A Rain Garden Can Stop Spring Storms From Wrecking Your Yard

Spring means getting your garden or yard ready for the most lively time of the year for your plants, but spring showers can drown your efforts. A “rain garden” can help divert overflows of water from spring showers so the rest of your yard stays in shape to bloom.

A rain garden works by directing water into a specific area in your yard and then absorbing that water like a sponge. Installing one takes a bit of work, but if your area is prone to heavy rainfall, it can be worth spending a weekend and renting a digging machine for a fix that will last years. Here are the key elements of an effective rain garden:

  • A site that is able to drain water at a rate of at least half an inch per hour. This article from This Old House runs you through how to test different areas in your yard.
  • Pipes to direct water from gutters to your rain garden.
  • Sandy soil that will absorb and drain water well. You may need to mix this in with the soil you remove from the rain garden site to make room for plants.
  • Stones to prevent soil erosion. You don’t want your special soil to erode away in the rain!
  • Plants that can tolerate being in standing water. You should have three categories: plants that like drier conditions, plants that do okay in occasional standing water, and plants that are okay in standing water.

You’ll need to dig out the soil in the area for the garden as well as routes for pipes that will direct water from your gutters into the garden. This is easier if you rent an excavator, but you can also dig by hand. Once you’ve dug out your rain garden, filled it with the right soil and plan where the stones and plants will go. Place the stones around the edge of garden to stop soil from eroding over time. The plants that can stand wet conditions should go in the center since that’ll stay wet longest after rain. It’s not the simplest of yard projects, but it’ll pay off as the spring storms start rolling in.

Image from Blue Thumb

Build and Mount Your Own Floating Shelves for About Seven Bucks

Floating shelves are a great way to add some shelving to your house without taking up a ton of space. YouTuber DIY Creators shows off how to build one for about seven dollars.

This is a pretty easy project to do and doesn’t require much in the way of power tools.
It’s pretty much just locking four pieces of lumber together with glue and dowels, painting, then mounting to your wall. Since it’s made from just a small bit of wood, it’s also super cheap. Home Depot usually has scraps of wood that they give away for free, making this project a whole lot cheaper.

You’ll find a list of everything you’ll need over on YouTube.

$7 Floating Shelf | YouTube

Shelves image from Etsy

The Car Brands With the Highest Maintenance Costs Over Time

The true cost of owning a car goes beyond the sticker price. Maintenance is an expense that can add up quite a bit over time. However, your mileage will vary depending on the car.

Vehicle service site YourMechanic.com analyzed their own data to find out which car brands and models require the most maintenance over time. They explain:

At YourMechanic, we have a massive dataset of the make and model of the cars we have serviced and the type of maintenance done. We decided to use our data to understand which cars break down the most and have the highest maintenance costs…First, we looked at which major brands cost the most to maintain over the first 10 years of a car’s life. We grouped all years of all models by brand to compute their average cost by brand. In order to estimate annual maintenance costs, we found the amount spent on every two oil changes (as oil changes are generally done every six months).

According to their data, BMWs were the most expensive to maintain by far, with a 10-year cost of $17,800. They found the luxury brands were the most expensive in general, but many budget vehicles ranked high, too. Saturns were 6th on their list with a 10-year maintenance cost of $12,400.

Toyota was the best value for maintenance, according to the list. Scion and Lexus were the second and third most inexpensive brands, respectively (both are part of the Toyota group).

For maintenance costs on all the brands, check out their graphic below. Then head to the full post for more detail on how costs change over time and how they vary by model.

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The Most and Least Expensive Cars to Maintain | YourMechanic

Eight Foam Rolling Techniques to Loosen Up Your Muscles

To the untrained eye, foam rolling can look extremely awkward (just watch someone foam roll their glutes or hip flexors). For someone who knows what they’re doing, though, they’re massaging tired and tight muscles and treating their hard working muscles right.

This infographic by Greatist shows you eight techniques that can work your most common trouble spots. You can foam roll any of your muscles, though you should avoid directly rolling your lower back. You’ll need to contort your body and get in various positions that’ll allow you to apply the most pressure to certain sensitive spots. If it gets too much, you can transfer your weight off by placing one leg on the ground; or conversely, place your leg on top of the other to increase pressure.

 If you’re just starting out, foam rolling can be excruciatingly uncomfortable. Foam rollers come in varying degrees of stiffness, so start off gently with the blue or white-colored foam rollers.

