What Do the Different Light Colors on the Amazon Echo Mean?

You know in movies like Star Wars where human characters can somehow decipher R2D2’s random bleeps and bloops as if he were speaking in plain English? Well, communicating with your Amazon Echo is a little like that.

The colors on your Echo may not look like much to the untrained eye but they each communicate something specific about your device.

The lights are like a little language of their own. Some of these signals are intuitive and easy to figure out through trial and error. Others are a little more confusing, and some, you would never in a million years be able to figure out on your own. But they’re easy enough to memorize, and it’s worth getting the hang of it so that you know what your Echo is trying to tell you.

Amazon Echo

  • Solid blue with small cyan section. When you speak the wake word, Alexa uses the cyan to point to the speaker.
  • Spinning cyan on solid blue. This means that Alexa is processing your request.
  • White. White represents the volume percentage.
  • Spinning violet. This means that Alexa had an issue with wifi setup.
  • Spinning orange. Spinning orange means Alexa is currently connecting to the network.
  • Solid red. This tells you that your microphone has been turned off.
  • Spinning blue with purple flash. This means do not disturb. Further purple flashes are Alexa telling you that it’s not listening right now.
  • Pulsing green light. This means that you have an incoming call.
  • Spinning green. Spinning green means that you are in the middle of a call.
  • Pulsing yellow. Messages in your inbox.

The Echo Look

The camera-enabled Echo Look has a few features of its own with these flashing lights.

  • Solid blue with spinning cyan. This means the device is powering up.
  • All lights off. Echo Look is active, and awaiting your command.
  • Solid blue with cyan. Alexa is currently processing your request.
  • Spinning orange. Setup mode.
  • Blinking white. Your camera is on. This is a good one to remember if you don’t want to have to throw a towel over your device every time you change clothes.
  • Solid red. Camera and microphone are both off.
  • Flashing red. Alexa unavailable.
  • Multiple colors. Error during wifi setup.

Amazon Tap

Finally you have the Amazon Tap.

  • Cyan. Cyan lights will pop up when you press the microphone button.
  • Cyan and blue pulses. Powering up.
  • Pulsing cyan. Alexa is processing your command.
  • Solid red. Microphone has been turned off.
  • Pulsing red. Alexa cannot process your request right now.
  • Pulsing amber. A left-to-right amber pulse means that the speaker is currently in setup mode for wifi.
  • Pulsing blue. Bluetooth pairing mode.

The Echo is, for the most part, pretty well fully automated. It’s good to know that pulsing amber means “wifi setup mode,” but Echo will manage most of its tasks solo. Still, it’s nice to know exactly what all of those lights mean if for no other reason than to impress your friends and make them think that you’re some kind of robot whisperer, capable of detecting and interpreting the subtle, nuanced language of the machine. Just lean in real close, put your ear to the machine, and say “I think it’s trying to tell us something!”

The Dual Zone Smartduvet: What Does It Do and Do I Need One?

It seems like everyday a new smart home device comes out. And the latest and greatest innovation in the smart home industry today is the Smart Duvet. The Smart Duvet Dual Zone Climate Controlled Bed gives you the opportunity to sleep at your ideal comfort level. Better yet, the Smart Duvet has a self-making feature that allows you to skip the chore of making your bed each morning. Smart Duvet uses patent-pending technology as a way for you to control all settings through their compatible mobile application.

Smart Duvet Features and Benefits

Smart Duvet is a product funded through crowdsourcing on websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. The creators of Smart Duvet initially wanted a duvet that could have self-making capabilities. The idea behind the technology was to have a pump placed inside the layer of the existing duvet and the duvet cover. As air pumps through the layer, the duvet is forced to return to its original shape. The idea for the Smart Duvet expanded with the inclusion of heating and cooling controls. The Smart Duvet Dual Zone Climate Controlled Bed adjusts your bed to your preferred temperature level. With the dual zone feature, you can set one side of your bed to your ideal temperature and the other side to the temperature preferred by your significant other.

The Smart Duvet works with your current bedding by adding smart home features. Key features of the Smart Duvet Dual Zone Bed include:

  • Heating: The control box built into the Smart Duvet layer pushes heat throughout the selected side of the bed. The Smart Duvet controls humidity levels in the bed, even when the heating element is in use.
  • Cooling: Smart Duvet increases air circulation levels to create a cooling effect. The increased air circulation will use the body’s natural evaporation process to keep you cool. The cooling feature will also reduce incidences of sweating during sleep.   
  • Presets: Through the Smart Duvet app, you can preheat or cool down the duvet to your desired comfort level before getting into bed.
  • Self-Making: Schedule your bed to be made at a set time each day or through the touch of a button located on your Smart Duvet app.
  • Ambient Lighting: Choose an ambient color and intensity level for your duvet cover through the mobile application.
  • Protective Layer: The Smart Duvet creates a protective layer around your bed as a way to prevent dust mites and germs. The Smart Duvet will also protect against bed bugs.
  • Wi-Fi Connectivity: The Smart Duvet operates on any home WiFi connection.

Smart Duvet Reviews

The Smart Duvet reviews have been very positive for the new product. Consumers like the ability to control their side of the bed without having to compromise with their partners. According to the Huffington Post:

“The Smartduvet solves all heated debates between you and your bed partner, as it is split into two different temperature beds, meaning one side can be set to warm and the other to cooling.”

