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Featured Articles

Fogging of insulated windows.

Our home inspector reported that three windows in our 9 year old house had fogging insulated panes, and he suggested that we contact the builder or manufacturer for warranty information.

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Q Our home inspector reported that three windows in our 9 year old house had fogging insulated panes, and he suggested that we contact the builder or manufacturer for warranty information. We contacted the manufacturer who sent a man out, but he said that only two of the windows were fogged. When we called the inspector, he said that insulated windows will fog only under certain conditions, and that we look at the windows at the same time of day that they were inspected. Is our inspector a bit foggy in the head?

A It has been my experience that insulated window panes, when the seal is broken, will fog only under certain conditions. The two pieces of glass in a double-pane window have an inert gas between them which is held in place by a seal. This thin space of gas is what allows the windows to slow down the transmission of heat or cold. When this seal is compromised, ordinary air is allowed to enter, and moisture may condense on the inside surfaces of the glass. These types of windows are most likely to fog on a winter morning a short time after the sun hits them. The outside of the window has been cold overnight, and the inside has been warm. When the sun hits the cold outer glass, moisture condenses and the foggy appearance occurs. A few hours later, as the temperatures stabilize, the fog may disappear altogether. In this case, the inspector was correct to suggest that the windows be inspected under the same conditions. In the case of your 9 year old house, your windows may still be under warranty. The earlier versions of insulated windows were somewhat prone to failure, but technology has steadily improved, and today’s windows are much more reliable. Warranties have gotten much better as well, so it you have foggy windows, check with the manufacturer to see if you can have them replaced under warranty.

Gardening

Tools & Resources Online

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Garden (noun): a) plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated b) a rich well-cultivated region c) a container (as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants [Merriam-Webster Online]. As seen in the preceding definition, gardens can be functional providing herbs & veggies or they can be landscaped areas of beauty with flowers and other cultivated plants. Whether for an apartment with window boxes and porch containers or a house with acres to play, everyone can create a garden if they want one. There are many wonderful resources online that can help those who want to add plants around their home environment.

First we collected some good, free, online landscaping planners that help you plot out your yard and garden before you plant a single seed. Most come with some plant information but we have also collected a list of plant reference sites that detail plant climate preferences, light requirements and much more. Finally, we have listed sites that offer ideas for unique and complex garden solutions or not so common alternatives to liven up your bit of green.

Part I:

Planning Your Garden Masterpiece Part of the fun of gardening or landscaping a home are the random finds at the local nursery. Ooh! That hasta is beautiful and would look great next to my window! Never mind the poor sage that now gets no light and begins to wither away! Granted this doesn't always happen and not everyone has the time (or the budget) to pre-plan and selectively purchase everything for their yard at one time. However, free online landscaping tools are easy to use and are a fun way to get a little more structure to your garden before you start tossing dirt around. Most of these planners are ideal for large scale sketches. Once the big picture is sketched out, you can more easily concentrate on the smaller parts of the project. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the plant choices and concepts you may like to try around your home. Having a plan eases the work of the anxious gardner working towards a larger masterpiece. Better Homes & Gardens Plan-a-Garden www.bhg.com Website: Plan-a-Garden lets you design anything from a patio-side container garden to your whole yard. Use your mouse to "drag-and-drop" more than 150 trees, shrubs, and flowers. Add dozens of structures like buildings, sheds, fences, decks -- even a pond. Homecheck Review: You must sign up for online membership to access, but it is free. Opening quick tips offers the only tutorial. Plants are more ‘cartoonish’ which makes it easier to draw out spaces but doesn't help the plant-challenged who may not know what the heck a real Heuchera looks like! There is a option for more plant info that offers info about temperatures and growth height; but very basic at best. I do really like the drag-and-drop with the mouse to place objects. Also easy rotation, zooming and hiding controls. Don’t forget to save your garden; one perk to having an online account is that you may save work on projects and come back to them later. gardenplanner www.smallblueprinter.com/garden/ Website: Arrange plants, trees, buildings and objects using an easy to use 'drag and drop' interface. Use tools to quickly create paving, paths and fences. Then produce a high quality color print out of your design. Homecheck Review: This is a paid program but there is a free trial version you may download to your computer or try online.This program is very basic with both objects and their shapes. This is a better concept planner where you can draw out what you want the yard to look like and then fill in plant details later. Program itself is easy to use, just click drag and click you objects wherever you want. Homestore.com The Garden Designer www.homestore.com/homegarden/gardening/tools/landscapeplanner/ Website: Homestore.com's Garden Designer is the easiest way to visualize the perfect outdoor design! Homecheck Review: There is a simple introduction to the program that gives information by answering common questions. There is no membership requirement to use this program. Like the others it includes a drag and drop interface. Objects are easy to size. Although plants are again clip art, they do offer more variation in look so it is easier to distinguish which plants you place on your grid. However, no information about plant lighting, size and other details are provided. Quick and easy to use, just have a good idea of your plants ahead of time. Lowe's Landscape & Garden Planner www.lowes.com Website: If your outdoor inspiration needs a little help, here is the tool you need. Use Lowe's Landscape and Garden Planner to help build the yard of your dreams. With our design tool, garden and landscape planning are as easy as clicking and dragging. Homecheck Review: This site does request user registration to use freebies. It offers free online newsletters at the time of registration and you can opt out if you choose. Once in the Planner there is a great opening tutorial - turn on your speakers as it is narrated! This program is easy to use with a point-and-click and drag-and-drop tools. When you begin your layout you will be prompted for width and depth of the lot and your region on the US climate map. Hardscapes or objects like your home, driveway and fence are basic images. Plants are listed by sun requirement and type. Plant pictures are basic drawings rather than real images which is not as fun to plan with for those of us with less plant knowledge. Nice features include the sectioning off of areas on the plan so you may work on smaller plots one at a time and printable shopping lists of of your design. NOTE: I used this site the first time a couple of months ago (1/05) and LOVED it, great detail and real images of plants! Recently when I reviewed it again (6/05) it was too simplistic and buggy - many of the radio buttons brought up 0 options to choose from when I logged in the first two times; at the third log-in things started working. And now cookie-cutter-clipart plants rather than images of the real thing? What were they thinking? Blah! Not sure what happened to this once awesome program? Still good and easy to use but not as stellar as before.

Part II:

