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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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.

Types and Benefits of Mulch

Soil Improvement and Water Conservation in Garden and Landscaping

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Cypress "Nofloat" mulch
Cypress “Nofloat” mulch

Mulch is an integral part of ornamental and vegetable gardens and landscaping beds. If you think about it, in most cases nature abhors bare soil, and as gardeners so should we. While mulch provides aesthetic qualities, the “under-the-hood” benefits are numerous. During the Coronavirus pandemic everyone has time to improve their garden.

  • It conserves water.
  • It reduces weeds.
  • It keeps the soil surface cooler and that benefits earthworms, microorganisms, and plant roots. Earthworms are essential for many reasons but particularly because they keep your soil aerated when they tunnel, allowing water and fertilizers to enter. Unfortunately, when homeowners put pesticides on their lawn they kill the earthworms. The two things that should go on your lawn are organic fertilizer and beneficial nematodes.

Types of Mulch

  • Cypress: When mulch breaks down it feeds your soil. Cypress does not break down well but when shredded properly it will not float off in the rain.
  • Recycled plant material: This includes organic material from your own property — leaves, twigs, dead plants, spent buds, bark, flowers, and other plant debris. I’ve even used spent grains from my beer-brewing days!
  • Shredded hardwood bark: A very good choice. It breaks down well to feed your soil, looks good, and is readily available. My favorite for mint and basil plants.
  • Pine needles: This is often an easy resource if you or a neighbor have pine trees. You will notice that needles make a fine bed in the forest? Same thing for your yard.
  • Any kind of dyed mulch: Let me be clear–NO, NO, NO. Yes, your landscaper may be a pusher for this stuff, you might be trying to complement the color of your siding, or your homeowner association might want you to “conform”, but NO. Do you know what chemicals are in the dye? Nope, me neither. Whatever it is they don’t list it on the bag; you do not want it in the veggies you put on the table. Or, getting down into the water table.
  • Pine bark: This may be one of the most popular mulches on the market but it is far from the best. It looks great but it tends to float away in heavy rain and turns to mush as it dries. Yuck.
  • Shredded rubber: I shouldn’t have to say this but NO, NO, NO! This is for the local high school track, not for your garden.

Other Mulching Gardening Considerations

  • Do not use plastic sheets or weed blocking materials. They may take a bit of the workload off you, but they stop the biologic process and cook the roots of your target plants.
  • Even if you don’t use cedar as a mulch, shred some on your table saw or with some other tool and add it into your mulch; it will keep many insects at bay in an organic way.
  • When you mulch a tree, make a “volcano” not a “plateau”. No need to introduce root rot when trying to help the tree, right?

Knowing the types and benefits of mulch can make it or break it in your gardening plan. It may seem like a minor issue but like other things in life, the devil is in the details. Happy gardening as we have time to do it in pandemic times.

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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.

Know the Difference Between “Epidemic” and “Pandemic”

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Main differences between an epidemic and a pandemic
Main differences between an epidemic and a pandemic

The words “epidemic” and “pandemic” have been used interchangeably by many news outlets during the Corona Virus (CORVID-19) outbreak. The fact is that words matter and should be used more cautiously so that the population gets the correct updates. Since the primary difference between the two words is the geographical scale of the outbreak/illness, a confusion of perception is possible. You need accurate information since CORVID-19 is much more serious for those with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure.

Epidemic

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) specifies an epidemic as occurring at the level of a region or community.
  • As a metaphor, an epidemic is “a rapid spread or increase in the occurrence of something,” according to dictionary.com.

Pandemic

  • As opposed to an epidemic, “a pandemic is prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world,” according to dictionary.com. As such, the consequences can be devastating to both populations and intertwined economies, as we are seeing with CORVID-19.
  • A pandemic is what an epidemic becomes once it reaches a far wider number of people, especially across continents or even the entire world (reference the image at the top of this article).

Related Definitions to Know

As you try to understand what local officials, the talking heads on TV, and the gaffe-master Joe Biden are telling you keep these other terms in mind.

