Gunning Real Estate Team
Gunning Real Estate Team
1110 North Broad Street  Lansdale, PA 19446
Phone: 267-236-5416| Office Phone: 215-362-2260
| Fax: 267-354-6837
Cell: 267-236-5416
RE/MAX 440

Gunning Daily News

Hiring a Contractor? Do This First

March 23, 2018 12:48 am

Nothing is more exciting than embarking on a home renovation project! Hire the wrong contractor, however, and your dream remodel can quickly turn into a nightmare.

That’s why it’s essential to do your due diligence when hiring a contractor, such as getting multiple estimates before signing a contract. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), when you get multiple bids, you can learn a great deal about the proposed project, such as what type of work is needed, the quality of the building materials, how long the job may take and the total cost.

The BBB offers these other tips to help find the best, most ethical contractor to work with and ensure a successful home renovation:

- First, check - BBB’s business profiles can tell you how long the contractor has been in business, as well as provide contact information, verified customer reviews, complaint details and how the business responded.

- Be wary of ‘today-only’ sales pitches - This is a sales tactic designed to get you to sign a contract or put down a deposit, without giving you the opportunity to do your research. Watch out for these and other ‘bargains’ that rush you into a deal.

- Get references from recent customers - Speak with other property owners who had work done recently, and ask what they did or did not like about a particular contractor. A reputable contractor will be happy to provide client references.

- Get everything in writing - Make sure all verbal promises end up in the written contract as well as a detailed description of the work, the cost of materials and start and completion dates. Contracts also should include specifics about the deposit and payment schedule and guarantees for the quality of work and materials.

- The contract should specify required permits - Renovation work often requires permits from the town or municipality. If you’re contractor suggests going without permits, it might be a sign they have a poor reputation at city hall.

- Compare apples to apples – Choosing a prospective contractor is simpler if you ask for quotes based on the number of hours needed and the same quality of materials.

- Avoid putting down a large deposit - A typical payment schedule should follow the “rule of thirds.” The first payment is given when signing the contract and helps pay for materials, the second payment when work begins, and the final payment when the job is finished and you are satisfied with the quality of work. Ask the builder to walk you through the work to explain what has been done.

By sticking to the above steps, you’ll head into your renovation with peace of mind, knowing you’ve done your homework and taken the necessary steps to select the best possible contractor.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Home Safety Tips to Protect Tots

March 23, 2018 12:48 am

When your child first finds their legs, the home can become a playground - and sometimes, it can become a hazardous one.

The Up and Away campaign urges families to follow these five tips to keep their children safe and healthy:

Clean surfaces. Disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often, like countertops, doorknobs, keyboards, faucet handles, phones and toys.

Store safely. When you're done cleaning and reorganizing, store everything you wouldn't want your kids to get into, like cleaning products and medicines, in a safe spot up and away and out of sight and reach of young children. Remember to put medicines back in their safe place after you use them every time.

Dispose safely. Dispose of any expired, unused, or unwanted medicines in your home. Make sure to follow recommendations for safe disposal to prevent exposures to medications that have been discarded. Consider bringing expired or unwanted medications to medicine take-back programs.

Be prepared. Check your first aid kit for expired medicines and supplies; medicines that are past their expiration dates may not work as well as they should. Make sure your first aid kit is stored in a location that is accessible to adults, but not to your young children.

Update your contacts. Make sure you have the Poison Help number stored in your cell phone and available to your children's caregivers: 800-222-1222.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Smart Seniors: Planning Your Final Years

March 23, 2018 12:48 am

If you're in or approaching retirement, you're likely dreaming of days filled with friends, family, and hobbies. But you should also consider planning for your final years.

Final years planning can bring families comfort and ease. Home Instead, Inc., along with experts at Genworth Financial, developed the following questions for seniors to consider when planning for their final years:

How do you want to live your final years? Seniors should consider what they want to do during their final years.

Where do you want to live? Older adults should consider if they want to spend their final years at home and, if so, what type of assistance might be required to help them do so.

What's your plan if you need help? Many seniors will need long-term care at some point in their lives and they need to consider how they will be able to afford that care.

Do you know the cost? Older adults should consider the cost of care and anything else they would like in their final years.

Are products and services in place to support a plan? Seniors and their families should explore the long-term care plans that exist to help them meet their needs.

Is your plan flexible? Seniors and their families should ensure their plans are adaptable to the changes that may occur as time goes on.

Does your family know about your plans? Families should have conversations and take the time to share specifics about their plans and the types of products and services they have in place.

Source: Home Instead, Inc., Genworth Financial.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Simple Home Safety Measures That Can Save Your Life

March 22, 2018 12:36 am

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are more than 360,000 fires in homes each year, resulting in approximately 2,200 deaths and 11,000 emergency room-related injuries. Proper installation, operation, and maintenance of smoke alarms plays a significant role in reducing the risk of property damage, injuries, and death.

In addition to smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms are also essential. Carbon monoxide is known as an invisible killer due to the fact that it’s colorless and odorless. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 42 percent of households report having a working carbon monoxide alarm.

While changing the batteries in your smoke and CO alarms is the easiest way to ensure protection of your loved ones and your home in the event of a fire, the CPSC recommends taking these other safety measures:

- The CPSC recommends that smoke alarms be placed on every level of your home, outside sleeping areas and inside bedrooms.

- You can also install a smoke alarm that has a sealed-in battery that will last 10 years.

- Install both photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms.

- Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area.

- Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once a month to make sure they are working.

- Have a fire escape plan and practice it with your family.

- A smoke alarm can't save lives if everyone doesn't know what to do when it sounds. Have two ways to get out of each room and set a pre-arranged meeting place outside.

- Children and the elderly can sleep through the sound of a smoke alarm and not hear it go off, so a caregiver needs to be prepared to help others get out of the house.

- And remember, once you are out of the house, stay out. Do not be tempted to go back inside to retrieve belongings. Let firefighters take over at that point.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Solo Traveling for the Smart Woman

March 22, 2018 12:36 am

With more solo female travelers hitting the road these days, it's time to brush up on your smart, safe traveling tips. Below are a handful, provided by

Do your research. There are some places that are very welcoming for female travelers and others that should be visited with caution. When choosing your destination, it's a good practice to research local laws, customs, and travel advisories. This will come in handy when you're deciding where to go, where to stay, how to get around, and even what to pack.  

Talk to a travel agent. With all the information available online, sometimes reviewing your options can get overwhelming. A travel agent can help you sort through all of the flights, hotels, rental cars, and activities to find the best options for you. They can also help plan your entire itinerary from start to finish to ensure everything fits together perfectly. Some travel sites even have special phone-only deals that can help you save money. Talking to an agent might sound old-fashioned, but there's nothing wrong in working with an experienced travel professional to make sure you get the exact trip you want.

Be aware of your surroundings. Once you've selected where you want to go, study maps and travel guides on the places you plan to visit. Try to find out if there are any areas or neighborhoods that are considered unsafe or should be avoided by tourists. Knowing where you are will not only make you feel more comfortable, but it will also help you look more confident. The more confidence you have, the less vulnerable you will seem to anyone looking to take advantage of tourists.

Get outside of your comfort zone. Solo travel is a great time to really challenge yourself. Put your devices away and talk to someone you wouldn't normally talk to, go on an excursion you wouldn't normally go on, and embrace the fact that you are the sole decision maker and it is only your opinion that matters for the duration of the trip.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Home Safety in the Spring

March 22, 2018 12:36 am

Winter is over, but that does not mean your home safety woes are behind you. Spring weather is among the most unpredictable Americans will experience all year, but there are certain proactive steps that can help mitigate damage in many situations. Jim Taylor, head of claims customer experience for Farmers Insurance notes, "Many of us are in the habit of spring cleaning our homes, and by adding a couple of simple home and auto maintenance practices to our to-do lists, we may help minimize potential weather hazards."

There's no action capable of fending off every challenge that blooms alongside those spring flowers, but there are practical tips to keep in mind as we head into the stormy months ahead. Drivers and homeowners should consider the following, according to Taylor:

On the Road

- Park with care. Hail never fails to make an impact in the spring. If you don't live or work in areas with a garage, consider parking near large buildings or under secure structures that provide some shelter if there's even a hint of hail in the forecast. Alternatively, you can purchase a car blanket designed to protect your car from hail or similar cover if you're short on options for covered parking.

- Be flexible. If severe weather is in the forecast, consider making use of public transportation options, or call a ride share or taxi service for door-to-door transit — whatever alternative you choose, make sure to park your vehicle in a secure, covered location to help prevent damage.

- Watch out for water features. Whether the result of snowmelt or a healthy rainstorm, water can accumulate quickly and creates numerous risks for drivers, including the potential to encounter downed power lines with an active electrical charge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you're heading downhill, pay close attention to any standing water that waits ahead because it might be deeper than it appears.

- When in doubt, take another route. Take this same caution with you on every route and know when you may find yourself near a drainage channel or underpass, where flash flooding can occur at any time. If you have reason to think you might encounter a problem, make a detour.

- Beware the potholes. Potholes can crop up in no time and can be easily concealed by water following a storm. Slow down to give yourself time to identify and avoid these potentially dangerous little craters.

At Home

- Look after the lightweights. If heavy wind is in the forecast, bring lawn furniture, plants and other small or lightweight items inside. Secure larger items and take an inventory of your possessions.

- Batten down the hatches. If you have storm shutters, use them! If you don't, consider protecting your windows with plywood panels.

- Clear out those gutters. Clogged gutters are basically a shortcut to water damage, especially if you live in an area that experiences significant temperature changes in the spring. Clear gutters can reduce the risk of overflow and ice dams. Likewise, you're more likely to notice loose sections and make simple repairs before further damage necessitates further repair.

- Pay attention to your foundation. Overtime, the soil around homes tends to settle and exposes foundations to rainwater and potential seepage. Check your foundation for any potential points of weakness, including cracks and worn floor slabs, and water seal your basement to prevent seepage.

Additionally, make sure your soil grade allows water to drain away from your home, and whenever possible, remove snow near your exterior foundation before it has a chance to melt.

Source: Farmers Insurance

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Getting a Bump From the Tax Change? Put the Money to Good Use

March 20, 2018 12:57 am

Earlier this year, the IRS released guidelines requiring employers across the country to apply new federal tax withholding tables to paychecks by February 15th. The U.S. Treasury estimates 90 percent of all payroll employees will experience higher take-home pay as a result. The monthly increase for a single person earning $50,000 is expected to be about $200.

This increase is good news for those seeking to get ahead of debt, however, financial counselors at Money Management International (MMI) say consumers must put a plan in place. Credit card, student loan, and auto lending have reached all-time national highs, while personal savings is just shy of its all-time low, according to the Federal Reserve. A survey conducted by Pollfish suggests many consumers intend to use the extra money to pay down debt, but the tax break may also compel them to spend more.

Experts warn that financial inertia and projected interest-rate hikes could impede borrowers' progress. Rising rates will increase minimum payments and the total cost of carrying debt, while curbing promotional-rate balance transfer offers. MMI notes the tax break is not permanent and encourages employees to view the tax break as an opportunity to formulate – and fund – an achievable plan to improve their financial health.

Now is a good time to learn what your best options are for effectively reducing debt, so consult a financial advisor to find out what will work best for you. While it may be tempting to spend the increased income you may receive, assess your financial picture to see if those funds are better spent by paying down debt.

Source: Money Management International

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Slash Seasonal Home Allergies, Now

March 20, 2018 12:57 am

As spring moves in, the sneezing starts. Red, itchy eyes and skin, and a constant cough. Sound familiar? If you suffer from seasonal allergies, the spring struggle is real. With spring approaching, Aire Serv offers its top tips for alleviating allergies in the home.

- Start in the bedroom. The number of allergens that build up in your bedroom is tremendous, but it can be managed. First, encase your pillows, box spring and mattress in a sealed tight dust-mite-proof cover. This will prevent build-up in an area that your face is touching every single night. In addition, make sure to wash your sheets once a week to rid your bedding of any unwanted allergens.

- Vacuum and deep clean the carpet present in your home. You should vacuum carpets at least once a week.

- Choose furnishings that are easy and accessible to clean. With you and your family spending so much time in the living room, cleaning essential pieces of furniture will prevent your furniture from being a source of sneezes.

- Remove unnecessary clutter. Old knick-knacks and piles of clutter will collect dust. Store items that you wish to save in plastic bins and store in your attic or a storage unit.

- Open windows and allow for cross ventilation in your home. The air quality inside your home is usually much worse than outside, so allow the fresh air to come in and purify your home.

- As much as we love to have plants indoors to spruce up our home, this can be an area for mold build-up. Find a new home for your potted plants or cover them with aquarium gravel to prevent mold growth.

- Use a vented exhaust fan to remove cooking fumes and avoid moisture build up when cooking.

- Having a hot, humid house is the perfect growth spot for mold and dust mites. Maintain a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Replacing air filters monthly will also help with this problem.

Source: Aire Serv

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Homeowner's Secret Weapon: Vinegar

March 20, 2018 12:57 am

You’ve probably heard that vinegar can be used for a myriad of household purposes, but you probably never would’ve imagined some of the problems it can solve around the house. Check out some of these creative uses for vinegar from home improvement maven, Martha Stewart:

Banish odors. Have a foul smell permeating a room? Fill a dish with a half inch of white vinegar and let it stand in the room until the smell dissipates.

Get rid of rust. To get rid of rust build-up on a knife or pair of scissors, pour white vinegar over the blade then sprinkle it with coarse salt and rub with a cork. Rinse with water and wipe dry to prevent further rusting.  

Make your whites whiter. Add anywhere from 1/8 cup to 1/2 cup of vinegar to the first rinse cycle of your laundry to boost the whiteness your white clothes.

Wash your windows. For streak-free windows and mirrors, clean with a solution of one part vinegar and one part water.

Clean your coffee maker. Get a fresher cup of coffee by filling the reservoir of your coffee maker with equal parts water and white vinegar. Let it run through several cups with this solution, then several more with just water before brewing your first cup of coffee.

Prevent pests. To get rid of pesky ants, pour equal amounts of water and white vinegar into a spray bottle, shake, and spray in areas where ants often appear, such as crevices by your baseboards, cabinets and window sills. Also use this solution outdoors on your deck or patio and bring to your next picnic.

Unclog the showerhead. Fill a plastic bag with undiluted white vinegar and submerge your shower head in the solution overnight, secured with a rubber band. Scrub with an old toothbrush the next day to remove all residue.

Banish weeds. Spray weeds with vinegar instead of harsh chemicals. They’ll usually wither away in a day or two.

Clean your shoes. Get rid of salt and water stains on leather and suede shoes by rubbing them with a paper towel dampened with vinegar.

No more fruit flies. Fill a small container with apple cider vinegar, cover it in plastic wrap and punch a few holes in it with a needle. The flys will get trapped underneath the covering.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Planning Your Spring 'to Do' List? Don't Forget to Go Outside!

March 19, 2018 12:33 am

I know it's warm and cozy doing your spring cleaning inside, but remember that spring cleaning plans should include a thorough walk around outside as well.

The Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC (MMA) in Minneapolis tells homeowners that an early inspection and maintenance of their property is extremely important to prevent risk. To assist in that, MMA has compiled a checklist of things to inspect each year:

Review the roof. The company suggests starting by inspecting your roof for broken or missing shingles and interior rafters for water stains. Most water stains will be found around or below an inadequately flashed chimney, skylight and other openings.

Gutt the gutters. MMA says gutters are able to perform when kept clean, so remove dirt and debris from all gutters and downspouts.

Look at lights. Lighting maintenance includes inspecting street lights, outdoor light fixtures, and indoor common-area lighting to promote safety and security. Make sure lights are clean and void of any dust, dirt or salt, which can result in lost energy and money. If lights are burnt out, think about replacing them with high efficiency CFL or LED bulbs.

Don't miss the deck. When inspecting a deck or porch, look for peeling, splintering or rotting boards, and whether the wood is unprotected. If left unprotected, wood will soak up moisture and could lead to very serious damage. If a deck or porch needs to be resealed, clean it first with soap and water to clear off any mildew or mold, then after it is clean and dry, apply sealant, stain or paint.

Take care of trees. Remove dead wood and broken branches from trees or bushes. Replant shrubs, bushes and/or flowers that have worked their way out of the soil, and rake the ground.

Freshen with fertilizer. If necessary, add new soil, mulch and/or sod and lay fertilizer. Then, plant any new seeds or plants and implement a watering schedule.

Patch potholes. Finally, MMA says spring is a great time to repair cracks and potholes. First, determine the source of the issue so you can address and fix the root of the problem. It is always best to make these repairs as quickly as possible to prevent any type of hazardous conditions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Plan Your Outdoor Space

March 19, 2018 12:33 am

If you’re a new homeowner - or a veteran homeowner who’s ready for a change - it’s a wise idea to approach your landscaping and outdoor living space with a well thought-out gameplan. Here are some steps to follow for creating a yard that will serve as a welcome extension of your home.

Start by considering how you’ll use the space. While your home may already have a front porch or back deck, there may be an area of your yard that you envision using more, so plan accordingly.

Take a good look at existing trees, shrubs and large plants and consider whether they should stay put or be relocated based on how you will use your yard.

Consider privacy. How important is privacy to you? Determine whether you’ll want to install fences or a row of trees to create a privacy barrier for your most frequented outdoor space.

Think about what amenities are most important to you. Do you plan on entertaining a lot? Then an outdoor kitchen and/or bar may be part of your plans. Cozy, quiet evenings outside? A small firepit or chiminea will do the trick.

Consider furnishings. Outdoor furniture has advanced to new heights, these days. Will you want a full set of cushioned chairs and couches? An outdoor carpet? Or will a simple set of adirondack chairs and a teak table set for dining suffice? Map out what will best suit your space and your lifestyle needs.

Plan for lighting. No matter how simple or extravagant your outdoor space becomes, the right lighting is essential. Plan on a mix of pathway lights and spotlights for practicality. Solar options are ideal. Also consider decorative options, such as string lights and lanterns for ambience.

Plant wisely. Make sure you choose plants that suit your level of gardening enthusiasm. If you’re looking for minimal maintenance, stick with perennials, evergreens and grasses. If gardening is your passion, go for more elaborate flowers and shrubs that flourish with extra care.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Kickstart Healthy Habits

March 19, 2018 12:33 am

(Family Features)--When it seems that everyone around you is feeling under the weather, you can be your own best line of defense against getting sick. Help ward off sickness for yourself and your family with these self-care tips that help promote healthy habits and fight off illness.

Eat right. A diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables can give your body the immunity-boosting nutrients it needs to function properly. Avoid excess, empty calories and instead aim for meals that deliver a healthy balance of all food groups.

Wash, wash, wash. Kids and bacteria go hand-in-hand, literally. Kids' hands are everywhere, including some surfaces that may be more susceptible to bacteria. Hand-washing is a simple way to encourage healthy habits all year round. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand-washing is an important step to help avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.  

Get up and move. Exercise is one of your strongest weapons against illness. A regular routine that gets your blood pumping is good for overall health and your immune system. It can help flush toxins and keep your body in top condition.

Just say no. When it comes to protecting yourself and your family, give yourself permission to draw hard lines about spending time with those who aren't feeling well. Reschedule play dates or other events that might unnecessarily expose your family to germs.

Rest up. When your sleep schedule is off, so is your whole system, and that makes you more susceptible to illness. Everyone's precise sleep requirements are different; you'll know you're getting enough if you feel rested when you wake up. If you're not, and more overnight rest isn't realistic, look for ways to sneak in some extra rest time during the day.

Enjoy the outdoors. Even when it's cooler than you'd like, brief time outdoors can do plenty to lift your spirits and, in turn, your overall well-being. The fresh air and vitamin D from a bright, sunny day are free and easy ways to give your body a boost and help ward off illness.

Source: Softsoap

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Cocktail Party Tips for Newbies

March 15, 2018 1:03 am

One of the best ways to ease into home entertaining is the cocktail party: it’s festive, yet relaxed, and saves you the stress and expense of providing a full-course meal. A cocktail party also places understood parameters on the length of the party, denoting an affair that takes place prior to dinner.

If you’re new to cocktail parties, however, it’s easy to get tripped up in the do’s and don’ts. Here are some great tips from the experts at for making your cocktail party a great success:

Keep the guest list in check. While too few people will make any party a bust, cocktail parties should be fairly intimate in nature as opposed to an all-out bash. Aim for a dozen or so guests.

Streamline the cocktails. Have enough beer and wine on hand to accommodate your guests, then make your party festive by serving one or two specialty cocktails to suit the season, such as margaritas and cosmos in summer, or Manhattans and martinis in winter. Pre-mix your specialty cocktails and have them available in decorative decanters or pitchers so that guests can help themselves.

Have enough food, but not too much. Resist the urge to go overboard on food by keeping in mind that guests are not expecting dinner. Prepare a couple of hot hors d’oeuvres, then make the rest no-prep items, such as olives, seasoned nuts, one or two fine cheeses, and crudites.

Do all your prep in advance. Most importantly, make sure all your work is done in advance so that you can actually participate and enjoy your party. Make your hot appetizers ahead of time, place everything out before guests arrive, including small plates, napkins, water and anything else that might be needed so that you’re not running around handling requests. All that’s left to do? Enjoy!

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5 Ways to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace

March 15, 2018 1:03 am

(Family Features)--Although women are making strides in the corporate world, there is still work that can be done to level the landscape.

Research from Catalyst, a global nonprofit focused on empowering and accelerating women in business, shows the needle is moving, albeit slowly. In nearly 10 years, the number of women in senior roles in the United States increased just 1 percent. At Standard & Poor's 500 index companies, overall women's representation is far behind: 5.2 percent CEOs, 11 percent top earners and 26.5 percent senior-level officials and managers. Less than 5 percent of senior level positions are held by women of color. Men still lead more than 95 percent of the most powerful companies in the United States.

If you're looking for ways to promote change in your workplace, explore these five steps that can help build a work environment where everyone can advance and succeed:

Engage in programs that celebrate women of color. Tap into resources that honor women in leadership and foster growth for aspiring women leaders from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, such as those available through Catalyst. The nonprofit offers a host of ongoing workshops, programs, trainings and consulting services designed to promote inclusive workplaces, along with events around the world. For example, the "Catalyst Skyline Takeover," which is a visual realization of the international business community's commitment to greater diversity, inclusion and gender equality in workplaces around the world features dozens of global companies "lighting up" their buildings with the female symbol.

Assess and formalize pay scales. As numerous studies indicate, wage disparity is one of the most obvious signs of inequality in the workplace. A fair pay scale outlines specific responsibilities and corresponding compensation rates and can be applied to roles across the board regardless of race, gender or other potential discriminatory factors.

Ensure growth opportunities exist. Leveling the pay scale is an important step, but ensuring equal access to the positions at the higher end of that scale is an essential supporting move. Simply saying you'll pay a woman the same as a man in the same job falls short if all candidates, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity are not given the same chance to compete for more senior positions.

Implement mentorship programs. Positive role models can give future leaders the vision to dream big and the guidance to make those dreams a reality. Putting aspiring women leaders in close contact with other women who have attained success in their field helps set a course toward achievement. It also helps men to advance and develop unbiased leadership. Since the majority of business leaders are currently men, change for women can only be accelerated if all those in leadership positions work together.

Support parental involvement. Historically, the issue of parenting and the workforce has been dominated by discussions around maternity leave policies, but more recently, that dialogue has evolved. Men, too, desire more time with their families, and through equal parental leave policies, workplaces can allow women and men within all types of family structures to thrive in their careers and at home.

Source: Catalyst

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Prevent Home Flooding Disasters

March 15, 2018 1:03 am

When it comes to home damage, a busted pipe can create major havoc. But how can you plan ahead to save your space for water damage?

"The best solution is prevention," says Michael Petri, owner of Petri Plumbing & Heating. Below are Petri's top prevention tips.

Locate and tag your valves. It's important to be able to locate and turn off a main water or gas valve quickly in case of emergency. Petri offers this as a free service, but most plumbers will find and tag these for you.

Inspect and maintain your pipes. Most home flooding damage is caused by corroded, rusty or frozen pipes. Have your pipes inspected annually to check for problems and proper insulation. Even with spring around the corner, temperatures are still dipping below freezing, and burst pipes are still a possibility.

Look for signs of a problem. Pay attention to signs of a leak, including an increase in your water bill, banging pipes, rust stains, moisture on the walls or floor, or wet soil at the foundation. Also, search for weaknesses in supply and drain lines around toilets, water heaters and washing machines.

Protect drain lines. Never pour grease down the drain. Plant trees away from drain lines so roots won't damage pipes. If you live downhill or below street level, you may need a plumber to install a backflow prevention assembly to prevent sewer drainage from backing up.

Tackle problems quickly and professionally. If you suspect a leak or other plumbing issue, don't procrastinate repairs or have someone who isn't qualified attempt the project. A minor inconvenience can become a major problem if it isn't handled quickly and effectively. You risk more significant damage to floors or ceilings, as well as possible mold contamination.

Source: Petri Plumbing & Heating

Published with permission from RISMedia.

There’s an App for Personal Finance, Too

March 14, 2018 12:54 am

Where would we be without our favorite apps? From tracking our steps to buying our movie tickets, smartphone applications have enhanced and simplified our lives on many levels. According to financial expert and author Eric Tyson, you can also make your financial life easier and more convenient with personal finance apps.

While not every app is right for every person, Tyson, the author of “Personal Finance in Your 20s & 30s For Dummies®” says the following personal finance apps are usually safe bets:

FRED. The St. Louis Fed's signature economic database, FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), provides a wealth of data on the economy and financial markets through this app, without ads.

Vanguard. According to Tyson, the Vanguard app "has a broad array of cost-effective funds with solid long-term performance.” He also recommends the T. Rowe Price and Fidelity apps, and advises checking to see what apps are offered from your favorite investment firm or bank.

Goodbudget. Tyson likes the simplicity and practicality of this expense-tracking app. The basic version provides up to one year of expense-tracking history in 10 main categories. There’s also a paid or premium version, which provides up to five years of expense tracking with unlimited categories, as well as email support.

GasBuddy. This free app will show you gas prices at various service stations in your area so you can compare and get a good price when you fill up.

Tollsmart Toll Calculator. This is a low-cost app that lets you compare toll costs for alternative routes.

Camelcamelcamel. A price tracker that scans items on Amazon, shows you their price history, and sends you alerts when a product you're interested in drops in price.

PriceGrabber. This app scans items everywhere online, allowing you to save money on commonly purchased items.

Eric Tyson, MBA, is a best-selling personal finance author, counselor, and writer. He is the author of five national best-selling financial books including “Investing For Dummies,” “Personal Finance For Dummies,” and “Home Buying Kit For Dummies.” He has appeared on NBC's Today show, ABC, CNBC, FOX News, PBS, and CNN.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Make a Living Landscape

March 14, 2018 12:54 am

Whether you just moved into a new home with a less than optimal landscape, or you're ready to revamp the landscape in your existing spot, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) shares these tips to help homeowners become backyard ready and make the most of their outdoor living room.

Assess the Existing Living Landscapes. Take a look at what currently exists in your yard to determine what you love about it and what you’d like to change. Don’t be afraid to ask the previous owner about the plantings. They might be able to provide a list of landscape items to make your job easier.

Plan for Outdoor Living. Determine what will work with the existing living landscape for your entire family, including your kids and pets. Take into account your family needs and lifestyle. Then, research options for enhancing your family yard with hardy turfgrass, climate-appropriate plants and a mix of adaptive and native plants to foster biodiversity. Plant to preserve your corner of the ecosystem with a good mix of grass, trees, shrubs and flowering plants to support our pollinator friends: birds, bees and butterflies. 

Plant With Your Pets in Mind. If you have a turfgrass lawn, you’ve got a playground. However, you should know that there are many types of grasses—and some are better than others for pets, especially dogs. Also, if your yard has artificial or synthetic grass, you’ll want to replace it with real turf. Plastic grass is bad for the environment, hard to keep clean, and can get too hot for your pet’s paws. And, remember, avoid toxic plants that can be harmful to pets.

Remember: Right Plant, Right Place. When you’re ready to dig in and plant in your family yard, remember the “Golden Rule” of living landscapes: put the right plant in the right place. Select plants that will thrive in your climate zone. The microclimate in your new neighborhood may be very different from the one you just moved from—even if you didn’t relocate a great distance. Familiarize yourself with your plant hardiness zone to determine what types of turf, trees, shrubs and plants will thrive in your new location. 

Learn About Restrictions and Rules. Some neighborhoods with homeowners associations (HOAs) have restrictions about what you can and cannot plant in your yard. Other communities may have watering limitations during part of the year requiring a smart irrigation system. Become familiar with the rules so you can plan accordingly.

Conduct an Outdoor Power Equipment Inventory. The power equipment you needed at your previous home may not suffice at the new property, or perhaps it’s time to upgrade your equipment to better suit your needs. Take an inventory of your existing outdoor power equipment (lawn mower, leaf blower, etc.) and match it against the needs of your yard. At the very least, now’s also a good time to get your outdoor power equipment serviced for the upcoming season.

Source: OPEI,,

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Small Changes for Better Living

March 14, 2018 12:54 am

(Family Features)--A busy schedule doesn't have to prevent you from taking steps toward a lifestyle that fosters overall well-being. There are many easy, small changes you can make toward better living that can make a noticeable impact.

1. Choose the long route. For many people, it's an automatic move to find the closest parking space that’s located the shortest distance to the door. With your lifestyle goals in mind, consider taking a different approach. Look for ways to work in more physical activity. Seek out a spot in the back of the parking lot as an opportunity to increase your steps for the day, or choose the longer scenic route when walking your dog at the park for a more pleasant experience all-around.

2. Go for guilt-free snacks. Better living isn't about giving up everything you like; it's about balance and moderation. Look for snacks made with real, premium ingredients like dark chocolate or crunchy California almonds.

3. Take time to recharge. Even when you're strapped for time, carving out a few minutes for yourself each day to focus on your mental well-being is important. This can include simply enjoying a few moments of silence or something more specific like meditating or journaling. Busy people tend to carry more stress, so looking for ways to inject these calming activities into daily schedules can help keep you refreshed and bring you more happiness.

4. Practice self-care. Especially when you're busy, it's easy to slack on self-care, but combine that with elevated stress and you may be especially susceptible to not feeling your best. Give yourself a boost with a daily vitamin or try a warm bath with Epsom salt to soothe your senses.

5. Space out your meals. Waiting hours to eat can cause people to overeat at major meal times—especially dinner. Taking time to plan simple snacks throughout the day helps ensure cravings are met and overeating is avoided when the dinner bell rings. Consider keeping a snack on-hand for guilt-free snacking when hunger strikes.

Source: Nonni's Foods

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How to Green Your Home for St. Pattys

March 12, 2018 12:51 am

Going green for St. Patty's doesn't always mean wearing your favorite emerald t-shirt or adding dye to a batch of cookies. You can make eco-friendly choices to "green" your life, starting with yor home.

Appliance upgrade. If you have a tired old appliance, like a fridge, washing machine, dishwasher or toilet, consider a new, energy-approved version to slash energy costs and consumption.

Switch to less caustic cleaners. Choose a natural cleaner to keep your home spotless. You can easily make your own with vinegar and baking soda, or head to the natural aisle of the store for premade options.

Lights out. Choose one or two days a week where the lights are out early in your house to slash energy consumption. You don't need to send everyone to bed early. Instead, have the whole family congregate in one room to make use of light for reading, web browsing, or even better - game night!

Buy local. Creating a St. Patty's feast? Consider buying as many local ingredients as you can, which supports the local economy and cuts down your carbon footprint as the goods did not need to travel. Local farms often have cabbage and potatoes this time of year, or seek out locally produced canned goods, bread, and even beer!

Use less. Put a paper ban on your home. Make grocery lists digitally, keep a white board for notes and reminders, and stash reusable bags in the car for trips to the store.

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How to Avoid Problems with Your Spring Renovations and Repairs

March 12, 2018 12:51 am

As soon as winter weather starts giving way to fairer days, folks start itching to get any planned repairs, maintenance and renovations started.

If you want to protect yourself from rogue and incompetent builders, take some advice from the Connecticut Better Business Bureau's Howard Schwartz who suggests a few time-honored procedures.

Schwartz says it is essential to obtain multiple estimates before signing a contract. Study these estimates to learn what type of work is needed, the quality of materials they plan to use, how long the job may take, and its total cost.

Schwartz says details may vary, but if one estimate is substantially lower than the others, ask why. Here are a few more tips:

Check to learn how long a contractor has been in business, contact information, verified customer reviews, complaint details, and how the business responded.

Don’t be lured into signing a contract if someone offers a ‘today only’ special. That is a sales tactic designed to get you to sign a contract or put down a deposit without giving you an opportunity to do your research.

Obtain references from recent customers. You may want to speak with other property owners who had work done recently.

Get everything in writing. All verbal promises should be contained in the contract, as well as a detailed description of the type of work needed, the quality of materials, how long the job may take, specifics about the deposit and payment schedule ,and guarantees for the quality of work and materials.

Pulling permits. Contractors should obtain necessary permits as part of the job. If they’d rather not go for permits, it might be a warning sign.

Compare apples to apples. Choosing a prospective contractor is simpler if you ask for quotes based on the number of hours needed and the same quality of materials.

Finally, avoid putting down a large deposit. Schwartz says a typical schedule follows the “Rule of Thirds.” The first payment is made when signing the contract, the second when work begins, and the final payment when the job is finished and you are satisfied with the quality of work.

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Simple Ways to Embrace Snack Cravings

March 12, 2018 12:51 am

(Family Features)--While snacking can bring you joy, it can also leave you feeling guilty. There are, however, simple steps that can be taken to help fight this inner conflict and allow you to embrace snack time rather than trying to ignore your wants.

These tips from the snacking experts at Blue Diamond can help you choose flavorful snacks that satisfy your cravings.

Plan for the day ahead. No one knows your schedule better than you, so planning your snacks ahead of time can set you down the right path. Writing down your timeline for the day and choosing what you are having to eat can help. It can allow you to know how many snacks you need to pack and if it needs to be an on-the-go or sit-down food. Try packing your snacks the night before to cause less drama rushing around in the morning getting everything ready.

Focus on flavor. Keeping flavor-forward snacks, such as flavored roasted almonds, on-hand can help you feel satisfied and happy without that feeling of guilt you sometimes get immediately after snacking.

Mix and match. When planning your snacks, try a variety of flavor and texture combinations, think sweet and salty or creamy and crunchy, to see what fuels your body best. For example, homemade trail mix is one way to switch up what you are eating. It's easy to throw in something soft and sweet like marshmallows or add salt and crunch with pretzels or nuts. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Keep a snack at your desk. If you don't have time to pack different types of snacks each morning, try keeping a stash of your favorites at your desk. Look for options that are easy to store in a confined place, such as almonds, granola bars, crackers, popcorn or wafers.

Source: Blue Diamond

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Spring: Time to Rev Your 'High-Performing' Home

March 9, 2018 1:03 am

Did you know that just three basic home improvements - updating insulation, maintaining heating systems, and checking for proper ventilation and air sealing - can transform your humble abode into a "high-performing," clean, efficient and healthy home?

Experts at the utility company Eversource developed these three tips homeowners and renters can follow to make your home is high-performing:

1. Make sure your home is air-tight with proper insulation.
Don't let frosty air into your home. Sealing cracks and gaps in walls, attics, and crawl spaces as well as around wires, pipes, windows and door frames will help keep the warm inside air from escaping. Don’t forget about properly insulating those same walls, attics, crawl spaces and around your ducts too.

2. Keep on top of home energy maintenance.
Be sure you have your heating and cooling system serviced annually by a qualified professional. Clean or change air filters every three months or more often if you smoke or have pets. And consider upgrading to a smart Wi-Fi thermostat, which automatically adjusts the temperature and cuts down on energy usage when you’re not home.

3. Go for top quality indoor climate and air.
Enjoying clean air and a comfortable climate in your home begins with proper ventilation and air sealing, which not only keeps pollen and dust at bay, it also moderates humidity levels and temperature swings. Proper ventilation and air flow also reduces the chance for mold growth – whether it’s from leaky ducts or condensation in your attic and crawl spaces.

According to the U.S. EPA, there are many home pollutants that can accumulate in a poorly ventilated home and cause health problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches, or fatigue. Other pollutants cause or worsen allergies, respiratory illnesses (such as asthma), heart disease, cancer and other serious long-term conditions.

Learn more about household pollutants that may be compromising the air you breathe at

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How to Prolong Your Laptop's Battery

March 9, 2018 1:03 am

If you're like most of us, your laptop is your lifeline. From working to browsing social media or tackling your favorite hobby, many of us spend hours behind our screen. So when the battery starts to go, it's normal to get nervous.

To help, Top 10 Hype has 10 simple tips for the "battery-nervous" laptop user:
  1. Turn off all unused features.
  2. Lower the display brightness.  
  3. Don't run more than a few apps at a time.
  4. Buy a solid state hard drive.
  5. Stay away from 4k display monitors.   
  6. Consider an always connect PC.  
  7. Use airplane mode whenever possible.
  8. High-end graphics cards are killers.  
  9. Don't worry about charging your laptop to 100 percent.  
  10. Lower your display brightness down to 50 percent (in case you missed No. 2).
Source: TOP 10 HYPE

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How to Keep Credit Scores High

March 9, 2018 1:03 am

Did you know March is National Credit Education Month? In honor of the occasion, let’s review some of the top ways to keep your credit score soaring.  

The online consumer finance platform even launched a new consumer education website for Credit Education Month to better educate consumers about credit health. is designed as a first stop for consumers to educate themselves on the importance of actively managing credit, illustrating the impact of credit scores and what influences them, how to read a credit report, and how consumers can take control of their credit situation.

New York-based Fora Financial ( advises consumers to understand their personal credit score, which can range from 300 to 850. Fora says personal credit reports containing credit scores and details on what things affected that score can be accessed for free through various websites.

According to, the national average personal credit score in the U. S. is 695.

Fora's experts recommend checking that score frequently, even if you think your credit scores are sufficient. There could be an error on a credit report, or your score could fluctuate depending on whether or not you make payments on-time, among other factors.

If you’re serious about boosting your personal credit score, Fora Financial says a good place to start is by paying bills early or on-time. If paying bills late is a bad habit, set up payment reminders through banking portals so you’re notified before a payment is due.

And while reducing debt is easier said than done, Fora's experts say paying off an outstanding balance can be a great way to improve your credit score. Even if it is reducing it by small amounts, it is important to make an effort to pay off debt.

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Simple Solutions to Combat Winter Skin Sensitivity

March 7, 2018 1:03 am

(Family Features)--The winter season is still here, and it's important to get in the habit of taking care of your skin. Cold weather brings low humidity levels and dry air, which can suck the moisture from your skin, and without proper care, skin can become dry, cracked and irritated, causing discomfort.

This winter, focus on a regimen that helps protect and hydrate skin so you can spend time enjoying the benefits of winter like family game night, snow days and snuggling by the fire.

These simple tips can be easily incorporated into your family's daily routine, keeping skin feeling soft and healthy.

Hydrate Inside and Out. Staying hydrated during the hot, summer months is a given, but it’s also important to remember that cold winter air can leave your skin parched. Use a humidifier to keep skin hydrated during the dry months and be sure to lather on moisturizer. Natural moisturizers like coconut oil and shea butter can act as protective barriers against harsh elements, sealing in moisture. In addition to hydrating on the outside, it’s just as important to stay hydrated on the inside. By drinking water throughout the day, your skin can stay healthy and moisturized.

Switch to a Mild Laundry Detergent. Many common detergents can be abrasive to sensitive skin, especially when it’s more vulnerable to irritation during the harsh winter months. Wash bed linens, towels and clothes with a mild detergent, especially during the winter months.

Avoid Toxins, Specifically Allergens and Irritants. Products that contain toxins, allergens and irritants should be avoided during months when skin is most sensitive. Choose moisturizers and skin care products that don't contain common irritants, and opt for mild cleansers and moisturizers that are specifically labeled for sensitive skin. Castor oil is another moisturizer alternative that’s natural and can be used on both the face and body.

Layer Up. Lock in moisture and protect your skin from wind, rain and snow by wearing layers whenever you venture outside. The skin on your neck, face and hands is thinner than other areas of the body and, therefore, more sensitive to the effects of winter weather. Thermals, scarves and gloves can keep you warm and protect your skin from the cold, dry air. For those with sensitive skin, avoid synthetic fabrics and itchy materials like wool, and wash clothes with a dermatologist-recommended detergent.

Source: all laundry

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Tips for Easier Family Travel

March 7, 2018 1:03 am

Traveling can be fun, but when you've got a large family in tow, it can be a headache and a hassle. The following tips from Dream Dinners can help ease the strain and make sure your vacation is fun for the whole family.

Consider a vacation rental over a hotel. Having access to an entire home means use of a fully stocked kitchen, the ability to store ingredients for homemade meals, and being able to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner together around the table more easily—which ultimately means spending less money eating out while on vacation.

Roll your clothes instead of folding. When you travel, too many items means going over your carry-on limit or overfilling your trunk. One way to minimize the number of suitcases without sacrificing the items you really need is to roll clothes instead of folding them. They take up less space and don't wrinkle as easily as folded clothes.

Pack your meals with you. Eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner means spending most of your travel budget on restaurants instead of family excursions and activities. Consider packing some of your meals with you, like pre-frozen meals. Simply pack them frozen in your cooler, store them at your vacation rental and pop them in the oven for a quick, easy, and stress-free family dinner.

Buy travel-friendly snacks in bulk. It's easy to overspend on snacks if you're buying from gas stations each time you stop for a break. Buying snacks in bulk and pre-packaging them in individual portion sizes is a great way to avoid paying premium prices once you're on the road.

Pack a picnic lunch. For a family of four, it’s easy to spend more than $30 even at the most inexpensive drive-through restaurants. Consider packing a picnic lunch instead. This can save money and it allows you to feed your family a healthier option.

Pack a toy per day for each child. To entertain the kids throughout the day, consider a trip to the dollar store to pick up a few new toys for each child. Pack them in individual zip-lock bags with the child's name and a day of the week on the outside. Opening a new toy each day means the kids will stay entertained and excited throughout your trip.

Pack reusable water bottles. This works for air travel or car travel. Bringing reusable water bottles that can be filled at water fountains or restaurants saves money and reduces waste.

Research fun games to play in the car. It's fun to go beyond the basics of I Spy and the License Plate Game. Try Road Trip Bingo or Twenty Questions. Both can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Source: Dream Dinners

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Planning a Spring Lawn Project? Tips to Put into Practice Now

March 7, 2018 1:03 am

If you plan to revamp your yard or lawn this spring, don't wait for the sun to come out. You can get started as the winter wanes for best results. Consider the following.

Book your landscapers. If you plan a big lawn or landscaping project this spring, book them now. Most landscapers get super busy as spring lands, so snap them up ASAP.  

Mulch. Once frost has stopped in your area, it's time to lay down some fresh mulch. This matter can protect your soil come summer, and keep weeds at bay.  

Fertilize. Your plants had a long, harsh winter. Make it up to them by laying down some fertilizer for some easy to access fuel.  

Reseed. Grass looking patchy? Now’s the time for reseeding to fill in any bald spots.  

Prune. Remove dead branches from your bushes, hedges and shrubs.

Powerwash. If you have a patio or deck that’s been exposed to the elements, it may need some TLC. Give it a power wash or re-sand it.

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3 Good Reasons to Take Social Security Early

March 6, 2018 12:48 am

Retirees can file for their Social Security benefits at any age between 62 and 70 or older.

The customary advice is to hold off as long as possible, because the longer you wait to claim your benefits, the larger your monthly check will be—and the difference can be considerable.

But there are three good scenarios, say personal finance experts at, when it makes good sense to take benefits earlier:  

You need the money. If you don’t have enough savings to live on, or can’t—or don’t want to—take another job, it makes sense to claim benefits at 62. But remember: if you do take a job before full retirement age—65 to 67 depending on when you were born—your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above $16,920 (until you reach full retirement age.)

Longevity doesn’t run in your family. Experts suggest you do a break-even analysis of your benefits. Say, for example, you would be entitled to monthly benefits of $1,529 at age 62 as opposed to $2,273 at 67 and $2,873 at age 70. If you claim benefits at 62, you will have received over $100,000 by the time you’re 67. If you wait until you’re 67, it will take until you’re about 78 before the accumulated benefits would overtake the total you would have received if you had started taking benefits at 62. So, if you don’t expect to live until age 78—and that’s a tough call even if your parents died early—it makes sense to claim benefits earlier. Check your estimated benefits on the website of the Social Security Administration and run your own break-even analysis.  

You have plenty of money saved. If you have enough money to live on in retirement without your Social Security benefit, you may want to claim early anyway, and use the extra income to invest, buy long-term care insurance, or buy more life insurance. But it is a choice, because you will receive a higher monthly benefit the longer you wait. Also, if you’re married, remember that when you die, your spouse can choose the higher of their benefit or yours, so waiting longer to claim might be helpful to your spouse if you were the higher earner.

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Aging in Place With Assistive Technology

March 6, 2018 12:48 am

(Family Features)--Most Americans want to stay in their homes as they age. Not a bad plan, but what if your home doesn't fit you as well as it once did?

Often, aging can be accompanied by a change in your ability to manage and move around in your home. That's where assistive technology—better known as AT—comes in. No matter your age or what type of disability you may have, chances are there’s an AT device out there that can help you with everyday tasks.

AT isn't a new concept. In fact, most people have probably used an assistive device without realizing it. Smartphones, voice command technology and certain types of software all fall under the AT umbrella. AT also includes plenty of low-tech devices, like adapted pencil grips for students with disabilities.

There's an ever-growing variety of AT tools available to help with household chores, work functions, getting around, seeing, hearing, learning and living independently in general. These devices and technologies are designed to help older adults and people with disabilities, but you may find that these tools can make life easier for anyone.

Examples of AT devices and tools include:

- Hearing aids
- Vehicle modifications, such as hand controls or wheelchair lifts
- Devices that help with bathing and eating
- Software modifications for those with hearing and visual challenges
- Equipment, such as grab bars in a shower, to help prevent falls
- Eyeglasses and magnification devices to help individuals with low vision
- Communication devices for individuals with speech disabilities
- Wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility devices

The right AT for you

At first, trying to find the right AT tools and solutions can feel overwhelming. The network of State Assistive Technology Act Programs is a good place to start. Your state AT Act program can provide information and support to help you identify and acquire AT that meets your needs.

These programs offer:

- Device demonstration and short-term loan programs that allow you to try out equipment before purchasing
- Reuse programs that provide gently used devices at substantial savings
- Financing options, such as cash loan programs, that can help you get the AT devices you need

You can find the AT Act Program in your state or territory at You'll also find additional information on state AT programs, data about the network of state AT programs and additional resources to help you find and obtain AT that fits your needs.

With more research and awareness around the importance of AT, the future possibilities for living independently in the place of your choosing are almost limitless.

Source: Administration for Community Living 

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Pass Through Deduction Tax Planning Tips for Solopreneurs and Micro Businesses

March 6, 2018 12:48 am

If you own your own small business, recent tax changes may require you to revisit dated strategies to make sure you're staying smart and savvy. With this in mind, Meisa Bonelli, senior tax professional of Millennial Tax offers the following tax planning tips business owners should heed.

Reconsider Your Business Entity. Small business owners that operate under an LLC or S-corp entity have typically chosen those entities to operate their businesses under because of the past tax rates on pass through income was taxed at a lower rate and they could avoid double taxation with a C-corp.

However, now that the corporate tax rate has been lowered to 21 percent down from 35 percent, solopreneurs, freelancers and micro-small business owners may want to review and reconsider if a pass-through entity is serving their short and long-term business objectives. For instance, if a business now sees the opportunity to raise capital from foreign investors and was previously operating as an S-corp, now is the time to meet with their attorney and tax professional to see if a C-corp or other entity would be more of an ideal fit for their objectives.

Substantiate. For business owners that want to maximize the new pass-through deduction, substantiating their expenses will play a crucial role in their record keeping.  Substantiating expenses include: writing who a small business owner dined with for business meal expenses, digitizing receipts so that they remain legible if ever requested by a tax authority, and not relying solely on bank and credit card statements as proof of business expenses. It's not the IRS' job to figure out what's on your tax return. Chances are, if a tax authority is taking the time to do so, it's more than likely to exclude deductions and factor more of your claimed expenses into income, not the other way around. Make it easy on them by doing the work ahead of time and they'll make it easy on you by allowing you to have your substantiated deductions.

Get Serious and Get Organized. For small businesses that may have been laxed in the past with their record keeping, if they're operating under a pass-through LLC or S-corp, they need to get serious about keeping business and personal expenses separate. The tried-and-true receipt organizer coupled with a spreadsheet and detailed notes is recommended for the small business owner that doesn't want to spend on bookkeeping software, but who is diligent enough to sit down and reconcile their expenses. Obviously, an accounting or bookkeeping software makes things simpler and readily accessible as most have mobile apps. But small business owners need to understand that no software works if they're not going to do the bookkeeping work. If a small business owner equates getting their teeth pulled at the dentist with doing the company's books, it's high time to hire a tax professional.

If trying to figure out the 20 percent pass-through deduction versus the 50 percent computation (if W2 wages are applicable) or digitizing receipts, and creating lofty spreadsheets sounds like a headache, small business owners should hire a trusted tax professional. Since the game has changed, the savviest small business owners will play offense by planning with a competent tax professional, rather than using reactive tax strategies of the past. Preparedness is what will ultimately fuel profitability for solopreneurs, freelancers and micro-small businesses in this new tax era of tax change.

Before making changes, meet with a tax specialist or financial advisor.

Source: Millennial Tax

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Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

March 2, 2018 12:54 am

Traveling alone can be fun and exciting, but you should also take some extra safety precautions. Consider the following suggestions from

Purchase travel insurance. If something goes wrong on your trip, travel insurance can be almost as good as having a travel companion. Comprehensive travel insurance plans typically include trip cancellation, trip interruption, travel medical, and emergency evacuation coverages, as well as 24/7 global travel assistance. If cash or credit cards are stolen, travel insurance can help you get back on track. If you get sick or injured, a travel insurance plan's global medical assistance services can help navigate a foreign hospital system for you. A comprehensive travel insurance plan with trip cancellation coverage will typically range from 4 to 8 percent of the total trip costs. A plan with just medical and emergency evacuation can cost considerably less. By purchasing an insurance plan, it’s almost as though you have someone on your side—without having to argue over where to eat each night.

