Snake Eats a Lizard

Book Carvings

Stunning book carvings by a Taiwanese artist Long Bin-Chen.

Coffee: To Quit or Not to Quit

Coffee is the hot beverage of choice in Europe, the Americas, and the Arabic world, with tea occupying that position in Britain, China, and India. In Arabia, the oily coffee berries were used as a medicine and fermented to make wine almost 2,000 years ago. There are many legends about how the stimulating properties of coffee came to be recognized. One legend traces coffee’s first use as a beverage back to an Arabian monastery, where sometime around the 10th century a monk noticed a small herd of goats cavorting all night after eating berries from the coffee plants that grew wild in the vicinity. The monks brewed a concoction of the berries in hot water and found it helped them stay awake for their nightly prayers.

The practice of roasting the beans originated in Syria in the 13th century. Coffee arrived in Paris in 1643, and by 1675 the city had more than 250 coffee houses. By the 18th century the coffee bush had reached Brazil, which now produces more coffee than the rest of the world combined. Since then, coffee has become the national drink in many countries. It has been estimated that 25 percent of all adults in the United States consume more than five cups of coffee every day. They drink four times more coffee than beer, three times more than soft drinks, and millions of gallons more than milk.

Is this healthy? Countless studies have been done, yet medical science has come up with little that would persuade people of the need to find an alternative to coffee. Some studies suggest a possible relationship between coffee and pancreatic diseases such as cancer, though this is actively debated. Others suggest a mild aggravating effect on hypertension and irregularities in heart rhythm. Many people who drink coffee recognize that it irritates their stomach, and studies have shown that its tannic acid content interferes with iron absorption and aggravates iron-deficiency anemia. The same is true of black tea. Medical research has also focused on the link between coffee consumption and PMS, fibrocystic breast disease, insomnia and other sleep disorders, and decreased rates of calcium absorption, although none of the findings are conclusive.

But the upshot is that the evidence is not compelling enough to spark a massive retreat from a beverage that has become an integral part of the daily routine in many households. The reasons people drink coffee are many and often firmly held. Besides finding pleasure in the aroma and flavor, many of us sip it as part of a comforting ritual, accompanied by a newspaper in the morning or a chat with a companion later in the day. Some also find that it acts as a morning laxative. But probably the most universal reason for drinking coffee is that it gets us going first thing in the morning and keeps us going later in the day when our energy begins to flag. It banishes sluggishness after a meal or in the evening hours at the end of a hard day.

Why Not Quit?

Even without the support of highly publicized, conclusive studies, experienced medical practitioners, especially those who take a holistic approach, know that there are many medical problems and symptoms that may be aggravated by caffeine and that a trial period of several weeks without the stuff might well be warranted to see if symptoms subside. Hypertension, irregularities in heart rhythm, sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraine and tension headaches might abate if people reduced or even eliminated their coffee intake. Even people with chronic musculosketetal pain syndrome — in the form of head-aches, low back pain, joint pain, and so forth — paradoxically often find relief when they avoid caffeine, which is sometimes used in pain medications prescribed for those very symptoms.

Another reason for eliminating caffeine is that doing so will reduce our stress and toll it takes on our lives. We all know that adrenaline is one of the key hormones responsible for the body’s stress response. Caffeine is essentially an adrenaline equivalent — it acts in the body to block the enzyme responsible for deactivating adrenaline’s effects, thus accentuating and prolonging the action of circulating adrenaline. Avoiding coffee and other beverages that contain caffeine is a biochemical means of reducing your internal stress level.

For those interested in yoga, there is another reason to find substitutes for dietary stimulants — the challenge of tapping into the vast energies that lie within rather than depending on a drug. Overcoming periodic dips in energy through exercise, relaxation, postures, breathing practices, and meditation will revitalize and replenish the body. Caffeine only depletes the body further by masking the symptoms of fatigue and thereby sustaining a pace that the body and mind are protesting against. Lack of energy is a signal that rest and revitalization are needed, not a weakness to be overridden by chemical stimulants.

Coffee Withdrawal

If you decide to experiment with eliminating caffeine, you’ll quickly discover it’s addictive. Other than the morning fatigue, which can often be reduced with a shower and some vigorous exercise, and the sluggish bowels, which can often be stimulated by another hot drink (although not always as effectively), the main withdrawal symptom is a headache. This usually announces itself as a dull, heavy pain, but it can take the form of a severe tension headache or migraine, beginning 16 to 36 hours after the last cup (depending on the habitual level of consumption) and lasting two to three days.