  • Outbreak: a sudden breaking out or occurrence or eruption of illnesses. With respect to an infectious disease, an outbreak is specifically a sudden rise in cases, especially when it is only or so far affecting a relatively localized area so it is more applicable to an epidemic than a pandemic.
  • Epicenter: a focal point of activity. If you are told a country, city, or region is called the epicenter of a pandemic disease, that means more or an accelerating number of cases are being confirmed there than other places in the world.
  • Hotspot: roughly equivalent to an epicenter but on a more localized scale such as a particular nursing home. The good news is that medical insurance companies can be more responsive in these cases.
  • Bubonic plague: ravaging Europe in 1720 and 1920, the bubonic plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacterium is found in fleas and wild rodents such as rats, squirrels, chipmunks or prairie dogs. Hopefully this one is behind us with effective methods of flea control.

Politics in Pandemic Names

  • The China virus: The WHO has issued guidelines for labeling diseases and called on scientists, journalists, and elected officials to follow the rules “to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies, and people.” Since the WHO is affiliated with the UN it is not surprising that their take is politically correct. That hasn’t stopped President Trump from calling it the China virus. Because that’s what it is. Let reality prevail over hurt feelings.
  • The Spanish Flu: This pandemic, one of the worst ever, most certainly did not start in Spain. They got the name because of wartime censorship. Spain was not involved in WW1 and so their press reported on the flu whereas the combatant countries did not in order to boost morale.
  • Hong Kong flu: A pandemic of influenza A (H3N2) in 1968-69. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year.

Do you feel sick? There is some evidence that the same way you manage cold and flu symptoms may help with the Corona Virus. While this is not a proven cure if you suspect COVID-19, it can lessen the pain. Meanwhile, see your doctor.

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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.

8 Immune-System Strategies for Cold and Flu Season

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Cold vs flu symptoms
Cold vs flu symptoms

It just doesn’t seem fair; just when we are feeling upbeat and optimistic as we look forward to spring, songbirds, and short britches, the cold and flu season arrives. Just like clockwork many of us are coughing, enduring stuffy noses, sneezing, and worse. And to add insult to injury, this year we have to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19). For any of these afflictions, these 8 immune-system strategies will help to avoid sickness and make life a wee bit more manageable while on the mend if you succumb.

  • Get a Flu Shot. OK, you should have gotten it some time ago but there is still time if what you’ve got is the common cold. When your immune system is already compromised the flu might see you as an easy target.
  • Cut Back on the Alcohol. Too much can leave you susceptible to dehydration and poor sleep which are the two immunity-boosters you need the most. Being a bit tipsy can also lead to unhealthy food choices, sleeping less than you need to, and a higher chance of skipping workouts, all of which will have a negative effect on your immune system.
  • Get Enough Sleep. This can’t be stressed enough. Not getting enough sleep can lower the immune response. Your body has to have the correct amount of restorative time that it needs to fight off germs of all types. Quality deep sleep is the key factor but it all counts. See the image below. This was my sleep history last night as recorded by my Garmin 235 watch. First, I didn’t get enough rack-time and my deep sleep wasn’t optimized. I still have work to do. Hey, I’m dealing with it.
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
  • Heft that Water Bottle. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Copious hydration keeps energy levels up and also allows your body to scoot toxins and other waste materials out of your system at a faster rate. This fine-tunes your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Remember that many fruits and vegetables contain both water and electrolytes.
  • Include Probiotics in Your Diet. A surprising proportion of your immune system is actually in your gastrointestinal tract. The cells lining your gut have a responsibility for producing antibodies which fight off bacteria and viruses. Foods such as yogurt with live cultures, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are your friends. Supplements are also effective for this and overall health to keep everything in balance.
  • Keep Your Hands Away from Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes. You probably touch your face more than you think you do. Even though you might wash your hands often, germs can still build up on your hands shortly after. The CDC tells us that germs can easily enter the body via the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Get Enough Exercise. Stick to your workout schedule. It improves the way your immune system combats germs and disease, making it more efficient at fighting subsequent infection, the National Institutes of Health points out.
  • Finally, Wash Your Hands Frequently. This one should be common sense but many people neglect it to their detriment. When it is not convenient, use a hand sanitizer. Keep a squirt pump bottle in one of your car cup-holders. Ladies, put one in your purse. Studies have shown that some of the most germ-laden surfaces are grocery store carts and restaurant salt shakers and menus. How often have you seen these items wiped down with sanitizer? That’s right. Never.

