Don’t Forget to Clean These Household Items

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Regardless of how diligent your cleaning routine is, there are probably at least several items in your house that may be in need of some elbow grease. While we can’t entirely eradicate germs from our homes, it is important to clean these often-overlooked items to ensure the health of our households.

Reusable Grocery Bags

Reusable grocery bags are certainly good for the environment, but they could compromise your health. According to a recent study, 97 percent of consumers never wash their bags. About 50 percent of the bags tested contained coliform (fecal) bacteria, and 12 percent contained E. coli.

Washing them after each use is the key to stopping contamination from vegetables or raw meat. Cloth bags can go directly into the washer and dryer, and recycled plastic bags can be wiped down with hot soapy water or treated with a disinfectant spray. Researchers also advise using each bag for only a single purpose—carrying raw meat, carrying vegetables, transporting laundry, or as a miscellaneous shopping tote.

Showerheads

Your shower is a place you go to get clean, not to pick up germs, but… a study at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that 30 percent of showerheads tested positive germs that can cause lung infections, in addition to other bacteria and fungi.

Since some microbes may be resistant to chlorine, the best way to clean a showerhead is to soak it in a diluted vinegar solution and then scrub the deposits away with an old toothbrush. Plastic showerheads are more prone to bacterial buildup than metal ones, so people with compromised immune systems are advised to consider switching if necessary.

Computer Keyboards

Did you know that your computer keyboard could harbor five times as many bacteria than the average toilet seat? Bacteria that include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), E. coli, and staph.

First, eliminate dirt and crumbs using a vacuum cleaner or compressed-air canister, and then use a solution of diluted dishwashing detergent or isopropyl alcohol to swab down the keys with cotton balls or cotton swabs. (Make sure you disconnect the keyboard first.) Repeat these steps with the mouse and any remotes in your home. (Remember to remove any batteries first.)

Draperies

In addition to lending warmth to your rooms, drapes and curtains are a magnet for dust mites, pet hair, mold, dander, and debris of all kinds. If someone in your house suffers from indoor allergies, cleaning the curtains regularly can help reduce allergen buildup. Simple panel curtains can usually be washed and dried at home and then steamed to release wrinkles. There are certain types of draperies you should take to a dry cleaner or other cleaning professional, including lace curtains, designs with embroidery or appliqué, those with pleats or complicated fabric construction, and draperies that are too big to fit into your washing machine.

In between washings, vacuum curtains with a hose and brush attachment at least once a month to prevent debris from building up.

Trash Cans

Given that the kitchen is usually the dirtiest room in the house (yes, even dirtier than the bathroom) it’s no surprise that trash cans can become laden with germs. The can itself comes into contact with all manner of germ-infested items – dirt, dust, old food, raw meat, decomposing vegetables, moldy leftovers, cat litter, etc.

Clean the trash cans at least twice a month to prevent the spread of germs like E. coli, salmonella, trichinosis, and simple cold and flu bugs. Small pails can go into the dishwasher; wash large cans with hot water and a mild bleach solution or with a product designed for pet messes, which contain enzymes to break down bacteria.

Doormats

While not a pleasant fact, studies consistently show that over 90 percent of shoes carry traces of fecal bacteria on the soles. After washing, you may consider leaving shoes at the door.

Vacuum mats with fabric tops before washing to remove dust and loose dirt; you can wash rubber-backed mats in the washing machine. The easiest way to clean any doormat is to spray it down with a garden hose or use the pressure washer at a car wash, using a small amount of soap or detergent. Allow the mat to air-dry completely before putting it back into service.

Toothbrush Holder

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This one is often overlooked by even diligent cleaners. Toothbrush holders can quickly get moldy and gross, especially since it’s drenched in a warm water a few times a day. Depending on what it’s made of, you can either throw it in the dishwasher for a good cleaning or clean it with a microfiber cloth and solution.

Pillows and Duvets

You probably clean your pillow cases and sheets, but what about the pillows themselves? Though home to dust mites, dead skin cells, and more, most pillows can be machine-washed and –dried – just make sure to check the label first! S

Set the washer on the gentle cycle and wash the pillows in hot water with a mild detergent. You can throw two regular-sized pillows in together to keep the load balanced, but you should really only wash one king-sized pillow at a time. Put them through the rinse cycle twice to get the soap out, and place them in the dryer with two clean tennis balls on low heat.

Ceiling Fans

Wipe down the blades regularly with a duster or a damp microfiber cloth to prevent dust from swirling around in the air.

