Jessica Yonker

"Now you're just some flokati that I used to know."

Jessica Yonker is a writer for HGTV.com and a professional glitter handler in training. She loves decorating her friends' homes without their permission and practicing for her inevitable appearance on Chopped. Like her mother, she's obsessed with lamps, mirrors and microfiber throws. Unlike her mother, she has an unexplained aversion to chalkboard paint.

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POSTS BY Jessica Yonker

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Happy November, everyone! We’re only a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, so you know what that means – time to clean the house from top to bottom before the guests arrive. And you better start now rather than later, especially before that extra hour feeling wears off.

With fall in full swing and winter approaching, you may notice your floors may need a little TLC.

You’ll never regret having a good vacuum around. Sucking up all that dirt and grime not only keeps your home spotless and clean, but also clears away harmful allergens built-up in your floors. But with so many brands, options, filter-types, and other factors, choosing the right vacuum can be a daunting task. To make the decision easier, we’ve narrowed down some of the most important factors to keep in mind while picking out a vacuum.

See the Guide

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Halloween is finally here. It’s only a short time before trick-or-treaters will fill the streets on a never-ending candy quest. Well, at least until bedtime.

Whether you’re planning on passing out candy or not, you should take some precautions to make sure any kids wandering your neighborhood have a safe Halloween. No one wants to be the house on the block responsible for mini-Effie Trinket’s tears when your over-friendly dog gets loose or baby-Incredible Hulk’s scraped knee (you won’t like him when he’s angry).

Clear a path. The morning or afternoon of Halloween, take a walk around the outside of your home. Put away hoses, bikes and garden equipment and clear away rocks, sticks and debris to prevent tripping.  Make sure Halloween decor on the ground is either brightly lit or out of the way.

Watch out for your pumpkins. Keep lit jack-o’-lanterns in a high place or consider getting a battery-powered candle instead of the real thing. Loose-fitting or flowing Halloween costumes can easily catch fire.

Put away your animals. Yes, you did a lot of work getting Spot into that Batman costume, but all the excitement Halloween brings can rile up your pet for better or worse. Hours of shrieking children can stress out even the best-behaved dog. Do your four-legged friends a favor and keep them in a quiet place until the party’s over.

Leave the lights on (or off). Whether to leave the lights on or off if you’re not handing out treats is a common question. If you live in a high-traffic area where your neighbors are all expecting trick-or-treaters, it’s a good idea to leave a porch light on. Kids running between houses might trip or fall in front of your dark home. Try putting up a sign that says “No candy here, sorry!”

Think carefully about candy. Individually-wrapped candies are best. If you are thinking about passing out homemade treats, consider adding a tag with your name and phone number on it to give parents some reassurance.

If you’re taking the kids out, remember to let them eat a big meal so they don’t get hungry before the night is over. This will also prevent hungry children from tearing into their treats right before bedtime.  Don’t forget to inspect all sweets – be on the lookout for unwrapped items and candy your child might be allergic to.

Make sure to travel in groups. Parents usually don’t mind people joining their group – parents will feel safer with a big group and trick-or-treaters will enjoy the company of other children.

Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone!  Check out the links below for last-minute Halloween ideas:
Our Favorite Costume Ideas From HGTV Fans
Halloween Party Favor and Treat Bag Ideas
Last-Minute Halloween Costume Ideas for the Entire Family
13 To-Die-For Halloween Cocktails
Spooky Halloween Table Settings and Decorations
FREE DOWNLOAD: Easy Pumpkin Carving Templates
More Halloween Inspiration From Design Happens

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The powerful superstorm known as Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall tonight and last well into Tuesday, but many areas are already experiencing damaging winds and severe flooding. Several cities have mandated emergency evacuations, shutdown transit systems, canceled flights and closed schools until later this week. Many spent the weekend evacuating or rushing to stores to gather provisions for an inevitable power outage.

Hurricane Katrina Cleanup aftermath

Five years after Hurricane Katrina and a year after Hurricane Irene, many homeowners are still trying to rebuild their lives. Hurricane Sandy, though a lower level category, is nearly twice the size of its predecessors. It has already left many without power and caused major flooding in the Northeastern United States.