The tech website The Verge demoed the Dual Zone Smart Duvet at the annual CES convention in 2017. The company was impressed by not only the feature of having a bed that could be made up from your smartphone, but also a duvet with heating and cooling features.

The product has also been featured in the media on websites such as Martha Stewart, Gizmodo, and Yahoo News. The only drawbacks that reviewers have mentioned in regards to the Smart Duvet Dual Zone Climate Controlled Bed are noisy operation and the price.

Smart Duvet Costs

The Smart Duvet costs depend on the size of the duvet needed for your bed. Sizes available for the Smart Duvet include:

  • Twin
  • Full
  • Queen
  • King
  • California King

Retail pricing for the Smart Duvet start at $429 for the twin size and range up to $567 for the California king. But check out their website, as they often run sales and specials with prices starting under $300 for twin and full size options.

The Most Expensive Kendama. What are They and Why They’re Totally Worth It

And you thought the slinky kicked your butt as a kid.

Hang onto your seats because we’re going to take a trip over to Asia and discuss something fascinating and great and totally underrated: the Kendama. 

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What is a Kendama?

The Kendama is a fun and mind-boggling hand game that looks really simple and easy but is actually deceptively hard. It looks simple enough: You try to get a ball, attached with a string, onto the handle of one of the cups or onto the point.

Why They Are Used

First off, there are over a thousand different techniques for players to accomplish the game. Yeah, and you thought Monopoly was hard. The Kendama can be played by any gender, at any age, and claims to help develop perseverance and concentration – but more recently, playing it has become a competitive sport. (We’ll use the term “sport” loosely here, since it seems like anything can be a sport nowadays.)  

Most Expensive Kendama: The rare Mugen Kendamas are considered the rarest and consistently priced, coming in around the $200 or $300 per Kendama. Kendama lover and collector Sweets has one of the largest collections, and while all the prices are estimated, they are valued for around $1,000+ each. Louis Vuitton made a gold Kendama that you can purchase right now for 1,000,000 yen, or around $9,364 USD.

Of course, getting started in the game is a lot easier than buying a Louis Vutton branded toy.  You can easily get a simple one for about $10 on Amazon.

Features of a Kendama:

  1. Kozara: The left cup, the smallest size

  2. Ozara: The right cup, the biggest one

  3. Point: You should know what a point is

  4. Ken: The main body stick

  5. Chuzara: The bottom cup, the medium size

  6. String: Attaches from the midpoint of the cups and point to the ball

  7. Ball: Attached to string on one end and has a hole on the other to land atop the point

Origins

There seems to be quite a bit of debate surrounding where, exactly, the Kendama came from. There is a French version that seems to have origins as the predecessor to the current version: called the Bilboquet, it was played with a stick with two cups on either side, and the player would attempt to land the ball in the cups, then flip it over and try again.

Fun fact: the Kendama started out as a drinking game

Historical artifacts point to Greece or China as the inventors of the style and shape we’re more accustomed to today. However, the version that has become popularized in Japan today is believed to have arrived in Nagasaki during the Edo period, or sometime between 1603-1868.

Top 3 Basic Techniques to Play

First off, not only are there dozens upon dozens of ways to play, there is also a Japanese Kendama Association that will vote on and recognize specific techniques. So pick whichever tickles your fancy, or try one of these standard techniques.

Ozara, Chuzara, Kozara

  1. Start with the ball hanging on its string below the stick

  2. Quickly flip the ball into the air

  3. Catch it in one of the cups

  4. Repeat with each cup

  5. Tip: Bend your knees & treat the ball like an egg (ie be gentle)

Tomeken

  1. Start with the ball hanging down

  2. Quickly flip it up

  3. Attempt to catch the ball in such a way it’s hole lands on the point

  4. Tip: Try not to laugh at the previous sentence, and also keep the ball’s hole facing down when you pull up

Hikoki

  1. Hold the ball (what, not the stick? Yes. Just do it.)

  2. Swing the stick out & away from you

  3. Attempt to catch the point of the stick on the hole in the ball

  4. Tip: Knees flexible, swing the stick in an arc motion

Master Level: Around Japan

  1. Hold the stick in the point grip (underneath the big cup, point directed upwards)

  2. Ball dangling below

  3. Catch it on kozara, then toss and catch it on the ozara (or reverse order, whichever works for you)

  4. Then perform the Tomeken, but from its placement in the cup

The best food scales and why you should be using them

You may have gone most of your life cooking without a food scale. That’s fine, you can get by without one. But if you learn how to use a food scale, you can take your cooking to the next level in a number of areas. First, a scale is essential if you’re into baking. If you’re doing barbecue, fried chicken, egg salad, sure, you can go ahead and eyeball your measurements. Cups and spoons will work just fine for soups and stews. But baking is one part cooking and one part chemistry. Getting those measurements precise, like down to a half a gram precise, is essential for ensuring just the right degree of fluff in your cakes and pastries. Second, a food scale is absolutely necessary if you’re trying to manage your portions, as it allows you to measure food that has already been prepared. You’re not going to cram a slice of lasagna into a measuring cup to see how much you have, but putting the piece on your food scale will let you know exactly how much food you’re eating.

With that in mind, here are three of our favorite food scales available today, and why we love them:

Budget Choice: Ozeri Touch

The Ozeri Touch line is great for a few reasons:

  • It’s affordable
  • It’s slick
  • It’s portable
  • It’s easy to use

This might be the best starter scale on the market in terms of value. An excellent digital food scale with a simple two button interface and a precise, sensitive weighing mechanism.

