Monday, January 16, 2017

What to Look For When Buying a New Pair of Boots

If you spend a lot of time on your feet, you know how important footwear can be. Cramped toes, blistered heels and sore arches all equate to a pretty painful experience. But have you ever invested in a “good” pair of shoes only to still have these ailments? Knowing what to look for – and what to avoid – when you make this purchase is half the battle.

Regardless of your budget, there are certain things to keep in mind when shopping for boots, and we’ve got the rundown right here. Some of these tips are pretty well known, but others may surprise you. Read on so you know how to find the right pair of boots for you – and don’t get stuck with sore feet and an empty wallet!

Before you choose a boot to try on, make sure it’s got what you’re looking for. If you need a sturdy winter boot, it should be water resistant and insulated and have good traction. Going on a hiking trip? Get boots with sturdy ankle support and lots of padding to protect your feet as you trek up and down steep surfaces.

Depending on what you’re going to use your boots for, it may be wise to try them on in the afternoon or evening rather than in the morning. Since your feet swell throughout the day, doing so will give you a more accurate idea of how your feet will feel at their biggest.

Once you’ve picked out a pair of boots to try on, follow these steps to assess whether they’re the right match for you:

1. First off, make sure you’ve got a pair of socks with you when you go to the shoe store. You may have the option to buy a pair at the store if you’d rather, but otherwise, the salesperson will often only give you a sheer stocking sock that’s too thin to come close to how your regular socks will feel. And you most certainly want to get as close to that feeling as possible when making your decision.

2. Consider trying a couple of different sizes above and below the one you normally wear. This may not be necessary, but many boots and labels run small or large, so it’s a safe way to make sure you’re covering all your bases and getting exactly what fits your feet best.

3. Once you slide on your prospective new boots (onto both feet, not just one), check behind the heel. You can actually do this before you lace up your boot. Just push your foot forward in the boot and then see how much space there is behind your heel. You should be able to fit one finger there.

4. Lace up your boots, stand up straight and wiggle your toes. How do they feel? Cramped? Or like they’re floating around? You don’t want the boots to feel ginormous; however, the greater concern is tightness. Make sure your toes aren’t tightly wedged and have plenty of room to wiggle around. Think about the three outer areas of the front of your foot – the end of your big toe, the big toe mound (that sticks out to the side at the base of your big toe) and the pinky toe mount (that sticks out below the base of your pinky toe). Make sure these three areas especially aren’t feeling any pressure.

5. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell just how much space you want in your boots. A test you can do to check this is kicking a wall (ideally without alarming any other shoe store patrons or staff). Make sure your toes do not touch the end of the boot when you do this.

6. Now for the heel test: Walk, run, rock up and down, squat, jump – move your body in a number of different directions, all the while focusing on your heel. It shouldn’t move.

7. The foot isn’t the only thing to consider in boot sizing; your ankle needs support, too. By standing on the sides of your feet, you’ll be able to determine whether your ankles are well supported and have flexibility.

8. One last trick – slip your bare feet into the boots and see how they feel. This will give you a different sensation and may help you determine whether there are any spots that could turn into pain points. 

And that’s it! If you go through these steps and still like the boots, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re good quality boots that fit your feet well. There will usually be some time required to break in your boots, of course, so plan to wear them for short periods a few times before you go in for the long haul. And if you’re looking for a variety of high-quality options, check out our selection right here. Good luck! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Don’t Be Fooled by Myths About Winter

Wintertime can be a tough season to get through. For one thing, you have to bundle up in layers and layers of extra clothing anytime you leave the house. For another thing, there are lots of germs floating around. And the weather can be unpredictably treacherous – for driving, walking or however it is you’re getting around. But there are some myths that circulate around winter – and we want to clear them up right here so everyone knows what’s what. Don’t be fooled; read on for the truth about some common cold weather myths.