Bathroom Exhaust Fan – If you have one of these in your bathroom, you might not realize how dusty and dirty it gets over time. Remove the vent and wash it with warm soapy water regularly to keep it squeaky clean.

A/C and Heating Vents – Just like your bathroom exhaust fan, it’s a great idea to clean these vents frequently. In addition to creating a cleaner home environment, you’ll also help improve the efficiency to your system!

Are there any other overlooked harbors for germs that you would like to add?

 

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Is It Really ‘Just’ Allergies?

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A stuffy nose and headache are common symptoms of allergies, as well as many illnesses. So how can you tell whether the culprit is a sinus infection, a common cold, or allergies when the symptoms of these three conditions are so similar?

It can sometimes be difficult even for doctors to differentiate, but there are some key differences that can give you some clues to what is causing your congestion.

Sinus Infection

Sinus congestion can cause an aching sensation and a feeling of fullness in the middle of your face. A sinus infection may also be accompanied by other symptoms like post-nasal drip, green (or yellow) nasal discharge, aching in your teeth, fever, bad breath, and sinus pressure or a headache that worsens when you lean forward or lie down. Your face may also feel tender, and upon examination, a doctor should be able to see pus draining near the sinuses.

Causes: Bacteria or viruses trigger sinus infections. Colds, allergies, asthma, and other health conditions can also cause them.

Duration Sinus infections may clear up on their own without treatment, but some might require medication. If your symptoms last for longer than seven to 10 days, your doctor may consider prescribing antibiotics.

Cold

Allergy2With the common cold you can expect a stuffy nose, but also some runny, discolored mucus. You may also experience a sore throat, cough, sneezing, headache, or fatigue.

Another sign is a rising temperature: Colds often trigger a fever, but sometimes those fevers are so mild that people think they have allergies instead.

Cause: A virus.

  • Duration: People usually fend off the cold virus (without treatment) within seven to 10 days. But if your symptoms have lingered past that window of time, you might have sinusitis. If you suspect you have a sinus infection, you should talk to your doctor.

Allergic Reaction

You may experience some nasal congestion with allergies, but it usually accompanies a runny nose (clear, watery discharge), sneezing, and itchy nose and eyes. One big key clue– allergies do NOT cause a fever.

Causes: Allergens cause an allergic reaction. Common indoor allergens include mold, dust, and animal dander, while outdoor triggers include pollen and ragweed.

  • How long it lasts: If you have seasonal allergies, you may struggle with allergy symptoms throughout the spring and fall. If you’re allergic to indoor allergens, you may experience symptoms year-round.

How to Treat Congestion

Because sinus infections, colds, and allergies share some similar symptoms, including congestion, medications like nasal sprays, oral antihistamines, and eye drops can help minimize your discomfort.

If allergies are to blame, do your best to avoid your known triggers and steer clear of any other potential irritants, such as smoke or air pollution. Long-term treatments like immunotherapy (allergy shots) can help desensitize you to allergens and improve symptoms over time.

If the culprit of your congestion is allergies or a cold, it doesn’t mean you won’t develop a sinus infection later on. Both cause the lining of those nose to swell, preventing proper mucus drainage. Be on the lookout for the symptoms of sinus infections, and treat them promptly.

 

 

Spring into Clean!

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Spring has arrived! The warmer air invites us to throw open the windows and let fresh air in. Take advantage of the opportunity to start the season with a good, thorough spring cleaning.

FOYER

  1. Dust lighting fixtures.
  2. Wash walls and trim
  3. Wash doors, knobs and switch plates.
  4. Wash bench or other furnishings.  Launder bench cushion, if applicable.
  5. Empty out coat closet.  Wash walls and floor, if needed.  Sort items as you return them to the closet.  Store out of season items, donate unneeded items.
  6. Clean or replace entry mat.
  7. Sweep and scrub floors.
  8. Reseal grout lines, if necessary.