Plant Reference Sites Solanum Tuberosum? I just wanted a potato... Sometimes the most frustrating or overwhelming aspect of planning your yard can be finding the right plants. Knowing your climate zone is only the first part of the battle. A plant's happiness in your yard will depend on sun exposure, watering, soil make up and all other types of fussy tid bits.Then there is the not so obvious questions of what will the plant look like in 5-10 years. Having a good book to flip through is a good start. The power of the internet is that you have the ability to refine searches and find new hardier plants that may not have been originally strong enough for your region. Below are some online plant guides that can help demystify the abundant world of flora. BBC Gardening Plant Finder www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/ Website: Look up detailed information about thousands of plants using our searchable database. You will find descriptions of the plants and tips about growing them. Homecheck Review: Okay, we know it is not local and there are certain quirks - using centimeters instead of inches!? But seriously, this is an easy to use database. The pictures are great and there are good short plant bios. Burpee www.burpee.com Website: The Burpee company was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by an 18 year-old with a passion for plants and animals and a mother willing to lend him $1000 dollars of "seed money" to get started in business. Within 25 years he had developed the largest, most progressive seed company in America. By 1915 we were mailing a million catalogues a year to America's gardeners. Homecheck Review: Granted this is a site interested in selling products. But the garden wizard is easy to use and full of good information and pictures. A nice feature is the ability to describe what type plant you need: sun, sow, height and difficulty. The search results come with pictures that may be selected for more detail. This was an easy tool for getting information about vegetable garden plants. Again, due to the fact that they are limited to products they sell not every plant out there will be available for search. Dave's Garden http://davesgarden.com/pf/ Website: Welcome to PlantFiles, the largest plant database in the world with 101,549 entries, 76,918 images and 45,373 comments. Currently entries are from 350 families, 3,587 genera, 22,207 species, and 68,483 cultivars. PF continues to grow through the collaborative efforts of 11,388 gardeners from around the world, most notably the Uber Gardeners. Any registered user may add new plants, images, details, comments, and ZIP codes. Homecheck Review: Finally a database worth checking out! Easy to search, great pictures, and great information about how to sow, grow and maintain the individual plants. An extra plus is that visitors may post comments about their experiences growing the plants listed. HortiPlex Database from Garden Web www.gardenweb.com Website: The HortiPlex database contains plant images and data as well as links to information sources, images and vendors at other sites. Searches may be limited to: just those records with images or links to images; records with vendor links; or, records of botanical taxa. Homecheck Review: Some of the plants listed have information in the actual database which is provided users who leave remarks and pictures. For the most part this database lists other listings out there that reference a particular plant. It is bare bones and somewhat difficult as it is not at first obvious where to click for more information. Disappointing in that most plants only have links to other databases. Would be much better if more users participated and left remarks about the plants they have used or know about. GreenPlace.com (Part of Home & Garden Showplace) www.gardenplace.com Website: Need gardening information and inspiration? Help is just a click away. Homecheck Review: Number of plants are limited to the more common variety. Probably based on what the store carries as well. Easy to use search - really like the show everything option. Nice pictures of the plants. Information for the individual plants is basic, similar to what you would find on the the plant tag at the store. Home Depot Plant Guide www.plant-guide.com/HomeDepotForm.asp Website: Get the information you need to design your garden like a pro. Find out which plants are right for your landscaping project or learn about a particular plant you purchased at Home Depot. Homecheck Review: This site is easy to use. I find doing a broad search by climate and plant category to give the most results. When doing a search like this the results can be substantial (in the hundreds!). Results include list of scientific and common names. Clicking on selection takes you to a more detailed description that includes pictures, scale, uses and much more. For an online freebie, I really liked the usability of this tool. Martha Stewart Living www.marthastewart.com Website: Finding plants for your garden is as easy as picking the features that are most important to you. For instance, for plants that attract butterflies, check that box and your Zone, and click on Search. Homecheck Review: The plant search is very detailed. You may also want to browse by plant type if you are still in the broader planning stage. Pictures are good, usually of the plant feature, flower or fruit). The detail about the plants is wonderful. Definitely a great resource about most plants out there. Another fun addition to this planner is the