September is National Preparedness Month

by Kelly R. Smith

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Street flooding leads to disaster
Street flooding leads to disaster

Ready.gov (owned by the Department of Homeland Security) says, “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.” Good point. We never thought our neighborhood would flood, but it did. While we had flood insurance, others did not and had to rely on FEMA. The city has been ignoring drainage issues for years, all the while issuing building permits willy-nilly. Concrete surfaces don’t absorb rain water. At some point, we will all experience fire, earthquake, or a hurricane. This is how Ready.gov suggests that we prepare.

Week 1: Make a Plan

Make your plan now. You and your family may not be together if a disaster happens, so it is key to understand which types of disasters could affect your area. You should all know how you’ll contact each other and reconnect if you become separated. Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find.

Week 2: Build a Kit

Following an emergency, you might need to survive on your own for days. Being prepared means having your own stock of food, water and other supplies to last for several days. A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency.

Walk-in food survival pantry
Walk-in food survival pantry

In my own home, I built a pantry off the kitchen. We keep it stocked with food, water, prescription medicine, and a camp stove. Basically, the room is our kit. And we even keep a stock of toilet paper. We all remember the empty shelves when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out!

Week 3: Prepare for Disaster

Hurricanes are dangerous and can cause major damage because of storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. Don’t wait to do things like removing old dead tree limbs and securing things that have the potential to become projectiles. It’s a good idea to have a firearm and a stock of ammo. Just look at what Antifa and BLM are doing in our streets and society hasn’t broken down yet! No one is going to respond to your 911 call after a certain point.

Know what disasters and/or hazards might affect your area, how to get emergency alerts (an emergency crank-operated radio), and where you would go if you and your family need to evacuate.  Make sure your family has a plan and practices it often.

Don’t wait until the day before to try to find plywood, batteries, and other items.

Week 4: Teach Your Kids About Disasters

Talk to your children about being prepared for emergencies. They need to understand what to do in case you are separated. Make them feel at ease by providing information about how they can get involved. Work out scenarios and the proper responses.

National Preparedness Month is easy when it is broken down like this. The process of divide and conquer works well and gives you time to consider things you have not anticipated.

References



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Who Needs a Flu Vaccine Shot and When

by Kelly R. Smith

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Getting a Seasonal Flu Shot
Getting a Seasonal Flu Shot

This article was updated on 09/25/20.


As of this writing, flu shots have become available for the expected flu season which we will experience roughly between October and May. Anyone can catch the flu (influenza) but at a higher risk are:

  • Infants and young children.
  • People 65 years of age and over.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People with pre-existing health conditions or a weakened immune system.

Why Get Your Flu Shot Early

This year is different. Everybody and their brother are more cognizant of health issues and transmittable illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic, with it’s associated fashion statement of face masks, already has everybody woke to virus culture. In light of that, it’s not a stretch to assume that more immunization naysayers will be queuing up for an influenza shot.

I got mine today at my local Kroger, where I get my blood pressure medication prescription filled. It’s free with my health insurance. Out of curiosity I asked the needle-wielder if he expected a run on vaccine stores due to the public’s heightened health awareness. He said yes; that is the prevalent sentiment in his circle of comrade shot-givers. There are only so many doses made available seasonally, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. If you snooze, you lose.

So, avoid the lines and the shortages. Get your shot now. If you can remember the gasoline shortage lines when that bumbling fool Jimmy Carter was president, that is a good analogy of what we might be looking at with flu shots.

Double Trouble This Season

This flu season contains a double-whammy; the flu plus the Coronavirus pandemic. Getting them both at once will be a very bad scenario, especially for anyone over 65 or that has an underlying condition.

“No one knows for sure how most people will react to simultaneous infection with these two viruses,” says Michael B. Grosso, MD, medical director of Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York. “However, we have extensive experience with children and adults experiencing co-infection with two or more respiratory viruses. As you might guess, people get sicker, take longer to recover and require hospitalization more often when co-infection happens. It’s unlikely to be different with COVID-19 and flu.”

How the Flu Vaccine Works

In the old days, when the flu happened, it just happened. The Spanish Flu was devastating. It lasted from 1918 until 1920 and claimed approximately 500 million souls. A previous flu pandemic during 1889-1890 killed ~1 million people worldwide.