For those who wish to persist in the cold-turkey approach to self-decaffeination, the homeopathic remedy nux vomica 30c taken nightly for three to seven days may help, especially if the first dose is taken the night before mounting your first assault on the habit. Ease Plus, an herbal remedy based on a traditional Chinese formula, invigorates the liver and digestive system while calming the nervous system — all of which may make the transition easier.

Patience also helps, and if worst comes to worst, so may an ounce or two of the offending brew itself. If an abrupt halt seems too radical, a gradual transition may be more palatable, although it will require persistence. Eliminate a cup from your daily quota, stay at that level until you are comfortable, and then eliminate another cup. You can also gradually make the brew less concentrated either by diluting it with water or milk or by substituting black tea. Another trick is to eliminate the sweetener before you begin to eliminate the coffee, especially if you’ve been using sugar. Caffeine and sugar seem to be a particularly habit-forming combination.

Dropping caffeine from your life is like changing any habit — the best approach is to make the smallest change possible that still gets the job done: keep the rituals, change only what’s in the cup. Decaf may help in the transition, although if you really want to pursue this, herbal tea, a roasted grain beverage, or hot water mixed with fresh lemon juice and honey are preferable.

Top 5 Reasons NOT to Drink Soda

1. Soda is one more cause of the climate crisis. We have exported our carbon dioxide addiction all around the world. Just think of the costs in fuel to ship it—and the emissions produced. Maybe if we stop drinking so much of it, the appeal of American sodas will decline elsewhere. And at least in most other countries, the local soda is still made with real sugar!

2. Yeah, yeah, yeah…high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS is only cheaper than sugar because our government subsidizes the toxic, poisonous farming of corn in order to keep chemical companies (and maybe big tractor companies, too) in business. Plus, studies have shown that high-fructose corn syrup has mercury in it. So all those moms who think (incorrectly) that mercury in vaccines causes autism had better not be giving their kids soda!

3. Diet soda causes people to make poor decisions. According to a recent study, people who drink diet sodas think they are getting some energy, but their bodies still feel starved, so they kick into famine mode. Which basically means that the future doesn’t matter, all that matters is getting a next dose of fuel—hence, impulsive, short-term thinking. Amazing.

4. Soda isn’t really thirst quenching anyway. Did you ever really, really pay attention to how your mouth feels when you drink a soda? All that sugar kind of sucks out the liquids from your mouth and leaves a taste that is so icky you have to eat something to get rid of it. So not only are you getting empty calories from your drink, but you are urged to snack, too.

5. Fountain soda has fecal matter in it! It’s been a bad couple of weeks for soda in the news. Another study just this past week found that more than 40 percent of all fountain sodas have traces of fecal matter germs in them. It’s not in the ice, it’s in the soda itself. 

Skip Milk? 5 Reasons Why

1. Dairy cows are fed the wrong food, which not only changes the nature of the milk but causes health problems for the cows. They are fed soy, corn, cottonseed meal or other commercial feeds, which contain all sorts of things including chicken manure and citrus peel cake, laced with pesticides. These foods are not appropriate for cows, who are ruminants and should be feeding on green grass in the spring, summer and fall and on green feed, silage, hay and root vegetables in the winter. Unfortunately most dairy cows are kept in confinement, given antibiotics and hormones, and never see green grass their entire lives.

2. The milk is pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating a liquid to a high enough temperature to kill certain bacteria and disable certain enzymes. It destroys enzymes, vitamins, denatures fragile milk proteins, kills beneficial bacteria and promotes pathogens. Even calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity. Pasteurization was instituted in the 1920s to combat TB, infant diarrhea, undulant fever and other diseases caused by poor animal nutrition and dirty production methods. But times have changed and modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks and inspection methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary for public protection.

3. In some cases, milk is ultra-pasteurized to get rid of heat-resistant bacteria and give it a longer shelf life. Ultra high temperature pasteurization is a process that takes milk from a chilled temperature to above the boiling point in less than two seconds. This process is utilized for the boxed milks that can be kept at room temperature.

