How to fix the five most common reading group problems

1. What can we do about members who don’t read the book?

First, make it clear to all applicants that your club is for readers only. But if someone doesn’t find time to finish a given selection–every book dubber with a life will get caught short once in a while–she shouldn’t be read the riot act. Instead, encourage members to come clean, remain silent while others talk, and ultimately answer this question: Did the discussion you just heard make you want to read (or skip) the book (and why)? Repeat non-reading offenders are a bigger problem. If you keep the conversation focused on the material, the non-readers will eventually get bored and leave on their own.

2. How do we keep people from hijacking the conversation?

Appoint a moderator for each discussion to make sure every member gets her say. This leadership task can fall on the host or on the person who chose the book–it doesn’t matter, as long as she takes her role seriously. One measure of a good group is how well it brings participants into the discussion.

3. How do we stop arguing over which books to read?

Groups must go through a honeymoon period, because this problem usually doesn’t arise until the novelty is gone and differences emerge. Build consensus early about the kind of books your group plans to read. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction, or both? Classics or contemporary works? Books that don’t exceed 400 pages? Majority rules! Set aside one meeting to create a list or at least a theme for the coming year. Advocates for a particular book should do some research to support the choice and come prepared to make a sales pitch.

4. How do we avoid talking about our own problems?

Maybe you don’t. Fellowship is part of what makes a club thrive. Just make sure you organize your meeting so that nonbook business happens either at the front end as members arrive or after the book discussion. If someone starts sending things off the rails on a regular basis, don’t wait until eyes start to roll. Be gentle: Interrupt, saying “I think we’re getting off track here.”

5. How do we maintain a lively discussion but prevent hurt feelings?

There’s no insurance policy against the unintended offense, especially if the topic is religion or politics. But you can agree to disagree without getting personal. The member who advocated reading a particular book should not be so invested that she gets hurt if her choice is criticized. At the same time, someone who says “I hated this book” should be prepared to explain why. Sometimes that’s a lazy way of saying “I don’t get what this is about.” The best book dubs aren’t about handing down judgments–thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It’s the exchange of ideas that makes them vital.

Love your wooden furniture? How to treat it right

The first thing you need to know: Most wooden furniture comes treated in one of these three ways.

  • Clear lacquer

The most popular finish, it shows off the beauty of the wood’s grain, offers good protection against scratches and spills, and is easy to maintain. How to tell whether a piece is lacquered? Look for a thick coating on top of the wood. Underneath, there will usually be an obvious line where the coating stops. Still not sure? Call the manufacturer.

  • Oil

Usually found on teak and walnut furniture, oil is rubbed or soaked into the wood to give it a soft luster–which looks natural and beautiful but provides little scratch protection.

  • Opaque

Paints on Oriental and antiqued furniture are good examples of this easy-care finish, which hides the wood’s grain but provides a tough barrier.

The fine points of polish

You can and should polish any piece of wooden furniture, regardless of its finish, to remove dust, keep it conditioned, and add shine. For most pieces, once a week is best.

  • Read the label.

Before buying a polish, you need to know whether its base is oil or wax. If your furniture has an oil finish, you should always use an oil-based polish. If the finish is lacquer or opaque, either kind of polish is fine, but stick with the same type switching back and forth will make furniture look cloudy.

  • Apply polish properly.

To avoid smearing and polish buildup, first add the product to a clean cloth and then wipe the furniture. Buff with another clean cloth. Always work in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Try this great new shortcut–a furniture wipe.

These premoistened cloths have oils and cleansers built in, so they zap dust and fingerprints while leaving some shine behind.

Surface marred? What to do.

  • White rings and water marks

Apply clear ammonia to a dampened cloth and gently rub the stained lacquer. Dry with a clean cloth, then polish. For any remaining stain, use the following treatment: Make a thin paste of boiled linseed oil and a soft abrasive like rotten stone (both available at hardware stores). Lightly work the paste into the mark with your finger. Wipe with a soft cloth and polish.

And don’t forget …

  • NEVER DUST WITH A DRY CLOTH. Tiny dirt particles are abrasive and will scratch the finish.
  • TREAT SURFACES GENTLY. Wood is easily marked by plastic mats or appliances with rubber feet, so avoid putting these on wood. Hot or wet serving dishes can also cause trouble, so always place a trivet on top of a cloth or a fabric place mat.
  • CLOSE THE BLINDS. Direct sunlight can bleach the wood or cause fine cracks in the finish.