Today we know a bit more about it. We know it will happen every year. We have a good idea of where it will start and from this knowledge we (the CDC) has a good guess of which strains to prepare immunizations for. It’s still a crap-shoot, but it’s better than nothing. The shot I got today is targeted for old codgers in my age group.

The one I received was Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent. It has four times the antigen, (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses), than Fluzone Quadrivalent and other standard-dose inactivated flu vaccines. Both are quadrivalent vaccines. The higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is intended to give older people a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against flu. What’s not to love?

Vaccines are Good for You and Your Neighbors

I feel compelled to express my feelings on this subject. Over the past decade or so, there has arisen a segment of the population that is entirely anti-vaccination. OK, I get it. In rare circumstances vaccinations can cause issues. But face it, life is, at best, a crap-shoot, my friend. Play the odds.

You don’t want your kid to face the 1 in 1,000,000,000 chance of autism? So no shot for smallpox or polio? OK. Let’s make that happen. We thought those diseases were eradicated in North America but without Trump’s wall, they are being imported.

So get your flu vaccine shot and get it while the doses are still available. There is a predicted demand that will work against you if you hesitate. Go bold, get poked, and don’t look back.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Do UV Light Sanitizers Kill COVID-19?

by Kelly R. Smith

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Disinfecting a countertop with a UV light sanitizer
Disinfecting a countertop with a UV light sanitizer

The short answer is that yes, UV light sanitizers do kill COVID-19. In fact, for years now HVAC technicians have been installing them in heating and cooling ducts to kill viruses, mold spores, and bacteria as air gets recirculated. This might have prevented Legionnaire’s Disease.

The long answer is, it depends. ConsumerLab.com puts it this way, “Yes, ultraviolet light in the “C” range, also known as UVC, has been shown to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The big challenge with using UV-C light is being sure your UV lamp provides a large enough dose of UVC light to all the surfaces you need to disinfect, such as a mask, phone, or an entire room, and that you are not exposed to the UVC light, as it is dangerous.”

Should You Buy and Use a UV Light Sanitizer?

It certainly couldn’t hurt as long as you take ConsumerLab’s advice. Just as it is with other products that have skyrocketed in demand (remember toilet paper when the COVID-19 pandemic struck) overnight, these UV lights are flying off the shelves.

Consequently, there are likely to be a lot of “cheap imitations” out there, mostly from China. These things do have a way of coming full-circle, don’t they? Just be sure to do due diligence before parting with your cash.

Other Ways to Protect from the Coronavirus

  • Wear a mask. Yes, I know people are polarized about this issue, about whether the mandate infringes on their constitutional rights or not. People on both sides tend to get very bellicose about it. I don’t like it but on the chance that it works, I’ll do it.
  • Use disposable gloves. I saw more people using these when we embarked on this journey than now. They’re practical for some things, not for others.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Also, clean them with an alcohol-based hand rub. Hygiene is important.
  • Avoid touching your face. This touching is automatic so this strategy might be difficult. The mask makes my nose itch.
  • Practice physical distancing. Avoid unnecessary travel. Stay away from large groups of people.

It seems that the verdict is in — UV light sanitizers are effective at killing COVID-19 virus if you use one that is powerful enough and you do it with zeal and overkill. There’s no visible meter that tells you when you’re done. Don’t shilly-shally.

References:



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Can Climate Change Be Minimized Using Air Conditioners?

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Air conditioner farm on a rooftop
Air conditioner farm on a rooftop

What a question; it’s the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone. On the one hand, we could enjoy all the interior comfort we want and on the other hand, we could save the planet. Of course that would mean Al Gore would experience a loss of income as the Reigning King of climate change.

The Concept Of Generating Liquid Hydrocarbon Fuel From Air

Roland Dittmeyer, a chemical engineer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany posited this theory, recognizing that HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) move a huge quantity of air. Consider this — they can recycle the entire air volume in an office building 5 or 10 times each hour. Besides obviously cooling the air, they also remove carbon dioxide and humidity from the air. It’s the carbon dioxide, the reputed villain of climate change, that we are concerned with from the global warming point of view.

The moisture is important as well. When both of these things are captured, the idea is to convert them first into hydrogen, and then perform a multi-step chemical process to convert the hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Dittmeter’s team calls this, “Personalized, localized and distributed, synthetic oil wells” in buildings or neighborhoods.

