For a majority of the country, January and February are a rude awakening into winter’s wrath. With snow and ice piling up, you may be tempted to turn to harsh road salt and other chemicals to combat slippery surfaces.
You’re not alone—but before you head to the hardware store, consider these green alternatives (the Earth and your pets with thank you).
Before the freeze
There are a few steps you can take before a winter storm hits to help prepare roadways and surfaces.
Cover what you can
Anything delicate should be brought indoors (or covered) before snow and ice falls. Lawn items like fire pits and furniture are better kept in the basement or garage, or protected with a plastic sheet.
Pre-treat your driveway or walkway
Spraying your driveway and walkway with a non-salt based de-icer is a great way to be ahead of the game in preventing a slushy and slipper mess.
Some alternatives to road salt are expensive, so instead of shelling out a fortune, there are plenty of other all-natural options you likely already have on-hand.
Driveways and walkways
Sand: While not the best at melting the snow, sand provides increased traction on surfaces, and can help your card from getting stuck in a snow pile.
Coffee grounds: Like sand, the grainy texture of coffee grounds works wonders at providing increased traction on surfaces. It also is slightly better at melting snow and ice because of its dark color (which attracts more sunlight).
Sugar beet juice: The juice from sugar beets is an even better ice-melter than salt, and is much easier on plants and metal surfaces.
Windows and delicate surfaces
Vinegar-water: Combine three parts white vinegar with one part water, and you have yourself the ultimate window de-icer. Spray on car windows if you’re in a hurry to defrost!
Pickle brine: It might seem like this isn’t a very salt-free alternative, and you’re right. But when mixed with water, pickle juice has a similar effect as sugar beet juice, only with less staining power, and is still safe for plants and animals (and won’t corrode sensitive surfaces).
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there a plenty of people finding a way to remove snow and ice inventively without the use of harsh chemicals. What’s your favorite all-natural ice-melting method? Let us know!
Winter can take a serious toll on your home if you’re unprepared. Luckily, these blogs can help you make sure you are prepared for all that this unpredictable season throws at you—no matter what part of the country you live in!
Most people have heard of the ancient Chinese concept of Feng Shui, but not many people know the ins and outs of the very detailed process.
It can be intimidating for someone unfamiliar, but once you’ve mastered the basics you can learn how to make Feng Shui work for you.
You can incorporate as little or as much of the theory as you want in your space, based on what you’re hoping to achieve—be it more light, better energy, or more open space!
There are three basic principles of Feng Shui that are important to master for beginners—ch’i, polarity, and bagua.
The idea that negative and positive energy are movable throughout a space is one of the most important principles of Feng Shui. Furniture, color, and other elements are key in pushing this energy along.
There are five elements at play in Feng Shui practice—water, wood, metal, earth, and fire—each has its own important role and meaning, and must be in balance to achieve good Feng Shui.
Cardinal directions are the last important piece of the Feng Shui puzzle, and are each assigned a particular area of life.
North: career (water)
North-west: helpful people (metal)
North-east: spiritual growth (earth)
West: creativity (metal)
South-west: love & marriage (earth)
South: fame (fire)
South-east: money (wood)
East: health (wood)
Put into practice
The bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen are among the most important rooms in your home to practice Feng Shui, according to tradition. In addition to utilizing the basic principles of polarity and bagua, ch’i can best be achieved through decluttering your home and bringing in plenty of natural light.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the various elements interact with one another. For example, wood supports fire, as fire supports earth, and water supports wood. In the same way, the elements may interact negatively with one another: earth weakens water, which puts down fire, and fire melts metal.
Whether or not the weather outside is turning frightful, add some warmth and spirit to your home this winter with these four fresh, simple themes. No matter which you choose, it will add a cohesive, seasonal style to your home’s interior!
Silver palace with a pop
Use mirrors to play up silver’s reflective sheen, and add a variety of bright, sparkling accents like crystals and glittery vases. For added contrast, mix shades of grey with a punchy pop of color like coral or rich fuchsia.
Details and color palette: Mirrors, glass, silver votives and trays, crystals,silver, white, grey, and a pop of coral/red
Outdoorsy and natural
Focus on the colors you see outdoors. This palette could change drastically depending on your location. From lush greenery, branches, and pine cones to starfish, seashells, and driftwood—bring the outside in, and pair with matte white accents.