ability to search plants by 'theme gardens'. Great lists and good way to plan various sections of your yard. Plants Database http://plants.usda.gov/index.html Website: The PLANTS Database provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories. It includes names, plant symbols, checklists, distributional data, species abstracts, characteristics, images, plant links, references, crop information, and automated tools. PLANTS reduces costs by minimizing duplication and making information exchange possible across agencies and disciplines. Homecheck Review: It is not the easiest to browse this database. However, if you know what particular plant you are looking for it is probably in here. Plant information is more scientific. Some plants have pics and some do not. Best for general information about your plants but not necessary a gardening tool. Rock Garden Database www.kadel.cz/flora/kvSearch.html Website: Welcome to the Rock Garden Plants Database. It contains 11253 species with 560 photos and is still growing. For each plant you will find here known synonyms of its name, short description, territory and altitude of its natural location, size, color, bloom, if it is calciphile (Ca+) or calciphobe (Ca-), its type (rosette etc.), cultivation and propagation. Homecheck Review: This site is specialized but has some fun information. Not easy to search but fun to browse. A work in progress shows but still information about plants that aren't as common. MORE SEARCHING... Check out local nursery websites as well. Many of these sites list their plants with pictures and all kinds of good information. Plants will be limited to their selection, but it is another fun way to browse the possibilities. Part III: Unique & Complex Garden Solutions Rooftop need a bit of green? Want to soften and add a natural retreat to your patio? Apartment living have your options limited? No problem! These sites give great ideas for complex and limited spaces. They also offer ideas for container gardens or unique features that any home may enjoy. Finally, these sites also offer advice for various garden problems. We have collected a few examples below. Not every subject for each site is listed below; so take a look at the main link and see what other helpful treasures you may find. About.com-Gardening http://gardening.about.com/ Garden Pests: The following photos illustrate some insect pests and diseases you may encounter in your garden. Mole Control: Mole holes are unsightly on lawns and can be disruptive to the root systems of garden plants. Xeriscape Gardening: Xeriscaping was a term coined back in 1970s in Denver, CO, to mean water wise or water efficient landscaping. Better Homes & Gardens http://netscape.bhg.com/ Container Garden: Create a movable feast of color to match your needs -- whether you live in a country cottage or a New York sky rise. Water Garden: Use water to add sound, sparkle, and movement to your landscape. Wildlife Garden: Make your garden into a delightful refuge for wildlife creatures. Do It Yourself Network www.diynetwork.com/diy/gardening Condo Garden: Even those who live in apartments or condominiums, where space is truly at a premium, can convert a tiny area into an idyllic garden that satisfies the senses and soothes the soul. Container Gardens: Artist and gardener Keeyla Meadows enjoys using containers to experiment with plant textures and colors. Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard, explains how to use container plants creatively. Small Space Garden: Small-space gardening can be a challenge. This segment describes a small Chicago garden that had too much sun on one side and too much shade on the other. Urban Garden: How to transform small spaces into fresh, stylish areas of tranquility, using hip hardscapes and cold hardy perennials. Water Garden: Pond builder Richard Koogle of Lilypons Water Gardens offers advice on maintaining a water garden. Wildlife Garden: [Many subjects from attracting humming birds and butterflies to deterring deer from your yard with plant choices.] Environmental Design & Construction www.edcmag.com Rooftop Garden: The garden roof assembly or “green roof system” has been available in the United States for more than 70 years. Construction consists of two equally important phased applications: the waterproofing application and the garden assembly. The ultimate success of a rooftop garden depends largely on the proper design and installation. Garden Guides www.gardenguides.com Container Garden: Even the smallest patio or porch can boast a crop of vegetables or a garden of flowers in containers. Planter boxes, wooden barrels, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used. See other Tips & Techniques Organic Gardening www.organicgardening.com Organic Garden: We've gathered the basics of organic gardening for you here. You'll be able to find where to get your soil tested, learn how to manage pests without using chemicals, and read growing guides for vegetables and flowers. Conclusion The above collection of resources is only the beginning. Many more articles, blogs, photographs, and other tid bits about gardening are available on the web. Hopefully this article served to illustrate what a great resource the Internet can be when planning and improving your garden. We have covered landscaping planners, plant reference guides and various garden solutions from problems with pests to space. If you find some of the bits in this article resourceful, be sure to bookmark this page to review it in the future. Happy gardening!

