps onto a prospective property they're analyzing the 'feel' for their own family. Emotion guides that process and a multiple combination of the smallest things move buyers closer to a decision. Looking at photos of your family is a distraction to the natural flow of this thought process. Why add a distraction? Let the buyers achieve an emotional connection to your home without disruption.

Your photos represents 'your' house, no photos allow the buyer to imagine their family in this new home. 

5. Clean, Clean and Clean

Let's go through a quick cleaning list:
  •  Declutter kitchen counters, shine kitchen sinks, wipe the cupboards and clean appliances
  •  Clean the grout on all tiles (floors, backsplash, bathtubs)
  •  Scrub bathrooms spotless!
  •  Steam clean all carpets and wash floors
  •  Vacuum your entire home
  •  Wash all the bedding, fluff pillows, and make a pretty bed (it's the focal point!)
  •  Steam clean couches and chairs
  •  Touch up any wall scuff marks with paint where applicable
  •  Ensure all light bulbs work
  •  Wash all the windows and screens
  •  Double check that all closets and cupboards are organized. Buyers will open them!
  •  Rid your house of unsavory pet and cooking odors - Try essential oils
  •  Give your pet area and/or litterbox a thorough disinfecting - Think good smells
  •  Trim overgrown trees, weed the garden and present a lovely entry way by ensuring there's a clear path to the front door.
6. Do You Have Pets?

If you have pets, and are able to, have your fur babies stay with friends or family during the selling process. If you can't arrange that, ensure your pets are secured or removed from the house before a buyer views your home. 

7.  Staging Your Home

Not everyone can afford a professional stager. However, you may reconsider staging when you read about the return on that investment! On average having your home professionally staged costs between .5 to 1 percent of a homes value. But get this: According to the National Association of Realtors for every $100 invested in staging, the potential return is $400! 

If you can't afford a professional stager, complete these fundamentals:
  •  Minimize furniture in smaller rooms
  •  Position furniture so that people can walk through a room naturally without having to walk around pieces to get to doorways
  •  Use simple window coverings, leave them open for viewings
  •  Bring energy to a room by adding plants where applicable
  •  Display baskets of fresh fruit and/or herbs in the kitchen
  •  Turn on lamps and lights before viewings
  •  Ensure the laundry is completed and your mudroom or front closet is organized
  •  Clear the entry way of coats, shoes and boots
  •  Put a lovely seasonal wreath on the front door






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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Watermelon Day Review

Source: Pixabay
Watermelon Day is celebrated each year on August 3rd to enjoy that juicy summertime staple, the watermelon. It is an ancient berry feast dating back to Ancient Egypt. Others say it originated in tropical Africa.  Whichever is true, watermelon cultivation is at least 4,000 years old. 

It is so refreshing because it is 92% water. This makes the watermelon a good thirst quencher, something definitely needed in the hot days of August and throughout the summer. 

Some call it a fruit; others think it is a vegetable.  In fact, it is the official vegetable of the state of Oklahoma. 


Fun Watermelon Holiday Treats


Watermelon Pizza. Source: Google Search

Watermelon can be a tasty food as seen in recipes found doing a Google Search. Simply made with watermelon slices, other favorite fruits (like strawberries and blueberries) and yogurt, giving you a tasty dessert or a fun appetizer for a summertime picnic.


Crafty Watermelons


The watermelon is popular with crafters.  Here are a few fun ones.


Watermelon Fabric Beverage Coasters



These cute beverage coasters are made with 2 different cotton fabrics so it is reversible. One side has watermelon wedges and slices on a black background and the other side has large black ants on a red and white checkered background. Perfect for your summer time decorating.

Beverage Coasters are an easy way to decorate your table for any holiday or home decor, plus being a practical item to protect your furniture. They are made with 100% cotton fabric and there is a layer of cotton batting for extra protection for your furniture. They are approximately 5" x 5" square.

These watermelon coasters and many other themes are available in Kathie's Etsy Shop she calls CutePurseNalities.




Watermelon Kitchen Decor



Watermelon Potholder Crochet Pattern

This is a pattern to crochet a potholder that looks like a watermelon for your kitchen. 

This cheery, double-sided watermelon potholder is perfect for summer! The front is as shown in the photo and the backside is a solid green. This pattern is perfect for seasonal summer-time use and will impress family and friends at the next BBQ.

The pattern can be found in the Etsy Shop of The Driftless Designer, who is Reina of Minneapolis. 

Summary

National Watermelon Day is an unofficial holiday with no known origin. It may have been begun by watermelon farmers, or by the National Watermelons Day. No matter who came up with the idea to celebrate the watermelon on August 3rd, it remains a refreshing summer snack that is naturally healthy.


National Watermelon Day


August 3



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(c) Wednesday Elf 8/3/2019





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Friday, August 2, 2019

Justice League Movie Reviewed

Justice League Movie Review

The Justice League is literally the DC Comics superhero team that includes Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Flash.  Together, they protect the earth from evil and invading forces.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have been well known superheros all of my life.  However, until the Justice League was created, they worked as individuals.  I can easily remember many discussions between myself and my brothers when I was a child over whether Superman or Batman was better.  There was never a question of IF we liked them both.  