Although the science is promising, the team’s tone strikes me as somewhat utopian and Marxist as they go on to say this will enable people, “to take control and collectively manage global warming and climate change, rather than depending on the fossil power industrial behemoths.”

Problems With A/C to Hydrocarbon Models

  • The cost. A chemical engineer at Worcester Institute of Technology, Jennifer Wilcox, says, “The dominant capital cost is the solid adsorbent materials.” These are substances which carbon dioxide adheres to. In addition to the capital cost (equipment purchases), the primary energy cost is the heat necessary to recover the carbon dioxide from these materials post-capture.
  • The process is dangerous. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen are toxic and explosive. Producing and holding quantities of the resulting petrochemicals in business and/or residential areas poses its own problems. There is a reason why petroleum and natural gas is stored in tank farms behind fences.

Is this promising technology? Certainly. But presently, it’s in the pie-in-the-sky development phase. The problems listed above will have to be solved before the process of using air conditioners to minimize climate change is feasible.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Why Pandemics Like COVID-19, or Coronavirus Persist

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Spanish flu pandemic of 1918
Spanish flu pandemic of 1918

Pandemics and epidemics are nothing new; the only constant seems to be that we are never adequately prepared for them. The “expert doctors” can’t seem to agree on symptoms, courses of action, which vitamins help, and what to do about social interactions. That’s just one reason why pandemics like COVID-19 persist. It’s like eggs; we better enjoy them today because next week another panel of “experts” will say they’re killing us.

Reasons why Pandemics Persist

  1. The virus is easily transmissible in the air we breath and the surfaces we touch. We are highly-mobile lifeforms.
  2. It may take several waves to create a herd immunity.
  3. Vaccines, like any prescription medicine, take time to develop and will likely not create 100% immunity from the virus. While it’s being worked on, the virus is mutating; it is a moving target.
  4. The various government entities (federal, state, county, city) don’t coordinate or play well together.
  5. Citizens are advised to self-quarantine, but groups like Antifa and BLM use the situation to get up in everyone’s faces and cause chaos and confusion and push radical agendas.
  6. Many individuals and even entire communities don’t take it seriously. They may continue to spread it as others curtail it. Don’t be a jobbernowl; put on the damn mask already!
  7. People get tired of lockdowns and closed businesses. They get cabin fever and let their guard down. The case-count goes back up.

Pandemics and Epidemics Throughout History

  1. Prehistoric epidemic: Circa 3000 B.C.: China.
  2. Plague of Athens: 430 B.C. (maybe typhoid or ebola).
  3. Antonine Plague: A.D. 165-180: Roman Empire (thought to be smallpox).
  4. Plague of Cyprian: A.D. 250-271 (cause unknown; Cyprian wrote, “The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength [and] a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth).”
  5. Plague of Justinian: A.D. 541-542: (Byzantine Empire; bubonic plague).
  6. The Black Death: 1346-1353: (Asia to Europe; caused by a strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis spread by fleas on infected rodents).
  7. Cocoliztli epidemic: 1545-1548: (Mexico and Central America; caused by subspecies of Salmonella known as S. paratyphi C, causes enteric fever, a category of fever that includes typhoid).
  8. American Plagues: 16th century: (caused by an assortment of of Eurasian diseases including smallpox. There goes those privileged white imperialists again)!
  9. Great Plague of London: 1665-1666: (the Black Death again; transmitted by plague-infected rodents).
  10. Great Plague of Marseille: 1720-1723: (a plague brought by a ship with fleas on plague-infected rodents).
  11. Russian plague: 1770-1772: (another plague).
  12. Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic: 1793: (transmitted by mosquitoes; the “experts” at the time wrongly believed that slaves were immune).
  13. Flu pandemic: 1889-1890: (worldwide; killed ~1 million people).
  14. American polio epidemic: 1916: (started in New York City; flared up intermittently until 1954 when the Salk vaccine was developed).
  15. Spanish Flu: 1918-1920: (worldwide; ~500 million people died).
  16. Asian Flu: 1957-1958: (worldwide, started in China, sound familiar? Killed over than 1.1 million).
  17. AIDS pandemic and epidemic: 1981-present day: (worldwide; 35 million deaths so far).
  18. H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic: 2009-2010: (worldwide; between 151,700 and 575,400 dead says the “experts” at the CDC; can you narrow that down a bit, fellas?).
  19. West African Ebola epidemic: 2014-2016: (primarily in West Africa with 28,600 reported cases and 11,325 deaths).
  20. Zika Virus epidemic: 2015-present day: (primarily in South America and Central America; spread through mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, but can also be sexually transmitted).
  21. COVID-19 pandemic: December 2019-present: (worldwide; originated in China).