A Greater Green Thumb

Make Your Garden Environmentally Green

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A Greater Green Thumb: Make Your Garden Environmentally Green We hear so much about "going green" in the news today that we sometimes forget that one of the best ways to be environmentally friendly is through a green thumb! Whether through careful design of a major landscape renovation or small changes to a few habits, making your garden green can be as simple or complex as you want. In fact, don't expect to make major changes in how you care for your yard overnight. Instead, consider some ideas you can implement now and then slowly add to them. As you begin to implement new gardening techniques you will also discover that making your landscape environmentally friendly is not just about saving mother nature - it can also save you money! Here are a few quick ideas to get you started on your new green garden: Pesky weeds: Yes, dousing them with weed killer is easier. However, most are not children, pet or nature friendly. Some old fashioned weed pulling can be great exercise or way to get the kids to earn their allowance. - Try to get weeds early in the year as this will mean less pulling later on. - Pulling a little at a time as you walk down a path is much better than a whole day of work. - Putting down mulch can help prevent weeds. - If you have an area that is overtaken by weeds instead of lawn, you might want to consider replanting the area with low native plants that need little attention. Return of the native: Using native plants in your landscaping is a great way of choosing plants that are accustomed to the climate and resistant to pests in your area. Although not foolproof, you will find native plants much easier to care for than many imports. - Also, many imports can be harmful to the native plants of the area. For example, English Ivy may look pretty when you care for it, but left on its own, it is a weed that quickly overtakes native plants and even trees! Research non-native plants beforehand to make certain they are not really noxious weeds for your environment. Homebrewed compost: Adding a compost bin is a great way to recycle food and yard waste and get something in return for it! Composting does take about 3-6 months before you get to use any results, but once you get the cycle going you will have a great way to decrease your garbage and increase your plants. - There are many styles of compost bins from indoor to outdoor, homemade to store bought - you can even find stylized ones that give character to your décor! - If you don't have a garden but have yard removal, check with your waste company's policies, many companies now offer to take the same items you would put in a compost bin (i.e. vegetable and fruit skins). They in turn use this to make compost for city parks. Even if you aren't using the compost, it is a great way to get this type of waste out of the landfill and to areas where it will be more beneficial. Harvest the rain: While your out picking up a compost bin, add a rain barrel too! These barrels can be placed directly under you gutter downspout or out from under the eaves. It is ideal to use the water regularly to keep it circulating. Overall this will help save on your water usage and bills! Water thoughtfully: Watering your plants properly will avoid unnecessary waste. - Use drip hoses for more even watering and to help decrease your water bill. - When watering plants, pay attention to their roots and water them before the sun is high so the plant has time to drink before it evaporates. - Using mulch around your plants can keep natural moisture in. Just make sure the mulch is not too deep and you leave some space at the base of the plant stem. Grow your groceries: What is more green then eating from your own garden? If you have never gardened before, start with a small plot and easier to grow veggies. For local advice, check out your neighborhood gardening associations which often offer free classes. Getting garden fresh foods on your table not only helps the environment but offers you better flavor and ease of mind as you know exactly what went into your produce. - Don't have a large yard? Urban community gardens are a fun way to build a sense of community, get free gardening help and again, harvest some great tasting produce. - Another way to garden in small spaces are through container gardens. Using containers to grow herbs and smaller vegetables like onions or spinach is a great alternative. - As you garden more, you will begin to start your veggies from seeds rather than buying starts at the store. When making starts of your own, use old milk cartons or other containers that you can recycle and use again and again. Invite the birds and the bees: Utilizing plants in your garden that are naturally appealing to beneficial insects and birds is a great way to improve the life of your plants. These good allies will help cut down on bad bug pests and can be fun to watch too! - Plant flowers and plants that are attractive to butterflies, bees and other naturally beneficial insects. Encouraging natural pollinators and cutting down your use of pesticides is a great combo for these natural little friends. - Some nurseries even sell lady bugs as they are a great natural defense for bug problems. - Invite birds into your yard with berry plants, flowers, and a water bath. Birds are some of your best pest reducers. - If you have berries you want to keep for yourself instead of the birds, there are safe netting options out there that don't trap birds but keep them off your berries! Plan your garden: As we have mentioned in earlier articles, planning out a garden can save you a lot of headache and money down the road. But it can also allow you to be more green. When planning your layout you may pay closer attention to what areas of the yard get more sun or rain and install plants that are suitable for different locations. - You can also minimize your gardening chores by planning certain "wild" areas or buffers using native plants that require little upkeep. Hardscapes: Finally, when planning or renovating your yard, consider the non-organic features. From the paths to the containers, consider what impacts the materials you use will have on the environment and your garden's health. - Recycled materials are becoming more readily available for constructing everything from paths to patios. Take a look at all the options and give these recycled materials a chance. - Try to get planters and containers made of recycled material. Some people get very creative with old items that they turn into planters (i.e. an old sink or wheelbarrow). - Try some of the new solar lights to add lighting features to your yard. They are earth friendly and can save you money! Useful Links EPA: Greenscapes www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/green/ Information about going green provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Includes ideas for homes, businesses and recreational areas. USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ "This section of our Web site will help you find your nearest Cooperative Extension office. The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices. These offices are staffed by one or more experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes." This resource will help you find state specific plant information. American Horticultural Society List of Mater Gardeners www.ahs.org/master_gardeners/ "The map below links to Master Gardener websites in the United States. Links to Master Gardener programs in three Canadian provinces are listed below as well. Clicking on the map and links below will connect you to some of the best, regionally-specific advice you can get on gardening." To find out more about classes, gardening tips and the best plants for your area, check out these state sites. Buy Green, Going Green, Green Savvy, Eco Products Green Cleaning Products http://www.buygreensavvy.com Quality green and eco friendly products at the best prices!

Famous Haunted Homes

Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall?

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Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it is a great marketing ploy for bed and breakfast inns and historical societies? Or maybe people are comforted or enjoy the idea of hauntings? Okay, so not all of us believe in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as unique as their "spiritual" residents. For a little fun and change of pace, we have compiled a short list of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back and enjoy a little Halloween-flavored fun and learn a little history too!

*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail!

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay, CA

The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there right? Anyway, Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963 the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live in which prisoners were there to be shut away rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.

The Haunting: This place was creating ghost stories before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something wants out... There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.

How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use different ferry system to the island. 

Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX

The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.

The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.

How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering. 

The History: Hannes Tiedemann built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that lead to jealousy and ultimately, to murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of misery from her insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.

The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps out in the corridor. There is also claim that the tower room where the "woman in black" can be heard choking. Lights also swing around and some objects have been moved or thrown.