Let someone know where you’re going and how to contact you. Designate at least one emergency contact and share your itinerary and any updates with that person. Make a general rule that you update your contact, even briefly, every time you hit an internet cafe or get decent WiFi coverage on your phone or tablet. Better yet, publish a travel blog along the way, or update all of your friends and family with frequent social media posts. But remember, keep your social media profiles private so strangers can't track you down.

Prepare with a traveler's checklist. The U.S. State Department has a great traveler's checklist, which recommends that travelers: Get Informed, Get Required Documents, Get Enrolled, and Get Insured. Registering with the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program provides travel advisory updates on your destination and gives the U.S. embassy a way to reach you. Also, keep a list of your emergency contacts handy, including U.S. embassies or consulates, hotels, and 24/7 Global Assistance phone numbers found in your travel insurance plan. Many of the U.S. embassies and consulates use social media to provide information, so that's another way to stay connected.

Memorialize the adventure. Keeping a travel journal is a great way to reflect on what you’re seeing, learning and experiencing. Sharing your travel experiences can be rewarding for both you and your audience. In addition, keep all receipts and documentation for any expenses associated with the trip before and during the vacation. In the event that you need to file a travel insurance claim, receipts and other proof of loss will be needed to receive reimbursements.


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5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Fifth Wall

March 2, 2018 12:54 am

(Family Features)--Redesigning your living space? Don't forget to look up! Reboot your ceiling with the following tips.

Start with a smooth canvas. This means eliminating any details like popcorn ceilings or other texturing that may appear dated and dingy.

Add some color. Bring character to the room by adding color to the ceiling that complements the traditional walls for a cohesive look. If you have eaves, dormers or other architectural elements, consider painting some and leaving others white for variety and added dimension.

Introduce natural light. When it comes from above, natural light brightens a room in a whole new way. An option like a Velux skylight is a sensible solution because it offers plenty of ways to customize the skylight to your specific space and functional needs.

Enhance with accessories. Both practical and attractive, blinds are a good idea for a skylight. They let you control the light, blocking out harsh rays during the heat of the day while letting the gentle evening light illuminate the room. In addition to choosing a style and color that complements the room décor, look for features such as remote-control operation and room-darkening textiles.

Get creative. Treating your ceiling like a wall opens virtually endless possibilities. If the space has unique architectural features, you can highlight them by adding special touches such as built-in shelves for extra storage or a new place to nurture lush house plants.

Source: Velux

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Save More on Those Heating Bills

March 2, 2018 12:54 am

Furnaces and boilers account for 65 percent of home natural gas use, according to Dominion Energy Ohio. These simple tips can help conserve energy, maximize comfort and minimize monthly bills:

Save Money by Degrees. Customers can save anywhere from 10 to 15 percent on annual heating costs by setting the thermostat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 58 degrees Fahrenheit at night, or when the resident is at work or away for an extended period.

Clean or Replace Furnace Filters. Check furnace air filters once a month during the heating season. If they become clogged, clean or replace them with new filters.

Caulk Around. Use inexpensive caulking around the fireplace mantle, inside windows and storm windows, electrical receptacle boxes, exhaust fan openings, pipes leading to bathroom fixtures, mortar cracks in chimneys and cracks in basement walls. Be sure to caulk around areas where the foundation meets the first floor plate and basement windows.

Seal Off Drafts Around Windows. Tape thin sheets of plastic to inside window frames with masking tape.

Draft Stoppers. Block off drafts at the bottom of doors with a rolled up rug or bath towel. You can also make a long, narrow bean bag to fit against the bottom of the door.

Switch Off Drafts. To seal off drafts, apply self-adhesive foam strips to the back of wall plates for electrical outlets and switches.

Weather Stripping. Here's a card trick: If a playing card fits in the crevice of an outside door, you need more weather stripping.

Source: Dominion Energy Ohio

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How to Create a DIY Scratching Post

February 28, 2018 1:06 am

(Family Features)--Designating a spot for your cat to safely scratch is one of the most effective ways to minimize damage to your possessions. A homemade scratching post is a quick and easy project. The experts at Ceva Animal Health offer the following guidelines.

1. Cut foot-long length of 4-by-4-inch wood and a 1-foot square piece of plywood. The exact sizes can vary, but these are good starting points that you can adjust up or down, depending on your space.

2. Sand away splinters and rough edges.

3. Add a sturdy fabric wrap or paint to lend aesthetic appeal to the plywood base.

4. Wrap the post tightly with heavy-gauge rope or carpet scraps (or both), securing tightly with glue and reinforcing with a staple gun.

5. Securely attach the post to the base using a long bolt.

6. Place the post in an area your cat enjoys spending time, and consider adding a pheromone therapy spray to attract your cat to the post.

Source: Ceva Animal Health

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

February 28, 2018 1:06 am

Do you sit at a desk for hours a day? It's no news that being sedentary can have a negative impact on your body and health. To combat this, mix up the following exercises throughout the day, or pick two times (11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., perhaps?) to run through them all at once.

Toe points. Keep blood moving to your toes by taking a break to point and flex your feet 10 times.

Leg lifts. Flex your quads and raise your feet so your leg is straight from the hip out. Do this five to 10 times.

Roll your shoulders back. Desk work have you hunched? Roll your shoulders back, lift your chin, and straighten your spine, then return to work.

Eye break. If you spend your work day behind a computer, this exercise should be done at least once an hour, if possible. Look away from your computer, and focus on on object 20 or more feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Wrist rolls. Typing have your hands tired? Roll your wrists counterclockwise 10 times, then clockwise 10 times, to get blood flowing.

Other things to combat too much sitting are: taking a walk break during lunch, considering a standing desk, and staying extra hydrated all day long, so you're forced to make a few extra (walking!) trips to the restroom.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Just How Cyber Smart Are You?

February 27, 2018 12:51 am

Massive data breaches like Equifax and Yahoo served as important wake-up calls to remind us that cybersecurity should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.

According to a survey of 2,000 U.S. home users by cybersecurity firm Webroot, while digital users of all ages have certain security practices down, there are still gaps in awareness, especially when it comes to ransomware.

Despite the growing prevalence of ransomware attacks in news headlines, nearly two thirds (61.6 percent) of survey respondents could not accurately define ransomware. In a ransomware attack, hackers encrypt or lock consumers' files to extort payment. Unless the victim pays the ransom, their files may be gone forever; however, there is no guarantee that payment will actually buy back their files.

Here’s how survey results—and cybersecurity savvy—breaks down by generation. See how you rate:

Gen Z (18 - 24)

- This group was the least ransomware-savvy. Less than a quarter (23.7 percent) were able to accurately define ransomware.

- Although antivirus offers strong protection against ransomware, members of Gen Z are likely to report they either don't use antivirus protection (33 percent), or don't know if they have any installed (23.8 percent).

- This same group is the most willing to pay a hacker to return stolen data; 25.1 percent reported they would pay a hacker up to $500 to return stolen data.

- Thirty-six percent of Gen Zers who reported they have clicked a link in an email or text from an unknown sender have also been a victim of a ransomware attack or know someone who has.

Millennials (25 - 34)

- While more savvy than their younger counterparts, only a third (34.2 percent) of millennials could accurately define ransomware.

- Nearly a third (28.9 percent) of survey respondents who were most concerned about losing personal photos in a cyberattack were millennials.

- Over 60 percent of millennials share their personal information online via mobile banking and bill pay, tax, financial and health care forms, or by shopping online. This makes them more vulnerable to data breaches of all types, underscoring the need for cybersecurity knowledge.

Baby Boomers (55 - 65+)

- While only half (47.6 percent) of baby boomers could accurately define ransomware, this was still the highest of any generation.

- Respondents 55 and older might be the most unsafe online, as they are most likely to admit to having received suspicious texts or emails (73.3 percent), or having clicked links in emails/texts from unknown senders (26.9 percent).

- Despite the risks they face, baby boomers are the savviest when it comes to not forwarding emails from unknown senders; 94.2 percent said they had not done so in the past year.

No matter what your age, make sure you’re up to speed on the latest in cyber security.

Source: Webroot

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Keys to Becoming an Elite Athlete

February 27, 2018 12:51 am

(Family Features)--When it comes to becoming an elite athlete, there are differing opinions on what it takes to win gold.

Sports analysts and commentators often reference sprint times, body weight, height or age as differentiating factors, but Dr. Steven Stein, CEO of Multi-Health Systems and emotional intelligence expert, has a different idea.

Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way people perceive and express themselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

Using The Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 model to test emotional intelligence, Multi-Health Systems found athletes around the world often score high in self-regard: the ability to know their strengths and weaknesses; self-actualization: doing what they love and continually trying to improve; and flexibility: their ability to learn, change and take direction.


Self-regard is an athlete's ability to know his or her strengths and weaknesses. For elite athletes, it can also translate into confidence.

"Confidence, as part of self-regard, can be a key differentiator among medal winners," Stein says. "At the highest level of many sports you have a number of athletes with near-equal skills and talent. Often, having the right mental toughness can make that millisecond or single point difference among judges."


Self-actualization reflects comfort with who you are and what you are doing. For example, competition at the international level takes years of preparation and practice, and may require personal, social and familial sacrifices.

"Self-actualization allows an athlete to continue to learn and improve, as many athletes start out with a vision that helps define their passion," Stein says. "For example, you frequently hear stories of athletes who come from challenging childhoods—deaths of parents, early injuries or difficulties with school—who commit fully to their sports, find success and go on to become role models for others in both athletics and overcoming adversity."


Flexibility is a person's ability to change and take direction, and for an elite athlete, it means learning from a bad performance instead of getting frustrated. It is one of the better predictors of the ability to be coached and succeed, and Multi-Health Systems found that it is especially important in both professional and amateur athletes.

"Sometimes, high-level draft picks in various sports who have difficulty taking instruction don't make it as professional players," Stein says. "Great athletes are often great learners, and when athletes think they already know what's best or don't listen to coaching, it can derail their performance."

Source: Multi-Health Systems

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Improve Your Indoor Air Quality for Spring

February 27, 2018 12:51 am

As the season changes, your environment shifts, both indoors and out. A switch of seasons is the perfect time to focus on freshening the air in your home. T. Webber offers the following tips to maintain great indoor air quality as you prep for spring.

Use allergen-rated filters. Besides making sure that your air filters are changed on an appropriate schedule, using a high-quality filter rated for allergen filtration will help clean the air as it cycles. Regular filters are designed to protect the heating and cooling system by trapping larger particles such as dust before they reach the unit. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters will trap much smaller particles and keep offending allergens from simply recirculating back into the living space.

Consider an air cleaner. If those living in the home are experiencing severe negative health effects from invasive allergens, using an air cleaner in conjunction with HEPA air filters for the HVAC unit will dramatically increase the effectiveness of overall indoor air filtration. Air cleaners are specifically designed to remove mold, mildew, dust, pollen and pet dander from the air inside the home.

Install ultraviolet lamps. Ultraviolet lamps can be installed inside the heating and cooling unit to kill mold and bacteria that may develop on and around the coil due to moisture, and there are also lamps available that can sterilize the moving air. These lamps are effective at killing germs that may otherwise recirculate through the home.

Make sure the home is properly ventilated. Bathrooms and kitchens are both major contributors to the humidity of the home, and they need to be properly vented. Check exhaust vents to make sure they are free of obstruction and working properly so that excess moisture and pollutants can be removed.

Utilize a dehumidifier. After the winter passes, most humidifiers are placed in storage until the dryer months of summer arrive. Using a dehumidifier in its place will maintain a balanced indoor environment by removing excess moisture from the air, which will help to prevent issues such as the development of mold and mildew.

Source: T. Webber

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Spring Forward

February 27, 2018 12:51 am

Whether you like it or not, if you live in an area of the country that follows Daylight Savings Time, you're about to spring forward—and lose an hour of sleep. Here are five ways to ease that transition.

Go to sleep earlier. If you head to bed an hour earlier, you won't lose that hour of sleep. Start a few days before the timehop for best results. First, hop in fifteen minutes earlier. Then aim for a half hour. Then forty-five minutes. By the time you're heading to bed an hour earlier, your body will be well adjusted.  

Find the sunlight. The day before the time switch, expose yourself to some natural sunlight to give you an energy boost and avoid feeling groggy the following day. Take a walk, read a book in the park or simply sit outside and call a friend.

Avoid a large, late dinner. When trying to moderate your sleep schedule, avoid a heavy meal before bed, as it can disrupt sleep. Instead, try and eat earlier and then have a small snack an hour or so before hitting the sheets.

Moderate caffeine. Even if you're feeling that 4:00 p.m. slump, try to avoid caffeine past 2:00 p.m. leading up to Daylight Savings Time. Consuming caffeine late in the day can throw off your natural rhythm even further than the time switch.

Create an environment for sleep. Make sure your bedroom promotes deep sleep by nixing electronics (no TV in bed for you!), keeping your space quiet and clutter-free, and adjusting the temperature to one ideal for sleep: between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Busting Myths About Electric Heat Pumps

February 23, 2018 1:03 am

(Family Features)--Like any technology, ductless heat pumps need to be used properly, and under the right conditions, in order to achieve maximum value. Learn how to get the most benefit from a ductless heat pump by debunking four of the biggest misconceptions about these devices.

Myth: They are more expensive to run than oil or gas heaters.
Fact: Multiple studies show that electric heat pumps save between $1,000-2,000 annually in energy costs, depending on the system's efficiency, condition of the original equipment and climatic region.

Myth: They collect and distribute bacteria.
Fact: All split-ductless heat pumps have filters to gather and capture bacteria before it has a chance to grow. In fact, many indoor units include anti-allergy enzyme filters designed to reduce germs, bacteria and viruses in the space.

Myth: They are only suitable for new construction.
Fact: Ductless and hybrid (short duct run) heat pumps can provide superior efficiency levels and improved comfort in all homes, new and old.

Myth: They don't work in cold climates.
Fact: Some systems, such as those offered by Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating, offer a Hyper-Heat boost for especially cold climates. These systems deliver 100-percent heating capacity at 5°F outdoor ambient temperature and offer performance down to -13°F outdoor ambient temperature.

Source: Mitsubishi

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Retiring? Think Beyond the Beach

February 23, 2018 1:03 am

Starting to think about where your post-career phase of life might take you? Well if golf courses and beach communities are not what come to mind when you think about retirement, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

With about 4 million baby boomers retiring each year, it’s no surprise that the location options are expanding. While warm weather states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas and Georgia are still top choices, more and more of today’s retirees are opting for hardier climates - with states like Colorado, Pennsylvania and Maine making Forbes 2017 list of best places to retire.

Also growing in popularity are urban locations, with many choosing to stay in place or downsize to urban centers. Cities offer high walkability scores, boundless options for entertainment and culture, and quick access to transportation and quality healthcare.

If city life is your option for retirement, do your research and talk to local real estate professionals to rate any city you’re considering on the following factors suggested by the Milken Institute:

- Affordability
- Safety
- Convenience
- Aging-friendly housing options
- Access and safety of public transportation
- Community engagement
- Cultural offerings

Of course, pedestrian-friendly streets and a strong local economy are important as well. Remember, city life can be within your reach, no matter what your age.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Take Ladder Safety to New Heights

February 23, 2018 1:03 am

While a necessity for any homeowner, ladders can present a myriad of hazards when not used properly. In fact, according to a recent study from the American Ladder Institute (ALI), the two most cited causes of ladder accidents were missing the last step and overarching, followed closely by failure to use three points of contact and simply using the wrong type ladder for the job at hand.

The good news is these accidents and others can be easily prevented with some common-sense caution. ALI recommends doing the following to “step-up” ladder safety:

- Make sure you’re using the right type of ladder for the job. Choosing one that’s too tall or too short can set the stage for an accident.

- Make sure that the ladder is set up correctly. Make sure the ground underneath the ladder is firm and level.

- Be sure to carefully inspect the ladder you’re using for damage or wear and tear. Clean the climbing and gripping surfaces if they haven’t been used in a while.

- Likewise, make sure the soles of your shoes are clean to avoid slipping on the ladder.

- Don’t use ladders in bad weather - this just increases the odds of an accident.

- If you’re feeling under the weather or at all prone to dizziness or balance issues, leave the ladder duties to someone else, or hire a professional.

- Use towlines, a tool belt or an assistant to help pass materials so that your hands are free when climbing.

- While on the ladder, make sure you’re always maintaining three points of contact.

With these few simple, but critical, precautions, you can get a variety of DIY jobs done around the house safely.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Selling Your Home? Attack Issues Head-on

February 22, 2018 12:42 am

You’ve finally made the decision to put your home on the market - now comes the tough part: making sure it’s ready for prospective buyers.

According to Buddy Stark, director of operations for HomeTeam Inspection Service, there are several steps home sellers should take before beginning the selling process and having a home inspection. Here’s what he recommends:

Clean the house. This may seem like an obvious one, but you must keep your home at a heightened level of clean on an ongoing basis in anticipation of a showing. An ultra-clean home will convey that it's been well cared for and that the house is less susceptible to any issues caused by neglect.

Check all windows. Take a quick inventory of your windows to make sure they're in good working order. Replace windows that are cracked or broken before the inspection to save time during the selling process.

Finish the “honey-do” list. You might not think that certain areas of your home have anything to do with your home’s appeal, but they will come up as safety concerns on a home inspection report. Replace burnt-out lightbulbs, test smoke detectors, replace air filters and unclog drains. These little things are easy to forget in day-to-day life, but taking care of them is a relatively easy task that will help potential buyers focus on the important systems of the home.

Check all outlets. A sampling of electrical outlets will be tested as part of the home inspection to make sure they're in good working order. Take note of which outlets are not functioning in the home and replace them. Or consider hiring an electrician to make sure both outlets and the electrical box are updated and in proper working condition.

Clear areas for easy access. Home inspectors will be looking at the major parts of the home, including the foundation, HVAC systems, electrical systems, plumbing and even the water heater. Making sure home inspectors can easily access these areas, including the basement and attic, will save time during the inspection process.

Consider a pre-listing inspection. Having an inspection conducted before the selling process, will allow you to take care of issues that may arise later, clearing the way for a smooth - and speedy - sale.

Source: HomeTeam Inspection

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Bedroom Upgrades that Won't Break the Bank

February 22, 2018 12:42 am

(Family Features)--Upgrading your bedroom might sound like a daunting task. You may assume it costs an arm and a leg, takes months and requires professionals to complete. However, upgrading your bedroom doesn't have to mean breaking the bank, or your back. Investing in a few quality upgrades to some bedroom essentials can make your life less stressful and more cost- and energy-effective.

Whether you've moved to a new space, or just want a fresh look and feel, these are four unique, functional additions you can make to your bedroom.

Smart Lighting
Lighting makes the difference between a cozy, inviting escape and a cold, fluorescently lit room. You can upgrade your traditional bedroom with high-tech, smart lightbulbs, which can save you money in the long-run due to their energy efficiency. These lightbulbs are often dimmable, feature Wi-Fi capability and can be controlled from a central hub, like your phone, via manufacturer or third-party apps.

Adjustable Base
An adjustable base can help take your sleep to new heights. Today, adjustable bases come in a variety of designs and sizes, and are usually discrete and sturdy. If you suffer from neck pain or back pain, sleeping in a reclined position in an adjustable bed can help decrease the pressure on your spine by creating an angle between your thighs and trunk, according to Healthline. Bases are easily customizable, usually via remote, so you can find your favorite bed position, whether you're sleeping, reading or lounging.  

Blackout Curtains
The right curtains can help pull together the look of a room, change the perceived size, impact the lighting, reduce noise and even help with temperature control, especially if you have older windows. There are a variety of size and color options to choose from at different price points, so you can spend less time adjusting your thermostat and more time enjoying your sleep space.

Self-Adhesive Wallpaper
Self-adhesive wallpaper is one way to upgrade your entire bedroom. There are trendy, customizable options available that are easy to install. The right wall color can bring together the aesthetic of a room, and peel-and-stick wallpaper can provide it without the mess and fumes of traditional wall paint. Self-adhesive wallpaper can be applied to any flat surface, so you're not just limited to walls, and if you change your mind, it's removable and residue-free.

Remember, you don't have to rush and upgrade your entire bedroom all at one time. To ensure you're getting the best value, look for deals on specific items throughout the year and rely on retailers such as Mattress Firm that can help stretch your budget, offering you more for less.

Source: Mattress Firm

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Cookware Gets Healthy

February 20, 2018 12:42 am

Americans’ growing focus on fitness and nutrition has found its way into our kitchens - not just in terms of the food in the fridge, but the cookware on our counters and stoves as well. Consider some of these items to get your kitchen tools on point with your health goals:

Kombucha maker. At this year’s Atlanta Gift and Home Furnishings Market, Typhoon Homewares introduced a line of fermentation and kombucha-making sets under its Kilner brand. Known for its high levels of probiotics, antioxidants and vitamins, Kombucha is a fermented tea that has become increasingly popular among the health-conscious. This line now allows you to make it at home as opposed to paying the high prices often found in stores.

Rice cookers. From all varieties of pressure cookers - including the latest sensation, the InstaPot - to simple rice cookers, these handy counter-top gadgets allow you to quickly cook all varieties of rice and grains, including super nutritious quinoa and couscous.

Green and copper pans. The eco-friendly GreenPan or increasingly popular copper pans offer the benefit of non-stick surfaces, which means you can cook without fats, like oils and butters. To preserve these pans, use only wooden or plastic utensils. Metal will scratch and ruin the non-stick surface, essential to avoiding those unhealthy fats.

Herb and veggie preservers. Our best efforts at using more fresh herbs and vegetables often go to waste as these items go bad before we can finish them. There are several inexpensive gadgets that help preserve fresh herbs and veggies longer, however, such as Food Huggers that fit snuggly over those half cut fruits and vegetables.

Blenders, big and small. Whether you go all out with a Vitamix, or keep it simple with a NutriBullet, it’s easy these days to make a quick, nutrient-dense smoothie, soup or dip. There’s something to fit everyone’s kitchen and budget.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

7 Cost-Effective Ways to Reduce Heating Bills

February 20, 2018 12:42 am

(Family Features)--Many homeowners think big when trying to find effective solutions to skyrocketing heating bills, like replacing the furnace or installing new windows, but there are plenty of smaller projects that can make a difference when it comes to your energy savings this winter.

Consider these tips to keep your home cozy without your energy bill putting a damper on the season:

Take advantage of solar heat.
Installing solar panels is one sure way to capture the sun's energy, but there are other ways to harness that heat. Unobscured windows and skylights can let the rays in, and with them comes some heat. Leave curtains open during the day and trim foliage outdoors to provide a clear path for sunlight. Just be sure windows are well-sealed so you're not offsetting any heat gain with a cool draft.

Install or upgrade your heat pump.
Heat pumps work differently than traditional cooling and heating systems. They recycle heat found in the air and ground, moving thermal energy between indoors and outdoors instead of generating it from scratch by burning fossil fuels. When properly installed, an air-source heat pump can deliver one-and-one-half to three times more heat energy to a home than the electrical energy it consumes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

They can save electricity costs by 30-40 percent.
In particularly cold climates, technology is making it possible to reap energy-saving benefits. An option such as the Hyper-Heating Inverter(r) from Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating offers a significant advancement in heat pumps. This technology uses an intelligent compressor system to deliver heat even when outdoor temperatures are as low as -13 F, and a quick-start feature provides warm air instantly.

Move furniture away from vents.
Free air flow is an important component of efficient heating and obstructed vents interrupt that process. Not only can furniture be damaged from the continual air flow of a vent, it can block the circulation patterns that were intended when your home's ductwork was installed. For optimum efficiency, avoid placing furniture on top of vents, and if it's impossible to avoid, close those vents so the airflow is directed elsewhere.

Reverse your ceiling fans.
Your ceiling fans can play an important role in air circulation. Leaving them off will obviously make rooms warmer, but some circulation can be a good thing. Most fans offer a switch that lets you reverse the fan direction, which pushes air upward instead of down. This makes for less of a cooling effect while still moving air for better temperature distribution.

Install a programmable thermostat.
A degree or two may not feel like much of a difference, but it's a change you'll definitely see on your energy bill. Just a small adjustment in your standard thermostat setting can result in reductions of 5 or even 10 percent of your overall bill. Another potential big-impact strategy: adjust temperatures when you're away from home. A programmable thermostat will let you turn temps down when no one is there to benefit from the warmth, then bring them back up shortly before you're scheduled to return home. When you're away unexpectedly or need to adjust your typical schedule, an option like the kumo cloud(r) mobile app offered by Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating allows control of your home's cooling and heating system from your smartphone or other connected device.

Adjust your hot water heater.
Not only can keeping the air comfortable add up, so can heating water for basic household functions. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that water heating is the second largest energy expense in most homes. However, you may have your heater set higher than necessary. For every 10-degree drop, you can expect to reduce energy costs by 3-5 percent.

Insulate the attic.
A poorly sealed or insulated attic can be among a home's biggest energy drains. Warm air naturally rises, but rather than recirculating throughout the home, it may be wasted if it's just escaping out of the attic. Sealing cracks and adding insulation can help reduce this loss. Don't overlook the access door, which can allow warm air to escape if it fits poorly or isn't well-sealed.

Source: Mitsubishi

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Ways to Make Hard Conversations Easier

February 20, 2018 12:42 am

Whether it's a big talk with the boss, a deep process with your partner, or breaking some hard news to your folks, communication is hard when the stakes are raised. Below are three tips to help.

Work on body language. You know what your mouth is saying, but what about your body? It can be hard to move outside your mind and examine your body language. Are you closed or folded with arms and legs crossed? Is your body pointing away from your conversation partner? Pay mind to your body language before you begin speaking and monitor it as you go, too. This will help stop you from sending nonverbal messages that may not align with your words.

Know what you want. It may seem ridiculous, but so many of us enter important conversations without a clear outcome in mind. Whether you want something vague like to simply be heard, or a more pointed goal, such as securing a raise or dividing chores with your spouse, enter the conversation with a clear goal in mind. This will help mitigate unnecessary back and forth and keep you focused.

Create a calming ritual. If you're the type to get worked up before a big talk, create a calming ritual to have beforehand. Whether it's five minutes of meditation, a walk around the block with your pup, or a journaling session about what you hope to achieve from your talk, taking a moment to ground yourself can be helpful.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Springify Your Home

February 19, 2018 12:36 am

Winter got you down? Bring a little spring into your home long before the season arrives with these few simple tricks:

Set a flower budget. While it’s certainly not a necessary expense, adding an arrangement of fresh flowers to your home weekly might be well worth the mood-boosting value they bring. Opt for your local supermarket instead of the florist and stick with brightly colored mums, carnations and daisy to keep the investment low. Or up the springtime vide with a bouquet of pastel colored tulips

Force bulbs. If you can’t wait to see those first harbingers of spring pop up through the ground outdoors, plant some bulbs in a few pots around the house and watch them sprout and bloom long before the calendar turns to spring.

Trick your senses. There’s no law that says scented seasonal candles must be used in said season! Use the powerful sense of smell to make you feel like spring, even if the weather outside says otherwise. Try a lilac, hyacinth or rose scented candle, or take it a step further and light candles that smell like the beach or warm-weather fruits like peaches or watermelon.

Lighten your surroundings. There is also no decorating rule that says you must wait until spring to replace your heavy drapery with your airy sheers. Doing so will instantly brighten your mood by letting more natural light and sunshine in.

Start your veggies from scratch. Make a small investment in a few indoor potting supplies and start your tomato and other vegetables from seed this year. Choose a sunny window and watch them sprout. By the time the weather is ready for them outdoors, they’ll be strong enough to plant.By taking these few simple steps, you’ll be feeling like spring in no time!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Find Out the Truth About Tap Water

February 19, 2018 12:36 am

(Family Features)--While the tap water you drink may look clean, it may contain harmful contaminants like lead, pesticides and industrial pollutants. These and others may be picked up on the journey from your water treatment plant through miles of pipes to your home.

To help clear up any misconceptions about what's really in your water, the experts at PUR offer this myth-busting advice:

Myth: Living close to a fresh water source makes tap water safer to drink.

Truth: Even if you live close to a fresh water source, your water goes on a long journey through an often aging infrastructure before it reaches your tap. According to Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc., up to 10 million lead service lines are still in use in the country today, potentially allowing lead particles to enter into your water.

Myth: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates all contaminants.

Truth: There are about 100,000 potential contaminants in drinking water. According to the EPA, its Safe Drinking Water Act only regulates 103. That means water that meets the government's safe drinking standards may not meet yours.

Myth: All water filters are created equal.

Truth: While both pitcher and faucet filters remove unwanted contaminants, a faucet filter is usually a step up from a pitcher because it has a longer life and can remove even more contaminants, including lead.  As every brand is different, it's important to check the types of contaminants each filter removes and confirm it is certified by NSF and the Water Quality Association for contamination reduction. Doing so can help you get the healthiest, cleanest tasting water possible.

Myth: You can determine if tap water is safe to drink by how it looks, smells and tastes.

Truth: While your water might look, smell and taste clean, it could contain contaminants that are potentially harmful to your health, like lead, which is colorless, odorless and has no taste.

"Knowing what's in the water you drink and cook with is important, but determining the quality of your local water supply can seem daunting," says Keri Glassman, registered dietitian, nutritionist and PUR spokesperson. "Fortunately, there's a free online resource called that allows users to type in any address to easily learn about lead and other possible contaminants in their water."

Myth: Boiling water removes lead.

Truth: Boiling water may reduce bacteria found in the water, but will not remove lead. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead concentration of water can actually increase slightly when water is boiled because some of the water evaporates during the boiling process.

Myth: Drinking filtered water is expensive.

Truth: Using a faucet filtration system for one year is comparable in cost to purchasing enough bottled water to last only two months. Some solutions,like the PUR Advanced Faucet Filtration System, work on-demand to filter water right from the tap and are certified to reduce over 70 contaminants, including 99 percent of lead, 96 percent of mercury and 92 percent of certain pesticides.

Get your individual water quality report and learn more at

Source: PUR

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Tips to Deal with Stock Market Volatility

February 19, 2018 12:36 am

A volatile stock market can be stressful for anyone who has invested a chunk of change.  Here, Aadil Zaman and Syed Nishat of the Wall Street Alliance Group, offer their top 5 tips for successfully navigating through market volatility:

Be mentally prepared for market declines. Market corrections are an essential part of a healthy market. At any point in time, an investor should be prepared for a 10 percent to 20 percent pullback. If the recent two-days fall made some investors feel restless and stressed, then it may be time to reassess their risk exposure to make it more conservative. On the other hand, corrections present an opportunity for those investors who are sitting on a large amount of cash to identify entry points in the market to put their money to work.

Factor in rising interest rates. Recent data has shown that the economy is improving with unemployment falling and GDP growth increasing, which will eventually lead to inflation pressures. One of the responsibilities of the Federal Reserve is to control inflation, and this is accomplished by raising interest rates. As the market adjusts to the realization of higher interest rates, it may fluctuate. Therefore, while designing an investment strategy, it is essential to take higher future interest rates into consideration.

Watch the municipal bond market. Volatility could cause a short-term fall in the municipal bond market, which may create an opportunity for investors who are in a higher tax bracket. Consider that a yield to maturity of 3.5 percent per year on a high grade insured municipal bond that is trading at par is equivalent to making a 5.83 percent per year after tax return for someone who is in the 40 percent tax bracket - and that too, with very low risk.

Stay away from leveraged ETFs. Leveraged ETFs are bad news for the individual investor. These are complexed products that are often misunderstood and could cause market volatility as well as distortions.

Identify your worst-case scenario. This is an important exercise for investors, so they can understand their pain threshold. At present, the likelihood of a market decline to the extent of what happened in 2008 is low, however, one should always ask, "What if 2008 happens again?" Understanding this worst-case scenario will help investors stay calmer and have an investment approach that is closely aligned with their individual level of risk tolerance.

With greater participation in the stock market through machine trading, ETFs and robo advisors, volatility is here to stay. For this reason, it is important for investors to take into account a high degree of market fluctuation in their portfolio design. As everyone’s situation is unique, be sure to discuss any decisions with your financial advisor.

Source: Wall Street Alliance Group

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Easy Ideas for Celebrating Presidents’ Day With Your Kids

February 15, 2018 1:12 am

Looking for a neat way to celebrate Presidents’ Day with your tot? Below are a few fun ideas perfect for an easy afternoon.

Have a history lesson. Depending on how old your kids are, take them on a little history tour. Focus on your favorite president, or a specific time period. Look online for easy lessons or videos to share.

Do a presidential craft project. Red, white and blue collages? Presidential mobile? A White House inspired gingerbread house? The options are endless when it comes to president-inspired crafts.

Decorate the house. Now that you have that presidential art project finished, use it to help your child decorate the house. Add a red tablecloth and some blue balloons, or deck out your kid's bedroom together.

Cook a meal fit for a president. Cooking together is a great way to bond, and at the end of it, you have a delicious meal. Sit down with your child and plan a fancy lunch or dinner menu fit for the White House, take them shopping for ingredients, and hit the kitchen.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Times to Put Your Phone Away

February 15, 2018 1:12 am

Just about all of us could benefit from a device diet. While a boon on so many levels, sometimes smartphones have gone too far in permeating our lives. A great way to detach even just a little bit, is to create boundaries around certain times and events, making them non-negotiable device-free zones for you and your loved ones.

Here are four places to consider making your phone off-limits:

Dinner. Hopefully, this is already a rule for many of you. But take a look around the next restaurant you’re at and you’ll see that’s not the case for a lot of people. Mealtime, especially dinner, is meant for relaxing and meaningfully connecting with friends and family. Everyone is so busy all day long, we need this hour for ourselves, don’t you think? Plus, not only is the social component important, but slow, mindful eating is important for your body, as well. If there are reasons you must have your device handy, such as a baby at home with a sitter, keep it on vibrate in your pocket, then check it when you use the restroom. Also, remember the old-fashioned way: give the sitter the name of the restaurant you’re going to so he or she can call there in case of an emergency.

The Movies. This is a rule in most movie theaters, yet we continue to see the haunting glow of mobile devices popping up throughout the audience. Enjoy the art of seeing a movie on the big screen and leave your small screen in your pocket - if not for yourself, out of respect for the rest of the people who paid $17 to get lost in an old-school cinematic experience.

Waiting in Line. This one’s a challenge, but well worth it. Research has shown that our creative thinking abilities are being diminished by our constant occupation with our mobile device every time we have a spare moment to kill. So, next time you’re in line at Starbucks or at the airport, resist the urge to pull out your phone and instead...let your mind wander. Maybe even strike up a conversation with the person in front of you. You never know where this exercise could lead.

A Concert. While mobile devices allow us to blast out on social that we’re at the concert of the year, as well as film the entire set, the downside is that we’re starting to miss the point - we’re at a live concert! So, take a couple of pictures, capture your favorite song, then put the phone away and immerse yourself in the concert experience - the crowd, the singing along, the lights, the performance. If you’re posting, snapchatting, tweeting, etc., sure, you’re telling the world you were there…but were you really there?

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How to Claim Tax Credit for Retirement Savings

February 15, 2018 1:12 am

It's tax time, and you're claiming those office expenses and miles logged getting to and from work, but are you taking the "Saver's Credit"? The Saver's Credit, also referred to as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit by the Internal Revenue Service, is available to eligible taxpayers who are saving for retirement, yet 64 percent of workers are unaware of the credit, according to the 18th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey.

"As a tax credit, the Saver's Credit is an important incentive to save for retirement in a 401(k), 403(b) or IRA. By saving for retirement and claiming the credit, eligible taxpayers may be able to lower their federal income taxes," says Catherine Collinson, president of nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. "Millions of Americans who are already saving for retirement could be missing out on the Saver's Credit simply because they don't know it exists. Among those who are not yet saving for retirement, the Saver's Credit could be the incentive they need to get started."

What Is the Saver's Credit?

The Saver's Credit is a non-refundable tax credit that may be applied up to the first $2,000 of voluntary contributions an eligible worker makes to a 401(k), 403(b) or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan, or a traditional or Roth IRA. The maximum credit is $1,000 for single filers or individuals and $2,000 for married couples.

"The Saver's Credit is a tax credit in addition to the benefit of tax-advantaged savings when contributing to a 401(k), 403(b) or IRA. Many eligible retirement savers may be confusing these two incentives because the notion of a double tax benefit seems too good to be true," says Collinson.

Who Can Claim the Saver's Credit?

The credit is available to workers ages 18 years or older who have contributed to a company-sponsored retirement plan or IRA in the past year and meet the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) requirements:

- Single filers with an AGI of up to $31,000 in 2017 or $31,500 in 2018 are eligible;

- For the head of a household, the AGI limit is $46,500 in 2017 or $47,250 in 2018; and,

- For those who are married and file a joint return, the AGI limit is $62,000 in 2017 or $63,000 in 2018.

Additionally, the filer cannot be a full-time student and cannot be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return.

How Can Workers Claim the Saver's Credit?

"Workers who are eligible to receive the Saver's Credit are at risk of missing it if they use the wrong tax form. If you are eligible to claim the Saver's Credit, you should use Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR. The Saver's Credit is not available on Form 1040EZ," says Collinson.

Another important and potentially overlooked opportunity is the IRS Free File program. Workers who are eligible to claim the Saver's Credit are also eligible to take advantage of this program that offers federal income tax preparation software for free to tax filers with an AGI of $66,000 or less. Unfortunately, a concerning 55 percent of workers are unaware of this program, according to the 18th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. Twelve companies make their tax preparation software available through this program at Certain restrictions may apply.

Tips for claiming the Saver's Credit:

- If you’re using tax preparation software to prepare your tax return, including those programs offered through the IRS Free File program, use Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR. The credit is not available with Form 1040EZ. If your software has an interview process, be sure to answer questions about the Saver's Credit, also referred to as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit and/or Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

- If you’re preparing your tax return manually, complete Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to determine your exact credit rate and amount. Then, transfer the amount to the designated line on Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR.

- If you’re using a professional tax preparer, be sure to ask about the Saver's Credit.

- If you receive a refund, consider directly depositing it into an IRA to further boost your retirement savings.

"Please spread the word about the Saver's Credit by telling your family, friends and colleagues – and be sure to check whether you're eligible. Many people who contributed to a 401(k) plan or IRA in 2017 are eligible to receive it, but may be missing out because they don't know about it," says Collinson. "Those who are eligible but did not save last year can still contribute to an IRA until April 17, 2018 and may be able to claim the Saver's Credit for 2017."

Source: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Should You Spend the Rest of Winter Prepping to Sell This Spring?

February 12, 2018 12:51 am

Many of us like nothing more than binging on Netflix or a series of good books during the waning weeks of winter.

But if there is even a chance that you might put your home on the market in 2018, a number of sources say the time to start preparing is at hand.

Brent Ash at says now is the time to make your home sale-ready. Small home improvement projects will add curb appeal to your property and make the selling process as smooth as possible.

Ash suggests conducting a pre-listing conversation with a trusted contractor to catch any red flags that can prevent the sale from taking place. He says by identifying and correcting major issues now, you will gain peace of mind throughout the selling process.

For anyone who can move their home to the launch pad sooner than later, that agent says the remaining days of winter are a great time to list, as prospective buyers looking through late 2017 have exhausted limited inventory, and new buyers are 'moving in' to their home search as well.

Real estate professional Kelly Maguire says sellers should be sure to request and review a comparative market analysis (CMA), which will provide an initial snapshot of your home’s value.

Keep in mind that pricing and market conditions can change between now and the time you list, Maguire says, but knowing where you stand today will be helpful in planning both your sale and your next purchase.
One New York metro REALTOR agreed strongly, saying that pricing your house correctly is most critical when you first enter the market.

But the first thing to do is take a good walk through your property or ask someone like a trusted family member or friend to look at your home with the eyes of a prospective buyer and honestly evaluate your home objectively – with all its positives and negatives.

Next, get to work putting the property in tip top shape ahead of your 2018 listing!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips to Help Prevent or Identify Vision Loss

February 12, 2018 12:51 am

Many of us will need glasses in our lifetime, even if we have 20/20 vision in our youth. However, there are some things you can do to prevent vision loss, or at least identify it and treat is quickly.

Lighthouse Guild offers the following tips:

Get regular eye exams. Vision screenings and eye exams are critical to maintaining eye health. Comprehensive dilated eye exams for adults can help detect glaucoma, macular degeneration and other serious eye diseases that can lead to blindness. Vision screenings can help detect problems, such amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, in children.

Speak up if your vision changes. If you notice blurry spots, blurred vision, halos surrounding lights, eyes that itch or burn, black spots or "floaters," double vision, tearing or watering eyes, or if you find yourself squinting or having trouble reading or watching television, it's time to make an appointment. An eye doctor should be made aware of any gradual changes in your vision so the necessary action can be taken to maintain eye health.

Seek urgent care. Seek urgent care if you experience sudden and/or severe eye pain, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, light flashes, or if your eyes turn bright red. Any of these could indicate a severe problem and should be addressed immediately.

Get UV-protected sunglasses. Tinted glasses will not necessarily protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. It is important to get good quality eyewear that provides both UVA and UVB coverage to protect your eyes properly.

Give your eyes a rest from the effects of digital eye strain. This type of eye strain—also known as computer vision syndrome—doesn't permanently damage eyesight, but symptoms could include burning or tired eyes, headaches, neck pain, fatigue, blurred or double vision. To rest your eyes, it's good to look up from your work every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds (the 20-20-20 rule).

Dr. Laura Sperazza, Director of Low Vision Services at Lighthouse Guild, says, "The most important thing you can do to protect your vision is to get an eye exam.  If you find out you're in the early stages of an eye disease, your eye care professional will help you maintain the highest possible level of eye health and visual function."

Source: Lighthouse Guild

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How-to Ward off Winter Sport Injuries

February 12, 2018 12:51 am

For those of us who love to hit the slopes, winter is the most exciting time of year. But with winter sports often involving high speeds and cold temperatures, it's no wonder they're some of the most dangerous activities around. Below are some tips for staying safe, from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

Ski and snowboard boots must fit properly. When tightly fastened, your boots should be free of pressure points that might cause blisters. Ankles and heels should remain securely in place.

All boots should be snug but not overly tight. Boots that are too tight can decrease blood flow and make cold-weather injuries such as frostbite more likely. But a common mistake is to buy a boot that's too large and allows the foot to shimmy. A snug boot will allow you to wiggle your toes, but too much wiggle means the boot is too large.

Make sure footwear provides warmth, and wear socks that are breathable and moisture-wicking so your feet will stay dry. Keeping feet and toes warm and dry is critical when you're on the slopes for long periods.

If you're buying your first pair of ski or snowboard boots, consult a boot fitter at your local sporting goods store.These professionals will help you find the proper fit for your sport.

Source: American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society

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Could 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rates Hit 5 Percent?

February 9, 2018 1:03 am

A growing number of experts are predicting the protracted period of historically low mortgage rates may be drawing to an end in 2018.

Tim Lucas at reported that as 2018 arrived, mortgage rates hit their 26th week holding below 4 percent - but within two weeks, the average 30-year rate nationwide escalated to 4.15 percent.

He showed all the following sources predicting higher rates for 2018:
- Mortgage Bankers Association: 4.6 percent
- Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac: 4.5 percent
- 4.6 percent average, reaching  percent by year-end
- National Association of Realtors: 4.5 percent
- Kiplinger: 4.4 percent
- National Association of Home Builders: 4.34 percent

At, Natalie Campisi pointed out that mortgage rates inched up every week during January. She said the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose 11 basis points to 4.38 percent - the highest point since last March.

The folks at reported that real estate industry data provider CoreLogic averaged six forecasts of mortgage rates, arriving at a consensus that the 30-year fixed will average 4.7 percent by December 2018. says interest rates are notoriously resistant to prediction, though, harkening back to the beginning of 2017 when most expected mortgage rates to rise steadily for months, but they only rose for a few weeks.

The average 30-year fixed peaked at 4.58 percent last March before it reversed, dipping slightly to 4 percent a few times in the summer, before ticking upward slightly in the fall.

Trendwatchers at say if their economic growth and inflation forecasts hold, then the The Federal Open Market Committee or FOMC will likely raise rates three to four times in 2018. However, predicts those anticipated rate increases will be gradual, allowing housing market activity to maintain momentum.

While Freddie Mac's baseline forecast is sanguine about the path of the U.S. economy and housing markets today, its experts are watching three factors closely: whether another recession is looming; if housing markets respond to declining affordability; and whether young adults will step up moving into the housing market.
We'll also be watching these factors - stay tuned.

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Four Mistakes That Could Make Your Cruise Travel Insurance Worthless

February 9, 2018 1:03 am

Heading out on a cruise this year? How exciting! Booked travel insurance just in case? Good on you! However, it's important to pay mind to the fine print of your travel insurance so you don't end up with a void claim. Squaremouth offers the following insights:

Mistake No. 1: Waiting Until There's Bad Weather to Get Travel Insurance

Travel insurance only covers unexpected situations; once a hurricane or winter storm has been given a name, it's too late for travel insurance.

Expert Tip: While travel insurance can be bought up until the day before you leave for your trip, make sure to get your policy early if you're worried about future weather issues, before a hurricane or winter storm is named.

Mistake No. 2: Drinking Alcohol and Assuming Your Medical Emergencies are Covered
Travel insurance can cover expensive cruise ship medical costs unless the traveler is intoxicated. This is a common exclusion in most policies.

Expert Tip: Travel insurance providers will not always know if travelers were drinking alcohol at the time of an injury or illness, however, providers will require documentation during the claims process, such as medical records or a police report.

Mistake No. 3: Assuming Your Medical Emergencies are Covered During All Shore Excursions
Travel insurance covers medical emergencies whether travelers are on the cruise ship or on land, including shore excursions. Some travelers may be aware that there are exclusions on dangerous activities such as bungee jumping or skydiving, but many travelers may not realize that a policy may exclude lower impact activities like kayaking or riding in a hot air balloon.

Expert Tip: Look at the policy detail for each shore excursion you plan to participate in while on your cruise before you buy the policy. If the policy excludes the activity, choose another policy or consider getting the Hazardous Sports upgrade.

Mistake No. 4: Arriving to Your Port of Departure Early and Assuming You're Covered
Travelers may want to spend a few days at their Port of Departure before their cruise begins. Many travelers may assume they only need to get a policy for their cruise, but travel insurance is designed to cover travelers from doorstep to doorstep and does not allow coverage for only a portion of a trip.

Expert Tip: Make sure to enter the date that you leave your home and the date you return home when getting a travel insurance quote. If your travel dates change, you can call your provider and have them update your travel dates. This modification to your policy can be made up until the day before you leave for your trip.

Consider a 'Catch-All' Coverage
If the possibility of cancelling a vacation is the traveler's top concern, the only way to be sure they'll get a portion of their money back is with the upgraded Cancel For Any Reason coverage. This upgrade refunds travelers 75 percent of their costs if they cancel for a reason not listed in their policy, as long as they insure all of their trip costs and cancel at least two days before they're scheduled to leave.

Source: Squaremouth

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Which Building and Design Trends Will Impact Your Home in 2018?

February 8, 2018 1:12 am

The International Builders' Show (IBS), held January 9 - 11 in Orlando, Fla. during national Design & Construction Week, is a meeting of minds for building and design trends. This year, the folks at were quick to blog about the cultural shift they saw toward mindfulness and creating a home sanctuary - especially evident in bathroom designs as well as outdoor living spaces.

Managing editor Kriss Swint noted the increasing prevalence of blues and greens being used in these spaces create a feeling of calm, serenity and escape. also pointed out the continuing expansion of Scandinavian design influence - sleek, simple and clean lines built on the principles of affordability, simplicity, and functionality that Swint and company expect will continue to dominate every facet of interior and exterior design in 2018.

Rexy Legaspi at observed that major strides in technology like smart locks and smart vent hoods were a few of the tools that were unveiled at IBS 2018. Legaspi also said “personal assistant” technology like Siri and Alexa are expected to evolve to even more advanced and sophisticated functionality.

Legaspi said multi-generational homes and aging-in-place designs are expected to increase in popularity in 2018. He learned about one 5,188-square-foot, seven-bedroom reNEWable Living Home in Arizona that incorporates an urban-inspired loft for a young adult, a first-floor in-law suite, a tech-savvy space for a teenager, and an amazing master suite that overlooks the home’s pool.

In that model home, shared social spaces include a Great Room, kitchen, outdoor living space, a game room, and pool area. The home’s two-story floor plan allows family members their desired private space/retreats and at the same time provides comfortable, homey areas where they can relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Besides widespread European influences, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) noticed many more exhibitors promoting hurricane impact products this year, along with large multi-slide doors that are offering even more colors and directing more emphasis to outdoor living spaces.

Stay tuned for more evolving information on design trends.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Ward off Winter Illness

February 8, 2018 1:12 am

Think you can't outrun that cold that's going around? Think again! Here are five ways to ward off winter illness and keep you smiling until spring.

Eat fresh. Don't let the cool weather turn you towards junk food. Continue choosing fresh produce and healthy eats to keep your body happy. Avoid eating to many processed foods, sugar and alcohol, all of which can wear down your system and make you prone to catching that office flu.

Pop a supplement. Taking a supplement to ward off colds can really help. Talk to your doctor about what's best, but health aids with zinc and vitamin C tend to help.

Stay active. It's understandable that cold months make you want to hibernate, but being physically active keeps your immune system humming. If you don't mind the snowy weather, pick up a winter sport like snowing, ski boarding or simply walking outdoors when conditions are safe. Not a fan of frost? Join a gym or a hot yoga studio.

Rest more. It's natural to need more rest in the winter as our circadian rhythm adjusts. Allow yourself to hit snooze and, if you can, tuck into bed an hour earlier.

