What Are These Tiny Bugs in My Puzzle Box?

Dear Home Ec 101,

I was putting a puzzle together with one of my kids the other day and noticed, while looking for a corner piece, some tiny little bugs moving around.

I didn’t freak out, I just want to know what they are and if there is a way I can get rid of them?

Signed,
Slightly Skeeved in Slidell

Heather says

Those tiny bugs you found are insects, but they aren’t bugs. I have to clarify because some people out there like to get super picky about how we describe the creepy-crawlies we run into. Bugs are a specific order of insects. (Think back to Biology, do you remember: Did King Philip Cry Out,  “For Goodness Sakes!”) The little, hard-to-see colorless or gray insects you found are commonly known as booklice and belong to the order Psocoptera.

First of all, I want to assure you, that while a little on the icky side, pscoids like your new friends the booklice are harmless. They aren’t going to bite you, your kid, or your destroy your library. Psocids show up when the humidity is high and dine on the resulting mold.

Most commercially available insecticides won’t work on your barely visible pests, so it’s better to make your environment less hospitable to psocids in general. Who, by the way, may have non-traditional families -and I don’t mean of the taxonomic kind. Psocids can reproduce through a process called  parthenogenesis, which is a bit different than asexual reproduction. Animals that can reproduce via parthenogenesis have different sexes, but the females can reproduce without the presence of a male. I find this fascinating, which is probably just another reason why my favorite place is the nerd table.

So, I guess the question is what to do if you find psocids in your books or puzzles?

Option 1: Take off your glasses and pretend you never saw them in the first place.

Option 2: Freak out and hire an exterminator and pay a lot of money to get rid of a harmless cohabitant.

Option 3: Invest in a dehumidifier and make the living conditions less hospitable to your little squatters. The best thing about this option is that it also makes your home less of a haven for the much more bothersome dust mites.

The choice is up to you.

Send your questions to Helpme@Home-ec101.com.

Why Won’t My Gas Grill Get Hot?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

The other night I decided to grill burgers, but I couldn’t get my gas grill to get hot. It was extremely frustrating and I ended up cooking my burgers under the broiler (with a lot of spite and bitterness, I might add). There was plenty of liquid propane, I just couldn’t get the flames high even with the burners wide open.

Do you have any idea why my gas grill wouldn’t heat?

Signed,
Flummoxed in Florida

Heather says:

Actually I’m quite familiar with your problem and have had several frustrating evenings cursing my gas grill, too. (Hush you charcoal grill owners, I want one of those, too -not instead of).

A gas grill -in this case I’m solely referring to liquid propane-  has a safety feature built into the gas regulator that is on the tube connecting your bottle of liquid propane to the grill itself. This safety valve will not open fully until the gas pressure has equalized between the bottle and the grill. If the burners are in the on position, gas is leaving the lines in the grill and this pressure cannot equalize.

Thankfully there is a very simple fix.

Completely shut the valve on the bottle of propane.

Turn off all of the burners. Check to make sure none of your minions have turned on the rotisserie you never use or any other accessories.  Double check to make sure they are all shut.

Ensure the lid of the grill is open.

Open the valve on the bottle of liquid propane fully.

Wait a few seconds.

Do a little dance, hum a little tune. Something. Anything, except turn on a burner. If the hose from your bottle of liquid propane is short, you really only need 10 seconds or so unless you are trying to grill when it is VERY cold. If you have several feet of hose, you need to wait a couple of minutes.

Now turn on the burner and light the grill.

It’s like magic, no?

No?

Ok, now we move up to phase two. It’s time to check for a gas leak. -You should perform this check fairly frequently to comply with safety standards.

Turn off all burners and the valve to the propane tank, too.

Get a spray bottle and partially fill it with very soapy water. (1/3 soap dish, 2/3 water -almost like you were going to blow bubbles)

Now spray the hose connections with your soapy water.

Open the valve on the tank of liquid propane and then carefully inspect each connection. If any bubbles are forming turn off the gas and reconnect and tighten the fittings.

That should fix most problems.

Good luck!