One of the most widespread winter health myths is that cold air makes you sick. Rather, our bodies actually produce more infection-fighting cells in the cold than otherwise as a way to combat low temperatures. Cold viruses thrive most at 91° Fahrenheit, so being in the cold air (with proper attire, of course) is probably going to help combat sickness rather than cause it.

You don’t need sunscreen in the wintertime. This is just not true. As it turns out, the earth is actually closer to the sun during the winter months (that is, winter months for the northern hemisphere – it’s summer on the other side). This being the case, it’s even more critical to cover your exposed skin with a layer of sunscreen to protect it. Not to mention the harmful rays that can be powerful as they reflect off snow and ice. Granted, less of your skin will be exposed during winter than in other seasons – but make sure you’re protecting what the sun is hitting.

Exercising in the cold is a bad idea: false! Race times have actually been found to be faster in colder temperatures. Again, as long as you’re properly dressed for the weather (and you’re healthy and in good shape), you’ll be fine exercising outside in the freezing air – and may even do better than otherwise.

While four-wheel drive is certainly a good thing to have while driving in wintery weather conditions, it should not be relied upon completely. Four-wheel drive doesn’t help stop a car – rather, it’s snow tires and skilled driving that do that. (Snow tires allow stopping up to 30% faster than otherwise!) Driving in the snow should be done using a vehicle that, yes, has four-wheel drive, but also by a driver who has gone through driver education specific to best winter driving practices. 

Although it might not seem to be the case, drinking alcohol does not warm you up. When you drink alcohol, what’s actually happening is that your blood rushes toward your skin – and away from your internal organs – causing your core temperature to drop. What’s more, alcohol makes it harder for your body to shiver and create extra heat. So, drinking is definitely not a good solution for keeping warm on cold winter nights.

Vitamin C is the solution to the common cold. That would be nice, but unfortunately, it’s not the case – at least not entirely so. Vitamin C will contribute to keeping your immune system strong, but it won’t prevent or necessarily directly help you get over a cold. We do know that a balanced diet, exercise and plenty of sleep (especially through the holiday stress time) will keep you healthy and going strong, whatever the season brings your way.

There are a number of factors that make the winter months difficult – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Embrace the chill by layering up with warm materials like wool and fleece. And when you’re inside on cold, dark nights, create cozy, candle-lit spaces to enjoy. If nothing else, we hope that now you have a more accurate understanding of the common myths about winter and the truths behind them. Feel free to share more winter myths in the comments below – we’d love to hear them!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How to Stay Warm in the Outdoors This Winter

We’re already two weeks into December and even less before the winter solstice is upon us. You may be preparing for indoor hibernation – but for those of you who relish the great outdoors during the cold months (or perhaps don’t have a choice but to be outside), we’ve collected a few cold weather safety tips to keep you safe and warm, regardless of how low the thermometer plunges. Read on for these important reminders!

Stay Dry

It’s remarkable how quickly your body temperature can drop if you get wet as you’re braving the elements. Even sweat, which is actually a cooling mechanism to keep you from overheating, will cause issues once you slow down. Try to avoid any risks of getting wet, and pace yourself so as to limit how much you perspire. Of course, there will be instances where you don’t want to slow down. In these cases, if possible, try to reach a more moderate pace 20 or 30 minutes out from the end. This period will act as a sort of cool down so you’re not completely stopping from full-speed-ahead (and freezing in your fresh layer of sweat).

Another note on sweating: adjusting the number of layers you wear will help, so make sure you’re adding or pulling off what you need to in order to avoid getting too hot (or cold). Gage this on the temperature, humidity, wind levels and your level of activity.

Take Breaks

Breaks are a given with any physical exertion you do. While taking a break in the wintertime, sit on your pack – or whatever you’ve got – so you’re not sitting directly on the ground. Otherwise, the ground will suck away your body’s heat via thermal conduction. Any distance you can keep between the two will help your body hold its warmth.

