Home Improvement


I cannot think of summertime memories without thinking about front porches. Porches of my youth bring back memories of warm weather gatherings that included three generations of my family, and sipping fantastic iced tea with gram’s fresh mint floating in our glasses. It is where I met my friends each summer morning to plan the day ahead (that seemed to be endless) or just complained about being bored. Front porches of my youth will echo for eternity the question, "What do you want to do today?" and of course the following statement and question, "I dunno, what you want to do?" This is where all the important exchanges of my young world, which only included my neighborhood, took place. On gray, stormy days, these porches provided coverage to play board games and listen to portable record players and on sunny days they provided the backdrop for skimming baseball cards and marbles. It is also where the neighborhood moms kept an eagle eye out for all the kids…their own and the neighbors.

Much to my delight, porches are making a return to our new neighborhoods. Most new developments include home plans with big expansive porches, steering away from the elaborate tiered decks that became so popular in the seventies. Front porches are welcoming, a place to greet and entertain; while decks are tucked away behind the home for privacy and seclusion. According to Renee Kahn in her book, Preserving Porches, "Porches are as synonymous with American culture as apple pie." She also states that, "Ironically, the very social and technological forces that made them both popular and possible were eventually responsible for their decline". With the "American Dream" including owning a house, it is certainly understandable that the porch would be iconic. 

It is also understandable that as we became electronically social, in large part, through social networking websites that the appeal of porches suffered.  We perceived ourselves as being too busy and too worldly to enjoy the simple pleasures of stoop/porch chatting.

In an ‘Ode to Front Porches’ from the Christian Science Monitor… "The front porch wins converts as chatting with neighbors and watching storms brings connection."  After hosting visitors on their front porch during a thunderstorm, the author quotes his friend:

"You know, we’ve lived in our house for more than 20 years and you just talked to your neighbors more in that 15 minutes than we have in the whole time we’ve lived there."  

I am not certain whether we grew up enough as a nation to balance the simple pleasures of gardening, cooking and front porches with social networking or whether we woke to realize that the world is a bit scarier than ever before and that perhaps the people living closest to us are the folks we need to connect with again. 



Perfect Porches: Designing Welcoming Spaces for Outdoor Living (Hardcover) – Paula S. Wallace author.

According to The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place by Michael Dolan, the porch arose in a number of cultures including Greek and Roman. The Greek Partheon and the porticos of the Roman Empire.  In the 1600s it traveled to the New World on the backs of African slaves. The slaves were forced to build their own houses so they built small houses fronted by a roofed outdoor area to provided cool shade on hot days.


Outdoor furniture trends

Summertime in the northeast is such an anticipated season that we spend as much time as possible outside – lounging, eating and socializing – only to venture back in the house for a quick drink refill.

Since we’re outside so much, we need sturdy and durable outdoor furniture. 

Generally we chose pieces that match our personal style – from our clothing to the interior design of our homes. 

According to Abe Abbas from About.com Guide, "It is all about expanding the space you have and making it useable."  

Today, materials and outdoor fabrics are made better than ever. Textures that are being used outdoors were previously reserved strictly for indoor use. 

Teak has become the new "it" material. And it’s no wonder: it will maintain its look and character for many years, making it a smart choice, as well as an elegant one. According to Abbas, "It is resistant to weathering, rot and insects."

Wicker is a popular perennial favorite for good reason – its’ classic look is a quick way to dress up a porch, patio or poolside, and is very affordable.

Colors and patterns have also come a long way. Pastel blues, turquoise, browns, yellow and all different shades of green are very popular, as well as simple black and white. 

What are you waiting for? Get out and enjoy your space!


How to get the most out of entertaining

Dazzling guests with a perfectly prepared meal is always the goal when deciding to open your home to friends and family, but it sometimes can be a stressful experience. Following a few simple tips from a chef who knows a little bit about entertaining guests at high-profile events can help put you at ease when planning your next big get-together.

World-renowned chef and best-selling cookbook author, Chef Art Smith, is used to setting the stage and the table for some of the most influential people in the world after working as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for nearly a decade.

"The food you make is only part of hosting a successful event," says Chef Smith. "Planning ahead and taking measures to make sure your guests are comfortable are also key to making sure your party will be remembered fondly."

Chef Smith offers the following 10 tips for hosting a successful event at your house.

