Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fountain aerates water for cats

I rescued four kittens over three years. A few months ago, I gave our "problem child," Mushoo, to a friend. (Mushoo is aggressive and likes to pick on our other cats.) She gave him back when her allergies kicked in to point where she was almost hospitalized. Packed with Mushoo was the neatest gadget, a fountain water bowl.

All my cats love it. This small fountain circulates, filters and aerates the water. It flows through a charcoal filter and down a ramp into the bowl.

Cats need to drink plenty of water to avoid urinary track disease. My cats are fascinated by the sound and movement. The fountain costs about $40 and can be bought at local pet stores or online.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Take a hike with a walking stick

After my dog was attacked by a smaller but vicious dog on one of our daily walks, I started using a walking stick. The intention was to use the stick to ward off future attacks. Instead the walking stick helped me as a walking aid.

I'm top heavy so walking on trails with loose gravel, branches and shallow holes made for slow, unsteady progress. Having an excited dog pull on the leash just added to feeling unbalanced. I have fallen several times and broken my pinkie and foot. So I am wary of walking in rough terrain.

With the walking stick, I walk faster and with more confidence. I enjoy the walks a lot more. The cane provides a third foot on the ground, creating a tripod, which is more stable than a bi-pod.

As the walking stick distributes your weight through three points, it takes the stress off any painful joints you may have. It didn't take long for me to pick up a natural gait using the walking stick.

I'm not the only one has thought of using a walking stick as a weapon. A walking stick or cane is used in martial arts and has been used as a weapon for centuries by many cultures when formal weapons were outlawed.

You can buy a fancy cane or walking stick or you can make your own. I haven't used my walking stick to hit anyone, but I did scare two little terrier mutts back into their yard. And then I dashed away, with confidence.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

How to survive a power outage

Even if a storm like Hurricane Dolly leaves your home unscathed, a power outage could make your life uncomfortable for days. Hurricane winds of 75 mph with gusts up to 100 mph can knock down power lines if the uprooted trees don't fall on them first.

As of today, there are still homes that don't have electrical service five days after the hurricane left the area. But there doesn't have to be a storm to snuff out electrical service. In the summer blackouts can be caused by the excessive demand of air conditioning.

It's a smart idea to be prepared for power loss year-round. Check the Washington State Department of Health for tips for surviving a power outage.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

After the storm, check for water damage

Hurricane Dolly is creeping towards us this morning. It's a slow-moving storm so it's expected to dump from 10 to 15 inches of rain.

Following a storm, it is important to check for water damage in your house within 24 to 36 hours to prevent mold growth. Mold is not only unsightly, it can cause health problems from allergic reactions to respiratory issues.

I once attended a training with the foremost expert on mold. "Control moisture. Control mold. Thank you, that is the end of my lecture," he joked. He was only partly joking. Cleaning up water damage and preventing moisture is the key to mold growth.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tips for preventing and cleaning mold in your home.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

What happens to pets during the storm?

Pets are part of the family. No one whats to abandon them in case of an evacuation. Among the many lessons we learned from Katrina was that pets cannot fend for themselves during a hurricane.

You can download a free brochure on Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies Makes Sense. Having a plan in place makes sense.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Place spare eye glasses in emergency kit

Lists that show what to put in an emergency kit are popping up now that hurricane season in underway. One item I have noticed that is missing from these lists are extra eyeglasses. If you're caught in a downpour, there's a good chance your glasses could slip off.

You may hate the idea, but a chain or cord to hang your glasses around your neck could save you from having to hunt for them when you should be hauling out of the house. Save a couple of pair of your old glasses to put in your kit.

Also important to stash in your emergency kit is a small book to read and a pack of playing cards. These small items could help you pass the time with your family and keep your mind off of the storm howling outside the shelter.

For more things to pack in your emergency kit, check out Ready America.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

AT&T ate my homework

I don't know how it happened, but AT&T disconnected my Internet. I noticed the plug was pulled at 12:15 a.m. as I was in the middle of a nocturnal homework session. By the way, a call to tech support somewhere in the Philippines shortly after midnight doesn't get you reconnected.