The design of the Ozeri Touch is very nice, with a slick, tempered glass surface and a lean build. The scale can be tucked away in any drawer in your kitchen. It’s about as thick as a magazine so you could even tuck it away on a bookshelf. The tempered glass is very durable, so combined with the small size, this is one of the most portable food scales available. Whether you’re attending a culinary academy, heading to mom’s to help with the holiday dinner, or you just like keeping your food scale on you when traveling, it’s easy to put the Ozeri Touch in your backpack or suitcase for easy transport.

For many users, the Ozeri Touch might be the only food scale you ever need. It can weigh food up to twelve pounds, and down to 0.05 ounces.

One downside to this scale is that is usesIt uses Lithium 3V CR 2032 batteries that seem to drain pretty quickly. This should be a factor when deciding on a food scale – especially if you are using it often. 

Natural Elements Traditional Balance Scales

If you wanna go old school, Natural Elements produces some of the best traditional food scales available. There are some downsides to going “analog,” of course. You’ll have to learn how to read a food scale, you’ll need a lot of counter space, traditional scales are more expensive, and the scale is anything but portable. But old school food scales provide a reliable sense of accuracy that digital can’t match. And it’s fun. Plus the added benefit is it will never run out of batteries like a digital food scale.

Our Choice: OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Scale

Durable, easy to read, easy to use, stainless steel, cord-free and incredibly precise.

The Good Grips scale is a little pricier and a little less portable than the Ozeri Touch, but it’s built to last. It is difficult to break this thing even if you’re trying. This is the kind of scale you’d stock a kitchen in a restaurant with, a device that can weigh hundreds of items in a day and stay in one piece.

The truth is that any of these scales will get the job done. The real tie-breaker? What goes best with your decor.

How to Make a Budget Plan: A Beginner’s Guide

Finances and budget planning aren’t the preferred topic of conversation for many people, but it is one of the most crucial. A 2013 Gallup Poll showed that only 32% of Americans prepare a detailed budget plan. With how much money Americans spend on dining, entertainment, and shopping, it’s remarkable how few of us keep a budget.

Outside of simply staying on top of expenses, there are a number of other reasons to create a budget. Budgets build wealth, help get out of debt and realize unnecessary expenses, and they’re a guide to saving for the future.

It’s common for people to spend money on things that they don’t need. Whether that be a large purchase like a new car, or a small purchases that we make on a daily basis, like coffee and lunch at a restaurant. Many of us never realize how much these expenses add up, because we never keep record of them.

These actions forces many people to overdraw on accounts, max out credit cards, accumulate large sums of debt, and never implement a financial strategy. This is no way to live. Once you’ve decided to create a budget, the process is rather easy. Here’s how.

Two Budget Options

You have two primary options for creating a budget: either a manual or an electronic budget. A manual budget means that all budgeting information will be filled in yourself, using either physical documents, online spreadsheets, or phone applications – like EveryDollar or Mint.

The second option, an professionally managed budget budget, implies that a third party will be creating a budget for you. In this scenario the third party is the primary source for calculating your budget. This is a useful option for those who want to save time and don’t trust themselves budgeting, but third party sources cost money, money that you may not have in your budget, or that you don’t want to spend. But don’t worry just yet, like we said, budgeting is easy. You can avoid having to use a third party.

Starting Your Budget

Once you’ve decided to start a budget, a few simple steps will place you on the right track to financial literacy and useful planning.

Step One

Start by knowing how much money you have in all of your accounts: checkings, savings, investment, and any other financial account. Here you will establish how much money you actually have.

Step Two

You’ll need to determine how much money you make a month. For people who work salaried jobs, this will be rather easy, but those whose jobs provide infrequent incomes will have to calculate differently.

If you don’t have a salaried job, calculate the average of the last 6 to 12 months of income and use that figure. To be even safer, choose the lowest monthly amount you earned in the last year as the average. It’s always best to underestimate and have spare money than it is to overestimate and be short on funds.

Step Three

Now it’s time to take a look at monthly expenses. On this step you’ll need to list all of your fixed expenses, which are non-discretionary expenses (the expenses that you have to pay every month.)

Items that are included in these expenses are debts, rent and mortgage, gas, water bills, groceries, car payments, and student loans. Every single bill that may be owed during a month should be included here.

Step Four

This step is one of the most important on this list—setting financial goals. Here you will determine what spending is important to you, so that you can prioritize and avoiding going about with your current spending habits.

Start writing out your financial goals. Write these the same way you would write common goals. Do you want to save a certain amount of money? Are you aiming to get out of debt? Are you saving for a child’s college tuition or other major life expense?

Think about the results that you are aiming after and write them down. When you’re setting these goals you have to look at your ideal scenario and compare it to where you currently are. It might be unlikely to reach your long term goals in one year, so you’ll simply need to set shorter term goals.

Step Five

The best way to start moving forward with these goals is to begin to think of them as monthly expenses and adding them to your list of expenses. Is your goal to save for a child’s college tuition? Add an expense line of the amount of money you would like to save each month.

(Though these aren’t truly expenses, this tactic will trick you into putting this money aside every month to save.)

Once all of your expenses are tallied, including your non-discretionary payments and the money you’ll be aiming to save a month, start tallying up your discretionary expenses, which are expenses that you don’t have to make every month. These are items such as entertainment, vacations, clothing and other purchases, eating out, et cetera. This section of your budget should be adjusted to reflect what you can afford.

