Friday, November 21, 2014

Top 10 Holiday Conversation Starters (and why you shouldn’t use any of them.)

By Andy Netzel

The worst part of any holiday party? Arriving and finding no one to talk to.

Even those seemingly naturally adept at making conversation can find themselves in a room full of folks difficult to talk to.

We’ve assembled 10 great conversation starters to help get you through the holiday party season, whether you’re talking to coworkers at a business functions or that rarely seen cousin at a relative’s house.

(Keep reading to find out why you might want to take a completely different approach.)

  1. What was your favorite gift you received as a kid?
  2. What was your first job?
  3. I had the best drink last week. Have you had any good holiday cocktails this year?
  4. Christmas afternoon is the only time I get to read without any interruptions. I don’t know what I’m going to read this year: Have you read anything I should add to my list?
  5. Does your family have any holiday traditions?
  6. Who is hardest to shop for each year?
  7. Have you ever been the host of the holiday party? (Here are some tips to share about getting your kitchen ready for that big party.)
  8. How do you keep your home clean for the holidays? Big cleans or lots of little ones?
  9. Where did you get that outfit?
  10. What’s the best Christmas cookie you’ve ever tasted and do you have a recipe to share?

These should get your holiday conversations off to a good start. But the conversations will ultimately fall flat if you don’t think about what makes a good conversation in the first place, says Bernie Carducci, a psychologist who studies shyness and wrote the book The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere About Anything.

“You don’t have to be brilliant. You don’t have to be witty. You just have to be nice,” Carducci says. “When you try to start out with a line or conversation starter, it’s too tough. If you start with something really powerful, you have to maintain that level of performance.”

So skip the pat starters.

Carducci has compiled a basic how-to guide to starting conversations. He says everyone can do it. There’s no evidence in his studies that people are naturally good at starting conversations. Practice makes you better at it.

“The difficulty people have with a conversation is they think it happens spontaneously,” he says. “Conversation follows a set formula.”

  • Step One

    Setting Talk: Getting Started. Pull from the room. All you’re really doing is indicating to the person you want to chat and get a read on if they’re up for it as well. It could be as simple as “These decorations are gorgeous, aren’t they?” This is the key place bad conversationalists get tripped up – they fear they’re not interesting enough to even start the conversation.

  • Step Two
  • The Personal Introduction: Who You Are, Something About You. Talk about yourself briefly. “Think about how you can make it easier for the person to be engaged. Provide a hint or topic they might talk about. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say, but what you’re going to talk about.”

  • Step 3
  • Pre-topical Selection: Fishing for Topics. Many conversations also break down here, Carducci says. “Bad conversationalists often think they need to say something critical or brilliant; unable to do either, they say nothing at all.” It may take a couple tries, but you’ll find something you’re both interested in. It could be one of the topics listed above, but the key is to find a part of their response to build off of – tell a story or ask a question.

  • Step Four
  • Post-topical Elaboration: Expanding the Topic. Now you’re really talking. This is where the conversation grows. It may start on the home you were looking at purchasing, and turn into a conversation about the best way to keep hard floors clean. (Well, we can dream right? But, seriously, try a FloorMate and we dare you not to talk about it.)

  • Step Five
  • Conversation Termination: A Gracious Ending that Creates the Connection. So now that you’re talking, you want to make sure you walk away wanting to continue talking later. “This could be after a few minutes, or after 25 minutes. You let the person know the conversation is going to come to an end. You give them the chance to wrap it up. ‘Oh, there are some other people I want to catch up with, but I really enjoyed talking to you.’ Mention something they said to show you were listening. ’I learned so much from you about world music!’ And then extend the invitation to talk again. ‘Let’s catch up more later!’”

Even if you’re a bad conversationalist, you can get better. Keep practicing! Use the world as your practice field. Chat in a long line at the grocery store. At the printer waiting for documents at work. Anywhere.

Last-Minute Tips for a Great Thanksgiving Dinner Party

Eliminate and avoid dinner-party disasters once and for all.



By Amber Matheson

I’ve hosted holiday dinners everywhere from Ohio to Hawaii, cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner while juggling a seven-month-old, and carted kitchen supplies across state lines to cook a proper Easter brunch.

I love holiday dinner parties. I even love to plan them! But issues inevitably arise that I just wasn’t prepared for.