Wash your hands. Your mother was right when she reminded you to wash, wash, wash your hands. At work and out in public, take a break every once and a while to suds up your hands, and try as hard as you can to keep them away from your face and avoid finger foods unless you've just washed.

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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking Travel Online

February 8, 2018 1:12 am

Traveling is exciting and fun - and planning for your trip should be too. To help, offers the following insights on what mistakes can create a headache as you book travel online.

Check Your Airport Codes. You're looking for a cheap flight to Orlando, Florida. As you begin your search, you see ORD populate. The kids are screaming with excitement knowing they have endless theme parks ahead of them and you accidentally select that pre-populated option. Checking airport codes is one of the most important parts of purchasing travel online because instead of booking a trip to Orlando (MCO) you actually end up with a flight to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD).

Keep in mind that not all codes directly correspond to the city they are located in. Some match up nicely like Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS), but others can be misleading, such as ONT. This is the code for Ontario International Airport located near Los Angeles—not Ontario, Canada. Another frequent mistake occurs when a city with the same name exists in different countries, such as San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) and San Jose, California (SJC).

This mistake can easily be avoided by spelling out the exact destination in your search. Also, always double check your itinerary before booking. If you are unsure of the airport code, a simple internet search can help clarify.

Read the Fine Print. The Fare Rules and Regulations of a flight can be daunting. Small words that run pages and pages appear on a screen while all you want to do is complete your transaction. Policies and procedures are unique for every airline, flight, and ticket, and they can vary tremendously. Scan through the fine print and look for sections such as the following:

- Refunds: Not all flights are 100 percent refundable, even in the worst case scenario. If you don't see anything in this section specifically mentioning medical reasons, death, or bereavement there is no guarantee that you will be able to cancel your ticket for a full or partial refund.

- Changes: Most airlines charge a fee when a passenger requests a change to their ticket,

. including name changes, date changes, and origin or destination changes.

The Fare Rules will spell out exactly what you can do and how much it will cost.  If it doesn't explicitly say something, don't assume that it is allowed. Travel insurance is a great way to add extra security in case of any emergency situations that may occur.

Look Out For Additional Costs. These days, the airfare is only a small portion of the total cost of a flight. Ancillary fees can range from luggage surcharges, to seat selection fees, to the soda and snack box you buy on the plane. The pricing structure varies from airline to airline so it's important to be aware of what is mandatory versus what can be avoided. For example, you may be able to pay for your luggage online at a discounted rate as opposed to on the day of your flight. This will not only save you money, but it will also save you time on your travel day. It is recommended to calculate all the costs that come along with booking a certain ticket before actually booking. The fare plus all of the additional costs on one airline may end up being more expensive than an all-inclusive fare on another airline.

Make All of Your Preferences Known. Not every trip that is booked online is the same and neither is every traveler. If you have special circumstances that require attention, make them known as soon as possible. Some common requests are for special meals, handicapped persons, unaccompanied minors, or infants traveling on your lap. Make a list of your travel preferences and if they are not listed online in the booking process, contact a CheapOair customer care agent before booking for guidance on how to proceed.

Double Check the Confirmation. You are almost ready, but before you click "Book Now": DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING. Finalize your personal information and assure everything is correct. Remember that the name on your ticket must exactly match your driver's license or passport including first, middle, and last name. Pay attention to the spelling, numbered addresses, and contact information, your origin and destination, and of course the travel dates.

Once you've booked, make sure you receive your confirmation email, print out any necessary documents, and store them in a safe place. Always confirm any reservations a few days before a trip to make sure no changes have surfaced prior to your takeoff.


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4 Things to Teach Your Teens About Money

February 6, 2018 12:51 am

Even if they’ve received an allowance every month in return for doing household chores, the teen years are when many kids begin to earn money by doing ‘real’ jobs. Their first paychecks can be a valid source of pride—but also a temptation to spend.

This is the time to help your teen establish good money habits, financial advisors say. Money editors at The Motley Fool suggest four things parents should address:

Creating a budget. It’s important to know how much money is coming in, how much will be spent—and on what—and how much will be saved. Parents can share their own budgets, if they wish, or create an imagined scenario including those components. It’s a good way for kids to learn the connection between working, spending, and building wealth.

Real life has costs. Budgeting may help teens track where their money is going, but they should understand that real life has real life costs. If your teen has recently earned a driver’s license, for example, your insurance cost probably went up—which may mean making changes in your budget. Share that with your teens. You may or may not ask them to contribute, but it’s a good way for them to realize that life may carry unexpected costs.

How to read a paycheck. Show your kids how much is taken out of your paycheck for taxes, retirement, and health insurance, and the difference between gross and net income. It will help them realize, when they take those first ‘real’ jobs, that how much money they will have to spend out of each paycheck will be a lot less than they had figured.

The difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ debt. Teens should understand that money borrowed at a relatively low interest rate that helps you grow wealth over the long run, such as a student loan or a mortgage, is considered good debt. High-interest consumer debt, on the other hand—such as debt incurred for frivolous expenses or things you know you can’t afford—can bust your budget and become a crushing burden.

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How to Get the Best Deals on Airfare

February 6, 2018 12:51 am

Whether you're looking ahead to that summer vacation or a spring break getaway, it pays to be thrifty. To help, has released a list of tips and tricks for seniors and retirees on how to save money on travel this year.

Avoid Peak Travel Season. Every destination is busy at different times of the year. By doing a little research ahead of time, you can potentially save a lot of money by knowing when the airlines, hotels, and rental car companies are most in need of the business.

According to CheapOair's booking data from 2017, many popular international destinations saw large airfare difference between the slowest months and the busiest months.  

- Passengers that traveled from the U.S. to China in September 2017 instead of June 2017 on average saved 37 percent on airfare.

- Passengers that traveled from the U.S. to Spain in February 2017 instead of July 2017 on average saved 36 percent on airfare.

- Passengers that traveled from the U.S. to Australia in August 2017 instead of December 2017 on average saved 29 percent on airfare.

- Passengers that traveled from the U.S. to Italy in March 2017 instead of June 2017 on average saved 25 percent on airfare.

Consider all of your options before booking. Many airlines have recently changed their fare structures to have very low base fares, but then charge extra fees for things such as checked baggage, carry-on luggage, or seat selection. Before booking the lowest fare you see, read the fine print to double check what’s included and what’s not. Depending on your preferences, it may be worthwhile to book a more expensive (but more comprehensive) fare upfront to save money on the fees you could be charged later.

Be flexible with your dates. Booking engines like allow travelers to see the cheapest dates for travel even before selecting their intended travel dates. Since retirees are less time-constrained, consider taking advantage of the ability to fly on cheaper days.

Sign up for a travel credit card. Travel credit cards are a great way for frequent travelers to earn reward points that are redeemable for future travel.

Source: CheapOair  

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How to Safely Slow Cook

February 6, 2018 12:51 am

For those of us who live a busy life and still need to nourish ourselves and our families, slow cookers can be a huge help. Simply load up your cooker before work, set the timer, and go. However, according to the National Fire Protection Association, the popular kitchen appliance causes an average of 150 home structure fires per year. Erie Insurance offers these slow cooker tips for a safe slow-cooked meal.

Not everything is better with age. If you're just starting out and you've been "gifted" your mom's (or grandma's) old slow cooker, there's something to consider: age. While it might be in great working order, a vintage slow cooker from the '70s or '80s with an insert firmly attached to the heating element might need to be upgraded. Some older models also had vent holes or a notch in the lid for a spoon. Slow cooker lids should fit snugly. If it’s warped or has one of the above-mentioned features, steam and heat will escape.

Make the connection. It's important to regularly check the slow cooker's electrical cord. If there's any sign of wear or tear, it's time to buy a new one. Using a slow cooker with a broken plug or wire is a fire hazard.

Location, location, location. It's important to keep the slow cooker away from the edge of countertops, and this includes not having the cord dangle off the edge. The closer it is to the edge, the easier it is for a person (or pet) to bump it or knock it over.

Tips to simmer over. If you're curious to see if your slow cooker is in working order, you can do a simple water test. Older slow cookers may not work as well as they once did, and for temperature and food safety purposes, the water test (see below) will help you decide if you should keep it or toss it.

Fill the slow cooker 2/3 full with tap water (tepid water) and set it on the low setting. After eight hours, use a thermometer to check the water's temperature, which should be at least 185 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Every slow cooker is different, with varying specifications by make and model. Follow the manufacturer's directions and take heed of anything suspicious or concerning.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you pull out your slow cooker or any other small kitchen appliances.

Source: Erie Insurance  

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10 Tips for Making Healthier Choices, Year-Round

February 2, 2018 12:51 am

Many of us begin making healthier choices when a new year rolls around, but as February gets underway, these good intentions can often fall by the wayside. To help combat this, Giant's team of 11 nutritionists came together to share their 10 best tips for extending New Year's resolutions.

1. Find your motivation. Share your motivations with a close and trusted friend, coworker, or relative. They can cheer you on and remind you why you are pursuing change.

2. Make it fun. When it comes to fitness, find something you enjoy doing. Whether it's long walks, barre classes, martial arts, peaceful yoga or pick-up sports games, you're more likely to stick with it if you're having fun! Bored of the same routine? Try a new fitness class or meet with a staff member at your local gym or community center.

3. Amp up your hydration. This one is often overlooked, but it's key to overall health. Add an extra eight ounces of water to your day. More fluids will help you stay hydrated, and those extra walks to the restroom will increase your activity.

4. Try something new. Make 2018 the year of variety and trying new things. Start out by trying a new fruit or veggie each week before moving onto other food categories like grains or healthy oils.  

5. Load up on fruits and veggies. This rule is timeless for a reason. Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and/or vegetables at each meal or snack. If you're indulging with a few bites of a less healthy item or snack, you'll still have a half healthy plate.

6. Find a buddy. It's no secret that working toward and achieving goals is more fun with friends. Plus, when you share a similar objective, you can keep each other up-to-date on your progress and encourage one another along the way.

7. Get cooking. Work on easing yourself into a healthier routine by testing out one new recipe each week. Swap recipe ideas with family and friends to stay motivated. This is also a great way to incorporate tip four as you work to create recipes using one new ingredient each week.

8. Keep yourself accountable. Make a list of the top three reasons why you want to improve your health and stick it on the refrigerator or another space you see every day.  This constant visual will reinforce your new healthy habits.

9. Shop smart. Fill your shopping cart according to MyPlate recommendations. You can't eat half a plate of fruits and veggies at every meal if you don't buy half a grocery cart of fruits and veggies.  

10. Plan for the unexpected. Pack a tote of nutritious snacks when on the go–nuts, seeds, fruit, veggies–so that you won't reach for less healthy snack foods. This is great for day trips with the family or even just a busy day of errands. You'll be glad you didn't need to rely on that soft pretzel at the mall. You can also keep a small bag of nutritious snacks at the office or in your car.

Remember to keep your goals realistic. It's not necessary to attempt all of these tips at once, so pick one or two that seem manageable for you.Source:  Giant Food of Landover, Md.

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How to Prevent a Fire in Your Home

February 2, 2018 12:51 am

Whether you're a lover of candles or toasty fires in the fireplace, watching flames flicker from the comfort of your own home can be lovely. However, home fires are the leading cause of home damage, so keep the following safety measures in mind, courtesy of American Red Cross.

- Keep all potential sources of fuel–paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs–at least three feet away from sources of heat.
- Never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended.
- Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Look for space heaters that shut off automatically if they are to fall over.
- Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
-  Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen.

Source: American Red Cross

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4 Things to Do on Groundhog Day

February 1, 2018 1:09 am

Groundhog Day is nearing, and regardless of whether we get a few more weeks of winter or a splash of spring, below are a handful of ways to celebrate the peculiar tradition, with or without kids.

Learn about groundhogs. If you have kids—or if you're just curious—use Groundhog Day to dive deep into the internet or your local library and learn all about groundhogs. From nature documentaries about woodchucks to articles about the history of the day, bolster your brain with knowledge about this strange tradition and the animal that started it all.

Craft. From groundhog masks to finger painting, groundhog-themed crafts are endless if you're creative. Have kids? Make a few groundhog masks with construction paper, googly eyes and pipe cleaners, then take your troop outside to search for shadows.

Binge watch. If you're not a parent or a teacher and are looking to celebrate Groundhog Day with some good adult fun, create a cocktail bar or a selection of snacks, invite your pals over and have a party with 1993 Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day” on repeat in the background.   

Plant a tree. Groundhog Day is all about that search for spring, right? If your ground isn't frozen, consider using Groundhog Day to plant bare-rooted or root wrapped deciduous trees and shrubs.

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Winter Heating Safety From Sports to Space Heaters

February 1, 2018 1:09 am

Although chilly, winter can be a magical season full of cuddling by fires and flying down ski slopes. However, winter also brings many Americans to the emergency room annually. Read the following tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for navigating the winter weather safely.

Space Heaters – Give Them Space

- Keep flammable materials, including curtains and bedding, at least 3 feet away from space heaters.
- Place the heater on a stable, level surface. Make sure it will not be knocked over.
- Never power the heater with an extension cord or power strip. Do not leave the heater on while you are not there or while you are sleeping.
- Have working smoke alarms on every floor and in every bedroom. The early warning provided by smoke alarms can save your life.

Snow Blower Hazards – Clear Snow Safely

- Most snow blower injuries occur when consumers try to clear snow from the discharge chute.
- First, stop the engine. Use a long stick, NOT your hands, to unclog wet snow and debris from the  machine.
- NEVER leave the machine running in an enclosed area. The exhaust contains poisonous carbon monoxide which can kill in minutes.
- Finally, don't add gasoline to a running or hot engine, and always keep the gasoline can capped correctly.

Carbon Monoxide – The Invisible Killer

- Use portable generators outside your home and place them at least 20 feet away. Never use a generator inside a home, basement, shed or garage. The exhaust from portable generators contains poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) which can kill in minutes.
- Have your heating system inspected and serviced by a qualified technician every year, including furnaces and chimneys.
- Never leave a car running in a garage even with the garage door open.
- Most generator-related deaths from CO poisoning occur during the cold months. Have working CO alarms on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas.

Winter Sports Safety – Helmets Make a Difference

- Helmets aren't just for kids—they're for adults, too.
- Wearing a properly fitted helmet can reduce the risk of a head injury.
- Choose a certified helmet that is designed for the particular activity you're involved in, e.g., bicycling, snowboarding, or snowmobiling.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

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Hitting the Slopes? Here's Where to Go, and When

February 1, 2018 1:09 am

Are you a ski lover? As winter sports enthusiasts and beginners alike hit the slopes this season, Expedia plowed through travel data to determine the optimal month to save on hotel bookings in and around some of the world's most coveted snow destinations. From Colorado to the iconic Swiss Alps, to some lesser-known ski resorts in New Zealand and South Africa. Judging by the data, travelers have plenty of options to consider for their midwinter escape.

- Alta, Utah: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Snowbird, Utah: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Breckenridge, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Jackson Hole, Wy.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Zermatt, Switzerland: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Banff, Canada: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Gulmarg, India: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Livigno, Italy: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Aspen, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in February
- Keystone, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in February
- Lake Tahoe, Calif.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Vail, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Park City, Utah: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Mammoth Lakes, Calif.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Whistler, Canada: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March   
- Mayrhofen, Austria: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Tiffindell, South Africa: cheapest average daily rates can be found in July
- Queenstown, New Zealand: cheapest average daily rates can be found in September


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Wood Flooring Trends to Watch

January 30, 2018 12:48 am

When it comes to trends in flooring for the year ahead, what’s old will be new as vintage and retro looks take center stage in the hardwood flooring arena, according to SMART Carpet and Flooring. Here are their top five hardwood trends to watch:

Wide plank hardwood floors. Featuring planks that are five or even seven inches wide, this look works well with both modern and rustic decor. Added perk? Wide planks make any space look larger.

Gray wood floors. While this is not a brand new look, its execution will be a bit different this year. While 2017 saw a trend toward warmer grays and "greige" (a combination of gray and beige), 2018 will usher in cooler tones.

Distressed wood floors. Whether eco-friendly reclaimed wood or budget-friendly, wood-look vinyl plank, distressed wood is one of the hottest new flooring trends. Incorporate distressed wood flooring - particularly the cooler gray tones mentioned above - to instantly put your home in style this year.

Varied-width wood plank floors. A trend that began gaining interest at the end of 2017, it’s expected to pick up steam in the year ahead. Reminiscent of historic homes, mixed-width wood flooring, which allows you to choose any combination of widths for a given room, creates a one-of-a-kind look driven by your personal aesthetic.

Parquet floors. The vintage, mid-century chevron flooring look is back in style, however, it now incorporates contemporary trends, such as cool gray flooring, distressed wood, or even wide planks for a modern take on parquet.

Source: SMART Carpet and Flooring

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Room-by-Room Renovations

January 30, 2018 12:48 am

(Family Features)--If your favorite room is outdated and dingy, a renovation may be all you need to make the old feel new and to fall in love with your home all over again.

Upgrading your home can be a big job, and unless it's part of a pre move-in plan, few homeowners find it practical (or even possible, from a budget standpoint) to execute a large-scale project. However, tackling the updates one room at a time and focusing on small changes that bring big returns can put those overdue enhancements well within reach.

It's the heart of the home, and it's where many homeowners sink big money to make upgrades. Kitchen renovations don't have to require a second mortgage though. Re-facing rather than replacing cabinetry can bring about a whole new look for a whole lot less money. This is a good option when the existing cabinets are still in good working condition and you're just looking for an aesthetic change. Other small-scale options, include swapping out the countertop and sink, changing the lighting fixtures and updating tired floors with contemporary wood or tile.

When plumbing is involved, project costs can skyrocket, but there are some relatively simple ways you can give your bathroom a facelift on a modest budget. For starters, swap out all the fixtures from lighting to faucets. A new vanity is another instant upgrade, whether you opt for an updated version of the original or select a whole new style for a completely fresh look.

Also consider upgrades that can increase natural light and fresh air without compromising privacy, such as the addition of skylights to your ceiling, or "fifth wall," which can completely change the lighting dynamic of the room. In addition to balanced, natural light, skylights can open to help refresh your space and keep it odor- and moisture-free.

For extra style and light control, consider complementing the room's decor with skylights featuring colored blinds, which are available in more than 100 colors and styles, and also offer remote control operation for convenience in raising and lowering the blinds and opening skylights to let in fresh air.  

Living Room
A common space where the family gathers is likely to sustain the greatest wear and tear, and because you spend so much time there, it's also a room where you're likely to find a list of things that irk you. Creating a new color scheme is a simple fix that transforms the space, but changing the palette of the walls is just the beginning. Also consider taking your redesign to the ceiling with vibrant colors, creative wallpapers or even exposed beams. Round out the room by swapping out lamp shades, adding vibrant throw pillows, replacing old curtains or blinds, or tying the color scheme together with a new area rug.

In your private sanctuary, all the typical options for updates apply for sure. However, this is a space where the furnishings can be an especially impactful way to influence the ambiance, especially if a construction project in the room where you sleep is impractical. Changing out the style of the bed frame and complementary pieces creates a whole new vibe for the room. Then bring in a new collection of textiles for the bedding and drapery to help round out the pseudo-renovation.

Laundry Room
If you're looking for modest ways to update your home, be sure to consider spaces like the laundry room. Although you likely use this space less frequently than common spaces like the living room or kitchen, plenty of essential activity happens in the laundry area. Practical features like added storage space, cheerful color on the walls and easy-to-clean flooring can all make this room's tedious tasks more enjoyable.

Which Skylight is Right?
Skylights can serve multiple functions, both aesthetic and practical. Understanding the different types of skylights can help you choose the right fit for your home.

Fresh Air
Solar-powered skylights rely on the sun's energy to open and bring both air and natural light into your home. Some models, such as those offered by Velux, feature a rain sensor that automatically closes the skylight at the first sign of precipitation. They're also easy to operate with a touch-screen remote control.

Electric skylights are wired into your home electrical system and open and close via a radio frequency, touch-screen remote control.

Manual skylights open with a hand lever; a control rod is generally available for out-of-reach installations.

An economical choice for visually expanding areas such as hallways, stairwells and other closed-in, dark spaces, these static skylights are intended to fill a room with natural light.

Energy Performance
Adding a solar blind to a skylight results in more savings via potential tax credits as well as reduced energy usage. The blind functions to block heat penetration when closed, but during cooler weather it can stay open to allow warm, sunny rays to supplement the home's climate control system.

Source: Velux

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Top 5 Cities for Aspiring Millennial Homeowners

January 30, 2018 12:48 am

Are you a millennial dreaming of owning your own home? You're far from alone. Becoming a homeowner is high on the list for many millennials, and a new study from GoBankingRates broke down the best spots to buy.
To determine the best cities for millennial home buyers, GOBankingRates analyzed the top 50 metro areas in the U.S. based on the following factors:

- Unemployment rate, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
- The percentage of millennials who own homes, sourced from Adobo
- The average millennial home value, sourced from Adobo
- Mortgage affordability, sourced from Zillow

The outcome? Turns out, more than 40 percent of millennials in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Detroit are homeowners. Despite relatively high home prices and mortgages in Nashville, the city ranks No. 3 on the list due to its thriving job market. Pittsburgh has the most affordable mortgages of any city included in this study. The city also boasts a high percentage of millennial homeowners, with 37.5 percent owning their living spaces.

Below are the 5 hottest home owning spots for millennials.

1. Minneapolis
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 42.4 percent
- Average millennial home value: $222,528
- Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent

2. St. Louis
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 40.2 percent
- Average millennial home value: $167,791
- Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent

3. Nashville
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 37 percent
- Average millennial home value: $213,090
- Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent

4. Indianapolis
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 37.4 percent
- Average millennial home value: $161,856
- Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

5. Kansas City, Mo.
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 37.1 percent
- Average millennial home value: $170,254
- Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

Source: GOBankingRates

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Home Buying: 5 Steps for Beginners

January 29, 2018 1:03 am

Venturing out to search for your first home is one of the most exciting times of your life! Unfortunately, it is also one of the most daunting. Between a lexicon of new terms and an onslaught of online information, the process of shopping for a home is understandably overwhelming for first-timers. First, take a deep breath. Then follow these steps and you’ll be on the path to finding your first home in no time:

1. Start searching for a real estate professional. You’ll need a well-informed, trusted guide throughout this process so start looking for a real estate agent to work with. Ask friends and family members for recommendations then do your research online to evaluate any individuals and conduct in-person interviews as well. Be sure to speak with at least three agents before choosing someone to work with.

2. Figure out what you can afford. Before you start looking at neighborhoods and homes, determine what you can comfortably afford... the key word being “comfortable.” There are many unexpected expenses that arise when you’re a homeowner, so don’t stretch yourself too thin. Determine how much you can afford for a downpayment, then use an online mortgage calculator to see what your monthly payments might be for various-priced homes. Once you’ve arrived at your budget, stick with it.

3. Pick your neighborhoods. Choose your location before you start looking at homes, as where you live will ultimately be more important - both in terms of your day-to-day happiness and your investment - than the home itself. You may have to compromise a bit on location depending on the home you can afford. Your real estate agent can help advise you here.

4. Choose your musts. When thinking about the home you’d like to buy, take an honest look at needs vs. wants. Sure, there are a lot of things we’d love to have in our dream home, but figure out what are the nice-to-haves vs. the must-haves.

5. Search online. Once you’ve got your price range, your neighborhoods, and your must-haves down, start your search online to narrow down your options. Your real estate agent may also know of some homes that fit the bill right off the bat. This will mean fewer homes to visit in person and hopefully, lead to a quicker selection.

Above all, be open minded, flexible and patient in the home-search process. Your opinions and priorities may change as you learn more, and despite the best planning, curve balls happen. The journey will be well worth it, however, once you’re happily settled as a new homeowner.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Kitchen Renovation: Floor Function

January 29, 2018 1:03 am

(Family Features)--Whether designing a brand new kitchen or renovating your existing one, there are many elements to consider, and the floor should not be the last. Giving special attention to the material composition of your kitchen, particularly when it comes to the aspects that take the heaviest use - the floors, sink and countertops - can help ensure your renovation stands the test of time.

Though often taken for granted, the floor is generally the kitchen feature that sustains the heaviest use over time. Whether your tastes tend toward tile, wood or another option altogether, there are still numerous variables to explore.

Tile is an excellent choice for the kitchen because it stands up well to the heavy traffic and spills common in that space. However, tile can also be slippery and can be uncomfortable if you spend long amounts of time on your feet in the kitchen. Ceramic tile is the easiest to install but not as resistant to damage as porcelain or stone tile.

The latter options require more skilled installation, and stone especially tends to be more expensive. You'll also need to pay attention to factors like water resistance and texture, both of which affect safety and how easily the floors can be cleaned.

When it comes to wood, one of the first decisions is whether you prefer engineered or solid hardwood.

Engineered versions tend to offer greater durability and flexibility in installation while the texture and appearance of solid hardwood are its strongest appeals. Other variables include the wood type, which further affects the look and strength. Oak is most common, but other traditional selections include options like maple or cherry and specialty woods like teak or bamboo. Plank width influences overall aesthetic, with slimmer boards lending a more modern look. Color is also a consideration, as you'll need to determine whether you want to match, complement or contrast your cabinetry.

If something a little less traditional is more your speed, an option like foot-friendly cork or a modern take on vinyl may be more to your liking.

Source: Kohler

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Having a Party? Prep the Plumbing

January 29, 2018 1:03 am

If you're getting ready to host a house full of people, you're likely focusing on a zillion details, from food to home staging, music and more. But have you thought about your pipes? The professionals at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® recommend party hosts and guests follow these precautions to avoid common plumbing mishaps and help ensure fans can stay focused on the game:

Be mindful of what food goes down the garbage disposal. Fats, bones and vegetable peels can clog drains and damage the disposal. Rice and pasta can swell and clog the drain, as well. As a good rule of thumb, always toss scraps in the trashcan when it's possible.

Always use water when running the disposal. The garbage disposal works best when small particles are mixed with water. Use hot water down the disposal to keep grease moving down the drain, and run water for at least 30 seconds after everything has cleared.

Know what to do if the garbage disposal becomes clogged. If your disposal becomes clogged, turn it off, and shut off the water. Don't reach into a disposal, and never, ever use harsh chemicals to treat a clog. Instead, try a plunger.

Educate guests on what can and cannot go down the toilet. Commonly flushed items that may clog your pipes include napkins, paper towels, facial tissues and feminine products. Keep a trashcan near the toilet and remind guests to please only flush toilet paper down the commode.

Inform guests of any existing plumbing issues. For example, if the toilet handle needs a little jiggle in order to flush, spread the word and post a sign in the bathroom as a constant reminder.

Source: Benjamin Franklin Plumbing®

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Stage Your Home On a Budget

January 25, 2018 12:48 am

Getting your home into prime showing shape is essential to helping it sell in the shortest amount of time for the best possible price. But while a professional home stager can work wonders, it just might not be in your budget. Don’t despair - here are some great ways to inexpensively stage your home all on your own:

Get rid of the excess. The first thing every home stager will do is get rid of the clutter. And that is something anyone can do on your own without spending a dime. Get some boxes and storage bins and start removing whatever you can, including: framed photos; anything hanging on the fridge or anywhere else; knick knacks; most books (save a few nice ones for staging); trophies and awards; kitchen gadgets; personal effects, such as glasses, keys, jewelry, etc. The golden rule? You can’t remove too much.

Rearrange the furniture. Go from room to room and make sure the furniture is arranged in a way that makes the room look as open and spacious as possible. If this means removing chairs or tables to open the flow, go for it.

Brighten things up. Replace heavy drapery with sheer panels, raise blinds and shades, and place higher wattage bulbs in lighting fixtures, adding a lamp or two where necessary. Maximizing natural and artificial light are essential to making your home look as bright and appealing as possible.

Paint where necessary. A small investment of paint in key areas will be worth it. Change any dark or oddly painted rooms to a light, neutral color, and prioritize any walls and rooms where the paint is dirty or showing signs of aging. Paint can also be a good option for updating kitchen cabinets that are otherwise too expensive to replace.

Add new accessories. A trip to your nearest discount store can send you home with a bundle of new accent pillows, throws, bathroom and kitchen accessories and a nice vase or two for the dining room and coffee tables. These decorative accessories will add a fresh feel and pops of color where necessary throughout your home. Just remember: less is more.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Slippery Slope: Ski and Snowboard Safety 101

January 25, 2018 12:48 am

Are you a ski or snowboard fan?  As the popularity of these winter sports continue to rise, according to a review article published in the January 1, 2018, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the number of skier and snowboarder injuries also continues to rise.

"Skiing and snowboarding are associated with a large number of injuries, with specific patterns and anatomic areas affected," says Brett D. Owens, MD, lead review article author, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine as well as complex shoulder and knee surgeries and who is a professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

"Snow sport athletes can best prepare for their sport with a general preseason conditioning program as well as familiarity and maintenance of equipment," says Dr. Owens. To stay safe on the slopes this year, read the following tips:

- Be prepared for the season with well-conditioned muscles and a body that is adequately hydrated.
- Be knowledgeable about how to use your equipment appropriately, and ensure everything is in optimal working condition.
- Check that the ski bindings can release from your boots when appropriate, and that boots fit appropriately.
- Check that the edges of your skis and/or snowboard are flat and sharp for maximum performance to minimize injuries.
- Always wear a helmet.
- Avoid alcohol or drug use.
- Be sure you have the ability to slow down and stop on busy days when many other athletes are also on the mountain.
- Use extreme caution when weather conditions are not optimal.
- Always follow signs and ski patrol instructions. Never ski or snowboard "out-of-bounds."

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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How-to Save Energy in the Middle of Winter

January 25, 2018 12:48 am

Winter may seem like the wrong time to save money on home heating and cooling. However, with a few tweaks, you could see major changes on your bill, even in the coldest, bleakest months. The Petri Plumbing & Heating team has three tips to help you save money and the environment, even in the dead of winter.

Install a programmable thermostat and use it. Programmable thermostats have been around for quite some time, and with "smart" thermostats becoming the norm, energy saving has never been easier. Upgrading your thermostat to a newer model ensures accurate temperature readings, allows remote operation, and helps ensure your climate control system is being used efficiently.

Use ceiling fans to circulate warm air downwards. It seems counter-intuitive to have a fan running in the winter, but since heat rises, it can help circulate warm air throughout your home. By turning your ceiling fan on a low speed, warm air doesn't just sit at the ceiling. Many ceiling fans have a small switch on them that allows you to change the direction the blades turn in. Blades that spin in a clockwise direction pull air down. With more air circulation, you can bump your thermostat down a degree or two to save some energy.

Make sure your furnace and filters are clean and unblocked. One of the biggest energy hogs during the winter is a blocked or clogged filter. Dirty furnaces aren't just inefficient, as they can also pose a fire hazard. Clean furnace filters trap dirt and allergens, and help your furnace run more efficiently. With windows shut for months on end in the winter, filters tend to get dirty quicker. Petri recommends changing your furnace filter monthly during the winter. However, if your home has a boiler system, you're off the hook for changing your filters.

"If you take advantage of these tips, you can easily transform your home into a comfortable, energy efficient space this winter," says Michael Petri, owner of Petri Plumbing & Heating. "It may be wise to even consider installing a new boiler, as modern ones can run at 98.5 percent efficiency compared to 80 percent or less for older models. And if you're interested in taking your energy efficiency even further in 2018, we can provide in-home assessments of where you can improve your efficiency, which is not only  better for our environment, but also saves you money in the long run."

Source: Petri Plumbing & Heating, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Quick Ways to Jazz up Your Home's Curb Appeal

January 24, 2018 12:39 am

Curb appeal, a phrase often used by real estate professionals, describes the pleasing first impression viewers have at their first glimpse of a home. It could mean, ‘neat and clean.’ It could mean, ‘welcoming’ or ‘stately.’ It could be all of these and more.

In essence, a home with great curb appeal says ‘a caring homeowner lives here’ – and what homeowner wouldn’t want to be identified as such?

The best part, say the home design experts at Better Homes &, is that jazzing up your home’s curb appeal doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Here are just a few of the ideas they suggest for upping any home’s appeal:

Dress up the front door – Give it a burst of color; say a coat of red or marine blue paint to contrast a grey or white exterior. Polish up the door’s hardware, especially around the knob.

Create an instant garden – Container gardens can add a warm and welcoming feel when attractively grouped on or around the porch or front steps. Affordable, ready-made containers of plants and flowers available at most home centers can make this an easy, pleasing upgrade.

Do a mailbox makeover – Your curbside mailbox should complement your home. Dress it up by painting the box and/or the  post to match your home’s exterior – and surround it at the base with a neat patch of plants or flowers.

Install a window box – Take a page from the French or British with a colorful window box or two to set off your home’s front windows. Choose boxes made from iron or copper for a traditional look, or painted wood for a cottage feel. Mix and match the flowers and/or plants to suit your color scheme and lighting conditions.

Add an artsy element – Give your front yard a little spunk and eye appeal by installing a fountain or birdbath, an interesting sculpture, and/or some attractive wind chimes. The sounds and movement can be as pleasing to the ear as to the eye.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Steps for Smart Financial Planning

January 24, 2018 12:39 am

Are you hoping to create a smart financial plan this year, but unsure where to start? Being realistic and accurate can ensure those budgets have long-term success, according to Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®.

To help, Schlesinger offered a list of financial goals to help people start creating a financial plan.

- Pay down consumer (credit card balances or auto loans) and student debt

- Establish an emergency reserve fund of six to 12 months of living expenses

- Maximize retirement savings (the 2018 limit for 401(k)s, 403(b)s and 457 plans is $18,500 or $24,500 if you are over age 50; the limit for Traditional or Roth IRAs is $5,500 or $6,500 for those over age 50. If you are self-employed, the limits are higher.)

- Fund a 529-education fund (now expanded via the tax plan, to include private or parochial school for up to $10,000 a year in tuition and other expenses)

- Establish a general investment account to fund anything from a second home to an accelerated path to retirement

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

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10 Tips for Landing Your Dream Job

January 24, 2018 12:39 am

Looking for a new job? Dreaming ways to land your ideal gig? Nearly two in five (38 percent) U.S. job seekers and employees are currently searching for or plan to begin looking for a new job in 2018, according to a survey from Glassdoor.

With this in mind, here are the top 10 tips for job seekers to apply to their job searches in 2018, according to Glassdoor.

Identify your skillset to find the right job for you. Instead of focusing on a job title in your job search, focus on the required skills. Job titles are evolving and changing – while you might be searching for a particular title, there may be other, more suitable positions available with a slightly different title. By identifying your skills – those performed in the job, the tools you have experience using and personal attributes that support your ability to perform your work – and matching them to the skills employers are seeking, you can expand and better target your job search.

Use online resources and company websites to identify opportunities. Search for jobs on job search sites such as Glassdoor, along with company career pages. When using job sites, start with a specific job title that you are interested in, and then use the "suggested jobs" or "similar jobs" feature to identify additional opportunities.

Narrow down to a few high-quality job opportunities to apply to. Applying to jobs is more about the quality than the quantity of opportunities. Research each company before applying to ensure it is a company that you're interested in working for. When reviewing jobs, some questions to keep in mind are: Where is the job located? What are the company values? and Do employees like working there?  

Download and save attractive job listings for future reference. Copy and paste or print the job listing and description for each position you want to apply to so that you can reference it at a later time. Many employers may remove a job listing before a position is filled if they believe they have the right candidates in their applicant pool. By saving the job description, you have the qualifications to look back when preparing for a potential interview.

Customize your resume for each job application. It's important to tailor your resume to fit the job you're applying for. While your resume will contain many of the same elements from job to job – skills, experience, education, etc. – customization based on the job description can often give you a competitive edge.

Ensure your cover letter doesn't restate your resume. Your cover letter is a supplement to your resume, not a copy of it. In your cover letter, you should share a bit more about who you are, what you have to offer and why you are the right fit for the position and employer. You should also include a call to action such as, "I look forward to connecting to discuss next steps." Not sure if you even need a cover letter? When in doubt, draft and send it on with your resume. It can give a hiring manager more detail into who you are and further separate you from the competition.

Study hard for your interview. Preparing for your interview is threefold: 1. Know about the company, the work they do and the job you are interviewing for. 2. Practice answering common and tough interview questions you may receive with friends or family. 3. If you know the individuals with whom you’ll be interviewing, look them up online to learn about their background.  

Always ask your interviewer questions. Be prepared for your interviewer to ask if you have any questions. It is important to have some questions ready – if you don't ask questions, you can run the risk of unintentionally appearing disengaged or uninterested. Some questions may include: What are growth opportunities at this company? What is your favorite thing — and biggest challenge — about working here?

Send a thank you note after your interview. Always follow up with the people who you interviewed with to share appreciation of the time they took to meet with you. How you send the note is up to you – email or snail mail – but be sure to include your thanks and reiterate your interest in the position. Be timely in sending your thank you note.

When offered the job, don't accept on the spot. Congratulations – you got the job! Most employers will call you to make the official job offer. On the call, you should thank the employer for the offer and confirm when you will need to accept by. Some may request your acceptance later that day, others may give you a bit more time. Take the time they give you to carefully review the offer, and if necessary, go back to them to negotiate. Research online or use online tools to ensure you are receiving fair market pay for where you live, based on your job title, relevant work experience and other factors.

Source: GlassDoor

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Stage Your Home On a Budget

January 22, 2018 12:42 am

Getting your home into prime showing shape is essential to helping it sell in the shortest amount of time for the best possible price. But while a professional home stager can work wonders, it just might not be in your budget. Don’t despair - here are some great ways to inexpensively stage your home all on your own:

Get rid of the the excess. The first thing every home stager will do is get rid of the clutter. And that is something anyone can do on your own without spending a dime. Get some boxes and storage bins and start removing whatever you can, including: framed photos; anything hanging on the fridge or anywhere else; knick knacks; most books (save a few nice ones for staging); trophies and awards; kitchen gadgets; personal effects, such as glasses, keys, jewelry, etc. The golden rule? You can’t remove too much.

Rearrange the furniture. Go from room to room and make sure the furniture is arranged in a way that makes the room look as open and spacious as possible. If this means removing chairs or tables to open the flow, go for it.

Brighten things up. Replace heavy drapery with sheer panels, raise blinds and shades, and place higher wattage bulbs in lighting fixtures, adding a lamp or two where necessary. Maximizing natural and artificial light are essential to making your home look as bright and appealing as possible.

Paint where necessary. A small investment of paint in key areas will be worth it. Change any dark or oddly painted rooms to a light, neutral color, and prioritize walls and rooms where the paint is dirty or showing signs of aging. Paint can also be a good option for updating kitchen cabinets that are otherwise too expensive to replace.

Add new accessories. A trip to your nearest discount store can send you home with a bundle of new accent pillows, throws, bathroom and kitchen accessories and a nice vase or two for the dining room and coffee tables. These decorative accessories will add a fresh feel and pops of color where necessary throughout your home. Just remember: less is more.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Slip, Trip, Stumble: 5 Tips for Safer Falling

January 22, 2018 12:42 am

Most of us will take a tumble at some point in our lives. But be it a slip on an icy walkway or a trip over an exposed cable, there are ways you can minimize damage when you fall - if you know how.

"We often associate falls with children or the elderly, but in fact 50- to 60-year olds experience more falls than older individuals," says Allison Averill, M.D., director of neurorehabilitation, Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. "And while falling at some point in time is inevitable, there are ways to protect yourself from serious injury by creating a safer environment in and around your home and also by learning how to fall."

Understanding the science of falling is critical. Studies have shown that it's not whether you slip on a wet or icy surface, trip over a rug or a crack in the sidewalk, or fall down a flight of stairs, but rather what you do in those brief seconds before you reach the ground:

Protect your head. Falls are the No. 1 cause of traumatic brain injury in the United States, accounting for nearly half of these injuries. To help minimize the risk, try to tuck your head toward your chest if falling backward and turn your head to the side if falling forward.

Reach and relax. Although it's natural to tense up, try to stay loose and reach with your arms bent to help cushion your fall.

Butt first … Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries. To help distribute the impact of a fall, try to land on the fleshier parts of your body and roll with the fall.  

Reducing the risk of falling is equally important – and that includes paying attention to both physical and environmental factors:  

Eliminate clutter. Keep pathways clear by moving furniture or removing throw rugs, toys and other obstacles in the home, as well as tools, hoses and other items outdoors.     

Focus on safety. Make sure rooms are well lit and use handrails on stairways and grab bars in the bath or shower. Outdoors, pay attention to the pavement or other surfaces and weather conditions. Even at the market or the mall, watch the flooring, displays and other potential hazards.

Build your balance.  Developing core strength and flexibility through exercise and/or physical therapy, along with training like tai chi, may help improve balance.

Check your eyes – and your meds. Poor eyesight, certain medications and even your diet, as well as the effects of arthritis, MS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, stroke and other medical conditions, can affect balance and coordination and lead to falls. See a physician if you experience any difficulties.

"Falls will happen," cautions Dr. Averill. "The best defense to help avoid injury is to minimize risk factors in and around your home, workplace and community. And in that split second as you begin to fall, remember how to prepare to land."


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Don't Overpay Your Taxes

January 22, 2018 12:42 am

(Family Features)--With tax season in full swing, take time to consider how to get the most out of your tax return, which includes finding all the credits and deductions available to you. While many taxpayers claim common deductions, such as home mortgage interest and self-employment expenses, there are additional tax deductions that can lessen your final tax bill or increase your refund. These often-overlooked tax breaks could potentially save you hundreds - maybe even thousands - of dollars if you itemize deductions.

To start, get to know the difference between tax credits and tax deductions. Tax credits reduce the amount you owe in taxes. In some circumstances, tax credits allow a refundable credit, meaning you may not only reduce the amount you owe to $0, but you can also get money back. Deductions, on the other hand, simply reduce your taxable income. Both can have a potentially significant impact on your taxes and are often worth the extra effort to include on your return.

Some commonly overlooked credits include:

1. Child and Dependent Care Credit

You can claim a credit of up to $2,100 for day care for your dependents so you and your spouse can work. Qualifying dependents include children under 13 and parents who are no longer able to care for themselves.

2. Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a federal tax credit based on your income and the number of qualifying children living with you. Nearly 1 in 5 people who qualify fail to claim the credit, worth up to $6,318. Just because you didn't qualify last year doesn't mean you won't this year; one-third of the EITC-eligible population changes each year based on marital, parental and financial status.

3. Saver's Credit or the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit

Make sure you "pay yourself first." Even if it is only $20 each pay cycle, make sure you are putting some money into a retirement fund. If your company offers a retirement savings plan, like a 401(k), it is usually in your best interest to participate. If your income is lower than $60,000, you can receive a credit of up to $1,000 for a contribution of up to $2,000 into an IRA or an employer-provided retirement account, such as a 401(k). The credit is in addition to any deduction or exclusion from income for the contribution.

Some tax deductions that allow you to reduce your taxable income include:

1. Moving Expenses

If you moved for a job that is at least 50 miles away from your home and held this job for at least 39 weeks, you can claim your moving expenses even if you don't itemize deductions.

2. Tax-Preparation Fees

Plan for tax time. Tax laws change and so do life circumstances. Using a professional to help you file your return may be a wise investment. For example, the tax pros at Jackson Hewitt can help you get every deduction and credit you deserve and the biggest refund possible. Plus, the cost of preparing your taxes can be claimed if you itemize your deductions. In fact, one missed credit or deduction could more than cover the cost of having your taxes prepared by a tax professional.

3. New Moms

Breast pumps and lactation supplies are considered medical equipment, which means they qualify for a possible deduction.

4. Career Corner

Job hunting often means investing both time and money. However, you may be able to deduct some of the job-search expenses you incur. Costs such as preparing resumes, creating and maintaining websites, business cards, agency fees and travel expenses may be eligible.

5. Wedding Bells

If you were married in a church or at a historical site during the past year, you may be able to deduct fees paid to the venue as a charitable donation.

6. Medical Fitness

While general toning and fitness workouts to improve general health are considered personal expenses, you may be able to deduct your gym membership as a medical expense. If a doctor diagnoses you with a specific medical condition, such as obesity or hypertension, or a specific physical or mental illness, and prescribes workouts or participation in a weight-loss program to treat your illness, the membership dues may be tax-deductible.

7. Road Warriors

If you travel for business and aren't reimbursed by your employer, those costs can qualify as a deduction.

Refund Advance
If you're getting a refund, you typically want it as soon as possible, but that isn't always an option, especially if you are one of the millions of Americans who claim either the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit.  

Did You Know?
1. The IRS, as well as many states, allows taxpayers to catch up on missed credits or deductions, offering a three-year window for filing an amended tax return. You can secure unclaimed credits and deductions by filing amended tax returns to avoid losing any unclaimed funds from as far back as 2014.

2. With locations across the United States, including kiosks in 3,000 Walmart stores, the tax professionals at Jackson Hewitt make it easy to stop in when it's most convenient for you.

3. If you are a single parent, you can file as Head of Household instead of Single. This filing status can provide better deduction options and a lower tax rate schedule.

Source: Jackson Hewitt

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Humane Tips to Keep Deer Off Your Garden

January 19, 2018 12:57 am

Are you discouraged by deer coming into your garden to chow down? With urbanization and building pushing more and more deer from their natural habitats, it's no shocker they end up in your yard. Check out these humane tips for keeping them at bay.

A fence. Obviously a full fence is the easiest way to keep deer out. Something high like picket or chain link should do the trick.

Pick the right plants. Did you know certain plants will deter deer? Planting beds of strong smelling plants like marigolds or lavender around the perimeter of your yard and garden can ward off deer, as they don't like to walk through strong smelling flora for fear of becoming more noticable to predators.

Sprinkle soap. Similar to the strong-smelling plant method, grating or cubing up fragrant soap can ward off deer. Once a month, grate some scented organic soap around your garden's perimeter, and even atop new budding plants. If you get a heavy downpour, sprinkle again.

Make a stinky spray. Continuing the trend of foul smelling deterrents, consider cracking an egg into a gallon-sized spray bottle, adding one egg, one cup of milk, a few pumps of dish soap, and filling the rest with water. Once a week, spray the concoction around the base of your plants to deter deer, but pay mind the mixture will be stinky for you, too.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Make the Most of a Night In

January 19, 2018 12:57 am

Whether it’s inhospitable weather, little ones to look after or a tight budget, a big night out on the town just might not be in the cards this weekend. And that’s nothing to be bummed out about. Here are some great ways to enjoy a memorable evening without ever leaving the driveway.

Double feature. Remember when movie theaters used to offer double features? What’s now a thing of the past at the multiplex, can become your own special cinematic experience right at home. Do a back-to-back filming of your favorite sequel, a twofer from your favorite actor or director, or shake things up with two completely different genres, like horror followed by comedy. Keep the popcorn and beverage of choice flowing, and settle in for some cinephile fun.

5-star dining. You don’t need a trendy restaurant to enjoy fine dining - you can recreate the experience right in your own home. If you like to cook, pull out those special recipes you’ve been waiting to try and shop in advance. If your chef skills aren’t up to par, order in - even the best restaurants will prepare meals to-go these days and you can often have them delivered via Grubhub or UberEats. Set the mood by dressing the dining room with nice linens and your best china, add candles, your favorite music and dress up a little, too. Then linger between courses as you would when dining out, making sure to enjoy dessert and an after-dinner drink or espresso.

Happy hour. If blowing off steam at the local watering hole is your idea of fun, capture the experience at home. Stock up on your favorite craft beer, wings, pizza or bar food of choice, and crank up the tunes. If you have a pool table, dart board or karaoke machine, tonight’s the night to put them to use. If not, try Pictionary, charades, or any number of lively trivia games. Invite the neighbors over to step up the pub-like camaraderie.

Craft night. Recreate the popularity of that local painting or pottery joint right in your own home. Go online and pick a painting or craft project that looks fun but not too difficult, stock up on the supplies you’ll need, lay some drop clothes, open the wine, and have at it! This is a great activity for a couple, a few friends, or the family (minus the wine, of course!).

With a little creativity and planning, a fun night can happen right within the comfort and coziness of your own home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-To Avoid Winter Pipe Damage

January 19, 2018 12:57 am

With frosty weather still whipping through many areas of the country, homeowners all over are dealing with frozen pipes. If your pipes freeze, not only are you in a bind with your water, but the damage to your home could be expensive to repair. Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning offers the following tips to prevent pipes from freezing:

Check insulation – Homeowners should check the insulation in and around the house and identify any potential trouble areas. Filling in or adding insulation to attics, crawl spaces, basements and any other areas containing pipes may be necessary. Make sure to also seal any gaps that may be found in the home's foundation or siding.

Leave cabinets open – Kitchen and bathroom sink cabinets are best left open during the coldest parts of winter. This allows the warm air circulating in the home to enter and help warm the plumbing.

Use pipe insulation products – Installing specific pipe insulation products is a great precautionary measure. Pipe sleeves, heat tape and heat cable are all available for home use and can add an extra layer of protection.

Maintain 55 degrees or higher – Even when leaving the residence for extended periods of time, maintaining a temperature throughout the home of 55 degrees or higher will help add an extra level of security to the plumbing. Any increase to the utility bill will still be less than the cost of typical repairs for burst water pipes or the damage it can cause to the rest of the home.

Leave faucets at a trickle – Consider leaving faucets open at a trickle during the coldest temperatures. The small amount of water flow will help prevent water from freezing in place.

Source: Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Adopting a Savings Mindset Even When You’re Saddled With Debt

January 17, 2018 12:50 am

From student loans to low-paying jobs, saving for future goals, like owning a home, can seem like a pipe dream for today’s younger generation. Financial expert and author Eric Tyson says there are powerful steps younger people can take right now to make the most of their money and save for a brighter future. He says it’s all about adopting a “savings mindset.”

According to Tyson, author of Personal Finance in Your 20s & 30s For Dummies®, a savings mindset involves getting the most from your spending while also spending less money in general. It also means living within your means, sticking to a budget and saving as much as you can. Two essential things to remember? Every little bit you save matters, and it’s never too late to start.

Here are few of Tyson’s tips and tricks for saving money that will help build your nest egg for buying a home before you know it.