Remember that these discretionary expenses come after all bill obligations, because financial health always comes before fun, entertainment, and non-life essentials.

Step Six

This step is the hard one, because here you’ll see where you stand financially.

Here you’ll subtract all of the expenses that have been tallied from the income that you make.

If the resulting number is positive, it means you make more money than you spend. This scenario provides some leeway to place more money into savings account, debt payment, or an extra vacation if you so incline.

If you end up with an even number, it means you budgeted an exact amount, and you have no more or less money to use or lose. In this event, you should remove some money from your discretionary category so that you have additional funds in the event that something unexpected occurs.

The last option is that you received a negative number, meaning that you spend more money than you actually make a month. This isn’t good. The solution is to decrease the discretionary and unnecessary spending, or to attempt to make more income with a new job, side hustle, or another source of funds.

Remember: Always make sure that your financial goals are met before you begin to spend on anything that isn’t necessary. The last thing you want to do is to be accumulating more debt. For example, you should never be going on a vacation if you don’t have the funds to do so.

Step Seven

The last and final step is to implement your new strategy, monitor it frequently, and adjust your game plan when necessary. You may encounter new expenses that you didn’t foresee, get a raise or promotion at work, or any other scenario that changes your income.

Staying on top of your finances and making sure that you are never negative or equal will allow you the leeway to make decisions and spend money if something is necessary or you really need a short vacation.

A great approach is to schedule a time every week that is set aside just to evaluate your budget. Here you can make sure that every goal is met, nothing unexpected has occurred, and even plan for future ways to use money.  

Additional Budget Help

If any additional help is needed, you can consult a financial coach or planner, take a budgeting class, or even indulge in podcasts, books, or other resources to further your knowledge on how to work a budget.

Remember, Anyone Can Budget

Some of this information may seem difficult and you may be working with many variables, numbers, and even family members who aren’t trying to stick to a budget. Always remember that you aren’t the exceptional case that simply can’t budget, everyone can do it!

Budgeting only requires practice, discipline, and patience. You may not succeed the very first time you start budgeting, but you’ll begin moving in the right direction and building good habits.

Don’t give up on your budget if you make some mistakes, or if new expenses arise and wreck havoc on your plans. Do the best that you can, and before you know it, you’ll be teaching your friends and family how to budget too.

The Most Expensive Bonsai Trees You Can Buy

The Bonsai tree is an ornamental tree (or shrub!) that is grown in a pot and does not grow to a full-sized tree. They are considered ornamental and artificially dwarfed. Bonsai is an ancient practice, dating back to many Asian cultures and especially in Japan, cultivating small tree growths into pieces of living art. Each bonsai is carefully crafted over decades to embody a virtue or share similarities with human nature. It is common to find award-winning bonsai trees described with sayings “male-like strength” and “powerful.” But what makes them rare and what makes them the most expensive Bonsai Trees in the world?

Some bonsai trunks are stronger than you are

When looking to buy a bonsai, remember: they’re living works of art. Some bonsai trees are hundreds of years old, and the care that went into crafting them will reflect in the price tag. In general, a beginner’s bonsai will run you around $20 at a garden center, and there are many tutorials online that will teach you how to craft your own.

If you’re insistent on shelling out the big bucks for a bonsai that someone else put all the work into, then here are a few things to look for in a quality bonsai:

  1. The more mature the bonsai looks, the higher the price, but sturdier the tree

  2. No sudden tapering – if the trunk has tapering, it was once a tall tree that has been cut down. A bonsai will have a smooth, uninterrupted trunk & taper gradually

  3. The older the pot, the older the bonsai – bonsai are not changed from pot to pot, so if the pot is antique, the tree will more than likely be very rare

Best Seller: $2 Million

In 1981, a 250-year-old juniper sold for reportedly $2 million USD.  

Runner-Up: $1.3 Million

The medal for the most expensive bonsai tree ever sold is currently held by a centuries-old Pine that sold for $1.3 million at the International Bonsai Convention in Takamatsu, Japan.

Bronze: $900,000

Third place goes to a hundreds of years old bonsai that was recently on display (and for purchase) at the 8th World Bonsai Convention in Saitama, Japan.

Honorable mention: $90,000

The honorable mention goes to a small, beautiful bonsai that is very old. The trunk is the real showrunner here.

Prices for the rest of us

If you’d like to start to cultivate your own bonsai tree, well-known bonsai blog and enthusiast Bonsai Empire has a starter kit for $39.99. The kit comes with a three-year-old juniper, and the materials you need to begin caring for a bonsai. If you’re a fan of things being delivered to your house (I mean, who isn’t?), this Fiscus Bonsai is about $745 from Amazon. Of course, if you want to go for something one-of-a-kind, check out Bonsai Boy’s One-of-a-Kind Bonsai collection, including this $12,000 Trident Maple Bonsai Tree.

If you’d like to learn more about Bonsai trees, check out Bonsai Empire, and the website of master grower Kunio Kobayashi.