4. To make matters worse, milk is homogenized. Homogenization is a process that breaks down butterfat globules so they do not rise to the top. Homogenized milk is harder to digest, so proteins that would normally be digested in the stomach are not broken down and instead are absorbed into the bloodstream. Often the body reacts to these “foreign proteins” by triggering the immune system, causing inflammation. It can even trigger auto-immune problems. Homogenized milk has also been linked to heart disease probably because of the fat globules that are dispersed by the process.

5. In addition to being chemically altered into something that hard to digest and causes problems, today’s milk usually contains steroids, antibiotics, pesticides from treated grains, bacteria from infected animals, and genetically engineered growth hormones.

Protect Yourself From the Top 10 Frauds and Scams

Unscrupulous schemers and scammers have become trickier and harder to spot than ever, thanks to more sophisticated marketing and the availability of online information. But don’t worry: Your pocket can’t be picked without some participation by you. If you know what to watch out for and how to protect yourself, you can keep your hard-earned money safe. Here, the top ten financial fleecing tricks to watch out for.

1. “You’ve got mail”: Internet identity phishing

How it works
You check your e-mail and see a notice from UPS, eBay, PayPal, the IRS, your bank, or any other official-sounding financial entity. It says your payment has been refunded, your account is due, your payment didn’t go through, or — most commonly — your account information needs updating. What’s going on? Sophisticated identity thieves send carefully disguised e-mail solicitations with hopes of peering into your computer to obtain personal information. What’s really scary is that in some cases, you don’t even have to click on the link provided; simply opening the email gives the scammers the window of opportunity they need.

How to protect yourself
Don’t open any e-mail that references payments or other financial transactions.

  • First, look at the e-mail address it’s coming from to make sure it’s identical to the real thing. Take a close look at the subject line of the e-mail: the grammar, the font, the exact URL referenced. If it looks suspicious, delete it.
  • Look to see if the e-mail uses your real name. In most cases, the “phisherman” has your e-mail address but no other information, whereas if this were really from your bank or the IRS or whoever, they’d know your name, and possibly reference your account number or other identifying information. If not, delete it.
  • If you’ve already opened the e-mail before you realize it’s suspicious, don’t click on the link that it contains. Instead, check the link by opening a separate browser window on your desktop and going to the official website in question to see what the real URL is and whether the two match up. “Yes, it takes a while, but better than losing your life savings or having your credit ruined,” says Alexis A. Moore, founder of Survivors in Action, a group that provides education about Internet and record-keeping security. If things look fishy, change the passwords on your online accounts, freeze any credit cards you’re concerned about, and start watching your credit report to see if identity theft has occurred.

2. Pay-to-borrow loan scams

How it works
You’re told you can borrow money (usually despite having a low credit rating or other impediment to a normal loan). But there are up-front fees involved, often running to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The scam, says Reno, Nevada-based financial advisor Todd Tresidder: “The loan never comes through, and the fees you paid disappear along with the representative or company that offered the loan.

How to protect yourself
Remember that normal loans don’t require fees to be paid at the beginning of the application process.
In fact, it’s against the law for a business to request up-front fees for loans, according to the Better Business Bureau.

  • Watch out for alternative terms. Smart scammers might use terms like insurance, taxes, or processing fees. No matter what term is used, an advance payment by any name is illegal.
  • Beware of false promises. No legitimate lender can guarantee you’ll get a loan before you even apply. If someone promises you a loan before you’ve submitted an application, you can bet it’s not on the level.

Trusted groups and big pay-offs

3. Affinity fraud

How it works
The scammer usually starts by enrolling a trusted, leading member of the group — a church or
community leader, for example. “The leader unwittingly promotes the fraud to the congregation or group with the good intention of benefiting the church or organization,” Tresidder says. Sadly, this type of fraud tends to move ahead rapidly with a type of “group think” — people join in because many other people they know are joining in and they don’t want to be left behind. Communities and congregations with large numbers of seniors are frequently the target of this type of scam, because scammers know seniors have a lifetime of savings set aside for retirement.

How to protect yourself
Always be suspicious — or at least more alert — when solicited for money, even by people you trust and admire.

  • Treat all investments with the same skepticism, no matter who’s representing them. “Just because you learn about an investment through a reputable channel doesn’t mean the investment itself is legitimate,” says Tresidder.
  • Watch to see if the trusted authority central in selling the investment seems to be influenced by an outside counselor or advisor.
  • If a lot of seniors are involved in the investing project, consider that an additional red flag.

