Tips for cleaning grave stones.

Our family has a longstanding tradition of going out to the cemeteries and decorating the graves of family members who have died before us. We typically visit six different cemeteries and clean and decorate the graves with artificial flowers.  This is the one time of the year that we pack all the tools and water we will need to clean those gravestones that are dirty or show a bit of mildew.  Our grandchildren really enjoy using the brush and water to clean the stones. I was thinking about this upcoming trip and wondered if there were any better options for cleaning headstones than just water and a soft brush.

I’ve learned through my searches that if the grave stone has any flakes or cracks in it, you should be extremely careful so that you don’t do any additional damage while cleaning it. It was interesting to learn that most of the cleaners I would be tempted to use may do some damage to the stone.  Avoid house hold cleaners like, borax, Spic and Span, Fantastik, Formula 409, muriatic acid, or phosphoric acid.  These strong acids or bases (depending on the cleaner) are corrosive and could damage the headstone. It is important to remember to clean the stone from the bottom up to avoid streaking.

Lighter colored stones that show some moss, mildew, or algae growth can be cleaned using a cup of household ammonia mixed into a gallon of water. Be sure to rinse with clear water after cleaning.  If there is lichen growing on the headstone you can clean it with one part of ammonia in four parts of water.  Again, remember to rinse with clear water.

Use a very soft brush for scrubbing; a brush that would not damage the finish on your car would be suitable. Pre-wetting the stone will prevent the cleaning solution from being adsorbed into the headstone.  Once you have cleaned a headstone this thoroughly, you will not need to clean it again for about ten years.  Cleaning more frequently can cause deterioration of the stone.  I plan to make up both ammonia solutions and pack some extra gallons of clear water for my trip next week.  I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with the grandchildren soon.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Prevent Clothing Moths

The warm weather makes me want to finish up cleaning and storing winter items. I typically wash all our winter coats, hats, mittens, and scarves.  The flannel sheets and heavy blankets are clean and stored away.  The next thing I need to do is wash or dry-clean all our woolen sweaters and shirts and store them to prevent damage from clothing moths.

I did a little research on clothing moths since it has been a while since we had any questions from AnswerLine callers on this topic. These moths like to lay eggs on woolen and other animal fiber articles of clothing.  There are actually two different species of clothing moths.

The case making clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth both appear very similar.  They are both yellowish in color and about ¼ inch long.  They look a bit fluttery when flying and both avoid the light.  Their fully grown larvae are about ½ inch long and white when brownish-black heads.  Both will spin a feeding tube or protective case into the fabric that they are feeding upon.

This larval stage is the only life stage when the insect feeds; the eggs and adult moths do not damage clothing. The clothing moths prefer quiet dark areas like closets, attics and seldom used drawers or trunks.  If you store an item for a long time in one of those quiet spots the item is particularly at risk.  Moths typically will not damage anything in a high traffic or use area.

You may be wondering how to prevent a clothing moth infestation. The best answer to this is to be meticulous in keeping both the storage area and the garments clean.  Vacuuming will remove eggs and laundering or dry cleaning will also destroy the eggs.  Cleaning items will also remove food stains and body oils which will also attract moths.  You may need to brush or leave items in the bright sunlight to get rid of larvae or eggs.  Remember to brush the items outdoors so you don’t re-infest your home.

Freezing is another alternative to control the larvae or eggs in an item that you cannot wash or dry-clean. You must leave the item in a freezer set at 0F for at least 48-72 hours. This will be great if you have stuffed animals or items with feathers on them.

After your items are cleaned, store them in a tightly sealed container. You may want to choose a tightly sealed plastic tub.  Cedar does contain oil that acts as an insecticide but is only effective if tightly contained.  A cedar closet is not typically tight enough to actually kill the moths.  Moth balls can be effective if placed inside a tightly sealed container but they are toxic and you may want to avoid using them.  The odor of the mothballs is very long lasting so you may choose to just use the tightly sealed tub alone.

It looks like I have a project for this weekend, but once I get everything cleaned it will be safely stored for the summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Plug Into Safety

While we rely on electricity daily, we cannot take its power and convenience for granted without also considering the potential for fire-related and safety hazards.  May is National Electrical Safety Month and a good time to be reminded of the risks associated with electricity and the things we can do to reduce our risk and keep our living and working areas safe from electrical hazards.

Here’s some tips:

Avoid water and electricity; they are a deadly combination.  Water is an excellent conductor of electricity.  People and animals can be electrocuted when electricity’s path to the ground is through anyone touching water and something electric.  Electricity travels through the water and through the being to the ground.  That is why it’s so important to keep all electrical appliances away from water, to make sure your hands are dry before touching anything electrical, not standing in water when you touch anything electrical, and avoid using electrical power tools outdoors in wet grass or other work or damp areas.  It’s also the reason no one should ever use water on an electrical fire, but should use a multipurpose fire extinguisher instead.