If you’re a little confused on what makes this storm so dangerous, here’s the breakdown: Hurricane Sandy is only a Category 1 hurricane, but the wind speeds are expected to grow to over 90 miles per hour, meaning it could easily turn into Category 2 territory. Sandy is also setting records for its size – the storm’s wind field is 900 miles long. Thanks to an ill-timed full moon, the tide levels are high, making it easy for Sandy to transport even more water to the coast. Finally, Sandy is combining with an early winter storm system from the west and cold air from Canada, bringing snow as far south as the Carolinas and East Tennessee.

A storm like this naturally raises a lot of issues, so we’ve answered some tough questions and gathered advice for those of you in the path of the storm.

READ MORE

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Every time the smoke detector goes off in my house, it’s always a mad dash to see who can get the alarm to stop beeping. It’s usually caused by something trivial – heavy shower steam from at-home “spa days,” a hair straightener making a little too much smoke, my dad pan-frying steak in a cast-iron skillet (all you meat-lovers and cast-iron skillet owners know where I’m going with that one). To make matters worse, we have 10-foot ceilings, leaving us poking at the smoke detector with a broom. As annoying as it can be, my family’s just thrilled that it works.

9 fire safety tips

While you’re changing your clocks November 2, take a second to change the batteries in your smoke detector so you can prevent a nasty fire from taking over your home.

October is National Fire Prevention month. It’s fitting, because we’ve had quite a few chilly nights here lately. It’s almost time to crank up the heat, dust off the fireplace, and finally build that fire pit you’ve been talking about so you can make s’mores any time you want.

Before you rush off to buy firewood in bulk, it’s a good idea to change the smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries. According to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), 38 percent of all fatal fire injuries occur in homes without working smoke detectors. Yikes. That’s why the IAFC paired up with Energizer this month to encourage people to test their detectors and change out the batteries when the time changes on Nov. 2. While you’re wandering through your home changing the clocks, it’s also the perfect time to put a new battery in your smoke detector. It only takes a second, and you’ll sleep better knowing your family’s protected.

Check out these other fire-safety tips:
9 Fire-Safety Tips
Outdoor Fire Pits and Safety
Fireplace Maintenance and Safety
Lazy Homeowners Rejoice! Home Maintenance Made Easy

And after your home is protected, take a look at these inspiring fireplace and fire pit designs:
10 Fall-Inspired Fireplaces
Hot Fireplace Design Ideas
Beautiful Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits

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I’ve noticed three things over the last week or so: it’s been getting darker a lot quicker; it’s starting to get permanently chilly; and to my delight, the leaves are finally starting to change. However, if you’re a homeowner, you may not be so elated to see your front yard, backyard and everything else newly covered in leaves.

Clean and care for your gutters at least twice a year, especially during the fall. Taking precautions now can help you avoid a big problem down the road.

People often don’t know they have a problem until their roof starts leaking or until one of their gutters comes crashing down. Taking measures early — like checking your gutters for leaks and cleaning out debris that has built-up over the seasons — will ensure you spend less time outside scooping up piles of wet leaves and more time inside sipping on apple cider.

Take a look at these easy tutorials for getting those gutters clean: 
-How to Clean and Repair Gutters
-Video: Gutter Cleaning

Once your gutters are squeaky clean, check out these fun fall projects:
5 Apple Crafts That Are Cool to the Core
Easy Halloween Pumpkin Crafts
5 Easy Fall Crafts You’ll Fall For
Make a Fall Felt Leaf Wreath
Travel Channel: Take a Fall Foliage Road Trip

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Perhaps I’ve been influenced by my very Southern mother, or maybe it’s just from spending too much time glued to Pinterest, but I use vinegar for everything. Ev-er-y-thing.  I keep all types of vinegar – white, apple cider, red wine, tarragon – stocked in my cabinets. It’s handy for cooking, cleaning, and what most of my friends refer to as “weird voodoo home remedies” (a spoonful of vinegar a day keeps the doctor away!).

Vinegar is not just for salads.

One of the best things about keeping vinegar in your home is that it’s so cheap. You can usually get a big bottle of white vinegar for under a dollar, and not too much more for apple cider vinegar. On top of that, it’s edible – no harsh toxins, no lingering chemical smell – making it the perfect cleaning solution if you have children or pets.

Read the List

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By now, most college students have either started school or are slowly coasting toward midterms (this trusty intern certainly is). The group projects have been assigned, people have unofficially designated “their spot” in the library, and if you’re a parent at home you may be lamenting (or celebrating) your now-empty nest.