How to Foam Roll Like a Pro | Greatist

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Featured Image courtesy of Coal Creek Therapy 

Everything Your Chromebook Can Do Offline

When Chrome OS first appeared, it was practically useless without an internet connection. Now there are dozens of web apps with offline capabilities. Here’s everything you can do without online access.


Create and edit documents

As you might expect, Google is at the forefront of adding offline features to Chrome OS. Google Drive had offline support for a while, and it’s great to use. You can create, view and edit files, with changes automatically synced back to the cloud as soon as connection is restored.

You need to set this up ahead of time, though. From the main Google Drive interface, click on the cog icon on the right, then choose Settings. Tick the box next to the Offline heading and the sync starts with a pop-up notification. There are some limitations, but most Google Drive features are still available.


Search through and write emails

With Gmail Offline and its optimizer extension installed on your Chromebook, you can compose new emails and search through a cache of older ones, though obviously you can’t do any sending or receiving until you’re back online. First, select the Allow offline mail prompt to start downloading messages.

You can choose to sync a week, two weeks, or a month’s worth of emails using the simple settings pane, and all your labels and inbox categories are carried over as well. You can move, archive, and label messages using Gmail Offline too (these actions are synced to Gmail when connectivity returns).

Catch up on your reading

Pocket has an integrated offline mode available, which mean you can catch up on your read-it-later queue on your Chromebook without even a hint of WiFi. The syncing happens automatically when you launch the Chrome app, although it doesn’t work with videos for rather obvious reasons.

There’s no such offline functionality for Instapaper, unless you load up all the articles you want to read in separate tabs before you lose connectivity. Google Keep can work without the web, and syncing is done automatically. You can use either the Keep website or the Chrome app to get at your notes.

Play games

Plenty of Chrome OS games work offline. To find them, go to the Chrome Web Store, and choose Games, then Chrome Apps, then Runs Offline from the left-hand pane. Once you’ve installed the games of your choice, they’ll load up on Chrome OS with or without an available internet connection.

Cut The Rope is one of the best known offline-ready titles, while there are several versions of Solitaire available, and an awesome Free Rider HD Offline Editor to play around with too. Bear in mind that more complex games are going to use up more of your Chromebook’s local storage.

Edit photos

If you have photos stored locally on your Chromebook that need editing offline, then Pixlr Touch Up from Autodesk is one of the simplest options out there. There are plenty of other alternatives. Take a look at Polarr Photo Editor 3 or Piconion Photo Editor, for example, which come with more advanced features.

Open up Pixlr Touch Up and you can apply a range of quick fixes, from cropping to blurring, as well as a number of Instagram-style filters and effects. A text overlay tool is included in the app too. As yet, there’s no offline support for the powerful Google Photos, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Google added it.

Play movies and music

You can open movie and music files from local storage, but there’s more than that. In the Google Play Movies app, for example, each of your purchased titles shows a small download button you can use to sync it for offline viewing later on (head to the settings page to configure the download quality).

Songist plays tracks from local storage and doesn’t need an internet connection to load or run. Just make sure you download the songs first. Google Play Music doesn’t have an offline mode at the time of writing, and nor does Spotify’s web player, but as we’ve mentioned there is a native player for local files.

[Image via Google Store]

16 Ways to Keep Your House Cooler This Summer

When it’s hot outside, and that heat seeps into your home, it’s hard to muster up the motivation to do just about anything. You’re damp, sticky, sweaty — it’s just plain uncomfortable.

So are you supposed to suffer in the summer months and blankly stare at your phone while sweat drips down your forehead? Of course not! If you have air conditioning. But that uses a ton of energy and jacks up your bills. Plus, the artificial chill just feels wrong when it’s so warm outside. Isn’t there a way to find a happy medium and be comfortable while still feeling like it’s summer out there? Darn right there is!

Below you’ll find tips to keep your house cooler when the thermometer creeps up, ways to make your A/C use more efficient.

Windows/Blinds

Open windows at night. In places and during times of year where it substantially cools at night (overnight temps in the mid-70s or lower), pop the windows open once the sun goes down. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the warm air is replaced with cool, refreshing air.

Better yet, utilize fans (or a whole house fan if you have one) to create tunnels of cool air coming into your home. To get the most out of it, crack a window on the main floor of the house, while opening a window on the second floor on the opposite side of the home, with a fan in that one sucking air out. Since heat rises, you’ll more quickly get the hot air out and cool air in.