Only plug one heat-producing appliance (coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc) into a wall outlet as at a time.  Each household outlet is rated for a safe amount of current, typically 15-20 amps.  Plugging too many household appliances into the same outlet may cause the outlet to  overheat or overload the circuit, start a fire, or create a shock hazard. Unplug small appliances when not in use.

Like an outlet, do not overload a cord.  A specified diameter of copper wire will carry a specified amount of current before it overheats.  Use too much current through that small cord, and it can overheat, melt down and ignite household furnishings.  Make sure that the appliance hooked to the extension cord does not exceed the rating for the cord.  Today, extension cords either have the rating stamped on a plug, or a tag is affixed telling you what amperage it is rated to support.  Devices that produce heat (hair dryers, curling irons, portable heaters, etc) or power tools that do heavy work tend to be high-amperage items.  Ensure the cord can support the total amperage load you put on it and you should have no problems.

Keep metal objects out of appliances and plugs. If a piece of toast gets stuck in the toaster, never use a metal knife to retrieve it. Unplug the toaster and then use a different tool to retrieve it.

Install tamper-resistant electrical outlets if you have young children. (http://www.esfi.org/program/tamper-resistant-receptacles-trrs-205)  If a replacement is not possible, install new protective outlet covers that don’t allow children to insert an object into the wall outlet.

Check all power and extension cords for cracks and fraying.  Those showing wear, are loose, or have tape over cracks should be replaced immediately.  Anytime you breach insulation in a cord, you’ve provided a point for current to travel out.  If current can travel from one wire to a person, they’ll get shocked.  If current can travel from the cord to a metal object, anyone who touches that object can get electrocuted, or the current can ground out creating heat and potentially a fire.  If current travels from one wire to another within the extension cord, you have a short circuit which will trip a breaker if everything works right, and can cause a fire if everything does not work right.

Avoid putting cords under rugs, carpets, or furniture.  They can be damaged or pinched by furniture or foot traffic and make it difficult to determine their condition.

Cords used outdoors should be rated for outdoor use.  The cord jacket protects against rough use, moisture, ozone and gives added flexibility at below freezing temperatures. Further, they have molded-on and bonded vinyl plugs and connectors to resist breaking or pulling off the cord.

Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage for the lamp or fixture.  If unsure, check for a sticker on the lamp or fixture base to see the maximum wattage light bulb to use.  For the new LED bulbs, make sure that there is a way to dissipate heat (https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2017/04/17/transitioning-from-incandescent-and-cfl-bulbs-to-leds/).

Install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and outdoors.  These kind of circuit breakers shut off electricity when a dangerous condition occurs.  AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician.

Replace worn or broken outlets or switches.  Any that are loose fitting, cracked, have broken parts,  do not function as they should, are hot to the touch, or give shock should be replaced immediately.

Uncoil cords.  Power or extension cords should be fully uncoiled when in use.    A coiled cord generates heat and with enough current running through it, enough heat can be generated to ignite household furnishings.

Turn lights off when not in use. In addition to the cost savings on your next electric bill, this simple task will also help prevent electrical fires from overheated bulbs. Consider installing motion-detecting light switches.

Electrical safety should be a top priority in your home and work area. Awareness of electrical hazards is the key to reducing the staggering number of electrically-related home fires, injuries and deaths that occur every year.

 

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Garage Sale tips part 2

Last spring at about this time we published a blog with some suggestions of items to avoid when buying or selling at a garage sale. That advice seems timely again but we also have some suggestions for those who want to make smart purchases at a sale.

  • It is important to know what an item is worth to know if you are indeed getting a bargain. If it is a collectable item, brush up on prices by looking at collectors’ magazines or webpages. Even eBay can be a quick resource.
  • Look for brand names that you trust for high quality items. Avoid overpaying on the strength of the brand name alone.
  • Be sure that your really need the item. A bargain is not worth it if it is something that will just take up space at your home but not be useful.
  • If you are looking at a major investment, a car, boat, or large appliance, give yourself time to think about the purchase. You may even want to consult a mechanic or repair person for advice. The repairman may know what part of the appliance wears the fastest and the expected life of the appliance.
  • Be realistic about the actual price of the item. If it requires a lot of repair before it is useable, it may not be a bargain after all.
  • Try to arrive at the sale early as you will have more of an opportunity to evaluate the item.
  • Don’t assume that the price marked is firm; be willing to negotiate for a lower price. Be realistic about true value of the item.