Adhering to these 8 immune-System strategies for cold and flu season may not guarantee that you won’t get sick but it will certainly shift the odds in your favor. And remember, you are not only protecting yourself, you aren’t spreading anything to others.

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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.

The Trails at Countryside Park, League City, Texas

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Countryside Sports Park, League City, Texas
Countryside Sports Park, League City, Texas

I recently wrote about the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail. Today I’ll tell you about the Countryside Park here in League City, Texas. Both trails are excellent for hiking, biking, walking , and running. One of the best things about both trail systems is that they are long enough to get some good mileage in.

There are a couple of other things to recommend Countryside. First, the trail is never crowded. Secondly, most of the trail is well-shaded, a real benefit now that we are experiencing the scorching days of summer.

The trail itself is concrete so it’s not as forgiving on the knees as the crushed granite trail in Seabrook, but the shade and scenery more than makes up for that. There plenty of wooded streams which makes for a pleasant view.

How to Get to Countryside Park

Getting there is easy. From I-45, turn west on FM 518 (which is Main Street in League City). Drive about 5 minutes and turn right on Bay Area Blvd. Approximately 1 mile down the road the entrance will be on your right.

Water flowing by the trail.
Water flowing by the trail.
Wildflowers are abundant.
Wildflowers are abundant.

Look for the Wildlife

A turtle catching some morning sun.
A turtle catching some morning sun.
Sub-tropical creek in the woods
Sub-tropical creek in the woods
The trail goes under the highway.
The trail goes under the highway.
A wooden bridge, about 1 mile into the hike.
A wooden bridge, about 1 mile into the hike from the parking lot.
Want to go off trail? There are many rustic side-trails.
Want to go off trail? There are many rustic side-trails.
Clear Creek flows past Countryside Park
Clear Creek flows past Countryside Park (It’s not so clear, is it? What a misnomer.)
The park benches may seem a bit eclectic.
The park benches may seem a bit eclectic.
Park trails amble off into the distance.
Park trails amble off into the distance.
Countryside Park basketball courts
Countryside Park basketball courts
A wooded ravine
A wooded ravine.
Recommended field attire for adventure.
Recommended field attire for adventure. Excuse the perma-stubble; I’m being trendy, OK?
No idea what these wildflowers are.
No idea what these wildflowers are. But I like them.

So there you have it. This (Countryside Sports Park) is another very un-utilized park in our area. That’s a good thing because we can enjoy it without undue crowding. Take time to unwind and enjoy.


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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 and 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.


Exploring the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trails

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A Park Bench along the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail System
A Park Bench along the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail System

Seabrook, Texas was founded in 1832. It is just on the north side of the Kemah Bridge on Highway 146. Like most municipalities, as the years went by it added parks to the community. The real stroke of genius was connecting many of these parks with a crushed granite trail. This became the Seabrook Hike and Bike trail.

Parking at the Seabrook Trails

There are three convenient places to park safely. The easiest is the swimming Pool parking lot at Miramar Park, halfway between Todville and Meyer. The second is where Hester Park meets with Todville. The third is at the intersection of Todville and Red Bluff Road.

This trail system is one of my go-to spots for running and hiking. Depending on which options you choose, it is easy to get in ten miles. It doesn’t hurt that trails are so much more forgiving on the knees than concrete. Any kind of exercise is beneficial, whether you take health supplements or not.

Hester Park Bamboo Forest
Hester Park Bamboo Forest

Many, many years ago Hester Park was a working nursery. The land got donated to the city and many of the plants and trees that had been for sale just stayed where they were and thrived, like this bamboo.

Hester Park Crepe Myrtles
Hester Park Crepe Myrtles
Lilies Along the Trail
Lilies Along the Trail
A Massive Oak Tree has Its Limbs Supported
A Massive Oak Tree has Its Limbs Supported
Oak Tree
Same Oak Tree, Different View
Wild Muscadine Grapes
Wild Muscadine Grapes are Abundant Along the Trail (Yum) and are Ripening Now (Late June)
Pine Gully Along the Seabrook Trails
Pine Gully Along the Seabrook Trails

Every now and then an alligator can be spotted in Pine Gully. Other wildlife such as herons, hawks, egrets, turtles, rabbits, javelina, and deer are abundant.