How to create a home office with streamlined style

For a work area that’s efficient and elegant, keep these simple design ideas in mind.

  • Carve out space. No need to dedicate a whole room in your house to office work-just convert a closet or corner instead. Or let a seldom-used room such as a spare bedroom or a dining room perform double duty.
  • Be a master of disguise. Hide office clutter by stashing electronics in a closed cabinet, files in a stylish cube, and paper clips and other small items in cloth-covered boxes.
  • Tuck away tech gear. It’s easy to get tangled up in cables and accessories for computers and digital cameras. Take control of cords with a Cable Turtle (a bright rubber disk that hides excess wires), and stow CDs in attractive albums (Case Logic’s Home Collection and offer a great range of storage styles).
  • Soften the impact. To prevent your home office from looking like a sterile, fluorescent-lit cubicle, let in lots of sunlight and make the space inviting with fabric accents, fresh flowers, and soothing colors that suit your decor.
  • Get a good seat. Consider the ergonomics when picking a perch. Opt for a soft-edged chair that provides back support; keeps your hips, shoulders, and ears in vertical alignment; and holds your arms bent at the elbows at 90 degrees.

Keeping it neat

Find a home for your papers, bills, and more with these tips from organizing coach Mary Sigmann.

  • Move out anything not office related. Maximize space by hanging family photos on a wall instead of setting them on your desk.
  • Use a three-file system. Sort all documents as active (working on now), research (need to access), or archival (need to hold on to).
  • Organize often. Always take ten minutes after you’re done working to put away papers so the desk area will never become an eyesore.

Danger at the petting zoo

Last spring, petting zoos made headlines when 26 people–most of them children–fell ill during an E. coli outbreak in Florida. The bacteria was traced to farm animals. Experts suspect the animals’ fur or enclosures may have been contaminated with manure, a source or E. coli bacteria.

The children were the hardest hit, many of them suffering days of horrible stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. Some endured more serious complications: One five-year-old girl developed a life-threatening kidney infection from the bacteria. (As of early April, she was still in critical condition.)

This petting zoo incident is not isolated: Over the past four years, zoo-related E. coli outbreaks have affected some 300 children in Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Such zoos now “pose a threat to public health,” says Jeff Bender, an assistant professor of veterinary public health at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Simply touching the animals isn’t the problem, Bender explains, because the bacteria does not enter through the skin. Instead, it makes its way into a child’s mouth when he sucks his thumb or bites his fingernails afterward. That’s why hygiene is so essential–and why you have to keep a close eye on your kids.

You don’t have to avoid petting zoos, adds Cody Messner, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts–New England Medical Center in Boston, if you follow these safety rules:

* Be aware that even the cleanest-looking animal and pen can harbor E. coli.

It’s impossible to keep animal enclosures completely free of manure. And remember that other potentially serious pathogens, such as salmonella, ringworm, and giardia, can also be transmitted from animals in a petting zoo to humans.

* Don’t allow kids to put their fingers in their mouths after touching the animals.

If your child is too young to understand this, then it’s best to carry the child or to have him avoid physical contact with the animals by staying outside the enclosure.

* Keep food, toys, bottles, and pacifiers away from kids while they’re in the zoo.

According to one study, children who drink from a sippy cup or use a pacifier while visiting an animal’s enclosure are at a higher risk of getting sick. That’s because kids touch these objects after petting the animals, then put the objects in their mouths. Your child’s hands should be empty before coming in contact with animals and should stay empty until she has exited the animal area and washed her hands.

* Always make sure your children wash their hands properly.

After your kids wet their hands with running water, place a generous amount of soap in their palms. Have them rub their hands together to make a big, foamy lather and scrub vigorously for 20 seconds. Rinse, then dry kids’ hands with a disposable paper towel. Don’t let children wipe their hands on their shirt or pants–their clothes may have brushed up against the animals. If possible, turn off the faucet using a disposable towel.

If running water is not available, the best substitute is one of the alcohol-based instant-sanitizing gels on the market. Be generous with these products: Saturate fronts and backs of hands and wrists, and make sure to clean under fingernails.

* Watch for symptoms.

If your child becomes ill–with bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and/or stomach cramps–consult your doctor immediately. Experts also recommend avoiding antidiarrheal medicines and antibiotics because they may make an E. coli infection worse.

