Thursday, July 24, 2014

Local family's invention wins honors

If businesses can have touchless paper towel dispensers, William “Bryant” Troutman II and his family wondered, then why can’t we have them in our homes?
“I wanted one for my kitchen,” said Troutman, 45, of south Charlotte. “When they didn’t have one, we decided to make one.”
The idea behind the under-cabinet-mounted Innovia Automatic Paper Towel Dispenser the Troutmans created is hands-free convenience and lower risk of cross contamination in home kitchens.
The dispenser has pulled in two awards and appearances on the ShopHQ TV network. It’s also available online for $99 from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Costco and
Skymall, the shopping magazine found aboard airliners, chose the dispenser as the best product of the 2014 INPEX invention and new products expo in June. The dispenser also won a gold medal from INPEX.
Still, Troutman and his partners, dad William Troutman and wife Johana Troutman, have kept their jobs at their printing business, Charlotte-based Graphics International.
“It’s been a challenge developing awareness of our product,” Troutman said. “It requires a lot of money and a lot of patience.”
The family is working to recoup its investment of about $300,000 on the first 12,000 dispensers. The next step is to create a portable version that doesn’t have to be mounted.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shred old documents Saturday to prevent identity theft

It's time to do something about the stacks of paper collecting dust in your home office, attic and other rooms.
If you don’t need those old mortgage loan documents, checks, credit cards, bank statements and tax forms, shred them – today. It’s for your own good.
Commercial shredders will be waiting from 9 a.m. to noon today during a Community Shred Event at the Ikea parking lot, 8300 Ikea Blvd. Bring up to three banker boxes, along with outdated prescription medications, says District 4 Charlotte City Council member Greg Phipps, one of the event's hosts.
Identity theft is a problem nationally, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department handles roughly 3,000 cases annually.
“There’s always a problem of someone getting ahold of documentation that they can use to open an account,” said Sgt. Walter Bowling of CMPD. “You’re making it easy on the criminal to gain your information if you’re not shredding.”
Identity theft can include fraudulent check cashing, check and credit card counterfeiting, opening accounts in someone else’s name or taking out loans.
The risks for consumers goes beyond what we throw out. Burglars might take documents and credit cards. Traffickers can use technology to sell your information online or make transactions.

Learn more while you’re dumping those old papers today. “It’s not just for shredding,” Bowling said. “We’re hoping to raise awareness.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Before you spray, think of the bees

It was the rosebush or the Japanese beetles. One of them would lose, and that year I sided with my rugosa Magnifica, a fragrant repeat bloomer that produces plump rose hips once the magenta flowers are pollinated.
Don’t think it was an easy decision to spray the shrub with an insecticide to get rid of the pests that had devoured more than a few plants in my yard. The pollinators that made it possible for me to get rose hips from that bush might have been the next visitors. So the flowers had to go, too.
Unfortunately, my homemade spray of soapy water and cayenne pepper hadn’t worked. Manually collecting beetles every day didn’t fix things, either. This year, I’m just watching the bugs munch. I don’t have a solution, but I don’t want to put the bees at risk. They’re too valuable.
Bees, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds, bats and flies carry pollen among plants as they collect nectar. In the process, they pollinate more than 75 percent of our flowering plants and close to 75 percent of our food crops, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Bee colony losses are an international concern, and household pesticides are among the dangers to those creatures. Before spraying in your yard, read up on protecting pollinators at Post your suggestions for protecting plants from pests at the blog address below.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tech companies race to bring more apps for the home

Technology companies are in a race to get inside your walls and fixtures.
We’re already walking around with apps for mobile banking and shopping, navigation, video editing and most other things we want to do.
The next step, the way technology companies see it, is to give us apps to control what happens at home. Switches for lights and door locks are just the beginning. Here’s what’s brewing:

  • Wink, formerly a software subsidiary of Quirky, is planning a home automation platform that will be available through Home Depot. The goal is a product that brings together numerous “smart” devices and wireless protocols (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.).
  • Nest Labs is partnering with outside developers. The Google-owned company wants to grow beyond its smart Nest thermostat. Mobile controls for appliances might be one outcome.
  • Microsoft has a new startup accelerator program for companies focused on home-based sensor technology, cloud services and tools for analytics. The project comes under Microsoft Ventures.
  • Apple has announced a platform called HomeKit. It would allow users to discover and control all kinds of home automation devices using a smartphone or tablet.

