A Homeowners Guide to Landscaping

a-fancy-landscaped-park-or-garden-with-flowers-and-highly-groomedYou’ve measured and recorded. You’ve dreamed about what you’d like in your landscape and begun to prioritize the needs of those using it. You have organized a Base Plan, that preliminary map on which your collected measurements and information are roughed out.

Now, you’re ready for the next step, putting together your Master Plan. Pulling together all of your combined information onto one large sheet of graph paper is a sure way to gain control of your personal planning process. The trick is to keep designs flexible and not add too much detail at any one time.

  • Pick a period, when you know you’ll have a quiet, unbroken stretch of time.

    Assemble the basic materials listed below along with your notebook and Base Plan (article #1):

    1. Pencil with soft lead. I prefer a #2 or softer because the marks are easy to erase.
    2. Eraser made of plastic or vinyl. The red ones found on pencil tops usually leave smudges or streaks on paper.
    3. Straight edge or ruler with a precise edge. I like the clear ones with increments distinctly marked.
    4. Grid (graph) paper in large sheets. The best sizes are those ranging from 11X17-inches to 18X24-inches.

All of these basic supplies may be bought at community craft or art stores. However, here is a sampling of the many suppliers who maintain web sites as well as local stores: Village Supplies, LTD., Reuels, Staples and Artist Supplies. Accessing these sites is an easy way to familiarize yourself with these supplies and their prices. It’s a convenient way to save the time and energy required for exploring a store’s inventory.


Proceed with a large new sheet of grid paper. Paper ruled 4 squares per inch is ideal for small properties or for developing the Master Plan. The relationship here is ¼ inch (one square) equals one foot. On the other hand, paper with eight or ten squares per inch is better suited for large properties because the relationship can be ⅛ or 1/10 inch (one square) equals one foot.

Start on your Master Plan by incorporating the essentials of your Base Plan using all the measured areas, as they exist now, including entrances and exits from house, garage, swimming pools, sheds, etc. The next items to incorporate on your Master Plan are all the Existing Materials, both plants and manmade items. It might even be helpful to indicate large unsightly parts of the landscape such as tree stumps or the neighbor’s unruly hedge on the Master Plan, and overlay these objects with an X or question mark.


Now you’re ready for a constructive study of what you’ve diagramed. Reflect on what you’ve begun with and review the priorities outlined in your notebook . Fantasize about what you’d like to see happen.

  1. Do you want to rearrange or alter the groupings from your Base Plan – public or approach areas; private or living areas; garden(s); service area(s)? 
  2. What would you like to see happen with those large existing materials?. 
  3. Items needing attention for safety or comfort’s sake should be listed on a Top Priority page of your notebook. 
  4. Now make that wish list of how you would like to rearrange these groupings or what you would like to see added on a separate sheet in your notebook. 
  5. Next to each item jot down whether you are physically able to accomplish the desired changes or will need to hire someone to help. This will help you figure out how realistic your wish list is. 
  6. Finally prioritize what you would like to see accomplished. This can take the form of a numbered system, for example #1-10 with #1 being a short-term possibility and #10 being a distant, but longed-for dream. Or, you can set up annual goals that will use your developing skills and allow you to budget your time and money for these changes.

To illustrate what I mean by this part of the planning process, and the need to keep your ideas and plans flexible, here is how an area on the south side of our house developed over time.

When my husband and I first moved into the house over three decades ago, I realized that the site abutting to the east of the double door exiting from the basement would make an ideal place for a small greenhouse. However, with little money and three small children, this idea had to go on my wish list.

The most important thing at this exit then was to install a safe landscape including a landing so the back yard and clothesline could be reached. This, we did with various sizes of flat rocks collected from around the property.

High on our priority list was construction of a cold frame for the vegetable and flower seedlings we started in the house. When a neighbor offered some old window sash to us, we built our cold frame on this site, incorporating more flat rocks from our property.

Meanwhile, the freeze-thaw cycles of New England winters played havoc with the rock landing, making it unsafe and requiring a new one. We budgeted for a concrete pad which my husband and a friend spent a weekend constructing.


Over time, the cold frame outlived its usefulness, was dismantled and replaced by what I envisioned as a simple design solution – a raised bed of vines, assorted ferns and perennials. The raised bed has never been very successful, however, mostly because of inattention, and is slated for removal this spring.

What will replace it? A loggia attached to the side of the house and covered with vines from the raised bed? Or the greenhouse that never came to the top of the priority list? Only time and the budget will tell.

The trick with a Master Plan is to avoid plant names and fussy details. Typical landscape design symbols drawn freehand are more than adequate Landscape Symbols. Details of the Master Plan can be drawn on other large sheet grid papers or done on translucent paper as an overlay.