Details and color palette: Anything from outside, wooden frames, white votives, lush greens, chocolate, and matte white accents
Warm, comforting, and nostalgic
Get cozy with a variety of candles that vary in height and intensity. Add a touch of nostalgia by using vintage ice skates and sleds for an outdoor display. Take advantage of texture with cozy sweater material, burlap, and branch accents.
Details and color palette: Sweater material, burlap, gold votives and trays, winter whites, soft creams, and warm golds
Playful, bright, and frozen
Perfect for kids of all ages. Have fun with characters like penguins, polar bears, and snowmen. Use your imagination by using jars filled with marshmallows and sugar cubes as decorations. Frame fun-filled photos of winter.
Details and color palette: Fake snowballs, bright bulbs, fun winter characters, bright aquas and blues, and clear-to-bright whites
Beer and buffalo hot sauce are simmered with garlic and butter in this wings recipe that’s perfect for game day munching.
In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, whisk together beer, buffalo sauce, butter, garlic, and brown sugar until simmering, about 4–5 minutes. Whisk cornstarch with ¼ cup of water. Pour in cornstarch mixture, and whisk until slightly thickened. Add in the Worcestershire sauce, and stir. Remove from heat, and set aside.
Heat oil in a fryer or dutch oven to 350°F.
Drain wings, and pat dry with a paper towel. Gently place wings into the fryer in small batches. Fry for 6–8 minutes or until crispy and cooked through. Remove from the fryer, and place in a bowl.
Toss wings with sauce, and serve with celery sticks, carrot sticks, and blue cheese or ranch dressing.
Tip: You can cook the chicken wings in the oven instead of deep frying. Preheat oven to 400°F, and cook for 12 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
*If using an air fryer, heat to 380°F, and bake for 15–20 minutes or until crispy, turning the wings every 5 minutes.
Try these beer and buffalo braised wings for game day, and be sure to snap a photo to share on social media with the hashtag #ALMbites.
For many the sights, smells, and tastes of the holidays instantly remind them of happy memories and make the season even grander. Gingerbread certainly falls into this category—and one place that celebrates it like no other is the National Gingerbread House Competition, which has been delighting competitors and visitors alike in Asheville, North Carolina, since 1992.
When this event started, though, it wasn’t a competition: the gingerbread houses were created for display. However, someone ended up asking who won, so a winner was declared.
Twenty-seven years later, a lot has changed—including a very specific set of rules now in place. For example, each display must be made of edible materials and constructed of at least 75 percent gingerbread. Entries sitting on their base can be no larger than twenty-four inches tall or wide. And, despite the moniker, you don’t have to create a house.
Competitors can enter their creations into one of four age-based categories: adult (18 and older), teen (13–17), youth (9–12), and child (5–8). The entries are then judged on overall appearance, originality and creativity, difficulty, precision, and consistency of theme. Thirteen prizes, worth over $25,000 in total (including over $10,000 in monetary prizes) are awarded: first, second, and third place in each category, plus one for whoever traveled the farthest. The adult category’s grand-prize package includes $5,000 and a complimentary stay at The Omni Grove Park Inn, where the competition is held.
In 2018, that was the reward for North Carolinians Julie and Michael Andreacola, who took top prize with their entry “Gearing up for Christmas”—which featured working gears made of gingerbread. Catherine Beddall of Ottawa, Ontario, earned second place with her intricate “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” clock, and third place went to Grier Rubeling, also from North Carolina, who created the whimsical “Reindeer Playing Poker.” The first-place teen winners, Courtland High School German Club from Virginia, won for the fifth time with its “Old Towne Trolley Tour.”
Beyond the Battle
Overall, the twenty-sixth annual National Gingerbread House Competition was another smashing success, with 190 gingerbread creations entered and the event being covered by media outlets like NBC, Food Network, and NPR. Every year, though, the competitors and The Omni staff both put a lot of effort into it, and it shows—in many ways.