Are your kids spending too much time watching TV or playing computer games?

I have a confession: My children, ages seven and four, are screen addicts. Every day; they keep one eye on the clock, eagerly awaiting the moment when their designated hour of TV watching can begin. They also crave time with their video games and my computer.

Like a lot of morns, I worry that their brains are turning to mush. Just how much is too much?

How much time do kids spend in front of the TV, video games, or a computer?

An average of five hours and 42 minutes a day? And that doesn’t include time spent using a computer for homework, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kids younger than six spend about two hours each day in front of the screen, another Kaiser survey reports-nearly triple the time they spend reading or being read to.

Is there any proof that all this is bad for them?

Yes, and it’s very convincing. Heavy TV viewing and video game playing have been linked to obesity, attention-deficit problems, aggressive behavior, and poor performance in school. What’s more, these habits in children and adolescents can lead to poor fitness and raised cholesterol levels in adulthood, according to a study published last year in the medical journal Lancet.

Many educators are wary of using the computer as a teaching tool, particularly for young children, though the hazards have yet to be thoroughly studied. Educational software may help your school-age child with phonics or math, says Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and the author of Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Practical Guide to Brain Development and Learning. But it doesn’t encourage imagination or creative problem solving–skills that are the foundation of learning.

Online time also does nothing to enhance another key part of growing up: learning how to relate to others and build relationships, according to Michael Rich, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston.

So how much screen time is OK for young kids?

TVs and computers are not considered useful learning tools for kids under two, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Realistically, young kids will probably be in the room when others are watching but parents should try to limit their toddlers’ screen time as much as possible.

What about older kids?

The AAP recommends limiting recreational screen time to one to two hours per day for all kids over two. Of course, three-year-olds and 14-year-olds are entirely different. There will be days when your tween or teen will want to watch a two-hour DVD and still spend some time surfing the Net. That’s fine, says Donald Shifrin, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. What’s important is to keep these splurges from turning into a daily routine.

And what about doing homework on the computer? Does that count?

Time spent using the Internet to do research for assignments shouldn’t count toward recreational screen time. And if your child is pursuing a special interest on the Web, you should be flexible, say most experts.

How can I keep track of my kids’ screen time?

Put TV sets and computers (or at least those with an Internet connection) in common rooms, suggests Dr. Shifrin. That way, you can keep an eye on exactly what your youngster is up to. In addition, when an older child is watching or surfing with younger siblings, you can make sure the content is appropriate for all ages. If you have a baby-sitter, be sure she knows about any screen-time rules you’ve set so that she can enforce them too.

How can I get my kids to cut back on their own?

Try following these three steps:

  • Offer alternatives. Encourage your children to read, go outside, play board games, draw, bake, or do anything that cultivates creativity. TV and video games are almost addictive for kids; but fun, engaging substitutes can help them kick the habit.
  • Set up routines. Make sure after-school time and weekends are structured with lessons, sports, and chores, so kids don’t aimlessly reach for the remote. But do take into account what specifically works for your child, says Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ph.D., codirector of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University. If your ten-year-old son needs to decompress after school with a video game or two before he tackles homework, then let him. Or if your 12-year-old daughter likes to get her assignments out of the way and reward herself with a favorite TV show, that’s fine too.
  • Pick specific TV shows ahead of time.

Have your child look over the listings and mark the shows she wants to watch. You’ll be surprised how much extraneous viewing you’ll cut out this way.

Reading is a challenge

Mary Wehr-Anderson’s mom suffer from macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of vision problems in older adults. “She can’t drive anymore,” says Wehr-Anderson, 47, of South Bend, Indiana. “And she used to love to read, but now even the newspaper is a challenge.

Her mom can still get around the house fine, though Wehr-Anderson drives her to doctors’ appointments, balances her checkbook, brings dinner, and helps in any way she can think of. Luckily, she lives just six miles away. “My mom has had to give up things she used to enjoy,” says Wehr-Anderson. “But she’s still home, and she loves that.”