4. Investment fraud: The big payoff

How it works
You get a phone call from a stranger, a pitch over lunch from a colleague, or an offer from a trusted financial advisor to invest in something that promises unrealistic returns.

How to protect yourself
Never trust anyone who promises a high return in a short period of time.

  • “When someone promises higher returns than the market, think of it as bait designed to hook you,” says Pat Huddleston, a lawyer and CEO of Investor’s Watchdog, an investor protection fi rm.
  • Never invest in an investment that you don’t fully understand; you won’t be able to accurately assess the risks or identify a scam if you’re in over your head.
  • Avoid situations that require you to place complete trust in a broker or investment adviser. “The temptation of misconduct is too great and the regulatory structure too loose,” Huddleston says.
  • Beware independent brokers who appear to be operating as sole agents; you want your investment account to be held with an independent, third-party custodian that’s regulated and monitored by regulatory agencies.

Big news and credit fixes

5. Investments torn from the headlines

How it works
An investment advisor describes an investment in a new technology designed to solve an impo[2]rtant current problem, often an issue that’s a hot topic in the news, such as the need for alternative fuels. The advisor may show you a portfolio of news clippings about a scientific or technological topic.

“Headlines give scams what they most need: credibility,” says Pat Huddleston, CEO of Investor’s Watchdog. “Choosing a story in the news — green energy or healthcare industry innovations, for
example — as the starting point gives the scam artist’s pitch instant credibility. You know of the need for what the company can do because you’ve seen that need covered in the press.”

How to protect yourself
If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

  • Be wary of crisis-du-jour investments. “When the dollar was bottoming out, currency trading scams surged. When gas cost more than $4 per gallon, people rushed into oil and gas scams,” Huddleston says. Right now? Look for scams tied to investment in companies that make cars that run on something besides gasoline, or green energy companies like wind, solar, and nuclear power.
  • Never invest in any such company without performing a thorough investigation through a professional investor-protection company.

6. Credit repair scams

How it works
A company promises they have an “in” with the credit bureaus or know some secret regulation that allows them to clean up your credit. (No such thing exists.) Or they promise to get you a new, clean credit record; this may involve applying for a new taxpayer identification number or employer identification number — a felony offense. Or they promise that they’ll help you convince a creditor that you don’t really owe the debts.

In this case what typically happens is the fraudulent credit repair service bombards the credit card companies and credit bureaus with paperwork and procedural requests, which can result in debts being listed as “disputed.” While the disputes are ongoing, the charges may be temporarily removed, at which point the scamming company shows you the “clean” record to prove that the debts were cleared. But they weren’t, and by the time the debts are relisted on your record, the company is long gone. Meanwhile, if you’ve paid up front, you’re out a lot of money.

How to protect yourself
Look into repairing your credit yourself; there’s nothing a credit repair company can do that you can’t do yourself, although it can be time-consuming. And if you really want to engage a service, choose carefully:

  • Make sure you’re given a contract to sign, and an official document called “Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law,” which advises you of all your rights. If you don’t get those things, something’s fishy.
  • Take plenty of time to read the contract and make sure you understand it before signing it. Among other things, the contract should spell out the services to be performed, the dates ofservice, and — most important — how much you’re going to be charged for the credit repair services you’re contracting for.
  • There should also be a statement letting you know that you have three days in which to cancel the contract; if not, it’s not a valid contract.
  • The biggest red flag of all: an offer to help do something dishonest. If the information on your credit report is accurate and is less than seven years old, beware anyone who tells you they can remove it. They’re offering to do something dishonest, so you know they’re not on the level.
  • Beware any demand to pay up front. Legitimate credit repair services can’t require you to pay until they’ve completed providing their services.

Medical mayhem and dodgy homework

7. Medical identity theft

How it works
Someone gains access to your personal information — by stealing paperwork out of your recycling bin, posing as someone legitimate on the phone, or finding other ways to get your health insurance ID number and other data — then quickly racks up medical charges, draining your medical benefits. You end up saddled with co-pays and percentage-based fees for services you never received, while your insurance company or Medicare is hit with huge charges.

An additional side-effect of this type of fraud is that your medical information ends up mixed up with that of the patient who fraudulently used your coverage. The result can be serious errors and misdiagnoses and a lengthy and frustrating process of cleaning up your medical records.