And while you’re on this coveted break, aim for taking it in a sunny spot, if at all possible. Take advantage of nature’s ultimate heater – you’ll certainly feel the difference between sun and shade, even on the coldest of days.

Mittens over Gloves

Mittens may seem best suited for 3-year-olds, tied together under their coat so they’re not lost. But in reality, keeping skin-to-skin contact between your fingers will actually hold warmth more than separating them. That is, of course, as long as you don’t need a lot of maneuverability. We all know trying to do almost anything with our hands while wearing mittens is a challenge – so gloves can be a better option to get the job done. But if dexterity isn’t required, mittens are golden.

If you do choose to wear gloves, bring along a back-up pair that you can keep warm in a pocket in case your hands get cold and you need to switch it up.

Hats – But Not in Lieu of Other Essentials

If you grew up in a cold place, you more than likely have been ingrained with the idea that you need a warm hat to be outside in the wintertime. That’s because of the well-established idea that most body heat escapes through the head. Well, this “fact” has actually been shown to be more of a myth; rather, the more skin that’s exposed, the colder you’ll be because there’s more opportunity for heat to exit the body. Regardless, wearing a hat is still very important – as is covering up every part of your body. 

If you’re going to be out for a fair amount of time, consider bringing along two hats: a heavier one for when you’re exerting yourself less and a lighter one for when you’re working hard so as not to overheat. Switch them as appropriate, and keep the one not being used close to your core so it stays warm and dry.

Stay Hydrated – with Water, That Is

Your body needs plenty of water all the time, but especially while out in frigid temperatures. You become more dehydrated than you realize out there, so it’s important to carry a substantial supply of water with you, wherever that may be. You can add some sugar to it for a surge of energy, or even butter for some flavor and calories. 

Along with this additional intake of water, you should also make sure you’re giving your body enough fuel to energize your expedition. Pack some high-fat snacks, like nuts, to chomp on as you go. Because fat is a slow-burning fuel, you’ll get more out of it if you’re going to be in the great outdoors for a while. 

Don't Let Your Water Freeze

That hydration information we just covered? It’s not going to be very successful if your water is frozen. Keeping your water in liquid form is an extremely important part of staying healthy in the cold. For temperatures down to the low 20s (F), you should be fine using a hydration bladder that’s kept on your body. Just make sure the hose that leads from the sack to your mouth stays clear of water – as this is where it is most likely to freeze – by blowing into it after every sip you take. Any colder than the 20s and you will probably want to use a wide-mouth water bottle instead. Keep the bottle in an insulated sleeve upside-down so when you turn it right-side up to take a drink, any ice that’s formed is at the bottom. Clever, eh?

Feel free to add more tips on staying warm in winter in the comments below – we’d love to hear them! 


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tips for Pet Health & Safety in Winter

The cold is here – and likely to stay – as we work our way up to the dark winter months. Digging through closets for our heavy coats and scarves, hats and gloves is all part of the process to keep ourselves warm while venturing outside. But what about our furry friends? Pets and cold weather aren’t always a good match, so it’s important to take special measures to ensure they safely make it through what can be a tough season with their health and happiness intact.

Here at Paris Farmers Union, we’ve put together a few winter pet safety tips to help your loved pets get through the winter, whether they love frolicking through the snow or would rather stay curled up by the fire for the next four months. Read on to learn more!

