If you love to cook, you are probably aware of the resurgence in popularity of cooking with a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. You may have inherited a cast iron skillet from your grandmother, or you may have seen cast iron skillets at garage sales or estate sales or flea markets. Maybe your son was in Boy Scouts years ago, and his troop used a Dutch oven to cook over a campfire. Instead of buying a new cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, you could restore an old one.

Maybe you think that restoring your rusty cast iron skillet or Dutch oven is too difficult for you to attempt. Maybe you thought the rusty iron skillet you saw at a garage sale or estate sale or flea market was too damaged to be restored. You were wrong! With a few simple items and a little elbow grease, you can make these items as good as new.

To restore a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, you will need a scouring pad (SOS pad) or fine steel wool, vegetable oil (e.g., Mazola oil), paper towels, warm water, dishwashing soap (e.g., Dawn), a soft towel, a large cookie sheet, aluminum foil, and an oven.

Below are the directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a scouring pad or fine steel wool, scrub off rust from pan and lid,
  3. Wash in warm, soapy water.
  4. Dry thoroughly with a soft cloth towel.
  5. Coat inside and outside of pan and lid with vegetable oil (e.g., Mazola oil). Use a paper towel to spread oil around.
  6. Wipe off excess vegetable oil with a clean paper towel.
  7. Put aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and place on the bottom rack of an oven to catch drips.
  8. Place pan, upside down, on top rack of oven. Place lid, right side up, on top rack of oven.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
  10. Turn off oven. Let pan and lid cool in oven. Remove pan, lid, and cookie sheet.

Store Dutch oven with a folded paper towel between one side of pan and lid to allow air to circulate.

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video about how to restore a rusty cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, go to How To Restore Rusty Cast Iron Cookware at


In an article called “Top 5 Reasons Why Clients Choose A Home Care Provider,” Home Care Pulse described the results of a 2016 Home Care Benchmarking Study. According to an article at, each month the company conducted thousands of interviews with home care clients across the country. During these interviews, Home Care Pulse associates asked clients why they selected their provider over others. Their answers to the questions were recorded and analyzed and published as the 2016 Home Care Benchmarking Study.

Below are the results of the survey:

  1. Recommended by family and friends (34.3%)
  2. Reputation of company (25.4%)
  3. Recommended by referral source (22%)
  4. Consumer marketing of company (14.5%)
  5. Selected by case manager (government programs, hospital, etc.) (3.9%)

A report published on confirms that recommendations from family and friends remain the most important form of advertising. The report, RECOMMENDATIONS FROM FRIENDS REMAIN THE MOST CREDIBLE FORM OF ADVERTISING; BRANDED WEBSITES ARE THE SECOND-HIGHEST-RATED FORM, states that “eighty-three percent of online respondents in 60 countries say they trust the recommendations of friends and family.”

Twenty-five per cent of respondents said the reputation of the company was important. How can a person find out about the reputation of a company? Do some checking. Is the agency licensed by the State of Illinois? Is it approved for Medicare patients? Does it have contracts with the State of Illinois? Is it accredited by the Joint Commission? How long has it been in business?

Twenty-two percent of respondents said a referral source had recommended a home health provider. Referral sources include hospital discharge planners, doctors, nurses, and case managers. These individuals determine the level of care the patient will need after discharge and recommend agencies which provide these services.

Fourteen and one-half percent of the respondents said that they had selected a company because of consumer marketing. This includes ads in magazines, newspaper ads, TV ads, billboards, and the company’s website. Some consumers become aware of a company because of its participation at health fairs. Some respondents had heard a representative of a company speak at a senior citizen center,

Almost four percent of the respondents said that a case manager (government programs, hospital, etc.) had selected the home health provider.

If you or a friend or relative in the Chicago area is needing home health services, consider American Home Health. The agency is over twenty-five years old and has hundreds of employees. It is licensed by the State of Illinois and accredited by the Joint Commission. For more information about American Home Health, go to

—By Karen Centowski


Have you ever thought about the role railroads played in the settlement of the land in the Northern central part of the United States? This area, now known as the Midwest, includes Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and Missouri.

Before the railroads were built in the United States, the only practical way to travel and trade across long distances was along the nation’s natural waterways. In the Midwest, the Ohio River, Mississippi River, and the Great Lakes were vital waterways. Traders and settlers used canoes, boats, and barges on the streams and rivers. Rivers like the Ohio, which connected with the Mississippi River, were also essential in transporting goods produced in the fertile area surrounding the Ohio River.

A major change occurred in the 1800’s. Thousands of miles of railroad track were laid throughout the Midwest connecting rural areas with major metropolitan areas such as Chicago. Prior to 1840, Illinois had virtually no miles of railroad. However, forty years later the state had 8,000 miles of railroad. According to Railroads in the Midwest, Early Documents and Images (Knox College), “In the 1850’s more track was laid in the Midwest, east of the Mississippi, than in any other part of the country.” It was a time of rapid westward expansion.