Keep blinds closed during the day. Up to 30% of unwanted heat in your home is coming through your windows via the greenhouse effect — sunlight and heat enter, but cannot escape. The remedy is to keep your blinds closed during the day; if this makes your home feel too much like a cave, focus especially on west- and south-facing windows. Doing this can actually lower the mid-day temperature of your home by almost 20 degrees.

Appliances

Windows are one of the biggest sources of unwanted heat in the home. The other biggest are appliances. More So the oven, but all appliances throw off a lot of heat when running.

Do chores at night. Laundry machines throw off a lot of heat. The washer is running hot water and driers are obviously using heated air which inevitably escapes and radiates out from the machine. Now, you can’t get away with not doing laundry (hopefully), but you can ensure it’s not heating your home during the hottest parts of the day. Do your laundry loads at night to keep things cooler. Also, regularly clean the dryer vent for a quicker cycle.

Your dishwasher also puts out a lot of heat. Like with laundry, run it at night to minimize the heating effect. If you have a quiet model, start it before you go to bed and you’ll wake up with clean dishes.

Skip the oven/stove; grill more. Any usage of the oven or even the stove is going to heat your home. So what’s one to do? You can grill many of the things you’d be making in an oven or on the stovetop — meat, pizza, veggies, fish, and even desserts!

If you do use the stove, make sure to turn the fan on, especially if it vents to the exterior. If it just recirculates the air, it won’t cool things much, but it will at least improve airflow.

Keep the furnace fan on. Most thermostats allow you to manually turn the fan on that blows hot air through your home in the winter. In the summer, that fan can be run on its own to circulate and more evenly distribute the cooler air from the basement or main level. It also acts as another way to keep the air flowing and moving, which makes you feel cooler (more on that below).

Maximize your air conditioner. If you have A/C, the smoother and more efficient it runs, the better it will cool your house when needed. Installing a programmable thermostat can help this process, rather than you fiddling with the temperature every morning and evening. Summer temperature recommendations are as follows:

  • 75 degrees, +/- 1-2 degrees, during hours you’re home (the warmer the setting, the more energy efficient; energy.gov recommends 78 degrees, which seems a tad warm to me personally)
  • 80 degrees, +/- 1-2, during hours you’re away
  • Sleeping: it’s well-researched that people sleep better when it’s cooler. If there’s a time to crank the AC a little bit, the overnight hours might surprisingly offer the most bang for the buck. Experiment with a few different temp settings to see how you feel in the morning, and go from there.

These temperatures will feel very warm at first, but after a week or two, your body will adjust and you’ll get comfortable again. So don’t deviate too much from these recommendations until you’ve tried it out for a full week or so.

Change your AC filters regularly. Every 4-6 weeks, especially during the months of heaviest use, change out your air filters if you have an air conditioner (check them more frequently if you’re running the furnace fan). A dirty filter not only reduces air quality, but also efficiency of airflow. Know your filter size, and always have a few on hand.

House Exterior

Plant shade trees and other greenery. A well-placed tree can make a world of difference for the comfort of your home. Planting a tree likely won’t have immediate payoffs, but it’s a great way to both shade your home and add color and beauty to your property. Vines and other tall shrubs are other options which will have quicker results, but will likely require more maintenance in the long-term.

Add awnings, shades, and/or shutters to the exterior of your windows.Beyond blinds, these additional options provide yet another layer of protection from the sun. Awnings are your most effective (and most expensive) course of action, and can actually reduce heating gains by 65-75%, particularly when placed on south- and west-facing windows.

Consider a couple large upgrades like re-painting or getting a new roof. If the heat in your home is a real problem year in and year out, you’d do well to run the numbers on re-painting your home to a lighter color, and/or getting a new roof with more heat protection than the standard shingles (these include slate, concrete, clay, various tiles, and metal).

These two things are really the first line of defense in protecting your home against the heat of the sun. They should be reflecting and releasing the sun’s energy rather than storing and absorbing it. Having said that, these are obviously very expensive options, so should be considered either when they’re due for a replacement/upgrade already, or as said above, if the heat creates some real problems in your household.

Miscellaneous

Keep doors inside the home open. While in the winter, closing doors helps keep heat in specific rooms, doing so in the hot summer months is detrimental to your cause. You want air to flow freely through rooms and through the entire house. Great airflow means a cooler home, so keep inside doors open unless you want those rooms to become stifling hotboxes.

Turn on bathroom exhaust fans. While you should be turning on the fan anytime you shower, in the hot summer months, leave it on for a while longer than you normally would. Hot showers obviously heat up bathrooms quite a bit, and that heat can easily leak out into surrounding areas. So don’t just turn the fan off when you get out of the shower; leave it on for an extra 20 or 30 minutes so it can really pull the hot air out. And don’t worry about your energy costs — bathroom fans are simple devices that run at a very low cost.

