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It’s hard to believe we’re almost into 2014. But let’s make the most of this last month of the year. Most of us will celebrate the holidays with family, which usually means decorating the Christmas tree. If you are like us, that means going to the tree farm to pick out the perfect specimen to bring home and decorate. Here’s what we look for, in the hope that it will last until New Year’s Day!

The fresher the tree, the longer it will last, if it’s properly maintained. If you can get to a tree farm where Christmas trees are grown just for fresh cutting, do so. That way, you will cut your own tree down so you know it’s fresh. It’s also a lot of fun for the family and supports your local economy.

If you buy a tree that’s already been cut, then you need to take a closer look. Gently bend a smaller branch down. If it snaps off, the tree may be too dry to make it for the whole season.

If the needles fall off easily when you move the tree around or brush your hand along the branches, then, again, it may be too dried out to last very long.

Get it into water as soon as you can. If you just cut it, you don’t need to do anything else. If the tree was cut earlier and shipped in, then you should cut another inch or so off the trunk to expose fresher wood that will absorb water and help keep the tree fresher longer.

Water is good, but a tree preservative is better. You can buy the premade mixtures, or make your own. The formula we use is one that we’ve been using for years and we like it best.

The ingredients you need are:

1 gallon warm water

4 tablespoons of horticultural iron powder (from the garden center)

4 teaspoons of liquid laundry bleach

2 cups of crystal clear corn syrup

Mix these ingredients and pour it into the water reservoir for your tree. Make sure to protect flooring and keep the pets out of it! Check it every day and add more when it needs it.

Keep the tree away from the heat registers and don’t leave the lights on when you are not at home.

We hope you have fun getting your tree and decorating it. Remember the reason for the season, and have a super-safe holiday with all of your friends and family!

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Q: I am trying to finish out my basement so we can use it as a family room. Currently the walls are just the standard concrete block. I plan to install wood paneling. What do I need to put between the concrete block and the paneling? – N.S.

A: You need some type of vapor barrier between the concrete and the paneling to prevent moisture problems. This can be just a sheet of plastic as long as you tape each piece to the next one. You might also want to add some foam insulation panels behind the paneling if you need more insulation. Make sure you let the paneling acclimate to the room for several days before you install it, and give it room to shift a little as well.

A Super hint

If you think you might have missed a few gaps around your windows or doors, do the incense test. Light some incense and hold it in front of the areas where you think the leaks are, and you will see the smoke move very quickly if there’s a leak. Then you can fill those gaps when you get a chance.

Shoptalk

In most shops you’ll find at least one pair of safety glasses. But what about ear protection? Most people just don’t think about, or have, ear protection around. 3M’s Tekk Protection safety glasses have built-in reusable earplugs attached to the glasses by means of a lanyard, which makes them handy even if you forget them. The glasses have a sleek, wraparound frame, anti-scratch coating on the lens, which is also wraparound, and impact-resistant lenses that absorb 99.9 percent of UV rays. You can find out more at www.3m.com and you can buy a set at most hardware stores and home centers.