How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored at one time they would eventually start tours to the building, however, nothing is posted on their website about this yet.

Heceta House - Yachats, OR

The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century.

The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house!

How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. 

Hickory Hill House - Equality, IL

The History: This house was built in 1842 by John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. It is also said that he would kidnap free blacks and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves where kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.

The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 and many claimed to hear the rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The home had the reputation that no one could spend the night. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.

How to see it: Currently the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and closed to the public. A grant was received in late spring 2006, hopefully it will be able to reopen soon!

Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO

The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history of tales also leads to the idea of more ghosts. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.

How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. 

Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA

The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to here recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one!

The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want...

How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! To find out more,click here.

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA

The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation.

The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim that there is a woman but she is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.

How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. 

Villisca Ax Murder House - Villisca, IA

The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly and lamps won't stay lit regardless that there is no breeze in the home.

How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.

Waverly Hills Sanitarium - Louisville, KY

The History: Okay, not a house, but since it has such a grand reputation of being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time and most of the patients who entered would die there. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred, some were beneficial and some were more brutal leading to tales of mistreatment and abuse. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.

The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and allowed into disrepair. Transients, vandals and kids would break in. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was not power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish activities. One specific spot, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.

How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.

Whaley House - San Diego, CA

The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school and polling center. It was also the site where criminals were hanged before the house was built. Once built, it also had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!

How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days. Their website has more details about times and price;

White House - Washington D.C.

The History: The White House became the home to our presidents in 1800 with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home and some have decided not to leave...

The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents that like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies that have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat which has been said to be seen before national tragedies such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

How to see it: Of course you can still visit the White House today.  Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA

The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces and various oddities such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.

The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. However, some skeptics in the ghost hunting world believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground. Guess you'll just have to go to find out for yourself!

How to see it: The mansion is open to tours today. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details or you can also do a behind the scenes tour to see how the house functioned. 

Back to School Basics

Tips and Tricks to Save $$

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In our area, the made-up snow days at the end of the school year made this past year seem long. Therefore, it's a bit jarring to be thinking about back to school supplies already. However, planning ahead can help prevent a lot of the headache in back to school shopping. Many times the quest for new supplies and clothes can seem like an endless scavenger hunt that quickly eats through money in the bank! Below we have compiled a few tips on how to keep the costs low, as well as things to consider when deciding on which supplies will best fit your student's needs. We have also taken a look at a few of the activities you can still be doing the final days of summer to keep your child's mind sharp and ready to jump into the next grade. Students on average lose a month of learning during summer vacation and can lose over two months of learning for harder subjects.* Luckily, there are ways to battle the summer brain drain while still having fun! *"Summer Vacation Slide" by Barbara Pytel

Back to School Supplies Armed with a supply list provided by the school, it is time to begin the scavenger hunt. As you look for supplies for your children, below are a couple items to keep in mind.