No matter what time of year, you can still find plenty of ways to spruce up your dorm or first apartment. Image courtesy of Dormify.com

There is however, one last bit of advice I’d like to bestow on college students looking to make the most out of their dorm room or first apartment….

Find Out What

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This weekend I whispered, “I love you,” and kissed my shorts goodbye, replacing their spot in my closet with scarves and cardigans.

Always think outside the box (er, closet). Kristen Grove repurposed empty paint cans to hang scarves and hats.

It was only a small victory for the long and often chaotic process that is cleaning, organizing and reorganizing your closet to prepare for fall and winter. Start October off on the right foot with a few tips for making the closet swap less painful:

Clean the closet first. It will be tempting to immediately pull out your entire winter collection from storage just to see what’s in there, but if you do this without creating space for any of it, you’re just making a bigger mess. Take some time before your heavy holiday cleaning starts and give your closet a makeover. If you’ve been meaning to install new shelves or create the shoe storage space of your dreams, now’s the time to do it.

Throw things away. Trash those stockings with runs. Get rid of those rain boots with the hole in them that you kept, “just in case it’s not raining that hard.” Over the weekend, I threw away four pairs of leggings and a pair of shoes that were all ripped beyond repair and just sitting in my closet taking up space. I also got rid of some things that I never wear. A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t worn something in over a year, you probably never will. Donate them or give them away to friends and family.

Don’t do it all at once. Unless you have a lot of time to dedicate, you’re just going to get overwhelmed. And even if you have a whole weekend, set realistic goals – maybe you can’t clean out your closet, sort through your winter clothes and switch out your summer clothes all in one day, but you can spend an hour or two picking out the items you won’t need for cold weather.

Make a list. Do you swear you bought extra-long socks for each of your children last winter and now they’re nowhere to be found? Move to a cooler climate over the summer and know you’ll freak the first time it snows? Make a list of the items you need, then buy each article slowly – think of it as early Christmas presents for all your hard effort!

How are you making the fall transition? Find more organizing and cleaning advice, crafty closet storage solutions and browse beautiful walk-ins here:

Daily Delight: Celebrity Closets
Storage 101: A Closet Makeover
Repurposing Household Items For Your Closet
25 Ways to Store Shoes in Your Closet
Maximizing Closet Storage
Kids Closet Ideas
10 Stylish Walk-In Closets
VIDEO: Making Closet Space Count

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I love to cook, but after 4 years in college, two things have become very clear to me:

  1. There is a certain amount of functional counter space you need to cook a good meal.
  2. The provided counter space in your dorm room or first apartment will always be less than that amount.

Combine that inevitable lack of space with an incomplete set of kitchen tools, minimal cooking experience, and the chaotic schedule a college student often has, and cooking can quickly turn into an ordeal (pizza, anyone?).

But it doesn’t have to be this way. A little time management can go a long way, and starting off with the right items can make a big difference.

Buy Ingredients

The other day I escorted a friend to the grocery store. We put away all her groceries only to find that when I opened her refrigerator, it was still empty. Baffled, I ransacked her cabinets, trying to see what went wrong. The problem? She had only bought snacks. Snack foods are good to have around, but if you don’t continually buy staple ingredients like eggs, bread and milk, you limit the variety of meals you can make. I try to make an effort to always buy a box of pasta noodles, a jar of sauce, and a couple of canned vegetables every time I grocery shop – they’re good for a quick meal and I know I’ll always need them.

Read the Rest

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Fall has finally arrived, and here in Knoxville we’ve already had some pretty cool, crisp nights. It’s only a matter of time until the cool weather really sets in and it’s time to curl up in front of the fireplace.

If your home feels fine during the day but you find yourself reaching for an extra blanket at night, it may be time to reverse the direction of your ceiling fan blades. During colder months, making the blades rotate clockwise will push down warm air and distribute it throughout the room. Just make sure you’re running the fan on a low speed, otherwise the fan will create a “wind-chill effect” and make your room too cold.

To flip your blades’ rotation, just turn the fan off, grab a ladder and toggle the directional switch. Don’t forget to test and make sure it’s turning in the right direction for the season. Doing this can reduce your energy costs by nearly 10 percent in the winter and a whopping 40 percent during the summer – not bad for a task that only takes a few minutes to do!