Nor did two weeks of calls, including one from a very sympathetic Kathy in New Orleans who told us our records showed that we had requested the Internet be discontinued because we had switched to another provider. There was nothing she could do about it. After staying on the line for two hours and innumerable line transfers, someone finally told my husband, they could reconnect in 14 days. He explained that I had just invested $3,000 in Internet classes and needed it right away. In that case, they said they'd reconnect in 2 weeks.

Frustrated, when the service was not connected after two weeks I made another call to AT&T and talked to Lori in Michigan. I begged her not to transfer me to a foreign country because they have not been able to help. She was incensed and called me rude that "Just because they have accents, they are highly trained employees." Then she wished me, the bigot, "good luck" pretended to switch me and disconnected my call.

It got to be annoying as we explained to each new rep we were transferred to what the problem was. Each rep had a different excuse for our situation. Apparently AT&T doesn't keep records of each call. My husband stopped calling after a rep told him we didn't get DLS in our area. "Oh, really," my husband told him. "We've been getting it for two years." After a month of daily calls to AT&T, we were ready to sign up with dish Internet.

My son asked my husband to let him try talking to AT&T. He got a hold of a representative who not only told him we were already hooked up but she walked him through the steps to re-establish the service.

My son, my hero. He fancies himself a consumer advocate. I read that staying calm and polite and having a sense of humor will win you points with service reps. But it is important to get connected with reps who have the authority to do something for you other than read from a script about what a valuable customer I am.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Save on children's clothes

It’s time to start thinking about back-to-school clothes. The end of summer sales will be advertised soon. In temperate climates, summer clothes can be worn with sweaters in the fall and layered when it gets colder.

First, you’ll need to make room for the new stuff. Help the kids go through their drawers and closet. Place items that are too small in a bag to be given away, and those that need mending in a laundry basket for later attention.

If there’s an item that still fits, but they’d like to revamp it, turn it into a "Project Runway" activity. Help your child design the new look. Some changes only need a few snips of the scissors, others may need some work on the sewing machine. It would be a great project for those days when the kids cry "there’s nothing to do!"

This would be a fun way to turn hand-me-downs into something personal for the new owner and won’t cost anything. In the Rio Grande Valley, used clothing can be bought inexpensively by the pound. Teen-agers make it a Saturday excursion and thrifty-minded parents keep an eye out for good quality staples, like jeans and shirts.

E-How has more tips on how to save money on kid's clothes.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Eating out on a budget

It isn't uncommon for families to eat out several times a week. And if you work, business lunches are an almost daily routine.

A recently as a generation ago, eating at a restaurant was reserved for special occasions, like an anniversary. Now we eat out to save time or because we don't feel like cooking.

Eating out is a popular recreational activity for a lot of people. It can be fun and relaxing to be waited on for a change.

One way I save at restaurants is to drink water instead of a $2.50 glass of tea or soda. A few clients have given me gift cards to local restaurants. It's a gift a working mom can really appreciate. For more tips on how to save money dining out, visit

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Who taught my dog to tell time?

My dog Okie can tell time. She's a border collie/American Eskimo mix with an internal timing precision that would make the Swiss envious. Her mother was a pure bred American Eskimo. We kept her in a fenced backyard so it was a surprise when she ended up pregnant by a neighborhood rogue.

By Okie's markings and intelligence, it appears the father contributed traits of the border collie. And if you're wondering, yes, Okie was born in Oklahoma. She's black and white and as intolerant of me as a teen-ager. Have you ever seen a dog roll up its eye and sigh? She only puts up with me because I walk her.

We walk early in the morning and then again at 7 in the evening. When she senses it's time, she'll start with subtle moves, like putting her head on my lap. Once I stand up, stand back. She gets excited, barks and whines, and heads for the door, only to turn back to bark, hurry up.

Though sometimes I'm convinced she's part Timex, she's not so smart. Sometimes she comes to me 2 minutes early.

Besides giving Okie a treat to see new sights and get some exercise, the walks help me out as well. It helps me clear my head and stretch my legs. Dog walking has been touted as a great way to get exercise and save money in the bargain. You don't have to pay for a gym membership if you stay faithful to a walking routine. And if you have a living, breathing clock, like I do, nudging you when it's 7 p.m., it's not likely that you'll forget.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Rain or shine, Internet keeps kids busy

A few of my co-workers suffered from cabin fever over the rainy weekend. There's always the question of how to keep the kids occupied when they can't go outside to play. Down here in the sunny Rio Grande Valley, we have to haul in the kids when the afternoon heat gets fierce.

