Schedule a fix-it day
As you post your new calendar, circle one weekend day this month for a fix-it day.
Prepare ahead of time by wandering the house and noting minor repairs that you can do in less than a day. These are things like replacing cracked switch plates and burned-out bulbs, tightening loose screws and lubricating squeaky hinges. Make a list of materials and tools you need. Shop for whatever you don't have in a single trip.
On the appointed day, put the tools and supplies in a tote (the homeowner version of a carpenter's steps-saving tool belt) and get to work. As you proceed from room to room, test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and check off other items from your master list.
If you're struggling to find a place for all the holiday gifts your family received, you're not alone. Home-improvement stores consider this month the "storage season," which means you can probably find an unusually good selection and prices on plastic bins, closet organizers and the like. A few tips:
-- If you're buying plastic bins, go for ones that are clear so you can see what's inside.
-- Look for straight-sided containers. Ones with tapered sides waste a surprising amount of shelf space.
-- If you're planning to store the containers on shelves, match the size of the boxes to the depth and width of the shelves so you aren't left with hard-to-use gaps.
-- Consider forgoing plastic and instead get a supply of free and wonderfully designed, extra-sturdy cardboard boxes from a discount store such as Costco. If you want to stack containers (eliminating the need for shelves), get boxes with interlocking tabs and slots on the top and bottom. Boxes with bin-style fronts that are partially open allow you to reach in and retrieve items from all levels without moving any boxes.
If you're contemplating major outdoor repairs when the weather warms, do your homework now. If you're facing a re-roofing job, for example, call roofers for estimates and advice about materials, then follow up by visiting a building-materials store to see samples and call past customers to check references. The National Association of Home Builders has other tips about what you can do now to ensure that you line up a good contractor.
Apply for permits at your local building department. If you live in a historic district in Washington, the historic preservation program within the D.C. Office of Planning (202-442-7600) helps with this and gives tips on how to avoid expensive mistakes, such as undermining the structural integrity of a brick wall by installing the wrong kind of replacement window or repointing with an inappropriate kind of mortar.
After the holidays, most garden centers cut prices on any remaining forcing-type bulbs, such as paperwhites and amaryllis. They might look a little peaked, but most are still primed to grow and bloom. Even a single amaryllis makes a stunning display, but if you're going for paperwhites, buy at least five bulbs.
Get a planting tray or pot about 4 inches deep for paperwhites or 6 to 7 inches deep for amaryllis. Fill halfway with potting soil or decorative pebbles.
Place bulbs on top, pointed end up. Then fill in around the bulbs, to within a half-inch of the top.
Add water. Keep soil moist but not waterlogged. With pebbles, keep the water level below the base of the bulbs.
Add life to your garden
Many gardeners look forward to January as a time to peruse seed catalogues while cozying up to a fire. This year, consider expanding by keeping honeybees. Prince William Regional Beekeepers has an intro class starting Jan. 19, and similar programs are scheduled in many other communities. For details, visit the Web sites for the Virginia State Beekeepers Association