“Five thousand dollars is amazing, but you don’t give that much of your life, your holiday time, and your passion if you don’t love gingerbread—and these people love it, live it, and breathe it,” says Tracey Johnston-Crum, director of public relations and community outreach for The Omni Grove Park Inn. “Some people dedicate four hundred or five hundred working hours to them. It’s similar to dog shows or horse shows or Comic-Con, where there’s almost a subculture; in fact, they created their own private Facebook group called Gingerfriends. They have to be part of this culture, and that passion shows in the work.”
Johnston-Crum concedes that, for this reason, it’s easy to experience the highs and lows with the competitors. “The hardest part of the entire competition is getting the gingerbread creation here,” she reveals. “Unfortunately, we’ve had a few that didn’t make it through the door. It is devastating, not only to the competitor but to all of us because we know the competitors. We have a vested interest in them—we’ve watched many of them grow up.” For such emergencies, The Omni has a triage area set up with things like royal icing and candies so competitors can try to fix their displays before walking them into the ballroom.
Specific rules also apply to the staff involved with the competition. “We are not allowed to pick up the houses at any time, and we are not allowed to move them for the competitors,” says Johnston-Crum. “But I do escort the competitors in because there are certain things in the hotel they have to walk around. And I like to talk to them and learn more about them.” The folks at The Omni also help the competitors by keeping the ballroom cold (which is better for the displays) and keeping the entrants anonymous for the judges.
Credibility and Validity
Judges have included renowned cake artist and chef Nicholas Lodge, who has made cakes for Britain’s royal family and is the call (or lead) judge, and Cheryl Forberg, who’s the nutritionist for The Biggest Loser and a James Beard Award winner. But others outside of the culinary field also judge. “We’ve got educators and authors. We even have Nadine Orenstein, who’s a curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and who’s one of my favorite judges. She looks for different things than the chefs may look for,” Johnston-Crum shares.
To help with the scoring, the judges carry flashlights so they don’t miss any of the intricate details the competitors painstakingly add to their creations. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Johnston-Crum reveals that “our experts know what people try to get away with, so Chef Nick always brings his tool kit so we can drill into houses that we have concerns about.” (And for good reason: one time they even discovered that a PVC pipe ran through the center of a piece.) The judges will also occasionally break things off to eat them, just to make sure they meet the edibility requirement of the competition.
But it was a new judge, celebrity chef Carla Hall, who may have made the most impact in 2018 by expressing just how impressed she was by the quality of the event. “Chef Carla told me, ‘I’ve never been to a food competition that took care of their judges, integrated them, and made them feel like they were part of the competition the way that you do.’ Our whole goal is to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone involved—that is truly what makes this competition different,” Johnston-Crum says. “So it was validating to hear her, coming in with a fresh perspective, say that we do it for everybody, not just the competitors.”
The Secret Ingredient: Joy
The National Gingerbread House Competition has become a tradition for many families, who come year after year to view the winning displays during the holiday season. “Most hotels empty out during the holidays, but we’re the exact opposite,” Johnston-Crum states. “We sell out every Christmas Eve and every Christmas Day. For many, Grove Park becomes Christmas personified.” The event also helps Asheville economically by drawing business from near and far, and The Omni’s holiday parking program gives a portion of the holiday season’s parking proceeds to the community. Over the past six years, over $430,000 has been given to local not-for-profits.
Johnston-Crum was there again this year, welcoming every competitor to The Omni for the 2019 National Gingerbread House Competition, held on November 18—with the winning creations to be on display through January 4, 2020. “The inventiveness and the passion impress me every year, but it’s also a hard competition. People take it very seriously, and we take it very seriously,” she concludes. “But we also truly believe that it should be fun and that everyone involved is touched positively by it. We want you to find that little piece of nostalgia that takes you back to a simpler time and rekindles something in your childhood that made you joyful—because, when you get down to it, that’s what gingerbread houses do.”
If you’re looking to lose weight or eat healthier, you should be reading the labels on everything you eat and drink. But it can be difficult to know what to look for and what all of the information really means.
A serving size tells you how much you’re consuming with each serving. So, if you eat two servings, double the nutritional values listed. Don’t just assume that there is one serving in every package.
A serving size tells you how much you’re consuming with each serving. So, if you eat two servings, double the nutritional values listed. Don’t just assume that there is one serving in every package.