Hurricane Season 2014

Heather says:

The official start to Hurricane Season was yesterday, June 1, 2014. Last year I had so much happen that I feel very lucky not to have to had any hurricanes even pose a threat.

This year, I’m taking stock and getting ready, not because I expect a hurricane but because emergency preparedness is an important life skill and one of the many “shoulds” I couldn’t manage last year. Last year was about making sure I got the have-tos done.

You don’t need to have a category 3 hurricane hit your home to find yourself in need of a battery at 3am. (Smoke detector seek and find is never a fun game.)

Having a houseful of sick kids is plenty of reason to break into the stash of food set aside for a big storm rather than dragging them out and infecting the rest of town. At least I find it’s better for my sanity, anyhow.

The important part is to remember to replace what you used the next time you are out. Get into the habit of checking your blackout pantry (And while we’re talking about blackout pantries, you do have a manual can opener, right? RIGHT?)

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season isn’t looking too active, but it doesn’t take a particularly active year to send a storm your way. Here is a quick reminder of what getting ready for a big storm looks like:

Be sure you and your family are safe should a storm make landfall. (Many of these apply to those living near fault lines or in tornado country who don’t have the benefit of prior warning.) Oh and if you’re a NYC resident, there is a pretty cool resource called Know Your Zone that has important information relevant to your location and storm preparedness.

  • Check your insurance coverage. Do you have adequate protection from both wind and water? Are they with the same or competing companies? Keep these documents in a safe, dry place and remember to bring them along if you must evacuate.
  • Have enough food and clean water for each family member to last at least 72 hours.
    • one gallon of water per person per day
    • rather than store lots of bottled water in my small home, I opt to keep an Aquapod on hand to fill.
    • 2 drops of unscented Clorox bleach purifies one quart of water.  This is a last resort if boiling is not an option.  Let any particles settle out, filter using coffee filters, paper towels or a cloth, then add the bleach, stir or shake well, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.  Your bleach must be at full strength, be sure to have a new, unopened bottle in your kit, rotate for a new one every three months.
    • food should be ready to eat or require minimal preparation. Please don’t forget to have a manual can opener on hand. You may end up the most popular person on your block.
  • Have propane or charcoal for your grill. And know how to use your grill.
    • I’ve brewed coffee using a grill in the past. My neighbors loved me for it.
    • NEVER use a grill indoors. The flames produce deadly, odorless carbon monoxide.
  • Candles, batteries, flashlights, and a crank or battery operated radio are a must.
  • Keep your gas tank filled at least half way at all times.
  • Keep an emergency cash supply on hand, as ATMs do not work without power.
  • Have an evacuation plan. Shelters are only for those in the most dire need, those who have nowhere else to go.
  • Have a plan for Fido and Fluffy as well. Most shelters do not take pets, know what you are going to do before a warning has been announced. As a pet owner this is an important responsibility that is frequently overlooked.
  • Have a well stocked first-aid kit.
    • Keep all prescription medications filled and take them with you, if you must leave.
  • If you live in a rural area, learn how to safely operate a chainsaw. This goes for you ladies, too.
    • Own one, keep it in good condition, and have gasoline on hand.
    • Have sturdy work gloves.  Keep an extra pair with your emergency kit.
  • Except for emergencies, stay put after a storm. Emergency personnel have enough to deal with: restoring utilities and rescuing those who were injured in the storm.
  • Curfews may be established. Obey all law enforcement personnel.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly.
  • Remember snakes and other wildlife may become disoriented after a storm. Watch where you step and never put your hands where you cannot see when removing storm debris.

What do you do to get ready for hurricanes? Anything at all?

Do you have any questions, I’d love to read them -now that I have my email account working again- send them to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Why Should I Run the Hot Water Before Starting the Dishwasher

Dear Home Ec 101,

I have always followed my Mom’s advice about running hot water in the kitchen sink before (and while) turning my dishwasher on. She also says that if you run the cold water at any point while your dishwasher is running, the water in your dishwasher will be cold. My husband recently replaced our sink and garbage disposal and noticed that our dishwasher is only hooked up to hot water.