Consider living with roommates or family. While you’re young and still free of dependents, take advantage of the opportunity to share a rental or live with relatives as opposed to living solo. If living with family, be sure to set expectations, raise concerns and establish costs and rental agreements up front.

Choose a low-cost rental. If you’re living beyond your means, now is the time to dial it back and find a place that fits within your budget. The less you're spending each month, the more you can save toward buying your own place.

Negotiate your rental increases. Some landlords increase their tenants' rent no matter how good the tenant and regardless of the state of the economy. If your local economy is weak and the rental market is soft or your living quarters are deteriorating, negotiate with your landlord. You have more leverage and power than you probably realize. Landlords don't want to lose good tenants who pay rent on time, and filling vacancies takes time and money. Craft a polite note or pay a personal visit to make your case.

Cut your utility bills. Even as a renter, try to keep utility costs low as landlords factor your energy consumption into future rental hike decisions. Adjust your thermostat and wear layers in the winter, and keep your place warmer during summer months. And if you pay for garbage service, recycle as much as possible.

Contribute to a retirement plan. Tucking away money in employer-based retirement plans, such as 401(k) or 403(b) accounts, or self-employed retirement plans is a great way to exclude money from your taxable income.

Use a health savings account. You can reduce your taxable income and sock away money for future healthcare expenses by taking advantage of a health savings account (HSA). HSAs can offer better tax savings versus retirement accounts because, in addition to providing upfront tax breaks on contributions and tax-free accumulation of investment earnings, you can also withdraw money from HSAs tax-free so long as the money is used for healthcare costs. No other retirement accounts offer this triple tax-free benefit.

Learn to cook. Cooking at home as opposed to eating out can save you hundreds of dollars each month, not to mention, keep you healthier as well. Be sure to cook enough so that you can brown bag your lunch with leftovers, too.

Eric Tyson, MBA, is the author of five national best-selling financial books, including Investing For Dummies, Personal Finance For Dummies and Home Buying Kit For Dummies. He has appeared on NBC's Today show, ABC, CNBC, FOX News, PBS and CNN, and has been interviewed on hundreds of radio shows and print publications. “Personal Finance in Your 20s & 30s For Dummies” ® (Wiley, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-119-43141-1, $19.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Protect Yourself from Digital Eye Strain

January 17, 2018 12:50 am

If you're like most Americans, you spend much of your time in front of some sort of screen. Technology has seeped into almost every aspect of our daily lives, and Americans can't seem to keep their eyes off an ever-growing array of devices with activities becoming increasingly digitized. Among key findings from the 2017 VisionWatch survey, Americans are especially tied to the following:

Computers: An average 75.6 percent of respondents regularly use a computer to research, 54.2 percent to shop online, 48.7 percent to find a recipe, 36.2 percent to check social media and 26.7 percent to play games.

Smartphones: An average 58.2 percent of respondents regularly use a smartphone to get directions, 56.6 percent to serve as an alarm clock, 53.7 percent to check the weather, 38.1 percent to check social media and 25.8 percent to play games.

Television: An average 32.2 percent of respondents use television to get the news, 16 percent to keep track of professional sports and 14 percent to check the weather.

In addition to eyewear and contact lens solutions, some other "eye-gonomic" tips to relieve digital eye strain include:

Taking frequent breaks from looking at screens, giving the eyes an opportunity to blink more, since they typically blink less while staring at screens.

- Reducing overhead lighting to eliminate screen glare.
- Positioning yourself at an arm's distance away from a screen.
- Increasing text size on devices to better define content on screens.

Source: The Vision Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Navigating the Cooking Oil Aisle: Fast Facts for Cooking With Corn Oil

January 17, 2018 12:50 am

(Family Features)—When cooking for your family, selecting the best ingredients for a heart-healthy meal can be challenging, and there is one ingredient that is often the core of any recipe: cooking oil. However, navigating the cooking oil aisle can be confusing; this guide breaks down everything the home chef needs to know about cooking with oil.

Heart-Health Focused. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important to your heart health, and when it comes to impact on cholesterol, not all cooking oils are created equal. Next time you find yourself reaching for extra virgin olive oil at the grocery store, consider swapping it out for corn oil, which a study shows can help lower cholesterol two times more than extra virgin olive oil. Corn oil also has nearly five times the amount of polyunsaturated fats compared to olive oil. These heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol levels in your blood.  

A Gut Decision. When it comes to lowering your cholesterol and staying heart healthy, go with your gut. Corn oil contains cholesterol-blocking plant sterols—plant-based micronutrients that help block the absorption of cholesterol in your gut and work to prevent bad cholesterol (LDL) from entering the bloodstream. Corn oil contains nearly four times more cholesterol-blocking plant sterols than olive oil, three times as many as vegetable oil and nearly 1.5 times more than canola oil.

Sourcing the Best Ingredients. Today, more and more families are paying close attention to where their food comes from and prefer locally sourced ingredients. Opting for local food can give you more confidence in the ingredients you use in your family's meals.  

Multipurpose Functionality. Whether you fancy yourself a top-notch baker, grill master or are just starting out, each ingredient selected plays an important role in obtaining the meal's desired taste. Extra virgin olive oil has a strong flavor that can change the taste of the foods you cook. Corn oil is an all-purpose cooking oil with a neutral taste that lets the true flavors of your dish come through, making it the perfect ingredient for heart-healthy dishes like pan-fried salmon. Or you can use it as a dressing over a bed of spinach.  

Corn oil can also handle the heat in the kitchen because of its high smoke point (450 Fahrenheit), making it a great, all-purpose cooking oil for everything from grilling and sauteing to stir frying and baking. This is key for crafting quality meals at home because once a smoke point is exceeded, the food flavor and nutritional value are negatively affected.

Source: Mazola Corn Oil

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Are You Following Safe Cyber Rules?

January 16, 2018 12:38 am

While most consumers are well aware of the hazards of cyber security—with the Equifax breach alone exposing the sensitive data of as many as 143 million Americans—the majority still fail to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. According to a survey conducted online by Harris Poll, on behalf of Tenable™,Inc., while 94 percent of Americans were aware of news stories about security breaches, few took critical steps to protect their data or change their online habits.

The study found that in the past 12 months, 44 percent of Americans did not use a password to protect their personal information on their computer, and 55 percent failed to use a PIN to protect their personal information on their mobile devices. When it comes to the industry recommended practice of two-factor authentication, 75 percent of respondents admitted not implementing this important practice, while only 32 percent reported reducing their use of public Wi-Fi or unknown hotspots.

On the plus side, 53 percent reported creating more complicated passwords and 15 percent have used a password management tool to protect their personal information in the past 12 months.

According to Tenable, a popular inroad for hackers to compromise devices and steal data is when apps have security vulnerabilities; however, few people pay much attention to patch requests. Fourteen percent of smartphone users waited more than a week to update apps on their smartphone after receiving a prompt—with 5 percent never getting around to it at all. Meanwhile, 13 percent of computer users wait more than a week to update the apps on their computer, and 5 percent never do.

To maintain a level of basic cyber safety, Tenable advises:

- Where applicable, enable two-factor authentication for all online services
- Update your apps and computers within 24 hours of receiving a notification
-  Assign strong passwords to your computer, mobile phone and tablet, and don't share them with others

Source: Tenable, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

DIY Car Care Everyone Can Do

January 16, 2018 12:38 am

(Family Features)—While taking your car to an auto service professional is a great way to ensure its performance, the Car Care Council reminds vehicle owners there are a few simple vehicle checks that they can easily learn and do themselves to save a little money and help keep their vehicles running efficiently all summer long.

With basic knowledge of common maintenance practices and a little time, motorists can inspect the following components in their own driveway:

— Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots.

— Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering and brake and transmission, as well as windshield washer fluid and antifreeze/coolant.

— Check the hoses and belts as they can become cracked, brittle, frayed, loose or show signs of excessive wear. These are critical to the proper functioning of the electrical system, air conditioning, power steering and the cooling system.

— Check the wipers and lighting so that you can see and be seen. Check that all interior and exterior lighting is working properly and inspect and replace worn wiper blades. Keep the reservoir filled with windshield washer fluid.

— To keep the cooling system working effectively, the coolant and distilled water mixture for a vehicle's radiator should be 50:50. Never open a hot radiator cap when checking the coolant level in the reservoir. As a rule of thumb, the coolant should be changed annually on most vehicles.

— Check the gas cap to ensure it is not damaged, loose or missing to prevent gas from spilling or evaporating.

— Don't neglect the exterior. When washing the outside, make sure to include the tires and wheels and the underside and fenders to eliminate any road salt or grime. The body of the vehicle should be washed using a product sold specifically for cars. Wax your vehicle every six months.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Tips for Getting Affordable Dental Care Without Coverage

January 16, 2018 12:38 am

If you're one of the millions of Americans without dental care coverage, then you know the struggle of keeping your mouth healthy at an affordable price.

"It was recently estimated by the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) that 23 percent of the U.S. population does not have dental insurance," says Kevin Henry, author of the new book, Battling and Beating the Demons of Dental Assisting (Indie Books International, 2017). "Because of that, many people put off trips to visit the dentist, and that is a decision that can prove harmful in the long run."

Here are five tips from Henry for people who don't have dental insurance:

1. Ask about dental plans. Dental practices are beginning to understand how many of their patients walk through the doors without insurance. With that in mind, many practices are coming up with their own discount dental plan (often called "memberships") they can offer to patients. There may be a discount for a number of bundled services or two cleanings and checkups put together for a lower price than if they were bought separately. Every dental practice has the ability to come up with its own dental plan or membership so ask the practice what their plan offers and any deadlines for completion of services.

2. Get on a payment plan. Without available financing, a recent study showed that 39 percent of patients said they would not have had dentistry done at all. Another study showed that 52 percent of patients were not aware that financing was a payment option. Big stores such as Best Buy offer their own financing to customers so they can afford a big-screen television. Dental practices are more than happy to offer you options for your treatment. Just ask what those are and see if they fit your plans and budget.

3. Look around for local dental or dental hygiene schools. Dental students and future dental hygienists need patients to learn their craft. Dental schools advertise their services to the community as a low-cost option for patients. As an example, the University of Oklahoma Dental School states on its website, "In the student program, patients are treated by dental students under the direct supervision of faculty. Patients in the student clinics receive low-cost quality care in an educational environment."

4. Contact your state or local dental association. Every state has a dental association and every state's dental association's offerings should be online. Do a little searching and see what low-cost treatment options are available on your state's site.

5. Ask for the "cash price" option. If you have the cash available to pay for a procedure, tell the dental office when you make an appointment and ask them if they offer discounts if you're paying with cash and paying it all up front. Many practices do discount their fees if they don't have to deal with insurance.

"The American Dental Association recently said that emergency room dental visits cost $1.9 billion yearly, 40 percent of which is public money, according to their analysis of data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality," says Henry.  "That's a lot of money for people who had dental pain that perhaps could have been alleviated by seeing a dentist days or weeks earlier."

Source: Kevin Henry, Indie Books International

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Do You Have the Right Tools to Dig Into Spring Gardening?

January 12, 2018 12:56 am

As sure as winter will turn to spring, before too long folks will be looking forward to planting gardens and digging into landscaping projects around the yard. So we turned to research from, which gathered 34 gardening experts to find out their opinions on the top must-have tools for making your garden look stylish in 2018.

Among the most popular tools touted for gardeners is a Mattock - which is used for clearing the ground, removing stones and digging out deep roots that create roadblocks.

Composting is another way that homeowners can promote environmental responsibility. And making compost can now become much easier when you make use of a chipper shredder. While a leaf shredder can be used primarily for shredding small sized leaves and twigs, if you want to chop and shred branches, then recommends buying a chipper.

At, Jennifer Nelson says gardening can turn into a thorny and splintery hassle without the right pair of gloves.

Madaline Sparks at agrees that while one good pair of garden gloves can be as essential a tool as a shovel or a rake - owning three pairs will make a multitude of tasks easier:

Washable synthetic gloves. For general maintenance, such as deadheading, weeding in dry soil, and handling seeds, the thin fabric and snug fit allow fingers maximum dexterity.

Latex-coated cotton gloves. For dirty, wet jobs, like picking up leaves or planting shrubs, and for working with thorny plants (the latex coating is puncture-resistant).

Heavy-duty leather gloves. For tough jobs, like digging holes, clearing brush, and carrying firewood.

Brendan Huggins of Moore Farms Botanical Garden ( says pruners are one of the most used tools in the garden and are often one that people skimp on. But a high-quality set of pruners can last a lifetime.
Huggins suggests looking for replaceable blades, a sturdy lock, a replaceable spring, and a place that you can readily purchase replacement parts from when deciding what pruners to buy.

Moore Farms' Kirk Laminack on the other hand says a Japanese planting hoe is an ideal addition to your gardening arsenal when it comes to loosening soil and removing weeds.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Brrr! Better Car Care Tips for Winter Weather

January 12, 2018 12:56 am

You aren't the only one who needs to bundle up in the winter. Your vehicle, too, needs some special care in the colder months. The non-profit Car Care Council offers six quick tips to help your vehicle perform at its best during cold weather months.

Keep the gas tank at least half full; this decreases the chance of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing.

Check the tire pressure, including the spare, as tires can lose pressure when temperatures drop. Consider special tires if snow and ice are a problem in your area.

Have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.

Allow your car a little more time to warm up when temperatures are below freezing so that the oil in the engine and transmission circulate and get warm.

Change to low-viscosity oil in winter as it will flow more easily between moving parts when it is cold. Drivers in sub-zero temperatures should drop their oil weight from 10-W30 to 5-W30 as thickened oil can make it hard to start the car.

Consider using cold weather washer fluid and special winter windshield blades if you live in a place with especially harsh winter conditions.

Source: Car Care Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Winter Advisory Travel Tips

January 12, 2018 12:56 am

Whether you're dreaming of hitting the slopes or packing your bags for some fun in the sun, traveling during the cold season comes with its own quirks. Here are eight winter advisory travel tips from Travel Leaders Group:

Book early. Contact a travel agent who can help you avoid peak travel dates and travel times. Even if you must travel within a certain range of dates, the time of day you travel can help cut down on the amount of time you sit driving below the speed limit during heavy traffic or flying at peak times which might make it harder to land a reservation on the next flight out when yours is canceled. For example, you may want to avoid the first or last flight of the day depending on the start and end time of the storm since these flights have a higher frequency of being canceled.

Sign up for travel insurance. Often airlines will issue travel waivers that allow you to rebook your ticket away from the affected dates at no additional charge. You should take advantages of these when they post. However, for those instances where you may miss a flight because you were stuck in traffic or your ship sailed without you when your flight was canceled or delayed, travel insurance can be your saving grace to recoup all or part of your travel investment.  

Get travel advisories or weather alerts delivered to your phone. There are several apps that allow you to receive email or text message notifications from your airline about your flight's status. A app can keep you updated about conditions. Also, an all-in-one mobile solution is an efficient way for business travelers not only to receive text notifications about flight delays, cancellations or gate changes, but also to reach live travel agents 24/7 to assist with flight disruptions or flight reservations.

Pack a winter safety kit. Whether you're driving or flying, prepare for possible delays with a few essentials. Pack a small extra bag with an extra sweater, gloves or small throw, as well as water and high-energy or high-protein foods such as granola bars or beef jerky. You may also want to pack a toothbrush and toothpaste, a change of underwear and any needed prescription medications. Remember also a flashlight, extra batteries, or phone charger, a first aid kit and a good book.

Consider larger airports and travel light. If you suspect there may be severe weather threats during your time of travel, consider flying from a larger airport. Larger international airports will have a greater chance of more alternate flights, and they are also better equipped to clear runways faster or with de-icing of a plane. If you travel with only a carry-on, you'll be in a better position to change flights quickly in the event of a cancellation.

Stay on the main roads. If you're driving between destinations, stick to major highways or well-traveled roads. Not only are they likely to be plowed more quickly, there are other people who can come to your rescue easily should you need assistance. Travel also during daylight hours or when car repair shops or convenience stores are more likely to be open. If you're stranded in your vehicle for an extended period of time, run your engine for only a few minutes once or twice an hour to stay warm and conserve gas. While the car is running, be sure to slightly roll down a window to keep carbon monoxide from building up inside.  

Go west. For those looking for a temporary respite from the cold, they could go west to Arizona or south to the Caribbean. You don't have to be a Baby Boomer to become a snowbird every winter. With many Americans and Canadians having the flexibility to work from home or remotely, it may be worth avoiding the coldest weeks of the year by working from someplace sunny.

Enjoy the snow. And there are those who feel it just wouldn't be winter without the snow, despite the cold. Whether you are a skier, snowboarder or just want to lounge at the spa on a snowy backdrop, places such as Aspen, Jackson Hole, or Banff, Canada, can provide the perfect setting.

Source: Travel Leaders Group

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Beating Winter Workplace Blues

January 11, 2018 12:44 am

Cool weather and less light can bring a dip in moods--especially if you spend most of the daylight hours stuck inside an office building. Accountemps shares five tips to help employees beat the winter blues and boost their mood and productivity at work.

Stay active. Take a brisk walk outside (weather permitting) or hit the gym during lunch to clear your mind and get energized to tackle your next project.

Nourish yourself. When you're hungry, snack on fresh fruit or nuts. They're much better for your body and focus than sugary or greasy selections from the vending machine.

Make time for small talk. Sometimes the best ideas come from casual conversations. In between tasks, grab coffee or lunch with a colleague.

Set goals for the year ahead. Now is the time to think about your career objectives and what you would like to accomplish in the coming year. Write them down and have a discussion with your manager about your goals.

Pursue professional development. Explore the idea of attending seminars and workshops to gain new skills, build your network and increase your marketability.

Source: Accountemps

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Reducing Credit Card Debt: 6 Ways

January 11, 2018 12:44 am

Like many Americans, you may be looking for a way to bring down your credit card debt. To help, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) offers the following six tips.

Pause some spending. Identify any automated payments that can be eliminated or temporarily paused while you're paying off debt. Consider delaying or reducing large annual expenses, such as vacations or holiday spending, for one year. These temporary changes can help you pay off debt faster.

Reduce your interest rates. Take an inventory of all your credit cards, including the interest rates and minimum payments. Next, call your credit card companies to ask if they will waive any late payments or reduce your interest rate.

Eliminate your most expensive card first. Pay the monthly minimum on each card to avoid fees. Apply any left-over money to the highest interest-rate card first. Once this card is paid off, take the amount you were paying and apply it to the card with the second highest interest rate while continuing to make minimum payments on all other cards. Repeat until you have paid off all your credit cards.

Create a written budget . A written budget will help you stay out of debt in the future. Allocate some of your spending to an emergency fund so that you are prepared if a job loss or health crisis arises. Check in with your budget each month.

Set financial goals and focus on the long-term. What is most important to you? Do you want to save for a home or go back to school? Articulate your goals so you're more driven to reach them. The changes you make in the short term are temporary and purposeful and will help you reach future goals.

Toast yourself. Being debt free is an important milestone that is worth sharing and celebrating. Create a memory – a visit with a friend or a social media post – that you can recall when you are tempted to overspend again in the future.

Source: National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Are You at Risk for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

January 9, 2018 12:23 am

Everyone who uses oil, natural gas, liquid propane, or wood and pellet stoves should make sure their heating system has been cleaned and inspected within the last year. If the burning of fuel is incomplete, carbon monoxide gas can form and build up in your home, health experts warn.

Since this deadly gas by-product has no odor or warning properties, a carbon monoxide alarm is the only way to know if it’s building up in your home.

If you have a carbon monoxide alarm, it’s important to test it to make sure it works. If you don’t have one, what are you waiting for?

Be sure to place the carbon monoxide alarm in your living space, preferably close to bedrooms or where you spend the most time. You can also place another carbon monoxide alarm in the basement near the furnace as an early warning signal.

If you heat your home with electricity and use a portable generator or a stationary home backup generator during power outages, it’s very important to have a working carbon monoxide alarm because deadly gas can enter your home around window casings, door frames, and penetrate through outside walls.

Sometimes it's hard to tell if you have early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning because those symptoms can resemble the flu. A headache, feeling light headed and sleepiness are common to both illnesses.

If there are people in the house and a number of them develop symptoms around the same time, carbon monoxide gas may be seeping into your living space. The longer you’re exposed, the more dangerous it is.

If not treated quickly, exposure can cause brain damage and death. If you think you may have carbon monoxide
poisoning, get people and pets out of the house immediately.

Once outside, call 911 from a cellphone or neighbor’s house.

Questions about placement of carbon monoxide detectors, warning equipment and battery vs. hardwiring or other technologies should be directed to your local building official or fire marshal.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

7 Practical Ways to Improve Organization

January 9, 2018 12:23 am

Many of us wish we were more organized. From the state of our home, to our business and finances, organization can make much of life easier, or more difficult. The following tips come from Time Timer, a trusted tool for organizational professionals, families, schools and businesses to help people manage time more effectively by visualizing how time elapses.

Declutter and put everything in its place. If this seems overwhelming, set a timer for 20 minutes and do a blitz pick up.

Make a list of everything you need to do this coming year, month and week, and then prioritize which tasks are most important.

Do the boring (to you) tasks first and get them out of the way instead of spending time dwelling on having to do them.

Break up big jobs into manageable chunks of time so they seem less daunting. Some even suggest breaking up your resolution into chunks to make your goal more attainable.

Schedule breaks in your day. Take a walk, grab a cup of coffee, check your social media accounts and then get back to work with a fresh mind.

Audit your time weekly and make adjustments. Did you spend too much time on email? Set specific times for email and then turn off your push notifications. Whatever it is that’s a time parasite, rearrange the time spent on it.

Set firm boundaries so that work doesn't creep into life too much and vice versa. There are sometimes exceptions, but the 9 p.m. work emails are not usually a crisis, are they? And how much time of your work day are you spending looking at a friend's baby registry? Allow yourself a few minutes and then get back to work.

Managing time is key to getting and staying organized. A tool that helps one understand and track their time better can help them reach all of their 2018 goals.

Souce: Time Timer®

Published with permission from RISMedia.

6 Ways to Fight the Flu

January 9, 2018 12:23 am

(Family Features)--As temperatures drop, the spread of cold and flu germs rises. Start the year off healthy and be sure to rid your home of lingering germs that may be hiding in places you don't expect.

"I always recommend the flu shot - especially when officials are predicting a harsh flu season like this year - good nutrition and plenty of sleep, but there are other healthy habits we can all develop to help keep ourselves and those around us healthy during cold and flu season," says Dr. Tanya Altmann, pediatrician, best-selling author and founder of Calabasas Pediatrics. "Vaccination is important, but there are other preventative measures that we should all keep in mind."

These tips from the experts at Clorox can help you prevent the spread of germs:

1. Get Vaccinated. Even though it's well into cold and flu season, it's still important to get a flu shot if you haven't already. Vaccination is the first step in flu prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a yearly flu virus vaccination - even if the vaccine's efficacy fluctuates - for almost everyone 6 months and older.

2. Keep Hands Washed. Hands touch so many things throughout the day. It's important to wash your hands often, including after using the bathroom and before preparing or serving food. Germs can spread by touching your eyes, nose or mouth after coming in contact with a contaminated surface. Those areas are common entry points to the body for germs, so try not to touch your face or eat until you wash your hands.

3. Stay Home If You're Sick. Even though you may not want to miss work or school, it's important to stay home to prevent the spread of illnesses to those around you. Even at home, make sure to cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue to prevent the spread of germs to your loved ones. Lastly, try your best to make good use of your time off from work or school to rest, relax, eat well and recover from illnesses.

4. Follow Health Guidelines. It's important to eat right (fill up with fresh fruit and veggies, vitamin D and probiotics), get some exercise (at least 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity) and get plenty of sleep (at least 8 hours per night) to help boost your body's ability to fight the effects of cold and flu viruses.  

5. Be Aware of Your Environment. Be aware of illnesses going around in your community so that you can take extra precautions to avoid them, or know when to seek medical attention if you do get sick.

6. Disinfect Hard Surface. Disinfection is a key step to help prevent the spread of cold and flu germs. The CDC recommends disinfecting frequently touched hard surfaces, such as doorknobs, refrigerator handles, light switches and faucets, with an EPA-registered disinfectant wipe. They help kill 99.9 percent of germs that can live for up to 48 hours on hard, non-porous surfaces.

Source: Clorox

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Spend 2018 Integrating 'Smart' Technology Into Your Home

January 8, 2018 12:44 am

You don't have to have a brand new 'smart home' to enjoy the convenience, safety, and peace of mind that smart technology can deliver. The new year will present an exciting time for homeowners hoping to integrate the latest smart home tech in the form of gadgets and apps.

For example, one of's "Top 20 High Tech Best Must-Have Gadgets for 2018" is the smart video doorbell from dbell ($139) that enables you to check who is at the door from your smartphone.

You can monitor it from your tablet, PC or TV, and every time a visitor presses the doorbell, the wireless and WiFi connected dbell lets you answer the door from wherever you are.

Lauren Smith at says the No. 1 item in her "Smart Home Tech Solutions For 2018" is the August Smart Lock ($139), which offers keyless access to your home with iOS and Android smartphones. And since it's battery-powered, it's always on.

Mike Prospero at says his choices for "Best Smart Home Gadgets of 2018" include a simple and inexpensive way to make any device "smart." Control the power going to the TP-Link HS105 plug from your smartphone, wherever you are, for around $30.

Prospero likes that the TP-Link's Kasa app also lets you create a schedule to turn the plug on and off, and has an "Away" mode that will turn your devices on to make it look like you're home. It can also be linked to other smart home devices, such as Alexa and Google Home.

Eric Griffith and Alex Colon at PC Magazine weighed in, as well, reporting that for 2018, the new Ecobee4 has added built-in Amazon Alexa voice service capabilities to its temperature, humidity, motion, and proximity sensors ($250). That means the 'smart' thermostat can do everything the Amazon Echo and its siblings can, such as control smart devices, shop, play music, and hear the latest news and weather, all using Alexa voice commands.

And if you have a home with lots of windows, window vacuums that are all the rage overseas are starting to catch on in the U.S. points to the Karcher line (starting around $50) as a point of reference.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Are You at Risk for Glaucoma?

January 8, 2018 12:44 am

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month in the U.S., and the experts at Lighthouse Guild have some tips for maintaining your eye health and staying on top of glaucoma detection.

Get a Yearly Eye Exam. Early detection and treatment are crucial. Comprehensive dilated eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages, possibly preventing it from causing further harm and loss of vision. If glaucoma is diagnosed, your eye doctor may prescribe medicated eye drops, conventional or laser surgery, or a combination of both.

Dr. Laura Sperraza, director of low vision services at Lighthouse Guild, says, "The only way glaucoma and other eye diseases can be detected early is through an eye examination. Even if you don't notice changes in your vision, yearly exams should be a priority."

Warning Signs. There are often no warning signs of glaucoma. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include:
-Subtle loss of contrast (the ability to distinguish objects from their background). Diminished contrast sensitivity may affect your ability to detect curbs or steps.
-Difficulty driving at night.
-Progressive loss of peripheral vision increases risk when crossing streets, if moving vehicles are outside your line of vision, and may also cause falls.

Are You at Risk? Anyone can develop glaucoma, but you’re at greater risk if you’re over 40, or if you’re of African, Hispanic or Asian heritage. Diabetes, high blood pressure and a family history of glaucoma are also risk factors.

Source: Lighthouse Guild

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Little-known Facts About Introversion

January 8, 2018 12:44 am

Are you an introvert? Experts from CPP, Inc., the publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment have gone through decades worth of data on MBTI type to offer some of the most interesting and surprising facts, statistics and tips about the Introversion preference.

"Although roughly half of us prefer Introversion, Western society is in many ways just getting to know what this dimension of personality actually means, partly because it's more difficult to observe," says Rich Thompson, PhD, Director of Research at CPP, Inc. "While the most developed parts of the Extraverted personality type are outwardly observable, with Introverted personality type, those aspects are often not externally exhibited."

While many aspects of Introversion align with common perceptions, others are surprising. But the biggest takeaway is that Introversion is actually pretty complicated, and is manifest in all kinds of different ways. Here are a few things you may not have known:

1.  "Introversion" is made up of several distinct facets of personality

You may think of it as a single dimension, but there are actually many subdimensions that describe the complex nature of Introversion. Here are five:
- Initiating or Receiving
- Expressive or Contained
- Gregarious or Intimate
- Active or Reflective
- Enthusiastic or Quiet

2.  Introversion in the workplace: slower to hit "send", tougher to please

You may have observed that people who prefer Introversion will take more time to respond in meetings, but did you know that this extends to written communication, too? Folks with this preference are likely to take more time composing an email than those preferring Extraversion.

Tip: If you prefer Introversion and someone is expecting an email from you, experts recommend sending a 'holding email' to manage expectations while you gather your thoughts.

Furthermore, those with a preference for Introversion are 12 percent less likely to be satisfied in their job and 20 percent less likely to be happy at work than those preferring Extraversion. While we don't know exactly why this is, one reason may be that they're less likely to have their voices heard and it can be challenging to find quiet, alone time in the workplace.

Tip to include those who prefer Introversion in your group discussion: Slowly count to eight after you ask a question before moving on to the next subject.

3.  Some kinds of Introversion are common, some are rare

Men preferring Introversion make up 54 percent of the (male) population, but that's only part of the story. ISTJ preferences are the most common Introverted type for men, making up 16.4 percent, while INFJ preferences are only 1.3 percent, making them the least common. What's the difference? Among other things, people with ISTJ preferences tend to be practical, sensible, realistic and systematic, and others often see them as calm, reserved and serious. Those with INTJ preferences, on the other hand, tend to be creative, visionary and idealistic, and are often seen by others as mysterious, intense and individualistic.

Making up 47 percent of the female population, Introverted personality types are slightly less common than with men, but every bit as varied. INTJ preferences, the least common Introverted MBTI type among women at 0.8 percent, are typically rational, detached, critical thinkers with a penchant for conceptual, long-range thinking, and are often seen by others as private, reserved and aloof. On the other hand, women with ISFJ preferences, the most common Introverted MBTI type in the female population at 19.4 percent, are typically practical, realistic, cooperative and thoughtful, and often seen by others as quiet, serious, considerate and conscientious.

4.  Views on spirituality vary by Introverted type

Those preferring Introversion also show significant variance when it comes to spirituality, depending on their type. When asked if they believe in a higher spiritual power, of all those who prefer Introversion, those with INTJ preferences are most likely to answer 'no' (23 percent), while those who prefer ISFJ are the least likely to answer 'no' (11 percent). To put it in perspective, a 2016 U.S. Gallup poll shows between 11 and 21 percent of Americans not having a belief in God or a universal spirit.

5.  Many incorrectly estimate their own personality type

Curious about what Introverted type is most likely to estimate their type correctly, and what type is most likely to guess wrong? Of the eight types of personalities with preferences for Introversion, those preferring ISTJ are mostly likely to estimate their type correctly compared to their official MBTI results (and do so 55 percent of the time). Conversely, when taking the official MBTI assessment,  those with preferences for ISFP are least likely to be able to estimate their actual MBTI type (estimating correctly only 25 percent of the time). So what do those who prefer ISFP often think their type is? They often mistake their type for ISTP (7.5 percent of the time) and INFP (7.1 percent of the time).

What's the cause of getting the wrong MBTI type? There are many reasons, but one of the most common is taking a fake assessment, and unfortunately, these abound on the web. The authentic, scientifically-validated MBTI assessment is only offered through an MBTI certified practitioner or at

Source: CPP—The Myers-Briggs® Company

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Make Emergency Planning a Priority

January 4, 2018 1:02 am

(Family Features)--With plummeting temperatures and winter storm season near, it's time to refresh your family's emergency plan. Not only is it necessary to ensure you have the right supplies on-hand, it's also important to know how to safely execute your plan and use items like portable generators.

In addition to preparing a first aid kit and practicing an escape route, a portable generator is an integral part of many families' emergency planning. Portable generators allow users to stay warm through cold winter months, providing reliable backup energy during power outages.

While portable generators can minimize the inconvenience of unexpected power outages that can come at any time during a severe storm, they do come with some risks.

The Portable Generator Manufacturers' Association recommends keeping these safety precautions in mind to safely use your portable generator and avoid the dangerous risks of carbon monoxide build-up:

- Know that you cannot smell, see or taste carbon monoxide, so proper use of portable generators is crucial.
- To avoid dangerous carbon monoxide accumulation, always "Take It Outside." This means you should never run a portable generator indoors in areas such as garages, basements, crawl spaces, breezeways, sheds or other partially enclosed spaces.
- Always place a portable generator downwind and point the engine exhaust away from occupied spaces.
- Avoid placing a portable generator near windows, doors or vents, as carbon monoxide gas can accumulate and potentially be drawn indoors.
- Always read the operator's manual first and follow the manufacturer's recommended precautions and procedures.
- Install battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Replace the batteries and test the alarms regularly to ensure they are in good working condition.
-  Learn to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness and fainting.
- If you feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a portable generator, get to fresh air immediately and call 911 for emergency medical attention.
- Always refer to the generator's owner's manual for further information about safe operation and potential hazards.

Source: Portable Generator Manufacturers' Association

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7 Tips for Beating the Winter Blues

January 4, 2018 1:02 am

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are over. The bills are coming in, and we wake each morning to days that are dark, cold and short. Little wonder many people experience the “winter blues,” a scientifically accepted syndrome known as Seasonal Affective Disorder that leaves us sad, bored, or fatigued.

If you find that your mood is falling as fast as the temperature, medical experts tell Real Simple editors that making a few simple lifestyle changes can help to boost your spirits:

Get more light – Open the blinds and curtains at home and work to let in as much natural light as possible. Get out in the sunshine when it is available, and try to sit as close to the light – even artificial light – as possible.

Eat a bit of chocolate – It’s widely accepted by the medical community that a bit of chocolate can enhance your mood and relieve anxiety, But while going overboard on sweets and carbs can provide a temporary lift, take care, because the ultimate let-down can actually increase depression.

Exercise – A Harvard University study revealed that walking fast for 30 minutes a day five times a week, or exercising under bright lights can be a genuine mood booster. (Winter may be the best time to join a gym.)

Turn on the music – Several studies have shown that listening to cheery, upbeat music can significantly improve your mood.  

Plan a vacation – Experts say the very act of planning a trip – checking out maps, routes, and hotel or resort options – can increase your overall contentment.

Help out – It’s a known fact that volunteering at a local shelter, food pantry or any charitable organization can improve mental health and general satisfaction.

Get outside – Even in cold weather, spending some time outside can improve focus and lower stress levels.

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5 Clean-Teeth Eating Tips

January 4, 2018 1:02 am

Even if you brush and floss daily, the food you put in your mouth can impact the health of your teeth. The following tips from the American Dental Association will help keep teeth in tip-top shape regardless of what you eat:

Put down the brittle. Hard foods like peanut brittle and sticky foods like dried fruit wreak havoc on our teeth. Opt for less hard and sticky options like chocolate which rinses off more easily.

Limit your carbs. Starchy foods like sweet potato casserole tend to get stuck between our teeth which could result in plaque buildup. Be sure to clean between your teeth daily to remove any unwanted food that is left behind.

Cheers! Decadent drinks and super sugary cocktails can dry out your mouth or stain your teeth. If you choose to raise a glass, be sure to follow it with a glass of water to help rinse away sugar.

Pucker up. A squeeze of lemon may make a cup of tea more refreshing, but too much citrus can erode enamel. A better choice would be milk as it may benefit tooth health thanks to high amounts of calcium and other nutrients.

Reach for the scissors. Teeth are not made for opening packages and can be cracked if used as a stand-in for scissors. Rather than chewing through a hard-to-undo plastic package, grab something to help you cut it.

Source: American Dental Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Best Cities to Score Your Dream Job

January 3, 2018 12:50 am

Do you have a brand spanking new career and are wondering where to use it? released a list of the best cities to score some of the hottest jobs right now, and what they pay in each location. How did they come to these conclusions? To identify the top three cities for the best jobs in the nation, GOBankingRates looked at U.S. News & World Report's list of "Best Jobs of 2017" and found the positions in each industry with at least 10,000 projected new openings over the next decade. GOBankingRates then looked at job listings on ZipRecruiter to determine which cities had the highest average salaries for each job, and of the top three cities, which had the most available job openings.

Read on to see where you stack up.

Best Cities for the Top Positions of 2017

Civil Engineer
No. 1 City: Los Angeles, $80,500
No. 2 City: Chicago, $76,500
No. 3 City: Houston, $76,000

Computer Systems Analyst
No. 1 City: Los Angeles, $85,000
No. 2 City: Fort Meade, Md., $83,500
No. 3 City: Phoenix, $76,500

No. 1 City: Dallas, $127,000
No. 2 City: Houston, $117,500
No. 3 City: Miami, $115,500

Elementary School Teacher
No. 1 City: San Diego, $44,000
No. 2 City: Atlanta, $42,000
No. 3 City: Philadelphia, $40,500

Financial Adviser
No. 1 City: Jacksonville, Fla., $78,500
No. 2 City: Cleveland, $75,500
No. 3 City: Hartford, Conn., $73,500

*Positions are listed alphabetically and do not indicate ranking.Source:

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Ways to Throwback Style

January 3, 2018 12:50 am

(Family Features) - When it's time for a bathroom or kitchen upgrade, some of the greatest inspiration may come from another time entirely. Some of the most on-trend styles of today are actually throwbacks to bygone eras.

Learn how to make your updated spaces pay tribute to re-emerging trends and add your own modern touches with these three new-again looks.

A retro-modern design is unique in every way, with elements transitioning from the historically unfitted 1920s to 1950s charm and eccentricity. The result is a space that represents many eras and design styles, and the kitchen is the perfect space to bring this look to life.

Use contrasting finishes, colors and textures to uniquely define a small space. For example, a modern cabinet scheme in a dark stain or paint contrasts beautifully with stainless steel hardware and a pop of color to break up the cold nature of stainless steel.

Then bring some uniformity with an option like Shaker decorative legs, which adds to the multi-era design feel.
Deriving from the Shaker lifestyle and tradition, the tapering effect offers a beautiful yet simple design feature. Integrate the look across multiple elements, such as a wooden-style tapered leg icebox, along with stainless steel tapered legs on wall and peninsula cabinets, which can pair nicely with stainless-steel hardware and a grooved countertop.

Accessories are an important part of kitchen design, which is why they should be kept top of mind when building or designing that dream space. Features such as removable under-sink baskets and a double wastebasket kit lend ultimate practicality.

No matter the era, lighting is a must for a functional kitchen space. A carefully crafted, multi-layered lighting design is an essential component of a dream kitchen. An option like Hafele lighting makes it possible to illuminate cabinetry, delivering ambient, accent, task and decorative lighting to create the right mood for any space.

A beautiful, ornate bathroom with plenty of traditional features can truly be an interpretation of elegance in design. Plan for an abundance of luxurious, spa-like elements to achieve this look. Incorporate features such as warm hickory covering every inch of the walls and built-in lighting to set the tone for a relaxing atmosphere. Then incorporate antique-styled mirrors and glass hardware to create contrasts amongst the rich tones and texture.

You can create a distinctive alcove effect by situating the sink vanities directly between matching cabinet ends and recessing two mirrors into the wall. A decorative arch valance can add beauty and function, as this is an ideal place to tuck away lighting that provides depth and visibility.

Let a large soaking tub take center stage between the sink vanity and a custom makeup area. While you can rely on cabinetry for functional features, it's also a way to continue adding elegant touches, such as a beautifully crafted tub skirt and arch that complements the vanity area.

No luxury bathroom is complete without a stand-alone makeup alcove outfitted with unique features like drawer dividers (perfect for hair accessories) and countertop hideaway cabinets. Consider creating a focal point using rounded spindles to create depth and allow the custom makeup section to stand out in the design. Lastly, embellish the distinguished look with molding options that highlight the feature areas and create a defined line around the room.

An elegant, spacious master bathroom is luxurious and functional, proving that practicality can be used in a glorious way.

Going to the extreme with your aesthetic with a retro design is all about fun, with features such as pops of color in the tile behind the vanities or fun and whimsical wallpaper. A 1950s-style bathroom lets you play on your childlike senses. From bright colors to mixed metals and textures, this unique design style pays respect to the era of Car Hops, Airstream Travel Trailers and Lucille Ball.

The key to making a throwback-styled design work for your contemporary needs is all in the modern elements. Think along the lines of illuminated drawers and cabinets and base pull-out wire baskets. These fun twists of technology paired with retro-styled elements make for a winning solution.

When it comes to the vanities and cabinetry, remember that both style and color can bring your retro design together. Don't be afraid to step outside more traditional wood tones, and use unexpected colors. For the woodwork, look for details such as conical-styled, slender legs that add to the 1950s feel.
Reminiscent of days past, a fabulous '50s bathroom is the ultimate definition of an eccentric design.

Source: Wellborn Cabinet, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Tips to Spark Connection Between Grandparents and Grandkids

January 3, 2018 12:50 am

Grandparents can be an emotional rock, a wise friend and a playful elder - the 'go-to person' when parents aren't available. Here are some tips for grandparents to build closer relationships with their grandkids:

Be in touch regularly.  That might mean Skyping or calling once a week, however you can connect with your grandkids. Don't just visit over the holidays.

Surprise them with outings. Pick them up early in the day and take them on surprise outings; only the kids' parents know where they are going, such as to a baseball game, a kayak or fishing trip, or a visit to a kids' museum or animal shelter. It could be something they've never done before.

Use terms of endearment. I call my granddaughter Keira 'Gumdrop' and I called my granddaughter Clara 'Cupcake.' My two young grandsons are 'Scooter' and 'Slugger.' When I say goodbye in person, in notes or on the phone, I always use the same phrase: 'I love you - big time!'

Encourage them to think outside the box. I like to brainstorm ideas for solving problems like city traffic. There is a right answer that is safe, and there is a home run that has risks. I ask them, what is the home run? What does it look like?

Do things they wouldn't expect grandparents to do. When I ran the New York City Marathon, my grandchildren couldn't stop talking to their friends about it.

Martin is a children's advocate and author who writes books with his granddaughter Keira Ely, including the bestsellers "The Case of the Missing Crown Jewels," and "SuperClara - A Young Girl's Story of Cancer, Bravery and Courage."

He founded the nonprofit Bridge to a Cure Foundation to tear down the deadly barriers impeding the timely development of pediatric cancer treatments and cures.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-To Be Generous Without Opening Your Wallet

December 29, 2017 12:56 am

Generosity doesn't always need to involve your checkbook. Below are a handful of ways you can be more generous - to family, friends, or your favorite cause - without opening your own wallet.

Give patience. Showing patience to a loved one is a great form of generosity. Whether you're teaching your teenager to drive or holding space for a friend, patience has value, so give a lot of it.

Give time. Volunteering is a wonderful - and free - way to be generous. Volunteer your time at a local shelter, animal sanctuary or learning facility.

Give space. You can hold emotional space for a friend going through a hard time, or physical space for your favorite charity. Do you have a big barn in the back or a cozy finished basement? Host a donation-based event like a movie night or dance party to raise funds for your favorite cause.

Give goods. Dig through your pantry or your attic to find canned goods, sporting goods, clothes or toys to donate to your local charity or drive.

Give services. Do you have a marketable service you could donate? Architects, lawyers, contractors, psychiatrists, artists and more can all donate a few hours a month of services to a non-profit organization in need.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Kitchen and Bath Remodeling Trends to Watch

December 29, 2017 12:56 am

(Family Features) - Investing thousands of dollars in a kitchen or bathroom remodel can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be.

Check out some of these trends from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) to consider when planning your next kitchen or bath remodel.

Make your home smarter. It used to be that internet meant high-tech. Now, especially with the Internet of Things, it means easier access to entertainment and home security. Home automation is now a consideration when remodeling as WiFi can be used to connect affordable, easy-to-install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These safety tools can be accessed from any smartphone or device, and should be considered when remodeling. Many of these smart devices, including thermostats and lighting fixtures, can support an energy-efficient home by allowing you to adjust the temperature or turn off lights, directly from your smartphone.

Design with accessibility in mind. Getting older may not be fun, but universal design can help support accessibility. However, accessible design isn't just for aging in place. Adopting universal design and accessible components can provide not only safety but comfort as well - no matter your age. Look for a remodeler who has been trained through NARI's Universal Design Certified Professional program. These remodelers not only know what options are available but typically have their fingers on the pulse of products that can make your life better, from scald-proof faucets to appliance types and installation, and grab bars in bathrooms.

Express yourself with tile. While materials like stone and granite remain popular, additional trends for kitchen and bath remodels include textured tile and patterns in all shapes and textures. Changing tile in a kitchen or bathroom can add visual interest and be an easy way to express your personality.  

Personalize with color. Design trends continue to revolve around color. Color options range from the deep, saturated tones of ruby, emerald and sapphire to a soft and delicate palette of pastels. Whether you prefer strong, bold, intense colors or are looking for a more neutral palette, there is a hue to fit your style. Color can be used on everything including cabinetry, walls (even including the "fifth wall”), or ceiling, to appliances, tile and furnishings. The options are nearly limitless.

Good design doesn't have to be a fad. Today's trends provide ways to customize your home that reflect your personality, add comfort and create a safer environment. Find examples of how each of these trends can be included in your next kitchen or bathroom remodel at

Source: National Association of the Remodeling Industry

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Stay Safe on the Road This Winter

December 29, 2017 12:56 am

Road safety is important year round, but in the winter when weather can worsen driving conditions, it's important to be extra alert when you get behind the wheel. To assist, American Trucking Associations and America's Road Team Captains are spreading critical safety tips for traveling through adverse weather conditions.

Remove ice and snow from your vehicle. Clear your windows and roof of snow to ensure you have maximum visibility and avoid creating a hazard for the vehicle behind you. Do not allow ice and snow to create additional blind spots on your vehicle.

Slow down. Chances of a crash nearly triple when driving faster than surrounding traffic. Skidding becomes more likely at increased speeds, especially on icy roads.

Buckle up. A safety belt will not prevent a collision, but it will save a life.

Do not drive impaired. Driving is a great responsibility and your fellow travelers are relying on safe, attentive drivers to respectfully share the road and make good decisions.

Avoid impaired drivers. Report drunk drivers to 911 – after safely pulling over – and stay on the line to help locate the suspected vehicle. A call can save lives. Erratic breaking, weaving between lanes, straddling the centerline or taking excessively wide turns can all be signs of impaired driving.

Be aware of truck blind spots. Pass on the left where the truck's blind spot is much smaller. 

Keep your eyes on the road. Distracted driving is a major cause of traffic accidents and one of the leading causes of death amongst teenagers. Even just two seconds of distraction time doubles the chances of an accident. Use your cell phone when stopped and never text while driving. Technology gifts are popular during the holiday season, but should not be operated while driving.

Do not cut in front of large trucks. Remember trucks are heavier and take longer to make a complete stop, so avoid cutting quickly in front of them. Consider this: fully loaded tractor-trailers can take the length of a football field plus both end zones to make a complete stop.   

Prepare your vehicle for long distance travel. Before you head out to see your aunts, uncles and cousins, check your wipers and fluids and have your radiator and cooling system serviced. Simple maintenance before you leave your home can prevent many of the problems that strand motorists on the side of the road.

Prepare yourself for long distance travel. The vehicle needs maintenance and the driver needs plenty of rest and hydration to function at his or her best. If you feel drowsy, pull over and wait until you are more alert.

Leave early and avoid risks. Leave early to reduce anxiety about arriving late. Road conditions may change due to inclement weather or traffic congestion.

Be aware of the vehicle in front of you. Leave extra room between you and the vehicle ahead.

Source: American Trucking Associations

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Avoiding the Afternoon Slump

December 28, 2017 12:44 am

For most of us, nothing is more reliable than the afternoon slump - that time of the day where we hit a wall, our brain gets fuzzy and our eyelids start drooping. The usual course of action is to head straight to the Keurig or the closest Starbucks. But there are other alternatives.

According to Fitbit, the afternoon slump usually strikes between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and affects millions of people. What’s more, don’t beat yourself up - it’s most likely related to your body’s natural rhythm. According to experts, afternoon is one of those times of day when there’s a greater need for sleep. Ideally, the afternoon slump would be answered with a short power nap so that the body could rest and repair beyond what it usually does at night.

However, if a power nap is not an option - which it probably isn’t for most - Fitbit offers these other antidotes to the afternoon slump (in addition to caffeine!):

- Getting a full night’s sleep. The Center for Disease Control recommends getting at least seven hours sleep each night. Unfortunately, most people don’t, and sleep deprivation makes the afternoon slump even worse.
- Track your patterns. If you are getting a full night’s sleep, yet still slumping, jot down the time of day when you crash. Then start looking for patterns or triggers that may be contributing factors.
- Plan your day around your slump. Make sure you’re doing your most taxing work in the morning, and save more mindless tasks or errand-running for the afternoon slump. Getting up and moving can be just what the doctor ordered.
- Get some sun. Getting outside and grabbing some Vitamin D is a great way to refresh and recharge. So if you’re headed to the coffee shop, walk there!

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Create a Sleek, Functional Home Office

December 28, 2017 12:44 am

(Family Features)--The regular work-at-home, non-self-employed population has grown by 115 percent since 2005, according to research from That translates to 3.7 million employees working from home at least half the time, while 40 percent more U.S. employers offer flexible workplace options compared to five years ago.

The benefits working from home offers are indisputable, but those often come at a cost when you find it difficult to turn off the clock and stop working.

Developing an organized work-at-home routine and creating an efficient work space to facilitate productivity is a must for those who telecommute. Consider applying these tips to assist you in becoming a productive, well-balanced and focused work-at-home professional.

1. Choose a dedicated, efficient work space where you go specifically to get in the right frame of mind for the work day.

2. Choose electronic and physical boundaries. Don't let office work spill out of the work space and resist the temptation to answer work emails during your personal time.

3. Be proactive and use technology to stay connected. There are many project management and collaboration options available that you can access via websites, apps or both. When it comes to meetings, there are also a number of services available to facilitate high-quality connections so you feel like you're across the table rather than across the city or even country.

4. Make your work space a place you enjoy and surround yourself with things that make you happy. Don't forget, it's important to keep your space organized for better productivity.