To do your part to slow or stop COVID-19 from persisting, keep your guard up, self-quarantine, and wear a mask (we can discus the constitutionality of it later). In short, you don’t have to live off the grid, just use common sense.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Theodore Roosevelt: The Man in the Arena

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Theodore Roosevelt building the Panama Canal
Theodore Roosevelt building the Panama Canal

On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave a moving speech at the Sorbonne in Paris. It was titled the “Citizenship in a Republic” speech but the real takeaway, what it is famous for, is what is now known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote.

The speech was well-attended. Edmund Morris, in his biography Colonel Roosevelt, tells us, the crowd included “ministers in court dress, army and navy officers in full uniform, nine hundred students, and an audience of two thousand ticket holders.” The quote has become for some a daily affirmation, that is, said habitually on a daily basis. The quote is:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s Accomplishments and Highlights

  • He devised the domestic Square Deal program which had three basic ideas known as the “three C’s”: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.
  • Working with Army Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt formed the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry. Known as the Rough Riders, their greatest victory came at the Battle of San Juan Hill, which was the decisive battle of the war.
  • Following the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901, at 42 years of age he became the 26th President of the United States. As of 2015 he remains the youngest person to assume the office of the President of U.S.
  • In 1902 by the United Mine Workers of America engaged in a strike that threatened the home heating supplies of tens of millions of Americans. President Roosevelt rolled up his sleeves and organized a fact-finding commission. He then threatened to use the U.S. Army to mine the coal and take over the mines. He convinced both the miners and the mine owners to accept the findings of the commission. The strike was suspended and never resumed. The miners got a 10% increase in wages and their working hours were set from 10 to 9 and as a concession to the owners, they didn’t have to recognize the trade union as a bargaining agent from that point on.
  • He imposed railroad regulation by pushing through the Elkins Act of 1903 and the Hepburn Act of 1906 to curb monopolistic power of the railroads.
  • He directed his Attorney General Philander Knox to bring a lawsuit on antitrust grounds against what was known as the “Beef Trust” that monopolized half or more of beef sales in the country. As the trial progressed it was shown that the “Big Six” leading meatpackers had formed a conspiracy to fix prices and divide the meat market among themselves resulting in higher profits.
  • He directed Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, in 1906. The first banned food and drugs and medicine that were not pure or labelled falsely from being manufactured, sold, and shipped. It also mandated that active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging and that drugs couldn’t go below the purity levels established by the U.S. Pharmacopeia. This was a huge win for consumers and reduced the likelihood of getting taken in by a scam.
  • He championed the conservation movement. The intention was to protect natural resources inclusive of animal, fungus, and plant species as well as their habitat for the future. He was the first president to put conservation far up on the national agenda. Roosevelt set aside and designated more Federal land for national parks and nature preserves than all prior presidents combined. He went on to establish the US Forest Service. It was signed into law and allowed for the creation of 5 National Parks and established the first 51 Bird Reserves and 150 National Forests.
  • Under his direction the Panama Canal was constructed. At first Colombia controlled Panama and objected to U.S. involvement. Roosevelt sent war ships to block the sea lanes from Colombia and insured that Panama got its independence.

It is clear that Theodore Roosevelt was a visionary, a man of action who stood up for American citizens, and protected their rights. His sense of what we should all strive for is encapsulated in his The Man in the Arena quote. We would all do well to focus on it habitually.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

10 Popular Home Renovation Trends in 2020

by Kelly R. Smith

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Home floor and walls renovations.
Home floor and walls renovations

Remodeling, whether done for contemporary style, preparation for sale, or just general repairs continues as usual. The most popular home renovation trends vary from year to year depending on a number of factors. Renovation budgets are always high on the list. Going green not only lowers your bills but helps the environment. Other factors can influence decisions but let’s look at how 2020 is shaping up thus far.