Located at the intersection of river, lake, and railroad routes, Chicago became a hub of commerce. Trains carried coal to Chicago’s steel mills and cattle and hogs to Chicago’s stockyards. They also carried wheat, corn, passengers, and mail. Sears Roebuck and Company, a Chicago firm, even used trains to deliver some of its mail order products to customers.

Maps of the routes of these early Illinois railroads clearly show Chicago as the hub of the rail system in Illinois. The Chicago, Danville, and Vincennes Railroad Company, founded in 1870, served part of eastern Illinois and western Indiana. The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (CB&Q) ran fast mail trains from Chicago to areas west of Chicago. According to Railroads in the Midwest, Early Documents and Images (Knox College), “Begun in the 1870’s, the fast mail trains were mandated by the federal Post Office to deliver mail within a specified period of time. By 1900 the Burlington’s fast mail trains reached the Missouri River in just over nine hours.”

According to the same source, “From 1861-1890 the nation’s railroads grew more rapidly than at any other time. Just before the Civil War, the United States had about 30,600 miles of line; in 1890 steam railroad line measured almost 163,000 miles. The men who ran the railroads at this time were cognizant of their roles in the expansion of the American nation and the American economy even as it was being played out.”

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video called U.S. Railroad History Map 1830—1990’s You Tube, go to


In 2005-2006, a study was done to assess the status of home health care in New York City. According to, “A convenience sample of 1,561 home health aides, attendants, and personal care workers completed a risk assessment survey. Items addressed personal, patient, and home characteristics and health hazards. All activities had prior Institutional Review Board approval.”

The findings were presented in a report called “Home Health Care Patients and Safety Hazards in the Home.” The home health care workers reported the following:

  • Peeling paint (15 percent), irritating chemicals (17 percent)
  • Poor indoor air quality, cigarette smoke (30 percent)
  • Unsanitary conditions (12 percent) and unsafe conditions (6 percent) within the home
  • Vermin (23 percent), cockroaches (33 percent)
  • Aggressive pets (6 percent)
  • Clutter (17 percent)
  • Neighborhood violence/crime (11 percent)
  • Presence of guns in house (2 percent)
  • Signs of abuse of the client (12 percent)

If you are an American Home Health nurse, you may have encountered one or more of these in the home of a client. Be sure to report these issues to your supervisor.

If your client lives in an apartment complex or a multi-family house, eradicating cockroaches becomes a job for the professionals. American Home Health will contact the building management who will hire a pest control company to do the work. If one apartment has cockroaches, the adjoining apartment probably has cockroaches, too. Several units may need to be treated in order to eliminate the problem.

Bedbugs, small non-flying insects, may also be a problem. They feed by sucking blood from human and animals. They can live anywhere in the home, but they are most commonly found on beds, mattresses, box springs, and bed frames. They commonly bite the face, neck, hands, and arms of individuals while they are sleeping. Bedbugs can also live in carpets and bite the individual’s legs. Symptoms of bedbug bites are redness, itching, and swelling. A professional pest control company may be required to remove bedbugs from a home.

Remember that state law requires that most professionals in education, health care, law enforcement, and social work report suspected neglect or abuse. Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses are mandated reporters.

As an American Home Health nurse, you become an advocate for your clients. You help ensure that the clients receive not only professional nursing care but also live in safe home environments.

—By Karen Centowski


If you are a typical consumer, you have a house or apartment filled with electronics. You are using some of these on a daily basis. Others are broken or out of date. You know you’re not supposed to just throw them into the garbage can or put them at the curb. You know it is illegal to dump them at the side of a road or in a farm field. What can you do with them?

Because of the constant improvements in technology, electronics are the largest growing segment of the waste stream. Some of these devices contain rare materials which can be reused in manufacturing. Therefore, it makes sense to recycle.

Below is a list of electronics that can be recycled:

    • Laptops
    • Televisions and monitors
    • Cell phones
    • Camcorders
    • Cameras and camcorders
    • Gaming consoles
    • MP3 Players
    • PDAs
    • Peripherals (printers, keyboards, etc.)
    • Phones and answering machines
    • Stereos
    • VCRs and DVD players

Some cities, such as the City of Aurora, hold regular drop-off events for residents to dispose of their electronics. A recent drop-off event had two new features: (1) There was no charge for up to two screens (computers or televisions) instead of $25 or $35 per screen regular price. Three other items could be added at no cost. (2) Residents were required to make appointments to drop-off their items. Appointments were scheduled in blocks of an hour (e.g., 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M.). This spread out the traffic and prevented long lines from forming.

Counties, including Kane County and DuPage County, often have electronics recycling programs. For example, Kane County has both weekday drop-offs and a monthly event. Staff will help you unload your items, take your fees, and give you a tax deduction receipt. In Kane County, televisions and monitors cost $25 (under 21” measured diagonally) or $35 (21” or over). Check with your own county for drop-off dates, locations, and fees.