Taking some time to do a bit of research should help you know a bargain when you see one. Happy shopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Chores for Kids

It seems that summer will be here before we know it. On campus at Iowa State University, it is summer already.  My own grandchildren will be out of school soon and that change means that the kids will have a bit more time on their hands.  This makes me think back to when my own five children were out of school for the summer.  With a large family, that often meant reassigning some chores for the summer.

There are several schools of thought about children and chores around the house. One side thinks that since everyone is part of the family, all members should do things that contribute to the good of the family.  Everyone might be responsible for putting their own dirty dishes into the dishwasher or emptying the trash from their own bedroom before garbage collection day.  Others think that a good way to teach children the value of a dollar or the value of work is to pay them to do regular chores around the house.

Both sides make good points about teaching children and working together. The current research tends to support not tying allowance or pay with chores.  That being said, there should still be some sort of consequences for chores left undone.

Kids can gain a lot by performing chores around the house. If the chore truly contributes to the wellbeing of the family, a child will tend to feel more connected to the family group.  Completing a job gives a great sense of pride and accomplishment.  These chores can also teach life skills; eventually, everyone needs to know how to do the laundry or clean their home.  The ability to perform these chores successfully will also be a boost to the child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Additionally, requiring the kids to do chores frees up some time for the parents. It can also help provide some structure and routine in the life of the family.  Research has demonstrated that children thrive on structure and routine.

Parents must remember to assign chores that are developmentally appropriate. Of course children are all different but this list will provide some suggestions.  Younger children will require a bit more supervision, at least at first.  Resist the urge to redo chores that perhaps don’t meet your standards.  If you redo a chore you will undermine the child’s sense of accomplishment.  Over time, you can help the child improve their skills and you will both benefit.

Now is a great time to make some plans for this summer.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Sunscreen Expiration

As part of Spring cleaning it is a good idea to check expiration dates on items you have held over from previous years. Sunscreen is one of those products that can lose it’s effectiveness over time. Sunscreens are designed to remain at original strength for up to 3 years. If yours has an expiration date on it and it is past the date, you should discard it. If the sunscreen has no expiration date on it, you should date it when you purchase it and discard after 3 years. If you notice any changes in color or consistency you should discard the product regardless of the expiration date.

If you are using sunscreen correctly it should not last too long. The recommendation is to apply generously and frequently using 1 ounce to cover exposed body parts and reapplying every 2 hours. If you are swimming or perspiring a lot you should apply more frequently. If you buy a 3 or 4 ounce container of sunscreen you would use it up pretty quickly.

To maximize protection it is best to use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 up to 50. There is little evidence to suggest SPF 50+ offers better protection. Sunscreen should be applied even on slightly cloudy or cool days.

Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. All sunscreen products do not have the same ingredients so if your skin reacts badly to one, try another.

Sunscreens can break down in the heat so be sure to store them in a cool place. The glove box or trunk of your car would not be good storage spots.

Enjoy the feeling you get after a good day of Spring cleaning!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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What if my rhubarb freezes?

A sure sign of spring at AnswerLine are the calls from people concerned about the safety of their rhubarb plants. It seems like every year we have a week or so of really nice temperatures that allow the rhubarb plants to grow vigorously. Then the temperatures take a dive and we have a frost or freezing weather.  There is an old wives tale that says rhubarb that has frozen is poisonous and that you should destroy or dig up your plants to stay safe.

That old wives tale is just that; a tale that is not correct.   If your patch of rhubarb freezes, the fleshy part of the plant will freeze.  After a day or two, the frozen leaves and stems will become soft and blackened.  This is a result of the damage that freezing and thawing cause to the plant.  Most people, when they pick rhubarb, are particular and choose the nicest, freshest looking stalks.  They would not choose softened, black, or mushy stalks.  Those stalks should be pulled and discarded; this is something most people would do without thinking.

Remember, only the stalks or petioles should be eaten because the leaves contain moderately poisonous oxalic acid.  It is generally recommended that home gardeners stop harvesting rhubarb in early to mid-June. Continued harvest through the summer months would weaken the plants and reduce the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks may become somewhat woody by mid-summer, but they don’t become poisonous. Sometimes we have callers wanting to harvest enough for a crisp or a pie during mid-summer.  We tell them to look for some smaller, tender stalks that could be pulled.  If the rhubarb patch is an older, established patch pulling a few stalks should not cause permanent damage to the patch.

Enjoy your rhubarb.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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A bit of history

Did you know that AnswerLine is 42 years old? We were looking at some of the history of AnswerLine last week and Marcia thought that our blog readers might be interested in a bit of our history too.

