Dear Martha: Do you have any tips for removing wax deposits from candleholders?
A: It's easiest to remove candle wax when it's still warm. If possible, peel off the drippings after blowing out the candles, as soon as the wax is cool enough to touch. Once it has hardened, cleaning it off requires a bit more effort.
If the candleholders are waterproof, as most glass, metal and ceramic ones are, you can soften the wax by running hot tap water over it. You should then be able to remove most of the wax.
An alternative method involves the opposite temperature extreme. Set the candlesticks in the freezer for several hours, and then break off the brittle deposits. Because wax shrinks in cold temperatures, this technique is excellent for votive candles: The hard-to-budge wax inside the holder should pop right out.
After melting or freezing the wax, any lingering residue should come off with a gentle scrubbing. If you're cleaning breakable candleholders, line the bottom of the sink with towels.
Dear Martha: What's the best way to deal with a bat that has found its way indoors?
A: These winged mammals make good neighbors, eating hundreds or even thousands of insects each night, but they are hardly good houseguests. If you discover an errant bat inside your home, don't panic. It's most likely a young one that has lost its way.
Bats will usually circle a room in search of an exit, so quietly open all windows and doors leading outside, close all interior doors, and then try to slip out of the room or stand still against a wall. If the bat eventually tires and lands, you may be able to capture it and escort it out of your home.
Wearing leather work gloves, approach the bat slowly and trap it under a coffee can or a large bowl. Slide a piece of cardboard underneath, and then release the bat when you're safely outdoors. (Although the incidence of rabies in bats is quite low, it is a threat. Contact your doctor immediately if there is a possibility that anyone has been bitten.)
Dear Martha: I had planned to buy a Bradford pear tree from a nursery, but I've learned that they can be troublesome. What can I plant instead?
A: Thanks to its showy, white spring flowers and handsome, multicolored fall foliage, the Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana "Bradford") is a very popular ornamental tree for home landscaping as well as street plantings. But this tree has two significant problems. First, all of its principal branches stem upward from a single point on the trunk at steep, acute angles. This often leads to a condition commonly known as weak crotch, wherein the stress and weight of these emerging branches can force the tree to split, causing as much as half of it to break off by the time it is 12 to 15 years old.
The second problem is an ecological one. Even though a Bradford pear tree cannot produce viable seeds on its own, the rising popularity of other cultivars of P. calleryana (Callery pears), including "Chanticleer" and "Redspire," has facilitated cross-pollination among these types. This yields fruits that carry viable seeds. When birds eat these fruits, they disperse the seeds, often in natural areas. As a result, Callery pears are beginning to invade forests in the eastern United States as well as in California. Once established, these fast-growing pear trees can out-compete native flora and upset the balance of the ecosystem.
Fortunately, there are a number of attractive trees that can serve as satisfactory replacements for the Bradford pear, offering similarly spectacular blossoms, beautiful foliage, and general hardiness with none of the attendant problems. Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) bear delicate, white flowers in spring; in autumn, their leaves range from yellow orange to red. Small like the Bradford pear, they are perfectly suited to home landscaping.
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is more like an oversize shrub, and its spindly, snow-white blooms are gloriously fragrant. Silverbells (Halesia spp.), larger trees, are laden with charming, bell-shape flowers early in spring; their leaves take on a yellow hue in fall.
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