Not only can winter be hard on the nerves, it also can be hard on the house. One of the areas that pays the price is the front entrance, where winter grime easily settles in.
There are the remnants of rock salt, of course, but also the soggy cereal box that escaped from the recycling bin, all those muddy leaves and twigs and, of course, that dried-out holiday wreath still hanging on the front door.
Yes, we drove by your house.
Consider, too, that many people do not even use their main entrance during the cold-weather months, opting instead to enter and exit through a side door or attached garage.
Come spring, the mess outside that front door may indeed come as a surprise. The rusty mailbox, the weathered welcome mat, the loose shutter . . . and how long has that porch light been burned out?
Fixing up the entrance to your home is worth all the effort you give it. Not only does it add curb appeal -- even if you have no plans to sell your house anytime soon -- but it also enhances the overall appearance of your house and says something about the people who live there.
Trimming the hedges (when the time comes) and improving the lighting has another benefit: security.
A thorough cleaning is the place to start. When the weather is right, clear the front porch of soggy papers, debris, sticks, etc.
Sweep and possibly hose off the area. Wash the front door, windows, window sills -- and any furniture you have out there. Clean the glass on exterior light fixtures -- this is a must! -- and replace any burned-out bulbs. Polishing the door hardware also can make a big difference (follow manufacturers' care instructions).
Or this may be the year to replace the door hardware altogether. Or, at the very least, consider adding a unique door-knocker.
Oh, and about that Christmas wreath. Please, take it down.
And maybe go faux.
"Now is the time for spring wreaths in bright colors -- forsythia and the purple colors look pretty mixed with the deeper greens," said Sandy Dinkle, education coordinator at Jo-Ann ETC, 3540 McKinley Parkway, Blasdell.
The idea is to play around with color for spring, she said.
If you do not want to do a wreath, you can hang a flat-back "bucket" on your door, filled with artificial flowers.
Stem shy? Sign up for a flower-arranging class (Jo-Ann's is just one place that offers them locally). Or buy a spring wreath ready-made; gift shops, garden centers, arts and crafts stores and fairs all sell them.
Local interior designer Sandy Nelson also likes the look of spring wreaths on the door; she has a faux forsythia one.
"It's just a little something that adds some life and color; the spring skies have been so gray," she said.
Some of her clients also have winter pansies. These can be planted outdoors in pots and containers for the porch or patio.
"It's safe to put out pansies; ours have been outside on the tables since April 1, and we put pansies in pots down Main Street in Williamsville," said Mark Yadon, of Mischler's Florist and Greenhouses, 118 S. Forest Road, Williamsville.
"They have weathered the storm just fine. The cold weather did not affect them," he said.
"In Buffalo, our season is so short, it is really to our advantage to garden with some of these frost-tolerant plants in April," he said.
Some other cold-tolerant options include: diascia, nemesia, violas, snapdragons, annual phlox and osteospermum, he said.
If the temperatures hit the mid-20s or below, you may want to protect them, he added.
Mailboxes also tend to get the silent treatment during the winter months, turning rusty and dingy when no one is paying attention. They deserve better. If the situation is hopeless, replace your mailbox. You might also be able to paint or polish your old one.
Here are some other areas to target:
*House numbers: Make sure your house number is clean and prominently displayed. This, too, is a safety issue as well as an aesthetic one.
*Think now about picking a new color to paint your front door. Look at books and magazines for ideas. While traveling, check out what other people have done. Think about picking up a color in your landscape (lilac, perhaps?) And by all means seek advice from experts, books, Web sites and home improvement magazines on prep and application procedures.
*Put up a flag.
*It's never too early to shop for urns and other containers and think about your plantings. Check local garden centers and nurseries for upcoming classes. Container gardening is very popular, and the experts can help you plant pots that will transform your front entrance.
*Put down a new welcome mat -- either in classic black or in a whimsical color or design (you may want to wait a month or so for that flip-flop patterned one.)
And, if you have a porch, you may also want to check out the new weather-resistant rugs; find one that coordinates with your outdoor furniture, and you'll be one step closer to creating an ideal outdoor living space.