5. Don't always stay at home. For a refreshing change of pace, find a Wi-Fi-enabled establishment and work from there on occasion. The change of scenery can provide a fresh perspective and minimize the sense of social isolation some telecommuters feel from time to time.

6. Set work schedules and time parameters then adhere to them. When your office is at home, it's easy to fall into a habit of jumping on the computer to handle one quick project or answer a simple email, but it's easy to let that practice evolve into a 24/7 work schedule. Draw a clear line to ensure working from home doesn't mean your home life suffers.

7. Take breaks. Get up, clear your mind and stretch so you can return to your work space refreshed and energized for greater productivity.

It's true that working from home brings plenty of advantages, but working from home also requires discipline. Maintaining a clean and organized workspace, keeping in touch and limiting distractions allows those who work from home the opportunity to be as successful as their in-office counterparts.

Source: ClosetMaid

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Ways to Go Solar Without Solar Panels

December 26, 2017 12:53 am

Take a drive around your neighborhood and chances are those solar panels that once seemed so futuristic are becoming a pretty common site. But even if you’re not ready to make the plunge to full-out solar power, here are four ways you can incorporate solar energy into your home, according to the American Home Shield Home Matters blog:

1. Solar Water Heaters
Powered by solar panels that heat the water and deliver it to the storage tank, solar water heaters can replace gas or electric models. You may even be able to take advantage of a specific federal tax credit for solar water heaters. Solar water heaters can be a reasonable alternative to conventional gas- or electric-powered models.

2. Outdoor Solar Lights
These attractive lights can instantly spruce up any landscape as well as add security in needed spaces. Solar security lights, flood lights or accent lights use solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity, then store this electricity in special batteries that power the lights come nightfall. Be aware, both the units and separate solar cell panel units need to be placed in sunny locations, so if shade from trees or structures will prevent adequate sunlight from getting through, the light’s performance will be compromised.  

3. Solar Cookers
Think of a solar cooker like a sunshine-powered crockpot. Angled reflectors direct solar energy into a special chamber, heating food at relatively low temperatures over the course of many hours (eight to 10, depending on the recipe), just like a traditional slow cooker.

4. Small Solar Devices
Think about that tangle of wires on your desk or kitchen counter where your family charges their growing array of devices. Now imagine if those wires could be replaced by the sun! While it may not seem like big savings to charge personal devices with solar, they actually use more energy than you think. A solar-powered phone and tablet charger can be a simple, inexpensive and effective way to begin introducing the benefits of solar power to your family.

So start harnessing the power of the sun in small ways and start to see the difference it makes both in your next energy bill and the long-term health of the planet.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Can You Really Grow a Winter Garden in the Kitchen?

December 26, 2017 12:53 am

Now that winter weather has descended on much of the country, there are still loads of things a homeowner can grow to keep the freshest of ingredients available for winter culinary adventures.

Tammi Hartung at offers a step-by-step guide to establishing a year-round indoor garden that can supply the freshest of ingredients from a tiny space. She advises you to look around your house and choose your best location - and don’t limit yourself to the kitchen.

Basil, chives, mints and parsley are just a few that do very nicely in pots with bright indirect light. It might surprise you to know you don’t need direct sunlight for growing most herbs; the indirect light most of us get will work fine.

East-, south- and west-facing windows should all give your herbs enough light, especially if you set up a small table or use a counter that keeps plants about a foot away from window glass.

Tricia Drevets at says start with a few basics, such as oregano, thyme, parsley, basil and rosemary. Then add a few others that your family particularly enjoys in their favorite meals. Cilantro? Dill? Chives?

She advises to check your garden center for high-quality seeds or for healthy and vigorous-looking starter plants. Or maybe find a selection of starter plants in your grocery store’s produce section as well.

Drevets says if your herb garden is in your kitchen, the plants should get some additional humidity from your use of the sink or dishwasher. If not, lightly mist them with a water spray bottle.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Winter Wellness

December 26, 2017 12:53 am

(Family Features)--When cold winds blow, it's essential to take extra steps to protect your health. There are a number of techniques that can help keep your immunity high and your body in good condition to support wellness all season long so that you can enjoy the chillier months.

There's no magic formula for feeling your best, but consulting your health care provider is always a good idea when you're contemplating new ideas to promote better health.

Get up and moving
Without frequent use, muscles and joints can weaken and grow stiff, limiting your mobility. Exercise is also an important step in balancing your caloric intake, and physical activity gets your blood pumping, which has numerous benefits for heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes each week (or 30 minutes per day, at least five days each week) of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk, yoga class or bike ride. 

Additionally, winter brings fewer hours of sunlight during the day, and per the National Sleep Foundation, darkness naturally causes the brain to release melatonin, a hormone that triggers sleepiness. Exercise can counteract this drowsiness, as the endorphins released through physical activity cause a natural increase in energy levels. Studies show that endorphins can also elicit positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain, which can lower stress levels to help keep you mentally and physically well.

Spice up your routine with herbal supplements
Whether to supplement your diet with additional vitamins and nutrients or to give you a specific, targeted boost, herbal supplements can help support overall health. For example, the supplement turmeric, derived from root extracts of the Curcuma longa plant, is widely regarded to have numerous positive health implications.

"Since 2013, turmeric has dominated the market as the top-selling ingredient in herbal supplements," said Chris Oswald, licensed nutritionist at Nature's Way. "As research on turmeric grows, consumers continue to recognize the health benefits of this amazing botanical."

Turmeric can be added to foods, but to ensure a steady, adequate dose, Oswald recommends a turmeric-based herbal supplement.

Get ample rest
Adequate sleep allows the body to rejuvenate itself naturally, promoting a better mood, improved system function and increased stamina throughout the day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends older adults get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Beyond a good night's sleep, be sure to take some mental downtime, too, to minimize stress and anxiety, both of which can have a negative impact on your health. Find ways to relax through meditation, reading or listening to soothing music, which can help rest your mind and body. 

Boost immunity
Fresh fruits and vegetables offer vitamins and minerals that can play an important role in immune health. Studies have shown that vitamin C, which is found naturally in several fruits, is essential for stimulating growth and repair in the body. During the winter months, when fresh fruit can be harder to find, supplements like Echinacea & Vitamin C can be another source of vitamin C.

Maintain skin health
As the body's largest organ and the first line of defense against physical harm, the skin is particularly susceptible to wear and tear. During the winter, frequent exposure to harsh elements, from dry air to biting sleet, can have serious impacts on skin health.

You can take steps to minimize painful redness and flakiness or cracking by regularly moisturizing your skin with fragrance-free lotions and herbal oils. They can create a protective barrier between your skin tissue and potential pollutants and irritants, and should be applied generously to areas that are most likely to be exposed, like your hands and face. Also remember to bundle up to prevent the impact of stinging winds, and avoid unnecessary time outdoors when conditions are especially harsh. 

Source: Nature's Way

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Social Media Do’s and Don'ts

December 22, 2017 12:42 am

Whether you’re using social media for business or personal connectivity, there is a right and wrong way to do things. And in a culture where social media has become a top influencer and communication vehicle, it’s important to constantly hone your best practices. Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts to keep in mind before your next post:

Do keep things entertaining. Everyone is inundated with information on social media, so try to make your posts fun or interesting. For example, instead of just posting a photo of your child, make it a photo at a unique location or with an interesting background. Or capture your child doing something funny or creative.

Don’t get overly political. Or if you choose to, be aware that while half your friends and followers may like what you have to say, half will not. So consider the end goal of your social media efforts before you use the medium as a means for voicing political opinions.

Do engage. Don’t just be a voyeur on social media - like and respond to others’ posts, and engage with those who respond to your posts. Remember, it’s all about connectivity.

Don’t react. Before you post, think. As we’ve learned from the national news, once you put something out on social media, it’s out there for good - even if you try to retract it. So even though you might be tempted to use social to vent, please don’t!

Do mix things up. While you may be using social media for a particular purpose - maybe to promote your new book or to show off your new grandchild - make sure that’s not the only thing you’re posting about. Keep a healthy mix of content that shares the large and small moments of your life to really connect well with friends and followers.

Don’t overshare. Remember that social media sites can be a prime hunting ground for identity thieves. Consider removing your birthdate and hometown from your personal information, and make your profile picture something other than a face-forward headshot - an action shot or a group shot makes it difficult to replicate your identity.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Reduce Your Natural Gas Use This Winter

December 22, 2017 12:42 am

If you're looking to shave some dollars off your winter heating bill, take a look at how often you're cranking the gas. Unsure of where to start? Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) offers the following tips to help save on energy costs all season long:

- Set your thermostat to 68 degrees when you are home and 55 degrees when you are not home. Lowering your thermostat three to five degrees can save up to 10 percent on heating costs.

- Install proper caulking and weather-stripping; this can save roughly 10 to 15 percent on heating and cooling costs.

- Wash clothes in cold water to save up to 10 percent on water heating costs.

- Clean or replace your furnace filters according to manufacturer recommendations.

- Have your air ducts tested for leaks. Leaky ducts can cost between 10 to 30 percent in heating and cooling costs.

- Turn down the temperature on your water heater.

- Take shorter showers to reduce your natural gas use.

- Fix leaky faucets and pipes. Hot water leaks cause increased demand on the water heater, which increases natural gas use. One drop of water per second can waste 500 gallons of hot water per year.

- Limit use of non-essential natural gas appliances, such as spas and fireplaces.

Source: Southern California Gas Co.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Cost of Living to Soar in These Cities

December 22, 2017 12:42 am

Are you concerned about your cost of living heightening in the new year? According to GoBankingRates, some cities will see monumental spikes in their financial livability. See the top 10, below.

Top 10 Cities Where the Cost of Living is Expected to Soar

1. Portland
- Projected change in home value*: 2.81%
- Projected change in rent*: 5.34%
- Average Consumer Price Index (CPI) change 2014-2017: 2.49%

2. Seattle
- Projected change in home value: 4.86%
- Projected change in rent: 5.73%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 2.07%

3. Denver
- Projected change in home value: 3.52%
- Projected change in rent: 4.37%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 2.36%

4. Atlanta
- Projected change in home value: 3.34%
- Projected change in rent: 5.08%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 1.51%

5. San Diego
- Projected change in home value: 2.86%
- Projected change in rent: 3.91%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 2.01%

6. San Francisco
- Projected change in home value: 1.40%
- Projected change in rent: 0.92%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 2.95%

7. Dallas-Fort Worth
- Projected change in home value: 5.58%
- Projected change in rent: 2.82%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 0.87%

8. Phoenix
- Projected change in home value: 3.21%
- Projected change in rent: 3.87%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 1.34%

9. Tampa, Fla.
- Projected change in home value: 2.92%
- Projected change in rent: 2.27%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 1.22%

10. Miami
- Projected change in home value: 1.39%
- Projected change in rent: 2.38%
- Average CPI change 2014-2017: 1.76%

*Projected change in home value and rent price based on year-over-year change for all years 2014 to 2017.


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Purple Passion: Ultra Violet Named 2018 Color of the Year

December 20, 2017 12:39 am

Purple lovers rejoice! Pantone has picked 18-3838 Ultra Violet as its 2018 color of the year.

According to an article by Joanne Friedrick at Home Furnishings News (HFN), the blue-based purple is described as “provocative, thoughtful and mystical” as well as “evocative of the night sky and the mysteries of the universe.”

“We are living in a time that requires inventiveness and imagination,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute in a statement for HFN. “It is this kind of creative inspiration that is indigenous to Ultra Violet.”

According to HFN, Pantone points to purple’s correlation to counterculture, unconventionality and artistic genius, evidenced in the likes of music greats Prince, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, who donned shades of deep purple to express their individuality.

And historically, there has been a mystical or spiritual quality attached to moody purples, often associated with mindfulness and meditation practices.

When it comes to home decor, reports HFN, Pantone suggests using Ultra Violet to transform a room with self-expression or, conversely, tone down a room, with its subdued hue. Described as “a color that can take you in so many directions,” Ultra Violet can be elegant or bold.

Try Ultra Violet as an accent color in a main room, such as your living room or dining room, or to cover all four walls in a bedroom or bathroom. It can also add interest and ambience when used on a room’s fifth wall - the ceiling. Or try it on accent furniture pieces for a mystical pop of color in any room.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Resolutions Every Homeowner Should Consider in 2018

December 20, 2017 12:39 am

The time for New Year's resolutions is at hand. And while some are striving to eat healthier and get more exercise in 2018, there are a few resolutions everyone can make to help keep their home more safe, secure, and more efficient.

The folks at have a ton of ideas for homeowner resolutions, but among the most valuable is the suggestion to call for an energy audit. This entails inviting a specialist in to perform a series of tests that tell you the efficiency of your heating and cooling system and the overall efficiency of your home.

On the basis of the test results, auditors will likely recommend low-cost improvements to save energy, and larger upgrades that will pay you back within five to seven years. Audits take two to three hours and cost $250 to $400, but many utility companies or local and state energy offices could offer a substantial rebate.

More than a few real estate blogs urge homeowners to resolve to find a way to make extra payments on your mortgage. While paying even as little as $25 - $100 more per month may seem like it could have little impact, sources say it makes a huge difference on the total you end up paying over the course of the loan. It can also shorten the amount of time you're making payments and can have you owning your house free and clear sooner than you expected.

If you want to save more and waste less in 2018, the Natural Resources Defense Council - an organization that pushes for more intelligent management of natural resources - suggests making a resolution to stop wasting food. In 2017, Americans on average tossed out roughly 40 percent of their food.

That one behavior modification could save you roughly $1,300 per household per year - quite a chunk of change. The council suggests planning out grocery shopping, meals and other elements of consumption to bring your household into the zero-food-waste category in 2018.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Holiday Safety for your Pets

December 20, 2017 12:39 am

Holidays should be enjoyable for the whole family - your four-legged members included. But with potentially dangerous decorations, a flurry of guests and tables teeming with temptations, your furry friends may need a little added care this season. Below are a few holiday tips from Petland to make the holidays more enjoyable for families and their pets, especially those living in geographical locations where cold weather is an added concern:

No rich foods. Refrain from feeding your pet holiday table scraps. Your pet's digestive system is not receptive to rich people foods. Also make sure to keep grapes, raisins and currants (in fruitcakes) out of your pet's reach, as these are toxic to dogs and cats.

Holiday decorations out of reach of paws. When not crated, your pets should be observed often over the holidays, making sure they are not endangering themselves by chewing on Christmas paraphernalia, gifts and ribbons. Also beware of snow globes and bubble lights as the liquids inside can be toxic. Keep potpourri out of reach as well, as the smells can also be enticing to your four-legged friends.

Oh, Christmas Tree. Make sure your tree is secure, in a corner is best, especially if you have felines in your family! Keep the area around the tree clean and free from pine needles. The needles are sharp and can puncture your pet's intestinal tract if ingested. Be careful with glass bulbs, lights, tinsel and wires – these can also be harmful. Also, try to avoid popcorn or cranberry strands on the tree as they may prove tempting for your pet!

Dangerous holiday foliage. Keep pets from coming in contact with holiday plants – mistletoe, holly, and poinsettia. These traditional holiday plants can cause illness. Ingestion of these plants can be toxic to some animals. On contact with these plants, some pets may develop an irritating rash.

Rap on the car hood. A warm automobile is a hotel for outdoor cats during the winter months. Every year thousands of cats who take comfort in sleeping under the hood are injured or killed when a driver returns to his car and starts the engine. A rap on the car hood before starting the engine will awaken a sleeping cat, giving it time to escape before you rev up and go.

Keep antifreeze out of reach. This is the time of year when antifreeze is used, so be sure to store it safely out of reach. Antifreeze can smell good to pets, but it is highly toxic.

Give water not ice. Pets who live outdoors during the winter must have fresh water to drink at all times. Water, however, can freeze in a matter of hours when temperatures go below freezing. Pet owners who can not replenish their pet's dish with fresh water several times a day may need to use an electrically heated water dish.

Provide proper shelter. Having a permanent fur coat does not make your pets safe from winter's harsh blows. Cats and dogs that live outdoors must have a shelter equipped with clean, dry bedding. The shelter should be just big enough for the pet to get in and turn around. Having a larger cat or dog house is not beneficial, as the animal cannot use its natural body heat to warm the shelter area. Even pet birds housed inside need to have their cages located in places free of feather-chilling drafts.

Dry those paws. The snow and salt that accumulates in your pet's paws from daily winter romps can result in irritation, cracking and pain. Paws need to be checked daily and routinely cleaned and dried. A balm can be helpful in keeping your pet's paws soft. Your pet's coat should be dried off, too, as dampness and chilling can lead to illness.

Quell anxiety. If your pet gets anxious around extra people in the house, consider a stress-relieving oil warmer or drops to help calm your pooch. A Thundershirt or compression jacket may also be beneficial. Make sure your pet always has a quiet place to rest during noisy holiday activities.

Source: Petland

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Should I Dip Into Equity and Renovate?

December 19, 2017 1:12 am

Many homeowners will be taking advantage of winter savings on supplies and the off-season availability of contractors to use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to finance home renovations.

According to recent research from TD Bank, more than three quarters (80 percent) of responding homeowners with existing HELOCs who said they were planning home renovations for winter also said they would consider dipping into their home equity for funding.

With an average HELOC size of more than $84,000, half (51 percent) of those surveyed stated they plan to spend at least $50,000 on renovations as winter approaches.

Using a HELOC to make renovations during the winter is smart and cost effective, says Mike Kinane, head of Consumer Lending for TD Bank, as homeowners can often take advantage of reduced materials prices during annual sales and choose from a larger pool of contractors who usually have more accessibility during the off-season.

The most popular uses for HELOC funds, according to survey respondents were: home renovations (32 percent); emergency funds (14 percent); and education expenses (12 percent). offers these six tips when considering a HELOC:

Shop around. Comparison shop to get the best rate.

Ask about the margin. If you’re offered a rate that’s lower than the competition, it’s probably just an introductory rate, so ask about the lender’s margin. For example, if the introductory rate is 3.5 percent and your lender’s margin is 2 percent, your final interest rate will be 5.5 percent.

Consider a conversion clause. Some HELOCs allow you to convert a variable interest rate to a fixed rate, usually during the draw period (5-10 years).

Watch out for balloon payments. Balloon payments mean that you must pay the balance in full when the draw period is up. Do not choose this option unless you have the financial means to handle it.

Create a family plan. Decide what the money will be used for and who will handle the funds. Keep in mind, you can lose your home if the HELOC is not handled properly.Create a payback plan. Come up with a reasonable plan for how the loan will be paid back.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Homecook Help: 5 Ways to Add Spice Without Making Meals Spicy

December 19, 2017 1:12 am

Are you looking to add spice to your home cooking, but not heat? Here are five interesting flavors to try, while sparing your mouth from fire.

Cumin. With a mild, earthy flavor, cumin goes great in curries without adding any heat, and has been known to aid digestion and improve your immune system.

Coriander. Did you know coriander seeds come from the cilantro plant? This spice has a nutty, mild flavor and is great for creating rubs, adding to homemade pickles or putting in a curry.

Smoked paprika. While paprika is derived from the pepper plant, it doesn't pack the heat that its cousin cayenne does, and this smokey version can add depth to chilis and stews without firing up your mouth.

Turmeric. This bright root has a bold flavor, but no spicy zing, and is wonderful for treating inflammation - you can add it to smoothies, soups, stirfrys and more.

Sumac. Popular in middle-eastern cuisine, this spice has a bold lemony flavor. Use it to flavor rice, sprinkle on top of cooked vegetables or add to salad dressings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Homeowner Heating Safety 101

December 19, 2017 1:12 am

Nothing is cozier than coming home to a warm home in the winter. But have you given any thought to heating safety? Michigan-based Consumers Energy offers the following reminders for keeping your home heating methods safe and secure.

- Safely removing snow and ice around meters, intake valves and chimneys can also help prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Often called the "silent killer," carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless toxic gas that can be produced when appliances are not operating or venting properly.

- Keep chimneys and vent pipes free of obstructions like leaves and nests.

- Installing a UL-listed audible carbon monoxide alarm is the only way to be warned if this dangerous gas is produced. Most carbon monoxide problems occur in the winter when doors and windows are closed and furnaces are operating.

- Never use a generator inside of your home, basement, garage or near a window.

- Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.

- Do not store paper and other flammable materials near your furnace or appliances.

- When using space heaters, keep the heater away from curtains, drapes, bedspreads and other flammable materials. Always unplug the heater before you leave the home or go to bed.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Don’t Let Holiday FOMO Drive You Into Debt

December 15, 2017 12:54 am

Most of us start out holiday shopping with the best of intentions. We make a list, set a budget, scope out sales and get off to a successful start.

As we get closer to the big day, however, we start making rash purchases, often driven by our kids’ FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - over not getting some of the gifts they want. This is when we hit the credit cards and the debt starts to climb.

According to Jeff Dixson (, a financial educator and author of “Winning The Retirement Game,” chronic overspending of money we don’t really have can torpedo a family budget, not to mention a retirement plan. He offers these four tips to help keep holiday shopping in line so we can stave off debt:

1. Look at the big picture. Credit card use means putting off paying for something you didn’t have the money for in the first place. So forecast what that mounting credit card bill will add to your regular monthly expenses, and let that act as a deterrent.

2. Use one card. If you must use a credit card, Dixson says, put the rest of your cards aside and use the one with the lowest interest rate. This also makes it easier to track your spending.

3. Make a real budget. While it may be too late to salvage this year’s holiday budget, put the following into effect for next year: Figure out what you can afford to spend (for example, $600 = $50 per month) and set this aside each month in order to have that money available when holiday shopping season rolls around. The trick is sticking to that amount while you’re out shopping.

4. Make it a teaching moment. The holidays are a great time to teach your kids about money, a lesson that could last a lifetime. Most families have budgets, and part of being responsible means not over-spending. “The greater good of the family is served rather than immediate gratification,” Dixson says. “They’ll learn something meaningful about money, appreciation and responsibility that will stay with them when they have families of their own.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Protect Your Home This Winter

December 15, 2017 12:54 am

Brrr! It's cold in here. When winter weather starts frosting, you're not the only one reaching for a sweater. Your home, too, needs to be protected from the chill.

Joe Todaro, director of operations of Gold Medal Service, offers these tips for homeowners so they can prepare their home for a cold winter:

Protect your outdoor unit – Your outdoor air conditioning unit needs a little help staying healthy throughout the winter. You may want to consider a cover for your unit not unlike the cover you use for a grill or a car. Covers can keep snow, ice and heavy rain from potentially damaging the unit. There are covers available on the market, or you can use a spare tarp you may have laying around in the garage. Be sure to clean any debris away from the unit before sealing it up.

Patch leaks around doors and windows – Check windows and exterior doors for any gaps or openings that would let cold air in or warm air to escape. Leakage like that may not only cause you to have cold spots in your home, but make your heating system run longer than necessary – costing you money on your energy bills. For a DIY approach, especially with older homes, there are several types of gap sealers, as well as insulation kits that can be used to shrink wrap windows and reduce heat loss. Naturally, having your heater tuned up by a professional for peak performance is a proven way of saving on energy bills as well. A well-sealed home is a warmer, more comfortable home when the temperatures get at or below freezing – and your family will appreciate the difference.

Reduce heat loss through the fireplace – If the home has a fireplace, it's a good idea to keep the damper closed when it is not in use to prevent heat loss. Close any doors leading into the room when a fire is burning.  If you have a gas fireplace, be sure that it burns cleanly, evenly, and safely.

Use sunlight to your advantage – You can naturally heat your home by opening curtains and window coverings on south-facing windows during the day. Closing curtains at night will protect your home from losing heat through those same window openings.

Prep the plumbing – As winter approaches, you'll want to make sure you don't have any water freeze-ups – those can potentially become a big headache. To eliminate that risk, drain any water from outdoor faucets, and arrange to have any in-ground sprinkler systems blown out. Drain and roll up garden hoses and store them inside, in a garage, shed, or basement, to shield them from the severest temperatures. If any pipes in the home have been prone to freezing in past winters, consider using heat tape to keep them warmer during extremely cold weather. If you do experience a burst pipe, make sure everyone in the family knows how to turn off the water at the source.

Source: Gold Medal Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Empowering Teens through Smart Spending

December 15, 2017 12:54 am

(Family Features)--Helping teens learn to handle money can be a tricky proposition. Mistakes can quite literally be costly, but there's really no substitute for hands-on practice when it comes to managing finances.

Children are the ultimate investment, so teach your teen to be a smart spender with these savvy tips:

Start with saving. As a first step, open a savings account for your teen and involve them in the process. Use this opportunity to teach good habits, such as putting away a percentage of every paycheck, creating an emergency fund and setting savings goals for big purchases. Visit the bank together and explore the account options. Many banks offer incentives for high-balance accounts, and while your teen likely won't qualify, it's a valuable lesson to see the incentives available to big savers.

Move on to basic checking. Although most banks still refer to their most accessible accounts as "checking" accounts, chances are that your teen is more likely to shop with a debit card or cash rather than checks. Still, knowing how to write a proper check is an important life skill - as are conducting debit transactions and understanding any fees associated with using the account.

Create safe zones. Even after teaching them the fundamentals, letting teens make their own purchasing decisions can be a frightening prospect. Fortunately, if you know where to look, there are options available that offer teens a customizable level of autonomy while still under the oversight of a parent. For example, Amazon introduced a way for teens ages 13-17 to shop using their own, independent login linked to a parent's account. In addition to product recommendations, order histories and lists tailored specifically to the teen's shopping history and interests, teens can exercise smart shopping decisions with access to customer reviews and comparison shopping tools.

Parents have the option to review and approve every purchase, or set spending limits that offer teens the freedom to place orders up to a certain dollar amount on their own. In either case, parents receive notifications for every order and shipment. Find more details at

Set a budget. Part of smart spending is learning to shop within your means. Whether your teen's income is from a part-time job, allowance or a combination of the two, building a budget that defines expenses and expectations is essential. Like any budget, it should include all income sources and all expenses he or she is responsible for, including auto maintenance, gasoline, insurance and beyond. Reinforce the importance of saving by including a regular savings allocation. Putting all of these numbers to paper lets your teen see clearly where the money is going and how much is left over for extracurricular spending.

Put safety nets in place. No matter how much planning is done in advance, surprise expenses will inevitably pop up. Teens can prepare for these expenses while also guarding against mistakes and the temptation to over-spend by taking advantage of special services available through banking institutions, such as setting a per-transaction or daily spending limit and investing in overdraft coverage.

Ultimately, money management skills come with time and practice. Creating a safe environment for your teen to practice these life lessons sooner rather than later can pay dividends down the road.

Source: Amazon

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Turn Any Room into a Guest Room

December 14, 2017 12:54 am

Whether you have out-of-town visitors on the way or an unexpected guest who needs to crash for the night, don’t panic if you don’t have an official guest room - you can quickly outfit just about any area into cozy sleeping quarters with a few simple steps:

No bed? No problem! A comfortable sofa will do the trick when you make it as bed-friendly as possible. Remove the back cushions for more space, then make it up with a set of twin sheets, pillows and a comforter, and its sweet dreams in no time!

Choose an area with privacy. If you don’t have a guest room, consider your home office or finished basement. Or, section off an area of your living room or family room with a decorative screen. Anything that makes your guest feel a bit removed from the rest of the house.

Accessorize. Feeling at home in someone else’s home is often about the small touches. So make sure your guest has a few hangers and drawers or shelves to place their clothes, a small table with a lamp that can serve as a nightstand for their book, glasses, keys and other small personal items, access to an outlet for charging their devices, and a small chair where they can relax when not sleeping.

Add necessities. Nothing will make your guests feel more pampered than stocking their space with bed-and-breakfast-like accoutrements. Add a stack of fluffy towels, a set of spare slippers, bottled water and glasses, and a basket packed with shampoo, soap, sunscreen, toothpaste and a spare toothbrush.

Remember, feeling at home is not about how much space a guest has, but how welcome they feel within that space.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Deck Your Halls Safely This Holiday Season

December 14, 2017 12:54 am

Decorating your home for the holidays can be great for family bonding and exploring your creative side. However, as you decorate, you should be keeping home safety front and center. To help, Florida Realtors® offers the following tips.

- Illuminate holiday lights only when another adult is home and awake.

- Place all extension cords out of the normal traffic path and do not place furniture on the cords.

- Check electrical decorations to make sure they're in good condition. Replace any decorations that have frayed, that have exposed wires or loose connections. When buying new lights, select products approved by a testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which is usually indicated by the agency's symbol printed on the package.

- Use decorations made of fire-resistant materials. Artificial trees, garland and tree skirts are often made of this material, but check the package to be sure.

- If you prefer a live tree, remember to water it daily so the needles stay moist and are less likely to catch fire. There are also some plant-food products designed to extend a tree's life, which may help.

- When you open gifts, discard wrapping paper and ribbons in a metal garbage can. In the event of a household fire, excess paper will increase the speed at which the fire spreads.

- Burn candles only when an adult is present. Make sure there is plenty of space between candles and overhead cabinets, use a candle holder large enough to contain the dripping wax and move nearby items that could ignite. Carefully extinguish the flame when leaving the room and – as always – keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.

- Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in working order, preferably one that will put out all types of fires including electrical and grease fires. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguisher and keep it in an easily accessible place.

- If your home does not have smoke detectors, now is the time to install them. If you already have smoke detectors, check the batteries and replace them if you aren't sure how old they are. Some new-home builders install electrical smoke detectors, which eliminate the need for batteries, but it doesn't protect you or your home during a power outage. Most experts recommend installing at least two battery-operated smoke detectors. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.

- Discuss escape routes with your family and choose alternate routes in case a preferred exit, such as the front door, is blocked.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Avoid Pipe Damage This Winter

December 14, 2017 12:54 am

Nothing will put a damper on your winter wonderland faster than a busted pipe. But with freezing and thawing all season long, your pipes can take a beating. To help, Best Service offers the following tips to avoid expensive pipe damage:

Look for early signs of hard water – Hard water and issues with scaling can be detected early by keeping an eye on items easily affected by the minerals that may be present in the water. A coffee maker, for example, can provide great early warning signs for hard water. If the maker is failing early in its life due to clogs and requiring multiple descaling treatments, there is a good chance that attention needs to be given to the home's water lines. Noticing spikes in a utility bill with no notable changes in usage can serve as a good indicator that there are leaks in need of attention.

Consider a water-softening system – A water softener is a system that helps lower the hardness of incoming water and therefore, reduces the amount of minerals that can adhere to the inside of pipes and appliances. Purchasing or building a home in a known hard-water area is reason enough to invest in a water softener, and it is best to have it installed and in good operational condition before beginning daily life in the new home.

Install a pressure regulator – Having a pressure regulator installed is a great way to monitor possible clogs and detect any issues before they result in serious damage. As minerals from hard water or other intrusions clog pipes, they restrict water flow and increase pressure on the walls of the pipes. Setting the regulator between 50-70 psi is normal, but noticing pressure between 100 and 120 psi is a sign that something is restricting water flow and may cause damage to the pipes.

Check the landscaping relative to the water lines – In addition to taking hard water into consideration, it is worth noting the approximate distance of trees to the water lines. As pipes age, they can develop tiny cracks and holes that can allow water to begin leaking at rates less detectable by meters and bills. Tree roots, which can grow quite extensively underneath yards in search of water, will sometimes pick up on these sources and try to invade the pipes. These roots can penetrate the cracks in the pipes and begin to grow, clogging the water flow and putting more stress on the already compromised structure of the pipe. If a home is over 25 years old, the piping may be steel or clay. Steel is susceptible to corrosion, and clay is more porous. At this point in their lifespan, both of these materials will be more likely to leak and attract tree roots than modern materials such as PVC or concrete.

Source: Best Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Could You Be Setting Yourself up for a Contractor Scam?

December 12, 2017 12:42 am

From simple maintenance to major renovations, millions and millions of hard-earned dollars will be spent with contractors this year.

So we turned to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) for some advice on not only getting the best value for those dollars spent, but for ways to avoid throwing away good money on unscrupulous individuals posing as reputable contractors.

From post-disaster work going on from storm-related damage to wildfire ravaged communities in the west, the NAHB warns that many "fly-by-night" operators will continue pouring into these areas trying to scam distressed homeowners into paying for shoddy repairs or work that they will never show up to perform.

Here are a few warning signs the NAHB asks you to consider when searching for a contractor:

Asks you to sign anything before you've hired them. Look out - they may be trying to get you to sign what is an actual binding contract.

Vastly underbids all other contractors. Such contractors may cut costs on quality, which can end up costing you more when you have to have the substandard work redone.

Cannot provide customer references. Professional contractors should have current references and you should be able to reach those references, not just an answering machine.

Difficulty contacting the contractor. Verify the contractor’s business address, as true professionals have a physical office, mailing address, phone, and email. If they only have a PO box, be wary.

Tells you to obtain building or remodeling permits. Professional contractors go to the county or state offices and get permits for their work themselves. Asking a homeowner to do it is a sign that they are not a legitimate contractor.

The NAHB says if your state requires contractors to be licensed, look them up on the state licensing website even if you've seen a piece of paper that looks like a license. Make sure they don't have a record of consumer complaints lodged with your local Better Business Bureau.

You can find your local home builders association and contact them for a list of reputable contractors in your area. Or search NAHB’s Directory of Professional Remodelers to find a NAHB Remodelers member in your community.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-To Avoid Customer Service Frustration

December 12, 2017 12:42 am

Whether you need to return that new pair of shoes you bought online, or the product you ordered is weeks late, contacting customer service can elicit dread in even the calmest of individuals.

"Contacting your retailer is not something that people look forward to, but it doesn't have to be as frustratingly painful as it used to be. Today, there are more ways than ever for consumers to connect with companies and advancements in technology that help you get faster service," says Rachel Faulkner of Genesys, an expert in customer experience solutions.

Here are five easy tricks that will help you get better, faster customer service:

Send a message instead. Contacting customer service doesn't require sitting on hold for 10 minutes. Dialing into a contact center to speak with a live agent remains popular, but companies also staff communication channels such as text messaging and web chat. You still get the human touch to resolve issues – just without the wait time.

Social channels aren't just for bad reviews. While it can be therapeutic to vent via social media, it's also a great way to reach support centers. Social channels such as Twitter and Facebook may be staffed by senior agents who are empowered to take action immediately on your problem. Feel free to post your positive comments, too!

Don't fear the chatbots. Great strides have been made in artificial intelligence that help systems recognize and quickly address your concerns. Use these advances to your benefit by messaging a chatbot to resolve routine or simple requests for super-fast response time.

Please hold? You don't have to anymore. If given the option, ask for a return call instead of waiting on hold when trying to access customer service over the telephone. It's usually more convenient and will allow you to move on to other things so you're not stuck listening to bad hold music.

Be nice. Customer service agents deal with hundreds of anxious customers a day — and are often on the receiving end of their frustration. Engaging in "small talk" allows agents time to review your case history. If you can be patient for 30 seconds, it may help the call go more smoothly and get your issue resolved faster.

Pro tip: Most agents aren't empowered to fix everything. Some issues need advanced support and can't be resolved by the average support agent. However, you can search the Internet for executive support contact information or ask for customer retention when you dial the main service line, which usually leads to more qualified agents.

Source: Genesys

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-To Survive Awkward Holiday Party Talk

December 12, 2017 12:42 am

Looking forward to that holiday party, but not having seven separate conversations about the weather? You're not alone. According to the experts at Toastmasters, "natural" conversations don't come naturally to many of us.

Below are a handful of Toastmasters tips for a more successful party experience.

Look for a friendly face. When arriving at the event or when you're feeling out of place, seek out the people you know and enjoy spending time with. Remember to navigate toward people who seem to be popular, because it's likely they're good communicators and will help you feel at ease.

Watch your body language. Be sure to face the individual who is speaking, make eye contact and nod to let them know you're paying attention, listening and understanding. Refrain from texting or repeatedly checking your phone, as this is disrespectful.

Share your stories. When the timing is appropriate, share your humorous and happy holiday memories. People like to share their own holiday experiences, so this conversation should go over quite well during this time of year.

Set your expectations. It's difficult to have in-depth conversations at holiday gatherings, so prepare for others to join in and even interrupt at times. Conversations will typically be brief so don't expect to resolve any pressing business or personal matters at the event.

Know when and how to exit. Before leaving the event, navigate your way around and try to say a brief hello to the people you haven't had the chance to converse with. Be sure to say thank you to the hosts of the party. They likely put in a great deal of effort in the hopes that you would enjoy yourself.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Pros and Cons of Listing Your Home During the Holidays

December 11, 2017 1:12 am

This time of year, the last thing most folks are probably thinking about is selling or buying a home. That is, except for the thousands of people who are in a position where they need to sell or buy a home.

While this presents a somewhat limited range of opportunities for both home sellers and motivated prospects, there are a number of things to consider if you are among that small but no less important demographic.

At FortuneBuilders, Konrad Sopielnikow blogs that by selling a home during the cold, winter months of the holidays, you can unearth lucrative opportunities that would be difficult to find the rest of the year.

Sopielnikow says the cyclical and seasonal lack of competition, greater flexibility of scheduling for sellers and buyers, and the ability to achieve a quick and profitable outcome are just a few advantages.

He also notes that the end of the year is typically when many businesses offer positions to new employees. As a matter of fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics posted a gain of 151,000 jobs in January of 2016.

Sopielnikow suspects in many cases, these were jobs in which the employee relocated. And if there’s one sector of holiday homebuyers who are highly motivated, he says it’s the individual and/or family relocating due to a new job.

So anyone ready to move on from a property quickly can gain the advantage by tapping into this powerful, psychological motivator.

Elizabeth Weintraub at says sellers face a measurably higher challenge at year's end because they will be appealing to a much smaller inventory of buyers who have very specific needs.

Also, both parties' agents might be on vacation or otherwise unavailable in December as markets move into a seasonal slowdown.

But Weintraub counters that this could be a perfect opportunity for anyone marketing a hard-to-sell home, which might rise to the top when there are fewer homes for sale over the holidays.

And if you are selling through to the New Year, she says don't block or cover up important selling features such as fireplace mantels, stairs, stained-glass windows with decorations.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Don't Get Scammed by a Faulty Cashier's Check!

December 11, 2017 1:12 am

When selling a big-ticket item like a vehicle or electronics, accepting a cashier's check may seem like a safe bet. However,  Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann warns consumers to be privy to a current Counterfeit Cashier's Check Scam.

Wiessmann explains how this scam works:

This scam targets individuals selling expensive items through classified advertising or online auctions.

The counterfeiter, who is often in another country, poses as an interested buyer and offers to pay with a fake cashier's check. After the victim presents the fake check to the bank, the buyer suddenly backs out of the deal and asks for a refund. Because the funds from the check are available from the bank after a few days, the victim assumes the check has cleared and agrees to return the money.

By the time the bank discovers the forgery – which could be up to 60 days later -- the bogus buyer is long gone and the victim must now repay the bank for the amount of the fake cashier's check.

In other cases, the counterfeiter may send a cashier's check for more than the asking price of the item and then ask the victim to wire the "overpayment" back or to a third party.

"There was a time when cashier's checks were considered the next best thing to cash," Wiessmann says. "Today, sophisticated forgeries of this once trusted payment method are being used to bilk private sellers out of large sums of money, and consumers need to be vigilant about the people with whom they are doing business."

Wiessmann points to five tips that can help consumers avoid being robbed by the counterfeit cashier's check scam:

- Understand that although the bank may allow you to withdraw money soon after depositing a cashier's check, that does not mean the check has cleared.

- You are responsible for the funds you deposit until your bank has received the money from the institution where the check originated or the true account holder of the originating check reports the fraud (this could take more than 60 days).

- Be cautious of transactions with strangers who pay with cashier's checks. Make sure to tell the buyer that you will send the item only after the check has cleared.

- Avoid any situation where someone overpays for an item and demands that the extra money be returned.

- Contact the issuing financial institution to verify the check is authentic, being careful not to rely on the contact information printed on the check itself as it may be false. They may be able to more reliably detect a fraudulent check.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Prep Your Home for a Winter Away

December 11, 2017 1:12 am

Whether you're snow birding it or just jetting to a place with palms for a long weekend, there may be things you should do to protect your home - and save some hard-earned dollars - while you're sipping cool drinks in the sun.

"It can be refreshing to spend winters in a warmer environment, but it's important to remember that your home will stay behind in the cold," says Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning.

"Taking care to prepare your home to properly withstand the long absence is important during what could be a severe winter. The last thing you want to do is come back from vacation to a home that is flooded because of a broken supply line or appliance malfunction."

Nicholson offers the following as important steps toward winterizing a home:

Save electrical energy. Make sure that all electronics remaining behind such as televisions are not only turned off but are unplugged with any power strips being disconnected as well. This will eliminate any trickle charges and consumption that can add up over long periods. Large appliances, when possible, should be unplugged as well as small appliances such as coffee pots and toasters. Take a walk around the home to inspect the windows and doorframes, searching for any gaps in seals or deteriorated weather stripping that could allow warmth to escape. Finally, figure out what temperature setting will walk the line best between saving money and keeping the home at a safe temperature. A programmable thermostat is a great solution for maintaining the proper temperature within the home.

Prevent potential sanitary issues. Any perishable food items left on counters or inside the refrigerator should be used immediately, taken with, or properly disposed of outside the home. Do not leave behind unemptied trash bins, especially containing food, as these can attract any pests that may infiltrate the home to stay. Flushing out sink traps and disposals is a great way to avoid finding terrible odors upon returning.

Protect the plumbing. Shut off the water at the main valve, and open all faucets to allow them to drain. Leaving faucets open, especially outdoor spigots, will give more room for possible expansion from freezing and may prevent bursting. Make sure to shut off outdoor spigots and protect them with proper insulated covers. Don't forget to disconnect the supply hoses from the washing machine, and drain the water heater and water softener if one is present. Enlisting the aid of a home service professional may be useful if the lines need to be blown out or if there is worry that ancillary items like a sprinkler system may not be properly winterized.

Play it safe. Make sure the home seems occupied throughout extended absences. Forward the mail or ask a friend or relative to pick it up and check in on the home periodically. Arrange in advance to have the driveway plowed in the event of snow or ice to create an occupied appearance. Another great tip is to set a couple of lights on timers - preferably visible to the entrances - so that they will turn on for periods of time and give the illusion of occupancy.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Make an Impact on Children

December 7, 2017 12:54 am

(Family Features)--When looking for opportunities to make an impact on the lives of others, selecting a cause to support can be an overwhelming task with so many options to choose from. However, considering opportunities that can change the lives of kids is one way to make a lasting impact for generations to come.

Helping children early on can change the trajectory of their lives, set them up for success and empower them to achieve their dreams. This is especially important for kids living in poverty who are not guaranteed access to things like medical care and quality educations. According to global humanitarian organization Children International, nearly half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day and 1 in 5 kids in the United States lives in poverty.

Consider these ideas to make an impact on children in need now and well into the future:

Become a mentor or coach. A positive role model can make a life-changing difference for a child from disadvantaged circumstances. As a mentor or coach, you can help children explore and nurture their unique talents and guide them toward a successful future.

Volunteer at a local school. Families increasingly rely on two incomes to support their households, which means parents are less available to lend their time to their children's classrooms or schools. At the same time, public school funding is shrinking. As a volunteer, you can help fill these gaps and contribute to bettering the learning opportunities for children in your community.

Sponsor a child. You may be surprised to learn how far a monetary donation can go. For example, Children International supporters can join a monthly giving program and sponsor a child in poverty for $32 per month. Your donation establishes a connection with an individual child who receives access to life-changing benefits like medical care, educational support and life-skills training. The institution is a CharityWatch top-rated organization that serves 250,000 children in 10 countries. If a recurring donation is not right for you, the organization also accepts one-time donations. Learn more at

Host a foreign exchange student. Education is an important tool that can set kids up for success and help shape available opportunities in the future. Through a foreign exchange program, you can provide opportunities to youths who are working to better themselves through learning. As an added bonus, you and your family can have the chance to learn more about another culture and part of the world you may not be exposed to otherwise.

Donate new or used items. Service organizations such as shelters generally operate on tight budgets and rely on contributions from the community. Gently used items in good condition such as children's clothing of all sizes and warm bedding are generally welcome. Other options include watching for sales to stock up on new items to donate or assembling kid-friendly packages of travel-size toiletries.

No matter how you approach it, putting kids front and center as you look for opportunities to give back can make a difference not only in the short term, but potentially for a lifetime. You can also feel good knowing your gift can have a positive impact on a child's life.

Source: Children International

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Psychology of Holiday Gift-Giving

December 7, 2017 12:54 am

There's no arguing that deciding what gift to give someone can be a bit of a brain workout, especially if that loved one is someone you see infrequently. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University fused economics and psychology to determine how we locate the "perfect gift." Here are four science-backed tips to help during the holiday shopping season.

Avoid Guessing. Projection bias is a phenomenon that describes how people believe others hold the same beliefs and values as they do—and will in the future. When gift giving, shoppers often try to predict what the recipient would like, thinking recipients will share their same tastes.

"If you like dark chocolate and loath milk chocolate, it's very tempting to give dark chocolate, even if the gift recipient's tastes are opposite to yours; it's very difficult to imagine that another person would enjoy receiving a gift that you would hate," says George Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and co-founder of the field of behavioral economics.

Be Aware of Your Shopping Environment. Kareem Haggag, assistant professor of economics in the Social and Decision Sciences Department, studies attribution bias, and his work shows that the past experiences of gift-givers will influence their opinion of a product.

He advised gift givers to be careful and think about past experiences with an item they are considering purchasing.

Consider Whether Past Holidays Are an Influence. If you were not thanked by a recipient in the past, you may be less likely to put time and effort into gift-giving for that person in the future, according to Shereen J. Chaudhry (DC'13, '16).

Chaudhry says that words of thanks are more than "cheap talk" and help keep relationships healthy.

Focus on the Long-Term. Researchers led by the Tepper School of Business' Jeff Galak found that gift givers tend to focus on the moment of exchange when selecting a gift, whereas gift recipients are more focused on the long-term utility or practical attributes of the gift.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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Dos and Don'ts for Job Interview Follow-Ups

December 7, 2017 12:54 am

If you're hunting for a new job, you likely know that sending a "thank you" note post-interview can be a huge deciding factor as to whether or not you land the gig.

Research from Accountemps provides the following dos and don'ts for giving thanks:

Do add value. Instead of writing a generic note, customize the message by mentioning a skill that wasn't brought up during the interview or expounding on a topic that was discussed.

Don't delay. Send a thank-you note within 24 hours. Some employers make hiring decisions shortly after the round of interviews is complete, and you don't want to risk sending your note after that window has closed.

Do proofread. Sending a thank-you message can backfire if you go about it the wrong way. Typos and grammatical mistakes may come across as a lack of attention to detail. Take the time to review, revise and refine your thank-you note.

Don't be pushy. If you don't hear from the employer within a week of the interview, it's appropriate to follow-up with a phone call or another email. But do so in moderation. Persistence is laudable, but pestering can get you removed from the short list.

Source: Accountemps

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Steps for a Home Remodel

December 6, 2017 12:54 am

(Family Features)--As a homeowner, there is nearly always a laundry list of projects with time and budget constraints when it comes to a home remodel.

This step-by-step guide from the experts at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) can help ensure you get the maximum return on your investment and make the most of your remodel.

Step 1: Identify Reasons for Remodeling
Deciding whether to undertake simple aesthetic changes or a full remodel can be difficult. One of the best ways to decide is to figure out why you are remodeling in the first place, whether it's to make your new house feel more like home or to update a 1950s-era kitchen.

Step 2: Set Your Budget
Every home is unique in structure, age, quality and craftsmanship, which all impact the price of a remodel. Since no one can see through walls before demolition, the quote you receive will likely not be 100 percent accurate. However, a qualified remodeling company will be open and honest about the issues and challenges it might face during the process. Account for these adjustments by planning for any "surprises" with a 10 percent cushion, just in case.

Step 3: Hire the Right Team
To help ensure you find the right company for the job, you should do your research. Referrals from friends and family are one way to find a remodeler. National associations like NARI provide unbiased information and resources that can help you find qualified, certified remodelers in your area. With more than 6,000 members, the organization represents professional remodelers who adhere to a strict code of ethics. Many hold certifications in remodeling, kitchen and bath design and lead carpentry. Find more information and resources at   

Step 4: Understand the Plan  
Communication is key in a successful remodeling project. Keep the lines of communication open between you, the remodeling contractor and the work crew. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Let them know your family's schedule and whether you have pets confined somewhere. Make sure to specify the best way to reach you, such as phone, in-person or email, and how often you wish to communicate with your remodeling contractor about your project.

Step 5: Complete the Project
While the dust is settling and the remodel is almost finished, take a moment to walk through your project and note any adjustments that need to be made while the contractor is still on site. Contractors often provide guarantees of workmanship, so find out what they cover and for how long, then include this information in your work agreement. You should also take another look at the contract and confirm you have signed permits, receipts, change orders, lien waivers, warranties and manufacturer’s guides at your disposal.

Remodeling a space can be a major project, but with the right help, resources and information, you can make your dream home come to fruition.

Source: National Association of the Remodeling Industry

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Time to Take the Keys from Grandpa?

December 6, 2017 12:54 am

If someone in your family is reaching their golden years, it can be frustrating—or scary—when their driving habits begin to slip. But how do you know when their driving is unsafe, and how can you monitor them without making them feel like they're losing their independence?

Consider the following tips from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

- Ride along with your family member and observe his or her ability to control the vehicle, stay within the lane, drive at posted speeds, maintain a safe distance from other cars, obey traffic signals, make appropriate decisions when turning or at intersections, and park the car.

- Look for any confusion, poor judgement or indications that he or she is not focused, including getting lost, braking/accelerating for no apparent reason or forgetting where the car is parked.

- Consult with a physician who can help to identify any medical issues and support the decision to continue driving or not.

- If driving remains an option, consider having the individual enroll in a course to brush up on road rules and defensive driving techniques, or consult with a driving rehabilitation specialist who can perform complete evaluations both on and off the road to help maintain safe driving practices.

- If it's no longer safe to drive, be prepared for a frank but often emotional discussion. "Anger and sadness are often associated with the loss of driving, so let the individual express his or her thoughts, acknowledge their feelings, and respond with compassion," suggests Kelly A. Kearns, Psy.D., Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

- Explore transportation options. From community transport and senior resources to Uber, Lyft and other car services, there are many alternatives available.

- Create an "advanced directive for driving," which designates a trusted individual to assist if the older driver is no longer able to drive safely.

Source: Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation

Published with permission from RISMedia.

7 Ways to Protect Your Financial Info

December 6, 2017 12:54 am

Having someone hack your bank account or financial info can be devastating, emotionally and financially, and it can even ruin your credit for years to come. To help, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities offers the following steps to protect yourself from financial fraud:

- Use ATMs and gas pumps in well-lit, secure locations.
- Examine the card reader slot and surrounding areas to see if anything looks out of place, mismatched, or loose.
- Consider using a credit card not linked to your bank account to avoid compromising your PIN or cash flow, and to gain other consumer protections.
- Check your bank and credit card statements frequently to watch for fraudulent activity and report any unfamiliar activity immediately.
- Look for signs of an encrypted website when providing sensitive personal information such as credit card, banking information, or Social Security Numbers online; key identifiers include a website address for the website's login page that begins with "https" and a padlock icon in your browser status bar.
- Do not open links or attachments in unsolicited emails from any person or vendor you do not know.
- Give yourself a gift by ordering a free credit report from

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Maximizing Price Club Shopping

December 4, 2017 12:54 am

We all love the big sizes and low prices of our local warehouse store - yet we all hate the sticker shock that often occurs at the cash register when the clerk tells us the grand total. Are we really saving money when all is said and done?

Here are some tips for maximizing warehouse shopping and avoiding spending more than you bargained for:

Don’t browse. Go with a list of specific items that you actually need and stick to it. Part of the reason we overspend at warehouse stores is because we’re lured in by products that look interesting or that we can “probably use.”

Go more often. This sounds counterintuitive to spending less, but making more frequent runs to the warehouse store to get just a few items that we actually need will save us more money in the long run.

Only buy what you truly use a lot of. Don’t make the mistake of buying items you like just a little. You will have a lot of whatever it is you buy, so make sure it is something you will use or eat often. Otherwise, that mass quantity will just go to waste.

Don’t buy what you can’t store. You will save money on meat at wholesale clubs provided you have room to divide, freeze and store it. Otherwise, you will lose money on meat that goes bad before you can use it all.

Try the store brand. The generic warehouse brand is always cheaper and often just as good - if not better - than the brand names of your favorite products. Give it a try and save even more.

Shop brick and mortar. Be sure to shop at the store itself as opposed to its website. Online prices can be higher to cover shipping costs and other fees not associated with the physical location.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Interview a Real Estate Agent

December 4, 2017 12:54 am

If you’re putting your home on the market, you will soon be sitting down with a few local real estate agents to hear their listing presentations (interview at least three before deciding who to work with).

While the word “presentation” denotes a one-way communication, this should really be a two-way process in order to choose the right agent to work with. Here are a few key questions to ask, which will help you gain insight into an agent’s strategies, professionalism and enthusiasm.

1. What did the last home you sold in this area go for? Not only will this give you a good idea of the going rate in your neighborhood, it will shed some light on how familiar the agent is with your neighborhood and its home values.

2. How will you market my home? A standard part of any good listing presentation will highlight the various ways in which the agent will promote your home online through their own website as well as various real estate portals. Be sure to ask the agent how they follow up with leads that come in through these portals - what is their system for responding quickly and what type of information do they provide?

3. Will you host an open house and if so, how will it generate leads? Not all agents are big proponents of open houses, so ask the agent if they intend to host one for your home and, if so, what will they do to make it creative and worthwhile? Ask them how they will collect attendees’ information and how they will follow up afterwards.

4. What can I do to help my home sell for a higher price? A good agent will be able to tell you what renovations will be worth spending money on in order to sell your home for a higher price and which ones won’t. He or she will also be able to tell you what simple things you can do to improve your sales price, like painting or staging.

5. What factors will detract from my home’s value? If your home is not going to list at the price you had hoped for, ask the prospective agent why. If there’s some pet damage or a swimming pool that’s going to detract from the selling price, a good agent should let you know that up front.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Holiday Travel Tips for the Business Jetsetter

December 4, 2017 12:54 am

Are you hitting the road for work this holiday season? Nothing can be more stressful than delayed flights when your job is on the line, or getting stuck in holiday traffic en route to that important conference.

Based on the travel issues they're constantly monitoring and addressing, Upside Navigators have compiled the following list of 10 tips for DIY business travelers who don't have navigators watching out for them:

- Look at the 15-day or longer weather reports and consider rescheduling a trip if storms are projected.

- Take a smartphone screenshot of your confirmation emails and add them to your business travel calendar invites, or just keep them handy in your photo storage for easy access. Or, write your travel itinerary (flight numbers, hotel, contact numbers) on the back of a business card and keep it in your wallet or purse.

- Prepare a back-up plan. If the booked flight is cancelled, it pays to have some idea beforehand of what other flights and possibly ground transportation options are out there.

- Utilize secondary airports. Many cities have their major international airports as well as smaller airports located a few miles away. Airfares may be a bit higher at the smaller airports, but if it means less congestion, the extra dollars may be worth it.

- Have at least one travel app loaded onto your smartphone. Instead of standing in line at the ticketing counter, or waiting on the phone, many itinerary changes can be made in seconds with a travel app. Upside's travel app includes a one-touch option where travelers can use on their smartphones to immediately connect to a navigator.

- To start your trip, arrange a ride to the airport.  Don't rely on being able to find parking once you get there.

- Book ground transportation from the destination airport in advance. Waiting lines for airport ground transportation can be especially long and time-consuming over the holidays.  Better to have a car waiting.

- Pack light. If at all possible, travel with carry-on only. And pay attention to carry-on size limits posted by carriers, as well as space limitations often found on regional connecting jets.

- Make sure hotel reservations guarantee late arrival. That way, if there's a delay, your room will still be waiting.

- Confirm all flight times – and arrive early. Confirm flights the night before and again the morning of a flight, just in case there are any cancellations or last-minute delays. Also, arrive early, since security lines are likely to be long. It also might pay to consider enrolling in an expedited security clearance program, like TSA Pre Check.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Holiday Shopping? How-To Find the Best Deals

December 1, 2017 1:24 am

'Tis the season for holiday shopping, and there are plenty of ways to get the best possible price on the items you want after Black Friday.

Kiplinger’s Magazine editors suggest favorite websites for finding and price-comparing merchandise, all with free mobile apps you can use when you’re out and about.

For scoring deals:

- has a team of deal hunters who scan prices on thousands of items at more than 2,000 reputable online retailers multiple times each day. You can even get shopping advice from the site’s guides and sign up for mail alerts for the products you want to purchase.

- Ben’ also tracks about 2,000 retailers and publishes about 200 good deals daily including price history. You can choose your store and/or product and sign up for alerts, and check the site’s ‘Top Offers’ gallery.

- is easy to navigate to find best sale prices, coupons, rebates and store rewards at nearly 4,000 retailers. You can sign up to get email deal alerts on your chosen items as frequently as you like.

- features deals from about 6,000 companies and stores, updated daily and organized into categories like clothing, electronics, toys and travel. You can search by store and brand, and find local deals in more than 75 cities.

- and both feature deals on their home pages, and also forums you can scan to find hundreds of deals posted daily.

For comparing prices:

- Both and GoogleShopping can help you find the lowest price on a given product. When you search an item, you get a list of the retailers offering price, shipping cost, ratings and seller information.

- gives you instant price comparisons with browser add-ons. If you register, you can set target prices on the items you want and get alerts when/if the price falls to that amount.

For finding cyber-coupons:

- provides about 5,000 coupon code offers for over 50,000 retailers and brands. If you let it track your location, it will provide best offers at nearby stores and restaurants.

- provides a wide selection of printable coupons and online promo codes.- provides coupon codes for just 800 retailers, but will try to hunt down a coupon for a store you can’t find on their site and get it to you within 24 hours.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Money That Can Be Better Spent on a Down Payment

December 1, 2017 1:24 am

One of the biggest obstacles for first-time homebuyers is saving for a down payment - it’s a nut that seems insurmountable to many. The first mistake new homebuyers make is believing that they must have 20 percent to put down on a home, when (depending on your credit and the loan terms) you can usually put down much less.

The second mistake is believing you’ll never be able to save enough money. Here are 10 things you can stop spending money on right now. Collect what you would have spent on these items at the end of the week and put it into a savings account for your home-to-be. It will add up faster than you think!

Books. Get your library card renewed or (gasp!) get one for the first time, and start reading books for free.

Coffee. Treat yourself to a nice travel mug then fill up at home and skip the pricey coffee shop on the way to work.

Gas. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but when you can, opt to walk or ride your bike instead of hopping in the car. Carpooling is another great option.

Lunch. Not only is brown bagging it cheaper, it’s usually much healthier as well. Just be sure not to eat at your desk. Hit up the break room or a local park (bring your library book!).

Designer clothes. If you’re a style hound, don’t despair. Instead of shopping in pricey stores, check out your local outlet mall, online tag sales or high-end thrift shops. You’ll be surprised at what you can find.

Restaurants. If going out to dinner is one of your favorite social activities, don’t give up the act of dining with friends, just do it at home instead. Host a backyard cookout or an intimate dinner party with candles and fine china. Or, save money and time and make it a potluck affair.

Bottled water. Get yourself a filtered pitcher and a portable container and stop the bottled water insanity. Your wallet and the environment will thank you.

Expensive gifts. Believe it or not, it really is the thought that counts. Instead of wasting money on gifts that may or may not be used by the recipient, go the homemade route. Try baked goods, a photo collage, a collection of flowers from your garden tied in a pretty ribbon, or a home-cooked meal.

All those cable channels. Take a good look at your cable bill and decide whether or not you really need all those channels you’re paying for.

Your gym membership. If you’re not using your gym membership regularly, let it go. Stay healthy with online workouts you can do at home and venture into the great outdoors for walking, hiking and running or your favorite sports.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Holiday Hospitality Tips to Ease Seasonal Stress

December 1, 2017 1:24 am

Is everyone headed to your home for the holidays? While this can be fun, it can also be a headache, especially for the host.

Consider the following tips from hospitality pro Katie Davin, an associate professor in the College of Hospitality Management at Johnson & Wales University.

Skip the couch. Are you sure everybody wants to stay at your house? Uncle Ralph might be too cheap to pay for a hotel, but cousins Sue and Jeff might think that they would hurt your feelings by suggesting it. Some relatives might prefer to have their own space. Research local hotels for good rates. If you are not in a city or a tourist destination, your nearby hotels may not sell out during the major holidays and therefore, offer great rates that could include breakfast and WiFi. Try an online travel agency (OTA) such as Travelocity to see what's out there. For any last minute lodging needs, guide those guests to the Hotel Tonight app.

Wheels. Encourage independence – if most of your guests are flying in, try to encourage at least one of them to rent a car so they are not completely dependent on you and your vehicle. Then they can get out and enjoy the town, shop, or help you with errands. Check your favorite website for car rentals, or try a site that searches for deals for you, such as Kayak.

Fun. Sometimes when we have lived somewhere for a long time, we forget all the fun things there are to do in our town. Find out what is happening nearby – there could be holiday markets, light shows, ice-skating, hiking trails, or other local flavored activities, and your guests might love to get out of the house and do something festive. Check your city's or region's tourism website or Convention & Visitors Bureau to see what's going on. Type your city name and "tourism" or "CVB" into your favorite search engine.

Food. If you anticipate having guests for all three meals, keep breakfast and lunch simple, especially on the days surrounding the holiday. For breakfast, most of your guests will be quite satisfied with good coffee, fruit, yogurt, and toast or pastries from the local bakery. They can help themselves and nobody feels as if they must be at the table at a certain time. If you want to provide something hot, prepare a simple egg dish you can chill the night before and place in the oven when you wake up.

For lunch, have cold cuts, breads, and condiments available. Better yet, send them out to lunch. Tell them you have some "work" to catch up on, and while they're gone, you can chill and enjoy the quiet.

The help-yourself format for breakfast and lunch can lead to crowds of people in your kitchen. Limit the perishable food availability to an hour when you have the biggest crowd. Then return it to the fridge, so the stragglers can help themselves at their convenience. Also, place the cold drinks in coolers outside – back deck, garage, balcony, whatever keeps people from opening and closing your fridge all day. Just watch the temperature if you are in a really cold climate during a cold snap to prevent the bottles and cans from freezing.

Make dinner the star, when the whole gang gets together. When people offer to help (and they will), let them. Have some easy jobs ready to delegate. Almost anyone can peel potatoes, set the table, wash some pots, or stir the sauce. If you have a family member with skills, delegate the hard jobs. If nobody offers to help, ask. Sometimes they want to assist, but don't want to interfere or hover. Alleviate their angst, and minimize your own. Ask.

Breaking the News. After you have compiled your information, you need to communicate it to your guests. If possible, call everyone individually and explain the lodging options, so there's less chance of hurt feelings. For a bigger crowd, put it all together in an email but be diplomatic and hospitable. You don't want your email going viral because it is so bossy and inhospitable. Begin your letter with a sincere message about how excited you are to be hosting the family and/or friends for the holiday. Then get right to it and explain your rationale, in a casual and positive way, such as, "We have a few spare beds if you would like to stay with us, but for those of you who would like to have your own space, several hotels and inns right in town have special rates…."

Happy Holidays. One of the best ways to make your guests feel welcome is for you to enjoy yourself. Guests can feel like a burden if they see that you are stressed-out and trying to do it all yourself. Accept their help, encourage them to venture out of the house, and don't expect perfection from you or them. You will all have a better time and fond memories.

Source: Johnson and Wales University

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Fresh, Fun Home Accents to Improve Your Space

November 29, 2017 12:54 am

Tired of your boring throw pillows and potted plants? If you're looking for some fresh and fun home accents to add a little life to your space, consider the following.

Hanging accent lights. Caged, bubbled, modern, antique—there are a myriad of styles for hanging accent lights, which can be clustered, paired, or used solo to fill up an empty corner or decorate a blank wall.

Mantels. Who says a mantel should only sit above a fireplace? You can easily install a freestanding mantel to rest photos, art, or your favorite books. Another trick? If your walls are dark, paint your mantel to match, and your items will suddenly be floating.

Dips. Dipped painting frames, art or even doors are all the rage right now. Imagine a series of white picture frames with their bottom dipped in gold. The best part? You can DIY these in a couple of hours. All you need is your item for dipping and your favorite shade of paint.

Painted fireplace. Whether your fireplace is no longer active, or it’s only active for a few months a year, painting the inside a fun pop of color can add life to your space. Think a bright blue, merry orange or buttery yellow.

Vertical garden art. That vertical garden is no longer reserved for your back patio. If you have a blank wall, hang a grid-style vertical garden and decorate it with cool succulents, your favorite herbs, or a climbing vine.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Countdown to Your Next Dinner Party

November 29, 2017 12:54 am

If you’re hosting an event in your home soon, and you’re dreading it, then it’s time to put a new plan in place. By creating and sticking to the right strategy, you will turn the stress level way down so that you can actually enjoy yourself. This countdown will help you get there:

10. List it out. Make several lists well in advance of your event: the guest list; the menu; the shopping list; the cleaning list; the miscellaneous to-do list.

9. Take care of repairs in advance. Have a leaky faucet or broken dining room chair? Get it fixed now. Waiting until the day before will undoubtedly result in maximum stress.

8. Choose a proven menu. This is not the time to try new recipes. Go with what you’ve made before, is relatively easy and what is loved by all (or at least most).

7. Shop and store. Buy non-perishables as far in advance as possible and tuck them away in a corner of your pantry closet, garage, guest room, or whatever space is not in use.

6. Make ahead and freeze. Make whatever dishes—or parts of dishes, like pie crusts—you can in advance and freeze them. No room in your freezer? Borrow a neighbors.

5. Wash and press tablecloths, napkins and any other linens you will be using two days before. Then, fold or hang them in a spot that’s out of the way.

5. Clean china, silver and crystal a few days before, then leave it covered with linens on your dining room table.

3. Decide which serving pieces and utensils you will need, and dig them out of their respective hiding places. Clean them and set them out on your counters so they’re ready to roll.

2. Set the bar the night before, refrigerating beer and wine in a cooler outside if the fridge is too full.

1. Do a quick onceover with the vacuum in the main areas where guests will congregate, set out candles, accent bowls with goodies, and set the table early. Have your outfit pressed and ready to slip into at the last minute.

All that’s left to do now is enjoy!

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? How to Know When It’s Time to Sell

November 28, 2017 12:54 am

Part of being a homeowner is dealing with the intermittent thought, “Hmm, maybe I should put my house on the market...”

Obviously, deciding to sell your home is no small decision. In fact, it’s right up there with deciding to buy a home in the first place. Here are four indicators that can help you decide whether now actually may be a good time to list your home:

You’re out of space. While it might be nice to have more room for your shoes, does that warrant a new home? On the other hand, is there a baby on the way? An in-law moving in? If your household is getting ready to grow, it may be time to move on to a house that will accommodate your expanding needs.

You’re in a hot market. If “sold” signs are popping up frequently in your neighborhood and prices are rising quickly, it might be worth talking to your real estate agent. If now is the time you can potentially make a big return on your investment, you might want to consider making a move.

You’re sick of yard work. If raking leaves and restaining the deck are no longer considered fun projects, you may be at a stage where you’re looking to scale down to a more streamlined, less work-intensive living situation.

Your life has changed. If you’ve had a major life event—marriage, divorce, new job, retirement—it may necessitate a new home and/or a new location that makes more sense for your new life. Consider whether your current home is still the right fit.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Burn Bright With These Candle Safety Tips

November 28, 2017 12:54 am

(Family Features) --Candles are one of the most common sources of home interior fires. While they can be beautiful and atmospheric, they can also be dangerous, especially in busy homes with lots going on.

Never leave lit candles unattended, and take these additional precautions to have a safe and fun season:

-When candles are lit, make sure they are in stable holders and placed where they cannot be easily knocked over.
-Keep candles, matches and lighters out of reach of children.
-Be conscious of nearby surroundings. Never place a candle near drapery, decorations or other flammable items that may easily catch fire. Also avoid drafty areas or fans, which can accelerate flames or accidentally blow a flammable item onto a candle.
-Know that the safest way to extinguish a candle is with a snuffer.
-Consider using wickless or flameless candles. There are numerous options that cast a warm glow so you can enjoy the ambiance of a candle without the risk.

Source: Family Features Editorial Syndicate

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-To Have a Safer Office Holiday Party

November 28, 2017 12:54 am

If you're planning an office holiday party for your crew, you likely have a laundry list of items to tackle, and safety shouldn't be at the bottom of that list. To help, XpertHR offers nine ways an employer can minimize the risk of liability when it comes to holiday parties:

Enforce Discrimination, Harassment and Employee Conduct Policies. Workplace policies regarding discrimination, harassment, employee dating, employee conduct and its dress code remain in effect even during the holiday party, and employees as well as supervisors will be liable for violations.

Have Supervisors Set a Good Example. Supervisors should lead the way and set a good example for the rest of the employees by enforcing and complying with the employer's policies regarding discrimination and harassment, as well as the employer's code of conduct.

Exercise Caution if Serving Alcohol. If an employer decides to serve or allow alcohol, it should designate a management employee to monitor alcohol intake and make sure employees do not become too intoxicated or incoherent.

Keep the Focus Off Religion. In planning for a holiday party, it’s important for an employer to avoid overly religious symbols and music.

Do Not Make Attendance Mandatory. Some employees may not want to attend the holiday party, and if attendance is mandatory, it may be considered working time, which may entitle hourly employees to overtime.

Carefully Plan the Menu and Entertainment. Make sure to take the individual needs and concerns of diverse employees into account.

Be Inclusive of All Employees. Invite employees working in all offices or job sites, in addition to those who telecommute or work remotely.

Consider Whether to Invite Spouses or Significant Others. Remember to be inclusive of all employees, and respect their personal relationships.

Respond to Complaints in a Timely Fashion. Once on notice that an employee is complaining of discrimination, harassment or inappropriate conduct, the employer and HR have a legal duty to follow up and document the complaint and begin an investigation if warranted.

Source:  XpertHR

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5 Mindful Driving Tips

November 23, 2017 12:54 am

Distracted driving rarely ends well. But with so much going on in your life (and your backseat), staying focused while on the road can be difficult. World champion drag racer Elaine Larsen of Larsen Motorsports knows all about the importance of focus while on the road.

"It's all about common-sense driving techniques, awareness and proper maintenance," Larsen says. Below are her top mindful driving tips.

Minimize distractions. For Elaine in her jet dragster, that means no talking into her headset; for the rest of us, that means no texting and driving and being mindful of other distractions like a blaring radio or friends or pets who have come along for the ride.

Focus on where you’re going. Whether that means checking traffic conditions before you leave, monitoring road closures or construction, or even scouting your route in advance, familiarity with what's outside your windshield contributes to safe, more focused driving.

Keep your windshield clean and clear, and keep an eye on what's happening down the street. That helps reaction time if something unexpected happens.

Keep the inside clutter-free. Ever tried to put the brakes on with an empty soda cup stuck beneath the pedal? Be sure to have your insurance and registration paperwork within easy reach, as well.

Before leaving, conduct a visual inspection. Tires properly inflated? Any loose parts hanging down? Headlight and taillight assemblies intact? You may also want to consider checking the terminals on your battery for corrosion.

Source:  Florida Institute of Technology

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How to Stop Sitting so Much

November 23, 2017 12:54 am

Did you know that even if you run three miles every morning, it won’t offset the potential damage done by spending the next eight hours sitting at your desk? Some even say that sitting is the new smoking.

According to the Mayo Clinic, too much sitting poses a wide range of health risks, including obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Prolonged sitting also takes its toll on your emotional health, increasing anxiety and stress during the course of the day.

But what are you to do if you have one of the myriad of jobs that revolve around a desk—compounded by more sitting behind the wheel and an hour or two in front of the TV at night? Here are some simple—yet hugely important—ideas to get you up and moving around throughout the day:

Have a few calls to make? Stand up while you make them. Better yet, if you’re on your cellphone, do a little pacing while you talk.

Do more in-person communication. Instead of shooting off another email or text, take a stroll over to your colleague’s desk to deliver your message in-person.

Have walking meetings. Ditch the conference room and take a stroll to the nearest Starbucks for your next meeting. Or take a few laps around the nearest track.

Get a standing desk. There are a lot of affordable options in this arena, including simple attachments that allow you to raise your desktop when you’d like. Or, if you can afford a splurge, opt for a treadmill desk.

Never work through lunch. Even if it’s just a 20-minute break, get out and move around at lunch time. Run an errand or take a few laps around the parking lot. Inclement weather? Go browse the shelves at your local library, or at the very least, eat standing up in the break room.

Set your phone alarm to remind you to get up and move at least once every hour, even if it’s just standing and stretching.

Any kind of casual movement that gets you upright will help the effort. Your mind and body will thank you.

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For Parents and Grandparents: Fall-Proofing Your Home This Holiday Season

November 23, 2017 12:54 am

Whether you're a new parent or grandparent, raising a young child is full of fun, excitement, and sometimes, safety scares. If you're expecting a crowd this holiday season that includes a little one, or if it's your first holiday with your own tot, below are a few tips from AAOS and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) to keep safety scares and falls minimal.

Reduce clutter. It's easy to accumulate clutter, such as boxes of décor and stacks of gifts from holiday shopping. Take the time to declutter your home, especially the hallways and stairs.

Designate a play area. Children may receive lots of new toys for the holidays and scatter them around the house. It's important to contain those toys in a dedicated play area and clean up after playtime to avoid tripping.

Keep walkways clear. Keep the path between your front door, driveway and mailbox well-lit and clear of debris.

Install nightlights. Keep the halls/walkways in your home well-lit and consider a nightlight in the bathroom. A clear path is especially helpful for family members or guests who are trying to get to the restroom in the middle of the night.

Secure all loose area rugs. Place double-sided carpet tape or slip-resistant backing on all loose rugs around your home. Don’t forget bathroom rugs.

Rearrange furniture. Ensure no furniture is blocking pathways between rooms.

Consider stair gates. If young kids will be visiting your home for the holidays, or you have children who live in your home, consider installing childproof gates at the top and bottom of your stairs to prevent children from accessing them without adult supervision.

If a fall happens, do not panic. Take several deep breaths, assess the situation and determine if you’re hurt. If you’re badly injured, do not try to get up. Instead, call for help from a family member or neighbor. If you’re alone when a fall happens, slowly crawl to the telephone and call 911 or a relative.

Source: AAOS and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA)

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Tips for Stretching a Small Living Room

November 22, 2017 12:54 am

Some people see a small living room as a cozy, intimate space. Others say they simply feel cramped. For those who fall into the latter category, professional decorators offer the following seven tips for making any living area look more spacious:

Clear out the clutter. Nothing makes a room look cramped like having too much stuff in it. Move magazines, collections and small décor items onto shelves, into drawers, or behind table skirts.

Open the pathway. When furniture blocks the view into a room, the whole room looks smaller. Move the sofa out of the middle of the room and choose low profile furniture, like short sofas, low tables and armless chairs. Remember that less is more. Get rid of any pieces you don’t need, and place taller pieces against the wall rather than out in open space.

Choose lighter hues. Warm, dark colors create a feeling of intimacy, while light, cool colors make any room seem more open and airy. For maximum effect, choose light shades of blue or green—or a combination of the two.

Let the light in. Any room will look more spacious if it’s well-lighted, either naturally or with a bit of help. Get rid of draperies and add more lamps, or install track lighting or recessed lights.

Try see-through pieces. By using materials you can see through, anything beyond them seems further away. Glass or lucite tops for dining or coffee tables will open up the view and make the room look bigger.

Use reflective surfaces. A mirrored wall will make any room look larger. If that seems to be too much, try a large framed mirror on one wall to help create an illusion of space and light.

Keep it monochrome. Select solid color upholstery instead of bold plaids or patterns. Use texture for interest and stick to neutral tones.

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Tips for Tax-Deductible Charitable Donations

November 22, 2017 12:54 am

At the end of the year, thousands of Americans rush to make charitable donations to offset their taxes or help out their favorite causes. According to Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, too often, Americans  may not recognize two keys to smart giving: careful vetting of charities, and tax planning that helps make the most of a gift.

"Considering how many people make charitable gifts at year-end, it's amazing how little thought and research can go into the process," Schlesinger says. "There are fake charities and scam artists who take advantage of generosity."

To combat this, Schlesinger offers the following checklist for Americans who are preparing to make end-of-year donations.

Step 1: Confirm the charity is legitimate by searching the IRS tool, Exempt Organizations Select Check. Cross-reference by asking the organization for its employee identification number, and then searching the same database for it.

Step 2: Research the charity's financial health. The Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, GuideStar and Charity Navigator offer guidance on how charities spend money. Many Americans want to understand what portion of a donation goes to overhead, versus the cause itself.

Step 3: Determine how to donate. Options include donations of goods, checks, wire transfers and credit card payments. Americans can also donate appreciated securities and write off the current value of a stock, or make donations directly from their IRAs, though some rules apply.

Step 4: Keep good records. For any donation valued at $250 or more, the IRS requires a bank record, payroll deduction or written communication identifying the organization, the date and amount of the contribution and a description of the property.

To be deducted from 2017, donations must be given or postmarked by midnight on December 31.

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

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Heat and Air Maintenance for the Holidays

November 22, 2017 12:54 am

With the holiday season right around the corner, your home will likely see more foot traffic. From friends stopping by with gifts, to parties and that yearly visit from the in-laws, your plumbing, heating and air units may be working overdrive.

"Attention to a few items in the home can help prepare you for visiting family and friends during the holidays," says Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. "Now is the time to take action on winterizing certain things in and around the home. It will give you peace of mind as the weather turns colder and holiday guests visit your home."

Nicholson offers these five tips to make sure the home is ready for colder weather and holiday visitors:

Check the plumbing: With the influx of visitors, toilets and fixtures will get a lot of use. Now is the best time to take care of any maintenance and repairs. If drains aren't flowing well and freely, plunge water into the drain first before you try to remove the trap in an attempt to clear it. Be mindful that some do-it-yourself, chemical drain cleaners can be harmful to your pipes. Instead, consider trying a natural remedy: pour equal parts salt, baking soda and vinegar to clean out a partial clog.

Tune up the heating: Winter often brings extremely cold temperatures, so you want to be sure your heating unit is working at peak efficiency. To make sure everyone is warm during the cold weather, try changing out your filters to give your system the best chance of success. You may also need a comprehensive heating system check. A system tune-up and filter replacement can go a long way toward preventing problems from putting a chill on your holiday plans.

Clean air ducts: To provide fresh, allergen-free air to your holiday houseguests, you will want to perform a thorough duct cleaning. When your ducts are filthy, your filters clog up faster and force your system to work harder to distribute air. This decreased efficiency leads to higher energy bills and excessive wear and tear on your system. Removing the registers and vacuuming the outlet is a good start, but you may want to opt for a whole-house duct cleaning to really do the job.

Seal drafty windows and doors: Applying caulk or weather stripping where cold air creeps in will help with energy savings. If cold air creeps in, that too will put a strain on the heating system's ability to keep your house warm and cozy for the holidays.

Winterize the exterior: To prevent pipes from bursting, ensure outdoor spigots are shut off as freezing weather approaches. Have some rock salt on hand to de-ice sidewalks to make sure your holiday visitors are safe.

Source: Nicholson Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning

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Fraud Prevention Tips from a Pro

November 20, 2017 12:54 am

Frank Abagnale’s life as a teenage fraudster was brought to life in the Steven Spielberg film, “Catch Me if You Can,” based on the book Abagnale wrote about his years as a youthful con artist. After being caught, incarcerated and recruited by the FBI, however, Abagnale went on to serve the U.S. by developing sophisticated methods for defeating cyber crime for government entities, banks and businesses. Having turned down three presidential pardons, his work continues tirelessly to this day.

Here are a few of Abagnale’s tips for preventing fraud and cybercrime in our everyday lives:

Shred wisely. Not all shredders are created equal. Documents shredded by ribbon-cut shredders can be reassembled fairly easily, and cross-cut shredders are not foolproof either. The only shredder that permanently destroys a document is a micro-cut shredder.

Put away your debit card. Abagnale says the only way to really protect your money is by using a credit card - that way, if the card is stolen and used for fraudulent charges, you are legally protected by the credit card company. If your debit card information is compromised, however, so are the funds in your bank account for an indefinite period of time. One obvious caveat: use your credit card, but pay the balance in full each month. The idea only works if you don’t accrue interest and debt.

Use social media wisely. For Facebook in particular, do not use a profile picture that depicts a clear headshot photo. This can easily be captured by identity thieves. Instead, use a more abstract photo of yourself or show yourself in a group with others. Abagnale also recommends not including your birthdate and place of birth in your Facebook profile - more clues that make it easier for your identity to be stolen.

Avoid writing checks. Mailing checks to pay bills means the face of your check passes through many hands - exposing your key personal and checking account information to many people. Pay electronically instead, advises Abagnale.

Remember, anyone can fall victim to identity theft and fraud, so no precautions are too extreme!

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3 Ways to Check for Air Leaks in Your Home

November 20, 2017 12:54 am

Brrr, it's cold in here! If that's what you say every time you enter your living space, despite your heater working hard, you likely have an air leak.  

In a survey commissioned by Duck® brand and conducted online by Harris Poll, almost two-thirds of Americans live in a home that needs weatherization. Many of those homeowners aren't sure what products to buy or where to start. Don't let drafts sneak into your home this winter – follow the tips below to learn why weatherizing is important and how you can keep warm, and save on energy costs this season.

Where to start: Americans say that they feel large/fair amounts of drafts of cold air enter their homes through doors (24 percent), windows (25 percent) and attics (11 percent). Use these tactics to pinpoint the source of drafts in your home by:

- Holding your hand up to windows/doors to identify cracks or gaps – you should be able to feel a draft or temperature change.

- Look for daylight coming in through cracks/gaps – chances are if light comes through, so will drafts.

- Try blowing out a candle near windows, doors and electrical outlets – if smoke blows sideways, you have a leak.

Source: Duck brand

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4 Winter Tire-Safety Tips to Practice Today

November 20, 2017 12:54 am

Driving in the winter can be dangerous. But even if you check road conditions and remain alert while driving, you can still be at danger if your tires aren't in tip-top shape. Below are a handful of helpful reminders from Discount Tire.

Get ready now. It is important to replace all four of your vehicle's all-season tires with winter tires if you regularly drive in temperatures 45 degrees or below, snow or no snow. Winter tires are made of a softer rubber that allows the tires to stay pliable and maintain better contact with the road through any winter weather conditions. Check online listings to find the best set of winter tires specific to your vehicle make and model and have them shipped directly to you.

Don't forget the wheels. Having a set of wheels specifically for your winter tires will save you money in the long run. Pairing a separate set of wheels with your winter tires will eliminate certain changeover costs and save your expensive wheels from the wear and tear brought on by ice, slush, snow and salt during the winter months.

Know your numbers. Check your tire pressure at least once a month to make sure tires are at the appropriate inflation level. Temperature changes affect tire pressure – for every 10 degrees of temperature change, tire air pressure changes 1 PSI (pound per square inch). Low tire pressure leads to decreased steering and braking control, poor gas mileage, excessive tire wear and the possibility of tire failure. And don't forget to check your spare tire too!

Rotate, rotate, rotate. To increase tread life and smooth out your ride, rotate your tires every 6,000 miles or sooner if irregular or uneven wear develops.



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Let Your Photos Take Center Stage

November 17, 2017 1:15 am

One of the many great things about today’s smartphone cameras is that they allow you to take high-quality photos anywhere, anytime. The wide range of filters and settings turns amateurs into fashion photographers, travel reporters and SoHo artists.

The bad thing about this newfound accessibility to photography, however, is that most of those photos never make it off your phone. Once you take them and share a few on social media, they often get lost in the ether of the Cloud or some drive on your PC. Here are some creative ways to bring your favorite photos out from their digital recesses and into the world for you and others to enjoy on a regular basis:

Set up slideshows as screensavers on your laptop and desktop computers. You can even use this feature on your smart TV and let the slide show play when friends and family are gathered for the next holiday.

Make an annual photo book. Gather the best of your photos for a given year and flow them into an annual photo book. People will be more apt to pick up a hard copy of the year’s highlights as opposed to scrolling through your phone.

Make separate albums for special trips you’ve taken. After all, your vacation to Fiji deserves more than a few shots on Facebook or a fleeting image on Snapchat.

Get artsy with your favorite shots. Have them printed on canvases or framed as posters to showcase in key areas of your home.

Put endearing shots of friends, family and pets on everything from pillows and throws to mugs and calendars. That way you’ll be reminded of who matters most every time you use these functional items.

Consider going old school and making photos a social occasion. Invite a few friends over for a slide show of your European vacation or of your newest grandchild, and serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Invite them to connect their device to view their latest life event too.  

These ideas will help make your photos what they’re intended to be: precious memories of the people and places that matter to you.

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Property Claims Satisfaction Surges, Even As Catastrophes Escalate

November 17, 2017 1:15 am

Although recent property insurance claim calls have escalated with fires, flooding and storm damages being reported all over the country, overall customer satisfaction among homeowners filing property insurance claims has reached a new all-time high.

The latest J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Property Claims Satisfaction Study notes this surge in insurance customer satisfaction corresponds with a 10-year high in catastrophic events, which are typically associated with lower satisfaction scores.

The study measures satisfaction with the property claims experience among insurance customers who have filed a claim for damages by examining five factors (listed in order of importance): settlement; first notice of loss; estimation process; service interaction; and repair process. Satisfaction is calculated on a 1,000-point scale with the overall Customer Satisfaction Index reaching a new all-time high for the study.

The largest single driver of the improvement is the settlement factor, which encompasses the fairness of the settlement amount, followed by estimation process and service interaction.

Following are some of the key findings of that 2017 J.D. Power property claims study:

- The West posts the largest improvement nationwide, amid a period where the toll from wildfires has yet to be fully reconciled. A handful of states with more volatile weather claims — most notably Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts —  post flat to declining scores.

- Weather-related claims elsewhere achieve the highest overall improvement in claims satisfaction, with high wind- and hail-related claims leading the way. However, water-related claims, which tend to take longer to resolve, are linked to lower overall satisfaction scores.

- High wind and hail claims are the most frequent weather-related claims in this year’s study, and both are correlated with relatively high satisfaction scores, regardless of total cycle time. Water-related claims, by contrast, are associated with the lowest satisfaction scores. On the whole, water-related claims score 39 points lower than hail-related claims.

- Slow resolution time is the primary driver of lower scores for water-related claims, with the time it took to a settle claim receiving a rating that is 0.40 points lower (on a 10-point scale) than other claims types for water-related claims.


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5 Ways to Ease Holiday Travel

November 17, 2017 1:15 am

The hustle and bustle of travel during the holiday can be a major headache. To help ease your journey, MultiVu offers the following tips for smooth driving and flying this happy holiday season.

Do your homework. Before you commit to a travel plan, comparison shop. Use a travel review site such as to cross reference lodging, car rentals, wellness retreats and more to make sure you're getting exactly what you expect before you pull out that credit card.

Protect yourself. From hurricanes to earthquakes, there's a lot that's not in our control. But something that is? Protecting our travel investment with travel insurance coverage. Travel insurance can reimburse your non-refundable expenses if you must cancel a trip due to sickness or injury and most importantly, it'll cover you for medical emergencies that may happen while you're traveling.

Lighten the load. During the holidays, consider sending unwrapped gifts in advance to your destination to lighten your load and wrapping them upon arrival. Pack a capsule wardrobe so that you can mix and match your outfits, and find out if laundry services are available at your destination so you can do a light load while on the road. Wear your heaviest clothing item, like a knitted sweater or peacoat, to lighten the weight of luggage or leave more room for packing. Think about things you don't need, and consider going more natural to save weight: hair dryer, hair spray, your entire skincare lineup (maybe just take the moisturizer and sunscreen in travel-sized containers and a mini makeup kit),

On the go games. Traveling with a brood? The best kid games on the go are the ones without small pieces and that don't make a lot of noise: cards, coloring, reading books are great. Car games that require rider participation are also a wonderful way to keep kids entertained and don't require any packing.

Source: MultiVu

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Ward Off Identity Theft This Holiday Season

November 15, 2017 12:45 am

Identity theft is a scary thought year-round, but during the holidays, the last thing you want to deal with is the headache and hassle of a stolen identity. Consider the following safety precautions from IdentityForce.

Be Charitable without Giving Access to Bank Accounts. Conduct research before donating to a non-profit. Be wary of a charity that uses a name closely resembling a well-known organization. If donating online, avoid crowdfunding or only donate to those people you know personally as it is extremely difficult to verify where your donation is going.

Volunteer Your Time, Not Your Identity. Many food banks or soup kitchens require a driver's license or a background check before volunteering. If sensitive personal information is required, ask about their privacy and data security practices. Also, do not sign open-ended consent forms. If this is mandatory, confirm that the forms are encrypted.

Don't Let an Online Shopping Scam Fool You. Avoid buying from merchants operating websites that are not secure. Hackers may set up websites designed to look like those of a legitimate seller. Before purchasing from them, research the organization and check with the Better Business Bureau. Additionally, look for the HTTPS and lock symbol in your browser address bar.    

Proceed with Caution When Applying for a Seasonal Job. On a job application, include only your name, address, telephone number, email address and relevant job history. Do not include the SSN, date of birth, or driver's license number. If an employer requests that information before granting an interview, ask to withhold the information until an in-person interview is possible.

Don't Overshare on Social. Hackers will try to sell stolen identities on the Dark Web, and often the gateway to gain access to personal information can be via social networks. When posting online, do not provide specifics. Social media identity theft relies on seemingly inconsequential details that can be linked together. The more dates, names and facts shared, the easier it is for thieves to impersonate your accounts. Also, remind friends and family not to share their personal information.

Source: IdentityForce

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How-To Stay Safe on the Road This Winter

November 15, 2017 12:45 am

Between wintry weather and the holiday party season, the road can be a dangerous place. To keep you and your family safe all season long, consider the following tips, from Allstate.

Do a systems check. Make sure your headlights and brake lights are in working condition, along with tires, heater, defroster, brakes and windshield wipers, and that you have enough windshield washer fluid.

Play it safe. Don't drive through standing water on roads or in parking lots — it can stall your engine. Take an alternate route.

Take it easy. Give yourself extra time to get where you're going. Increasing following distance, traveling at slower speeds and accounting for the extra stopping time will help avoid collisions.

Stay alert. Give the road your undivided attention. That's especially important with slick streets and potentially dangerous conditions.

Don't panic. If your vehicle begins to slide or skid, don't slam on the brakes. Look down the road in the direction you want to go and gently steer your vehicle that way. Release the accelerator until traction returns.

Have an emergency kit. Include the tools you will need to protect yourself should a problem arise. Gloves, boots, blankets, flares, water, jumper cables, a flashlight and something for traction, such as sand or cat litter, are all helpful items to have in the car.

Party smart. Especially during the busy holiday travel season, including one of the most deadly days on the road — New Year's Day— Allstate strongly urges drivers to plan ahead and always find a sober ride home before partaking in holiday festivities.Source: Allstate

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Practical Ways to Promote STEM Learning

November 15, 2017 12:45 am

(Family Features)--Demand for workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers continues to explode. Data from the U.S. Department of Education predicts that growth opportunities in these fields will increase 14 percent by 2020. One way to nurture kids' long-term potential is to make learning STEM subjects fun, hands-on and interactive.

Whether you're looking for fresh ideas to shake things up in the classroom or planning activities to share with the family at home, consider these creative approaches to increasing child or student interest in STEM topics.

Take a field trip: When learning occurs outside the confines of a classroom, it can create unexpected sparks of interest. Build classroom field trips or family outings around destinations that offer unique ways to highlight STEM subjects. For example, setting up a tour of a local baseball stadium may be a chance to get up close and personal with the game and the field, but it's also a way to discuss the math behind baseball. Similarly, a visit to an indoor skydiving facility is more than just exposure to an extreme sport; it's an opportunity to learn about terminal velocity and gravity. Additional options include an outdoor nature lesson, manufacturing facility, planetarium or local farm.

Introduce robotics: Between self-driving cars, drones that can aid in rescue efforts and robots that assist as a "butler" for day-to-day tasks, the future of robotics is here now. Researchers at Brandeis University found that students involved in robotics are two times more likely to take more challenging math and science courses and two times more likely to pursue STEM careers.

One option to increase interest in robotics is the TI-Innovator Rover, a robotic car that introduces middle school and high school students to the basics of coding and programming. Students without any coding or robotics experience can learn to write basic programs on their TI graphing calculators that make Rover do things like draw, dance or even crash.

Career show and tell: Seek out speakers or mentors who have real-world STEM careers, ranging from more traditional STEM fields like scientists or engineers to more unexpected jobs that use STEM principles every day, such as a fashion designer or an ice cream flavor scientist. Encourage kids to get hands-on with these careers by having guests both show and tell how they use math and science every day. For example, students can measure and cut materials to make a circle skirt, an unexpected lesson in geometry. Or they can scoop up a physics lesson on states of matter as milk transforms into ice cream.

Cook up some fun: When it comes to bucking tradition, the kitchen may not be the first place you think of to drive home the benefits of STEM learning. However, the kitchen is a perfect place to explore the chemistry of combining ingredients and hone math skills such as dividing fractions when splitting a recipe.

Solve real-world problems: Give students an opportunity to think through a real problem and come up with a solution. For example, challenge them to solve how they would create low-cost options for filtering water in countries without clean water. Through trial and error, students can learn that failure is OK and sometimes leads to a better solution.

Source: Texas Instruments

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Is Your Home Safe From Burglars This Holiday Season?

November 14, 2017 12:45 am

Is your home safe this holly jolly holiday season? Christopher Maynard from pointed out that as the holiday season approaches, more consumers may be stockpiling gifts. The prospect of hitting the jackpot is a huge motivator for burglars this time of year, so homeowners should spend some time assessing their potential exposure.

Maynard sites FBI stats which reveal that last year there were over 1.5 million burglaries in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20 percent of all estimated property crimes. That translated into $3.6 billion in property losses, with affected consumers losing an average of $2,361.

This fact may have consumers thinking about shopping for a home monitoring service, or adding other technologies like electronic locks, smart lights, and video cameras to stay on top of their home’s security, both at home and remotely.

Jami Barnett, Ph.D. of the Consumer Affairs Research Team, recently provided an overview of these technologies. Among her recommendations are:

Smart locks. Electronic locks using WiFi and phone apps give homeowners control over locks wherever they are. Dr. Barnett says some such locks have keypad entry codes, so you can give a neighbor or house sitter access, and then simply change the code after you return. Other locks can be linked to mobile devices so people who need temporary access can open the door with their phone.

Smart lights. Dr. Barnett says over 70 percent of burglaries happen when nobody is home. Smart bulbs and smart switches make your house look occupied. You can also turn lights on and off using a mobile device.

Dr. Barnett says if you pay for a professionally-monitored security system, it may be worthwhile to ask your alarm company about cellular monitoring.

She says when an alarm is triggered, the system uses a cellular connection to alert your security company. Since crooks can cut the phone lines and fiber-optic internet cables, disabling a wired alarm, cell monitoring will work as long as you have power or a battery backup.

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Traveling by Train This Holiday Season? Read This

November 14, 2017 12:45 am

Heading elsewhere for the holidays? Many think about road safety or money-saving flight options when they consider holiday travel, but train traveling also requires a little know-how. Amtrak offers the following seasonal tips to ensure a comfortable and safe journey along the tracks.

Plan Ahead and Book Early. Go online to check availability, reserve seats and learn about everyday discounts.

Avoid the Rush, Arrive Early. Stations will be busier than usual, so arrive 45 minutes before departure.

Baggage Policy. Just like an airplane, train lines have their own baggage allowances. On Amtrak, customers can bring two bags and two carry-ons, up to 150 pounds collectively, for free. Amtrak also offers checked baggage service at a number of stations. Check your train provider for details before packing.

Check Train Schedules. Check holiday train schedules and status before arriving at the station to make sure there are no last-minute delays.

Carry Photo ID. Passengers are required to show valid photo identification when purchasing tickets and carry valid photo ID at all times aboard trains.

Source: Amtrak

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4 Ways to Survive Holiday Gifting

November 14, 2017 12:45 am

(Family Features)--While the holidays might be the most wonderful time of the year for children, the gifting season can quickly spiral out of control for unprepared shoppers.

These four tips can help you conquer holiday gifting like a pro: 

Get organized. The secret to conquering the holiday season is having a plan. Take 10-15 minutes to update your calendar with all your holiday parties, family engagements, secret Santa exchanges or any other gifting commitments. Make sure to include dates, locations, times and even specifics, like themes, if they're available. If you have multiple holiday events, you might even color-coordinate your planner for an easy visual reminder. Sync your events across all smart devices for an easy glance at the touch of a button.

Find your go-to gifts. As an adult, deciphering what kind of gifts a child wants in this digital age can be tricky. Some classics like brick toys are still a hit with kids of all ages. Studies show that 60 percent of children love playing with brick toys and more than half of parents love that their kids do, according to Mattel Global Consumer Insights.   

Wrap gifts early. Now that you have your plan in place, save time by purchasing all the gifts you will need for the holidays and wrapping them at one time. Prevent the stress of a last-minute gift wrap run by pre-wrapping gifts and simply labeling them with removable sticky notes.   
Build a gifting closet. Once you have your gifts wrapped and ready to go, consider using an old crate or storage container and turning it into a "gifting closet." Insert dividers to separate the gifts by age range and set aside your treasure trove in an easy-to-reach storage area. You can even use this closet year-round for birthdays and other gifting events. On the day of the party, simply open your gifting closet, grab a gift for the right age and head out the door. 

Source: MEGA

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How-To Avoid Seasonal Holiday Stress at Work and Home

November 10, 2017 12:45 am

Holidays are meant for joy and merriment - but with social commitments, family flocks and deadlines looming before vacation, it can sometimes be hard to find that holiday spirit. Below are a few tips from Accountemps to prevent holiday stress and fatigue:

Make a list and check it twice. Before leaving work, write down top priorities to accomplish the next day. Keep a separate list for personal to-do's. This will help you manage priorities, improve productivity and reduce stress during the holidays.

Look for helpers. If you're buried with too many projects, speak up. Meet with your team, boss or manager to discuss possible solutions to alleviate the pressure you're feeling, such as adjusting deadlines or delegating.

Give yourself the gift of time. Plan for time out of the office, and help your boss prepare for your absence so all important projects are covered. Think about ways you can minimize your stress level, such as leaving a little early to get holiday shopping done.

Eat, exercise and be merry. It's impossible to enjoy the holiday season if you don't prioritize your physical and mental health. Take regular breaks during the day to refuel, rest or stretch.Source: Accountemps

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5 Tips for Scoring a Better Night's Sleep

November 10, 2017 12:45 am

Nothing beats a great night's sleep. But with noisy neighbors, crazy kids and long to-do lists, sleeping well can be harder than it should be. Below are five sleep-easy tips from Kingsdown, Inc.

Mattress matters. Not all mattresses (and pillows) are made the same. Choose the correct mattress and pillow for your body type and sleeping position.

Separate Sheets and blankets. One of the biggest causes of partner disturbance is stolen covers! Avoid a fight over the blankets by using your own.

Temperature. Your bedroom should optimally be 65-68 degrees. Crack a window and cool down to fall asleep. Of course, use as many blankets to keep thermal, but keep your head exposed to cool air.

Noise. Try and eliminate all noise from the bedroom. If this isn't possible, invest in a white noise machine.

