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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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Venus & The Crescent Moon

Venus & The Crescent Moon

Farmers’ Almanac’s Southeast Bureau checked in tonight with this photo of the waxing crescent moon with Venus shining brightly nearby.

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10 Smart Uses For Used Coffee Grounds

10 Smart Uses For Used Coffee Grounds

Before you empty the coffee pot’s grounds into the trash, consider these ten household uses for them!

  1. As an exfoliant. The rough texture of the coffee grounds can be used on your skin as a scrub.
  2. Clean your garbage disposal. Coffee grounds clean and deodorize your garbage disposal. Just put the damp grounds in, run the cold water, and turn the disposal on. Note: do this only on occasion to refresh the disposal. It’s not recommended to run coffee grounds through daily.
  3. Soil aeration and nitrogen boost for houseplants. Adding coffee grounds to your houseplants helps the pH balance (toward acidity) as well as increasing nitrogen and aerating the soil.
  4. Neutralize refrigerator odors. Placing coffee grounds in the refrigerator acts as a natural deodorizer. The only thing you need to watch for is mold, if you use damp grounds. Replace immediately with fresher grounds if it turns into a science experiment.
  5. Sweeping or vacuuming compound around the fireplace or wood stove. Sprinkling damp coffee grounds around the fireplace or wood stove will assist in reducing dust and ashes in your hearth, making them easier to sweep or vacuum up.
  6. Dye easter eggs or paper crafts. Soaking with coffee grounds can be used to give an “antique” sepia appearance to watercolor paper or easter eggs
  7. Blind bake a pie shell. Believe it or not, you can even use coffee grounds as the weight when you blind bake a pie crust. Just be sure to use a large enough piece of parchment paper or foil so the coffee grounds don’t come into actual contact with the pie crust.
  8. Scour pots and pans. The gentle abrasive of coffee grounds can help in the kitchen to remove stubborn caked on food from your pots and pans.
  9. Snail, slug, and cat repellent. In the garden, just mound up a barrier of coffee grounds around the plants which slugs and cats are attracted to. It will help keep them at bay.
  10. Steroids for your carrot crop. Carrots love coffee grounds. They will grow larger and sweeter and the plants will have a greater yield. Just trowel the grounds in around the immature shoots.

Do you have a special way you use those old coffee grounds? Tell us in the comments below!

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Providing Help In Haiti

Providing Help In Haiti

I have had the privilege of visiting Port au Prince, Haiti, six times since the fateful earthquake on January 10, 2010. There have been hundreds of natural disasters since then, including quakes in New Zealand, Chile, and more recently, Nepal. In each case, a few seconds changed lives forever. In Nepal, the latest death toll is 7,500. In Haiti over 225,000 were buried and countless more lost limbs, families, and homes. Whether it is an earthquake, Tsunami or tornadoes, the destruction is never fully appreciated unless you can be on the ground providing assistance.

Fortunately the international community has a way of responding to each and every disaster. Human kindness is what gives me hope amid the constant barrage of “bad nightly news”.

I returned to Haiti to help Pastor Nathan and his community at Bethany Baptist Church in Bethany 13. His school and church were leveled by the quake and rebuilding hasn’t been easy. Here are a few observations:

  • Clearly, all the rubble has been replaced with new homes and many stores. Tent cities are few and far between. My guess is that many still fear living in a building and may even prefer a tent to the consequences of another  quake.
  • The airport is improving each year, although it seems odd that a visitor now has to pay $10 cash before entering the airport. I don’t mind the fee if the funds are going to helping Haitians, but my guess is that it lines someone’s pocket.
  • Infrastructure – better but limited. A key few roads have been paved. All the side roads leading to schools and homes are washed out.  Without a system of sewer pipes and water, life is hard and may never change. At our school (middle of the city) there is no plumbing or electricity. Water is carried up from wells, a bathroom is a hole in the ground and the stench is something you get used  to.
  • The Haitians are beautiful people – physically and in spirit. Always smiling and waving, there is a sense of happiness. It may be because their family core is solid. It might also be that not having access to every gadget makes for a more value centered life. For many, there is a unique faith in God.
  • Port au Prince is a massive city – with almost  1 million citizens in a country that tops 10.3 million.  I have only seen one traffic light in that city, and it is the only intersection that gets backed up. It is a hustling and bustling place. People sell food and clothing on tables along the roads. Enterprising young boys wipe down your car when stuck in traffic and there is a degree of begging.