Turn off/replace incandescent lights. While the soft yellow glow of incandescent light bulbs creates a nice ambiance in the home, they also give off a lot of heat. One or two lamps won’t make your house unbearable, but if you run on incandescent, swap a few out for cooler, more energy efficient bulbs.

Keeping Cool

 

Optimize your sleeping. One of the worst parts of a hot day is when it’s hot at night and you can’t sleep because you’re a sweating mess. There are a few things you can do to cool yourself at night and specifically for sleeping (particularly if you don’t have AC).

First, sleep on the lowest floor possible. If you have a basement, set up shop there. The ground floor of a multi-story home is another good option. Heat rises, so go where the cool air is. Try new bed sheets. Cotton is the way to go in the summer because of its light weight and breathability. You can also get specialty wicking sheets and other various fabric blends that are designed to keep you cool on warm nights.

And finally, make sure you have ceiling fans going at night. While not specifically a sleeping tip, it makes a world of difference when you’re lying there in bed in a bubble of hot air. Make sure your fan is rotating counter-clockwise (that is, not on the winter setting), and feel free to run it on high settings. While fans don’t lower the temperature of the room, they make you feel cooler because the air moving over your skin evaporates sweats and pulls heat away from your body. A fan moving at just 2 mph will make you feel 3-4 degrees cooler, and at high speed many fans can hit 5 mph. Not too shabby.

Create an ice fan. Fill a large mixing bowl with ice and place it in front of a large box fan. You’ll get a nice, chilled breeze. This is obviously only effective for a small area of space.

Take cold showers! Been itching for an excuse to try out cold showers or baths? Now’s the time! They carry a load of benefits, one of which of course is instant, all-over cooling.

Do I Really Have To Pay All Of These Extra Fees When I Buy A Car?

Just because you negotiated a great deal on your next car doesn’t mean you have a handle on the total cost. Some people go to the dealer and are shocked at all of the extra charges that are tacked on to the price, but there are several ways to tell which ones are legit and which are bogus.

Tom McParland from Auto Match Consulting breaks down all the fees and what they mean.

I thought it was common knowledge that when you buy a car you have to pay both the purchase price and extra fees such as sales tax, registration, and tags. However, I’ve gotten a surprising amount of emails from folks who negotiated a price then arrived at the dealership and saw the final tally only to assume the dealer was “ripping them off” with these additional charges. They were also surprised to find out that the dealer refused to remove these fees or include them in the original price.

So, let’s examine some of the most common fees you may encounter.

Sales Tax

This one is going to have the largest impact on your total price. The important thing to remember is that the sales tax is based on where the vehicle will be registered, not where the car is purchased.

For example, I live in New Jersey with a 7-percent sales tax, but I’m not far from Delaware, which does not charge sales tax on vehicle purchase—rather, the state charges a 3.75 percent “document fee.”

Some people are under the impression that if they want to buy a $25,000 car, instead of paying $1750 to evil New Jersey, they can just drive over the state line and pay $937 to Delaware. Nope. Since the buyer is a Jersey resident, his or her home state still is going to want a cut of that sale. The Delaware dealer will charge them the full 7 percent.

Sometimes even within the same state, the sales tax will vary. For some people who live in large cities like Philadelphia or New York, tax will be higher than it is for buyers in the suburbs. It sucks, but that’s the price you pay for being one of them fancy big-city types.

Also, remember that the amount of tax you pay could be impacted by your trade, so look at the calculations carefully.

DMV or Documentation Fees

Your new or pre-owned car must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. It also needs licence plates, because law enforcement isn’t too happy when cars are cruising around with no plates.

The dealers are going to charge you a little bit more to push the paper than it would cost you to do it yourself. On average, this will add anywhere from $300-$600 to the total price. They all do it, and it’s just one of those things you have to suck up.

If you think you got a great deal on the car, do yourself a favor—don’t nickel and dime the dealer over few hundred bucks because they are going through the proper channels to make sure your car is legal. Keep in mind the dealership pays people to deal process this paperwork; these are nice people with bills to pay too.

Depending on where you buy a car, you may also encounter small stuff like “tire tax” or a “loan processing fee.” These are typically minor and only cost a few bucks here and there. Don’t stress about them.