Maybe that’s why the things that stand out most from my storied hosting past are the misses, not the hits. Things like the gelatinous glue I failed to pass off as gravy when I ran out of time and used a powder mix instead of good old turkey fat. Or the recurrent recurring nightmare of a realization that we simply don’t have enough chairs to go around, and thus endure a conversation about which guest is game enough to sit on the exercise ball.

This year, I’m pledging to check ALL the boxes during the planning phase. Here are some of the issues I’m hoping to head off at the pass:

How to Get Organized

So many things to do, so many lists. It becomes so overwhelming, I tend to chuck the list and rely on my instincts. Wrong move. Instead, get a gameplan and stick to it. Try this list from Martha Stewart, which offers a simple guide for everything from when and how to defrost your turkey, to dishes you can make ahead.

How to Satisfy All

Vegetarian sister-in-laws. Pescatarian stepmothers. Vegan cousins. Picky toddlers. Meat-and-potatoes uncles. The list goes on and on. You can stew on the multitude of special requests, or take them as a challenge. Find that vegetarian dish that will make your protein advocates request seconds. Go ahead and hide a vegetable in something yummy. Make your table as eclectic as your life: Mix traditional dishes with a few exotic offerings. Get started – and get inspired – with this recipe from The Kitchn.

How to Tackle Turkey

There are so many intimidating factors when it comes to turkey. It’s so big! It requires an entirely separate cooking apparatus (or does it?)! There’s basting involved! Get it all out of your system. Then get ready to cook the turkey of your life with this comprehensive, welcoming guide that will answer all your turkey-related questions.

How to Keep it Clean

Even the most rigorous academic mathematicians among us can agree: food + guests = messes. With the proper tools in place, red wine stains don’t have to ruin a party. Assemble a stain kit and hide it discreetly away. When spills happen, address them calmly in the moment, then use your Hoover carpet cleaner the following day to pick up any lingering stains.

The Air Cordless: How to Charge Your Battery

The Hoover Air Cordless vacuum is a full-size, full-power, cordless cleaner for your whole home. We designed our LithiumLife batteries to provide you with up to 25 minutes of run time on a single charge. And because two batteries come in every box, you'll have the power you need to clean your entire home. Keep one on the charger and one in your cleaner, and you'll always be ready to go.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How To Clean Six of your Biggest Fall Messes

Crisp air, gorgeous colors … Fall is a fantastic time to get outside. And that can mean a few more messes inside your house. Try these tips for your next seasonal mess.

For some, Fall means hot apple cider, leaf peeping and cool brisk walks.

But for the one cleaning the house, it also means:

  1. Leaves
  2. Dirt
  3. Mud
  4. Pets
  5. Firewood
  6. Neglected Mantles

We’ll help you tidy up each one.

Leaves, Dirt and Mud

More than 36 million Americans went hiking last autumn. That means 36 million pairs of boots covered in leaves, dirt and mud.

That’s not a reason to skip hiking season. (Find a trail near you here.)

Here's are our three-step approach to tracked-in debris:

  1. Two door mats: One on the outside of your main entry, and one on the inside. Give yourself an extra chance to scrub the loose dirt off those shoes.
  2. A mudroom stick vac: Keep a compact stick vac, like this one, as close to the door as possible. The more convenient it is, the more likely you are to use it immediately, so the dirt doesn’t pile up.
  3. Spot cleaning: A lightweight carpet cleaner beats getting down on your hands and knees to scrub at mud stains on carpeting. Try this one, which features a pre-treater wand and our DualTECH brush system to gently deep clean your carpet.

Who let the dogs…in?

Fall is also the season when our pets get into some downright weird messes. Make sure you brush your dog outside before letting them back in the house after a hike, and wipe off their paws.

For more tips on keeping your home clean when you live with pets, click here.

Firewood

As the thermometer drops, that fireplace starts to look pretty inviting. But with cozy fires comes firewood — i.e. a trail of bark and dirt clumps stretching from your wood pile to your living room. This fall, invest in a firewood carry bag. You’ll be amazed at how much cleaner those trips become. Then, pick up the biggest pieces of bark so they don’t damage your vacuum. For the rest of the mess, try using the hose attachment on your vac. This cleaner features an on-demand hose that’s ready when you are.

