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Looking for a Home Espresso Machine? Read This First.

If you’re an avid coffee drinker like me, then you have likely taken a jump into the world of espresso and other alternative coffee drinks at one point or another. Maybe you’ve even developed a fiendish double espresso habit to help get you through the work day. Don’t worry, I won’t judge. I’m the exact same way.

There’s just something so satisfying about coffee as you wake up for the day and start taking care of business. There’s the warm, roasted smell that coaxes you out of your foggy mental state early in the morning. Then there’s the cleansing sensation in your stomach as you follow up a light breakfast with a cup. By the time you’ve sat down to work you’re already alert, and your body starts to tingle slightly with great anticipation for the day that is to come.

It’s nice to have a Starbucks or your local coffee shop to retreat to when you need a change of scene. There are plenty of times though when you have a hankering for a cappuccino but leaving your home or office just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention the fact that repeated visits to the coffee shop can rack up quite the tab.

For aficionados like us it really makes sense to look into our very own home espresso machines. It’s kind of insane how many different products you’ll encounter when you start to look around the internet, or even in stores. It’s enough to make your head spin. I’ve been through this a couple of times before, and I actually just purchased a new DeLonghi espresso machine for my home. I figured this would be a great opportunity to shed my thoughts on this buying process.

Define Your Budget

The very first thing that you’ll notice when you start looking at home espresso machines, and a main proponent of why this process is so mind-boggling, is that the prices range drastically. You can find products for under a hundred dollars and you can find products well into the thousands of dollars – even the tens of thousands of dollars for some of the super high-end models. What in the world is an espresso machine supposed to cost?

This is why it’s important to set your budget right from the get-go. This is especially true if you’re just buying your first home espresso machine, as you’re likely to find some features that aren’t your favorite in your first purchase. Set an amount of money that you’re willing to spend and be comfortable with before you even start looking seriously. That way, you can make sure things don’t get out of hand too fast. Once you’ve had some experience with your espresso maker you will have a better idea of what works best for you, and you could always buy a better one later on down the road.

Get Familiar With The Lingo

There are quite a few different designs that you’ll encounter when it comes to home espresso machines, and they have different functionalities. I want to give you a quick run-down of the important features to save you some digging and reading as you go on your search.

You’ll want to pay attention to how the espresso machine physically brews the espresso. You definitely want something that makes use of high pressure during the extraction, as this is one of the primary factors that truly separates espresso from a regular ol’ cup of joe. The most basic models are heated on a stovetop, and the steam passes through the grounds. These will work OK, and they’re probably what you’ve seen your Italian Nonna using. You can find much better espresso machines out there though.

Mechanical designs are the next step up. You create the pressure for the extraction manually by pulling a lever. These can certainly get a richer and creamier cup of espresso than the design we just discussed, but they’re still rather rudimentary. They allow for inconsistency due to human error – that is, how much pressure the person operating the machine uses during the extraction. Another large drawback is that they rarely, if ever, come with a steam wand.

Steam wands are essential if you want to make lattes, cappuccinos, or other coffee drinks that require frothed milk. You’ll start to find them on the more sophisticated espresso makers out there. The next steps up are the semi automatic and the super automatic espresso machines. I’m going to gloss right over the capsule based machines, as the big brands (I’m sure you’ve heard of them) have enough of a marketing budget to get the word out.

Semi automatic espresso makers are where most people end up when making their first purchase. They utilize an electric pump to create the pressure during the extraction, ensuring you have sufficient and consistent pressure for a repeatable cup of espresso, every time. The pump also allows them to have a steam wand on board. Because the components of these designs are still fairly simple, you’ll find them in the low hundred-dollar range.

If you’re really looking to take your espresso game to the next level then look no further than the super automatic espresso machines. They have all of the benefits of the semi automatic machines, and then some. They’ll take care of everything from grinding the beans, to tamping and brewing. All you have to do is select a recipe and press a button. The largest benefit comes in the customization. You can set extraction temperatures and pressures to really get the perfect brew from the beans your using. Don’t expect this to come cheap though, as many of these models come with a price tag in the thousand dollar range.