Until recent years, Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman were not well known to anyone who didn't actually read the DC Comics.  However, with the movies and TV series that have been released over the last few years, we are all now familiar with Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman


The Awesome Team of Superheroes in the Justice League
Information Below Based on Current Justice League Movies. They do not always follow the DC Comics Characters & their history, but all characters are based on the DC Comics

Batman:
  Justice League Movie Actor - Ben Affleck
     Character's Real Identity - Bruce Wayne
     Origin - Earth Human
     Earth Home City - Gotham
     Powers - Weapons, Specially Made Vehicles, Martial Arts Training, & Genius
     Additional Points of Interest

           • Wealthy philanthropist           
           • Mortal Human
 
           • Wears his Armored Bat Suit to protect his real identity             
           • Committed to fighting criminals after witnessing his parents murders

   
Superman:
     Justice League Movie Actor - Henry Cavill
     Character's Real Identity - Clark Kent  (Krypton Name was Kal-El)
     Origin - Krypton
     Earth Home City - Metropolis
     Powers - Superhuman Strength, Flies, Impenetrable Skin, X-ray vision, heat vision (projects high intensity heat),
                     Superhuman Hearing, Breath with powerful blows, freezing ability, can hold breath in space & under water
     Additional Points of Interest
           • Sent to Earth by Real Parents right before Krypton was destroyed
           • Found/Adopted by Jonathan & Martha Kent
       
           • Wears his Superman "S" suit with cape to protect his real identity
           • Works at the Daily Star/Daily Planet as a Newspaper Journalist
(name changed on radio series)          
           • Co-worker/Girlfriend/Wife is Lois Lane
           • Kryptonite weakens his strengths
           • Best Selling Comic Superhero of All Times


Wonder Woman:
     Justice League Movie Actor -  Gal Gadot
     Character's Real Identity - Diana Prince
     Origin - Themyscira (Amazonian City - Paradise Island)
     Powers - Superhuman Strength & Powers, Flies on Earth & in Space, Trained Warrior, Wields the Lasso of Truth
     Additional Points of Interest

           • Daughter of Zeus          
           • Immortal as a demigod

           • Protector of World (not just Earth)            
           • Wears an Amazon uniform made for her by her mother,
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons 
   
The Flash:
     Justice League Movie Actor -  Ezra Miller
     Character's Real Identity - Barry Allen
     Origin - Earth Human
     Powers -  Extremely Fast Running (in a flash)
     Additional Points of Interest

           • University Student          
           • Struck by Lightening during a Radiation charged Thunderstorm

           • Wears a Burgundy/Red Suit with a Helmet Mask
           • The Fastest Man on Earth

   
Aquaman:  
     Justice League Movie Actor - Jason Momoa
     Character's Real Identity - Arthur Curry
     Origin - Half Earth Human & Half Atlantean (from underwater City of Atlantis)
     Powers - Aquatic Abilities, Extremely Strong, Trained to Wield a Trident, Enhanced Hearing
     Additional Points of Interest

           • Proper Heir to the Throne of Atlantis (mother was princess)         
           • Superhero on Land & Sea

           • Breathes Underwater and on Land           
           • Swims & Jumps like a Dolphin or Whale

   
Cyborg:  
     Justice League Movie Actor - Ray Fisher
     Character's Real Identity - Victor Stone
     Origin - Earth Human
     Powers -  Naturally Interfaces with Internet & Computers, Flies,
     Additional Points of Interest

           • Cybernetic Reconstruction after near-fatal accident when a mother box exploded in father's lab       
           • Infused with Mother Box power   
           • Former Athlete

           • Permanent Robotic Parts (half human & half robot)           
           • Both Parents are/were Scientists 


 


Justice League Movie Synopsis


 Justice League
(DVD, Blu-ray Or Prime Video)
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With Steppenwolf and his legion of Parademons scouring the earth for 3 "Mother Boxes" of power, the Justice League unites in order to prevent Steppenwolf from obtaining the ultimate power.  

Each Superheroe's specialty is needed at some point in this battle, therefore they must all work together as one cohesive unit.  That will prove to be challenging at times due to pre-existing conflicts, but they are all committed to protecting the world.

Before the entire Justice League comes face to face with him, Steppenwolf had already obtained 2 of the Mother Boxes.  He defeated the Amazons in Themyscira to capture the first Mother Box.  Then, he defeated the Atlantean guards for the second.

While it might seem certain that the Justice League could defeat Steppenwolf, the reality is far from obvious.  After all, he and his army of parademons are strong and vast.  The Justice League must take an extreme action to even feel strong enough to face him and that action could certainly have consequences. 

If you have seen Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and you look carefully at the artwork above, you will get a hint at what extreme action must be taken, but I am not going to tell you.


My Personal Opinion


In spite of negative reviews, I really enjoyed Justice League!  I find myself wondering what critics really had against this movie, DC Comics, or Warner Bros.  The actors were tremendous!  The storyline might seem somewhat familiar, but seriously, how often do we really see a movie with a unique story?

One of my favorite scenes is when Aquaman gets up close and personal with Wonder Woman's lasso of truth.  I find myself laughing again as I recall it.

I'm glad I didn't let those negative reviews keep me from watching the Justice League.  Otherwise, I would have missed a really great movie filled with wonderful actors.  I hope you won't let them influence your decision either.   







Marathon Watch Order of Justice League Movies


Recommended Movies For Batman's Background - These movies star Christian Bale, not Ben Affleck
  • Batman Begins (2005)
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Justice League Movies




Other DC Comic Movies Reviewed on Review This!


Wonder Woman 2017 Movie ReviewWonder Woman (2017) Movie Review
Wonder Woman (2017) is truly a wonderful movie.  I encourage everyone to set aside any preconceived notions and watch the new movie.   The back story on Diana, aka Wonder Woman, is awesome!


Aquaman Movie ReviewAquaman Movie Review
Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, is a fabulous DC Comic movie! Aquaman is half man & half Atlantean, but he is the rightful heir to the throne of Atlantis. It is his destiny to ensure peace between the Atlantis kingdoms and humans.








 

 

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