In terms of growing and cultivating your own bonsai tree, here are some tips for the best life for your bonsai:

  1. Trim your tree often

  2. Water the bonsai frequently based on the type of tree and your environment

  3. Fertilize the bonsai regularly, using nutrients specific to the bonsai’s needs

  4. Re-pot the bonsai as necessary, when it has become root-bound or needs the soil refreshed

  5. Keep the tree in a location that will encourage growth and longevity

  6. Learn how to style it properly, using bonsai-specific pruning and wiring techniques

  7. Select the right tree species for your environment. While the juniper and fig tree are the most common types of bonsai trees, there are many other kinds that might be better suited to your environment. The atmosphere, sea level, humidity, soil concentration, and more factors should be weighed when growing or maintaining your own bonsai tree

Easy Exercises for Your Home Workouts

Modern life is hectic. We’re faced with a constant stream of activities, responsibilities, work, and if you’re a parent, the obligations are even greater. With so much going on a daily basis, finding the time to head to the gym or take a fitness class can be difficult.

Fortunately, there are a number of home workouts that you can begin to implement into your routine that are not only time efficient, but will get you in as good of shape as the workouts you would do at the gym.

The Workouts

The vast majority of exercises done at the home are either full body workouts or they need minimal equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, pull-up bars, or a yoga mat. If you have a treadmill, spin bike, or other gym equipment at your home, you’ll be even further equipped to have an extensive workout. But since gym equipment isn’t common in most homes, we’ll take a look at what you can do to bring the gym experience to your house.

Quick Tip on Number of Sets

We recommend doing one to three sets of each exercise, with some minimal rest in between to catch your breath and get a drink of water. When you finish all of your sets on each exercise, you through the entire workout again, creating a sort of circuit training.

Chair Dips

Perform this exercise by sitting on the edge of a sturdy chair with your hands next to your hips while holding yourself up on the chair. Slide off of the edge of the chair to bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle, and then push back up. Keep your back as close to the chair as possible and repeat the movement.

Chair Squats

This exercise is performed similar to a normal squat, but with a chair underneath you for support. While standing in front of a chair, with your feet hip-distance apart and toes forward, begin to lean your chest forward and squat down to the level of the chair. Tap the chair with your behind without sitting down, and repeat the process. Correct squats should have your weight remaining in your heels, and your knees should remain over your toes.

Abdominal Work

There are a number of abdominal workouts that can be performed at the home: butterfly abs, crunches, sit-ups, v-ups, leg lifts, oblique crunches, and planks. Combining these exercises will create the best results.

Planks are a popular abdominal work out because they use the entire body while targeting the abs. Mix and match different ab workouts into sets of three with 10 to 20 reps for each set.

Push-Ups

The push-up is likely the first exercise that comes to mind when anyone thinks full body workouts at home, and we can all recall the angry drill sergeant from military movies that barks orders for his soldiers to perform push-ups.

Push-ups are a phenomenal home workout because they work the triceps, pectorals, deltoids, and your abdominal muscles all at the same time. There are a few variations of push-ups that you can implement: wide, close, butterfly, and others.

Once you become more advanced and want to test your push-up skills, you can even attempt one-handed push-ups. Push-ups are a great way to begin and end the day. You don’t have to devote your entire workout to push-ups, simply do a few sets of 10 to 20 in the morning and a few at night.

At Home Cardio

Many people’s favorite workout is cardio and conditioning. Though cardio workouts can be difficult in the beginning before your body is adjusted to them, they are an effective way to burn fat and build stamina. In large amounts, cardio can burn muscle, so it’s important to combine cardio routines with strength training.

The great thing about cardio is, the only equipment you need is a good pair of running shoes. Effective cardio can happen in a number of ways: sprints, long-distance running, running up stairs, or a combination of all of these exercises.

Use run tracking devices to map your results and the distances that you run. If you’re new to cardio, remember not to be discouraged by your time or distance. The only thing to focus on is keeping one foot in front of the other for as long as you can, and creating realistic goals for yourself. It might not be reasonable to aim for a three mile run, but one mile and a closing set of sprints with a combination of body workouts might be the perfect routine for you. Runs are popular ways to begin a morning, because they get a workout out of the way and set the tone for the rest of the day.

Step-ups

Using a sturdy chair or platform, perform a step up by simply stepping onto the platform with your left leg, then returning down. Follow by stepping on the platform with your right leg, and then returning down. Your chest should remain lifted as you switch sides. Once you become stronger and more comfortable with this exercise, you can add weights, or even begin to jump up on the platform to do what is known as a box jump.

Grab a DVD

Workout DVD’s and tutorials are a great option for people who want to feel as though they are attending a workout class from the comfort of their own home. A number of body-weight circuit training options are available, as well as pilates, yoga, cardio kickboxing, and other workouts that will require minimal equipment. These workouts can be done at your home and at your own pace. Best of all, they can be revisited and you won’t have to create your own workout routine.

Pull-Ups

Pull ups are one of the most efficient body-weight exercises, and they are done by simply purchasing a pull-up bar. With a pull-up bar you can perform close-grip, normal grip, or chin-ups. If you have experience in fitness, you may be able to perform pull-ups with ease, but many people struggle initially. Perform as many pull-ups as you can, or do periodic sets during the day until you’re able to build muscle and improve at the exercise.

Mix and Match

For the best home workout results, mix and match the exercises above. Perform a combination of strength training like push-ups, pull-ups, and others, combined with cardio and flexibility training. Give your body different exercises so it isn’t getting accustomed to the same routines, and always allow your body sufficient time to rest.

Start Slow and Work Your Way Up

A home workout can be just as taxing as a fitness class or exercise at the gym. If you’re new to fitness, once the initial excitement of exercising wears off, it can be easy to get discouraged.