  1. Shop early and get organized. After you select the menu, get to the store and get everything you need well before you begin preparing for your guests. Lay out a schedule to get as much cooking and other preparation done as possible well before your guests arrive.
  2. Make sure you have the right amount of storage and your refrigerator has enough space to store ingredients, as well as cold items you’ll be preparing ahead of time. If you’re doing a lot of entertaining, you may want to consider a French-door refrigerator that offers a slimmer in-door ice maker, taking up less shelf space and providing more than just added capacity.  For example, the newest 4-door model from LG offers an ultra-large capacity with a slim in-door ice maker design that frees up additional storage space on the refrigerator door, providing more usable refrigerator shelf space (a plus when entertaining a big group).
  3. Serve what you know. While experimenting with your cooking on your own time is a good way to expand your culinary horizons, serving what you know you do well will save you stress and guarantee success when hosting that big event.
  4. Aromas make a good first impression. Having something tasty in the oven when guests arrive will fuel their appetite and set the stage for an exciting evening. 
  5. Meet and greet. Be sure to warmly greet each person as they come through the door to make sure they feel welcome.
  6. Promote good food and health. Update your recipes with healthy ingredients and fresh ingredients whenever possible. Guests will be doubly impressed when they find out your food is not only delicious but also healthy and nutritious.
  7. Think about drinks. Do some research ahead of time to pair wines, cocktails or summer coolers with the food you’ll be serving.  A fridge with an automatic ice maker is crucial for entertaining; look for one with an extra-tall dispenser area that can easily accommodate containers of all sizes including pitchers and coffee pots.  
  8. Don’t tie yourself to the kitchen. Prepare what you can ahead of time so you have time to socialize with guests and enjoy yourself. A refrigerator with double freezer drawers can easily accommodate larger items, making it easy to prepare entrees ahead of time and freeze them to cut down on preparation time closer to the event.
  9. Decorate beforehand to make your space as inviting as possible for your guests.
  10. Set the mood with music. Music can really help make the room come alive, especially when the first few guests arrive.

"Planning and organization, with lots of storage in your refrigerator, are really important for the successful hostess. And following all of these simple tips should make entertaining friends and family as enjoyable for you as your guests," says Chef Smith.  

In addition to these quick and easy entertainment tips, Chef Smith offers one of his signature recipes that’s guaranteed to leave your guests satisfied. 

Courtesy of ARA Content


Beautiful easy herbs

By Larry Sombke

If you are new to gardening and want to have immediate success, plant herbs. They are the easiest and most rewarding plants you can grow and come in handy if you like to cook or make tea. And, the deer don’t seem to bother with them. The only herb I have ever seen deer eat is sorrel, a lemony green leaf used to make sorrel butter sauce for poached salmon. Insects and diseases don’t seem to give a darn about herbs. You can even plant them in pots, better known as container gardens. 

When planting your herbs, keep these tips in mind:

  • Herbs like a sunny site, best with at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. 
  • They like a well-drained soil, which means no standing water in the garden after a rainy day. 
  • They enjoy a good garden soil rich in organic matter (don’t they all?), but they grow quite happily in soil that is rather gravely without too much organic matter. Think about where thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano and other popular herbs come from – the Mediterranean and western Asia – places with usually rocky, not-so-rich soil.
  • They don’t demand extra watering, just what nature provides. 

Here’s a list of herbs that grow well around here:

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – Native to North America and widely used by Native Americans, anise hyssop is a three-foot-tall plant with pointed green leaves topped with spikes of lavender-blue flowers in summer. Leaves make a great tea either fresh or dried. Anise hyssop is considered a perennial, but I have found it reseeds itself so much I can’t tell if it is an annual or a perennial. 

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Basil is a holy plant in the Greek Orthodox Church because it was said to be growing at the door of Christ’s tomb. But most of us use basil to make pesto or we chop it up and toss over pasta or pizza. Basil is an annual plant here, and you can easily grow it from seed indoors or out or buy plants at your local nursery. The large leaf basil is best for pesto, the tiny bush basil is best for pizza and tomato salads. Thai basil is very common now and is wonderful for use in Thai curries. Purple basil is a colorful addition to the garden. 

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – Plant two or three perennial chive plants and you will be treated to the very first green anything that comes up in the garden in late winter followed by the most excellent purple globe-shaped flowers if you don’t cut the leaves all the time for cooking. Nothing stops chives from producing. I like to snip a few chive leaves and mince them into an omelet. 

Dill (Anethum graveolens) – Dill was cultivated and used by Egyptians 5,000 years ago. It is an annual and easily grown from seed indoors or out. The more you cut and use dill the better it is because it always wants to bolt and produce flowers full of seeds. Naturally, if you are a pickle producer, it is the stalks and flowers you use. Use the fern-like leaves to make salmon gravlax. 

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Lavender provides me with such a strong memory of living and traveling in the western Mediterranean that I have to grow it. I remember market stalls filled with huge baskets of dried lavender flowers sold in paper cones. What a fragrance! Lavender really likes well-drained, poor soil and will not tolerate too much water. Plant it on a slope if you can. When it is in full bloom cut off the stems and flowers; soon you will have a small woody shrub that produces flowers year after year. Munstead is the best to grow in this area. 