Some of these detailed areas could include surroundings around entrance ways, deck or porch plantings, perennial beds or borders, vegetable gardens, play or recreation areas, and service areas. Colors, individual plants, and hardscape (manmade) materials can be experimented with on these expanded drawings. I will discuss these additions in later articles.

Once these first steps are accomplished in getting your plan on paper, climate and other environmental considerations will need to be examined. They need to be incorporated into the Master Plan because they ultimately influence plant and hardscape choices. We’ll have more to write about these concerns shortly.

If you need professional services for landscape maintanance, click here.

Amazing tea recipes

three-young-women-in-their-underwear-having-a-tea-partyKashmiri Chi

This spiced hot tea blend is great for a cold winter evening as an after dinner drink. The addition of gin will really warm you up. Great with small cookies.


  • 1 1/4 tablespoons blanched almonds
  • 1/2 tablespoons shelled and peeled pistachios, raw or roasted and salted
  • 10 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed to remove seeds and discarding pods or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • Large pinch saffron threads, 15-20
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 teaspoons loose black tea leaves like orange pekoe
  • 4 ounces full flavored gin

Finely grind nuts, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron with a mortar and pestle or in a grinder, then add nutmeg. Bring milk just to a simmer in a 2 quart heavy saucepan, then whisk in brown sugar, salt, and nut mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes to infuse flavors. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a 1 quart saucepan, then add tea leaves and boil 1 minute. Pour tea through a fine mesh sieve into hot milk mixture, discarding tea leaves, and cook chi over low heat for 1 minute. Divide gin between mugs and top with hot chi. If you want to better up your recipe by using high quality tea, check Glocal Markets.

Number of Servings: 4


Chai Tea Mix


Nonfat dry milk powder, dry coffee creamer, sugar, instant tea, & ground spices are stirred together for this mix. To serve, just add boiling water.


  • 1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 cup vanilla-flavored non-dairy creamer powder
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups instant tea powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom

In a large bowl combine all drink ingredients. Store in jars or zip-lock bags. To serve place 2 heaping tablespoons of mix into a large mug and add 8-10 ounces of boiling water, and stir to dissolve mix.

This drink mix makes a great gift when packed in decorative jars. I always make a big batch to have on hand for my after-dinner treat.

Number of Servings: 16

Friendship Tea

A spiced, sweet tea that can be served warm with friends on a cold night.


  • 2 1/2 cups Tang
  • 1 3/4 cups of powdered instant tea
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 14 oz. package lemonade Kool-Aid
  • 1 1/2 tsp. each, ground: cloves and cinnamon

Mix Tang, instant tea, lemonade mix, cloves and cinnamon and store in a tightly sealed container. To make the tea, add boiling water and 2 T. tea in a mug. Enjoy! 


Make a diet, no-sugar version by using sugar substitute, diet Tang, and no-sugar lemonade mix.


Category: Tea

Water Filtration



Today we’ll cover basic information about water problems and water filter systems. The instructions are generic in nature and the author has no affiliation with any water filter system manufacturers or water treatment companies. 

Water Problems

In areas where the concentration of iron or sulfur in the water supply is more than 10 parts per million, an Iron & Sulfur filter is advised. If you have an iron problem, your plumbing fixtures will be contaminated with rust and your laundry will turn yellow to orange depending on the iron level. Sulfur will give your water a smell similar to rotten eggs. Organic contamination will make your water smell and taste bad.

If you are unsure of the type of problem you have, your local County Health Department can test your water for you. The cost for the testing ranges from free to a few dollars. Another source for water testing or information is a local water company or municipal water service. The good news for going to a water treatment company is it will test your water for you for free in most cases. The bad news is you will typically get a 2 to 3 hour sales presentation and spend more for the water system than you wanted or needed to.

Hard water is caused by minerals that are dissolved in municipal and private wells. The concentration of dissolved calcium and magnesium compounds in your water depend upon your location. The compounds found in hard water form deposits similar to limestone in your pipes and appliances. The deposits also combine with soap causing glassware to streak and spot. Deposits accumulate on your laundry causing discoloration and additional wear.

What to do

Before you spend your hard earned dollars having a water company install a water softener or specialty filter in your home or small business, consider doing it yourself or asking for your trusted construction company, such as AB Construction,  for a quick check-up and advice. They’ll know everything about water problems and how to install water softeners and filtration equipment. 

Camcorder Formats

Summary of the Pros and Cons of common Camcorder Recording Formats

There are many different camcorder formats appearing now, this is a guide to the the more common formats and their strengths and weaknesses.