A Heron Waiting for Lunch
A Heron Waiting for Lunch
The Old Iron Bridge
The Old Iron Bridge
The Bridge and Pine Gully
The Bridge and Pine Gully

Seabrook Lucky Trails Marathon

The trails are also the location of the Lucky Trails races each March. An entire weekend is a flurry of activity with a full marathon, half-marathon, relay marathon and 5K. The weather is almost always perfect and these events have no problem selling out.

The Bridge Leading to Pine Gully Park
The Bridge Leading to Pine Gully Park
A Racing Firefighter at the Lucky Trails Marathon.
A Racing Firefighter at the Lucky Trails Marathon.
Passing the Gazebo at Todville Road and Red Bluff Road
Passing the Gazebo at Todville Road and Red Bluff Road

The bottom line? If you are looking for a good way to spend the day, why not explore the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail System. As an added bonus, the Kemah Boardwalk is only a couple of miles away.


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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 and 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.


Ryobi 20 in. 40-Volt Brushless Mower Review

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Ryobi 20 in. 40-Volt Brushless Mower
Ryobi 20 in. 40-Volt Brushless Mower

I have had one of these mowers for a little over a year now and I’m still impressed. Even though it is battery-operated it is every bit as powerful as the gasoline mowers that I have owned in the past.

I have a normal-sized front and back yard and only once did the battery run out of power before I got done. In other words, it offers plenty of endurance for typical home use. The grass was particularly high that day so I wasn’t surprised. The picture above shows the bag attached but I don’t use it. Instead I use the mulching option.

Why? It doesn’t make sense to deal with disposing of grass clippings. I’ve been on an organic program for both my lawn and fruit trees for about 10 years or so and the mulched clippings decompose and feed the soil. It’s a win-win.

Advantages of The Ryobi Electric Mower

At $299, it is priced competitively with gas mowers.

It offers bag collection or mulching options.

By not using gas or oil, it saves money in the long run.

One battery and charger are provided in the purchase price.

It is quiet so you won’t disturb neighbors and hearing protection is not required.

All in all, the Ryobi 40V mower is recommended. I would rank it a solid 9 on a 0-10 scale. It cuts just as well as any other mower I have owned and I estimate that I have saved at least $120 in gas costs so far. In time the mower should pay for itself.


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly 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 and 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 DIY New Year Projects to Tackle

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The clock is ticking down to the new year. That means many things but here are two to consider. Since spring will soon be here it’s time to start planning new year projects. After all, it is a time of new beginnings. Also, right around the temporal corner is income tax refund time to fund those new projects. This may be good news for many–under President Trump’s tax bill, the marriage penalty is mostly gone and the standard deduction is vastly improved.

With those considerations in mind, consider these 10 home improvement and personal improvement projects.

Start Exercising More

A healthy runner is a happy runner.
A healthy runner is a happy runner.

Pick your sport. For me that means running. Worried about the cold weather? Don’t. It’s not a problem with these cold weather running tips. Other activities are good candidates and one bit of good news is that many are quite inexpensive. Walking and running really only requires comfortable clothing and the right shoes. Cycling is great but requires a heavier investment. Swimming is good if you have access to a pool or open water such as a lake or a beach.

Install a Rainwater Collection Barrel

A Rainwater Harvesting Barrel
A Rainwater Harvesting Barrel

Rainwater collection or rainwater harvesting as it is sometimes called is becoming increasingly popular. The idea is simple; as you can see in the above photo, you just install the barrel under the downspout from your rain gutter. A screen on the top keeps leaves and other debris out. The black overflow tube at the top can be directed wherever you like and the spigot at the bottom is threaded to accept a garden hose. It works on the gravity feed principle and provides water for your garden or flower bed. Need more water? Link the overflow tube to another barrel. Using this water not only saves money on your water bill, but plants prefer the pH of rain as opposed to tap water.

Install an A/C Condenser Coil Misting System

Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle
Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle

This simple innovation will really save on your electrical bill during the summer heat. When the compressor kicks on, the upward breeze from the fan lifts the paddle. This opens the valve allowing cool water to flow to the four misting nozzles. This lowers the ambient air temperature which reduces the amount of work the condenser coils must do. This inexpensive tweak saves money and installation requires only about 30 minutes and some basic hand tools.