So how do you feel, are you ready to go find your perfect home espresso machine? By now you sure should be. One last word of warning before we sign off though – keep on the look out for cheap knock-offs. You might be able to save you a few bucks, but at the end of the day you’re going to get a product made from inferior components. You get what you pay for, and these simply won’t hold up to long periods of use. Espresso machine components see a lot of wear and tear. Good luck out there, and if you have any questions while you’re on your search please don’t hesitate to give me a shout.

Looking to Hire a Professional Organizer for Your Home? Here’s What You Need to Know

Do you feel like all you do is clean and yet your house is always a mess? Are you faced with a mountain of paperwork (probably in bags) in order to find the one receipt you need? Have you bought items that were on sale to give as future presents but when the time comes to give them away you can’t find them? 

If you can associate with even one of the scenarios listed above, you may want to consider hiring a professional organizer. If you think hiring someone to get you and your home organized is an extravagance you cannot afford, think again. People have been known to spend more money by not being organized in the first place. 

  • How many times have you had to pay to get copies of paperwork that you just can’t get your hands on by the stated deadline? And then there is the extra cost of expediting the paperwork with an overnight delivery service. 
  • Did you feel like getting a head start on next year’s holiday season by purchasing tons of wrapping paper, gift bags, and tissue paper only to not be able to locate them and have to re-buy them at Christmas? 
  • Check out your refrigerator and see just how many jars of mustard you have hidden on the shelves. If you have more than one you are probably buying a jar every time you are at the store because you can’t remember or find the full jars you already have (this may or may not be from personal experience).

Okay, so you have looked at the big picture and as they say, the first thing is admitting you need help. How exactly do you go about hiring a professional organizer? You may be lucky enough to have a friend who can refer one to you. But if you are on your own, here are some things I learned from working with an excellent organizer from Washington DC:

  1. Consider how long have they been in business. The end result is what is important but you should know upfront if this person is just starting out or has been working as a professional for years. 
  2. Do they have before and after examples of their work? A good organizer will be able to show you specifically how their skills were able to make their client’s life much neater and easier. Pictures that show the improvements the organizer made can be impressive and get you excited about how great your place will soon look like. 
  3. Do they have a specific system that they use? Everyone has their own system, but a common one is separating things into piles to keep, give away, donate to charity, and throw out. Once you know how they will be working you can start thinking about what categories some of your things will fall into. 
  4. What is their exact mode of operation? What spaces are covered, how long will the entire experience take, and is there any follow-up? If you are going to have your entire home organized that is the most comprehensive plan. You may want to focus on closets, an eternally unorganized garage, or specifically your kid’s rooms. Make sure to get a timetable so you know how long it will take to complete. 
  5. What makes them an experienced professional in organizing? There is actually a National Association of Productivity and Organizing professionals that would be an impressive bonus if they were a member. Ask what other courses, clubs, or groups they participate in that would add to their success as an organizer. 
  6. What is the price? Are there different packages and prices? This is an important factor and should be spelled out exactly in a contract before hiring the organizer. Know exactly what services you are getting and at what cost. 

Remember, this is someone you will be working closely with as you deal with personal and sentimental items. Make sure your personalities work well together.

Alternatives to Aggressive Chemicals for Everyday Cleaning

e all want a clean home, preferably that smells good. Companies that make and market cleaners know this fact. Their print, television and online advertisements are all made to catch your attention. Showing our everyday messes and even the occasional big mess grabs our attention and then they reel us in with how well their product cleans. Now I am not saying these products do not clean. But they do contain harsh chemicals and scents that irritate and can even make us sick. 

According to the American Lung Association these cleaners we have trusted for years can not only irritate or cause reactions, but they can even potentially cause cancer. We all know that chlorine and ammonia have strong scents and are harsh chemicals. But something we do not always realize is that not all of the ingredients are listed. Those considered safer cleaners may be safer, but if they are combined with other safe cleaners they can cause harsh chemical reactions. 