It won’t be long before Siri is telling the toaster how to cook your bread and whistling for the teapot.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Snag design ideas at Lake Wylie home tour

Get a look inside a 4,000-square-foot, lodge-style home in the gated Hands Mill community on Lake Wylie July 4-18 during the Home of Distinction tour, and take home a few design ideas for your next project.
There are a few things that make this home worth seeing. The first is that all of the money raised from ticket sales will go to Justice Ministries, a nonprofit organization that focuses on rescue and housing for victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Another reason to visit is to see the decor. Many of the techniques can work for any home, says designer Melodie Durham.
The home is at 3745 Rivergrass Lane, York, S.C. Hours are Fridays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays Noon to 5 p.m. for the first two weeks of July.
Most of the rooms in the ranch-style house and walk-out basement have a lake view. There’s also a screened porch, deck and boat dock. The lodge theme is carried out with architectural touches such as stained wood beams, rustic finishes and distressed-wood surfaces.
The sale price for this house by Everett Custom Homes was in the $750,000s, but Durham has added lots of custom decorating touches that she says are affordable and adaptable. “Even the lighting selected for every room is affordable,” she said.
Tickets are $10 the day of the event or $8 online at

Karen’s blog:<code_dp>; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Monday, June 23, 2014

Popular African garden art coming to DSBG

Art is a natural fit in a garden, and that is especially true of the sculptures of the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe. The artists carve images of people, animals or other objects from stones of this south central region of Africa. Those rock figures seem to be most at home when returned to nature, the inspiration for many of the pieces.
Shona sculpture is contemporary art for the garden, and collectors have appreciated it for decades here and abroad. Now it will be available in the Charlotte area for a time.
More than 100 sculptures will be part of an outdoor exhibit at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The pieces in the horticulture display and others will be for sale.

Two artists, Passmore Mupindiko and Patrick Sephani, will do demonstrations in a marketplace that is being set up near the garden’s Orchid Conservatory for the exhibition.
Grasses, hardy tropical plants and other species are being added to the garden beds to create an appropriate setting for the sculptures.
“We created a display design that represents a transition between the savannahs of that region of Africa and the mountainous rain forest,” said Jim Hoffman, a spokesman for the garden.

African garden art

See the exhibit June 27 through Sept. 28 at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont. Admission: $12 adults, $11 seniors 60+, and $6 children 4-12. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Contact: or 704-825-4490.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Friday, June 13, 2014

Get help for your home makeover from Ikea design videos

Chad and Emily Fair are celebrating this week. Their home in Matthews just got a makeover by a team from Ikea.
Theirs is the second Charlotte residence and the seventh nationally to get reorganized and redecorated at no cost. Eventually 22 homes in Ikea markets are expected to get an update for season one of the Ikea Home Tour.
You can see videos of the Home Tour makeovers at You can also pick up ideas and solutions for your own project.  See more pictures from the makeover here.
“Often we discover people have design paralysis,” said Keith Bradley, lead designer for the Fair’s makeover. “Hopefully, the videos will inspire people to make changes.
The Fairs were selected after submitting a video in which they described their problem: The roughly 1,500-square-foot house they bought nine years ago didn’t work well for a family of five.

“We’ve watched the house grow smaller,” said Chad Fair, a teacher at Charlotte Christian School.
The children – ages 4, 6 and 8 – needed a place to do homework. The family didn’t have a table for the dining room.
Bradley focused on the Fair’s L-shaped living room and dining room. Among the changes, Ikea’s team added a dining table, storage units on the wall, and living room sofas that are light enough to be moved for playtime.
“This really met a need for us.” Chad Fair said. “The kids used to get up in the morning and watch TV. Now we find them at the desk coloring.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms