Composting in the Kitchen: Containers, Bags, and Everything You’ll Need.

The simple definition of “composting,” according to Wikipedia, is “organic matter that has been decomposed.” Over the years, this process has become more and more popular in homes across the country. Several cities have rolled out programs that provide compost bins to homes, and collect it separately from trash and recyclables.

Not only does compost reduce the amount of waste you toss out every week, but it is extremely beneficial to the environment. Collecting old food scraps, soiled materials, and yard waste are easier than you think. If you do not live in a city that has a compost program, here is everything you’ll need to start this process at home.


Keeping a bin in the kitchen to aid in the collecting of food scraps to take outside is a great idea. A stainless-steel bin will help keep odor to a minimum. If the odor is not an issue, or you don’t mind emptying it as often, a small plastic container will do the trick. You can also recycle a sizeable container that has been used before (coffee tin or ice cream pail). You will want to use something with a lid that can be easily emptied. This container can be kept on the counter, under the sink, or in a cabinet.

Outside containers take a bit more thought and neighborly consideration. If you have no outdoor space or a small patio area, consider a worm bin. For those who have a bigger space but still close to neighbors, consider a compost tumbler. You will want to “turn” your compost pile at least once every three days, or when it starts to smell. Keep your compost collection area in the shade. This will help with the odor.  


Keeping a bag in the bin in your kitchen will save a lot of time and energy that you would be wasting by constantly washing it. You cannot use a plastic bag, as those do not break down in the composting cycle. Find a disposable compost bag. Make sure the bags are BPI-certified. Paper bags can be used to collect larger composting materials, such as grass or yard clippings.

Make sure the bag says “compostable,” as opposed to “biodegradable.” There is a subtle but key difference. A biodegradable bag will break down, but it will take a longer time. These should be used to collect regular trash. A compostable bag breaks down quicker.

Moisture and heat cause compostable bags to break down quicker. Moisture and heat are also two things that can collect quickly in your countertop receptacle. Make sure to keep an eye on the bag and be cautious when taking it outside.

What Can (and Cannot) be Composted

Now that you’ve got your materials, it’s time to start composting. Here is a list of things that can and should be composted:

  • Yard waste (grass clippings or leaves)
  • Soiled paper (pizza boxes, used napkins, etc.)
  • Black and white newspaper
  • Vegetable and fruit food scraps (rinds, peels, skins)
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Old leftover food

Things that should NOT be composted:

  • Meat (raw or cooked)
  • Pet waste
  • Fats and oils
  • Diseased yard waste (or anything that has been exposed to pesticides)

At Home Tips 

The number one tip for composting at home is to have a tight-fitting lid on the container you keep in your kitchen. This cannot be stressed enough. It will keep the odor to a minimum, and also keep out the fruit flies and other critters.

Cut down food into smaller pieces. The smaller the food scraps, the quicker they will break down. The quicker they break down, the sooner your compost will become soil that can be used in the garden.

If you are not someone who eats at home regularly but are still interested in composting, consider keeping your collection bin in the refrigerator. This will save counter space. It will also keep the odor to a minimum, the pests away, and will allow you to collect scraps for a longer period of time. You will still want to make sure it has a lid on it.

The key to successful composting begins with knowing what can and cannot be composted. Consider printing off a guide and place it somewhere in your kitchen that is easy to see, to act as a reminder to yourself and others.

Wishing you the best of luck in your composting efforts!

How to Fit More into Your Suitcase with Packing Cubes

Whether you’re trying to fit everything you own into a carry-on, or just trying to efficiently pack and plan a two-week trip to London, packing cubes are a must for any traveler. They come in many shapes and sizes and can help with staying organized. When it comes to efficient packing, everyone knows it’s not only about what you pack, but how you pack it.

Packing cubes stack neatly into a suitcase, backpack, or duffel bag to help the user stay organized while traveling. They are very durable and very useful. Depending on how you pack the clothing inside the cube, they can also reduce wrinkles. When using packing cubes, it is best to use the rolling method with your clothes.

Packing cubes will change the way you travel. They are multifunctional and can be used in different bags for different travel purposes. You will use them time and time again.

What You’ll Need

Start with 3 sizes of packing cubes: a small cube, medium cube, and a large cube or a garment folder/ envelope (the garment folder will probably not fit in a carry on). Use the small cube for socks and underwear. The medium cube can be used to tees, shorts, dresses, and skirts. The large cube (or garment folder) can be used for things like jeans, sweaters, long dresses, and lightweight jackets.

There are a lot of other packing cube accessories, depending on how much space you have in your suitcase of choice. There are packing cubes specifically for shoes, for toiletries, and for dirty laundry. You can also use an extra small cube for smaller accessories such as camera accessories and device cords.

Shopping for packing cubes has gotten much easier over the years. REI has a large selection of packing cubes online and in store. Target has a small selection available, depending on your store. Amazon really is the most convenient place to find them.

If it helps, you can also keep an “inventory list” on your phone. Use this to keep track of which items are in which cube. It may help save time in the morning when you can’t find your sweater. You can save this list to remind yourself of what goes where when packing for trips in the future.


The easiest way to hype this method of packing is by explaining how easy it becomes to find things in your suitcase quickly. Think of these cubes as drawers in your dresser. Only take out that cube that holds exactly what you’re looking for, as opposed to pulling out everything in your suitcase.

The cubes also help with overpacking. Because of the limited space you are giving yourself, you have to take into consideration that you may not need to bring all the shoes or all the pants. Bring only what you need, and those items must fit into the cubes. This may or may not be helpful when shopping for souvenirs (sorry!).

Using these in any kind of travel case will help you maximize your space. Because you are zipping several items into a smaller space, you are condensing items, and therefore giving yourself that much more room in your pack. When putting them into your suitcase, think of it as a game of Tetris. Be sure to use every nook and cranny to get the most out of them.

Packing cubes can be helpful even when not traveling. There are items that come in handy only when traveling that can be stored in the cubes when not in use (travel wallet, neck pillow, etc.). When you start packing again, you’ll easily find all your other travel gear.


There are a few common mistakes that travelers can make when using packing cubes. Do not overpack or under pack your cubes. Overfilling your cube will make it harder to repack it, and under packing can wrinkle the clothing and make it harder to stack. If you find that you are overpacking, considering putting the items into two smaller cubes. If under packing, put everything into a smaller cube.

When packing toiletries, be careful if you are repurposing a small cube. You may want to invest in something with a heavier lining, in case something spills. Typically, cubes are made of a thinner material, and something like a razor could rip the fabric. To get the most of your cubes, use them for their intended purpose only.

Safe travels!

How to Clean Out Your Closet

There are a lot of effective ways to clean out your closet. Whether your goal is to just get rid of what you do not wear anymore, or the hard to achieve “capsule closet,” the task can seem daunting. Cleaning out your closet is also a good way to relieve stress. Give yourself a few hours, put on some music, and follow these steps.

Step 1

The first step in cleaning out your closet is to take everything out of it. Everything that is hanging, everything that is folded, everything in drawers. Get every piece of your clothing out of every room in your home. Leave nothing behind. Begin clearing out items as you come across them. Have a designated space where you are putting the things you no longer want.

Now that you can see everything you own, pull out the pieces you wear regularly. You know your closet well enough to know which items are your go-to. Those can go back in your closet.

Making distinct piles is key:

  • Keep (can go directly back into the closet, if you are limited on space)
  • Maybe
  • Discard

This should include socks, underwear, pajamas, and shoes, but I will leave that decision up to you. These items do not necessarily need to be put into the three aforementioned categories. Socks with holes should immediately go into the discard pile, as should ripped or stained underwear, uncomfortable shoes, and pajamas that have holes.

Step 2

Here comes the hard part. Now is the time to weed through your “maybe” pile; the clothing you don’t wear often. These are the pieces weighing you down and filling the bulk of your closet. If any of these items are damaged in some way, whether it’s a missing button or a ripped seam, put it in the “donation pile.” If there are items that don’t fit right, whether they are too big or too small, move them into that same pile. Items that have outlived their “trendiness” should also go in this pile.

There are a few questions that you should ask yourself when going through the “maybe” pile that can alleviate some stress: Have you worn this item in the last 6 months? Does it fit the way you want it to? If you were shopping right now, would you buy this? If the answer is no, immediately place it in the “discard” pile, and do not look back.

I would also advise you to try everything on. Some items may surprise you, in good ways and bad. If something does not fit the way you like, get rid of it. Life is too short to wear clothing that does not make you feel your best.

Step 3

Once you have put only the items that you love back into your closet and donated everything else (or at least bagged it up and put it in your trunk), now is the time to do the hanger method. Hang everything with the hanger in reverse. When you wear an item and put it back in the closet, turn the hanger back around. Every year (or every six months, entirely up to you) see which items still have the reverse hanger. If you realize you no longer have the desire to keep that item, get rid of it.

Step 4

Donating your clothing is a better option than throwing them out. Take them to a women’s shelter, or the Salvation Army. When feeling remorse for getting rid of clothing, it is always better to know that someone is getting use out of them. If you have the time and energy, organize a garage sale.

Keep a donation bag in your closet. This may seem ruthless, but sometimes you just realize that you do not love an item anymore. Simply put it in the bag.  If you realize there’s a hole in your shirt, put it in the bag. Once the bag is full, donate it.

Step 5

Cleaning out your closet should leave you feeling lighter. To prevent yourself from being overwhelmed again, try shopping smarter. Instead of buying the new trend, stick to the classics. Put conscious thought into what you are buying for yourself. If it’s something you can see yourself wearing often, and for years, buy it.

Hopefully cleaning out your closet was enjoyable, and not fraught with stress. Perhaps this will even become a method you can do every few months to keep the clutter at bay. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Easy Acts of Self-Care

The act of “self-care” is anything one does deliberately for themselves that aids in relieving stress or anxiety. It is taking action to not only relieve the body physically of stress but also mentally. There is no one way of doing this, and not everyone’s method is the same.

It is something that is overlooked and not seen as important as taking care of physical ailments. It should also be planned so that it is something that becomes part of the weekly routine, or as often as needed per individual. Self-care is the key to a well-balanced life, according to many studies. If you are taking care of yourself, you are in better shape to take care of others.

Here is a brief list of things that can be considered acts of self-care. This not definitive, and again, taking time to do something that brings peace and alleviates stress varies based on the individual.


According to studies, the average adult should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Getting a good night’s sleep has so many health benefits, I’m not even sure where to begin. Not only is it a major stress reliever, but it aids in digestion and brain function, but it can also reduce depression. Naps have also been shown to have the same effects.


Obviously, exercise is good for the body, but it also clears the mind. It increases the serotonin levels in the body, which makes improves your mood! For self-care purposes, it is important to find a form of exercise that is enjoyable to the individual.

If you are someone new to exercise, try going for a leisurely stroll through your neighborhood or a local park. Yoga can also be a gentle form of exercise, which you can do via YouTube in your home if there is not a studio close to you. You can rent a bicycle. Go for a hike on a scenic trail. See if there is a rock-climbing gym in your city. There are a lot of apps that can assist you in meditation.

Read a book

A study from the University of Sussex states that reading a book is the most effective way to relieve stress. Immersing oneself into a world beyond our own taps into the imagination, thereby impacting creativity. Reading a book for at least 30 minutes a day is shown to have lasting effects on the brain, and can decrease chances of Alzheimer’s later in life. It has also been shown that readers are more empathetic people.

Take Yourself to a Museum

In case you haven’t noticed yet, the Arts play a big part in the idea of self-care. Take yourself to a museum based on your interests. Going alone allows you to set your own pace, and your own itinerary. Immerse yourself in learning about something new, or lose yourself in something that you have loved for a long time.


If you know you do not have a green thumb, or you do not like to get your hands dirty, skip gardening.  For those of you still following along, gardening has proven to have astounding benefits for mental health. Whether it is a shared community plot, your own yard, or a houseplant on a windowsill, planting something with your own two hands into the dirt and watching it grow can be incredibly beneficial for your well-being.


Writing down your moods and thoughts can help in examining habits and mind frames that can feel like “ruts.” Be honest with yourself when journaling. Write a “gratitude list;” a list of things that you are thankful for. This is your journal, and you can write whatever you like however you like. If you are more of a free spirit, try writing stream of consciousness style and write what you think as you’re thinking it.

It cannot be stated enough when on the topic of self-care, but whatever the preferred method is, self-care is not the time to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It is a time when you do what makes you happy, and you are able to mentally check in with yourself and regroup. Take time to be comfortable and content.

One of the key components of self-care that has been shown to be the most effective is unplugging. When trying some of these methods, if you are able, try leaving your phone in another room or turning it off.

The Best Herbs to Grow That Can Be Used In Cocktails

In my humble opinion, cocktail gardens should be more of a thing. Yes, having a cocktail in your garden sounds wonderfully relaxing, but a garden devoted entirely to things that can go straight from the garden bed into your glass sounds very convenient. It can also be called “the bartender’s garden,” which sounds just as fun.

As with all herbs, these herbs need lots of sun and water to grow well enough to be suitable in a cocktail. If grown indoors, put them in a place that gets plenty of sun; perhaps on your kitchen window sill. Be sure to clean all herbs thoroughly before using them in your drink.

One very easy way to use herbs in cocktails is to make them into a simple syrup. Once you have grown your herbs of choice, bring water, sugar, and your cut herbs to a boil in a pot. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and let it sit for at least one hour. Strain the remaining liquid, and keep it refrigerated. You can do this with any herbs, such as lavender or sage.

Whether you have an entire garden bed devoted to these herbs or a container garden with a select few for the cocktails you love the most is entirely your choice. Here is a list of herbs that can be grown to put straight into your glass.


This one is a no brainer. Mint, which should be grown in a pot due to its very invasive nature, can go into almost any cocktail. There are many varieties of mint sold at garden centers, but the one most commonly used is spearmint for its bolder flavor. It can be muddled, it can be chopped finely and added into ice, or it can merely be a garnish.

Mint typically pairs well with cocktails that use rum or vodka. Use the mint in classic cocktails such as mojitos or mint juleps.


This herb has so many uses in the kitchen, but I never would’ve imagined putting it into a cocktail. Basil is a very hearty plant that needs a lot of sunlight, but very little water. Grow it in the garden, or on the sill, and not only will it be a great addition to your drink, but it is also a natural pest deterrent.

I recently muddled rosemary and mixed it with grapefruit juice, gin, and triple sec. The cocktail was very refreshing, and perfect for a warm summer day on the patio. Basil also mixes well with tequila-based cocktails.


I have had very little experience with using rosemary in drinks, but it is life changing. When growing rosemary, keep in mind that your plant can grow out, as well as up. It’s not as invasive as mint, but the plant itself can become more of a bush if left untrimmed. All the more reason to cut it and put it in your cocktail!

Try adding a sprig of it to an Italian Greyhound: grapefruit juice and vodka. The rosemary not only adds a beautiful pop of color, but also an earthy taste. A rosemary gin fizz is also delicious. It pairs very well with bourbon.


It could be said that lavender is one of the most popular and recognizable plants grown in the world. Its scent is just so soothing, and it has so many uses and benefits. Lavender does well in drier conditions with lots of sun and make sure it has good drainage.

Using it in a cocktail is easier when it is used as a simple syrup. For a refreshing spin on lavender lemonade, try this combination: lavender simple syrup, lemon juice, sparkling water, and gin. Use a sprig of it for garnish.


Like all other herbs, thyme needs plenty of sun, good drainage, and low watering to thrive. It is a slow growing plant and does well in garden beds with other herbs. Thyme is a strong herb and is perfect for muddling, but be sure to strain the drink before consumption.

It is the perfect addition to a classic cranberry and vodka. Also try it with blueberries, lemon, and prosecco for a light afternoon cocktail. Thyme also pairs well with whiskey cocktails.

I hope these cocktails whet your appetite. Salut!

Simple Alexa Commands to Use in the Kitchen

It was like welcoming a new roommate into the house. It took some getting used to, but now that the Amazon Echo is here and Alexa is all moved in, we’d all be useless without her. Yes, there is a weather app on my phone, and sure, the news is readily available from many different sources around the home (radio, television, the phone), but being able to do anything else while simply having to ask “Hey Alexa, what is the weather today?” just makes life a bit easier.

She can do anything from creating a shopping list to locking the front door. She can answer almost any question you throw at her (go ahead and ask her about the meaning of life), and she can turn off the light you’re too lazy to walk 10 steps across the room to do yourself. She can even play music for your family’s impromptu dance party.

Alexa’s real moment to be most helpful might just be in the kitchen. Here are just a few of the things you can ask her to do. Keep in mind, some of these commands require an app, or “skill”, which can be found at The simpler commands are built into Alexa and require no extra steps once she’s set up in your home.

Convert Units of Measurement

Simply say “Alexa, convert cups to gallons” or “Alexa, how many tablespoons are in 1 ounce.” Math is hard for everyone, it’s okay.

Multiple Timers

The trick to using multiple timers is to remember to name them. Tell her “Alexa, set a timer for 3 minutes for tea,” and then “Alexa set a pizza time for 15 minutes.” When the time is up, she will say “Your tea timer is done,” and “Your pizza timer is done.” Don’t forget to tell her to “stop.”

Dinner Ideas

If you are not sure what to cook for dinner, ask “Alexa, what should I make for dinner.” Her answer was a “top recipe” which was “creamy shells with bacon and spring peas.” She also gives you other popular recipes if you say “next.” Her default responses usually take 30 minutes to prepare and are relatively simple.

You can also ask her for specific recipes, like “Alexa, how do I make chocolate chip cookies.” She will give you an ingredient list, and step by step instructions. Something fun to do is ask “Alexa, what is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe.” It’s a bit like spinning a roulette wheel, in terms of quality, but who am I to argue with her?

A few “skills” that you should look into if you like recipe ideas are Allrecipe, Food Network, and GoodNes (which is run by Nestle, as in, the most delicious cookies that Phoebe Buffet’s grandmother ever made her).

Cocktails and Wine Pairings

Trying to impress your friends? Not sure what kind of wine to serve with the steak you’ve been marinating all day? Ask her “Alexa, what kind of wine pairs well with steak.” She will list off several choices. 

Want to make a mojito to go with that ropa vieja that’s been in your crockpot all afternoon? Simply ask “Alexa, how do you make a mojito.” She finds the top recipe and gives an ingredient list, as well as step by step instructions.

Calorie Count

You can ask “Alexa, how many calories are in a can of Pepsi.” I cannot promise you’ll like her answer.

If you are one of those people that is trying a low carb diet, she can also help with that. Ask “Alexa, how many carbs are in green beans.” This is a bit more limited, as she can only answer questions about food that has easily available nutritional information.

General Cooking Questions

Sometimes there are just things going on that a person just doesn’t know. Thankfully, Alexa is not here to judge. So, if you have to ask things like “How long does water take to boil,” or “Is there caffeine in a matcha latte,” it’s okay. That will stay between you, your kitchen, and Alexa.

No matter what you ask Alexa, be sure to thank her when you’re done.

Best Plants for a Container Garden

Sometimes a person just doesn’t have the space for planting things in the ground. Perhaps you’ve only got a concrete yard, or you have a bit of patio that could use some color. Maybe you can’t spare any extra space in your garden box. Container gardening is the practice of growing things in containers or pots.

Whether those pots be plastic, metal, or terracotta, there are plants that thrive under these growing conditions. Mint, for example, is a spreading plant. It would take over if placed in a garden bed. Keeping plants that spread in a container will keep them isolated, and therefore thriving in your space.

Container gardens are a great way to add color, height, and texture to a space. If one so chooses, these plants can attract bees, aid in cleaning the air, or give off a lovely scent. In this article, we will be focusing on one type of plant per pot. Here is a list of some of the best plants to grow in a container garden.


Ivy is one of those rare plants that do well in both sun and shade. It also has the benefit of being very cold hardy, so does not require much attention during the winter months. It has a cascading effect as it grows within the container, which adds a lovely dimension to any space. Varieties such as English ivy also help filter toxins out of the air, so keeping it in a pot indoors where it can get some light would be a great idea.


Ferns are shade-loving plants that do best in moist soil. It would be an easy plant to remember to water often if kept next to a deck chair or by a door. The roots do not need a lot of extra space, so be sure to plant it in a shallow container that is not much wider than the plastic pot it came in.


Marigolds will add a beautiful pop of color to any container garden. They do like at least 6 hours of sun, and will do best in light potting soil with good drainage. Be careful not to overwater this plant, as they are susceptible to rot.  It is also believed that certain varieties carry a scent that repels mosquitoes and aphids.


Hydrangeas will add a beautiful burst of color and fluffy texture to a patio. They come in a variety of shapes and colors. They do best in a partially shaded area and can be kept small to fill in front space. For best results, keep the soil moist and make sure it is in a spot that gets morning sun.


If you would like to try your hand at vegetable container gardening, peppers are the perfect starter. They do require a deeper pot to allow the roots to grow, as well as good drainage. To really thrive, the pepper plant will need at least 6 hours of sun per day.


Another vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you ask) that does incredibly well when grown in a container. This can be grown in a variety of containers, but consider growing this in a recycled material fabric pot. Be sure that when choosing the best container for tomatoes, you choose when that gives its roots plenty of room to grow. Also, choose a location that gets plenty of sunlight. They can get quite tall, so keep that in mind as well.


Strawberries are spreaders, so growing them in their own container is wise. When planted in a strawberry planter, they can spread and cascade in such a unique way that it will add a beautiful addition to your space. They are also quick-growing plants that do best in a space that gets at least partial sun. They also like to be kept relatively moist.


Aloe is technically a succulent and does not need much attention to really thrive. Choose a pot that will give its roots plenty of room to grow, and it will consistently amaze you with the shapes it takes as it gets larger. It is best to get succulent soil when planting this one. Aloe can also flourish indoors and will act as an air purifier. It does need some sun exposure to grow; at least 4 hours of sun will suffice.

Above all, be sure to fill your patio and containers with flowers that will bring you joy.

The Benefits of Using a Weighted Blanket

There are many benefits of a weighted blanket. They can be used while sitting on the couch, at your desk, or while sleeping. They not only have the ability to aid in sleep but also with concentration and focus. It has also been shown to help people who struggle with PTSD and ADHD.

I feel like I should point out that I have only used the weighted blanket that was gifted to me by a friend. I can only speak to the effect it had on me, and cannot verify any of the findings mentioned in this article.

A Better Night’s Sleep

The number one use of the weighted blanket is to get a better night’s sleep. These blankets have been shown to simulate Deep Pressure Touch (DPT) therapy, which reduces the body’s levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone. It actually releases serotonin, which helps to regulate moods and reduces stress. Serotonin, in turn, releases melatonin into the body, which is the sleep hormone.

There is also the theory of “grounding.” This simulates to the body that is being pushed into the ground, which the body believes means it is safe. The pressure from the blanket reduces the “fight or flight” activity and allows the body to relax. It is meant to have a calming effect, and allow for a more restful sleep.

A Calming Effect

A weighted blanket calms down the nervous system. Due to the pressure it puts on the body, and again referring back to DPT, it presses upon important pressure points in the body. You are able to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and sleep deeper.

Another thing that it aids in is anxiety. When someone is awake while using the weighted blanket, it stimulates the same thing in the body that receiving a hug would. This is called oxytocin, also known as “the love drug” or “cuddle drug.” This is typically released into the body when it is touched in a loving or comforting manner. Oxytocin in the body makes one feel calmer and more at ease, which can lead to lower levels of anxiety.


While more people use the blanket to aid in sleep, it has also been shown to have a productive effect at work, or when people need assistance with focusing on a singular task. Referring once again to DPT therapy, wearing a weighted blanket while focusing on one task can release a calming feeling in the body, making it easier to calm the mind of all other thoughts. While working on a paper, or reading a book, the user is likely to focus on what is right in front of them, and not thinking about what else needs to be done, or what could be happening elsewhere.

How to Find the Right Weighted Blanket

There are many contradicting opinions about the ideal weight of a weighted blanket. Many say 10-15% of the person’s body weight, while others say it should be the same weight as the user. If you are someone who is claustrophobic or hesitant at the idea, maybe start with a lighter blanket, and see how it affects your body first.

Another thing to consider is the size of the blanket. The consistent recommendation is to choose the size to fit your body, not to fit your bed. If you share a bed, that person may have different needs, so sharing a weighted blanket is not recommended. Again, find a blanket that suits the size of your body, that way you can easily take the blanket to other locations, as opposed to it remaining on the bed.

Another thing to note: do not wash your weighted blanket. You can get one that has a slipcover, but do not wash the actual weighted part. The weight in the blanket comes from small beads or pellets, and if those get into your washing machine it would be a disaster.

How to Make Your Yard Bee Friendly Using Plants and Flowers

Saving bees seem to be all the rage these days. If you thought they were just those scary bugs who fly around your trashcan and sting you from time to time, they actually are more beneficial than we all thought.

Bees are the reason we have fruits and vegetables. Bees are the reason fields stay so green. They are necessary for almost everything in nature staying fertile and lovely. They have also gifted us with honey, essentially making all our lives sweeter. After years of treating them badly, it is time we start to return the favor.

Bee Houses and Bee Baths

Bee houses, or “hotels” as the internet loving calls them, are meant primarily for solitary bees. Think of these guys as the introverts of the bee world; the ones who don’t adhere to the hive mentality. They also tend to be more docile. They are beneficial to the garden, and they need a place to stay. Even calling it a hotel is a misnomer, as the solitary bee typically moves in and will not relocate.

Picking a location for the bee house is imperative to its success. Pick somewhere close to the pollinating plants in the garden, and somewhere close to a fresh water source. Putting it in the shade may attract more wasps than bees, so give it a spot that gets a lot of sun. The key to a successful bee house is to make sure it has a rainproof roof.  

Bees need fresh water. They can often collect it from leaves after a rain shower, or in the mornings from dew on plants, but in the drier months, they need our help. In a shallow bowl place some marbles or rocks at the bottom, and then fill it with just enough water that it does not cover the top. Bees can easily drown and when collecting the water, they need a dry place to perch.

Planting pollinators

The first thing to know is that not all flowers attract bees. In fact, there are some plants that repel bees. Bees are very picky when it comes to what they want. If you are one who frequents your local garden nursery, ask the staff which plants would be best for attracting bees. Be specific about which pollinators you want in your garden. Depending on the region you live in, your options will vary. Odds are that each person you ask will have a different answer, which will benefit your garden in the long run. The more, the merrier!

Bees are attracted to bright colors, such as yellow, purple, white, and pink. The brighter, the better. To keep bees coming into your yard all year long, get a variety of plants that will bloom during different seasons.

Herbs can also be a great way to attract bees. Try planting herbs such as lavender and basil in the garden. Mint is another herb that attracts them, but for gardening purposes, you will want to keep it separate.

If you are allergic to pollen, or just have valuable space that you’d rather not waste on flowers, fear not. Bees love flower-bearing fruits and vegetables too! Try planting things like raspberries or blackberries.

If you’ve got the space, bees also love flowering trees. While fruit trees do seem to be the obvious choice here, willows, red maples, and crape myrtles are all attractive to them. This not only gives them a bigger space to forage, but will provide your yard with shade, and possibly an opportunity for that hammock you’ve always wanted!