If your parent’s vision is faltering, make sure he or she sees an ophthalmologist, who may recommend treatment or magnifying devices that can make household reading easier. But also try these changes:

  • Raise the wattage. One of the first things Wehr-Anderson did was to make sure the lighting fixtures in the house were fitted with the highest-watt bulbs recommended by the manufacturer. Most lamps have a sticker that gives this information. Or, consider replacing fixtures to accommodate a higher wattage.
  • Install night-lights in hallways, especially between the bedroom and the bathroom. For extra convenience, try the Leviton Motion Activated Light Control, which will automatically turn on a light when your parent moves into a room and then turn it off again up to 15 minutes later.
  • Look for products that have large, easy-to-read displays. In our tests, seniors liked Ameriphone’s Amplified Photo Phone P300. The numbers on this corded model are twice as big as those on a regular phone. It also has nine speed-dial pads with photo displays. You can program each pad so that when your parent touches the button, the phone will dial the person in the photograph. For a parent who prefers a cordless phone, GH Institute engineers recommend the Clarity C430; it also has oversize buttons. Both these models have a light that goes on when there’s an incoming call.
  • Get an oversize remote for the TV. Have you noticed that your mom hardly ever changes the channel? It could be because those buttons on the remote control are so tiny. Our elderly testers said the Tek Partner Universal Remote Control solved that problem. It weighs just under a pound, and the keypad lights up when you push any button.

5 stompboxes reviewed

Analog Alien Rumble Seat

This snazzy stompbox which combines overdrive, delay, and reverb was designed with rockabilly players in mind, but it can take you from there to just this side of metal with stops in classic, psychedelic, and hard rock along the way. The overdrive sounds fantastic and is very versatile. There’s tons of output on tap, Tone sweeps from super-dark to ultra-crispy with a luscious sweet spot in the middle, and Gain goes from subtle amp-like breakup to smoothly saturated sustain. The sounds are tight, clear, fat, dynamic, and there’s relatively little noise. The Delay has an old-school echo vibe (and hash to match on longer settings) with delay times from 25ms to 650ms. The Reverb was designed to emulate the tube-driven spring reverb in blackface Fender amps, and while that is a challenging standard, it does capture some of that flavor, and sounds wonderful in any case. The Rumble Seat comes with a VisualSound One Spot power adapter and a bright orange cooler bag carrying case,

Coldcraft EchoVerberator Parallel Ambience Machine

Running reverb and echo in parallel avoids muddiness by not repeating the reverb tails or reverberating the echo repeats–and that’s just what the EchoVerberator does. The seriously springy reverb sounds most realistic when used subtly, but also creates wild spaces when cranked. The echo generates fab slap-backs, as well as warm-sounding longer repeats of up to nearly a second in length. Independent Reverb and Echo level controls let you dial in whatever blend suits your fancy, and an internal switch engages Reverb Always On Mode for additional flexibility. A second internal switch adds slight modulation to the repeats, and Momentary Mode triggers the effects (or only echo when in Reverb Always On Mode) only while the footswitch is held down. Rockabilly heaven,

Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb

Based on the legendary Fender 6G15 outboard spring reverb, this pedal sports the original’s Dwell knob, which here controls how hard the guitar signal hits the virtual springs. A Tone knob darkens just the reverb to get it out of the way of your original signal. A Volume knob adds clean boost if you want it. Internal switching either keeps the buffer on in bypass, retaining the decay and boost when you shut the effect off, or kicks the level up only when you turn the effect on and kills the decay when turned off. This might be the best reverb guitar pedal, sounded gorgeous in every setting. Warm, subtle spring ambience was one option, as was splashy, realistic springiness. The Topanga twangs so well you may want to use it instead of your internal spring reverb,

Diamond Blaze

The blazing-red Blaze is a germanium-based fuzz that visually resembles its silicon-based cousin the Fireburst. It features active Baxandall Bass and Treble controls and a high-end op amp in addition to other fancy components, as well as true-bypass switching. An Alternative footswitch activates a bass boost (the Fireburst has a mid boost), providing two de facto presets. Basically an atypically stout old-school-sounding fuzz, the Blaze does its Job really well, dishing up everything from convincing Jimi sounds to very dark and very bright sculpted tones–all with amazingly little noise, even when maxed out. The bass boost is voiced perfectly, adding just the right amount of oomph, and there’s plenty of sustain with the Gain turned up. Nice,