Remember that these home exercises are difficult for people of every fitness level. It’s important to cater your workout to what you are currently capable of doing, and not get discouraged by slow results or difficulty. It takes patience, consistency, and discipline to stick with workout routines and see results.

When it comes to exercise, slow and steady—in terms of continuing at your own pace for improvement—truly wins the race. Keep at it, and always feel proud for every small win, even if it’s simply doing one push-up more than the day before.  

Pro-Tip: For even higher performance both during workouts and with diet, begin to take notes of how many sets you do, max amount of reps, time your workouts, and track what you eat throughout the day.

By writing things down you’ll better track results, progress, and you’ll have a clear view of what is keeping you down and hurting your performance or diet. Tracking results with a friend will create an even greater sense of accountability.

Harry Potter Halloween Decor: Floating Pumpkins

When you are looking to add a bit of magic to your Halloween decor, nothing beats a little inspiration from the boy wizard himself, Harry Potter. Usually, Harry Potter’s seasonal decor revolves around the Christmas season, however, in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone we got to have a glimpse of what Hogwarts might look like on All Hallow’s Eve. So we decided to take a bit of inspiration from the great hall and create a bit of magic ourselves with a few floating pumpkins. Don’t worry, this is safe for muggles and wizards alike – no wands required.

Step 1: Gathering your Pumpkins

Obviously in the Wizarding world they have enchantments that probably keep their pumpkins looking great all month long, but in the real world, pumpkins rot. So the main issue I found with this project was finding artificial pumpkins that looked great and also could be carved. Luckily I found some great ones at Target that are made of a stiff foam that could be carved relatively easily. They carry different sizes and Amazon has a few different options as well

The key here is to make sure they are artificial. Make sure they can be carved (and are hallow). Finally, make sure you like the look of the pumpkin.  Ensuring these three things will allow you to enjoy your magical creations year after year. You can get as many as you’d like to carve, but to get a good effect at least five pumpkins will work. 

Step 2: Drawing and Carving

Once you’ve collected your pumpkins, it’s time to draw their faces.  I tried to copy the ones in the Hogwarts dining hall with long grins, circle eyes, and a circle nose – though I think mine turned out to be a little more like Jack Skellington. Drawing the face and eyes on the pumpkin in pencil gives you a decent guide to go off of when carving.

Carving Foam Pumpkin

Using an X-Acto Knife, carefully cut out your design.  I find pushing the blade in at the corner and cutting toward the area that will be cut away the best way to get the cleanest looking design.  Please be super careful as cutting these things can be a bit difficult depending on the hardness of the foam. 

Once you cut away your design, you can use the blade to scrape up or clean up weird looking areas. 

Carved Harry Potter Pumpkin

Step 3: Wingardium Leviosa and Lumos! (Hanging and Lighting)

With some cool looking jack-o-lanterns, we can now make them float . Tie some crafting fishing line like this one found on Amazon around a small nail with a flat head (the head allows the the line to catch on to something). Then, push the nail into the base of the steam of the jack-o-lantern.  Cut the fishing line to the desired length and hang it from the ceiling using Command Strips Plastic Clips for easy clean up and no damage. Just tie the other end of the fishing line to the clip and stick to the ceiling.  

Varying the length of your line for each pumpkin will give the illusion a little more depth and visual interest.  Repeat the process with all you pumpkins until you have a nice grouping of floating pumpkins to enjoy this Halloween season. The last piece is to light them.  I used these LED paper lantern lights that lasted a couple days if you don’t turn them off.  They are small and fit perfectly inside the pumpkins I found. Before buying the LED lights, make sure you can find one that will actually fit inside one of the holes you cut into the foam.  

Harry Potter Floating Pumpkins

There you have it, your very own Hogwarts floating pumpkins! Now its time to enjoy some pumpkin juice and maybe even a little butterbeer.  Mischief Managed!

 

Neutralizing or Eliminating Pet Odor in the Home

The companionship that animals offer humans can’t be compared to anything. There’s a reason that dogs are called man’s best friend, and cat owners can attest that their feline friends are the perfect solution for entertainment on a slow Saturday at home. But with all of the upsides that animals provide, they leave behind traces of their presence that aren’t so welcome—their odor.

Pet odor is a nuisance for guests and homeowners, though some homeowners may become so accustomed to their pet-smelling atmosphere, that it might be difficult for them to admit that their adorable companions have some not-so-adorable downsides.

Regardless of how troublesome pet odors are, they can always be removed, but prevention should begin long before a problem arises. What’s important is to find solutions early and often, so removing a pet never becomes an option. That’s what is most important. Pets and humans are more than capable of co-existing, humans simply need a strategy.

Why Removal Matters

Even if pet odor doesn’t bother you or your family, stenches may prevent guests from wanting to visit the home.

Many people aren’t as pet-friendly as their pet-owning friends, and their accommodation is important to consider. When odor situations become extreme, some homeowners assume that the best solution is to stay away from their own homes, which should never be a solution.

Prevention Steps

Frequently Groom Your Pets

All pets should be frequently groomed. This includes washing, brushing, and constant cleaning to maintain smells.

Keeping pets clean doesn’t only contribute to a pet’s well-being, but it aids the health and cleanliness of everyone in the home. Simply remember not to bath pets too often, because too much bathing can dry out their skin and take away their much needed natural oils. Pets with dandruff or dry skin can also benefit from a shampoo with oatmeal in it.  For the ideal number of times to bathe and clean animals, speak with your groomer.