Making your yard bee friendly

Stay as natural as possible, but if you do need to spray for pests, make sure to use something organic. Have an ant problem? Try beneficial nematodes. Using chemicals in your backyard can drive bees away from the yard. Fertilizers can also contain harmful chemicals, so look for organic or natural ones that will benefit all the critters in your yard.

Here’s a tip that will save you time on the weekends: mow your lawn less. Allow those dandelion weeds to grow. Try as one might to plant all the pollinators, bees still tend to love the weeds the most.

When choosing plants to grow in your garden, make sure the tag says “organic.” This helps to ensure that no harmful fertilizers or insecticides were used in its growth, and that will keep it from being introduced into your space.

Bees in the garden is a good indication that your yard is healthy and thriving! Enjoy the afternoon in the garden making it a more welcoming place for them.

How to Care for Your Cast Iron Skillet

There are so many wonderful things that can be made in a cast iron skillet. Cornbread probably isn’t as great if it’s made in a regular bread pan. Fried chicken could not possibly taste better if it were made in a regular frying pan. Everything just tastes better when it’s made in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. And it was probably a blast to make. But then comes the fun part. How the heck do you clean that thing? It’s sacrilege to soak it in water, and use a sponge and dish soap. Don’t you dare even think of putting it in the dishwasher. Allow me to help.


You’ve cooked something delicious with your beloved cast iron skillet. It’s the one passed down through the family from your great grandparents, no doubt. When cleaning, depending on the level of mess, you can usually just wipe it out with a paper towel. It is best to do this while the pan is still warm, but not too hot that you burn your fingers.

If the residue is sticky or syrupy, run the pan under warm water, and scrub using a gentle brush or sponge. Never use soap. No matter what. It removes the oils that keep the skillet in good working order. You want the oils.  While the pan is still damp, put it back on the still-warm burner.  Cast iron skillets are incredibly porous, and letting it dry on the warm burner will evaporate the water quickly. You will know it is cleaned properly and ready for another use when the pan has a nice shine to it.

If you’ve made a proper mess of your skillet, no need to worry. There are a  number of metal sponges that work wonders. Chainmail cloth has been determined to get cast iron skillets looking brand new. You can also try steel wool. If you do not have these handy, try scouring the pan with coarse salt. Sprinkle a healthy amount of salt into the bottom of the pan. Use a dry paper towel to rub the salt into the skillet and around the edges. If the residue still remains, fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil.

One helpful thing to note: when cooking in your skillet, be generous with the oils from the start. This will give you an added nonstick coating. Fats such as lard, butter, coconut oil, or ghee are helpful additives.

When you are satisfied with the cleanliness of your skillet, make sure to dry it and put it away.


Depending on how often you use your skillet, this may not need to happen often. It certainly does not need to be done after each use. When you start to notice the finish is wearing off, or it has lost its shine, then is it time to re-season. Seasoning is also what keeps the skillet from getting rust.

There is plenty of debate on which oil is best for seasoning. It usually comes down to vegetable oil versus flaxseed oil. Both seem to work well, so whichever you have on hand will do fine.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rub the inside of the pan with the oil using a clean cloth or paper towel. Keep the amount light so that all that remains is a thin layer. Put the pan into the oven upside down, and let it “bake” for one hour. Once the hour is complete, turn off the oven and let the skillet sit inside until it is cool enough to remove.

A good way to test the non-stick surface of your freshly seasoned skillet: fry an egg. Add a small amount of oil to the pan, and crack open the egg.  If the pan has been seasoned properly, the egg should slide around easily.

If you have never seasoned your cast iron skillet before, follow the instructions from above, but repeat the oiling part at least 4 times to ensure proper seasoning. Keeping your skillet dry and seasoned will prevent rust and ensure it retains its place of pride for generations.

Helpful Tips

  • Never let your pan air dry, as that is how rust occurs.
  • Store your pan in a cool, dry place.