Tackle The Mantle

With all eyes on the fireplace, you may realize that mantle could use some love, too. Just before the holidays is a great time to swap out artwork and photos on your mantle. We love tip #6 on this list. And while you’ve got everything off that area, give it a thorough clean. A vacuum’s dusting-and-crevice tool is perfect for the job.

The Hoover Dual Power Carpet Cleaner Family: A Comparison

We know home looks a little different to everyone. Some of us have pets, some of us have kids. Some of us have both. We live in condos, we live in two-story homes. We have some carpet, we have a lot of carpet. So we designed a family of carpet cleaners designed to fit into your home perfectly. Found exclusively at Walmart, the Dual Power family of carpet cleaners offers the right choice for everyone.

Lifehacking A Dirty Home

Short-Cut, Cheat and Fake Your Way to a Clean-Looking Home

By John Hitch

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a procrastinator. I was the kid doing my homework on the bus to school and now I’m the guy rifling through the drug store card rack five minutes before the birthday party. The problem is I also love to have friends and family over for the holidays, which you may think would make for some pretty spaz-tastic mornings at the homestead. Not so.

Top-to-bottom cleaning doesn’t need to take days. You just need to know which places you don’t want to miss, so it looks like you spent days preparing. You could spend hours making the dining room dinner-party worthy, but if you have a sloppy bathroom, your guests will notice — and remember it. As you’re prepping for your holiday hosting, don’t miss these hotspots.

Picture Frames

You hung those photos so people would actually look at them, right? You want your friends and family to see glowing smiles and adorable clothing choices in framed family pics, not the layer of dust on top. Grab a microfiber wand (not a feather duster — it spreads more dust around), dusting spray and a stepstool and quickly wipe down your art. Do it first, so any dust that is kicked up lands on your floors and furniture before you vacuum.

Vents

Dust build-up on heating and cooling vents is not only unsightly; it gets propelled around the environment and may aggravate your friends and family’s allergies. Use your vacuum’s crevice tool to clear out those grates. The Whole House Elite has an extension wand and 12-foot hose which makes it a great choice. When you’re done, wipe each vent with a damp sponge.

*Extra Credit: If you have the time, unscrew the covers, wipe them off and run them under warm water and dry with a paper towel, and change your furnace filter.

Blinds

While you have your vacuum out, run it over the blinds.

*Extra Credit: Give your windows a quick clean, especially those in the main areas. If you’re running low on paper towels, coffee filters work well to give your glass a streak-free shine.

Beds

Your guests’ coats will wind up piled up on the bed of the cleanest bedroom, so that’s at least one bed you don’t want to forget to make. For added flair, add some hospital corners. You can take your chances by just closing the other bedroom doors, but remember that people can be nosy — or just confused about which door the bathroom is hiding behind.

The Refrigerator

Ideally, you’ll have all the accoutrements on the table, with drinks in a cooler in a common area, but that fridge won’t stay shut all night. Give it a quick wipe down and organize it if it’s a mess.

*Extra Credit: Vacuum the dust bunnies hiding behind it.

Play Area

If kids are on the guest list, make sure you have a designated play zone. This is one spot you should never wait until the last minute to clean. Put away small toys like Legos and other choking hazards. (This will make clean up after the party way easier, too.)

Television

At least for Thanksgiving, the football fans in your family will likely be huddled around the TV until the turkey’s on the table. Give them a crystal-clear screen to watch: Refer to your owner’s manual for specific cleaning tactics. Typically, a rub down with the soft cleaning cloth that comes with plasma and LCD TVs works best — but don’t ever use glass cleaner.

Coat Closet

When your winter-coat-wearing guests are coming over, it’s time for a coat check. How many of the coats in your closet do you use regularly? Maybe that 20-year-old trench coat could be retired to the attic. Or better yet, consider donation. Click here to find a drop-off location near you.

Stove

That open-concept living space can turn stressful fast when guests congregate near your mise on place. Make your stovetop sparkle on the big day with the FloorMate SteamScrub 2-in-1, which will melt even the toughest stains with the power of steam. It comes with 12 handy tools, including a soft scrub brush and scraper for stuck-on spots.

Baseboards

One of the last places to check before washing the floors is the baseboards. It doesn’t take long if you have the right attachment. The Air Steerable is great at weaving around tables and chairs, and the dusting tool can suck up dirt from every corner of your room.

*Extra Credit: While you have the vacuum hose out, use the crevice tool to clean in between couch cushions.