Many electronics stores offer recycling for free (with the purchase of a new item) or for a fee. Check online for the store’s policy.

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video How Computers and Electronics Are Recycled (SIMS Recycling Solutions), go to 


When you are searching for private duty nursing care for a child or an adult, look for an agency that is accredited by the Joint Commission. What is the Joint Commission? Why is that important to your child or adult family member?

The Joint Commission is an independent, not-for-profit organization which accredits nearly 21,000 health care programs and organizations in the United States. Joint Commission accreditation and certification of an organization is recognized nationwide as a symbol of quality. In addition, according to www.en.wikipedia, “A majority of U.S. state governments recognize Joint Commission accreditation as a condition of licensure for the receipt of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.”

To be accredited by Joint Commission, a healthcare agency must undergo a rigorous examination of its operation. This includes a review of written policies and procedures, job descriptions for all positions, safety protocols, and much more. The agency’s staff spend a significant amount of time preparing for this initial examination, and the agency incurs considerable expense.

The surveyors, who are salaried employees of the Joint Commission, spend several days at the physical location of the healthcare agency. They determine if the agency meets the healthcare standards of the Joint Commission. If the agency is deficient, it must correct the situations before it can be accredited by the Joint Commission.

After the initial certification is awarded, the agency is put on a three-year accreditation cycle. Surveyors from the Joint Commission visit the agency, review staff personnel files, examine client charts, read nursing notes, and meet with staff. They also make site visits to the homes of clients selected by the surveyors. If the agency fails to meet the standards of the Joint Commission, it must remedy the deficiencies or lose its accreditation.

Beginning on January 1, 2006, the Joint Commission began making unannounced surveys. “Unannounced” means the organization does not receive advance notice of its survey date. This concept of the “unannounced visit” forces JC organizations to maintain a standard of excellence in their operations every day. It requires JC organizations to update their policies and procedures on a regular basis.

American Home Health is accredited by the Joint Commission. Our focus upon patient safety and quality of care aligns with the goals of the Joint Commission. When you are seeking private duty nursing care for a child or adult, look for an agency accredited by the Joint Commission. It is the gold standard in the healthcare field.

—By Karen Centowski


Dollar Tree

Dollar Tree, an American chain of discount variety stores, is a Fortune 500 company with 13,600 stores throughout the United States and Canada. All of the items within its stores are $1.00 or less. Merchandise ranges from greeting cards and Mylar balloons to paper towels and toilet tissue. Tools, Scotch tape, plastic bottles of soft drinks, pregnancy test kits, party supplies, children’s toys, picture frames, plastic storage containers, books for adults and children, reading glasses, cosmetics, and more things fill the shelves.

Going to Dollar Tree is an experience like going to a garage sale or to a flea market or to Maxwell Street in Chicago. You may find some interesting things, but you have to be a smart shopper.

How does the store manage to sell its merchandise for just a dollar? There are a number of factors.

Some of the merchandise is made in China. Look at the spools of ribbon in the craft section. The country of origin is clearly marked. The same applies to the Halloween buckets, plastic Easter egg baskets, woven baskets, artificial flowers, and large and small storage containers.

The product may be of inferior quality. The 2.5-inch wide wire-edged ribbon may have been twisted when it was wound on the cardboard spool, or the wire may be sticking out of the edge of the ribbon. The dishwashing liquid may not have met factory specifications to be sold as the name brand. The tools may be fine for limited use, but they are not as strong and well-made as name brand tools.

The package may be smaller than usual. Instead of twenty Ziplock bags in the box, there are seven. The box of two Scotch Transparent Tape rolls contains fewer inches of tape per roll than regular Scotch tape rolls. The packages of ball point pens contain fewer pens than you would find at an office supply store or Osco. Even the chewing gum is repackaged into smaller packets.

Many of the products are knock-offs. Cake mix, soft drinks, paper towels, toilet tissue, and many other products at Dollar Tree sound like the name brand item, but they are not. Buy your soft drinks in plastic bottles at the grocery store when they are on sale. You will actually pay less per ounce than you would at Dollar Tree.

Think a no-frills experience. A limited number of employees within the store. One or two cashiers scanning your purchases. No Customer Service Desk. No special orders. No automatic entrance and exit doors.

Cleanliness and neatness varies from store to store. One store has old, stained carpeting while another has sparkling clean vinyl floors. The merchandise in one store may look like hogs have rooted through the shelves and displays. Another store has items neatly stacked and cleverly displayed.

Can you get some good buys? Certainly. American Greetings cards are $1.00. Compare that to a greeting card from Hallmark. Craft supplies are a steal compared to craft supplies at Michaels. Party supplies including paper plates, napkins, tablecloths, wrapping paper, and gift bags are just $1.00 per package. Best-selling books for adults and coloring books for children are $1.00. Why pay more?

By Karen Centowski