I’ve been touched by Haitians over the years. Their economy is the poorest in the western hemisphere. But I am impressed with all they have endured and how they live life. Thousands of people have come to Haiti since the quake. Tens of thousands have contributed through various  organizations. The world has focused on making this country’s life better. I guess the gift I have received is the admiration I have for the Pastor Nathan of Haiti who continues to make life bearable.

We have to reach out to help others during the worst disasters. But, keep Haiti and Haitians in your prayers. Their corrupt government is only one more obstacle in their growth. But, it is the aid that gets through that makes all the difference. Here are a few photos from my recent trip.

Haiti1

 

Haiti3

Haiti2

Haiti5

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7 (easy) things you can do to ensure your day goes well

7 (easy) things you can do to ensure your day goes well

If you’re like the rest of us, mornings can be a challenge. We hit the snooze button a couple of times only to end up running late, rushing from room to room, shouting at the kids to hurry or they’ll miss the bus, searching for the car keys, and forgetting the lunch that you packed the night before (which is now sitting on the kitchen counter, going bad). All that A.M. chaos can set the tone for how the entire day plays out. Here are some simple things you can do to ensure your day starts off, and stays, on the right foot.

  1. Wake up! Set your alarm ½ hour earlier (and actually get out of bed). It might sound like torture, but let’s face it, that extra half hour in bed is not going to make much difference sleep-wise, and will only get you behind the eight ball. Forget hitting the snooze button and use that time to tackle the rest of the items on this list. It’s amazing how the rest of the day stays calm when the morning starts out that way.
  2. Make your bed. Mom always told you to make your bed, and there’s a good reason: it has a way of setting a positive tone for the day. We’re not sure why, but it does. Perhaps it’s because when your brain observes things neat and orderly, it wants to continue that pattern, and all of your other spaces (desk, car) seem to jump on the orderly bandwagon. Plus, nothing is better than crawling into a made bed at the end of a long, busy day.
  3. Make like a cat and stretch! Have you ever seen what a cat does when it rises from a nap, no matter how short? Stretching helps blood circulate to your muscles and energizes your brain. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, simply take a moment to clasp your hands behind your back and give a good stretch to your shoulders and back, then lean against the wall, as if you’re going to do a push up, and stretch each of your calves. That’s it! Don’t you feel better already?
  4. Hydrate. Drink a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon (or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar) before you even reach for your morning jolt of java. You’ve been idle for 8 hours with no food or water, and your body needs hydration and your metabolism needs a jump start. Water with a bit of acidity is known to be a great detoxifier.
  5. Eat breakfast. See #4. Even if it’s just a banana or a hard boiled egg that you take on the road.
  6. Give thanks. Utter, out loud, at least one thing for which you are grateful.
  7. Smile! Even if you don’t feel like it. Studies have shown that smiling (even the very act of flexing those facial muscles) releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, along with serotonin, which also has feel-good properties.

Now, watch what happens as others perceive you as happy, organized and calm. A whole new world opens up!

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Grisly, Gruesome and Grim: These Town Names Are Real!

Grisly, Gruesome and Grim: These Town Names Are Real!

In this age of commodifcation, branding is everything. But North America is full of places that were named by people who seem not to have gotten the memo. Weird town names can be a lot of fun—who doesn’t get a kick out of hearing about Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, or Toad Suck, Arkansas—but sometimes place names cross the line from absurd to creepy or just plain depressing.