Well-established tape format which gives excellent image quality and good edit-ability to create great final products to add visual effects or product rendering images. If you want the best video quality, HDV is the way to go, and if you want the best standard definition video, MiniDV will deliver. Of course, this assumes a good quality camcorder and enough light… Your video can be transferred without any loss in quality to a computer for editing, using a firewire (IEEE1394) connector on the computer and suitable software. The best all-round choice if you are not sure at all. The main disadvantage is that it takes an hour to transfer an hour of shot video into the computer – flashcard and DVD formats can transfer the video to computer in less tame than the running time of the video.


DVD recorders are marketed on the familiarity of the DVD medium. There are numerous disadvantages of DVD in a recorder:

  • poor resistance to camera vibration when recording,
  • limited editability of the recorded video,
  • poorer signal quality due to higher compression than MiniDV,
  • short recording times when run in high-quality modes.

However, the convenience of shooting video and then being able to replay the video on a DVD player mean DVD recorders are seen as easy to use, particularly for children and the technologically challenged. The difficulty of editing the shot video means that the may not be enjoyable viewing for others.

Flash Card

These camcorders use flash cards which are often used for digital still cameras, like SD cards and XD cards. The small capacity of the cards mean the recordings are highly compressed, which means editing can be difficult. However, the camcorders are small, and the lack of moving parts make the camcorders robust even recording while moving or in the rough and tumble of play.

Internal Solid State Storage

Like flash card storage but without the card – the storage is built-in and can be accessed via USB. The popular Pure Digital Flip camcorder is an example of this type.

Hard Disk

Hard disk recorders record compressed files to an internal hard disk, the video is then transferred to a computer for editing and saving to a permanent medium if needed. Because the hard disk is non-removable, this practically forces you to download and edit, which is usually good for the “watch-ability” of the result.

However, if you are going on holiday without access to a PC to transfer your video you need to watch how long you can record for at a reasonable quality – this is usually only a few hours. Some manufacturers offer combination hard disk/DVD recorders where you can transfer some of the hard disk video to a DVD to free up space. However, this often involved further video compression.

Obsolete formats

All these formats should not be considered for purchase, though of course if you get given a camcorder some can give satisfactory results.

Digital 8 is similar to MiniDV in quality but uses an obsolete tape format. There were several analog formats – none were anywhere near as good as MiniDV. These included (in approximately decreasing order of image quality)

Hi8 (high-band), Hi8, S-VHS, VHS, VHS-C

Further Information

For more details on selecting a camcorder take a look at “Choosing and Using a Camcorder”

TV standards vary across the world – see Worldwide TV standards NTSC, PAL, SECAM

Category: vfx

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Dry Eyes

Besides offering the best-verified coupons for online shopping, we are also offering some tips regarding your eye health and how you can prevent some health conditions by using great eye products that can be bought online.

Getting Relief from Dry Eyes

Dry eyes usually result from the tear-flow system of the eye is out of balance for reasons stated below. However, environmental factors like air conditioning or heat from a central furnace can also be the cause.

Environmental factors can be controlled. In this article, we’ll focus on causes related to other processes.

Tears Are Important

Tears are a combination of water, oils, mucus, and antibodies that help keep the eye from becoming infected. Tears are produced around the eye by particular glands, and dry eyes result when these glands aren’t functioning properly.

A person with this condition may experience:

  • a gritty or sandy sensation in the eyes
  • abnormal sensitivity to light
  • blurred vision
  • eye pain
  • itchiness
  • redness

It seems counterintuitive, but having dry eyes condition may sometimes trigger excessive tear production. When the eyes are dry, they send a signal to the brain to produce more moisture. But in these circumstances, the tears mainly consist of water without the other important components of normal tears. So a person with severely dry eyes can also have tears running down their cheeks from this excess production.

Other Dry Eye Causes

There are a few other conditions that may contribute to having dry eyes:

– aging, especially women during menopause,

– side effects of using particular medications, especially antihistamines and pills for birth control,

– diseases and conditions that are affecting the eyes’ ability to create tears, most notably rheumatoid arthritis, collagen vascular diseases, and Sjogren’s syndrome.

In some instances, there may be structural problems with the eyes that keep them from closing properly, such as a problem with the tear ducts.

Dry Eye Treatment

There is no cure for having dry eye, but your eye doctor can offer some treatments that may help, including:

  • a vast selection of ointments, artificial tears, and contact lenses, which are generally easy to find at your drug store,
  • a procedure that is painless called punctal occlusion. This procedure involves placing plugs that keep tears from draining away from the eyes. They can be temporary or permanent, and their removing can be at any time. Plugs are being considered by many patients as an effective way that is reducing the need for tears that are artificial and relieves dryness.
  • a prescription called Restasis, which has been approved by the FDA for treating a chronic dry eye,
  • a vast selection of medications, like topical steroids, that can help in various cases.

Finally, there’s surgery. In certain cases, the best procedure is by closing the ducts that are draining the tears into the nose. It can be done using a local anesthetic without staying overnight.