You don't have to spend a fortune buying toys and games for the kids. Internet sites have lots of ideas for inexpensive projects.

Disney's site FamilyFun is packed with arts and crafts, themes for parties and games. You can choose activities based on age or interest. There are so many activities, you could run your own little summer camp in the backyard. The fun doesn’t stop at night. What kid doesn’t love a flashlight? He can play games and send Morse code messages to his buddies. Star gazing is fun and costs nothing.

There’s a recipe for homemade finger paints. Use them to paint on a white sheet. After displaying it for a while, rinse it off and make a new one. One family painted an American flag, using the children's hands dipped in white paint for the stars.

There are also how-to directions for decorating the children’s rooms. This could be a big summer project for older children.

The children's store Kid Source hosts a Website with lots of advice for parents. Especially helpful are the reading lists provided by Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF) and the American Library Association. The titles of books are listed by recommended age. Reading is such a fun activity for children. Younger children could read with their parents then act out what they have just read.

Parents who are looking for free educational Internet games should check out Sears' Website for kids, FunBrain. The graphics and sound effects of the games are outstanding. The games teach math, reading and other learning skills.

These are just three sites available on the Internet. Do a search for a particular subject or interest of your child’s. I would recommend that parents do the online search since the children might stumble onto something that is not family friendly.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Soaking up the rain

It's been raining for a week. What a treat to hear pattering on the roof that isn't a possum or a cat. After a month of stifling temperatures, it's glorious to have these gentle showers. Today is a refreshing 75 degrees....ahhh.

It's kind of dark and gloomy. I love gloomy days. I feel like baking and knitting a sweater for the dog.

The rain is warm and inviting. I love to walk in the rain. Only lunatics do that, I've been told on several occasions. Yet, no one wants to join me. Maybe if I had company it would look like a planned activity and not just someone who escaped from her caretaker.

If my husband would walk with me, people would look out their windows and smile, "Oh, look, there's Nora and her husband walking in the rain together like lovers." Or if my son would join us, we'd get big nods of approval, "Oh, look, there's Nora and her little family spending quality time together walking in the rain." The reality is more like "There's that lunatic from down the street with her dog. She doesn't have enough sense to get out of the rain. The dog's sweater is cute, though."

Even if I can't fully enjoy the rain, the crops are benefiting from the free irrigation. The rain is helping the cotton crop, but the soggy fields are keeping the sorghum from getting harvested.

Growing up, I always wondered why adults were so preoccupied with the weather. In a community tied to agriculture, the success of a crop can be measured in rainfall. Too little or too much can be disastrous.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Summers exist for watermelon

I'm convinced ice-cold watermelon is the only thing that makes it worth getting out of bed on weekends. The growing season is over for the Rio Grande Valley, but they'll be harvested well into September in north Texas.

A co-worker mentioned pickled watermelon rind recently. I was astonished because no other person I know has ever heard of the food, much less have fond memories of it. I ate pickled watermelon rind at my grandmother's house when I was about 10. It was delicious. Put enough sugar on anything unpalatable, say, like ... melon rind ... and it can be turned into candy.

If you'd like to try using watermelon in other ways, the National Watermelon Promotion Board has recipes for salsas and other treats. It's a great Website for watermelon facts and instructions on how to carve a watermelon. After all, summer is all about watermelon.

Photo pubished with permission from Christine Rodgriguez,

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When good picnics go bad

Nothing can ruin a summer picnic faster than an attack of fire ants. Even worse, would be getting sick from something you ate. With the heat - and boy is it hot - we have to take special precautions with food. You don’t want your Fourth of July spoiled by food-borne illness, often referred to as food poisoning.

Making a visit to the hospital could wreck your budget. You wouldn’t be alone in the emergency room wondering if the chicken had gone bad.

Food-borne diseases are blamed for 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year at a cost of $5 to $6 billion in direct medical expenses and lost productivity.

Bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, can cause food-borne illness. Symptoms may include stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and headache.

Packing a safe picnic basket starts at home with proper food preparation and following simple hygiene practices like throughly washing your hands and sanitizing the counters. Once at the picnic site, remember to keep cold food cold (40 degrees F.) and hot foods hot (140 degrees F.)

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