BEDROOMS

  1. Open windows
  2. Dust furniture.
  3. For each drawer: remove items, wash drawer, place items back neatly.  Donate Items you no longer need.
  4. Remove everything from closets. Sweep and wash closet floor. Put everything back neatly.  Donate items you no longer need.  Try not to store things on closet floor.
  5. Move Bed.  Sort and put away anything that was under bed.  Sweep or vacuum under bed.  Try not to store things under bed.
  6. Put bed back.  Freshen mattress by sprinkling with baking soda, letting sit briefly, and the vacuuming it up.
  7. Launder bedding and curtains.  Wash pillows and duvet in hot water.  Air out mattress pad, if you have one.
  8. Dust lights. Clean lamp shades.
  9. Wash windows and window sills.  Take out and wash window screens.
  10. Wash switch plates.  Wash walls and trim as needed.
  11. Wash mirrors or dust art.
  12. Wash doors and doorknobs.
  13. Wash floor registers and other vent covers.
  14. Sweep and wash floor or vacuum.

BATHROOMS

  1. Open windows
  2. Empty all cabinets and vanity.  Wash inside, replace items neatly.  Discard expired medications and cosmetics.
  3. Wash outside of cabinets and vanities
  4. Clean tub. Wax if necessary. Clean drain.
  5. Clean toilet, inside and out.  Remove seat and clean around seat bolts.
  6. Clean sink and drain.
  7. Shine faucets.
  8. Clean mirror and frame .
  9. Dust light fixtures.
  10. Wash windows and window sills. Take out and wash window screens.
  11. Wash switch plates.  wash walls and trim.  Wash doors and door knobs.
  12. Wash floor registers and other vent covers.
  13. Sweep and wash floors.
  14. Reseal grout lines if necessary.

KITCHEN

  1. Open windows.
  2. Remove and clean window coverings.
  3. For each cabinet or drawer: Remove items, wipe out drawer, place items back neatly.  Donate unneeded items.
  4. Wash and sanitize cutting boards
  5. Wash cabinet doors and knobs
  6. Clean and organize non-refrigerated food. Check expiration dates. Donate what you won’t use.
  7. Clean oven and stove top.
  8. Clean and organize fridge and freezer. Defrost freezer, if necessary.  Check food expiry dates.
  9. Clean under fridge and stove.
  10. Vacuum refrigerator coils.
  11. Clean microwave.
  12. Clean crumbs out of toaster.
  13. Clean and descale kettle.
  14. Wipe down any other counter appliances
  15. wash counters and back splash.
  16. Wash and shine sink. Shine faucet. Clean drain.
  17. Clean dish washer. Use baking soda to clean the built-up gunk around the edges. Run a cycle with a cup of vinegar in a bowl on the top rack.
  18. Dust light fixtures.
  19. Wash windows and window sills.  Remove window screens and wash.
  20. Wash switch plates.
  21. Wash walls and trim as needed.
  22. Wash doors and door knobs.
  23. Wash floor registers and other vent covers
  24. Sweep and wash floor.

DINING ROOM

  1. Open windows.
  2. Wash curtains.
  3. Wipe down table, chairs, and any other furniture.
  4. Clean chair pads, if applicable.
  5. Dust any displayed china or serving dishes.
  6. Shine silverware.
  7. Wash windows and window sills.  Take out and wash window screens.
  8. Wash switch plates
  9. Wash walls and trim.
  10. Wash doors and door knobs
  11. Wash floor registers and other vent covers.
  12. Clean floors.

LIVING ROOM/ FAMILY ROOM/ PLAYROOM

  1. Open windows.
  2. Vacuum sofas.
  3. Spot clean sofas, if applicable.
  4. Launder throw pillows and blankets.
  5. Dust shelves, furniture and decor.
  6. Clean lamps and lamp shades.
  7. Wash windows and window sills.
  8. Take out and wash window screens.
  9. Clean television screen and dust electronics.
  10. Sort books and magazines.  Donate or recycle ones that no longer suit your families interests.
  11. Wash switch plates.
  12. Wash walls and trim as needed.
  13. Wash doors and knobs.
  14. Wash floor registers and other vent covers.
  15. Clean floors.

LAUNDRY ROOM

  1. Open windows.
  2. Wash windows and window sills.
  3. Take out and wash window screens.
  4. Wash cabinet doors and inside cabinets.
  5. Wash outside of washer and dryer.
  6. Wash inside of washing machine.
  7. Wash lint trap with soap and water to remove filmy build-up from laundry soaps and dryer sheets. Let air dry thoroughly before putting back in place.
  8. Wash switch plates.
  9. Wash walls and trim.
  10. Wash doors and door knobs.
  11. Wash floor registers and other vent covers.
  12. sweep and wash floors.

STAIRS

  1. Sweep/vacuum stairs. If you have pets, use a carpet rake.
  2. Spot clean walls.
  3. Wipe down handrail.
  4. Dust art and light fixtures.