  • Floors, ceilings, and walls. Traditionally, these surfaces get a lot of attention and 2020 is no exception. The Joint Center for Housing For Housing Studies says homeowners average $3,282 per year on these surfaces.
  • Prioritizing on saving money. This trend is not specifically tied to aesthetics. Rather, it is focused on frugality. Migrating to lower operating-cost lighting like LED bulbs, for one. Beefing up attic insulation and adding radiant barrier foil may not boost curb appeal, but oh, what a difference when the power bills come due each and every month.
  • Slapping on another coat of paint. This is always one of the most popular weekend DIY projects. The cost of paint is reasonable and the outlay of cash for tools is minimal. You can even employ paint illusions to make a room look larger.
  • Be a DIY weekend warrior. This is the best way to stretch your budget. Plus, who doesn’t love that sense of pride? DIY varies in the level of difficulty but with the help of sites like this one, I Can Fix Up My Home, you might be surprised at what you can accomplish. The Senior Director of Customer Insights at Lowe’s, Amy Anthony, says, “Seventy-four percent [of consumers] do research to get as much information as possible before making a purchase.”
  • Preparing for climate change. Whether you are an ardent believer in global warming (now called climate change) or believe Al Gore is just out to make a buck preaching about it, there’s no doubt that the preparation steps saves money. So, weatherstrip, caulk, upgrade your windows; all changes are cumulative.
  • Home sanitation and wellness is moving up. This is understandable and goes hand in hand with many other home improvements because the topic of off-gassing is more well-known that ever. Forbes.com puts it this way, “Wellness-focused changes can include paint, flooring or cabinetry with non-toxic materials, touchless faucets that reduce germ spread, circadian lighting that improves sleep, water and air purification systems, bidet style toilets for enhanced hygiene, and many others.”
  • Focus on lower budgets, bigger consequences. Smaller projects encompassing a big wow factor are becoming more popular and are expected to continue. For example, instead of gutting the bathroom and re-doing it, why not have your tub re-finished, update all faucets, put in a new recessed medicine cabinet, and re-paint?
  • Smaller brand names are becoming more competitive by adding luxury features. Kitchen cabinets are a good example of this. After Hurricane Harvey, when our home flooded, one of the things we needed to replace were our cabinets and countertops. Home Depot gave us a lot of modular options with freebies like self-closing doors and stainless steel sinks thrown in.
  • Home automation is going mainline. Once the purview of science fiction novels, it’s coming at us fast and furious now. I recently installed a Ring Doorbell. It not only responds when someone rings it, but also when someone just approaches it.
  • More services are becoming negotiable. When emergency repairs are called for instead of long thought out projects, it would seem that the repair person has you over the barrel. Not always the case. Since our economy has shifted to being service-based (some hands-on crafts still can’t be outsourced to China), the competition for your business has become fiercer. Good news for the homeowner.

These 10 popular home renovation trends for 2020 are likely to continue as the COVID-19 lock-down continues. It’s just the new-new. Many employers are not only accepting work-from-home staff, but embracing it. It saves on the overhead. And I might say, as a writer I am used to working from home but it has been really nice having my wife working from home rather than in her downtown high-rise office.

References:

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Loneliness as an Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic

Although the COVID-19 pandemic (or Coronavirus, if you prefer) has caused abundant death, the toll in terms of depression and loneliness is even more widespread. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reffers to it as a “loneliness epidemic.” Spending so much time in isolation wreaks havoc on our emotions. When we do get out, it is increasingly harder to see the person behind the mask; it is essentially dehumanizing. It can cause what has become known as pandemic dreaming.

Our Brains Operate in Two Modes

Matthew Lieberman is a founder of the field of social cognitive neuroscience and he discovered that our brains operate in two distinct modes. He found that one is utilized for engaging with the physical world around us. Looking for shelter when a hurricane is blowing in, for example. The other for is utilized for considering mental states; it views other people in terms of being psychological entities with distinct thoughts and feelings of their own. He used MRI imaging to show that the second mode, what he called the social brain, is actually the default mode. That could explain our some of our current issues with isolation.

We are Wired to Mingle with Our Fellows

Some 2,348 years ago Aristotle told us that man is by nature a social animal. By in large that is true, although introverts are the chemical exception to the rule; they are more governed by a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which warms up as they turn their focus inward. Extroverts, on the other hand, are governed more by their dopamine reward network. This is triggered when external stimuli and sensory input happens. In other words, if you are a party animal or used to spend a lot of time at the office moving through the cubical farm gossiping or being a kvetcher, this lock-down is hurting you more that your more taciturn neighbors.