So, do I really need to abide by my Mom’s rules?

Wondering About Water Temps

Heather says

Your mom is partially right. Running the hot water before starting the dishwasher ensures the water that fills the machine is hot instead of lukewarm. You don’t jump in the shower the second you turn on the hot tap, right? It takes a moment for the water that has been cooling in the hot water pipe from the water heater to the tap to be flushed out. Typically your dishwasher is hooked into the hot water line

Remember cleaning is accomplished through several forms of energy:

Thermal – the higher the temperature, the more dirt can go into solution. It should be noted that the heating element / timer combo in your dishwasher was designed to boost hot water near 140°F. If you check your appliance manual or the website of your manufacturer, you’ll see most recommend water at least 120°F but not more than 150°F. (140°F is the recommended setting for most home water heaters.)

Physical – in your dishwasher this is the accomplished with spray

Chemical – this would be your detergent (Oh and as an unasked for aside and plug, I’ve been trying out the Smarty Dish by Method, which was phosphate free before there was the voluntary ban on phosphates and it’s friggin’ awesome. I bought it myself, Method didn’t supply it).

Running the cold water while the machine is running shouldn’t be an issue, but running the hot water before the basin of the dishwasher fills ensures your dishwasher starts with every advantage. Having to rewash dishes is far less efficient than running the hot water before starting your machine. You can always catch the water in a bucket and use it (when cool, naturally) for other tasks like plant watering, if water conservation is a big concern.

Send your reader questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

 

More on Mildew – The Basement Is Damp

Dear Home Ec 101,

When I am in the basement, my allergies kick in, immediately, with all the typical allergy symptoms! It may be associated with dampness in an 1880′s basement. We keep it very clean, and no moisture seems to be present, except on a wall or two in which the paint is affected.

Signed,
Sneezing in Snelling

Heather says:

Allergies are no fun. As an aside for your overall health, I highly recommend getting tested to know exactly what is triggering the attacks. Is it dust mites or mold / mildew? (Granted some of the things I am about to go over will help no matter the cause, it’s just good information to have)

To make this information more helpful for the Home-Ec 101 audience, I’m going to answer it as though you hadn’t begun looking for water damage.

Humidity enters your home through four pathways:

  • rain water or plumbing leaks
  • capillary action – your building materials absorbing water from the ground. You’ve seen capillary action every time you’ve used a paper towel to mop up a spill
  • diffusion – water vapor molecules moving through your building from the outside (high concentration) to the inside (lower)
  • air transport – pretty obvious – windows, doors, vents etc

In a basement you’re most likely to see the first three, unless the basement is a walkout and in that instance, air transport can play a role.

Not seeing moisture damage doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring. Invest ten bucks or so in a hygrometer.  HygrometerIf your basement’s humidity level is more than sixty percent, it’s time to take steps to mitigate the problem.

Why sixty percent? This is the point at which our little microscopic friends begin thriving. What happens when organisms thrive? They multiply. Fun.

What can you do to reduce humidity in your basement?

First ensure that all gutters direct water at least a few feet away from your foundation.

Next, look for moisture damage and ensure there aren’t any plumbing leaks, if so have those fixed and ensure that none of the dry wall or insulation has turned into a mold factory

If your basement is unfinished, with dirt floors, install a vapor barrier -plastic sheeting- to do just that.

If it’s a minor, seasonal problem a product like DampRid can be useful, just make sure that the canister you buy is adequate for the square footage.

Danby PremiereIf the humidity problem is more than just during the spring, consider investing in a dehumidifier. Pictured to the right is one I have. As most of you know by now, I live in the South. I also have an older home and rather than crank the AC, I turn on the dehumidifier as lower humidity makes higher temperatures more comfortable (When you sweat it actually evaporates instead of just making you feel gross.) If you have a utility sink you can drain directly into that rather than fussing with the reservoir.

Once the humidity can be maintained below sixty percent, it’s time to thoroughly clean the basement. Don’t forget, if your washer is in the basement, to check it for mildew, too.

Good luck and feel better.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.