How to protect yourself
Don’t provide your medical insurance information to anyone, either over the phone or in person, no matter how legitimate-sounding the request, unless you’re absolutely sure the information is going to your actual provider, says Alexis A. Moore, who founded Survivors in Action.

  • Review your health insurance statements and medical bills carefully as soon as they come, and call if you see any charges you don’t understand.
  • If you suddenly begin receiving calls from a collection agency citing unpaid medical bills, call your health insurance provider and ask them to check your records.
  • Make sure you review each year what’s called a “benefits request” statement from your insurance company, which lists all the health insurance benefits that were paid out on your behalf during the previous year.

8. Work-at-home scams

How it works
You’ve seen the ads: “Be your own boss! Earn thousands of dollars a month working from home! Become part of one of America’s fastest-growing industries!” But as always, if it sounds amazing, there has to be a catch. In this case, the catch is that these jobs — which can be anything from processing online rebates to medical billing to home craft assembly — require “starter kits,” certifications or other credentials, and software or equipment that cost money before you start, money you’re promised you’ll make back within the first weeks of work. In the meantime, you’re asked to incur other start-up costs, such as buying supplies, placing ads in newspapers, or working without pay until the payments begin flowing in.

The second catch: You’re usually asked to provide identifying information and a credit card number, which the scammer may continue to charge after processing the initial fees.

How to protect yourself
Before signing on, check the company out with your state Attorney General, Consumer Protection Agency, or Better Business Bureau. There are real, legitimate work-at-home gigs, but they’re more rare than the fake ones.

  • Ask lots of questions, such as when and how you’ll be paid, by whom, and exactly what costs will be incurred up front.
  • Be particularly wary of work-at-home gigs that involve medical billing; these tend to have the highest up-front costs, and they require you to find your own clients, a tough thing to do when most doctors contract for billing with large, reputable firms.

Car commerce and high-rate CDs

9. Online car-buying schemes

How it works
The sites offer used cars at bargain-basement prices, usually claiming the cars have been repossessed when people didn’t make their payments. The phony websites use the name, address, and contact info for a real dealer, often one that’s respected in the community. In many cases, there are other legitimizing touches, such as a link to Carfax. However, the “dealer” communicates only via e-mail, and when you input your information, you’re instructed to make a “deposit” payment by wire transfer. The balance of payment is supposedly due upon delivery of the car – which, of course, never happens.

How to protect yourself
Never engage in any transaction that requires money to be sent by wire transfer. That in itself is a major red flag, experts say. Money-grams can be picked up and cashed by anyone with the correct ID and are untraceable once cashed. Also:

  • Before you make any major purchase that requires delivery, pick up the phone and call until you get a real human being on the other end.
  • Check out the company with your state attorney general’s office, Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.

10. High-return CDs

How it works
So-called independent “deposit brokers” claim that they’ve negotiated a higher rate of interest for CDs by bringing a certain number of deposits to a financial institution. While there are legitimate deposit
brokers out there, this is an area rife with fraud, because it’s all too easy to sell CDs that don’t actually exist. Unsuspecting customers are lured with the name of a bank that sounds legitimate; often it’s an amalgamation of respected bank names. (One that was recently busted took the name “Chase Trust Bank.”) The investment documents are fake, the bank is usually out of state, and the scammers send out fake account distribution statements to encourage continued investment.

How to protect yourself
Before investing in any bank account, confirm that it’s legit by contacting the institution itself; don’t just take a broker’s word for it.

  • Make sure the bank has an actual physical address and phone number. Don’t rely on a website for this information, since it can be faked. Instead, find the address and phone number on the contractual paperwork provided and call. Ask to speak to a representative; an outgoing recording is not sufficient verification.
  • Check if the bank is FDIC-insured. A foolproof way of vetting fraud is to look up any bank you’re thinking of using in the FDIC’s directory of registered and insured banks. The FDIC’s website is not exactly user-friendly, but if you look on the right side of the home page you’ll see a box called Consumer Resources. It contains a rotating list of tips, one of which is called “Bank Find.” Fill in the name, address, and city of the bank you want to know about, and if it’s protected by the FDIC, it will come up with a listing.