Last but not least, remember to dust ceiling fans and reverse direction to push cooler air down.
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Gifts Aren’t to Be Paid Back, They’re to Be Paid Forward

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We are all familiar with the phrase ‘Pay it Forward,’ whether because you read the book, watched the movie, or have just paid attention.

I encourage you to join millions of people around the world to celebrate International Pay it Forward Day – Friday, April 28th. This day is recognized by over 70 countries and over 50 state and city proclamations, it is a celebration of creating a huge ripple of kindness throughout the world through small, sometimes random, acts of kindness to strangers.

By paying it forward, one person and one seemingly small act can make a meaningful impact in the lives of many. The sum is greater than the parts. You can’t do everything, but you can do something.

Below is a list of ideas. Please use them throughout the year to spread a little joy. Most cost nothing, but could mean the world to someone.

  1. Hold the door open for the person behind you.
  2. Clean out all your old clothes and donate them to someone in need.  Your old is someone else’s new.
  3. Donate blood.  One pint of blood can save up to three lives.  Locate your nearest blood drive.
  4. Share your umbrella with a stranger on a rainy day.
  5. Check up on someone who looks lonely.
  6. Let someone with only a few items cut you in line at the grocery store.
  7. Stop and buy a drink from a kid’s lemonade stand.
  8. If you shop online, make your purchase through Give Back America or Amazon Smile.
  9. Drop off your old eye glasses at your local LensCrafters as a donation to the OneSight
  10. Redirect gifts.  Instead of having people give you birthday and holiday gifts, ask them to donate gifts or money to a good cause.
  11. Offer your seat to someone when there aren’t any left. (You can’t always see pain.)
  12. Hug a friend. Just because.
  13. Send a nice email or handwritten card to someone you know, unexpectedly.
  14. Leave encouraging post-it notes in library books and other random places.
  15. If you see a couple taking a self-pic, offer to take the picture for them.
  16. Donate cat and dog food to an animal shelter, as well as old towels or blankets.
  17. If there’s been an accident or a potentially hazardous situation presents itself on the road, report it to the local authorities.  Your phone call could save a life.
  18. When you’re getting fast food, buy an extra meal for a homeless person.
  19. Compliment the first three people you talk to today.
  20. Send a positive text message to five people right now.
  21. Leave quarters at the laundromat.
  22. Leave unused coupons next to the corresponding products in the grocery store.
  23. Leave a great server the biggest tip you can afford.
  24. Stand up for someone. Lend your voice.
  25. When someone wants to repay you for something, ask them to pay it forward.

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? Feel free to share your stories and ideas to pay it forward.

Local Cheesemaker & Local Non-Profit Provide Touching Experiences

Caromont Farm in Esmont, Virginia, well known for its cheese, has recently gained even more acclaim for its baby goats.  In 2016 Caromont owner and cheesemaker Gail Hobbs-Page issued a social media request for volunteer “goat snugglers” willing “to assist in bottle feeding infant goats, keeping the herd warm and dry, and maintaining cleanliness of the equipment and pens.”

Within days, the farm had reached its capacity for baby goat snugglers for the season. Over two thousand people from all over the world responded to the message to help them with the care and feeding of 120 + newly born goat kids.

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People from every walk of life signed up for a shift on the farm, including veterans with PTSD, victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, autistic children, the terminally ill, and urban dwellers just wanting a day in the country with their kids.

Gail Hobbs-Page wrote that “It was joyful, energizing, and frequently heartbreaking to share in people’s stories. As the weeks went by, what became evident was that our working farm was doing something much bigger. We were providing necessary healing experiences for people who were hurting in many different ways.”

Gail was so moved by this experience that she wanted to do more.  She reached out to her long-time friend Tara Hodges, the founder of A Fertile Foundation, a local non-profit with a focus on farm-centered therapy.  Due to lack of their own space, “Fertile” has in the past been more of a roving farm therapy program.

This year “Fertile” will build on Caromont’s success by partnering with them to expand their therapeutic “snuggling”, creating a permanent space to provide farm-centered therapy to community members.

The partnership provides a home for “Fertile” as well as allowing for animal and farming education programs provided by Caromont. What started last year with a simple call to volunteer with baby goats will grow this year to allow the continuation of A Fertile Foundation’s work.  Caromont provides the terra firma, the baby goats provide unending and unconditional love.

To learn more about A Fertile Foundation, please click here. All donations are fully tax-deductible and directly support their programs.