The Chambers of Commerce representing the following not-so-great-sounding places are either shaking their heads in misery or laughing all the way to the bank. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Some grim place names have their roots in specific historical occurrences. Dead Women Crossing, Oklahoma, was purportedly named for a grisly murder that took place there in 1905. A schoolteacher named Katie DeWitt went missing shortly after filing for divorce from her husband (unusual enough at that time). Her remains were later found at a crossing of Deer Creek. Her head had been severed from her body. Another local woman was accused of the crime, but committed suicide before she could be tried. Locals say DeWitt still haunts the area.

Anyone wishing to see some of the beautiful scenery at Cape Disappointment, Washington, the site of a State Park, may be disappointed. The cape is one of the foggiest places in the United States, receiving about 2,552 hours of fog a year. That would be the equivalent of 106 days, if they occurred consecutively. The fog may have played a role in Cape Disappointment’s name. British fur trader John Meares is said to have come up with the name when he entered the cape in 1788 looking for a route inland. Thinking the area was only a bay, he turned his ship around and headed back out to open water, just missing the mouth of the Columbia River.

Despite its disconcerting name, Accident, Maryland, was actually named for a happy accident. Original settler George Deakins had been granted 600 acres of land in Western Maryland by England’s King George II. Wanting to get the best land possible, Deakins hired not one, but two, corps of engineers to survey the land in the area. Both crews, without knowledge of the other, marked the same oak tree as their starting and returning points. Deakins chose that spot, naming it “The Accident Tract.”

Other communities got their names due to residents’ sense of humor. Gripe, Arizona, was once home to an agricultural inspection checkpoint. The community allegedly took its name from the profuse complaints of motorists forced to stop there.

Idiotville, Oregon, got its start as a logging camp that was so remote, workers said only an idiot would be willing to work there. The name stuck, and even the stream running through the camp came to be called Idiot Creek.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about Peculiar, Missouri. The name dates back to 1868, when frustrated Postmaster E.T. Thomson was struggling to find a town name that wasn’t already in use. He realized he’d need to come up with “something peculiar” if he wanted to stop going in circles, and finally just settled on that. Similarly, residents of Oddville, Kentucky, chose their town’s name in 1851, when they got their first post office, just to be different. Presumably, the founders of Ordinary, Kentucky, population 50, had the opposite impulse.

Hell, Michigan got its name from founder George Reeves, who settled there in 1841.Much of the land in the area was swampy and useless for farming or anything else. When someone asked Reeves what to name the town, legend has it he replied, “I don’t care. You can name it ‘Hell’ if you want to.”

Satan’s Kingdom, Massachusetts, is an unincorporated area that allegedly took its name from a misunderstanding. A man who lived up a mountain in the area visited a Puritan preacher who prayed for the destruction of Satan’s Kingdom. For unknown reasons, the man took offense, assuming the preacher meant his home. Others say the name started as a nickname for the area in the 18th Century, because of the unsavory people who lived there. There is also a Satan’s Kingdom in Vermont and a State Recreation Area in Connecticut, complete with river tubing.

Other places were named after people. Hazard, Kentucky, for instance, didn’t get that name because it’s a dangerous place to live. It was named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The popular The 80s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard was actually inspired in part by the name of this town, though the show spelled it with two zs and set the action in Georgia.

Was your hometown was boring? Maybe you grew up in one of at least three towns in the United States named Boring (they’re in Maryland, Oregon, and Tennessee). All three took their names from prominent residents whose last names were, you guessed it, Boring.

In some cases, no one is quite sure of how a place got its name. Dinkytown, Minnesota, is a neighborhood in Minneapolis that has the feel of a standalone small town. No one knows for sure how the area got its name, which was in use by the mid 1940s, but some theories posit that it came from the streetcars that once served as public transportation there, called “dinkys,” or from a popular snack of chicken tenders enjoyed in the area, also known as “dinkys.“

The origins of how two islands, one in Maine and one in British Columbia, came to be known as Mistake Island seem to be lost to history. One could easily guess some hapless sailors were trying to get somewhere else when they stumbled upon these land masses, but if so, they were too embarrassed to say so.

There’s nothing in the story of Embarrass, Wisconsin, to make its founders blush, though, except maybe the frigid air there. The town was named by French settlers who, after spending a very long, cold winter in a town that routinely see temperatures dip below -60° F, perhaps wanted to warn others away. In French, “embarrass” means “hardship.”

At least one other hair-raising place name comes from a linguistic oddity. You won’t find a yeti or a Sasquatch or any other scary monsters in Eek, Alaska. The town’s name comes from an Inuit word for “two eyes.” No sources reveal why the town was named “Two Eyes,” but it’s just possible that the answer to that question might make you let out a panicked “Eek!”

What are your favorite strange place names? Share them below!

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15 Egg Facts You May Not Know

15 Egg Facts You May Not Know

Fry them, poach them, boil or bake them – any way you crack them, eggs are delicious. As much as we rely on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and dessert, of course!), there are many interesting facts about eggs that aren’t common knowledge. Since May is National Egg Month, we thought we’d share some of these lesser known tidbits:

  1. Chef hats traditionally have pleats equal to the number of ways that you can cook an egg.
  2. Harriet, a hen from the United Kingdom, laid the world’s largest egg in 2010. Her astonishing egg measured 9.1 inches in diameter.
  3. It takes a hen between 24 and 26 hours to develop an egg. Once she lays an egg, the development of a new egg normally starts within 30 minutes.
  4. Chickens don’t produce one egg at a time. Instead, producing hens normally has several eggs in various stages of development.
  5. Eggshell colors have nothing to do with flavor or nutritional value. Brown, white and even blue and green egg shells are simply indicative of the breed of hen.
  6. The hen’s diet determines the color of the yolk. Some producers feed natural supplements like marigold petals so that their hens lay eggs with brighter yolks.
  7. There are several reasons why we eat chicken eggs instead of duck or turkey eggs. Chickens lay more eggs, they need less nesting space and they don’t have the strong mothering instincts of turkeys and ducks, which makes egg collection easier.
  8. White eggs are more popular among commercial producers because chickens that lay white eggs tend to be smaller than their brown egg-laying cousins, therefore needing less food to produce the same number of eggs.
  9. Most of today’s egg-laying hens are White Leghorns (white eggs) or Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks (brown eggs).
  10. Not all chickens create eggs equally. Some breeds lay eggs almost every day. Other breeds lay eggs every other day or once to twice per week.
  11. When it comes to the number of eggs laid each year, Iowa leads the nation with more than 14.8 billion eggs produced annually. Ohio is the next state in line, producing 7.9 billion eggs each year.
  12. Eating raw eggs won’t help you build muscle. Only 51% of the proteins in raw eggs are digestible, while 91% of the proteins in cooked eggs are digestible.
  13. Can’t tell if that egg in the refrigerator is raw or hardboiled? Try spinning it! Raw eggs wobble as the liquid inside shifts, but hardboiled eggs spin smoothly.
  14. Because older eggs have larger air cells, they’re much easier to peel than fresh eggs.
  15. Cloudy egg whites mean that the eggs are extremely fresh, while clear egg whites are an indicator of older eggs.  Cloudiness of raw white is due to the natural presence of carbon dioxide that has not had time to escape through the shell and is an indication of a very fresh egg. As an egg ages, the carbon dioxide escapes and the  white becomes more transparent. Other colors in the egg white may be a sign of spoilage, so if it’s not cloudy-white or clear, don’t eat it!

What’s your favorite way to eat eggs? Tell us in the comments below.

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Who Invented The Zipper?

Who Invented The Zipper?

Did you ever wonder how the zipper was invented? What better day to explore its origin than April 29, Zipper Day, a day dedicated to a device we all use but never give much thought to (unless it’s stuck, of course, and we have the fix for that here!).

Elias_Howe_portrait

Elias Howe

In 1851, a man named Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine, obtained a patent for what he called an “Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure” (try saying that three times fast!). But it was not a success. It didn’t really look or operate anything like the zipper we know today; it operated as individual clasps that the user had to join together manually, and pull shut by using a string. Howe did not continue developing his model, and several years went by before another patent was created. 

Then more than 40 years later, a man named Whitcomb Judson came out with a “clasp locker for shoes” which served solely as a shoe fastener, but it was very similar to Howe’s original patent. The design was essentially a guide used to close the space between a shoe’s clasps on one side to the attachments on the other. But it was difficult to use and even more difficult mass produce.

In 1893, Judson opened the Universal Fastener Company in New Jersey and was issued a second patent for a device that used metal hooks and eyes that had to be manually laced into the boot or shoe, but it was an improvement because the device functioned as a single unit instead of as individual clasps. But when he debuted it at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, it was met with lukewarm enthusiasm from the public. And it eventually flopped because it would spring open on occasion.

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Sundback’s 1917 patent of the “separable fastener”

Then in 1906, Giden Sundback, a Swedish American electrical engineer who was hired to work at Universal Fastener Company, developed a model he called the “Plako fastener” but it too had trouble staying closed when bent.

Finally, in 1913, Sundback revised the design. He developed a model that used interlocking oval scoops (instead of hooks) that could be joined together tightly by a slider in one single movement. This final design is recognized as what we know as the modern zipper. The patent for the “Separable Fastener” was issued in 1917.

In the early stages of production, zippers were used for boots and tobacco pouches. During World War I, the device was used by military and Navy designers for flying suits and money belts, which helped prove to the public that the device was truly durable.

By 1923, the B.F. Goodrich Company, who used the product for boots and galoshes, gave the device its name of “zipper” and the rest, as we say, is history.

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A Firsthand Look at “Farm to Table”

A Firsthand Look at “Farm to Table”

It may come as no surprise that the farm-to-table/locavore movement has forever altered the way we think about dining out. This movement centers around the desire to eat local foods as much as possible and the concern about where food comes from—to the degree that devotees want to know the specific farm where the food was grown. What may be a revelation is that the movement is transforming our communities and relationships as well.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to personally observe this when I attended Taste of the Market, a local, seasonal, and market-sourced dinner in Neptune Beach, Florida. The event served as a fundraiser for community garden organizations and a celebration of all things local.

Held at a neighborhood restaurant that donated its space and opened up its kitchen, “Taste of the Market” featured food donated or prepared by area chefs, farmers, gardeners, and vendors. More than 125 people enjoyed an evening that began with a spread of appetizers prepared and presented by a caterer of gluten-free, vegan provisions. This starter was a delight to the eye and palate thanks to the inclusion of such fare as succulent watermelon radishes (heirloom Chinese daikons), so-called due to their vivid green and red hues.

Five sumptuous courses—each paired with a different locally brewed craft beer—were prepared by local chef Rich Grigsby (who happens to be my brother) and his students from the Florida State College at Jacksonville’s School of Culinary Arts. The menu for the evening was driven by what was available geographically and seasonally. All of the food was caught, grown, produced, or raised within a one-hundred-mile radius.

Created from these locally sourced ingredients, the courses included a variety of delectables, such as straight-from-the-sea-fresh shrimp that was grilled and served with Creole butter; brisket served with gold-and-red beet hash; and delicious roasted potatoes donated by a fourth-generation farmer. An abundance of all types of greens were featured, from bok choy and kale to broccoli, collard, mustard, and turnip greens. This dinner was more than just “nose-to-tail” dining (eating every part of an animal so that nothing is wasted); it was “root-to-leaf” as well. Another inviting spread for dessert included some gorgeous gluten-free cookies and luscious farm-fresh strawberries—all donated by farmer’s market vendors.

There was a tremendous sense of community among the attendees, many of whom knew one another from local happenings and organizations, especially Beaches Local Food Network and Dig Local, the organizations that received all of the proceeds from the fundraising dinner. Their outreach programs include coordinating three community gardens and two farmers’ markets. They also hold cooking demonstrations to teach people how to cook fresh, healthy meals on a budget and how to shop wisely. In fact, they obtained a grant to organize Fresh Access Bucks, a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) project that helps community residents buy and eat more healthy, locally-grown produce.