  • For pets that stay outside most of the time, they’ll probably need some kind of shelter as protection from the elements. Make sure it’s warm, dry and doesn’t let in drafts. 
  • Imagine wandering through snow drifts barefoot. Doesn’t sound too comfortable, does it? And it’s often not comfortable for pets, either – especially when chunks of snow build up between the pads of their paws. Avoid this discomfort (and the possibility of frostbite) by putting booties on your pet’s paws. They also may like a coat or hat, depending on how thick their own coats are. Warning signs of frostbite are waxy, firm skin and blisters, so keep an eye out for those.
  • Pets that come in and out of your home frequently during the wintertime will start to feel the effects of flaky, itchy skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as they come inside to alleviate this discomfort.
  • This may go without saying, but save shaving your pet for the warmer months, as they’ll need as much hair or fur as possible to hold their heat. For animals with long hair, give them a trim to reduce the buildup of snow on their coats.
  • Cold temperatures mean we’re all burning more calories to stay warm – so outdoor pets will probably need more food than usual. Keep an eye on their food bowls, and notice whether or not they’re chomping down more than usual. While you’re at it, make sure their water stays in liquid form; you don’t want your animal to have to lap at a frozen puddle to stay hydrated.
  • Wash and dry your pet’s feet after walks to remove snow balls, salt and any melting chemicals that may line your neighborhood’s streets and sidewalks. You don’t want your pet being exposed to those chemicals by licking them, so best to wash everything off before they’ve got the chance.
  • While we’re on the subject of chemicals, antifreeze is another one that can cause serious harm to your pet if ingested. If you’re using antifreeze on your vehicle(s), be sure not to leave any spills behind that an animal could lap up. If your pet starts to convulse or act drunk and you suspect they could have been exposed to antifreeze, contact your vet as soon as possible. 
  • Baths should be avoided during low temperatures, as they’ll remove essential oils your pet needs and increase dryness of their skin. 
  • Ever started your car on a cold winter day to see a screeching cat jump out from beneath your hood? A warm motor is the perfect place for kitties to curl up next to – until the engine rears up for its next ride. So before starting your car, give your hood a couple taps to make sure no creatures have found their way inside. 
  • If temperatures are really low, consider bringing outdoor pets inside. It’s not a good idea to stay out in the frigid air for too long, so it may be wise to venture out only for your pets to relieve themselves and then head back indoors. 

Your pets may not be able to tell you how much they dislike being cold, but rest assured, they feel that same air you do and know when enough is enough. Keep them happy and warm with these tips, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying a winter wonderland, however low the temperatures plummet this year!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Holiday Decorating Ideas for Your Home, Inside & Out

The holidays are just around the corner, and with them, the hustle and bustle that accompanies them each year. This year, wouldn’t it be nice to focus on your own home, adding some holiday cheer in the small details? Or maybe some big details, too. Whether you’re a veteran at holiday decorating or are new to this vast world, you’ll be sure to find some holiday decorating ideas and tips you hadn’t thought of here. Just remember, you can make your décor exactly as simple or complicated as you want it to be – just enjoy the process!

For those of you who want to add a little festivity to the inside of your home, we offer the following indoor Christmas ideas:

  • Clip cards you receive to a string and hang them along your staircase – or across any wall if you don’t have stairs.
  • Place festive candles throughout your home. Whether they’re green, red, gold or white, light them in the evenings (or even by mid-afternoon this time of year) for a warm, welcoming ambiance. Deep windowsills or end tables are ideal – just be sure that any drapes or other materials don’t get too close and catch the flame. 
  • Make your own Advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas using a bulletin board and 24 envelopes. Be sure to put a special little something in each one!
  • Add wrapped presents under the tree as you go – you’re going to be wrapping them anyway, so why not double their use as both a present for someone you love and a decoration for your house in the meantime? The trick is in the final touches – a gorgeous, bright ribbon, perhaps tucking a candy cane under the knot.
  • Hang ornaments from strings in your front window for some simple holiday flair.