Diamond Quantum Leap

Concealed within this modest-looking “short-delay toolbox” are five distinct and powerful effects: flanger, chorus, filter, tap-delay, and pitch-ramp-delay. Engineered to emulate vintage analog BBD devices (with up to 600ms of delay time), the Leap’s analog-digital-hybrid technology results in luscious-sounding repeats and modulation sweeps. A small switch cycles through the five effects types, and the Speed, Width, and Regeneration controls change function on each setting, as does the Tap/Fx footswitch. But navigate these and the pedal’s other complexities, and you are rewarded with a huge range of fantastic sounds. The Flange and Chorus are thick and clear, the dual/toggling Filter is effective (oscillating like a Theramin on extreme settings), and the delays are to die for. Besides oozing vibe on standard settings, in Harmonic Mode they approach Eventide Crystal coolness, the pitch-ramp sounds are seriously sick, and the ambient washes and runaway regeneration effects are superb,

Boutique distortion pedal roundup

Few pieces of gear arouse greater curiosity in guitarists than boutique effects pedals. Often Objects d’Art, these mysterious little boxes embody the promise of adding unusual–and possibly even unique new–colors to our tonal palates. Sure they can cost considerably more than mass-produced pedals, but what price do you put on art? And how do you measure the worth of a tool that might be critical to achieving your own individual musical voice?

We can’t know your tastes, of course, but we can tell you that the six of best guitar distortion pedals reviewed here are all packed with personality, and each offers its own distinct approach to creating “good” distortion. I auditioned each pedal using a late ‘80s American Standard Srat, a ’68 Les Paul Custom, a PRS Custom 24, and a Dean Evo Premium. Amps included a Rivera Thirty-Twelve, a Bogner Metropolis, and a mid-’60s Fender Twin. The latter provided the highest hurdle as it is super-clean and very unforgiving.

It is obvious that the manufacturers took great care when creating these pedals. They are all housed in ruggedly constructed casings, and I found no wobbly jacks, knobs, or switches. Though there are significant external aesthetic differences, only the finest components have been used, and the wiring is clean and nicely detailed. With the exception of the Pete Cornish P-2 Fuzz, all of the pedals feature true-bypass switching, and all but the Analog Man Sun Face have sockets for external AC adapters.

Analog Man Sun Face

The Sun Face replicates the germanium transistor circuitry used in the classic Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. The review pedal contained the optional NOS ’60s NKT-275 transistors. The Sun Face has no LED and operates only on a 9V battery–two factors the manufacturer feels are necessary to achieve the original Fuzz Face sound. Besides the volume and fuzz knobs on the outside, there are also internal pots labeled Trimmer and Bias. The former cleans up the fuzziness in the same way that dialing your guitar’s volume control back would, and the latter adjusts the operating voltage, allowing you to fine-tune it for optimal performance (or cause the pedal to cough, spit, sputter, and make other rude noises).

The Sun Face makes basically one very good sound. True to the original, the Sun Face doesn’t have gobs of sustain, but it also lacks the characteristic raspiness found in some vintage Fuzz Face pedals. There’s lots of gain, it responds extremely well to playing dynamics, and the sound cleans up dramatically when your guitar’s volume is pulled back. The Sun Face sounds as good or better than the vintage Fuzz Faces I’ve heard, and it costs a lot less.

Barber Electronics Direct Drive

Don’t let the price fool you–the Direct Drive is hand-built in the U.S. using the finest components, and it easily outperforms units costing several times as much. Though it has only three knobs, pulling out the push/pull tone control really fattens up the harmonics, and changing the operating voltage (9-18V) yields additional tonal possibilities.

I was able to get a wide variety of very musical sounds out of the Direct Drive–from crunchy blackface blues tones to spongy vintage Hi-Watt-like overdrive to supersaturated tube distortion–and it sounded great with every combination of guitars and amps. This pedal would be a bargain at twice the price.

Brotech Electronics Fatpipe Pro

The versatile Fatpipe Pro offers both distortion and clean boost, and the two modes can be used together or independently. The distortion section includes a three-band act/ye equalizer–meaning you can cut and boost frequencies–that provides a great deal of tonal flexibility.

The Fatpipe Pro produces a very tube-like distortion that’s somewhat reminiscent of a vintage Ibanez TS-9. The EQ is nicely voiced and generally quite useful, though the bottom-end can get a little wobbly. The clean boost is very rich and full, and it combines nicely with the distortion section, allowing you to add just the right amounts of edgy crunch and sustain.

J. Everman Fuzz Drive

The Fuzz Drive combines both fuzz and overdrive circuits. The pedal’s four exterior controls are fairly straightforward, but there are also six DIP switches located on the inside of the unit that provide nearly endless tweaking options. The Bias knob and the first three DIP switches determine how the pedal responds to your guitar’s particular pickups, and the Fuzz and Drive knobs interact with each other–and the other three DIP switches–to alter the gain structure in various ways. Do the math–there are lots of possibilities.

