A manual thermostat works best in an outbuilding

My childhood friend Michelle grew up in a big old farmhouse far from the center of town. I used to love going over to her house to play after school, since there were was so much to explore around the property that she lived on. In addition to the three story house, they also had a barn, with garages on the first floor, and a living room upstairs.

The barn was my favorite part of Michelle's house, since these types of spaces are typically always filled with old, forgotten objects, and this one was no exception. One day, I found a whole bag of brass mailbox letters, which were really cool – I still have them hanging in my bedroom.

But one of the best things about going to the barn after school was that we got to be the ones to warm it up for everyone else. As the first people to go into the barn, we got to turn on the old manual thermostat on for the first time all day.

We were so little the first time that Michelle's mom bestowed this responsibility on us, that we would stand on chairs in order to reach the thermostat on the wall. It wasn't long before we learned the quirks of the barn and figured out how to adjust the temperature perfectly.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that a manual thermostat is definitely the way to go for a space that isn't used all the time, since it can turned on depending on how frequently or infrequently the space is used, and it will keep you warm when you need it to.

A humidifier is great for releasing wrinkles

When I was in college, I used to love bringing all of my laundry home. Rather than dragging a big bag of dirty clothes through my college campus, and then waiting for an old and damaged machine, I got to wash my clothes for free in my parents' very nice washer and dryer.

Not only would I save a lot of money and not have to worry about holding on to quarters, I could get all of my laundry so much cleaner because the machines were new and nice, as opposed to old and overused.

Plus, if I had been away for long enough and my mom missed me, she would sometimes do my wash for me, which was the nicest perk of all. It wasn't just that tackling laundry is the kind of task that nobody wants to deal with, but my clothes seemed to come out in better condition when she would wash them.

Even though she wouldn't iron them, everything would always be wrinkle-free and beautiful. One time, my mom offered to help me with my laundry, and I stuck around to see if she did anything different from me.

At first, I had no idea why her laundry came out better than mine. But when she moved my clothes into the dryer, I noticed that my mother switched on the humidifier in our laundry room. When I asked her why she did, she told me that it helped to keep the clothes wrinkle-free.

Now I always take care to do laundry with my house humidifier on. It keeps everything fresh and wrinkle-less right out of the dryer, and makes the air so much more pleasant.

Electric heaters can keep outdoor shopping areas nice and warm

Before Christmas, I went out with a few of my friends to a holiday market. It was nice to walk around to the different tables and see all of the lovely handmade crafts for sale by various local artisans. Whether you were looking for beautiful jewelry, carved wood or cold-weather accessories, you could find it here.

The market was the perfect place to spend a little time getting into the holiday spirit, as well as do a little bit of last-minute Christmas shopping. I was able to find the perfect gift for my mom here, since she loves handmade pottery and there was quite a bit to choose from.

Initially, when my friend Liz suggested that we go, I wasn't that interested in the prospect of spending time outside in the cold weather, and I doubted whether I would find anything worth buying in such a place.

When I got there, however, I was thrilled to find that the tables weren't set up outside, but rather, they were inside of a tent and protected from the harsh winter winds. When we stepped into the enclosure, there were Christmas carols being played, and I found that it was pleasantly warm – perfect for shopping.

After doing a little looking around, I saw that there were electric heaters in all corners of the large tent, and to stay warm, some of the vendors had brought their own too. It really helped to promote the cozy atmosphere, which in turn made me want to shop more.

When my mom saw the lovely vase I gave her for Christmas, she was thrilled. I'm so happy that I decided to go to the holiday market!

Manual thermostats are best for multi-unit buildings

Last weekend, my landlord came by my apartment to fix a few minor problems before he went on vacation for the holidays. It's really nice that the owners of our buildings are so willing to fix anything that goes wrong before it becomes a major problem.

While he was there, I offered Tom, our landlord, a cup of coffee and chatted with him a bit. He asked how we were liking everything, and if we had noticed any problems with the heat in the building. I told him that we usually keep it set low to save money, but that the manual thermostat works perfectly, and the furnace appears to be very responsive.