  • Waste Not, Want Not Take a look through left over supplies from last school year. Did older children leave something the younger ones can use? Where certain supplies never used or still have some life left in them? Do some supplies just need new batteries, lead, erases or other refills? Also, check older items that may be spruced up a bit with stickers, photos, etc. - it makes for a fun project for the younger kids and can help get them excited about going back for the next year.
  • School Supply Closet If you don't already have one, set up a supply closet/space where you can keep old and new supplies all year round. Here you can keep packets of pencils and stacks of paper or notebooks that you know will be used throughout the year. Buy commonly used items in bulk and you will save in the long run.
  • Collect Year Round Now that you have a School Supply Closet set up in your home, you can more easily take advantage of deals as they arise during the year. With a place to neatly keep school items you will have a better idea of what you need more of as you shop. Although Back to School sales can be good, you may find even greater bargains at the end of the season or during clearance sales.
  • "Ouch! My back!" Backpacks are often overloaded with school supplies and can cause back pain and muscle soreness for students of all ages. A backpack should only be 10-20% of the student's weight. If a smaller student is expected to carry a lot, then you may consider getting a rolling backpack.
  • "But everyone else has one..." The plaintive cry of so many children around the country. But be strong - get only what your child really needs for school. Get supplies that are basic and therefore timeless. Fancy cartoon or pop-icon covered supplies are short lived. If you do get them, only get a few that you are certain your child will use before they become "unfashionable."
  • Quality is still #1 You can shop cheap without going so generic all you get is poor quality. You don't want to buy supplies that will break, leak, rip, or fall apart before the end of the first week. (I still remember a black glued notebook I had in high school that literally just fell apart at the seems with paper scattered about the floor - not fun!) Make sure there is some quality in the products you buy. Keep in mind how roughly binders may be handled, how pens may be shoved at the bottom of a backpack and how that same backpack will be tossed, dropped, kicked, lugged, shoved and zipped/unzipped more times than worth counting.
  • Batteries not Included Avoid gimmicky and flashy supplies that twirl and light up. Teachers find these are very distracting in the classroom. If you do get a fun item like this, keep it at home where it can make the homework blahs a bit more fun.
  • Accounting 101 As your children get older, include them in the budget planning. Working together on budgeting for supplies will teach your students how to prepare and why all the flashy supplies may not be worth it. You will soon find your child will learn to appreciate the cheaper supplies so they may budget for one or two more fancy items.
  • Organization 101 Along the same lines as Accounting 101, sit down with your older children and take the time to recall what worked or didn't work last year for their learning. Did they find note cards useful and need more this year? Did color coding subjects help or would an all in one binder be more useful? Are they still struggling and need to try something new?
  • Munch a Lunch Increasingly, online access allows parents not only to review the menu but to check their child's account and upload more funds when necessary. Many schools are also adopting healthier menus. If you don't have a picky eater, this may be the most convenient option. However, if you do have a picky eater in the house or if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then packing a lunch is the better way to go. Buying food and snacks in bulk has decreased the grocery bills of many households. With a bit of pre-planning, you may actually save money if packing lunches with items you know your children will eat. For growing teenagers with insatiable appetites, giving them as many snacks as possible can help curb the fast food purchases and the extra expense of impulse hunger-buys. Packing Get a good, strong lunch bag. Brown paper bags don't hold up well and are not environmentally friendly. A good lunch bag will protect other items from spills and with a small ice pack can keep food at a safe temperature until eaten. Free Tupperware is good (i.e. sandwich meat containers) however they only have so long to live after being tossed around in a lunch bag. Good containers is a worthwhile investment as they will be used 5 days a week to pack a healthy and full meal! Munchies Include your children in planning lunches for the week. Do this on a regular basis as they may have been all about bananas the last two weeks but are now sick and want a different fruit or veggie. Find out if lunches are satisfying - are they still hungry or brining extra home? If they are brining a lot home, find out if they are preferring a food/snack served in the cafeteria. If you are trying to save money by buying in bulk, you may be able to buy this favorite to pack in their lunch or find a healthier alternative instead.
  • Free Shipping Shopping for school supplies online is not out of the ordinary anymore. Many office supply stores and their competitors are allowing parents to shop from the computer. Compare shipping rates - you might even get free shipping with purchases at a specified total.

Back to School Clothes Most kids grow out of their clothes and shoes at an amazing rate. Keep their closets full with basics and not the trendy fashion of the day. Keep clothes practical and you won't break the bank!

  • Basics, Basics, Basics Keep the clothes to the basics as much as possible. Going for trends and fads will only hurt the checkbook when your child refuses to wear them again. This doesn't mean you can't get trendy clothes if it fits your budget. One way to make this easier is to get your child involved in the budget process. Let them know how much is budgeted for the season and then shop together for some basic items while saving for a few "gotta have" fun items.
  • Playground Attire (At Every Age) Can you run, jump, play and have fun in those clothes? Make sure your kids try moving around in the clothes they want to buy. Oddly cut pants are no fun for young kids to play in and skinny jeans will not be as appealing to that middle school student once they try to sit in a chair hour after hour of class. Make sure your children on aware of the functionality of their clothing choices. Finally, make sure you check out what is allowed at the school. Funky, trendy, or skimpy may not be practical and they may get your child sent home too! Take care to read slogans on t-shirts, ambiguous language or even blatant references to questionable or illegal subjects (i.e. drugs/alcohol) may not be allowed as well.
  • Hand-Me-Downs (Even with the Neighbors!) If you have more then one kid, hand-me-downs can be great. Especially if you stay with the basic and timeless classics, it will be easier for the younger kids to use what their older siblings can no longer wear. With how quickly they grow through clothes, most of the clothes will be in great condition and you can't beat the price! If you don't have older siblings, consider roving the local garage sales. Or talk with parents at the school, some parents plan exchange nights where they all bring clothes their kids can no longer wear and exchange with each other - again, you can't beat the price of a good barter in kind!
  • Consignment & Charitable Stores Both consignment and charitable stores can offer a great way to fill your kids closet. Get your children involved. At the consignment store they can make their "own" money by turning in old clothes for cash or store credit. Going to charitable stores, children can learn early how to stretch their dollar. Especially when shopping for items they know they will not be using often - so they need a white dress shirt for choir but will only wear it one season - a charitable or consignment store is a great fit. For the really creative kids, this can be a great way to mix and match and create their own style for cheap.
  • Shop In and Out of Season Without a doubt the department stores and outlet stores will run great deals and back to school sales. But also keep a look out for seasonal closeouts. Items you may not use this year might be used the next - just be aware you may have to do some good guessing on future sizes! Again, when shopping seasonal or end of the year sales, make certain to go for basic and timeless styles - the trendy may be a good bargain, but may not be worn by a stubborn teen next year.