How do you stay warm during the cooler months? Get a head start on preparing your home for fall and winter by visiting:

How to Install a Ceiling Fan

10 Easy Decorating Ideas for Fall

Protect Your Deck This Winter

DIY Network: Prepare the House for Winter

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Small spaces get dirty fast. A sticky spot on the floor or a few cobwebs in the corner might go unnoticed for weeks in a big, roomy house, but quickly become an eyesore in a dorm room. But whereas in that big house you may have cleaning products for days, college students’ supplies are often limited.

This kid doesn't know most college students will never own a vacuum this nice.

Here’s an example: I didn’t always own a mop. I used to loop a hand towel on the end of a broom, dunk it in a bucket (and by bucket, I mean trash can) of soapy water and drag it across the floor, hoping that it would clean something, anything. Those were dark days.

Decorating is basically useless if all of your stuff is covered in trash. There are essentials you need, especially if it’s your first apartment or dorm, to keep your space tidy and clean.

See The List

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With the kids back in school and lazy days of summer coming to a close, you may have noticed laundry day is more like a full-time job. And if your machines are older, the chore may seem like a never-ending cycle (ha!).

One way you can speed up the process is by not only cleaning the lint from your dryer, but actually cleaning your lint screen. Lint can block air from circulating in your dryer, but mix that with continued, heavy buildup from the oils in fabric softeners and detergents, and you’d be better off just buying new clothes. All that gunk also creates a pretty hefty fire hazard, so it’s a good idea to clean it out regularly.

Read the Steps

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During back-to-school season, stores around here are stocked full of those colorful Betta fish. Conveniently, fish are the only type of pet you’re allowed to have in dorm rooms. I had terrible luck with our finned friends as a child, so instead of rushing to the pet store I went to the garden section:

I’m proud to announce that four years later I have not only managed to keep this plant alive, but it’s quadrupled in size. It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes.

How to Choose the Right Houseplant

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Rate My Space user jayslights puts on a yearly show with a computerized light display.

I know, I know – it’s only September. But think about it this way: if you take advantage of the warm weather now to put up your main lights (don’t pull out that life-sized, electronic Rudolph just yet), you won’t have to worry about standing out in the cold come November. Just take a day or a weekend to set them up, then leave them off until you’re ready to take out the rest of your decorations.

And what’s holiday prep without your little helpers? Let your kids help decorate low areas, like porch banisters or shrubs, to get them excited for the upcoming holiday season. It may look and feel silly now, but you’ll thank yourself later when your neighbors are out in the freezing cold trying to put up their entire light display and you’re inside enjoying a nice cup of hot cocoa!

Can’t wait for the holidays? Check out more ways to get a head start here:

Jump-Start Your Christmas Crafting

25 Handmade Holiday Decorations

DIY Network: Outrageous Christmas Light Displays

DIY Network: Holiday Lighting Buyer’s Guide

DIY Network: Installing Christmas Lighting

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Last week I mentioned how my apartment’s blank walls had to go.

Dorm rooms are typically already equipped with a set of furniture, and while it’s nice to not have to furnish an entire room or apartment out of your own pocket, it definitely makes creating your own personal style difficult. Your empty dorm walls become, quite literally, your blank canvas. Some residence halls will even let you paint – with the agreement that you promise to repaint at the end of the year.

But if you find you can’t paint and your walls are so fragile that a nail might send pieces of drywall crashing to the ground, don’t go running for the Scarface poster just yet. There are plenty of simple but creative ways to decorate, even on a college student’s budget.

3 Tricks to Try

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It may still be hot outside, but as Kayla mentioned, fall is definitely on its way. Growing up, Labor Day weekend was the last call for pool season. I love swimming, so after the pool closed, as far as I was concerned, summer was over.

Closed Sign

Closing the pool can be the saddest time of year for some, but taking a few precautions in the fall can save you a headache come spring. Image courtesy of Flickr user balabanovic.

I lived in apartments with a trusty staff to take care of the pool at the beginning and end of the season, but if you have your own pool, that task falls on you. “Winterizing” your pool can cut down on maintenance once the warm weather returns.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when you should pack up the pool. Depending on your region and the weather, you may or may not be able to keep your pool open for a few more weeks. A good rule of thumb is that when the pool water is consistently too cold for swimming (usually in the 60s or low 70s), it’s probably a good time to close the pool.
Steps To Get You Started

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I was absent last week because I was tied-up with my last first day of school ever. I’m also happy to announce that I’m finally done unpacking! The move-in process was way more tiring than I remembered. Then again, this is the first time I packed, drove, unloaded and unpacked all by myself; I usually have my parents or a friend with me to help, but I inherited a car over the summer so this time I made the long drive solo.