And for those of you who want to wow your neighbors and any passersby with your holiday spirit from the street, a few outdoor Christmas decoration ideas:

  • Use glass vases or mason jars to light the path to your front door for guests on their way in. Just pour a thin layer of rock salt at the bottom of each vase or jar and place a tea candle inside for a gorgeous illumination guiding guests to your home.
  • Or if it’s really cold out, replace the mason jars with ice lanterns to hold the candles. You can make your own ice lanterns by placing a plastic cup filled with rocks (or something to weigh it down inside of a larger plastic container. Fill the larger plastic container with water, and then freeze the whole thing overnight, either in your freezer or outside. You can even place berries or leaves in the water (before freezing) as decoration. To get the ice lanterns out of their containers, run warm water along the outside and viola – a pretty ice lantern!
  • If you’re handy and have some extra plywood lying around, try sawing the wood into holiday decorations like evergreen trees to set up in your yard.
  • Hang some frozen fruit ornaments from trees for your furry and feathered friends using a plate, string and your favorite holiday berries, oranges and greens. 
  • Illuminate your porch (or stoop) with some pretty birch log luminaries – just cut a birch log into a few pieces of varying heights, drill holes into one of the two flat sides (large enough to fit a tea candle), and you’ve got beautiful, natural candle holders. 
  • String cranberries to make a garland and wrap the garland around any greenery you have in planters.

You can also decorate the outside of your home, yard, or your Christmas Tree with a Lighting Effects Laser Light Projector from Prime! An alternative to the hassle of stringing lights, a Laser Light installs easily and quickly, and covers the outside of your home with a dazzling red and green light display. Simply plug it in, aim the laser where you want, and cover your home or tree with a bright light display in a matter of minutes!

And of course, check out our own selection of holiday decorating items, offering everything from string lights to angels, ornaments to tree stands. It’s time to get into that holiday spirit – so embrace it!
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Winterizing Your Outdoor Equipment

In our past two blog entries, we provided a detailed guide for prepping your home and plants for the impending winter season. We’re continuing with this theme but shifting our focus to the toolshed. When winter rolls around, Jack Frost can wreak havoc on unattended lawn tools – especially power equipment like mowers, blowers and hedge trimmers. These power tools are substantial monetary investments that can often be neglected during the off-season. Freezing temperatures throw a wrench into the inner workings of small gas engines and, in some instances, cause irreparable damage.

Thankfully, with a little foresight, you can avoid wasting valuable time (and money) futilely futzing with a faulty gas engine or replacing it altogether. Prepare for the impending cold front by following these simple steps, and ensure a smooth start to the spring season.

Regulate Storage Temperature

If you’ve ever plugged in a power tool only to have it sputter and shudder, the engine might be having difficulty generating the heat required to power up. After months of lying dormant in a frigid environment, your engine is unable to adjust to such a dramatic shift in internal temperature.

In addition, the freezing cold also has the potential to drain an engine’s battery life and substantially accelerate degeneration. Certain chargers are completely ineffective after being exposed to the cold for prolonged periods of time.

To extend the longevity of your tools and ensure easy startup, invest in a portable garage heater. Your heating unit doesn’t need to be robust or cranked up to full capacity – in fact, that would be wasteful. As long as your shed’s temperature is kept slightly above freezing, your tools should be able to rev up without issue.

Remove or Stabilize Your Leftover Gas

Left untouched, oil gradually oxidizes and turns into a heavier sludge that is less effective at lubricating your engine. Old gas also does not ignite as well as fresh fuel. At the tail end of fall, stagnant gasoline should be completely cleared out or stabilized prior to storage.

Emptying out your equipment is simple – unscrew the fuel tank and dump the remains into a capped container. If you’re unable to drain all of the gas, try using a turkey baster or similar hand pump to get every last drop. Once full, dispose of your unwanted fuel responsibly at your community’s toxic waste center.

Instead of tossing out your fuel, you can add a gas stabilizer to it. By diluting your gasoline with fresh fuel or a product like Sta-Bil, you can substantially mitigate the effects of oxidation. Once your gas has been diluted, make sure to store it in an air-tight container to seal it off from additional oxygen.

Clean Filters, Hinges & Spark Plugs

After frequent use during the spring and summer, engine parts can deteriorate and suffer poor performance. Before stowing your tools, open up the insides and perform a thorough examination of your filters. To swap out your fuel filter with ease, bend a metal coat hanger, snag your fuel line and replace the filter attached to the end. A torn air filter can cause debris to accumulate. Fortunately, changing air filters is a breeze – just make sure you wear a dust mask!