Social Media is a Poor Substitute for Real Interaction

We have all grown used to social media over the years, texts, emails, Facebook, etc. But are these really good substitutes? Not at all, although talking on the phone and Skyping may be marginally better. In fact, social media may make things worse. Just look at how bad and polarized things were even before the lock-down. Does Donald Trump bashing and BLM and Antifa ring a bell? Too many trolls, so little time.

One study conducted in 2018 of 18 – 30-year-olds concluded that the odds of depression were significantly decreased by face-to-face encounters, but significantly raised by interacting via social media. Yet another study discovered that lowering time spent on social media lowered feelings of loneliness in 18- to 22-year-olds.

According to Primack, using social media may be simply a way of projecting a version of ourselves out there or perhaps they’re fostering real social connections we otherwise wouldn’t be able to have. There is just no way to know at this point.

How Can You Cope with Pandemic Loneliness and Depression?

  • Maintain a Schedule. A consistent routine can make things feel more normal. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, use an alarm clock, lunch at noon, tea and scones in the afternoon if you are a subject of the Queen; you get the idea. If you are sick, try keeping a log to monitor your symptoms.
  • Keep Yourself Informed. Staying up to date on health information and advice on precautionary measures will make you feel more proactive and in control of your situation.
  • Learn lucid dreaming. If you are experiencing pandemic dreams, follow these techniques to learn lucid dreaming. I learned it long ago out of curiosity and I’ve been controlling and actively participating in my nocturnal adventures ever since. It is easier for some than others but well worth the effort.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible. The authorities want you to stay indoors as much as possible. But, and then this is only my opinion, you can still get out to walk, bike, or run (if allowed where you live). If you must stay in, you can still do resistance exercises with household objects or get up and walk around. My Garmin 235 watch not only counts my steps but also alerts me when I have been sitting too long.
  • Indulge in some self-improvement. Take an online course. Pick up that instrument, dust it off, and start practicing. New Years resolutions are valid anytime. Myself, I’m learning Irish Gaelic. Ta go maith!
  • Stay connected. Use Skype. Watch a Netflix movie at the same time as one or more friends and critique it as it plays. If you have ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 you know what I mean! Write letters. Remember when that was a human function?
  • Cook some new comfort food. Here are some of my recipes. I like to experiment much to the chagrin of my wife.

In short, none of us is immune to loneliness as an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is just good to understand it, accept it, and mitigate it as much as possible.

References:

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Growing Mint: An Herb Garden Staple

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Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant
Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant

Mint is a perennial herb with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. It has a fruity, aromatic taste and offers many health benefits. There are many varieties so you have a wide range to select from. One thing is certain — mint, grown organically, is an herb garden and kitchen staple, much as basil is.

The Many Varieties of Mint

The number of mint flavors can be a bit overwhelming; I like to keep at least two of them growing. An odd thing is the way you can identify it other than the smell. If you look close, the stem is actually square. The oddities of nature, yes? Anyway, pick your favorites from this list:

  • Chocolate. Yes, it really does look and taste like the real thing. My favorite additive to go into my dark-roast coffee grounds in the morning. None of those artificial chemical flavors for me.
  • Apple/Pineapple.
  • Spearmint. Was this your favorite chewing gum flavor as a kid?
  • Pennyroyal.
  • Citrus Mint. Just the thing for iced tea on a summer afternoon.
  • Corsican. This is one of the strongest tasting of mints and it is also the smallest; growing tight-knit it makes a good ground cover in semi-shady areas. Unlike most mints it can be difficult to grow. It likes to be well-watered. It makes a good companion plant for things like chives and tomatoes.
  • Peppermint. For adding a bit of candy flavor without all the sugar.
  • Banana.
  • Orange. Also good in tea and cold brew coffee.

Planting and Care of Mint

  • First, consider that mint spreads rapidly. This means growing it in a container or enclosed within some kind of root barricade to rein in the horizontal runners and underground rhizomes.
  • Mint likes light soil with good drainage; its native habitat is along stream banks.
  • Most varieties prefer some shade; check the exact requirements of your favorite variety/s.
  • It likes a thin layer of compost or organic fertilizer every few months.
  • Keep the area covered with a layer of hardwood mulch to retain moisture. Do NOT use any colored mulch. Those color chemicals and dyes are not your friends, especially if you intend to consume the leaves.
  • Other than watering, a light top-dressing with compost, some mulch, and occasional organic fertilizer, these are easy plants to grow.
  • Prune them back regularly. the smaller, younger leaves are the most flavorful… but, where you let them flower, the butterflies will thank you!