Tom said that that was great to hear, since he had just replaced the thermostats before we moved in. Previously, he told me, the apartments in the building were all on the same heating zone, which got to be very expensive, since the lower floors were always too cold, leading the first floor tenants to turn up the heat more, while the upper floors were much too hot.

This disparity in temperature was bad not only uncomfortable and expensive, it was also wasteful of energy. After the previous residents moved out, they had the house converted so that each apartment had its own manual thermostat. The simplicity of these make them easy for everyone to use, and since then, he has not gotten a complaint about the temperature of the house.

Rather than pick something complex and programmable, which could leave people too hot or too cold if they don't know how to set it properly, Tom chose to go with a simpler option, and divided the heating zones, which helped to make the house more efficient.

Humidifiers are great for growing orchids

Yesterday was a great holiday. It was so nice to spend the day with my family, having big meals and giving one another gifts, and then enjoying everything that we got for the rest of the day. This year, my dad gave me some orchids for Christmas.

This was a really thoughtful gift, because he knows how much I like gardening, and how I like to keep plants in all of the windows of my apartment in Boston. I was thrilled with the present that he gave me, and spent a long time looking up the best conditions for growing an orchid so that I can make these beautiful flowers last a long time.

I found out that orchids are indigenous to tropical climates, so they do best in conditions that are warm and moist, as well as sunny. I decided that I would keep my orchids in the front window of my house, since this one gets a lot of sun and it's usually warm in that room.

I wasn't sure how I could put the proper amount of moisture in the air of this space, however. I was chatting with my mom about this problem, and she said, "Well, don't you have a humidifier?"

Of course! I couldn't believe that I'd forgotten about my house humidifier. I usually use it to keep from getting sick, but when I get back in town, I plan on either moving it into the living room or buying a new one for this area, so that I can use it for my new plants.

I'm so excited to begin growing my new orchids, and can't wait to increase their beauty and keep them healthy for a long time by keeping them in the right conditions.

The right electric heater can save you money come winter

My friend DJ is really frugal. Despite the fact that he has a good job and could afford a lavish lifestyle if he wanted to, DJ decides to do everything on the cheap. He's the kind of guy who will order just an appetizer and tap water at a group dinner so that he doesn't have to chip in much when the bill comes.

But for the most part, DJ's cheap qualities are more endearing than annoying, and it's a joke among my group of friends that he lives in a tiny, rundown studio apartment in a questionable neighborhood, despite the fact that most of his co workers are living large in downtown highrises.

Last week, I was near where DJ lives, and figured that I would stop in to say high. We all know better than to just pop in at his house, since he's the kind of person who doesn't always appreciate social interaction.

To my surprise, however, DJ answered chipperly, and told me to stop in whenever I would like. When I got to his apartment, DJ looked happy to see me, and said that he was glad someone came over.

I was happy to hear that, but knowing DJ, I figured that he had an ulterior reason for being so happy to have a house guest. It didn't take long for me to find out that DJ had been keeping his heat off to save money, and only turning it on when he had guests over.

I was somewhat alarmed by this, since he could end up getting sick or damaging his apartment by refusing to turn on the heat. My friends and I chipped in and bought him an electric heater for Christmas though. So he could save money and still be warm.

One great tip for keeping your Christmas tree fresh

Every year, my family makes a very big deal about heading to Western Massachusetts and chopping down our own Christmas tree. Even as other family traditions have fallen by the wayside over the years, my dad loves this one and he always insists that we spend time walking around the farm to find the perfect one for us.

But since my sister and I moved away from home, it's not always that easy to find a time where we can get together to put the tree up. Rather than finding the time to take a weekend trip during this already busy time of year, my family likes to go during the days after Thanksgiving.

My parents tell me that they love having the tree up so far in advance, since it makes for a nice long holiday season, but they've had to get creative when it comes to keeping the tree fresh for that long.

Every year, my dad looks for new strategies to keep the tree in good shape until Christmas. He always makes sure to give it a fresh cut, and follows the old wise tale that if you pour a beer into the tree's water, it will drink better.