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – My driveway in Spain was lined with a hedge of rosemary. Well, we can’t grow that here because rosemary will not survive the winter. It is a perennial on Long Island and points south, but I get new plants every year and use it to flavor pork and lamb on the grill. Legend has it that when Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, Mary spread her cloak over a rosemary bush to hide from Roman soldiers. When she removed the cloak, the shrub’s white flowers had turned blue.      

There are many more herbs that can successfully grow here such as sage, parsley, thyme and oregano. Grow some or all of these herbs, cut them for cooking and let some of them go to flower. It is all good with herbs! 

Larry Sombke is a garden designer and landscape consultant, the author of Beautiful Easy Herbs, garden blogger and editor of www.beautifuleasyorganicgardens.blogspot.com. Contact him with your garden questions at Sombke@beautifuleasygardens.com.


Bringing the front porch project® to your community

Recognizing the need to become involved 

For just a moment, picture a child in your neighborhood – perhaps a child who is on a team you coach or who attends your religious organization or who you have recently seen shopping in your local grocery store. Now, imagine seeing an interaction or behavior directed toward that child that causes you discomfort or worry . . . and causes him or her fear or pain. If you thought this child might be in danger of harm or the adult in some need of assistance, wouldn’t you want to do something to help? There is widespread agreement among child welfare professionals and concerned citizens across the United States that children are valuable members of our communities and that they deserve to grow up free from abuse and neglect. And yet, for many children – those who go to your neighborhood school, who play on your child’s sports team and who live on your street – experiences of abuse and neglect are an everyday reality. According to 2008 national statistics, an estimated 772,000 children were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect in the United States. Of these 772,000 children: 

  • 71.1% of child victims were neglected 
  • 16.1% of child victims were physically abused 
  • 9.1% of child victims were sexually abused 
  • 7.3% of child victims were psychologically maltreated

And, these are just the children who came to the attention of our child protection systems. Child welfare professionals are working at full capacity to protect our nation’s children. But from these statistics, it is clear that the problem is too great and too important to be delegated entirely to these valiant workers. Concerned individuals, families and communities must become involved and take on the civic and personal responsibility in protecting children and supporting families in their own neighborhoods. Responding to families in trouble must blend the provision of governmental service with leadership and intervention from the broader community. Children and their families need you. Research conducted by Prevent Child Abuse America shows that a majority of Americans – more than half of the general public and two-thirds of all parents – are willing to become involved in helping to prevent child abuse and neglect. However, these respondents feel uncomfortable because they lack the knowledge and skills that would enable them to intervene safely and effectively. They also recognize the size of the problem and believe that without community support they are powerless to make a difference. That’s where The Front Porch Project comes in!

If you would like more information about how to bring The Front Porch Project to your community, please contact Lauren Morley, MSW, LSW, Manager, Child Welfare Training and Prevention at laurenm@americanhumane.org or 303.925.9469. or visit www.americanhumane.org/frontporch.


How to light up your summer nights

Starry evenings and backyard entertainment go hand-in-hand. When the sun goes down, the right landscape lighting can turn any backyard into a stylish outdoor living space. With so many options, it’s easy to fill your nights with light to enhance security, decor and entertainment.

"Lighting your landscape is like working with a canvas with you as the artist," says Jon Carloftis, garden and landscape designer. "Consumers are demanding outdoor lighting solutions that offer great design and conserve energy and money. It’s important to choose lighting with an eye toward your home’s architectural features and practicality."

Carloftis offers these simple tips to light up your nights:

  • Keep your lighting simple. Start with one main lighting source and add accent lighting to highlight garden features. Don’t over-light. It wastes energy, is costly and unappealing.
  • For illuminating your entryway, deck and patio, use lighting that mimics moonlight, like new solar-powered lighting systems.
  • Stagger path lights. Be creative.
  • Skip the complicated wiring and costly electric bills by using new solar lights.
  • With energy costs rising, people are looking for ways to cut costs. Decorative lights illuminate specific areas but draw on energy, have wires that need to be hidden and need replacement bulbs. Twenty-first-century solutions – like solar energy – harness the power of the sun to illuminate the night.

"Now everyone can get in on the solar revolution," says Marc Jensen, marketing director for Byron Originals, Inc., makers of the new SunLight 180 System. The latest high tech solar-powered outdoor lighting appliances come in styling that’s durable and low-maintenance. They harness the sun’s power by day, and when provided with enough light energy from the sun, last throughout the night. 

"SunLight 180 delivers warm white light equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent bulb, packaged in a sleek design," says Jensen. "Plus consumers can save on costly energy bills with the low-voltage, high-efficiency LED fixture that requires no electrician or special wiring." For more information, visit www.Sunlight180.com.

So whether you want hours of lighting for your entryways or for evening outdoor entertainment, look to the sun to light up your nights. 

Courtesy of ARA Content


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