Real Burgers vs Ad Burgers

The Wendy's Double Baconator
promotional picture


The McDonald's Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese
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The Whataburger 5-3-1
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The BK Stacker
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Burger King's Texas (Double) Whopper
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Believe it or not, though, they look a lot better piled one on top of the other...
Whatabaconpounderstacker, version 1

Atkins version 2

Vegetarian version 3

Amazing Starcraft Cake

6 Things You Should Clean, But Probably Don’t

Reusable Grocery Bags

Many of us have gotten into the habit of taking our own bags when we do our shopping, but how many of us clean them after each trip? According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, 97 percent of consumers never wash their bags. About 50 percent of the bags tested contained coliform (fecal) bacteria, and 12 percent contained E. coli. Especially since many people choose reusable bags to bring their lunch to work, to transport books or clothes, and for many other household uses, washing them after each use is the key to stopping contamination from vegetables or raw meat. Cloth bags can go directly into the washer and dryer, and recycled plastic bags can be wiped down with hot soapy water or treated with a disinfectant spray. Researchers also advise using each bag for only a single purpose—carrying raw meat, carrying vegetables, transporting laundry, or as a miscellaneous shopping tote.


Everyone loves a shower in the morning, but no one wants to get showered with bacteria. If you haven’t cleaned your showerhead recently, though, this is what may be happening. A study at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that 30 percent of showerheads tested positive for Mycobacterium avium, a germ that can cause lung infections, and for other various bacteria and fungi. Since some microbes may be resistant to chlorine, the best way to clean a showerhead is to soak it in a diluted vinegar solution and then scrub the deposits away with an old toothbrush. Plastic showerheads are more prone to bacterial buildup than metal ones, so people with compromised immune systems are advised to consider switching if necessary.

Computer Keyboards

A 2008 experiment by a researcher in England found that some computer keyboards harbor five times as many bacteria than the average toilet seat—bacteria including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), E. coli, and staph. The Centers for Disease Control blamed computer-equipment contamination for a 2007 norovirus outbreak that affected more than 100 people at a Washington, D.C., elementary school. Even private computers used at home aren’t immune to infection, considering that people are more likely to clean, take out trash, prepare food, handle pets, or use the bathroom without washing their hands when they’re at home. A good scrub after typing is the best way to avoid getting sick, but cleaning the keyboard is another good idea. First, eliminate dirt and crumbs using a vacuum cleaner or compressed-air canister, and then use a solution of diluted dishwashing detergent or isopropyl alcohol to swab down the keys with cotton balls or cotton swabs. (Make sure you disconnect the keyboard first.) While you’re at it, you might as well give the same treatment to your mouse, as well as your TV’s remote control.


They may hang motionless, but drapes and curtains are a magnet for dust mites, pet hair, mold, dander, and debris of all kinds. If someone in your house suffers from indoor allergies, cleaning the curtains regularly can help reduce allergen buildup. Simple panel curtains can usually be washed and dried at home and then steamed to release wrinkles. There are certain types of draperies you should take to a dry cleaner or other cleaning professional, including lace curtains, designs with embroidery or appliqué, those with pleats or complicated fabric construction, and draperies that are too big to fit into your washing machine. In between washings, experts recommend vacuuming curtains with a hose and brush attachment at least once a month to prevent debris from building up.

Trash Cans

Considering that the kitchen is usually the dirtiest spot in any house—even dirtier than the bathroom—it’s no surprise that trash cans can become laden with germs. Even if you take out the trash regularly the can itself is still coming into contact with dirt, dust, old food, raw meat, decomposing vegetables, moldy leftovers, kitty litter, and whatever else we deem to be too old, too gross, or too disgusting to keep in the house. Clean the trash cans at least twice a month to prevent the spread of germs like E. coli, salmonella, trichinosis, and simple cold and flu bugs. Small pails can go into the dishwasher; wash large cans with hot water and a mild bleach solution or with a product designed for pet messes, which contain enzymes to break down bacteria. A hose works best, but apartment-dwellers can clean a large trash can in the shower. (Just remember to rinse out the tub afterward.)


Researchers at the University of Arizona found that about 96 percent of shoes carry traces of fecal bacteria on the soles. If you think about the legions of feet that have crossed your threshold, you might decide that it’s time to give the welcome mat a welcome washing. Vacuum mats with fabric tops before washing to remove dust and loose dirt; you can wash rubber-backed mats in the washing machine. The easiest way to clean any doormat is to spray it down with a garden hose or use the pressure washer at a car wash, using a small amount of soap or detergent. Allow the mat to air-dry completely before putting it back into service.