Many of the attendees had become friends while working together in the community gardens, buying or selling at the farmers’ markets, or volunteering for the organizations. Through these activities, they also got to know other gardeners who grow their own food, the farmers who raise the animals or grow the produce, and the caterers and chefs who prepare the locally sourced food. As a result, relationships are being nurtured, and a community of people who are concerned about and interested in good, local food, is growing.

If the idea of cultivating relationships through community gardening and local, healthy eating appeals to you, you may want to check out the organizations doing this type of work in your area. Or you can visit:

American Community Gardening Association

Local Harvest

Sustainable Table

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10 Clever Ways To Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags

10 Clever Ways To Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags

Each year, Americans use 100 billion plastic shopping bags. Sometimes it seems like there are at least that many bags taking up space in a closet or kitchen cabinet. If you have a mountain of plastic bags and you’re looking for practical ways to recycle them, here are 10 ways you can use them to make life easier, save money, and cut down on waste.

1. Keep Birds Out of the Garden
If wild birds are eating fruits and vegetables before you can harvest them, use shopping bags to scare them away. Cut the bags into long strips and tie the strips to plants or stakes. You can also run string between stakes so that you can tie strips along the string. As the plastic flutters in the breeze, it will startle the birds out of your garden. (Be sure to tie them on really well so they don’t fly away.)

2. Fill Plant Pots
If you’re a container gardener, then you know that potting soil gets expensive – especially if you’re filling large containers. Cut costs by filling the bottoms of deep pots with crumpled up shopping bags. Just make sure to place a few small stones around drainage areas so that the plastic doesn’t clog the holes.

3. Clean Knees
Are you tired of muddy, grass-stained jeans? When you’re gardening, tie shopping bags around your knees, and you’ll never have to worry about grass stains or ground-in dirt again.

4. Pack It Up!
If you’ve divided the plants in your garden, but you’re out of giveaway pots, use plastic bags instead. Bags work almost as well as pots for keeping roots moist until your friends have time to plant their new starts.

5. Who Needs Peanuts?
If you need to ship a package, don’t bother buying packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Fill the box with bags to cushion the item you’re sending.

6. Help Shoes and Handbags Keep Their Shape
If you want your shoes, boots and handbags to stay in shape, but you’re out of tissue paper or other fillers, use shopping bags instead. As a bonus, in humid climates, they won’t absorb ambient moisture, which reduces the chances of mold and mildew growth!

7. Keep Your Clothes Dust Free
We all have a few outfits in our closets that are reserved for special occasions. Garment bags will keep them clean, but they’re costly and bulky. Save both money and space by using the larger shopping bags as a garment bag to protect suits, jackets and big items. Simply cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag and slip it over the clothes hanger to keep your favorite outfits clean. Small plastic bags work well for blouses and children’s clothes.

8. Clean Ceiling Fans
Have you ever cleaned a ceiling fan, only to have the dust and dirt rain down on your floors and furnishings? Slip a plastic bag over the blades of the fan as you clean to catch the mess.

9. Use them for Painting Projects
Whether you’re painting your living room, the garage or anywhere else, plastic bags are an invaluable tool:

  • Put them under paint cans to catch drips and spills.
  • Double-bag your roller pan. Instead of washing it out, you can peel the plastic bags away from the pan and throw them away.
  • If you need to take a break, tightly wrap your brushes and rollers in two or three plastic bags so that they don’t dry out.

When you’re done painting, you can also use plastic to keep your paint fresh. Place a bag over the top of the paint can before replacing the lid. This will create a tighter seal, and it will keep dried paint from falling into the can the next time you open it.

10. Cheap Insulation
If you need to seal gaps around vent pipes, ducts, plumbing or any other fixture that runs through a wall, use bags to fill the void inside the wall. After that, seal the gap from both sides with spray foam or caulk. The sealant will stick to both the bags and the pipe, ensuring that you have a tight, long-lasting seal. They also work to fill the gaps from your window air conditioning unit.

Do you have clever ways that you reuse plastic shopping bags? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.