Top drawer Joyce Clark Hicks finds the best for your home and garden

Top Drawer

CorrespondentApril 5, 2013 

  • Seeking our readers’ best

    What’s your favorite tip for keeping your laundry in tip-top shape? For getting the brightest whites or keeping colors vivid? Or for making your floors shine? Tell us about it and we’ll share it with our readers. We’ll also enter you in a quarterly drawing for a Target gift card.. Send email to topdrawer@newsobserver.com. Be sure to include your name, street address and city. Put “best tip” in the subject line.

    This quarter’s gift card went to Ruth Danks of Southern Pines. Danks wrote in with a tip for storing appliance and other manuals in an accordion file.

Best for your photo album

If you’ve ever admired a photograph in which a fountain or waterfall appears to be spraying cotton candy and wondered how to get the same effect, here are the secrets, excerpted from the Best Family Photography Tips blog:

Producing the “cotton candy” or “angel hair pasta” look in moving water is one of the simplest and most dramatic photographic effects that you can create. As a bonus, let’s discuss those huge fountains that kids are always running into. If those kids happen to be yours, you can change the look of the spraying water in two dramatically different ways:

A fast shutter speed (1/500 second and faster) will turn the spray into individual drops.

A slow shutter speed (1/4 second and slower) will turn the spray into cotton candy. Attempt this shot only with a tripod and a stationary subject.

To achieve the cotton-candy look when taking a family portrait in front of a fountain, all you need is to have the camera on a tripod. Take a few shots with shutter speeds varying between 1/2 and 1 1/2 seconds.

If there is too much light for such a long exposure, you might want to get some neutral density filters.

Use the self-timer so you can also be in the shot. Tell everyone not to move a muscle for however long the shutter is open.

Get these and other photography tips at http://nando.com/a4.

Best for stains

We’ve already shared our love of Blue Dawn/vinegar mixture for cleaning shower walls, doors and bathroom/kitchen fixtures. Now we’ve learned that a mixture of blue Dawn and peroxide is great for cleaning laundry and carpet stains.

The Modern Day Moms blog says this “miracle cleaner” can be used on everything from carpet spills to getting stains out of cloth diapers. Mix one part blue Dawn dishwashing liquid to two parts hydrogen peroxide. (Example: 1 cup Dawn to 2 cups peroxide.) Pour the solution directly on the stain (test colorfastness in an inconspicuous spot first), wait a couple of minutes, then use a cloth or sponge to rub it back and forth several times to saturate. Let sit again for a few minutes. Store the solution in an opaque spray bottle (light degrades peroxide) and wet the spot before laundering or cleaning. You can see the blog entry at http://nando.com/a5.

Best for flowers

Extend the life of floral arrangements by trying one of the tried-and-true methods suggested on the Reader’s Digest website.

1 Put a crushed aspirin in the water before adding your flowers. Remember to change the vase water every few days.

2 It sounds conterintuitive, but RD says you can add 1/4 teaspoon bleach per quart of vase water. Another popular recipe calls for 3 drops bleach and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1 quart water. The bleach keeps the water from getting cloudy and inhibits growth of bacteria.

3 Add a penny and a cube of sugar to the vase water. The copper in pennies is thought to act like an acidifier, which prevents the growth of bacteria.

4 Spritzing hair spray on your arrangements can keep cut flowers looking fresh longer. Stand a foot away from the bouquet and give it a quick spray, just on the undersides of the leaves and petals.

Find four more ways to stretch the life of your bouquets (including an interesting use of vodka) at http://nando.com/a6.

Readers’ best

Raleigh reader Susan Friday Lamb wrote in with a tip to help you stay organized in the kitchen. “When I write my grocery shopping list, I put the page number of the recipe beside the recipe name, and I write the recipe book name (if needed). This goes above all the ingredients I need to get. After I grocery shop, I put the list on the refrigerator door for the week. Then when I need the recipe, I have the page number right there. It makes it easy to see all the recipes together too, so I know what selections I can choose from.”

Best of the tube

On HGTV

Perfect place. Frankie, a picky, perfectionist nurse at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, wants a fully loaded row house for under $200,000. He’s used to getting his way, so why shouldn’t he now? Will Frankie’s diva attitude get in the way of his house hunt? Or will his stubborness ensure that he gets the home he wants? “My First Place” airs at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Outrageous kitchens. From a wall of wine and hidden appliances to a 1950’s-style diner and a futuristic cooking pod, some people think the more outrageous, the better. Come along as you’re invited into kitchens that are sure to blow the budget and your mind. “HGTV Outrageous” airs at 8 p.m. Friday.

Send news and photos to The News & Observer, P.O. Box 191, Raleigh, N.C. 27602; email topdrawer@newsobserver.com

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