 

Don’t Miss these Tax-Saving Tips

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If you have not yet gotten around to filing your 2016 taxes, below is a list of some of the most often overlooked tax write-offs. Use these tips to potentially cut your tax bill and keep more money in your pocket.

We’ll start with a Win Win favorite – charitable contributions:

Out-of-Pocket Charitable Contributions

It’s hard to overlook the big charitable gifts you made during the year by check or payroll deduction. But the little things add up, too, and you can write off out-of-pocket costs you incur while doing good deeds. Ingredients for casseroles you regularly prepare for a nonprofit organization’s soup kitchen, for example, or the cost of stamps you buy for your school’s fundraiser count as a charitable contribution.

For a list of local charitable non-profits, please click here to see the folks on our list.

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State Tax Write-Offs

This write-off is primarily for those who live in states that do not impose an income tax. You must choose between deducting state and local income taxes, or state and local sales taxes. For most citizens of income-tax states, the income tax deduction usually is a better deal. IRS has tables for residents of states with sales taxes showing how much they can deduct. But the tables aren’t the last word.

Union Dues

If you belong to a labor union and you pay dues every year, deduct them.

Student Loan Interest Paid by Parents

In the past, if parents paid back a student loan incurred by their children, no one got a tax break. To get a deduction, the law said that you had to be both liable for the debt and actually pay it yourself. But now there’s an exception. If Mom and Dad pay back the loan, the IRS treats it as though they gave the money to their child, who then paid the debt. So a child who’s not claimed as a dependent can qualify to deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid by Mom and Dad.

First Jobs and New Jobs

While job-hunting expenses incurred while looking for your first job are not deductible, moving expenses to get to that first job are. And you get this write-off even if you don’t itemize. If you moved more than 50 miles, you can deduct 23 cents per mile of the cost of getting yourself and your household goods to the new area, (plus parking fees and tolls) for driving your own vehicle.

Costs associated with looking for a new job in your current occupations are tax-deductible. This includes fees for resume preparation and employment of outplacement agencies.

Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

It’s easy to overlook the child and dependent care credit if you pay your child care bills through a reimbursement account at work. This is a tax credit which will reduce your tax bill dollar for dollar, so do not miss it.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Twenty five percent of taxpayers who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit fail to claim it, according to the IRS. Some people miss out on the credit because the rules can be complicated. Others simply aren’t aware that they qualify.

The EITC is a refundable tax credit – not a deduction – ranging from $506 to $6,269 for 2016. The credit is designed to supplement wages for low-to-moderate income workers. But the credit doesn’t just apply to lower income people. Tens of millions of individuals and families previously classified as “middle class” – including many white-collar workers – are now considered “low income” because they:

  • lost a job
  • took a pay cut
  • or worked fewer hours last year

If you were eligible to claim the credit in the past but didn’t, you can file any time during the year to claim an EITC refund for up to three previous tax years.

State Tax Paid Last Spring

Did you owe taxes when you filed your 2015 state tax return in 2016? Then remember to include that amount with your state tax itemized deduction on your 2016 return, along with state income taxes withheld from your paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments.

Refinancing Mortgage Points

When you buy a house, you get to deduct points paid to obtain your mortgage all at one time. When you refinance a mortgage, however, you have to deduct the points over the life of the loan. That means you can deduct 1/30th of the points a year if it’s a 30-year mortgage—that’s $33 a year for each $1,000 of points you paid.

Cleaning Up

Cleaning and laundering services when traveling are deductible as long as they aren’t reimbursed by your employer.

 

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The Time is Always right to do What is Right

black-historyFebruary is Black History Month, or National African American History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the important role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

In honor of Black History Month, I want to highlight some wonderful organizations serving the black community.

Booker T. Washington Foundation  A not-for-profit foundation that operates in five different areas: resource development, international development and cooperation, science and technology, telecommunications, and public policy research.

Jack and Jill of America, Inc.  A charitable group that provides educational, cultural, civic, and social programs for minority youth.

National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) This organization, based in Baltimore, MD, is the oldest black organization that fights for civil rights and equal opportunity.

National Urban League (NUL) The nation’s oldest and largest community- based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.

Rainbow Push Coalition This organization, led by Jesse Jackson, fights for equal rights for minorities, women, and gays/lesbians.

Southern Poverty Law Center  A not-for-profit organization whose primary task is the upholding of the legal rights of the poor in general.