A woman named Mary Jo Williams came up with the idea for AnswerLine. It was a part of her thesis in Graduate school.  She had an idea to help consumers get their questions answered quickly, while saving the time of the Extension Specialists that had many other duties, including presenting and writing programs.  When the toll free line was piloted, it was so successful that the trial was stopped and AnswerLine began.  We have had many different staff members over the 42 year span of operation.  One of the things that has remained consistent is that about 2/3 of our calls are food related questions; so operators have always needed a good background in Food and Nutrition.

Back in the day, the operators had four, four drawer file cabinets with little cards that contained answers to questions. They had a long phone cord and a good memory to be able to help consumers.  As the computer age began to take over, AnswerLine began an in-home data base.  The information from those cards was put into the computer, as well as other hard to find information.  We still use that data base today.  But we also do some advanced searching on the internet to find current research based information.

Our role as operators has changed from the early days at AnswerLine. It used to be that callers needed oven temperatures, times, and had quick questions about how to freeze different foods.  Today’s callers more often need assistance with more complicated procedures.  During this time of year, we get a lot of calls about home food preservation.  It is pretty common to talk someone through the method to freeze a vegetable fresh from the garden, or how to use the pressure canner or water bath canner.  Some of these calls can get a bit long as we often need to persuade someone to use safe, tested recipes instead of a recipe that has been handed down through the years. We appreciate your patience when we are busy answering one of these long calls.

We do have 4 operators on our line. Myself, Beth Marrs, Marcia Steed, and Marlene Geiger.  I’m sure you feel acquainted with all of us through phone calls and our blog posts.  We sure enjoy working with you and answering all of your questions.  Keep calling us.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Time saver meals

As we spring morphs into summer, one of the things that seems to disappear is time. Kids’ track meets, sports practices, and ballgames become more frequent and family dinner time seems impossible.  We all know that a drive-thru dinner is not good for our health or our wallet. At AnswerLine, we looked at the subscription meal services as an option and we know that various grocery stores are offering help making freezer meals.  The trick is to find something that works well for your family and the time you have available.

One summer the parents of my daughters softball teammates banded together to make pot luck dinners. She had a game nearly every weeknight and Saturday.  The JV team had to be there by 5:30 pm. which didn’t leave much time to get the family fed and our daughter ready and to the ball diamond.  Our solution was to take meals to the ball diamond that parents and siblings of the players could enjoy before the games.  Parents took turns providing the main dish and side dishes.  It wasn’t too hard to make one dish or to pack the portable gas grill on game days.  Everyone enjoyed the meals because when you only need to prepare one dish it is easier to make something special.  But even a simple picnic can be packed when the timing of a game or practice makes meals at home impossible.  Enjoying a meal together, even just sandwiches and fruit, after a game or practice can make it seem special.

Another possibility would be to make a list of the quick and easy meals that your family enjoys. Some families love the breakfast at dinner time meals.  It doesn’t take long to scramble some eggs or make omelets.  Add some fruit, vegetables, or toast and you can have a balanced meal ready in a flash.  If you make a list of the simple meals you enjoy, you are able to shop so that the ingredients you need to have on hand will be there when you need them.

You can also take advantage of some quick tips to make preparing those meals faster. Consider chopping and freezing some onions in advance.  The thawed onions will be soft and really best used in cooked dishes, but if you chop and freeze them in thin layers in a freezer bag, they will be easy to measure and use when cooking in a hurry.  You can also double the amount you make on a night when time isn’t a factor and freeze the extra.  Defrost in the refrigerator during the work day and enjoy on a busy night.

Don’t forget the slow cooker during the spring or summer either. Sometimes we think it is only for making some great soup or stew on those cold winter days.  The crock pot can make your dinner while you and the family are out for the day and it can keep the house cooler when used instead of the stove.  Our friends at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. have some great recipes. Check out their entire website for some great information.  They even have an app for your smart phone to make grocery shopping easier.

Just a little bit of planning in advance can keep your family and your wallet healthier. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Recently I wrote a blog post about cauliflower and mentioned I was looking forward to trying cauliflower pizza crust. Well, I tried it! And I really liked it! I will definitely make it again. The cauliflower was very easy to grate manually. Once it was grated and after doing a little more research, I opted to dry it out in a pan on the top of the stove rather than microwaving it and squeezing it dry. I was very pleased with how that worked. The cauliflower was not browned but nice and dry and easy to work with. I added one egg as I didn’t want it to taste too “eggy” and some parmesan cheese. I pressed it out onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet being careful to keep the thickness as even as possible so there would be no areas that were over browned or burned. After baking it separately for several minutes, I removed it from the oven and added my toppings then returned it to the oven for several more minutes. It turned out to be a very healthy and flavorful pizza entrée that did not leave me with that “oh so full” feeling you can get with a traditional carb crust. Another AnswerLine colleague is trying the cauliflower crust and is also experimenting with zucchini and eggplant crusts. We’ll keep you posted!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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