I live in the same residence hall I’ve stayed in for the last two years – a furnished apartment building on the far side of campus.  I share the space with one roommate and I have my own room; after spending the first two years of my college career crammed in a traditional-style dorm, I needed some more personal space.

My apartment is an older building, so it’s not the most glamorous of spaces:

jessica's dorm before

The first time I ever stepped into this apartment, I knew it would need work. I’ve found that the more comfortable I am in my living arrangement, the easier I find it to study and lead a healthier lifestyle. It also doesn’t hurt that I often get compliments on how homey my apartment feels!

See My Dorm Makeover

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With Tropical Storm Isaac set to hit the Gulf Coast this week, a lot of rain is on its way to the surrounding states. For me, the storm is reminiscent of two years ago, when my father called and said there was a “river” rushing through our backyard caused by 13 inches of rainfall over just two days, resulting in the most serious flooding Nashville had seen in 75 years.

Luckily, my family was safe and our home was spared – save for some flooding in our basement. Our house was built fairly recently, so unlike older homes that may not have proper or clogged drainage systems, our basement held up pretty well to all that water.

basement flooding diy controls

You can take action now to prevent basement flooding by clearing out gutters and drains and clearing snow and ice away from the house during winter months.

Waterproofing your basement is vital, especially right before winter months to prevent snow and sleet from building up and causing damage; waterproofing will also ward away growth of mold and mildew.

But when the storm has already passed and water has already taken over your basement, it’s best to take action as soon as possible. Follow these simple steps to drying out and sanitizing your basement or crawlspace:

-Start by opening vents and windows to let fresh air flow through. You’ll want to wear a face mask to protect yourself against mold, mildew and allergens.

-If you have carpets in your basement, you and your family will avoid health risks if you remove the carpet entirely. It’s highly unlikely you will ever be able to completely dry it out once it’s been saturated with water. Tile and concrete floors, on the other hand, are much easier to deal with. Use a mop to soak up as much of the water as possible, then use old towels or cloths to dry up smaller pools of water.

-Next you’ll need to sanitize the floor – water and bleach will work just fine, but use whatever cleaning solution you prefer. Set up fans to help continue to circulate air; investing in a dehumidifier will also ensure the space gets dry completely.

Once your basement is clean and dry, you will want to consider going back and looking at waterproofing solutions to prevent future flooding.

Our thoughts go out to all our friends, family, and readers affected by the storm. Everyone be careful and stay safe, sound and dry!   

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Sometimes accidents happen. Some, bigger than others:

Drywall Repair

Your first instinct will most likely be to panic, but don’t. Your walls are bound to get damaged eventually, so it’s crucial to know how to fix them when a problem arises. Even the gigantic hole pictured above is fixable with a trip to the hardware store and some patience.

There are a couple of methods for fixing drywall, and it all depends on the size of the hole. For smaller ones, a simple patch job will usually suffice. You can buy kits at your local hardware store, which include most of the items you’ll need to get the job done.

Larger holes or cracks will require some more materials and a little more care, but can still be repaired without having to call in a professional — freeing you from having to sit and stare at the hole for days until the pro comes to your rescue!

For how-to’s and more information on fixing common drywall problems, see:

Repair a Large Hole in Drywall

Video: How to Patch Drywall

Repair Cracked Plaster with Drywall or Washers

How to Repair a Drywall Ceiling

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If there is one thing I took away from living in dorms for the last four years it’s this: I hope you like tile, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of it.

Dorm Tile

Your typical dorm with typical dorm tile, courtesy of the Lovely Undergrad.

I groan now, but I’m actually kind of relieved I’ve never had to deal with dorm carpet that’s seen student after student over the course of several years. Yuck. I’ve always had carpets at home and unless I somehow manage to sneak them into the car, my mother usually makes me toss them at the end of the school year (Dorm hack: at the end of the school year the dorms become a burial ground for abandoned items; I once watched someone walk off with a 50-inch television), so collecting rugs turned into an accidental hobby of mine. You can put a rug anywhere — you can put a rug on a rug, if you want.
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