Back to School Learning As mentioned in the intro above, research has shown that children lose about a months worth of knowledge over a 3 month summer vacation. For more difficult subjects this loss may be even more. There are ways to keep your kids mind sharp and even learn new things over the summer while keeping it fun and relaxed.

  • Homework Hour Okay, I know we just said to keep it fun and relaxed...it still can be with a scheduled time at night for quiet "study" time. Try to leave an hour open twice a week (or more) for a homework hour where you and your kids play a challenging game, watch a documentary, quietly read, or they can play an educational computer game - there are many online covering everything from dinosaurs to foreign languages. It will help keep you child's mind sharp and attuned to concentrating on one task like they will have to when real homework starts again in the fall. Of course this is generally for the older student, younger kids wouldn't need to do a whole hour - something more comparable to what they do in a school activity. The idea is not to sit them down with a chart to fill in or tables to review. Instead, get them to apply some of their learned knowledge in an activity.
  • Summer Reading If not done during homework hour, summer reading can be done daily. Read to the younger kids, read along with the older ones and read quietly next to the tweens and teens. The idea is to again make the environment conducive to some reading time. Take a trip to the library once every two weeks to stock up on books. Perhaps an older kid might be interested in entering one of the many reading contests that happen every summer. Read the same book as a family and compare opinions. Read books related to an upcoming summer vacation. Read books with a movie fast approaching and compare them to each other. Read non-fiction books as well. Simply put - read!
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know Consider making national pastimes a chance to learn - How do fireworks work? What creates a thunderstorm? Why do we celebrate July 4th? Which constellation is that? How does a camera work - perhaps put it on manual and figure what different apertures and shutter speeds can do. Or turn a family road trip into a chance to learn a bit more - stop at a national park or try a different cuisine from what you get around home. Challenge yourself to look at items we take for granted as possibilities for learning and experimenting.
  • Did we say Experiments? What better time then summer to make a mess in the backyard. Make a homemade volcano, your own play dough, or put together a model car/airplane/ship/dollhouse. Get your kids involved in projects - perhaps you are doing a home improvement, although you child may be too young to help with the tools, they might be able to help you figure the square footage as you plan your project. Need help in the garden? Don't make them the "weed puller" - instead let them help you tend soil, plants, discover bugs, create a sculpture or taste some ripe berries off the vine.

Water Problems

Garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house.

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Recently I was asked to inspect a vacation home in North Carolina. The owners said that the garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house. What I found was that water was running under the walls of the garage and collecting in the storage closet area. Since the garage had been closed for about four months, the mildew problem was quite severe. The owners said that they had never had this problem before, so I started by asking them what, if anything, they had done to alter the lot drainage. It turns out that they had hired an architect to design a screened porch on the flat roof of the garage, and had hired a local contractor to build it. My first question was; did the original garage have gutters? They said that it had some kind of drain in the flat roof which drained the water off the back corner of the structure. The original garage did indeed have a scupper feeding into a downspout which drained the water downhill from the structure, but this was abandoned when the porch was built. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the water falling on the gabled roof of the new porch was draining along the sides of the garage and running under the old walls. They solved the problem by installing gutters along both sides of the garage with downspouts to channel the water away and downhill from the structure. Gutters can sometimes be difficult to keep clean, but they do a very good job of keeping water away from the house.