Calories are a unit of measurement related to energy. When you consume more calories than you use, the excess is stored in your body, leading to weight gain. Only 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat.
Contrary to their reputation, fats are actually important nutrients. However, not all fats are the same. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the best choices for their health benefits. Saturated fats should be consumed sparingly, and trans fats should be avoided at all costs.
According to the FDA, most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron in their diets. Many foods that are high in these nutrients are good for your health.
cholesterol, and sodium.
Eating too much of these nutrients may increase your risk of certain chronic conditions, like heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure. Limit your intake to the recommended daily values listed on the food label.
It’s important to look carefully at the ingredients list. Foods with less than half a gram of trans fat per serving can be listed as 0 grams of trans fat. But if the ingredients contain the term “partially hydrogenated oils,” the food has trans fat. Added sugar can also go by other names, including high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, and dextrose, among others. Also keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of prominence in the product.
We all want to gift our loved ones something special for the holidays. But even if your heart says give, your wallet could be saying otherwise. It’s a challenge to know how to divvy up your spending, but if you want to come out of the season stress-free, let this strategy be your guide.
Step 1: Take stock of your financials. Before making any purchases, it’s important to figure out how much you can realistically spend without breaking the bank. Take a look at your bank account, and settle on a total that won’t leave you in debt well into the New Year. Once you’ve figured out a comfortable amount, you can take your budget one step further.
Step 2: Decide who, and how much. As much as you might want to give your best friend’s mom’s puppy a gift, it might not be in the budget. Make a list of the most important people to give gifts to this year (e.g. mom, dad, siblings) and decide on how much to spend on each of these individuals. When choosing how much to spend, think about how much these people are likely to spend on you, and plan accordingly.
Step 3: Search for the best deals. Don’t hit the store until you’ve scoured the internet, newspapers, and mall kiosks for coupons. Most malls will have special coupons for customers this time of year, on top of a store’s additional holiday sale. Also, don’t forget to check your inbox. First time shoppers can often receive discounts, or a coupon code, which could get you a certain percentage off for shopping in-store.
Step 4: Keep track of what you buy. Especially if you’re using credit cards to make the majority of your purchases. Be sure to keep all of your receipts, as well as asking for gift receipts so that people can take back what they don’t need or want. If using cash, don’t take out an excessive amount over your budget. It’s OK to have some extra for a little leeway, but too much more and you’ll likely find yourself giving in on all of the latest deals.
Don’t start your holiday shopping without this budget-saving guide—your loved ones and your wallet with thank you.
When weather turns cold, it’s not just rough on us. Snow, ice, and cool air can all do a number on our cars, too.
Though you might not be able to stop Mother Nature from unleashing harsh weather this season, you can make sure you’ve done all that you can to make sure your car comes out of winter unscathed.
Look it over
Channel the first time you ever saw your car, and do a thorough inspection to identify any cracks, dents, or other obvious signs of wear and tear that could worsen under severe weather conditions. Depending on where you live, it’s a good idea to start this process in October or early November.
If you do notice a crack in the windshield or peeling paint, be sure to have it repaired immediately.
Take care of the tires
Tires are one of, if not the most important piece of the car to pay attention to before winter weather strikes. Your tires will help carry you over ice and snow, so you’ll want to be sure they are in proper working condition.
If you live in an area with particularly rough winters, consider buying specific winter tires that handle well on icy roads. Tire pressure also tends to drop during winter, so routinely check your pressure and refill tires as necessary.
Repel road salt
Cities and townships may start salting the roads as early as October, depending on where you live. Road salt isn’t like regular table salt—it’s full of melting agents that, while working to remove ice from roadways, can also remove paint and wear surfaces of your vehicle.
By applying a layer of wax to the bottom half of your car, including on the grille and wheel wells, you can prevent these small salt pebbles from staining and scratching.
Expect the unexpected
You should have an emergency kit in your vehicle for all seasons, but especially in winter, when the reality of skidding off the road and being stuck in freezing conditions increases.
Stock your kit with water, a flashlight, flares, a first-aid kit, warm clothing, a small bag of sand, an ice scraper, and non-perishable snacks to make sure you are well-prepared.