Make Needed Roofing Repairs

A new roof with a dormer
A new roof with a dormer

Having a solid, secure roof is critical. They can really take a beating during the winter. They should be inspected, and repaired if needed, twice a year. Minor repairs such as replacing individual shingles or flashing can be done on an individual DIY basis. For more extensive work, hire a roofing contractor.

Build a Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

A Walk-In Kitchen Pantry
A Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

If your home is anything like ours, there’s just not enough storage space in the kitchen. My solution? I built a walk-in kitchen pantry. As you can see in the photo, the back door in the kitchen opened into the garage. I just “stole” some space from the garage and installed the walls (with insulation), turned the existing door into a case opening, and added an energy-efficient door into the rest of the garage. If you are comfortable with framing, hanging drywall, and laying ceramic tile, this is a great weekend DIY project. Follow the link for details.

I certainly hope these DIY New Years projects have inspired you. If so, I would appreciate you sharing these pages with your friends. Have a great New Year and thanks for visiting!

See the Next 5 DIY New Year Projects Here


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How Tiny Houses Meet Building Codes

by Kelly Smith

This article was updated on 08/09/20.

A tiny purple house
A tiny purple house
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Anyone watching TV these days might think tiny houses are a recent innovation, a minimalist invention of the ultra-hip, resource-conserving, save-the-planet, green-living crowd. And while these diminutive abodes do indeed meet many of these goal, history shows that they have been around for some time.

As a matter of fact, these houses were popular at the turn of the 20th century during an American growth phase and in the 21st century when property values were increasing. Today they must meet building code requirements. They are recognized in the 2018 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) in Appendix Q where, because of their size they get several special dispensations. This is how tiny houses meet building codes. This article addresses the dimensional aspect of construction, but if you are building know that the electrical code remains the same as for larger structures.


Loft Requirements

A notable IRC guideline is that we shouldn’t be trying to occupy too small an area. This is defined as saying that a habitable room cannot be less than 70 square feet or less than 7 feet in any cross-sectional dimension. Although the main floor in a tiny home must follow these requirements, the loft above that generally acts as the bedroom is treated somewhat differently. 

Bedroom lofts are allowed to be as small as 35 square feet as long as it has a minimum 5-foot cross-sectional area. To give you a rough idea, this just as bit larger than a queen-size bed. Additionally, the ceiling in these rooms shall be lower than 6 feet, 8 inches, Contrast this height with the standard height in full-sized homes of 8 feet.

Committing the ceiling to be this low in a loft instills the expectation to the owner before they even attempt to climb up. Safety is often linked to expectation in building codes, so when you lessen the safety factor, you need to lessen the expectation of said safety.

Specified is an absolute 36 inch minimum ceiling height for lofts but it only applies to the space which contains the minimum 35 square feet. Even so, there is an exception to the exception and here it is. Loft spaces under a roof/ceiling slope of 6-inch-12 or steeper, this area is permitted to have ceilings at the sloped areas as low as 16 inches above the finished floor.

Requirements for Access to the 
Loft

Since stairs eat up a lot of real estate, especially in a tiny home, they must be designed with this in mind. Usually owners don’t employ standard furniture in their loft so the minimum stairway width allowed is lowered from 36 inches to 17 inches above the handrail and 20 inches below it.

The lowest allowed stairway height of 6 feet 8 inches is permitted to be reduced to 6 feet 2 inches. Because many lofts have to be accessed by crawling, stairs ascending to a loft with a ceiling height less than 6 feet 2 inches may terminate at a landing platform. This is a new tiny home term coined by the IRC. Requirements for a normal landing has to be at least 36 inches deep but a landing platform must be between 18 inches and 22 inches deep.

Guardrail Requirements

The purpose of the minimum guardrail height is to protect a standing person from taking a fall, as you might expect. But since the reduction allowed in tiny house loft-ceiling height, a standard-height guardrail is just overwhelming. With this in mind, guardrails in a tiny home are allowed to be at least one-half of the ceiling height at its highest point.

Requirements for Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings

Thee is no window requirement for secondary emergency egress from a bedroom or loft space, but a so-called opening is. Because there exists a particular egress-window expectation of society, the authors of the tiny home appendix to the IRC felt it sufficient that a roof hatch or skylight would also be sufficient to meet that expectation.

If there is a minimalist residence in your future, now you know how tiny houses meet building codes.


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