Bogus Fees

The first one you should look out for is a “dealer fee” in addition to the DMV paperwork fees. Florida dealers are notorious for this. Practically every dealer in the Sunshine state adds on an additional $600-$700 on top of all the other fees. They will tell you it’s “mandatory,” and that is most likely a load of crap. However, some stores will give you a big enough discount off the price of the car to offset it.

If the dealership doesn’t remove the fee or reduce the price of the car, the other alternative is to buy somewhere else that doesn’t charge the fee. This might be a logistical challenge in a large state like Florida, which is probably why so many dealers down there get away with it. But I’ve also found the extra “dealer fee” to be pretty common in Connecticut as well. I recently had a customer looking for a Hyundai in that state and a local dealer that offered an aggressive discount insisted on a $599 dealer fee. I got a dealer in New York to match the price and didn’t charge the extra $599; the buyer took a short drive and saved a few hundred bucks.

I’ve also seen a “transport fee” in some areas, which is totally ridiculous when the car is literally sitting on their lot. It’s bad enough the manufacturers tack on a “destination charge”onto the MSRP to move the car from the factory to the dealership. Again, this fee should either be waived or neutralized by some additional discount.

The only time the transport fee may be a legitimate expense is if you want a very specific vehicle that is hard to find and the dealer has to bring it in from far away. High-end and specialty cars have to be put on a truck to be moved long distances, the trucking company is going to charge the dealer and they will pass that cost on to you.

Focus On Total Cost

It’s easy to get hung up on every line item and be suspicious of every charge. It’s your money and you should question charges you aren’t sure about, but when comparing the best deal focus more on the total cost rather than the details.

At the end of the day, you just want to spend the least amount possible. This is why you should request an itemized out-the-door from every dealer you contact. It’s possible that a dealer could be charging you silly extras but still offer the best price.

I had a customer in Jersey who wanted a fully loaded, black on black, Mustang GT convertible with a manual. That’s not an easy car to find, and the local stores weren’t offering much in terms of discounts. I found a store in Baltimore with a whopping $7000 off the sticker price. This place adds that stupid “transport fee” of $699, but the net discount of $6300 was still thousands more than anyone else. It wasn’t worth fighting them over the $699 when the total price made up for it.

When shopping for quotes, sale price is important, but have the dealer send you a total with all applicable taxes and fees. If you are buying out of state, make sure you have them calculate your tax and DMV accurately based on your location. Then you can compare which deal is the best one.

 

Tom is a runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car.

Use These Beautiful and Inexpensive Flowers in Your Next Bouquet

Crafting your own bouquets is an easy way to save money while still giving a beautiful gift. Here are some inexpensive flowers to use in your next bouquet that will look gorgeous, but cost less than the pricier cuts at your local florist.

You’ve likely seen these before in pricey bouquets, but you’ll save money picking them yourself:

Hit the link below for a full list of inexpensive flowers, what colors they come in, and their seasons.

Turn Your Shredded Hash Browns Into Pizza Crust

I’m a big fan of crispy pizza crusts. Shredded hash browns provide that perfect base for a crispity, crunchity bottom of a breakfast or anytime pizza. All you need is a bag of frozen shredded hash browns and the almighty waffle iron.

This idea comes from Curls & Whey. The recipe calls for frozen hash browns, but you could also prepare and grate your own shredded potatoes (make sure the moisture is extracted), or use leftover or frozen tater tots. Mix it with two egg whites or just one whole egg, and any toppings your pizza-loving heart desires. Then press the mixture in your waffle iron for 5-10 minutes (cooking time will vary).

In the recipe, they mix the toppings in with the hash browns, but you can create the hash brown-pizza crust first, top it, and then bake it at 425-degrees in your oven until the cheese melts. Note that the site Curls & Whey uses very precise measurements and lower fat ingredients for their readers who are fitness competitors. You don’t have to follow those measurements—just add hash browns and the toppings you want that fit according to your tastebuds and fitness goals, if they apply.

 Note that if you don’t have a waffle iron, you can use your oven, too: just bake the hash brown crust at 425-degrees for 25-30 minutes or so.

Waffle Pizza | Curls & Whey

Image by El Gran Dee.

How to Toast in Twenty Different Languages

One of the best things about traveling is immersing yourself in the culture by eating and drinking like a local, and knowing how to toast correctly is a big part of that.

The graphic below shows you how to say “cheers!” in twenty different languages, with pronunciation keys so you can ensure you’re actually saying “to your health,” and not “I need the bathroom!”

20 Translations For “Cheers!” In Different Languages | Town & Country