Light. Your bedroom should be completely dark. Even a night-light or bright alarm clock can inhibit melatonin production, which we need to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your bedroom windows let in a lot of natural light – get blackout curtains or wear an eye mask.Source: Kingsdown, Inc

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7 Ways to Plan for Cold and Flu Season

November 10, 2017 12:45 am

(Family Features)--Declining temperatures can bring fun, cool-weather activities, but they also mean cold and flu season is lurking. While everyone hopes to stay healthy, it can be difficult to completely avoid viruses and bugs.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a board-certified family physician and Braun spokesperson, offers some simple suggestions to help your family plan for cold and flu season.

Dispose of expired medicine. Spend some time checking the medications you already have at home. Review the expiration dates and if any need to be thrown out, research how to properly dispose of them according to local government guidelines.

Stock up. Before cold and flu season, make sure to stockpile must-haves like ginger ale, ice pops and recommended cough suppressants. Thinking ahead means you won't have to rush out when you or a family member comes down with something.

Practice healthy habits. Encourage the entire family to maintain healthy habits such as regular hand washing, following a nutritious diet, drinking plenty of water, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue to help minimize the spread of cold and flu viruses.

Use a reliable thermometer. Reading the temperature of a person who feels ill can help provide confidence and peace of mind. Make sure you have a reliable thermometer, ideally that takes professionally accurate temperature readings via the ear canal.

"It's important to carefully monitor potential illnesses to make sure children get and stay well, and taking an accurate temperature reading is a necessary part of this process," Gilboa says. "As a doctor and a mom to four boys, it gives me the confidence to know that I'm accurately taking my child's temperature before I take any next steps, like administering medication."

Have important info on hand. To save time when your child is ill, keep a reference of your child's allergies, prescribed medications, dosage amounts and current weight handy. Health care providers typically need this information to correctly prescribe and dose most medications. Other items to keep on-hand include school sick day policies, operating manuals for medical devices and a reference of temperature readings that classify a fever.

Manage humidity. Control your home's humidity levels with a humidifier to help prevent the survival of flu viruses on surfaces and in the air.

Keep contact info accessible. Keep a list of important phone numbers and addresses inside your medicine cabinet door or on the fridge so they're easily accessible to family members, babysitters and caretakers. Include your family doctor or local clinic, schools, pharmacists and anyone else you may need to reach in an emergency.

If cold or flu reach your household this winter, it's always important to consult a doctor if you have any questions regarding the health of your family members.

Source: Braun

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How To Avoid Pantry Pests

November 9, 2017 12:45 am

We've all been there: we're reaching for an ingredient from a box in the cabinet only to find a few things in there that weren't part of the original contents.

Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to keep pesky critters out of your flour, oatmeal, crackers and more.
Barbara Dahl, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension, assures that these unwelcome guests can even be found in a spotless home because they crawl through cracks, fly through open windows or hide in groceries.  

Dahl's advice for keeping bugs out:
- Don't buy more grain products than you can use in a short time.
- Look at food from each package under a bright light.
- Get rid of packages that have insect webs or insect pieces.
- Place the good food in airtight glass, plastic or metal containers, or in the refrigerator.
- Do not buy opened or crushed packages. They may already have insects or be easy for insects to get in.
- Clean up any spills in cabinets right away.
- Clean food storage areas well, at least once a year.

Erin Huffstetler of says if you have pets, check their food, toss any infested items that you find, and wipe down any affected cans with undiluted vinegar.

Remember, infested items should go straight to an outdoor trash can - placing them in your kitchen trash will only spread the problem.

Once you've removed the problem items, Huffstetler says to give your pantry a thorough cleaning:

- Pull out shelf liners (and wash or replace them).
- Vacuum the shelves, paying special attention to corners, undersides, shelf brackets and mounting hardware.
- Vacuum the walls, baseboards, trim, floor, ceiling and door (including the inside edge, hinges and knob).
- Wipe down pantry shelves with hot, soapy water or vinegar and mop the floor.

When you're done with your clean up, Huffstetler says to remove the vacuum bag, and take it out to your outside trash bin. If you have a bagless vacuum, wash out the dust compartment.

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Quick Fixes for Common Household Glitches

November 9, 2017 12:45 am

Sometimes it seems there’s always something around the house that needs fixing – and the longer you put off doing the fixing, the more the glitches seem to multiply.

Real Simple Magazine suggests quick fixes to help keep your living space looking tip-top without tearing chunks out of your weekend:

Squeaky wood floor. The fix isn’t permanent, but for temporary relief from that annoying squeak, sprinkle a little talcum powder over the noisy area, then sweep it into the cracks between floorboards and wipe off the excess.  

Stained tub. Combine equal amounts of cream of tartar and baking soda with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Rub the mixture into the stain with your fingers or a soft cloth. Let sit for a half hour, then rinse well with water.

Stubborn sliding windows. If they’re not sliding easily, a little silicone spray lubricant (sold at hardware stores) will grease the skids. Spray it onto a rag, then wipe along the tracks.

Worn, dry cutting board. Gently warm a bottle of pure mineral oil (available at drugstores) in a bowl of hot water, then wipe the oil onto the surface with a soft cloth. Wipe off the excess four to six hours later.

Scuffed linoleum. Rubbing an eraser over it may be all you need. If not, try rubbing the spot with a little white toothpaste on a clean rag.

Water rings on wood. Someone forgot to use a coaster? Make that ring go away with an equal mix of white toothpaste and mayonnaise. Apply, then wipe off with a soft cloth. You may have to rub it for a bit for the ring to lighten considerably.

Scratched glass tabletop. Mix a small amount of water with a little white toothpaste and baking soda to make a paste. Using a clean, slightly damp cloth, rub the paste into the scratch using a tiny, circular motion. Wash it off with a clean, soft cloth.

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Snow Blower Safety Tips

November 9, 2017 12:45 am

Snow blowing may be superior to shoveling in the minds of many, but as you drag your blower out of the garage this winter, please keep the following safety tips in mind, courtesy of OPEI.

Before it Snows:

Review your owner's manual. Check your owner's manual for safe handling procedures. If you lost your manual, you can look it up online (and store a copy on your computer so you have the manual available to reference in the future). Review how to operate the controls. You should be able to shut off your equipment quickly.

Check your equipment. The snow thrower should be completely powered off when you are checking it over. If you forgot to drain the fuel last winter before storing your snow thrower, drain the gas tank now. Adjust any cables. Check the auger.

Put your equipment where you can get to it easily. Move your equipment to a convenient and accessible location, so you can get to it easily when you need it.

Purchase your fuel. Often gas stations are closed after a storm. Be sure to use the correct fuel, as recommended by your equipment's manufacturer. Fill up the fuel tank outside before you start the engine and while the engine is cold. Never add fuel to a running or hot engine.

Store your fuel properly. Place fuel in a fuel container and label it with the date purchased and the ethanol content of the fuel. Fuel that is more than 30 days old can separate and cause operating problems. It's important to use fresh fuel in your snow thrower. Make sure fuel is stored safely and out of the reach of children.

Tidy the area you intend to clear with your equipment. Snow can sometimes hide objects. Doormats, hoses, balls, toys, boards, wires, and other debris should be removed from the areas you intend to clear. When run over by a snow thrower, these objects may harm the machine or people.

Plan to dress for winter weather. Locate your safety gear now, and place it in an accessible closet or location in your home. Plan to wear safety glasses, gloves and footwear that can handle cold and slippery surfaces.

Operate Safely

Never put your hands inside the auger or chute. Use a clean-out tool (or stick) to unclog snow or debris from your snow thrower. Your hands should never go inside the auger or chute.

Turn OFF your snow thrower if you need to clear a clog. If you need to remove debris or unclog snow, always turn off your snow thrower. Wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop before clearing any clogs or debris.

Only use your snow thrower in visible conditions. Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light.

Aim your snow thrower with care. Never throw snow toward people or cars. Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your snow thrower. Keep children or pets away from your snow thrower when it is operating.

Use extreme caution on slopes and hills. Use caution when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.

Know where your cord is. If you have an electric powered snow thrower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Avoid tripping. Do not run over the power cord.

Keep pets and children inside. Kids and pets may love to play in the white stuff, but it's best to keep them inside your home and under supervision while you are using your snow thrower to clear a path or drive. Do not allow them to play in the snow as it is tossed out of the snow thrower's chute.

Source: OPEI

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Ways to Be the Ultimate Holiday Host

November 7, 2017 12:45 am

(Family Features)--'Tis the season for holiday gatherings. Decorating and preparing to host a festive party or get-together can be stressful, but with these tips, you can add a seasonal sparkle that makes guests feel welcome and ensure that you - and your home - are ready to look and play the part.

Brighten up your home. Seasonal decor and holiday lights enhance both the interior and exterior of your home to create a welcoming atmosphere for family and guests alike. Further set the mood with a seasonal soundtrack that plays softly in the background throughout your gathering and strategically place holiday-scented diffusers and candles throughout your home. Give careful attention to lighting overall, adding task lighting where needed to keep every room cheery and bright.

Look your best. The holidays are a time when you can't stop smiling as you gather with loved ones, attend holiday parties and seasonal work events, or pose for those annual family photos. It's important you look and feel your best, which starts with your smile, along with choosing the right outfit and accessories that add a festive touch. Choose a whitening toothpaste to show off your best possible grin.

Set a shining table. Dress up the dining room table with elegant place settings, including fine china or crystal dishes and glassware. For a more formal gathering, consider placing name cards in stylish holders so guests know where to take their seats. Adding seasonal-colored accents throughout the table can also help set the mood, as can displaying desserts on tiered serving trays. Even if the center of the table will be filled with food, look for creative, subtle ways to infuse the elegance with a pretty centerpiece that brings the whole spread together.

Give gifts that sparkle. Whether gifting for family or assembling gift bags for party guests, look for shimmery wrapping paper or gift bags in vibrant, cheerful colors. Include small seasonal trinkets, such as ornaments that reflect the theme of the party or bejeweled photo frames to capture memories of the celebration for years to come.

Source: Colgate

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How-To Upgrade Your Entryway

November 7, 2017 12:45 am

They say first impressions matter, and the entryway of your home is the perfect example. Below are some helpful tips for making sure your space wows you--and your guests-- every time you enter.

Kill clutter. Clutter is a huge no-no in your entryway, as it impacts the entire vibe of your space from the moment you set foot in the door. However, this can be hard, as the entryway is the space you dump your keys, mail, boots and coat. To remedy this, make sure you have designated, tucked away spaces for everything you store at the entrance of your home. Hooks for coats, baskets for mail, a covered bin for shoes can all work wonders.

Add a statement. Placing a beloved piece of art or furniture in the mouth of your home is a great way to appreciate it every time you enter, and can offer a fantastic conversation starter between you and guests.

Have a seat. Whether it's a plush chair or a simple bench, a seat in your entryway is great for roosting as you tie your shoelaces, and makes a perfect place for attractive accent pillows.

Light it right. Good lighting in your entryway is a must. Add an attractive lighting fixture, set up a dimmer for mood, and a floor or table lamp for added options.

Personal touches. Placing photos of your family and pets in your entryway can add a nice personal element and warm your heart every time you pass by.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-To Sleep Better, Tonight

November 7, 2017 12:45 am

Nothing messes up your day like poor sleep the night before. The following tips from Senior Helpers can help you rest easier, every night.

Exercise during the day. Physical activity is recommended to improve both sleep quality and overall sleep duration. Try incorporating moderate aerobic exercise into your daily routine like swimming, fast walking or even ballroom dancing, but be sure to consult with your doctor before jumping into any new exercise regimens.

Implement a pre-bedtime ritual. Calming nighttime activities will help your body relax and slow down, making you better prepared for bed. Only one-third of us are able to fall asleep instantly, and activities such as listening to music, taking a warm bath and meditation are found helpful in expediting the unwinding process.

Avoid afternoon naps. Sleeping in the day can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep at night. The good news? If you do find yourself needing some mid-day shut eye, limit naptime to 30 minutes or less.

Drink fewer fluids at night. Bathroom breaks are the most common sleep disruptor among older adults. Avoiding liquids a couple of hours before bedtime will limit how often you wake up to use the bathroom throughout the night.

Minimize technology use before bed. Too much light from video screens at bedtime can affect the production of melatonin, giving your body the impression you aren't ready for sleep. The best advice is to stop watching TV or using smartphones and other screen devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime to give your brain a rest and the correct signal that it is time for sleep.

Source: Senior Helpers

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5 Interior Design Details for Winter

November 6, 2017 12:45 am

Are you interested in adding a little seasonal oomph to your space? Below are a handful of cozy--and inexpensive--winter updates.

Cozy blankets galore. Nothing is better than a snuggly blanket on a cool winter evening. Drape heavier blankets over sofas, chairs, reading nooks, and even fold one up by the fireplace for stretching out on the floor. Just make sure it's safely away from the flames!

Gray space. The color gray is a winter staple. Swap out your fiery fall throw pillows for a gunmetal shade, unroll a deep gray rug in the living or dining room, or update your window coverings to gentle ash tone.

Candle craze. Soft lighting in winter can create a romantic, warm effect. Place candles around the house and ditch the harsh overheads as you settle in with that evening glass of wine.

Bring out your book lover. Stacks of books offers an inviting way to spend those chilly winter hours. Create attractive assemblies on side tables, shelves, inside your unused fireplace, or even in corners on the floor.

Wooden wonders. Adding wood accents to your home in the winter makes you feel like you're living in a ski lodge. Pile logs in the corner for fire (or simple aesthetics), add a rustic wood table by the sofa for setting that warm mug of tea. No table? Try a large, seasoned stump for some real rustic vibes.  

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Scam Alert! Avoid These Lottery Red Flags

November 6, 2017 12:45 am

Many of us daydream about winning the lottery - the cars we'd buy, the debt we'd pay off, the charities we'd support. However, don't get so caught up in your daydream that you get scammed.

According to the Pennsylvania Lottery, you're likely getting scammed if:
- If you are told to buy a pre-paid debit card in order to pay an up-front "processing fee" or taxes – this is a major hallmark of a scam.- If you are asked for financial information such as credit card or bank routing numbers.
- If the supposed prize is in pounds, euros, or anything other than dollars.
- If an email contains poor grammar or misspellings.
- If a call sounds as if it could be coming from outside of the U.S.
- If you are instructed to keep the news of your supposed "win" a secret.
- If you are told to call a certain phone number to "verify" the prize. Instead of calling it, look up the lottery's published number, call and ask to speak with security.

Source: The Pennsylvania Lottery

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Tips to Help Prevent Diabetes

November 6, 2017 12:45 am

Are you at risk for diabetes? Whether it's based on genetics or pre-existing health conditions, those with higher chances of diabetes can take action to help prevent the disease.

"If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy," says Dr. Carmen Pal, who heads the Lighthouse Guild Bendheim Center for Diabetes Care. "The good news is that there is much you can do to preserve your vision and reduce your risk of eye disease," she adds.

Manage your health. Have a comprehensive dilated eye examination with your ophthalmologist or optometrist once a year. In its early stages, diabetic eye disease often has no symptoms. By regularly monitoring your eye health, you can begin treatment as soon as possible if signs of disease appear.

See an endocrinologist. With diabetes, one of the best ways you can improve your health is to consult an endocrinologist. If you have diabetes, many medications are available to help. Talk to your physician about a referral.

Set up your diabetes team. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, actively manage your health. A certified diabetes educator will help you learn practical techniques and strategies for monitoring your blood sugar and taking your medications. These techniques and strategies, along with lifestyle changes will help you feel better. The registered dietician will help you put together meal plans that work for you, and can show you how to make smart choices when eating outside your home.

Take care of your feet. If you have diabetes, it is especially important that you pay special attention to your feet. You may not be able to feel or see injuries as well as you should, and cuts may take longer to heal. The podiatrist is an important part of your diabetes healthcare team.

Exercise. Regular exercise can help your eyes stay as healthy as possible while helping to control your diabetes.

Try group support. "If you have diabetes, you aren't alone," says Dr. Pal. "You can join a diabetes support group and learn from people who are in the same situation and understand what you are facing. Share your experience and what you've learned and get support from others."

Source: Lighthouse Guild

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5 Travel Predictions for 2018

November 2, 2017 12:42 am

Hitting the road in 2018? You're far from alone. has analyzed its data for 2018 travel to offer up the following predictions.

New tech frontiers. Immersive experiences will reach the next level in 2018, with travelers looking to technology to help better understand a destination or accommodation before they book. Artificial intelligence and digital technology are helping consumers turn the corner when it comes to smart destination intuition, reshaping the way we research, book and experience travel. Almost a third (29 percent) of global travelers say they are comfortable letting a computer plan an upcoming trip based on data from their previous travel history and half (50 percent) don't mind if they deal with a real person or computer, so long as any questions are answered. Over six in 10 (64 percent) of travelers say they would like to 'try before they buy' with a virtual reality preview, while 50 percent find that personalised suggestions for destinations and things to do encourages them to book a trip. Taking all the hard work and stress out of decision making, in 2018 technology will continue to guide us seamlessly to find the best stays and experiences for us.

From dream to reality. 2018 is the year to dream big as 45 percent of travelers have a travel bucket list in mind and the majority of those (82 percent) will aim to tick one or more destinations off their list in the coming year. The yearning for experiences over material possessions continues and drives our desire for more incredible and memorable trips. With dwindling patience, instantaneous appetites and empowered by technology, travelers in 2018 will seize the moment like never before.

Most likely to feature on a bucket list is seeing one of the wonders of the world, as almost half of travelers (47 percent) will look to tick this off in 2018. Over a third (35 percent) yearn to tantalise their taste buds by trying a local delicacy, 34 percent want to head to an island paradise and 34 percent are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park. Adrenalin junkies should consider Orlando, Fla., The Gold Coast in Australia and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the top destinations endorsed by travelers for theme parks. The other top travel activities to complete in 2018 are experiencing a unique cultural event (28 percent), learning a new skill (27 percent), going on an epic road or rail journey (25 percent) and visiting a remote or challenging location (25 percent).

Retro reboot. As well as new experiences, travelers will be revisiting their favorite childhood memories as part of their trips in 2018. Blending the future with the past, next year's travelers will be inspired to return to previously loved destinations and explore them in a whole new way. A third of travelers (34 percent) will consider a holiday they experienced as a child for 2018.

The popularity of these vintage vacations stems from the feelings of nostalgia and happiness the destinations evoke. Travelers say that former family holidays recall the fondest memories, even more so than childhood sweethearts or family pets. Millennials look set to be even more sentimental with 44 percent of 18 to 34 year olds keen to hark back to favourite family destinations. With 60 percent of travelers in 2018 intending to post on social media each day, we can expect to see these nostalgic places brought back to the future and captured for social posterity.  

Pop culture pilgrimage. With the world at our fingertips, we rely on many sources to inspire us to travel to new destinations. Tapping into our passions is one way of helping to identify the locations most suited to us - from culture and entertainment, to food and history. In 2018, television shows, films, sport and social media in particular look set to have an increasingly significant sway over booking decisions, as travelers turn to pop culture for their travel inspiration. Reading blogs or watching YouTuber recommendations will spark ideas for four in ten (39 percent) travelers and on-screen locations from television, film or music videos will win over 36 percent of travelers in the coming year. More than a fifth (22 percent) of travelers will be tempted by travelling for a major sporting event, with 43 percent of those considering a summer of football in Russia.

The top television program locations travelers most want to visit in 2018 are Croatia, Spain and Iceland inspired by Game of Thrones (29 percent), London as seen in Sherlock and the Crown  (21 percent and 13 percent), New York and Manhattan from Billions (13 percent) and Los Angeles viewed in Entourage (10 percent).

Walk your way to wellness. The trend for wellness getaways isn't slowing down for 2018, with almost double the amount of people planning to take health and well-being trips in 2018 compared to 2017 (from one in 10 in 2017 to nearly one in five in 2018). Trips enjoying particular prominence will be those that involve travelling on two feet. A brilliant way to take in the local landscape, walking will be the ultimate way to explore next year, with 56 percent of travelers saying they want to do walking or hiking trips in 2018.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Put Giving Twists on Holiday Traditions

November 2, 2017 12:42 am

(Family Features)--If giving is an important aspect of your holiday traditions, you may find yourself repeating the same activities year after year. While the giving feels good, it can also grow monotonous. This season, make your generosity feel fresh and new by putting your own unique twist on your favorite holiday traditions.

Cook extras for the cookie exchange. A baking party is a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season. The delightful aromas and hours of laughter blend with the sweet treats for a cheery (and tasty) tradition. This year, instead of simply baking cookies to trade with your friends, encourage everyone to bake several extra batches and take them to a local soup kitchen or senior living community.

Extend a seasonal icon. The ringing bells and red kettles found outside of retailers across the nation are nearly as symbolic of the holiday season as twinkling lights and red-nosed reindeer. During the holiday season, more than 3 million families and children rely on The Salvation Army to provide them with a warm meal on Christmas Day or toys for their children. This year, the organization is making it easy to extend those kettle collections offline as well with the Fight for Good campaign, which allows you to create your own fundraiser, including setting a goal and designating the cause you'd like to support. Visit to create your own fundraising page and encourage friends and family to donate and start their own pages.

In addition, you can donate to the Red Kettle Campaign by dropping dollars and coins into the thousands of Red Kettles found in front of retail stores and on street corners, or donate your time by contacting your local Salvation Army for volunteer opportunities.  

Add a special pre-dinner starter. The holidays bring plenty of opportunities for celebratory meals, and it's the perfect time to ask everyone to lend an hour or two to a good cause. Instead of spending hours around a table, spend some of that time catching up while you volunteer at a food bank or other charitable organization. When you make your way on to dinner, your festive spirit may be even stronger for the difference you made together.

Travel with care. As you flit from one place to the next checking off your list of holiday chores, you may encounter any number of homeless and needy families. Instead of simply handing over a few dollars as you pass by, keep a supply of holiday care packages in the car. Include items like warm socks or gloves, toiletries and non-perishable snacks. You may even want to include an uplifting note to share some festive seasonal cheer.

Give gifts with meaning. If you're like most people, there are many on your shopping list who truly don't need a thing. Instead of wracking your brain, donate to a cause in their honor. It may be the foundation of a beloved alma mater or an organization serving orphans in the country where they honeymooned. The more personal the connection, the more gratefully it will likely be received. After making your donation, simply gift your recipient with a card that explains the contribution you've made in their name.

No matter which cause you support, a fresh approach to your charitable giving can renew your spirit and enthusiasm for helping those in need this holiday season.

Source: The Salvation Army

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Top 5 Factors That Put Your Home At Risk of a Break-In

November 2, 2017 12:42 am

Did you know that sixteen percent of Americans have experienced a home break-in? From open windows to a lack of alarm, there are a myriad of reasons that could put your home at risk. Below are the top five, in order, according to DIY home phone and security company Ooma.

1. Neighborhood or surroundings - 24 percent. Nearly a quarter of American homes are at risk simply based on their neighborhood or surrounding neighborhoods.

2. No alarm - 16 percent. Failing to install a home security system is the second leading cause of a home invasion, results show. If you can't afford an alarm system, placing a sign by your door claiming that you're protected may help sway cautious burglars.

3. An unlocked door - 14 percent. While only fourteen percent of Americans who have experienced a burglary say an open door was the cause, nearly 42 percent leave their doors unlocked, which is just begging for a (not so forced) entry.

4. An open window - eight percent. Windows come second to open doors. Never leave ground floor windows open when you leave the house.

5. Living in an apartment building - seven percent. According to Ooma's survey results, simply living in an apartment building ups your chance of a break in, as housing units see more foot traffic, and can be easier for strangers to enter without suspicion. Look for a building with front entrance security measures, like an ID swipe, key code, or porter.

Source: Ooma

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Business Owners: Draw in Millennials with Workplace Design

November 1, 2017 1:12 am

If you're a business owner or manager looking to attract more millennial employees, look closely at your office layout. According to a new study by IPSOS, on behalf of National Business Furniture, the way you layout your workspace can predict who will want to work there. Below are a handful of tips.

Customize spaces to fit departments and jobs. While employees in finance will want personal offices to manage sensitive information, more collaborative groups like marketing may work better in the open with desks clustered closer together for creative brainstorming.

Add portable wall panels to open cubicle spaces. Noise is one negative side effect of today's contemporary open office floor plan. Today, there are a wide range of creative portable screens and walls that can be quickly added for privacy and to act as a sound barrier.

Go green. Researchers in the Netherlands conducted a study that measured a 15 percent increase in productivity when "lean" workplaces with a bare-bones aesthetic were spruced up with green plant life. Introducing plants to an office environment has been reported to reduce absenteeism by up to 50 percent, and reduce minor illness by 30 percent.

Create an active workplace. Recent studies have found that prolonged sitting can increase health risks such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Employers can create more active workplaces today by incorporating standing-height or adjustable-height tables that allow workers to rotate between sitting and standing during the day.

Source: IPSOS, National Business Furniture

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Get Your Family On Board for Your Destination Wedding

November 1, 2017 1:12 am

While having a destination wedding may sound like a dream, it can be difficult to convey that dream to your family and friends, who may be shy of making that kind of time and monetary commitment. Below are a handful of helpful conversation keys from

- A destination wedding's guest list is typically smaller than a wedding at home. This really forces you to decide whose attendance is non-negotiable. If there is someone who might have trouble traveling long distances, don't forget that "destination" doesn't necessarily mean halfway across the world. A destination wedding travel professional can be invaluable with helping you figure out how those with special needs can travel safely.

- Weddings can bring up a lot of feelings—and not just for the couple. It can be hard for families to let go of their own visions for your wedding. But it's your wedding – and this is a great chance to explain why a destination wedding is so important to you.

- A destination wedding sounds so expensive, right? Wrong! Any wedding will have costs associated with it. However, research shows that a destination wedding can be more cost-effective than a traditional wedding: a destination wedding typically costs $17,000 for the ceremony and reception as compared to the average $32,600 price for a traditional wedding in a mid-sized U.S. city.

- Some people start thinking about their future wedding years before their partner is on the scene. And they talk about it, too, leading family members to believe that a destination wedding isn't really your choice. But people change, and your childhood dream wedding at the local country club might not fit your current vision. This is a great opportunity to explain to loved ones that a destination wedding is something that will give you wonderful memories for anniversaries to come.

- For any type of wedding, experts recommend sitting down and mapping out no-go dates, like cousin Jane's wedding the second weekend of April, and your brother's college graduation the first weekend of June. But listen, there will never be a single perfect time where no one in your family has anything going on. Choose what works best for you and remember: this is an issue that can affect weddings at home, too.

- It can be a leap of faith to have a wedding in a venue you might not be able to visit beforehand. This is the time to lean on a travel professional who can recommend venues they have worked with who have ultra-professional wedding coordinators.

- Getting a group from many places to one spot can be tricky. And that's why recommends you don't do it on your own. An experienced destination wedding travel agent will keep track of everyone's preferences, be a point of contact for your travelers, and even secure group rates for air, hotel and ground transportation. You're getting married – you've got enough on your mind; let your travel professional take the logistics challenges off your shoulders.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Get Ready for House Guests

November 1, 2017 1:12 am

Whether it's a pile of extended family members coming over for a holiday meal, or a week-long family reunion, prepping for guests can be a busy, dizzying time. Read on for a handful of ways you can get your home ready for guests.

- Start by running your washing machine and dishwasher empty. Clean machines make double-duty holiday cleaning more efficient and effective.

- Stash clutter when company is on the way by filling the family laundry basket. That way, important items don't get lost in the shuffle – you'll find them by your next laundry day.

- Wash all blankets, linens and towels your guests will need for a nice fresh feel.

- Put a "Forgot This?" box in the guest bathroom with extra toothbrushes, razors, antacids, cotton balls and other toiletries they may have forgotten to pack.

- Make room for holiday foods by taking everything out of the fridge, and discard anything expired, spoiled or unknown.

- Plan the serving pieces, utensils and cookware you'll need. Set them out to make sure they're clean and polished so nothing is left to the last minute.

- Have job assignments, such as taking out the trash or setting the table, ready for anyone who asks if they can help.Source: Lemi Shine

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How-to Serve up Style in Your Bathroom

October 30, 2017 12:42 am

Looking to add some of your own personal style to your bathroom? Below are a few ways you can add a little oomph to your powder room.

Climbing plants. Climbing vines indoors can add a jungly, naturalistic element to your space. Some of the coolest vines for interiors are ivy, heartleaf philodendron, jasmine and betel leaf plant.

Art. Don't be afraid to add some unique art to your bathroom! A cool painting or sculpture can make a great focus piece.

Lighting options. From an interesting lighting fixture to a colored bulb or recessed lighting beneath, don't be afraid to get funky with your lights.

Mirroring. Add an expressive picture frame to the edge of your vanity mirror, or create an entire mirrored wall to open up the space and add light.

Playful patterns. If you're a fan of patterns, consider placing a bold pattern on your ceiling, floor, or one wall to make the space more interesting.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

6 Signs Your Heating System Is on Its Way Out

October 30, 2017 12:42 am

During fall and winter, your heating system is your lifeline. So if it fails in the middle of the cold season, it can feel physically, mentally and financially uncomfortable. Below, 128 Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electric, gives tips to homeowners about signs to look for that indicate a heating system is failing.

Age of the system. The average lifespan of a heating system is 15 - 20 years. As a heating unit ages, it falls behind in terms of efficiency. A high-efficiency system uses less energy to run than a system that isn't, which typically means a lower monthly gas or oil bill. Band-Aid repairs on old units can easily waste money.      

Strange and unusual noises. Noises, particularly metallic or scraping sounds, can be an indicator that a service call is needed for repair. In the event that the homeowner detects such a sound, the unit needs to be turned off immediately for further inspection to prevent any further damage.

Uneven heating of the home. This can indicate a number of things, some of which can be solved by the homeowner. Furniture blocking vents can obstruct air flow, and dirty filters can restrict flow to the entire home. However, if these are checked and the issue still exists, a service call may be needed to clear obstructed ductwork or repair of the unit. When homeowners have one room that gets too hot while another doesn't heat, there is an unbalanced distribution of heat that could be very costly depending on the location of the thermostat.     
Increasing energy bills. Once your energy costs increase without a reasonable explanation, chances are your heating system isn't working as efficiently anymore. This is usually the case with older heating systems, but newer systems can also start to fail and become less efficient.     

Increasing runtime. If your heating system runs constantly, beyond adjusting for winter temperatures, it can be an indication of loss of efficiency or a thermostat issue. Excessive repairs. If repairs are becoming more frequent, expenses are increasing, and the same problems are reoccurring, it is most likely time to replace the entire unit. Replacing the entire unit with a current model will not only cut down on time and money spent on repairs and service calls, but will also help save on monthly energy bills thanks to newer energy-saving standards.


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Make Mealtime Meaningful for Families and Furry Friends

October 30, 2017 12:42 am

(Family Features)--Coming together for a shared meal is a simple yet important way for families to bond and create memories with one another. There's no better time than right now to bring everyone together around the dinner table - including your four-legged friends - for a delicious, healthy meal.

These tips can help make mealtime even more meaningful for everyone:

Have the family help with the meal prep. Pick a recipe everyone can help prepare, such as build-your-own pizzas, to make the dinner both a bonding activity and a rewarding experience when you get to eat your own creation.

Schedule mealtime for the whole family, including your pup. Your furry friend can enjoy sharing in the family experience, and with his own food bowl, he'll be gobbling that up, making it less tempting to ask for human food.

Establish a no-devices-at-the-dinner-table policy to encourage kids and adults alike to talk, engage and bond with each other. This quality time spent in the company of family can build cherished memories for years to come.

Opt for healthy options to keep everyone's energy levels up. This means working in plenty of fruits, veggies and quality proteins like chicken or salmon, sweet potatoes, lentils and more. These ingredients are also great for your pup and are included in many high-quality dog foods.

Whether it's once a week or every night, coming together for a shared meal is a simple gesture that can help bring families - and even furry family members - together. So grab a plate (or bowl) and enjoy your shared mealtime with the entire family.

Source: Nutro

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Cleaning House on the Quick and Cheap

October 27, 2017 1:09 am

We once met a woman who loved to clean house. She said it gave her a feeling of accomplishment. For many, however, it’s a thankless chore, and the sooner done, the better.

Consumer editors at Woman’s Day Magazine and the DIY Network offer seven ways to save time and money and still keep your home sparkling clean:

All-purpose cleaners – No need to buy cleaning solutions for a single purpose. Fill a squirt bottle with four tablespoons of baking soda and a quart of warm water. Use it to clean kitchen counters, appliances, inside the fridge and more – or add one-third cup vinegar to a quart of water to clean glass, countertops and even floors.

Burnt food on burners – Remove burnt-on food from stove burners by soaking them overnight in a zip-lock bag filled with a cup of ammonia.

Burnt food in pans – No need to throw out or replace that badly burnt pan. Heat a cup of white vinegar in it until warm. Remove from the heat and mix in two tablespoons of baking powder. After 15 minutes, rinse with warm water and voila!

Microwave magic – To degrease and clean the inside of your microwave, cook ½ cup of water mixed with ½ cup of vinegar in it for two minutes. A clean rag should wipe the mess right off.

Forget paper towels – They’re expensive and they often leave a residue. Buy a pack of micro-fiber cleaning rags that will clean better and can be used over and over again.

Zap the sponge – It’s a breeding ground for bacteria. Disinfect it often by squeezing it out and microwaving it on high for a minute. No need to replace it until it is shredding or smelly.

Shower curtain bath – If mold or mildew are attacking the shower curtain, throw it in the washing machine with a few towels, which will help scrub it, then hang it back up to dry.

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Halloween Safety Tips

October 27, 2017 1:09 am

From long hours outdoors after dark, to strings of lights and choke-sized candy, Halloween can be a safety minefield. Below are some top safety tips from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

- Don't use open flames in jack o' lanterns or other Halloween decorations. Battery or electric-powered tea lights or glow sticks in jack o' lanterns are much safer than candles.
- Wear flame-resistant costumes and never walk near lit candles or other open flames.
- Keep walking areas, steps and porches well-lit and free of obstacles to avoid falls.
- Wherever possible, use established crosswalks and look both ways before crossing the street.
- Inspect all treats before consuming to assure they have not been tampered with.
- Decorative lights should be approved by Underwriter's Laboratory and carry a UL seal on the tag. Red UL marks indicate the lights are approved for indoor or outdoor use, while green UL tags indicate approval for indoor use only.
- Outdoor lights and decorations should be plugged into outlets that feature Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs).
- Indoor lights should not touch window treatments, carpet or furniture.
- Place all lights on a timer if you'll be away from home, and turn off all lights before you go to bed.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Making the Most of Medicare Open Enrollment

October 27, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--Eating well and regular exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle, and so is making sure you have the right health care coverage. Medicare's annual Open Enrollment period is a good time to review your current coverage and decide if there may be a better fit based on changes to current plans, your budget or health needs.

During Medicare Open Enrollment, which runs Oct. 15 - Dec. 7, 2017, you can enroll in or make changes to your Medicare health or prescription drug plan for coverage that begins Jan. 1, 2018. If you miss the deadline, you will likely have to wait a full year before you are able to make changes to your plan.  

To make Medicare Open Enrollment part of your healthy lifestyle, follow these five steps:

1. Review your current plan notice. Read any notices from your Medicare plan about changes for next year, especially your "Annual Notice of Change" letter. Look at your plan's information to make sure your drugs are still covered and your doctors are still in network.

2. Think about what matters most to you. Medicare health and drug plans change each year and so can your health needs. Do you need a new primary care doctor? Does your network include the specialist you want for an upcoming surgery? Does your current plan cover your new medication? Does another plan offer the same coverage at a lower cost? Take stock of your health status and determine if you need to make a change.

3. Find out if you qualify for help paying for Medicare. Learn about programs in your state to help with the costs of Medicare premiums (through Medicare Savings Programs), your Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance) deductibles, coinsurance and copayments, and Medicare prescription drug coverage costs (through Extra Help). Visit or call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to learn more.

4. Shop for plans that meet your needs and fit your budget. Starting each October, you can use Medicare's Plan Finder tool at to see what plans are offered in your area. A new plan may:

- Cost less
- Cover your drugs
- Let you go to the providers you want, like your doctor or pharmacy

If you find your current coverage still meets your needs, then you're done. Remember, during Medicare Open Enrollment, you can decide to stay in Original Medicare or join a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you're already in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch back to Original Medicare.

5. Check your plan's Star Rating before you enroll. The Medicare Plan Finder is up-to-date with the Star Ratings for Medicare health and prescription drug plans. Plans are given an overall quality rating on a 1 - 5 star scale, with 1 being the lowest performing and 5 stars representing excellent performance. You can use Star Ratings to compare the quality of health and drug plans being offered.

Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

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Tips for a Safe and Happy Halloween

October 25, 2017 12:39 am

Americans love Halloween. According to a recent survey, Halloween is second only to Christmas in terms of how much we spend on decorations. But before the Great Pumpkin sends a host of little ghosts and goblins trick-or-treating on your street, the cautious underwriters at Traveler’s Insurance urge us to do what we can to make sure the evening is safe and happy:

Clear the way – Walk your property to minimize potential accidents. Roll up hoses and get them out of the way, and make sure the walkway is well-lighted and clear of obstacles.

Place decorations carefully – Set up lawn displays with foot traffic in mind and place them to prevent tipping over, blowing away, or becoming a tripping hazard.

Choose safe décor - Avoid dried flowers, cornstalks and crêpe paper because they are highly combustible – and keep decorations away from heat sources, including light bulbs and heaters.

Take care with lighting – Avoid open flames. Use LED lighting or battery-operated candles, and never drape fabric over light bulbs, which can generate heat and start a fire.

Minimize electrical risk – Plug all outdoor lights and decorations into ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to help reduce the risk of electric shock. Avoid daisy-chaining extension cords when plugging in decorations, which can cause overheating – and never staple, nail through, or fasten electrical wires or extension cords in any way as that can damage the wire or insulation and cause electrical shock or fire.

Drive with extra care – Parents everywhere will be rushing home in time to get their kids ready for Halloween. Drive neighborhoods slowly and with caution, looking out for less cautious drivers and/or costumed kids crossing the street.

Choose costumes wisely – Utilize bright colors and or flashlights to make sure your child is easily visible in darkened streets. Young children should trick-or-treat in small groups with parents supervising nearby.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Celebrate the Season of Giving

October 25, 2017 12:39 am

(Family Features)--Giving is the true spirit of the holiday season. However, in addition to gift-giving in the traditional sense, there are other meaningful ways to make a difference in your community and give back to those in need - including the 3.5 million people who experience homelessness each year, according to the United States Census Bureau - during one of the most critical times of the year.

By giving money, time or material items, or partaking in other small acts of kindness, you can spread holiday cheer and help instill a sense of giving in others. To get started, here are some ideas you can put into action this holiday season.

Donate to a Food Pantry
Churches and food pantries are always in need of donations, and the holiday season is a great time to help provide a meal for someone who may not otherwise be able to eat. Canned goods and other non-perishable items like cereal, oatmeal, rice, peanut butter, canned tuna and spices are often needed. Some pantries can also use non-edible items, such as soap and other toiletries, and simply donating money is always an option, as well.

Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
Because extended exposure to cold weather can be dangerous, soup kitchens and homeless shelters are often more crowded during this time of year. While soup kitchens and other aid facilities often see an influx of volunteers during the holidays, most are still grateful for the extra hands to help serve a meal or assist with other tasks around the facilities.

Host a Coat Drive
Providing clothing, specifically coats, for the less fortunate during the colder months is another way to assist those in your community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a warm winter coat is considered a "budget extra" for nearly 15 percent of Americans living in poverty. National non-profit organization, One Warm Coat, is dedicated to providing a free, warm coat to any person in need. The organization has facilitated more than 27,000 coat drives nationwide and has a goal of collecting 1 million coats this winter in celebration of its 25th season of giving. Through its six-step process, the non-profit provides all the tools necessary to hold a coat drive and to distribute the coats in local communities where they were collected. Learn more about how you can get involved at

Attend a Benefit Event
Concerts, theatrical performances, walks and other exhibits are often held during the holiday season with the proceeds going to benefit a local charity or service organization. Many community service clubs also offer benefit dinners or bake sales that can provide a positive impact for those in need in your area.

Adopt a Family
There are many organizations that can help you sponsor a family in your area to help provide gifts and other necessities for over the holiday season. Most can provide you with a list of items each family member needs and wants to make shopping easier.

Source: One Warm Coat

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And the Winners Are...2017’s Best Mattresses

October 25, 2017 12:39 am

If you’ve ever shopped for a mattress - or slept on a bad one - then you know how important making the right choice is. Luckily, Rave Reviews, a ranking site that uses data-driven analysis to arrive at its research, recently published its Best Mattresses for 2017.

Since mattresses are as particular as the individuals who sleep upon them, the ranking is subdivided into 11 different categories: Best Rated Brands, Best Organic/Natural Mattress, Best Adjustable Mattress, Best Mattress for the Money, Best Mattress for Side Sleepers, Best Mattress for Stomach Sleepers, Best Mattress for Sex, Best Mattress for Heavy People, Best Mattress for Back Pain, Best Mattress for Joint Pain, and Best Mattress for Kids.

The mattress industry is filled with specific terminology and lingo, making mattress hunting even more confusing and overwhelming. This master list, relevant for all different kinds and types of sleepers, aims to cut through the confusion.

The selection process for this list of the Best Mattresses of 2017 is based on a weighted score of a variety of factors that include: owner satisfaction, mattress lifespan, comfort, value, price, quality of materials used and reputation of the company. In the Best Rated Brands category for 2017, Nest Bedding came in first, followed by Zenhaven by Saatva in second, and Astrabed in third.

Here is the ranking within three of the more popular categories:

Best Rated Mattress Brand
  • Nest Bedding
  • Zenhaven by Saatva
  • Astrabeds
  • Amerisleep
  • Loom & Leaf by Saatva
  • Saatva
  • Layla
  • Novosbed
  • WinkBeds
  • Helix
Best Mattress for the Money
  • Amerisleep AS3
  • Zinus 10' Green Tea
  • Layla
  • Ghost Bed by Nature's Sleep

Best Mattress for Back Pain
  • Alexander Signature Series by Nest Bedding
  • Astrabed Solace
  • Astrabed Serenity
  • Astrabed Serenity
  • Loom & Leaf Relaxed Firm by Saatva

Source: Rave Reviews

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Important Tips for New Job Hunters

October 24, 2017 12:39 am

Maybe you’re a recent college grad or maybe you’ve been at the same company for more than a decade and are a bit rusty on the job-search process. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to landing that job, the devil is in the details. While you may have every qualification listed in the job description, a misstep can quickly remove you from consideration. Keep the following in mind when applying for your next gig.

Provide the information that’s requested. If the job listing asks for a cover letter, examples of your work or salary requirements, be sure to provide them. Not doing so sends a signal to a prospective employer that you’re not paying attention or that you’re not that interested.

Be ultra responsive. In today’s age of instant gratification, if a job prospect reaches out to you for more information or to request an interview, respond as soon as possible. So be sure to check your email and job posting sites regularly and arrange for instant notifications.

Dress appropriately for the interview. Even though a business may have a casual dress code, show up for the interview looking your best. It shows respect and that you care about landing the job. Overdressed is always better than underdressed, and - unless you’re applying in the fashion industry - err on the side of conservative.

Don’t show up empty handed. Nothing says disinterest like showing up to the interview with nothing in hand. Even though you know the prospective employer has already seen your resume, show up with several hard copies and hand them out. Bring examples of your work or an ipad to show what you’ve done online. Use your ipad or a pad and paper to take notes - it shows interest in the job and what the employer has to say.

Do your research and ask questions. Never show up to an interview without finding out about the company in advance, and be ready to go with several questions. And make sure it’s not “how many vacation days would I get?” Save all questions related to benefits until you’re closer to landing the position.Follow up right away.

Whether you’re interested in the job or not, send a thank you note by email right away. If you are interested in the job, use this as a chance to outline why you believe you’re the right choice and what excites you about the position. Throw out a couple of ideas about what you might do if you had the job. Employers want team members who are enthusiastic, hard-working and creative thinkers. This is your chance to show that you are all of the above.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Passport Hacks to Try Before 2018

October 24, 2017 12:39 am

If you plan to mosey out of the country before the year's end, then you know you need a passport.  But did you know there are a couple of money-saving life hacks that could make travel easier, depending on your itinerary?

SAGov and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs are dishing out the following three things you should know to get the most out of your passport and your international travel experience.

Save Money on Certain Travel With a U.S. Passport Card
The passport card is a wallet-size travel document that can only be used to re-enter the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card is a smaller, more convenient, and less expensive alternative to the passport book for those who travel frequently to these destinations. You can't use a U.S. passport card to return from these international destinations by air; however, you can use it to board domestic flights.

The cost for first-time applicants is $55 for adults and $40 for children under the age of 16. The renewal cost is $30. The passport card is wallet-sized, so you can use it as your go-to government-issued ID.

Make Your Passport Card Your Real ID
A U.S. passport card could also save you hassle early next year when some state driver's licenses will not be accepted as a valid form of ID at the airport. Starting January 22, 2018, passengers who have driver's licenses issued by a state that is not compliant with REAL ID and has not been granted an extension will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel. Luckily, both the passport card and passport book are REAL ID compliant, so you'll avoid any issues at the gate in 2018.

Renew Early So You Can Travel With Ease
More than two dozen countries will not allow you to enter if your passport expires within the next six months. That means you could show up at the airport with your plane ticket in hand to find out you can't board your plane. If you land at the your destination, you may not be allowed into the country.

Just to be safe, we encourage you to renew your passport nine months before it expires. Since adult passports (16 and older) are valid for ten years and children passports (15 and younger) are valid for five, there is no reason to wait to renew your passport!

Source: SAGov is partnering with the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tricked Out Bathroom Tech

October 24, 2017 12:39 am

(Family Features)--No luxurious home upgrade is complete without the enhancements of modern technology. High-tech and intelligent devices lend ease to everyday activities and enrich your ability to enjoy the comforts of home. With new products joining this category at an exponential pace, there's a way to boost the smart function of every room, even the bathroom.

Climate controls
Environmental elements like lighting and temperature are among the first signals your brain processes when you enter a new space. Aligning those nuances with your comfort and preferences is the ultimate expression of personalization. Motion or voice control sensors make it possible to bring lights to life with next to no effort, while a smart thermostat with differentiated climate zones can adjust to meet your needs throughout the day, perhaps kicking up a few degrees to prevent a chill when you emerge from a steamy shower.

Uncommon commodes
There truly is no limit to the home features that can work harder, faster and smarter - even when it comes to the toilet. If the notion of an intelligent toilet seems extreme to your senses, you may not be alone.

"When Americans hear the word bidet, most have an outdated picture in their minds of a standalone fixture, but in fact, the functionality is now built into a toilet or attachable seats, and they are simple to use. Once you try one, you won't be able to live without it," said Shane Allis, marketing director of Kohler Sanitary Products. "From intelligent toilets to cleansing seats that attach to existing toilets, modern day bidets are for consumers who are looking for an upgrade to their toilet routine."

In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Kohler, about two-thirds of Americans would choose a toilet that would give them a cleaner, fresher feeling, and 3 in 5 think washing with water would give them a cleaner feel than toilet paper alone.

An overall fresher feeling and features like a deodorizer, night light and heated seat have strong appeal, according to the same survey, and those features are all offered in options like the Kohler Veil, an ultimate, one-piece intelligent toilet with integrated cleansing functionality that provides optimum hygiene and individual comfort. From personal cleansing to an LED nightlight to hands-free opening, closing and flushing - all of which are easy to control on a touchscreen LCD remote control - the toilet brings unexpected options to your bathroom. Explore the available models and learn more about intelligent toilets at

Shower with power
Whether it's a playlist that energizes you for the day or soothing sounds to center you before an important meeting, you can give new meaning to singing in the rain with a showerhead that includes a built-in wireless, removable speaker that you can sync to your smartphone music library.

When you take your shower digital, you can actually bring water, steam, music and light together into one sensory experience. Beyond that, it's even possible to configure your shower to cycle through spa programs that target different areas of your body with varied water sprays and temperatures.

Hydrotherapy haven
A jetted tub is just the beginning when it comes to creating a spa-like atmosphere. Today's options let you trick out your tub with everything from bubbles and heat to sound and color. Advanced hydrotherapy options use air or sound to massage, soothe, invigorate or relax your body and your mind - all controlled at the touch of a button. Don't forget the heated back to keep you warm even longer.

Perfect privacy
If you're blessed with a stunning view out the bathroom window or if you simply prefer the aura of natural light, you may be reluctant to hide behind heavy window treatments. Yet again, technology offers the solution. Shades you can power with a remote control and even film coverings that convert from transparent to opaque with the touch of a button can give you the freedom to embrace your privacy or celebrate the sun's rays.

The big features may deliver the wow factor, but little touches can add up for a big impact as well. Mirrors that recognize your face and voice to deliver customized media, such as news and music, can also be programmed to alter the temperature and lighting while you conduct your toiletry business. Other accessories to round out your high-tech renovation include devices such as smart scales that integrate with other devices to maximize your health and wellness routine.

With these tech upgrades and more, you can turn an ordinary bathroom into an entirely new, refreshing experience.

Source: Kohler

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Non-Candy Halloween Treats Kids Actually Love

October 20, 2017 1:09 am

Armies of Moms have puzzled over the years about non-candy Halloween giveaways that will bring a smile to the most discerning little ghosts and goblins.

The fact is, for most young children, the fun of trick-or-treating door-to-door in costume is more exciting than the treats they happen to collect – and many parents confiscate most of the sweet stuff anyway once it reaches home.  

A panel of parents brainstorming at a PTA meeting in California came up with a formidable list of stuff that makes a great alternative to candy treats.

More good ideas can likely be found at your nearby dollar store.

Food treats:

Juice boxes – Little trick or treaters can work up a thirst. Be sure to choose no-sugar added juices.

Fruit cups – Tie a black or orange ribbon around individual cups of applesauce or other cut-up fruit.  

Granola bars – Kids never get tired of these chewy little treats. Seasonal pumpkin-flavored varieties are available.

Raisins – Those tiny little boxes of raisins seem to appeal to kids of all ages.

Baked chips – They may be fairly empty calories, but they‘re a sugarless, kid-friendly treat.

Non-food treats:

Slime – little plastic containers of slime are a natural pick for the icky Halloween season.