Consistently Clean Pet’s Toys and Personal Belongings

An entire pet’s environment should be kept as clean as possible. This includes washing pet’s bedding, toys, and other items every week. Homeowners should even clean areas where animals frequently lounge, and the plates they use for food.

Pet bowls are especially important to sanitize, because the smell can linger. Pets should also have their teeth brushed and mouths cleaned to get rid of germs.

 

 

Clean All Furniture

To clean the furniture in the home, take apart all pieces, including pillows, blankets, cushion covers, sofa chairs, and any other materials. Once furniture is taken apart, vacuum thoroughly, and finish by washing each piece of furniture.

For complete cleaning, get deep into furniture cracks and crevices to remove all hair and other traces of your animal. Once you’ve completed cleaning, you can flip around furniture pieces and place them on their other side.

Clean Cages

If you have pets like rats, mice, gerbils, ferrets, rabbits and others that live in cages and have bedding, these cages could stink up your entire house. Start by removing animals from their cages to thoroughly clean them. A thorough cleaning includes removing everything from the cage, cleaning all toys and bowls in the cage, and using soap and water to clean the bottom of the cage.

Cages should be filled with fresh bedding, and you should replace every pet item in the cage with a new or clean option. Once the cleaning is complete, you can safely return your pets to their cage.

Install Air Fresheners and Purifiers

Air fresheners and purifiers keep the home smelling fresh and take away most traces of pets. Visitors will hopefully remember your pets for their adorable looks rather than a lack of cleanliness or an odor.

Always remember to clean a purifier, because fur can collect in filters and exasperate persistent odors.

Keep Pets from Marking Territory

Tools can be sold so pets don’t attempt to mark their territory in the same spots. Sprays can be used to keep cat’s litter boxes as fresh as possible, but constantly changing a litter box is just as important. Baking soda is another crucial tool that absorbs odors and removes stenches.

Remember Common Home Maintenance Tips

Always vacuum the entire home. Pets leave behind fur, dander, mud, and traces of urine and feces around the house. Vacuuming can remove some of these traces in the home, but remember to vacuum every area: Floors, baseboards, carpets, rugs and mats, furniture, under furniture, cushions, and any area where a pet may spend time, like children’s room, living room, and garages.

For a really thorough cleaning and job, a carpet cleaning company that has an attachment for furniture may be the best solution. Cleaning companies are great at completing jobs that homeowners might not have been able to finish themselves.

Use Enzyme Cleaners for New Messes

Enzyme cleaners can clean new messes made by pets. Let cleaners soak for about 30 minutes, then use a clean cloth to blot dry the area. Enzyme cleaners are able to break down the proteins that are left behind in animal urine, bodily fluids, and biological stains.

 

Bigger Project: Homeowners can remove their carpets for deeper cleaning. Rugs and the padding beneath carpet retain a lot of pet odor.

 

Hardwood floor is easier to clean, but the process of replacing home flooring is costly and will take some time. Removing carpet, however, can make the home stench free.

Common Everyday Steps Make a Huge Difference

Many of the everyday cleaning procedures we embrace are useful for pet maintenance as well. Staying on top of their toys and personal items around the house, as well as monitoring accidents and pet activity can allow you to clean trouble areas when they arise.

Keep Windows Open

Fresh air can help send out bad odors. This small prevention measure is especially useful in the spring, summer and fall when open windows throughout the house create a breeze that blows fresh airs into the home and bad smells out. This step is also useful, because along with the fresh breeze, you can save on electricity.

Have a Cleaning Routine

Stay on top of messes that pets create, including frequent vacuuming, floor washing, laundry, and dusting. The more on top of pet messes you are, the better you’ll be able to take care of them when they happen and prevent them from building up. You never want to let a pet’s mess sit around before you clean it up.

Maintain Well-Groomed Pets

Along will simple steps to keep the home clean, follow simple steps to keep pets clean. Keep them well-groomed by bathing, clipping nails, and brushing their teeth. Remember that dirty fur, dirty nails, bad breath, and any traces of such can stink up a home.

Clean Pets Before they Return Inside

If a pet has been outside, always wipe their paws before they return into the house. Leaving a towel at the door can make this process easy. This process is especially important on snowy, and rainy days, or days where your animals get dirty while they are playing outside.

Reminder: Pet Odor Can Prohibit a Home Sale

If you intend to sell your property, take care of these issues from the start, and never allow them to accumulate. Always clean the home extensively once you’re getting close to your move-out date. Proper cleaning may even mean removing pets from the home for a few days, along with hiring a cleaning company to help with the job.

Pet odors are often pungent, linger, and prospective buyers looking for a home will lose interest if a property has hints of animals. Always beginning cleaning sooner than later, so that you never lose any value on your property.

 

Using Nature to Aid Your Home’s Natural Interior Decor

Have you ever found yourself back at your home after a weekend hike or camping trip and wondered, “how can I bring that natural environment to my interior decor? How can the peace and comfort of the outdoors be a part of my home?”