The Fuzz Drive provides a warm and punchy clean boost, full and throaty overdrive, and wonderfully complex distortion tones–and it’s capable of pumping out huge amounts of gain. Furthermore, harmonically elaborate chords retain their individual note articulation–even on heavily distorted settings. This capability distinguishes the Fuzz Drive from most of its peers.

Jacques Fuse Blower II

The Fuse Blower II packs lots of tonal flexibility into a tiny package. Billed as three distortions in one, it features three Blow knobs for dialing-in high, mid, and low-frequency distortion, as well as having an overall tone control. The three distortion circuits function more-or-less like a 3-band EQ, but with most of the action happening in the high end. The pedal is relatively quiet, even when set to maximum distortion.

Although the Fuse Blower makes some great sounds–and provides a plethora of sonic options–I found its tone to be a little thin, with a tendency to get raspy when the highs are cranked. Pumping up the lows and severely rolling back the highs helps, but leaves little headroom for further adjustments–which significantly decreases the usefulness of the EQ. Naturally, guitars with humbuckers required less compensation than those with single-coils.

Pete Cornish P-2 Fuzz

For more than three decades, the venerable Pete Cornish has been building custom pedal-boards and effects-switching systems for superstars such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Sting, and David Gilmour. He has also created a line of hand-built effects boxes, of which the P-2 Fuzz is the latest addition. The P-2 measures an appreciable 4.25″x7″x2.5″, and sports internal shielding that contributes to its ultra-quiet operation. Cornish eschews true-bypass switching, and you find out why by reading “The Case Against True Bypass” on his Web site. (It has to do with gain staging, and how multiple-pedal setups and cable runs affect tone and volume.)

The P-2 delivers extremely fat, smooth, and harmonically rich distortion tones, ranging from a relatively mellow crunch to searing high-gain sustain. The pedal is also extraordinarily responsive to playing dynamics, deans up nicely with even slight guitar volume adjustments, and it provides uncanny single-note definition within chords. Finally, it can crank out insane amounts of gain. If you are a serious tone nut, and fuzz is a major part of your sound, you owe it to yourself to check this thing out. Astonishing!

How to prevent slip and fall accidents

Kathy Jurgens’s 77-year-old dad fell when he tripped over the phone cord. Turns out, Jurgens’s brother had moved the phone away from the wall to fix the air-conditioning and didn’t put it back in the same place. Luckily, her dad, who lives in Houston, about three hours from her, wasn’t seriously hurt. But now the family never moves anything without asking Dad first. Says Jurgens, :”I realize now that if you change anything, you can be in real trouble.”

As many as 12,800 seniors die each year as a result of a fall. Dizziness or weak muscles caused by certain health conditions are sometimes to blame, so check with your parent’s doctor. But there’s plenty you can do to help prevent everyday mishaps. Start by following Kathy Jurgens’s advice to keep things in their place. Then by the following:

  • Make sure there’s a secure banister on both sides of all stairways. That way, if your dad has weakness in one hand or on one side of his body, he’ll be able to support himself with his strong side when going up or down the stairs.

  • Install grab bars in the bath and shower. Make sure the one you pick says “meets ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Guidelines” on the package. That’s your guarantee that with proper installation, the bar can hold the weight of an adult. And never use towel racks as a substitute–they’re not designed to hold anything heavy.

Try the Moen Decorator (shown) and Kingsley series. They’re sturdy, available in an assortment of sizes, and more attractive than traditional grab bars.

  • Take out the plastic mat in the tub. When these mats lose their suction, they can slide around and cause a fall. Instead, use adhesive safety strips on the bottom of the tub or shower floor. Try Home Care by Moen Decorative Tread Strips.
  • Outside the tub, use a nylon floor mat with nonskid backing. Skip the 100 percent cotton mats. They slide easily, get heavy when wet, and are harder to keep clean.
  • Consider replacing any plush wall-to-wall carpeting. Thick carpeting can become a tripping hazard for some older people. Flat, tightly woven carpet is safer.
  • Remove throw rugs. These are a common cause of falls because they can bunch up and slide around.