White vinegar has been around for a very long time and is known to be a very good cleaning agent. Mixing vinegar with water is a great cleaner for windows. Add newspaper for wiping and you get a streak free shine. Vinegar is great for cutting through grease, grime and even mildew. Want those faucets to sparkle? Use diluted vinegar. Need to de-gunk that shower head, again vinegar and water to the rescue. Vinegar can also pair well with baking soda. Baking soda poured down a clogged drain with vinegar poured in after will help unclog it at a fraction of the cost of the harsh chemicals you can buy. Another little tip for vinegar is to mix it with water and keep it in a spray bottle as a quick all purpose cleaner. 

Baking soda is also a good cleaner. Mix it with a bit of water to form a paste to scrub difficult areas, including mildew. A great oven cleaning tip is to mix baking soda, water and a little dish soap. How dirty your oven is would determine how long you leave it on, but even overnight this paste mixture will not create irritating fumes. Then you simply wipe it off with your diluted vinegar water spray. Also baking soda and cornstarch work well to clean carpets. Both are naturally absorbent so they soak up liquid stains. And instead of expensive carpet deodorizing powders, simply use baking soda to help eliminate odors. It vacuums right up for no mess, but fresher carpets. 

Do you have some old tea bags? Boil some water in a pot and toss some of those old bags in and let them steep to make a strong tea. You can use this tea to clean windows, wood floors, mirrors, and pretty much any dirt. It is also a good de-greaser like vinegar but smells better. 

If you really like things smelling fresh you can always create your own citrus based cleaner. There are many articles and videos to be found on how to create one. Do not expect to use it immediately though. Like tea, the citrus needs to steep. But it will create a pleasant smelling cleaner that is safe to use even on toys. 

Simple, safe alternatives to harsh cleansers are readily available. A walk down your favorite grocery stores baking isle tends to provide all the items you need to have a less toxic cleaner at your fingertips. And if you do not want to have to creating your own mixtures there are several safe, non-toxic cleaners available with just a little research.

The Importance of Teaching Children History

Children are a symbol of the future; they are also humanity’s only hope for the future. Teaching children about their history is vital to establishing a basis of understanding within them; one that they could be referred back to in times of need.

It is essential that children understand that no matter how bad the situation is, we have all experienced it. There have been generations before them, that have been through the same bumps and trials, and seeing them now at 39 or 65, lets us know that if they survived, we can too. That is why teen, child, even adult suicide, is so detrimental to our society because it is all mental. An idea that was developed of self-perceived isolation that could have very easily been remedied by education and discussion. It is true; it is all about perception. Children and adults should be able to take all of their collective knowledge, and use it to transform the world to fit their purpose-whether that be curing illnesses or educating the next generation.

The main issue some adults have is not wanting to assume responsibility for the enormous pressures that society places on us to be selfless. It never feels like there is enough time for us to young and make silly mistakes, before we are faced with another wave of decisions. However, then we look at our past and our childhood, and we wonder if we had have known a particular thing or maybe if our parents had have raised us as their parents had raised them, perhaps life would not have been so hard.

Children are clay molds begging to be formed in their parent’s likeness. Just like it is indispensable as a parent, to share your favorite Baseball team with your son, or your favorite scarf with your daughter, it is equally as important to share your story. I have seen many parents neglect this parent-child social aspect, and then wonder why their son or daughter has strayed or made the same mistakes they have made. It is because of the lack of honesty. Yes, we want to shelter of kids for as long as we can but protecting them from ourselves, restricts their growth. Children should know about their place in society, their role within their families, and how they were born to make an impact. Nothing is sadder than to see a teenager lost. Unsure about their future and distrustful of their peers and elders. As adults, we should be asking ourselves how is this happen, and how can we make a change in this young person’s life? It is easy for children to lose hope. A bad grade on an exam could spell the end of the world, for a 16-year-old trying to get into an Ivy League college. Because we have lived longer than that little girl or boy, we can laugh and say, hun, you will get another chance to prove yourself.

Though they are sure not to believe us, we can rest easy knowing that one day when they reach our age, they will. Just like we remember various talks we have had with our elders, ones that at the time seemed mundane and counterintuitive; now they seem to be the only things getting us by, and we are thankful to them.