You might be reminiscing on the beautiful greenery, the flowers, the sights and sounds, and even the soothing effects of natural light and falling asleep without blue fluorescent lights and with the rhythm of nature’s clock. But there’s no need to worry. There are interior design lessons that you can both learn from nature, and implement at your home to bring some much needed peace and comfort to create a natural home decor. Here’s how:

The Things To Do

Start by Using Nature as Decorations

The natural elements that attract you to the outdoors don’t have to stay outdoors, you can bring them inside. Items like leaves, stones, twigs, and of course flowers, are useful tools for decoration.

Whether you want to create a rock garden, lighten up the home with flowers, or use acorns and twigs for entryways, the options are nearly limitless. One easy thing to add starts right at the front door. Hanging a wreath can add a simple natural decor to your entryways, bridging the gap between indoors and outdoors. Explore taking more pieces of nature and adding them throughout your house to expand from the front door to the rest of the home.

The Home Should Have Natural Colors

One of the reasons why people are so pleased with nature is because they experience the colors and lights of the natural world. These natural colors can have a dramatic effect on your mood.

The color green is a color that naturally provides rest and calm for humans, while pastels create relaxing energy, and bright colors cause excitement in the entire home. Perhaps add an accent wall with paint, or maybe throw pillows to bring a pop of color during the season. Use these colors in the home to make it feel natural.

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Invite the Sun and Natural World

Once you’ve taken the step of placing natural colors in your home, go one step further by embracing natural lights. Using bright and vibrant window blinds and decorations leading to windows, you can make the home appear very natural.

Open the windows and let the bright lights in. Avoid using fluorescent light bulbs that can cause anxiety and keep you up at night. At night, using warmer light bulbs that dim give your eyes a rest, and give rooms a more natural feeling.

Embrace the Details

In nature, every small detail matters. The smallest parts of the natural world contribute to the entire ecosystem to allow the system to operate. By embracing this same concept in your home, you can add unique and pleasant details.

It may be as something as a small hook near the entranceway, but this hook will impact the overall quality and experience in the home for both homeowners and visitors. 

Be Simple and Don’t Over Decorate

Though nature is extremely complex, many times it is extremely simple. Follow this example and make the home a simple space. Don’t over decorate or fill the room with too much furniture, gadgets, et cetera.

This indulgence in more will make the home feel over-cluttered, and it will complicate your life when it comes to moving. Embrace the idea that less is more. Especially in the home. You’ll feel less stressed by how much you own.

How About Some Change?

Nature doesn’t stay stagnant. The four seasons showcase the changing and differences that can be seen in nature. Why shouldn’t our home be the same? We all know that things can become rather stale if they are always the same, so let’s change it up!

Try rearranging furniture, replacing old furniture with new items. Even changing the books on the coffee table or other small details can change the entire feel of the home. Experiment and see how you can change the mood with some change.

As Nature Changes, So Should Your Home

If natural cycles are changing, why isn’t your home? Don’t leave your home the same year round. Change the decor as the seasons change. This will make you feel more in tune with the natural world, and the home will fit the comfort needed for each season.

If it’s cold outside, warm up the home with rugs, big blankets, simple white candles, and other accessories to warm up the home. If the summer has arrived, light up the room with transparent curtains, open blinds, and add some flowers and other summer-related accessories. You’ll be more than glad you’re home matches the season.

Plan and Decorate With Purpose

Everything in nature has a plan. The seasons, the way bodies of water flow into each other, and even the purpose for the various plants and animals that make up wild-life. Implement the same strategy with your home.

Have a purpose for where you place furniture, televisions, dining tables, and all other materials that will affect both your guests and family. If items aren’t placed in logical places, this could cause unnecessary stress and frustration in the home. The more functional and well-designed your home is, the more pleasant time you will have while you are there.

Natural Elements May Save You Money

Many natural decorating tools are less expensive than other alternatives. Picking nearby flowers or rocks will save you from purchases at stores.

Applying the strategies listed above of remaining simple and having a purpose may help you realize unique ways you can use your natural resources to decorate. Don’t underestimate the impact picking a flower from your yard can have on your home.

Natural Products are Durable

One of the pros of choosing natural items to decorate is that they usually last much longer. Items like marble, wood, metals and clay are all strong durable. They have the ability to sustain themselves despite water, and throughout various forms of wear and tear.

This means that these items are useful for families who have small children, frequent guests, or who often struggle with materials wearing down on them too soon.

Take Some of the Decorating Outside

The new changes don’t only have to happen inside, but they can happen outdoors too. Planting trees, taking care of the lawn, or even adding new furniture or a fire pit can change the way you interact with the outside of the home.

Some changes will be costly, but you can explore minimal additions to get the family to participate more outside and enjoy the fresh air and comforts provided.

A Few Items to Consider

We can’t provide you with a guide to decorating the home using nature without including some of the natural tools that can be used.

These devices vary, and you may enjoy certain options more than others, but here are some options: fur, antlers, flowers, cotton, trunk sections, twisted branches, seashells, agate, potted plants, stove poufs, pine cones, leaves, and many more. There are a number of other natural options that we did not mention, but these are a great place to start.

The Takeaway

No matter where you are, how you live, or what your preferred natural aesthetic is, there’s an option that will fit your needs. Whether you want to make the home feel as cozy as the mountains and implement woods, browns, and acorns, or if you want to bring some of the natural elements of the beach to your home, there is an option for you.

And the bonus is, decorating is a lot of fun. This is fun for the whole family and even guests who visit the home and see the new changes. Don’t underestimate the impact that decorating can have on your mood, how you interact with the home, or how likely people are to swing by to say hello.