Nutritional Benefits

  • Aids in digestion.
  • Eases dizziness and nausea.
  • Helps with nasal congestion.
  • Boosts dental health.
  • Improves blood circulation.
  • Boosts immunity. That’s not a bad thing during the CORVID-19 pandemic.

By now you can see why growing mint in your garden or containers is a good idea. It’s healthy, tasty, nutritious, and importantly to many of us, easy to grow.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

List of Cold-Hardy Mexican Avocado Trees

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A Don Juan avocado tree; freshly-planted
Don Juan avocado tree; freshly-planted

There’s only one drawback to fresh avocados that I can think of — the price. That’s why planting your own tree is such a good idea. The image above is the Don Juan variety that I planted yesterday. I’m generally not a big fan of staking new trees but this time, as I was finishing my tree planting adventure, the wind was beginning to whip and a rain storm was blowing in. This afternoon I can follow up with a top-dressing of compost and some hardwood mulch. Which species is right for you? Here is a list of cold-hardy Mexican avocado trees in alphabetical order.

When planting avocado trees, keep in mind that they like well-drained soil. They do not tolerate overly-wet soil well. As with your other trees and plants they prefer the pH of rain to tap water. It is always a good time to put in a rainwater harvesting system.

List of Avocado Tree Species

  • Brazos Belle. This one tolerates cold in the mid to low teens. The fruit is large and purple-black.
  • Brogdon. A mature tree can reach as high as 30 feet tall. Expect the crop to ripen ripen late from mid-July to mid-September.
  • Day. If you are into container gardening, this is a good choice. It will grow to 6 to 8 feet and will produce when it reaches 3 to4 feet high.
  • Don Juan. The Don can handle temperatures down to the mid to high teens. In height it can reach 20 to 25 feet when fully grown.
  • Fantastic. It’s considered to have one of the creamiest textures of the flesh. It is very thin-skinned and is very freeze-resistant.
  • Joey. This variety boasts a dark, purple-black skin and an egg-shaped fruit.It is one of the most prolific producers of any of these species. It is right behind the Fantastic in cold hardiness.
  • Lila. Lila bears medium-sized pear-shaped fruits. It is cold-hardy variety down to 15 degrees and when mature maxes out at 10-15 feet high.
  • Mexicola. This one is cold-hardy down to the low 20s. It’s known for its creamy, smooth taste which makes it a natural in dishes such as Tuscan kale salad.
  • Mexicola Grande. It is known for nutty flavor and has the best reputation for consistent fruit size if that is important to you as a home-owner. That would be low on my priority list but it is what it is.
  • Opal. No, not a precious stone or European car brand, but a medium-sized, pear-shaped avocado that many consider to have the “richest” flavor of them all. It is also the greenest of all the soft-skinned varieties so be aware of that when judging harvesting time.
  • Poncho. It is also called the ‘Pancho’ and bears a medium-large green fruit. It can tolerate cold down to the low 20s and is the latest of the producers from mid-August through October. In that respect, it pairs nicely with and early producer if you want fruit for a long period. And who doesn’t?
  • Pryor. The Pryor is cold-hardy down into the high teens and is also listed as one of the green-skinned varieties.
  • Wilma. It was probably not named after Wilma Flintstone but is one of the largest avocados on this list. It is known for its great flavor. It is a black-skinned variety and has been around longer than most on this list.
Avocado nutritional facts
Avocado nutritional facts

Avocado Health Benefits

Although avocados are high in fat, don’t let that put you off. They contain the “good fat.” As far as health benefits go, the avocado is right up there with tart cherries. Check out these health benefits:

  • Healthy weight loss. They are high in fiber so they make you feel full.
  • Eye health. The nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin fight macular degeneration.
  • Helps to prevent type II diabetes. It does this by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
  • Increases nutrient absorption.
  • Bone strengthening. It does this by providing copper, folate, and vitamin K.

Well, there you have it. Choose your favorite one or two from this list of cold-hardy Mexican avocado trees; enjoy money-savings, shade, and good health.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.