6 Skincare Sins

You’ve seen the error of your ways when it comes to sleeping in makeup. You’ve quit smoking, you’ve stopped tanning, you drink plenty of water, and you even make homemade avocado masks. You cleanse, tone, and exfoliate every day–but not too much, and only with the right products.

We do everything we can to keep the skin on our faces and bodies looking soft, supple, and young, but even if you think you’re doing everything right, there are some common habits that undermine even the most valiant skincare efforts. Before you spend more money on fancy facials, and before you rush out and buy another expensive eye cream or anti-aging potion, check to make sure you’re not committing one of these six skincare sins.

Taking Hot Showers

Pleasurable though they may be, long and steamy showers are terrible for your skin. The hot water washes away skin’s protective oils, leaving it dry, tight, and itchy. Using a harsh, soap-based cleanser in a hot shower is double trouble: the two conspire to liquefy and wash away the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of skin cells and sebum. To take it easier on your body’s largest organ, switch to a lukewarm shower. The lower temperature helps keep the stratum corneum from rinsing away, as well as ensuring that you won’t linger in the shower long enough to do any other damage.

Skimping on Sunscreen

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has been chiding us for years to wear a 30 SPF sunscreen every single day. Of course, we all know to wear it on our faces, and definitely on our bodies while at the beach (right?), but sunscreen should really be worn everywhere, every day. That means you can’t skip it on cloudy days or overlook places like the tops of the ears, the scalp, the hands, the neck and chest, the lips, and the tops of the feet. According to the AAD, most melanomas and malignant skin lesions develop on areas of the body that are more exposed to the sun, including the head and neck, so don’t forget to cover every single inch. Also, if you’re using only a couple of squirts of sunscreen to cover your whole body, you’re not using nearly enough.

Not Handling with Care

Many of us rub too vigorously when drying off with a towel. The constant friction and abrasion on our body can strip away essential oils, leading to irritation and dryness; on the face, the constant tugging and pulling can lead to sagging. When drying skin, use a towel to blot or pat dry instead of rubbing. On the face, be sure not to tug on the skin, especially on the delicate areas underneath the eyes. Gently pat wet skin dry, and use the same delicate motion for applying eye cream. Pulling too hard for too many years could cause damage to the connective tissue underneath the skin’s surface.

Using Dirty Implements

Makeup brushes and sponges, tweezers, razors, and other personal-care gadgets spend most of their time in a humid bathroom–a bacterial bonanza where they become magnets for dust, dirt, and oil. At best, they don’t perform well when they’re dirty; at worst, they can spread germs and distribute dirt that could clog pores and cause breakouts. Make sure to wash cosmetic brushes regularly with soap and water, replace razor blades, loofahs, and pumice stones regularly, and clean everything else with rubbing alcohol to kill germs.

Too Much Touching
After you’ve been at the groc

ery store or the gas station or on public transportation, you’d never be willing to stick your fingers in your mouth, right? Yet few people give the same consideration to touching their face when their hands are dirty. Transferring dirt to the face is a surefire way to cause breakouts and clog pores, so try to avoid touching your face more than necessary, especially when your hands are less than clean.

When you’re washing your hands, don’t forget your cell phones can accumulate grime and bacteria that can easily transfer to the face. A recent study in the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials reported that 95 percent of mobile phones were contaminated with at least one type of bacteria. Some even carried MRSA, a type of staph germ that can be hard to treat. Keep your phone clean by gently wiping it down with rubbing alcohol once a week to remove traces of makeup, sweat, and other contaminants.

Scratching and Picking

Taking a pass at a momentary itch is one thing, but scratching repeatedly at one spot can literally scrape away the top layers of skin, leaving it dry, irritated, and exposed to infection. Picking at ingrown hairs, pimples, scabs, moles, or other spots can cause bleeding, create an open wound that’s susceptible to bacteria, and leave you with scars. If you experience constant itching, a dermatologist can help diagnose any skin allergies or eczema, but most chronically itchy skin is caused by other bad habits (like hot showers or product overload) and should decrease with improved care.

Having healthy skin doesn’t call for spending thousands of dollars on products and making frequent visits to the dermatologist–it simply requires the right care. Be good to your skin, and it’ll return the favor.