Spark plugs are also an easy fix. To keep your plugs in perfect condition, remove them with a wrench and scrub off residue. If your plugs are particularly filthy, don’t worry – replacing spark plugs is quick and inexpensive.

Another inevitability of winter storage is unwanted contact with moisture. If your ceiling suffers a leak, moisture can seep onto your equipment’s hinges and rust them beyond repair. To prevent rust from deteriorating your tools, rub them down liberally with lubricant.  

By taking these precautions, you’ll stay one step ahead of winter and avoid defrosting your equipment in the spring. These tips may seem like common sense, but with the hectic holiday season, it’s easy to neglect tools lying dormant in your shed. Check out our selection of lawn power equipment and then our heating & cooling page to ensure your tools survive winter!  

Friday, October 14, 2016

7 Ways to Protect Your Plants This Winter

It’s already mid-October, and that means it’s time to start thinking about how to protect your cherished garden during the cold winter months. Whether you relish this time of year or long for spring to arrive, many of your plants will likely need some added protection to survive – so don’t leave them hanging. Taking a couple of simple steps will keep your lovely greenery intact come spring so you can enjoy your garden once again and not take repeated trips to the nursery for a brand new collection.

Here, we provide you with some tried-and-tested tips and tricks for plant survival through Mother Nature’s harshest months. Choose your favorite method of winter plant protection, or try them all!

1) Lay a thick layer of wood chips or straw over flower and perennial beds. This should be about 6 to 8 inches thick, providing some protection so that your beds bloom again in the spring. Remember, raised beds allow more cold air to come through the sides of the box, so this is an important area to protect.

2) Mulch your plants. That’s right: mulch is now a verb and refers to removing the old mulch from around your plants and adding a fresh 3-inch layer. Be sure to leave a ½-inch space around each plant’s stem for air circulation and to prevent rot. No plant wants to rot their way through the cold winter – it’s already tough enough.

3) Water your plants before a freeze, ideally early in the day so your plants have time to absorb it. This sounds counter-intuitive, given that being cold and wet sounds much worse than just being cold, but, in fact, cold air is usually very dry, so it will absorb the moisture faster than the plant can absorb it. Also, plant cells that are full with water will fare better against colder temperatures than otherwise because water can act as an insulator.

4) Also before a freeze, place plant covers for winter using, for instance, a piece of burlap or the like. These can stay on top of the plants – including their entire root zone – for the duration of the freeze but should be removed again during the daytime or once it starts to rain. You can bind or tie the material down, but try to avoid attaching them to or hanging them on the plant, as this can cause damage. Instead, stick stakes in the ground around the plant so you can hang the covering on those. You can also wrap burlap around the trunks of smaller trees for added protection.

5) Place a screen or shield of some sort around your plants on the southwest side to protect them from fierce winds and snow, as this is the direction from which most damage usually comes. 

6) Don’t feel bad if you don’t do anything before a couple fluffy inches of snow fall – that snow will insulate the ground around your plants. As long as it’s not heavy, wet snow, which will weigh down your plants and risk breaking their branches or stems. 

7) For potted plants, the exotic ones from tropical climates should probably be brought inside – say, to your bathroom (as long as there’s light) where they’ll soak up the moisture from your showers. But, for those that are hardy enough to stay outside all winter long, give them some protection. This may be physically wrapping them for an extra layer of warmth with, say, a blanket, towel or piece of foam. Or perhaps moving the plant to a more protected, shielded area, whether a corner or a garage. It’s even possible to plant them directly in the ground or bury them, pot and all. 

So there you have it – an array of solutions to your winter garden worries. Spend some time planning what makes the most sense for your yard, and then put those plans into action before it’s too late. Your spring self will appreciate your efforts, and so will your plants. Feel free to add any additional tips in the comments below!