But last year, he discovered that keeping your tree fresh isn't just about making sure it has enough water – you also have to make sure that the air isn't too dry. When he heard about this, he moved our house humidifier into the living room next to the tree, and kept it running until Christmas.

I asked him what his plans were this year, and he said that the humidifier worked so well that this year he's sticking with it. I can't wait to see what the tree looks like when I get home for Christmas.

An electric heater makes a wonderful Christmas gift

My friends often ask me what they should get their loved ones as a gift. Since I don't have a lot of spending money, I'm forced to come up with creative gifts, which – given the extra thought that they require – tend to be more appreciated than generic presents.

I wasn't that surprised, then, when I got a call from my friend Zach, asking for help coming up with a Christmas gift for his parents. Zach and his siblings always go in on a gift for their parents themselves, but after more than 20 years of doing this, they were running out of ideas.

First I asked Zach what he and his siblings had purchased for their parents in the past, and he told me that they tend to get something that's nice, that they might not buy for themselves. Last year, Zach and his siblings bought them a weekend away, and the year before, they had family portraits taken.

I suggested that this year, Zach and his family could go in a different direction. Rather than getting his parents something that they would like, they could give them something that everyone in the family could make use of.

I remembered from the last time I was at Zach's parents' house that it has a screened-in porch. I suggested that he and his siblings could go in on a nice electric heater for this indoor-outdoor space.

This would make the porch usable for the entirety of the year, but it's not the kind of appliance that his parents would find insulting. Zach loved the suggestion, and he ordered an electric heater for his parents. I can't wait to find out how much they love their Christmas present this year.

Manual thermostats might save you money in the long run

The other day I had a surprising conversation with my friend Kevin. He's very concerned with the environment, and is always taking up a new crusade in order to protect the world we live in. Last month, he was refusing to use a dryer, while these days his plan is a little bit more surprising.

I met Kevin for lunch, and we chatted a bit to catch up on each other's lives. I mentioned that my roommates and I have been trying to conserve energy as much as possible since our heating bill is higher during the winter months.

"You don't have a programmable thermostat, do you?" Kevin asked me rather quickly.

Expecting to be reprimanded, I told him that our apartment came with a manual thermostat, and that we couldn't change it. To my surprise, Kevin looked relieved. I know how interested he is in saving the environment, so this was not what I was anticipating.

I asked Kevin why he was against programmable thermostats, and he told me that they only save energy and money in the homes where they're properly used. He said that in a lot of cases, these are set to be switched on all the time, and actually end up keeping temperatures higher and using more fuel.

Kevin said that in a house with multiple inhabitants, it's best to stick with a manual thermostat and simply have a policy that the last person home turns the heat down before they leave. I was thrilled to get this rewarding advice from Kevin, since this is already what we do in my house. It's nice to know that I'm doing my part for the environment in one small way.

Many people rely on a humidifier during flu season

With the official start of winter just around the corner, flu season is in full-swing. And though there have been few reports of people falling ill from influenza so far this year, doctors have been predicting that it will be a particularly bad year for the disease.

In order to protect myself from falling ill with the flu this year, I've taken to scouring the internet for home remedies as well as proven techniques for warding off this virus. Since I'm not in one of the target age brackets that's recommended to get a flu vaccination, I decided to forego mine this year, with the goal of keeping my immune system strong on my own.

In order to limit my exposure to germs that might make me contract the flu virus, I keep my hands clean, and carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with me wherever I go. It's amazing how much this one small step can help me to maintain my health throughout the year, but during flu season especially.

In order to boost my immunity, I also make sure to take vitamin C if Iever feel like I'm getting sick. I picked this tip up from my mother, who used to advise us to eat an orange even if we so much as sneezed. But it can be helpful when it comes to thwarting a cold.

If I'm feeling under the weather, I also make sure to sleep with a humidifier on. These devices are very helpful, and can really make you feel better while you sleep. It's recommended to many parents of babies, but I found that it works just as well on me!