With these tips, you’ll clean up faster

MICHELLE SINATRA, Employment manager at a center for handicapped adults in Norwalk, Connecticut; married with three kids

Her obsession: laundry

Why she loves it: “Housekeeping is a source of therapy for me. When times are stressful, some people go to the gym, some garden, some shop; I clean the house … a lot. I try to save laundry for evenings, after the kids are in bed. That way, I can fold while watching TV and having a glass of wine with my husband. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by my hectic schedule, this is a practical way to get relief.”

Cleaning confession: “I admit it, one of the reasons we bought our home was that it has a laundry chute! While we were house hunting, I saw that chute, and I just turned to my husband and said, ‘Sold!’ I could hardly wait to move in.”

Top tips

  • Group baby clothes. “My younger kids are a toddler son and a year-old daughter. When I’m putting their clothes away, I always organize them as outfit ‘bundles.’ That way, when I’m getting one of my kids dressed–or rushing to grab some clothes for day care–I can just reach for a ‘bundle,’ and it’ll have a matching shirt, pants, socks, etc.”
  • Remember the key to perfect jeans. “To avoid weird creases, shake the pants out vigorously before you toss them in the dryer. They’ll come out beautifully every time Fold all clothes while they’re still hot from the dryer.”
  • Don’t roll your socks. “Fold them instead. Rolling tends to stretch out the elastic.”
  • Teach kids to dress themselves. “I make clothing piles for my almost-ten-year-old stepson, Nick–one pile for school, one for play, and one for church or dress-up. Now he usually doesn’t have to ask us ‘What should I wear?’ and we don’t have to lay out his clothes anymore.”

ANN SOLLI, Special education teacher in Lutherville, Maryland; married with two kids

Her obsession: ironing

Why she loves it: “It reminds me of my morn. And I find it relaxing. I was ten years old when my mother taught me to iron pillowcases and place mats. She would lower the ironing board to my height, and I loved helping her. We were very, very close, and I guess I inherited her craziness for ironing. When my girls were little, I thought there was nothing better than putting them in freshly pressed sundresses-that was just heaven! Now I’m so busy, I often have to iron while I do something else, like talk to friends on the phone. It must be contagious, because some of my friends will be ironing away on the other end of the line while we catch up.”

Cleaning confession: “My family teases me about it, but when I’m getting ready for a vacation, I iron everything before I pack it in the suitcase even though it may get wrinkly all over again.”

Top tips

  • Be selective. “I always send my husband’s shirts to the dry cleaner. They take the longest to do yourself and are the hardest to get just right.”
  • Mist it first. “I love a heavy steam iron–mine is a Black & Decker. But you get better results if you fill a spray bottle with water and lightly moisten clothes before pressing them.”
  • Rediscover your clothesline. “If you know that a certain shirt always gets creased in the dryer, hang it up to dry. It’ll wrinkle less that way and make ironing easier.”

LAUREN BRIGHT, 37 Attorney in Washington, D.C.; married with one child

Her obsession: organizing the kitchen

Why she loves it: “I like to open the cabinets and see everything labeled and neat–it makes cooking dinner so much easier. As soon as I get home from the supermarket, I take things out of their packaging and put them in containers, like Tupperware or Click-Top Storers. Everything has a home. There’s a baking section, lined with containers labeled flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, nuts. There’s a snack area, with containers designated chips, pretzels, tortilla chips, and my mom’s special label that says Grandma’s baby snacks, for my son, Aaron. Even the meat in the freezer is organized! My sister says I’m a nut, but she didn’t turn me down when my morn and I offered to give her kitchen an overhaul.”

Cleaning confession: “Periodically, I do a total reorganization–after which I give my husband, Bill, a tour of the ‘new’ kitchen. He’s learned to put up with my madness because he knows that my system keeps me sane.”

Top tips

  • Organize by food type. “I group my staples: soups, veggies, breakfast supplies, etc. Store things where you use them; for example, keep spices and oils near the stove. My baking goods go above the counter where I roll out pie crusts.”
  • Label early and often. “I can’t live without my Brother Label Maker … even though my husband jokes that I’m dangerous with that thing.”
  • Use a soda can dispenser to hold canned foods.
  • Create a coffee bar. “My husband’s a coffee fiend, so we turned a shelf at one end of the kitchen into a storage spot for everything he needs: mugs, filters, sugar, creamer. While I’m getting breakfast, he’s happily brewing coffee just the way he likes it.”