Plastic body parts – Little kids are sure to get a kick out of plastic lips, noses, or fingernails.

Action figures – These or other small toys, such as Hot Wheels cars, are favored by  kids and great for trading.

Instant tattoos – Wash-off Halloween tattoos are widely available at this time of the year.

Play-doh – Individual containers of colorful Play-doh are a hit no matter the time of year.

Bubbles – Another perennial favorite, plastic bottles of magic bubbles are  a treat for most younger kids.

Stickers – You’ll find vast arrays of popular Halloween-themed stickers at almost any toy, drug or big-box store.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Stocking and Maintaining Your Medicine Cabinet

October 20, 2017 1:09 am

Many of us have old bottles and boxes that hang around in our medicine cabinet for years. However, keeping on top of the products in your medicine cabinet can make or break an oncoming bout of flu or fever. Below are a handful of tips from MultiVu for stocking and maintaining your arsenal.

When in doubt, throw it out. Once you've opened a medication the clock starts ticking on its shelf life. Items like that are usually good for about a year from when they're opened. Regularly check the expiration date on your product.

Everyday basics. A variety of illnesses are common during the winter months. Basics include good oral hygiene and it's very important and it starts with clean teeth.   

Must-haves for flu season. No one wants a cold to persist, so don't let it slow you down. Medical studies have shown that zinc gluconate, which is found in lozenges such as Cold-EEZE, shortens the duration of a cold so you can feel better faster.

Other essentials. While antibiotics are often used to treat cold and flu, they can disrupt your balance of friendly and unfriendly bacteria, creating digestive discomfort. Probiotics are a great medicine cabinet staple because they help balance healthy bacteria levels in your gut and, since 70 percent of your immune system lives in your digestive tract, they support a healthy immune system as well. When choosing a probiotic, look for the dosing information, otherwise known as the CFU count. CFUs refer to the number of good bacteria in the supplement. For example, on the lower end, probiotics with 2 billion CFU can help support everyday digestive health, while additional CFUs on the higher end can help bolster immune support.

Storing and discarding. Rethink where you keep your medicines. Humidity from steamy showers can expedite the expiry of medication. It's best to keep them in a child-safe, dry, and cool place. And landfill sites and water supplies have become contaminated with discarded medicines. Participating in a community drug take back program or a trip to the pharmacy are the best ways to discard old or unneeded medications.

Source: MultiVu

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Amazing New Uses for Your Kitchen Gadgets

October 20, 2017 1:09 am

Love her or hate her, you can’t deny the household magic of Martha Stewart. Before you get sucked into spending your hard-earned disposable dollars on some alluring kitchen gadget, check out Martha’s creative uses for the utensils you already have in your drawers. Life changing!

A slotted spoon to separate eggs. Tired of eggshells in your cake batter? If your egg-separating skills are less than stellar, try balancing a slotted spoon over a bowl, crack the egg into the spoon and the egg white will simply collect in the bowl below!

A rolling pin to crush stuff. Use it to quickly pulverize nuts, candy, ice and any other hard substance that needs to be miniaturized fast!

A box grater for soap. You know those tiny bits of soap that make a mess in your shower when the bar gets too small? Use a cheese grater to make them into a fine powder that can then be formed into a new ball of soap.

Sieve as splatter guard. Hate how grease splatters everywhere when you’re frying something? Place a sieve over the frying pan and voila - no more mess.

Tongs as juicer. Want to get more juice out of your lemons and limes? Cut one in half then place it between the arms of a pair of tongs. Press down firmly on the clamps of the tongs and watch the juice flow.

Cookie cutters as napkin rings. Those cute cookie cutters that only make an appearance once or twice a year can now get some time center stage as napkin rings. Stars, pumpkins, hearts and a variety of other shapes will work well in many dinner settings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Homeowner Prevention in the Age of Devastating Wildfires

October 19, 2017 1:09 am

Fire safety does not always begin in the home; that stove left on accidentally or faulty electric wiring aren't the only fire dangers when it comes to home protection. Wildfires can be equally as devastating and, depending on where you live, a higher threat.

Experts at the Tree Care Industry Association, Inc. ( revealed homeowners can protect their properties in two ways: by designing and maintaining a landscape that discourages fires; and by building with flame-resistant materials.

Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at TCIA, offers these tips for landscaping to combat wildfires:
- If you are in a wildfire-prone area, reduce the amount of potential fuel around your home. Provide enough tree- and shrub-free space between your home and the undeveloped land.

- All dead branches that hang over your roof should be removed. Leaves, needles and other dead vegetation should not be allowed to build up on the roof or in gutters.

- In parts of the country where wildfires are rare but still possible, an area of well-irrigated vegetation should extend at least 30 feet from your home on all sides. In high-hazard areas, a clearance of between 50 and 100 feet or more may be necessary – especially on downhill sides of the lot.

- Further from the house, install low-growing shrubs. When planting trees, space them no closer than 10 feet apart. Beyond 100 feet from the house, dead wood and older trees should be removed or thinned by qualified professionals.

- The lower limbs of tall shade trees should be pruned 6 feet above the ground. Careful pruning preserves a tree’s appearance, enhances structural integrity and assists in the plant’s ability to resist fire.

In addition to pruning, Andersen says a professional arborist can recommend fertilization, soil management, disease treatment or pest control measures to promote healthy trees. He suggests that if your area is in a drought or prone to wildfires, hire a tree care professional to assess your landscape and reduce the fuel wildfires need to burn.

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4 Tire Safety Tips for Winter

October 19, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--The same temperature you can begin to see your breath - 45 degrees F - is also when the all-season tires on your car can start to lose traction and grip.

As temperatures drop, drivers should remember that if you can see your breath, you should think about winter tires. Whether you're planning a cross-country trek or simply driving to and from work daily, exposing your vehicle's tires to colder weather could lead to potential trouble on the road.

Snow and ice may be fun to play in, but they make for dangerous driving conditions. Winter tires are built for cold-weather conditions and deliver improved starting, stopping and steering control in temperatures 45 degrees F and below. The difference is the tread compound of winter tires, which stays soft and pliable in colder temperatures for superior traction. Add the tread design of winter tires with thousands of extra gripping edges and you get as much as a 25-50 percent increase in traction over all-season tires.

To help stay safe on the road this winter, the experts at Discount Tire recommend following these four tire safety tips:

1. Get ready now. It is important to replace all four of your vehicle's all-season tires with winter tires if you regularly drive in temperatures 45 degrees F or below, snow or no snow. Winter tires are made of a softer rubber that allows the tires to stay pliable and maintain better contact with the road through winter weather conditions.

2. Don't forget the wheels. Having a set of wheels specifically for your winter tires can save you money in the long run. Pairing a separate set of wheels with your winter tires can eliminate certain changeover costs and save your everyday wheels from the wear and tear brought on by ice, slush, snow and salt during the winter months.

3. Know your numbers. Check your tire pressure at least once a month to make sure tires are at the appropriate inflation level. Temperature changes affect tire pressure - for every 10 degrees of temperature change, tire air pressure changes one pound per square inch. Low tire pressure can lead to decreased steering and braking control, poor gas mileage, excessive tire wear and the possibility of tire failure. Also don't forget to check your spare tire.

4. Rotate, rotate, rotate. To help increase tread life and smooth out your ride, rotate your tires every 6,000 miles or sooner if irregular or uneven wear develops.

Source: Discount Tire

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Digitally Transforming Your Business

October 17, 2017 12:39 am

(Family Features)—One of the challenges facing small businesses today is trying to deliver the same customer experience as larger competitors. As technology advances and takes on an ever-growing role, small businesses can tap new innovations to better communicate with customers, save money and simplify operations.

As small business owners look to transform digitally, they face a number of options, from upgrading their technology to optimize shipping operations and decrease costs to adopting digital marketing tactics to better understand and target their customers. While it can be difficult for a small business that is well-established using analog processes to switch to digital, the key is to start with the final objective in mind; in other words, begin by defining your end goal. Once you've determined the desired outcome of digitizing your business, these tips can help you establish a strategy that can benefit both your business performance and customer experience.

Reach customers through digital marketing.
An important step in digital transformation is revisiting how you attract and interact with current and prospective customers, who are increasingly turning to a combination of physical and digital channels to engage with brands and businesses. If you think of digital marketing and email or online ads, you're on the right track, but effective marketing requires more than simply hitting send on an email or counting clicks on an ad. Email marketing should be focused on providing helpful, relevant content to your target audience based on its preferences. Recipients can come to appreciate your insights on industry news and helpful information, so your sales pitches are likely to be more warmly received.

Beyond the content, an effective strategy establishes connective links between all your marketing touchpoints, from email to blog and even to your traditional tactics, such as direct mail and more, all with the goal of boosting credibility and visibility via search engine optimization and foot traffic.

Optimize operations through the cloud.
As technology evolves, more tasks can be handled online and more traditional analog devices are connected to the internet and the cloud. Adopting the use of these digitally connected devices can not only make fulfilling tasks easier and more efficient, but also track patterns and collect data that brings new value to small business owners. For example, with a surge in parcel volumes year over year (thanks, in part, to a sustained e-commerce growth, according to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index), consider a cloud-enabled shipping solution, such as the SendPro C-Series, to simplify sending operations. This digital multi-carrier platform leverages the latest cloud technology to enable offices of all sizes to easily select the ideal sending option for every parcel or letter, while also providing full tracking information and delivering savings.

Make decisions based on analytics.
Beyond providing efficiency and simplicity, connected and cloud-enabled devices can generate and track valuable data, which can, in turn, be analyzed and used to make important business decisions. In a business environment dominated by ever-changing consumer preferences, data-driven insights are key to serving the needs and securing the business of today's hyper-connected consumers. By utilizing data and analytics, your business can be better equipped to deliver superior customer experiences, support product and service innovation, and optimize business processes.

Use mobile to communicate with customers.
Even the smallest of businesses can take steps toward better mobile communication, such as ensuring their websites are mobile-friendly and responsive to different device types. This is especially important as mobile usage continues to climb in the U.S., and consumers increasingly rely on mobile devices for information to guide purchase decisions. Your business can also capitalize on location intelligence capabilities to deliver timely coupons and promotions to customers in the immediate vicinity.


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5 Tips to Care for Your Floors

October 17, 2017 12:39 am

You may spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep your home tidy and up-to-date, but how often do you look down at your floors? David Gowling, an industry veteran from DMS Flooring Supplies, says flooring is one of the biggest factors on overall feel of a space.

It may be tempting to opt for cheaper flooring materials and methods in intermediary areas, but putting in a little extra time and effort can increase a property's rental and resale value—and make its occupiers proud to call it their home.

David expands on this issue with his five favorite tips to ensure your flooring looks stunning from the ground up.

1. Put in the Ground Work: Subfloor Prep Is Key
As with everything in life, a good foundation is key. Before the carpet is laid, ensure all the floorboards are screwed tightly to eliminate creaks and squeaks. Fill in all holes which might let high heels slip through and puncture the carpet. Working on rough concrete? Level the floor with a suitable levelling compound. As for smoother concrete, a good underlay will cover any minor imperfections.

With laminate or wood flooring, it's vitally important the subfloor is level—if it's a floating laminate or engineered floor across a bumpy subfloor, there will be a lot of bounciness! Once level, be sure to use a decent quality underlay with a moisture barrier to inhibit any potential dampness from seeping into the flooring. Fit the floor before you install the skirting—this will let you hide the expansion gap with the skirting board and avoid having to use beading trim. This will give a really crisp finish.

When preparing chipboard floors, always ply-line the floor with a solid 6mm-thick plywood. However high quality it may be, all chipboard can shrink. Ply lining will stabilize the floor perfectly. Once the ply is securely fixed, apply a feather finish and scratch-coat the floor with a trowel. This will fill in all the minor holes where the nail heads have fired through the ply, while also filling in any hairline joins.

Coming back to concrete floors: Depending on the type of levelling compound used, it may also be necessary to prime the floor with a primer. There are certain levelers that dry so hard their tensile strength has a grabbing effect on the subfloor. If not properly bonded with a primer, the compound can dome up and pop off the floor. This can result in lumps, which will result in the new floor being ruined. Always read the instructions on the sub-floor levelling products and don't cut corners.

2. Make an Entrance: Mats Matter
While hardly glamorous, entrance matting is not to be forgotten or skimped on if the property is to be well kept. Gowling gives his opinion on choosing a more modern mat:

"Coconut matting was popular for a while, but because it's very thick and it can lead to the need for doors to be trimmed to accommodate it, which is a lot of trouble to go to for something as boring as a doormat. It also sheds thick hairs, which end up getting trampled throughout the property.

"Dark brown or anthracite ribbed matting makes a great alternative. This stuff comes in a 2m-wide roll, so make sure enough is ordered to cover your hall from one end to the other. Fit it as far into your hallway as possible and it'll grab more dirt, and also reduce the amount of actual flooring needed."

3. Take Your Stairs to the Next Level
This is where the real fun begins! The true measure of any house is in the care taken with its least interesting spaces. Stairs and halls must look nothing less than beautiful. Prep all hallway floors, and for the primary flooring material, fit some wood-effect luxury vinyl tiles, and go one step further by framing all the areas with a border.

Fit staircases with a decent-quality carpet on a tough underlay, like Cloud 9 Contract. This will minimize noise and provide cushioning underfoot, which instantly improves the standard of the home. A spongy underlay can cause carpets to go saggy on the stairs over time.

4. Bathrooms and Kitchens: The Vinyl Solution
Kitchens and bathrooms always take a beating—particularly in shared houses—so poor flooring choices in these areas can look ragged and tired within a year. Ceramics may be a longer lasting solution, but they often take damage—accidents happen, and a chipped or cracked floor can become a problem to repair.

Laminates and wooden floors are simply not worth the risk in wet areas. As laminate is made from a high-density fiber board (HDF) core, water will find its way into any cracks, causing your boards to swell up. Gowling heartily recommends luxury vinyl flooring as an alternative.

5. Bedrooms
The obvious choice for any bedroom is a nice soft carpet for maximum warmth and comfort; however, its installation needn't be overthought. For smooth subfloors, a felt-backed carpet can provide a low-cost solution. They're inexpensive, quick to fit, don't require a gripper or underlay, and are easy to switch if a new color is required.

To maintain the tough flooring theme running into the bedrooms, go for a laminate, a wood, or—again—a luxury vinyl tile. This hard-wearing flooring option will retain its fresh look for years.

"While luxury vinyl tile might cost double what a laminate or carpet may cost, it will last five times longer and bring in loads of benefits—especially if you're doing up a rental property. You can expect to increase your capital growth, your rent, your rental security, and, most importantly, easier sleep knowing you've built yourself a beautiful property that are a cut above the rest," says Gowling.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

All Hail Fall! But Is Your Home Ready?

October 17, 2017 12:39 am

As we usher in sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, it's important to take the time to make sure our homes are ready to transition to cooler weather before the harsh days of winter are upon us. The experts at Pillar To Post Home Inspectors make it easy by offering the following fall prep checklist. Tick these off in between your apple-picking and leaf-peeping:

1. Seal and caulk. Survey your home for gaps where heat can escape and water can seep through. Common problem areas include exterior door and window frames, and gaps where pipes or wiring enter the home.

2. Check the roof. Get out the binoculars and check the roof for missing or damaged shingles. You want to catch any issues before winter storms take their toll. If you spot anything that looks like a problem, call in a professional inspector right away and find out what repairs need to be done.

3. Unclutter gutters. Now is the time to get rid of all that debris that piled up in your gutters over the summer. Check the seams between sections of gutter, as well as between the gutter and downspouts. Pillar To Post suggests looking into leaf guards, which can be real time savers if your gutters can accommodate them.

4. Tuck hoses away. If winter temps in your area drop below freezing, be sure to drain garden hoses and store them indoors. Shut off outdoor faucets and drain exterior pipes and sprinkler systems.

5. Schedule a furnace check-up. Before peak heating season hits, schedule an inspection for your furnace. According to Pillar To Post, most utility companies will provide basic inspections at no charge, but there can often be a long waiting list. While you’re waiting, replace disposable furnace air filters or clean permanent ones. come fall and winter. Replace disposable furnace air filters or clean the permanent type. Clean filters will help the furnace run more efficiently, saving you money and energy.

6. Ditto for the chimney. Now is also the time to schedule a cleaning for your chimney. Creosote build-up must be removed in order to prevent chimney fires.

Source: Pillar To Post Home Inspectors

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Get a Handle on Your Safety Valves

October 16, 2017 12:39 am

Few things are more important to a homeowner than knowing how to quickly and safely shut off utilities, says Paul K. Improta, president and CEO of Connecticut's Underwriters, Inc.

Improta says all of the adults in your home should know how to immediately locate and shut off any gas, electricity and water systems in case of an emergency. Not knowing where to immediately find these shut-offs could put a homeowner and anyone inside the residence at risk.

Improta suggests sharing a few utility shut-off procedures from with everyone in your household to help prevent property damage or personal injury.

Shutting off the Gas - Gas leaks can be life-threatening, so it's important to act fast. If you smell gas, hear hissing or suspect a leak for any reason, open a window and quickly get your family to safety. Call for help, and, if possible, disrupt the gas supply using the outside valve. Procedures vary, so contact your gas company ahead of time for meter-specific guidance. Remember, once the valve has been closed, it should only be reopened by a qualified professional.

Cutting off Electricity - Before making household repairs, stop the flow of electricity by accessing your home's circuit breaker or fuse box. To locate the panel, look for a gray metal box, typically concealed in a garage, laundry room or closet. Identify the main circuit breaker if you need to power down the whole house or use branch circuits to de-energize individual appliances.

Turning off the Water - In the event of a broken pipe or full-blown disaster scenario, find the main shut-off valve. In cold weather climates, the water shut-off is usually placed in a basement or front closet. You can also check the outer perimeter of your home for a hose bibb faucet or meter box. To repair minor leaks to a toilet or sink, cut the water at the source.

While you can't prepare for every possible emergency situation, learning these key utility shut-offs is an easy way to keep your home and family safer.

Learn more at

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Is Your Pet Prepared for an Emergency?

October 16, 2017 12:39 am

As recent natural disasters have shown us, anything can happen anywhere, anytime. And while the impact can be devastating to life and property, there are also our furry family members to consider. Would you be ready to properly care for your pet should a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other emergency occur? 

In his recent blog for the Pet Health Network, Dr. Mike Paul, DVM, offers some great strategies for keeping your pet safe during a natural disaster:

Microchipping – The best way to make sure you're reunited with your pet should you get separated during an emergency is a microchip.

According to Paul, animals instinctively flee from terror or you could be forced to evacuate and leave your pet behind. These pets are often rescued and end up in an overwhelmed animal shelter post-event. Without the proper identification—at the very least a collar and ID tag—the odds of reuniting with your pet are slim. A permanent microchip implant is the best option, of course, as it can't be lost.

Proper transport – In the event of an evacuation, make the process easier by having the right-sized carrier or cage for cats and small dogs, or a sturdy leash and harness for larger dogs.

Food and water – Just like you have a food and water supply available for you and your human family, make sure you're prepared for your pets, as well. Be prepared with a few sealed gallons of water and a sealed container of food, says Paul.

Make sure vaccinations are current and keep a record with you – Keep a small card or folded document in your wallet so that it's with you at all times. According to Paul, your pet's exposure risk may be much greater after a disaster.

Pet meds – Just like people, many pets rely on daily medications. Have a five-day supply at the ready should you need to leave your home.

Nerve busters – Understandably, an emergency situation can cause great anxiety for pets, so be sure to grab their favorite blanket or toy to help soothe them during the disruption.  

Of course, the best step you could take to prepare is to check with your vet. He or she will have more specific advice based on the particular needs of your pet.  

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How to Choose the Perfect Location for Your Honeymoon

October 16, 2017 12:39 am

For most, a honeymoon is one of the most memorable trips you ever make. Newly married and with the stress of the wedding behind you, you're able to relax and enjoy time with your new spouse. But not every honeymoon spot is created equal, and different locations will be a better fit for different personalities. Are you adventurous and interested in outdoor time, or would you rather sit by the pool with a good book? Below are a few factors to consider, from travel resource Vacation.

Budget: How strict is your honeymoon budget? Do you have enough money available for unexpected expenses on the trip, or would you rather know up front what you will be paying?

Drinks: Do you want to start the day with a mimosa, drink a piña colada by the pool at noon, see the sunset on the beach with a mai tai in hand, and then enjoy a multi-course dinner with wine? Or are you satisfied with just the occasional beer?

Activities: As a couple, do you like time to relax on vacations and forget about the stress of everyday life (and even weddings!), or do you want to be active?

Adventure: Is your dream honeymoon all about a lush, luxury resort, or would you and your betrothed rather focus on sightseeing and just have a comfy place to sleep at night?

Entertainment: Do you love the nightlife scene, or would you rather enjoy quiet evenings away from all the hustle and bustle?

Source: Vacation

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Business Safety: Avoiding Scams

October 12, 2017 1:06 am

Running a successful business is no easy feat. But with today's heavy reliance on technology, businesses are at a higher risk than ever for falling prey to scams.

Businesses can use the following guidelines from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities to help protect themselves from becoming the victim of an email scam:

Examine email addresses closely. Scammers may spoof emails to look very similar to a legitimate person's address.

Never transfer money without confirming the request, by phone or in person. Whether it is a matter of walking down the hall to the CEO’s office, or contacting a colleague via phone, confirmation from the person requesting the transfer can protect your company.

Do not use links or phone numbers provided in the email. Contact your trusted partners and colleagues using known contact information.

Think before you click! Do not open attachments or links until you have verified them.

Utilize your IT resources. Work with staff to flag emails with similar extensions to your organization's or create other flags and filters.

Implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication with sensitive information and funds. Require a second (or multiple) staff members to review and approve requests for fund transfers.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

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7 Steps for a Healthier Home

October 12, 2017 1:06 am

(Family Features)--As homeowners become increasingly aware of the impact their homes can have on the environment - and on their health - making eco-conscious choices is as important as ever. From controlling the types of materials used within your home to keeping an eye on indoor air quality, these tips can help you create a healthier, more earth-friendly indoor environment.

Use a water filter. Depending on where you live, different contaminants could reside in your tap water. Rather than risk consuming these contaminants or drinking bottled water, which can generate significant waste, consider purchasing a refrigerator with a filtered water option, attaching a water filtration device to your faucet or using a filtered water pitcher.

Ditch plastic food containers. Some plastics are not as high quality as many think and may contain toxic materials, making them potentially harmful - especially when used for storing food. Instead, opt for glass, silicone, cloth or stainless steel storage containers, which are friendlier to the environment and pose fewer toxicity risks. Plus, many of these containers can be placed directly in an oven or microwave to safely reheat food.

Install eco-friendly insulation. Certain materials in your home, such as insulation, can be replaced with sustainable options that also improve indoor air quality. Consider replacing your existing attic insulation with sheep's wool insulation, such as all-natural options from Havelock Wool. This renewable, high-performing and safe-to-handle material excels at managing moisture while improving indoor air quality through the absorption of formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide and other harmful substances. Learn more at

Clean "green." Cleaning products can be made with ingredients that are harmful to the environment, as well as your family's health. Make sure you know what is in your household cleaners before using them and, whenever possible, look for cleaners that have been certified as green.

Deal with dust. Even if you don't struggle with allergies or asthma, over time, dust particles can be unhealthy for you and your family. Vacuum frequently and use a wet mop on floors without carpet to limit the formation of dust bunnies throughout your home. Clean and replace your vacuum's filter frequently to ensure you're trapping maximum dust. Also regularly wash towels, linens and other textiles, including window treatments.

Replace air filters. Older, dirty air filters can circulate dust, pollen and other particles throughout your home. They can also cause your air conditioner and heater to run less efficiently, which can result in higher energy consumption. Rather than pushing potentially harmful dust particles into your house and causing your systems to work overtime, inspect your air filter often and change it regularly. You might also want to consider installing a whole-home air purifier or placing portable air purifiers in frequently used rooms.

Reduce energy and natural resource usage. Try installing timers on your lights so they turn on only at specified times. To take it a step further, consider installing lighting with vacancy sensors that automatically shut off the lights when a room isn't being used. Choose energy-efficient appliances, low-flow toilets and consider adding a rain barrel outside to collect rainwater, which can be used for chores such as watering plants, irrigating the lawn or washing your car.

Although it may not be practical to implement all of these ideas at once, little by little you can make small changes that add up to a big difference.

Source: Havelock Wool

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fire Prevention Advice to Save Lives Year Round

October 11, 2017 12:54 am

The words “preventable fire” are tragic when lives are lost. Taking even a few minutes to run down a short punch list of common sense measures with your family could make the difference between life and death in a residential fire.

Tommy Webber at New York's T. Webber Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning ( has compiled the following six-point plan to help prevent fires and ensure your family is prepared for a fire emergency all year-round:

Check smoke detectors – Test and replace smoke detector batteries twice a year at Daylight Savings Time. Or consider adding newer smoke detectors with batteries that can last up to 10 years. If detectors are wired into your home’s electrical system, think about having a professional check to ensure the wiring is in good shape.

Cook with caution – Never leave cooking unattended, always have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen that is rated for cooking-related fires, and NEVER put a grease fire out with water – smothering the fire is the best method.

Conduct heating system and duct inspections – Make sure all vents in the heating system are clean. If you haven't had your heating system inspected and tuned up, Webber says now is the time to do it.

Don’t leave space heaters unattended – And never place one less than three feet from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothes, rugs or other combustibles. And remember it's a safety hazard to run space heaters into extension cords or power strips.

Check electrical cords, receptacles, outlets – Check cords for frays and breaks, minimize the number of cords plugged into power strips, and consider replacing outlets and switches that are not working properly.

Have an escape plan and practice it – Your family escape plan should include a rally point for everyone to meet. Make a plan and then practice your plan regularly.

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Prepping for the Storm: Natural Gas Safety Tips

October 11, 2017 12:54 am

Is a storm on the horizon? If so, you may be stocking up on supplies and blocking windows, but have you given a thought to your home's gas? Natural gas provider CenterPoint Energy has developed the following pre- and post-storm natural-gas safety tips that customers should follow:

Before the storm:

Do not turn off your natural gas service at the meter; doing so could allow water to enter the natural gas lines.

Be alert for the smell of natural gas. If you smell gas, leave the area immediately on foot and tell others to leave, too.

If you smell gas, do not turn the lights on or off, smoke, strike a match, use a cell phone or operate anything that might cause a spark, including a flashlight or a generator.

Do not attempt to turn natural gas valves on or off. Once safely away from the area, call your natural gas provider. The company will send a trained service technician.

After the storm:

If your home was flooded, call a licensed plumber or gas appliance technician to inspect your appliances and gas piping to make sure they are in good operating condition before calling your provider to reconnect service. This includes outdoor gas appliances including pool heaters, gas grills and gas lights.

Call 811, the nationwide Call Before You Dig number before cleaning debris, digging on your property or to locate underground natural gas lines and other underground utility lines.

Be aware of where your natural gas meter is located. As debris is put out for heavy trash pickup, make sure it is placed away from the meter. If debris is near a gas meter, the equipment used by trash collectors could pull up the meter, damaging it and causing a potentially hazardous situation. If this happens, leave the area immediately.

Source: CenterPoint Energy

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Managing High Blood Pressure During the Holidays

October 11, 2017 12:54 am

(Family Features)--Managing blood pressure can be difficult, especially during the holidays and winter months. A change in routine, family visits, traveling, illness, holiday menus and financial concerns can all conspire to derail your best efforts at keeping chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, under control.

If you are one of the millions of American adults with high blood pressure, it is vital to keep your blood pressure stable. Drastic changes can put you at risk for heart attack or stroke.

Here are three ways to control your blood pressure throughout the holiday season from the American Heart Association:

Be Wary of Decongestants
Decongestants are in many over-the-counter cold and flu medications but they have some harmful side effects. They can raise blood pressure and decrease the effectiveness of some prescribed blood pressure medications. It's best to use them for the shortest duration possible and avoid in severe or uncontrolled hypertension. Consider alternative therapies, such as nasal saline, intranasal corticosteroids or antihistamines, as appropriate.

Keep Track of Medication
The winter months tend to bring an increase in both heart attacks and strokes. According to research from the Journal of the American Heart Association, a 4.2 percent increase in heart-related deaths occurs away from a hospital from Dec. 25-Jan. 7.

"Factors like cold weather, sudden increase in activity like shoveling snow, stress and dietary indiscretion can contribute to a chain of events leading to more stress on the heart during the winter months, potentially triggering a heart attack or other cardiac event," says Jorge Plutzky, M.D., director of Preventive Cardiology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and a volunteer with the American Heart Association.

It is vital to keep track of your medication and take it as prescribed by your doctor to decrease chances of heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association's Check Change Control Tracker is one way to monitor your health, as it allows you to set up text message reminders, text in blood pressure readings, connect with volunteers or providers, and receive messages from volunteers or providers.

Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
The holidays can be a bad influence on healthy eating habits. However, it is important to stay active during these times and continue eating healthy. While you are enjoying holiday feasts with family, be aware of sodium, often found in seasonal foods like bread, cheeses and prepared meats, which can increase blood pressure. Don't feel like you can't indulge a little, but make sure to incorporate healthy meals.

Staying active while traveling can be a challenge, as well. Try bringing simple exercise equipment like a jump rope or resistance band with you. Consider walking to sights or restaurants nearby, or finding a local park or indoor walking path.

Source: American Heart Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fall Tips for Keeping Your Car in Shape

October 9, 2017 1:03 am

As summer ends and the season cools, your vehicle may need a little TLC. Long hot days and that summer road trip may have done a job on your trusty steed. Before heading into winter, consider the following maintenance tips from Mopar.

Tires – Any comprehensive car care checklist should include inspection of tires for wear and tear, as well as a tire rotation if needed. Check for proper air pressure with the Magneti Marelli offered by Mopar tire-pressure monitoring (TPM) system, compatible with not only FCA US vehicles, but also 93 percent of vehicles on the road today.

Brakes – Come wintertime, it's critical to have confidence in your vehicle's braking system. Brake pads and shoes should be checked for wear, and don't forget the rotors, drums, calipers and other braking hardware.

Wiper Blades – Fall and winter mean the likelihood of rain and snow (or even worse) for many regions. It's critical to check wiper blades for wear and tear to guarantee maximum visibility during challenging driving scenarios.

Oil/Fluids – Inspect for dirty or low engine oil, which can sap your engine's performance and may even cause damage, especially when operating under the stress of extreme winter weather.

Vehicle Check-Up – A thorough vehicle check-up before cold weather arrives should be part of any car care punch list, but the burden of inspecting tires, brakes, wiper blades and more doesn't have to fall on the shoulders of vehicle owners. See a professional!

Vehicle Protection Plans – A Mopar Vehicle Protection plan can provide peace of mind heading into the cold-weather driving season. One of many available plans to fit any lifestyle is the Road Hazard Tire & Wheel coverage for unexpected road bumps, such as curbs and potholes, that tend to flourish during the winter months.

Vehicle Interior – Don't forget that in addition to your vehicle's exterior, the inside of your ride also needs to be fortified against attacks from Mother Nature. All-new Mopar all-weather floor mats are constructed with proprietary, Original Equipment (OE) data to accommodate brake and accelerator pedals, and feature deeper channels and more rigid sidewalls to better contain slush, snow and other spills.

Source: Mopar

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fire Safety Tips for Your Family

October 9, 2017 1:03 am

While it may seem like a home fire will never happen to you, it's important to be prepared should the unthinkable occur. Of course there are things you can do in advance, like making copies of all important documents and keeping them elsewhere, like a storage unit, in-laws' home, or even the office. But how about in case of an actual fire emergency? Below are a handful of fire safety tips from Domino's Pizza and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):

·       Draw a map of your home with all members of your household, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.

·       Practice your home fire drill twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone in your home, and practice using different ways out.

·       Teach children how to escape on their own in case you can't help them.

·       Make sure the number of your home is clearly marked and easy for the fire department to find.

·       Close doors behind you as you leave—this may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire.

·       Once you get outside, stay outside. Never go back inside a burning building.

Sources: Domino's Pizza and NFPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Upgrades That Boost Your Home's Value and Enjoyment

October 9, 2017 1:03 am

(Family Features)—A home is often a family's single largest asset, so making investments with upgrades and home improvements is almost always a good idea; however, knowing when and where to make those improvements isn't necessarily a simple decision. Budget and space most often dictate the direction, but keeping function and your lifestyle needs in mind can help create a space that makes for an all-around smart investment.

Add technology in unexpected places. With the surge in smart devices, it's becoming increasingly common to add technology throughout the house, and the bathroom is no exception. From heated floors to mirrors with embedded TV screens, the options are plentiful. A bathroom outfitted with the latest technology can bring function and a whole new level of style and elegance to your home.

Go green for the Earth and savings. Appliances and climate control systems are often the first features homeowners consider when it comes to environmentally-friendly upgrades, but windows and window treatments are another way to make a big impact. In a similar vein, skylights are a surprisingly affordable upgrade for the functionality and aesthetic benefits they provide, especially in the bathroom and kitchen where ventilation is as important as ample lighting. You can give your lighting and home value a boost with an ENERGY STAR®-qualified option, such as Velux solar-powered fresh-air skylights, which open for air flow, reducing dependence on electrical lights and fans, with the touch of a programmable remote control.

For expanded control over the amount of light and warmth that enters or leaves your rooms, solar-powered skylight blinds are available in more than 100 designer colors and patterns. Like the skylights, Velux solar-powered blinds are operated with the remote. The solar products and installation costs are also eligible for a 30-percent federal tax credit.

Finish the basement. Adding finished square footage to your home is nearly always a way to increase its value. For many homes, the basement is the most practical place to gain that space. Instead of using it as a collection ground for dust bunnies and storage, converting it into usable space can bring meaningful value, not only in dollars and cents, but in overall enjoyment of your home.

When making plans for finishing a basement, keep function first. Adding features like bathrooms can be costly, but having ready access to those facilities may pay off if you plan to spend lots of time downstairs. Also keep climate in mind; in parts of the country basements tend to be damp, so use materials that can withstand the conditions.

Create outdoor living space for all year long. If a basement renovation isn't practical, you may be able to create additional living space in an area you already have: outdoors. Even small patio spaces can become cozy gathering spots with the right furnishings and decor. For a larger yard, create destinations that make it comfy to congregate, such as a fire pit or grouping of chairs with overstuffed cushions.

This is another area where climate will play an important role in your plans: adding an enclosure to a patio can make it usable during all but the coldest months, while a pergola can lend necessary relief to an area that bakes in the sun.

Add curb appeal. While you're considering the upgrade options outdoors, don't forget to think about your home's exterior appearance. Reworking landscaping to highlight architectural features and freshening up paint can make a big impact. Adding decorative elements like shutters or new lighting or doors can also update a tired exterior.

Source: Velux

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Cyber Safety Tips for Your Smartphone

October 6, 2017 1:02 am

In the modern, digital age, 95 percent of Americans own a cell phone, with 77 percent using a smartphone. While smartphones are excellent tools for communication and knowledge, if used improperly, they can put their owners at a serious risk of security breach.

With that in mind, the Illinois Bankers Association offers some key actions users can take to help minimize the likelihood of becoming a victim.

Regularly update your device and mobile apps. Incidents of mobile malware and mobile ransomware are increasing. Updated operating systems and security software are critical in protecting against emerging threats.
Enable encryption. Enabling encryption on your smartphone is one of the best ways to safeguard information stored on the device, thwarting unauthorized access.

Use a strong, unique passcode. In case your phone ever does fall into the wrong hands, don't make it easy for someone to access all your important information! Enable strong password protection on your device and include a timeout requiring authentication after a period of inactivity. Secure the smartphone with a unique password, and do not share it with others. Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or Social Security numbers on your mobile device.

Take advantage of multi-factor authentication. Many sites offer a second step of logging in by either sending a text message to your registered phone or by generating a code on an "Authenticator" application. Take advantage of this added security.

Do not use public Wi-Fi. Do not log into accounts or conduct any sensitive transactions, such as shopping or banking, while using public Wi-Fi.

Log out completely. When you finish a purchase or mobile banking session, be sure to completely log out of the transaction or retail site.

Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don't know. Note that your bank will never send a text or email requesting your password or other personal information. Be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.

Install applications from trusted sources. When downloading apps, be proactive and make sure that you read the privacy statement, review permissions, check the app reviews and look online to see if any security company has identified the app as malicious.

Install a phone locator/remote erase app. Misplacing your device doesn't have to be a catastrophe if it has a locater app. Many such apps allow you to log on to another computer and see on a map exactly where the device is. Remote erase apps allow you to remotely wipe data from your device, helping minimize unauthorized access to your information in the event you cannot locate the device.

Disable unwanted services when not in use. Bluetooth and Near Field Capabilities (NFC) can provide an easy way for an unauthorized user nearby to gain access to your data. Turn these features off when they are not required.

Carefully dispose of mobile devices. With constant changes in the smartphone market, many users frequently upgrade to new devices. Make sure you wipe the information from your smartphone before disposal. For information on how to do this, check the website of your mobile provider or the manufacturer.

Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. Additionally, tell your financial institution if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.

Source: Illinois Bankers Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Splash! Water Safety Tips for You and Your Tots

October 6, 2017 1:02 am

Nothing is sweeter than bath time with your new babe; however, when the phone rings or the big brother is calling you from the next room over, it's important to keep safety front and center. Never forget that 30 seconds can change your life forever. With that in mind, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers safety tips to help prevent children from drowning in and around the home.

·       Never leave a baby alone, or with young siblings, in a bathtub, even for a second. Always keep baby within arm's reach. Children can drown quickly and silently.

·       Keep the toilet lid down, and keep young children out of the bathroom when unsupervised. Consider placing a latch on the bathroom door out of reach of young children.

·       Be sure all containers with liquids are emptied immediately after use. Do not leave empty containers in yards or around the house where they may accumulate water and attract young children.

·       Always secure the safety cover on your spa or hot tub.

·       Learn CPR. It can be a lifesaver.

Source: CPSC

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fresh Fall Health Tips

October 6, 2017 1:02 am

Many equate the summer or even the spring with the season for health and wellness. However, despite cooling temps and less daylight, fall is a quiet contender for a healthy, happy season. Below are a handful of tips from MultiVu for keeping healthy all fall.

Toasty tip: With the cooler weather coming in, it's the perfect time of year to enjoy hot herbal teas, which are great for fat-burning, such as green tea, which can boost metabolism. Broth-based veggie soups are also good for warmth and good nutrition, including much needed fiber.

Sweet indulgences: Who doesn't enjoy the delightful array of fall desserts? What's important is to not only to burn off some of those calories, but to take care of your teeth as well! Colgate Total Advanced Health Mouthwash has a unique shake-to-activate formula that combines two different liquids into one powerful, bacteria-removing mouthwash. The dual-phase formula mouthwash is proven to remove 24 times more bacteria for a healthier mouth. All you need to do is simply shake to activate and then rinse to clean (versus ordinary, non-antibacterial mouthwashes).

Plan a getaway: Studies continue to reveal that vacationing is an important part of leading a healthy and happy life, and good choices can help maximize its benefit to ensure you get the best value for your money and the biggest emotional return. One of the best ways to do this is by choosing a vacation rental home, especially if you're traveling with kids. You don't have to go to bed when the kids do, you don't have to eat out for every meal, saving money and calories, and there is plenty of space for working out.

Explore the outdoors: Fall is an excellent time to enjoy outdoor exercise. Consider exploring local hiking paths, setting up a circuit in a nearby park, or joining an outdoor boot camp or cycling club. It's the perfect time of year to breathe in some crisp air and burn extra holiday calories.

Team up with your family: This is a great time of year to be active and healthy, whether it's prepping and trying new healthy meals, or taking turns choosing physical activities that each member of the family enjoys. You might try something new like joining a recreational Frisbee golf team or picking up tennis for the first time. Make fitness fun this fall!

Source: MultiVu

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Have You Created a 'Clean Home' Plan?

October 4, 2017 1:11 am

Cleaning your home can sometimes feel like walking uphill--every time you turnaround that floor you left sparkling is once again covered in toys and pet fur. While some cleaning tasks need to be done weekly or even daily (wiping down the counters, cleaning out the shower), some projects need only be done once or twice a year, yet they make a huge impact when addressed. A great way to manage these tasks is to create a long list of them, and then schedule one or two manageable projects per weekend all year long. Voila! Now you have a "clean home" plan you can follow all year. Below are a few offenders that should be addressed once or twice per year at least.

Clean the baseboards. Really get down on your hands and knees with a rag and a toothbrush and remove dust and grime from your baseboards. This type of detailing has a huge impact in the overall sparkle of your space.

Wipe down the ceiling fan. Sure you vacuum and dust your floor and shelves, but how often do you stop to look up? Our ceiling fans collect a large amount of dust and debris over the year, and should be cleaned at least twice, or seasonally if you can manage.

Clean out the cupboards. At least once a year, take everything out of your kitchen cupboards, wipe them down, and re-organize.

Tackle the freezer. This should be done at least twice a year. Remove everything from the freezer, toss out anything you no longer need or want, and wipe the interior down.

Beat out the cushions. Our couch and throw cushions, drapes and rugs collect dust throughout the year.
Choose a sunny day, take them outside and give them a good beat down to remove allergens.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Fall Upgrades to Enhance Your Home

October 4, 2017 1:11 am

(Family Features)--Fall provides a time for fun and celebration, but it also can be an opportunity to refocus on taking care of your home both indoors and out.

These simple upgrade ideas can help you improve aesthetic appeal, upgrade safety, keep your home free from pests and save you time, resources and money.

De-bug Your Doors
Enjoy nature without all the pests by adding a protective barrier to your entryways, such as an ODL Brisa Retractable Screen Door. It can be installed over single, double and sliding doors, and can take just 30 minutes to install from start to finish. With one-touch entry and auto-slide open, it allows for easy access when your hands are full. When you're not using it, you can use the secure locking latch or let it slide back into its cartridge.

Get Smart About Laundry
Take a load off and let your washer's technology do the work. Available in white or diamond gray, the top load laundry line from GE Appliances gives owners the power to pretreat stains or hand wash delicates with an industry-first soapy water station, automatically dispense the right amount of detergent and fabric softener based on each individual load and control the load remotely through smart devices by using WiFi Connect.

Feel the Heat
If temperatures are dropping and a warm blanket isn't doing the trick on an especially chilly day, a space heater can help keep you cozy. Many options are light and portable, allowing you to move it from room to room as necessary. Rather than layering up to enjoy a lazy day on the couch, simply plug it in and choose the setting that's right for maximum comfortability. Plus, by flipping the space heater switch rather than cranking up the heat, you can save money on energy bills.

Simple Shredding
One of fall's obnoxious chores in the eyes of many is cleaning up leaves scattered about the yard. To help save time and energy, add a leaf shredder to your arsenal of lawn equipment. By shredding leaves rather than expending time and resources bagging and disposing them, you can improve the look of your yard without as much physical stress.

Mess-Free Mudroom
On cold days when a brisk chill sends you seeking indoor shelter, it can be easy to make a mess at the door with shoes and outerwear. Instead of a pile of garments greeting you each time you come home, add some structure to the mudroom with an organizer that allows you to hang coats and scarves and stow away shoes. While keeping clothes orderly, it can also help keep you and guests from tracking salt, mud and other messes throughout the house.

Source: Family Features

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Planning a Destination Wedding? 6 Things to Tell Your Travel Agent

October 4, 2017 1:11 am

If you're getting married on a tropical island or chic European villa, your wedding planning is likely a bit more complicated. This is why the majority of couples planning destination weddings rely heavily on a travel agent.

Below are six things to tell your travel agent, from the experts at travel resource Vacation.

Guest Count: Even if it's an estimate, it helps your agent provide initial recommendations.

Guest Origins: Where will your guests be flying in from? One of the best things a travel agent can assist with is booking group air, hotel and ground transportation. Not only does it make travel easier, but also it can save everyone money and time. Especially the engaged couple.

Kids or No Kids: Will your dream day be a multi-generational family affair or a swank adults-only soiree? Your travel expert needs to know to help you select the perfect venue.

Money, money, money: If your wedding guests have varying budgets, don't be shy about telling your travel agent. This is something they want to know so they can ensure your guests travel in the manner they can afford.

VIP List: Although every guest matters, there are some that you'll want to provide with extra special attention. Your travel agent can help secure upgrades and extra amenities to surprise and delight these guests.

Honeymoon Plans: Once you've said "I do" and danced the night away, what's your plan? If you were getting married at home, you'd be jetting off to your honeymoon, but with a destination wedding, the "what's next" question can be a little trickier. You might opt to keep the party going with your nearest and dearest for a few more days, or escape to another destination for some time with just the two of you. Your travel agent can provide options for either scenario.

Source: Vacation

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Out of Town? Don’t Risk a Water Leak

October 3, 2017 12:59 am

When you head out of town on vacation, you probably take several steps to make sure your home isn’t broken into while you’re away, from leaving lights on to pausing your newspaper delivery.

But did you know that your home is at a greater risk of damage from water leaks than fire and theft when you’re away? According to property and casualty insurance company Chubb, the time between when a leak occurs and when it is discovered is the single greatest factor in determining the amount of damage, making leaks that occur while you're away much more damaging in terms of both cost and severity.

In the past 10 years, the frequency of sudden pipe bursts has nearly doubled. In 2015, water damage accounted for nearly half of all property damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute. A study from Chubb finds that, despite the fact that 91 percent of homeowners rate themselves as "vigilant" or "doing an okay job" at preventative home maintenance, and that close to half (45 percent) have or know someone who has experienced a water leak in the past two years, only 18 percent have installed a water-leak detection device.  

Of all homeowners, high-net-worth individuals are particularly at risk. When compared against other income segments, for instance, high-net-worth individuals are the most likely (55 percent) to report being "vigilant" about conducting preventative maintenance, yet are the least likely (26 percent ) to rank internal water leaks as their top home-related concern. High-net-worth homeowners are also the income group least likely to periodically inspect appliance hoses (33 percent compared to 61 percent of middle class homeowners, the most of any income group), a frequent cause of internal water leaks.   

While there are a number of steps homeowners can take to mitigate the risk, Chubb recommends that when they go through their pre-departure process of locking doors and windows, identifying a neighbor to keep an eye on their home, and ensuring some lights are left on, that homeowners also add shutting off the water main to the checklist.

Additional findings from the survey include:

- The majority of homeowners (63 percent) cite the threat of relocating for an extended period of time (between one month and a year) as their first or second most potentially concerning water damage-related event.

- A quarter of all homeowners have never had their appliances inspected, despite being the surest way to prevent a leak from occurring.

- Many homeowners also cited the loss of irreplaceable items (59 percent) and repairing structural damage (46 percent) as the top most potentially concerning water damage-related events.

- The majority of homeowners are unfamiliar with the most common sources of internal water leaks, with close to half (49 percent) identifying the water heater as the most likely source (independent analyses indicate plumbing supply systems pose the greatest risk).

Source: Chubb

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Traveling for the Holidays? Read This First

October 3, 2017 12:59 am

The holiday season is the busiest time for travel, when millions of Americans jet off to see family, and many more zoom to warmer destinations to escape the cold. But with volatile weather looming in many areas of the country, the holiday season is the most important time to load up on travel insurance.  When considering travel insurance during the holidays, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

Where are you traveling? Depending on your destination, hurricanes, snow storms or flooding can impact your plans. While some destinations are more prone to issues during the holidays, you never know when weather can act up. Trip cancellation coverage can help protect the investment in your trip due to severe weather and trip delay coverage can make those annoying airport delays more tolerable by covering meals and hotels when the airlines don't.

When are you traveling? It seems hard to believe another major hurricane could hit in 2017, yet hurricane season lasts through November 30. With snow hitting as early as October in some places, it is worth considering your dates and the likelihood of weather-related issues. Also, the holiday season can be the busiest and most crowded travel time of the year, making delays and service disruptions more likely.

What will you be doing? Will your vacation consist of sitting on the beach, skiing throughout New England, or hitting your dream golf course? Many travel insurance plans are designed for the more adventurous or sporty vacations. Look for plans that offer coverage for hazardous sports, lost ski days or lost golf rounds. Traveling with your own equipment? Look for a plan that covers loss or theft of your equipment.

Who are you traveling with? Do your kids, spouse or travel companions always seem to be the first to get sick when the weather turns cold? If so, travel insurance is even more important to consider during flu season. Most comprehensive travel insurance plans will allow you to cancel if a family member or traveling companion gets seriously ill before your trip.

What are you bringing with you? While we recommend you ship as many gifts as possible, for items you take on with you, keep in mind that luggage can, and does, get lost. According to airline information technology company, SITA, more than 23 million pieces of luggage are mishandled a year. Travel insurance can provide coverage for each holiday traveler's baggage and personal belongings, so if something does get lost, replacement items are covered (up to a certain limit), even in the short term. Certain travel insurance can even play a role in offering peace of mind if you are bringing your pet along, knowing that if something does go wrong, beloved animals will be taken care of or be transported home in certain circumstances.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

6 Tips to Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

October 3, 2017 12:59 am

(Family Features)--As days get shorter and temperatures drop, many homeowners overlook their lawns' needs. Unfortunately, winter can be brutal and make it hard for lawns, trees and shrubs to thrive the following spring.

Just like chapped lips and dry skin, plants struggle to find moisture in the winter, too. Symptoms include scorched and dropped leaves, mottling on leaves and even dead leaves and twigs. Dry or frozen soil can prevent plants from replenishing needed water, which can result in winter burn. In addition, when temperatures drop below a plant's natural tolerance, it can impact their health and vigor and cause them to decline prematurely.

"Many homeowners may not realize that late fall is a good time to help prepare your lawn and landscape for a healthy spring growth," says Ben Hamza, director of technical services for TruGreen. "Homeowners should remember to perform common maintenance practices on their lawns and landscapes, such as late fall fertilization on lawns and trees and shrubs, and continue to water during dry periods. Taking the extra time in the fall can pay dividends in the spring.

To help prepare your lawn for the winter months, perform the following practices:

1. Clear leaves. It's important to remove leaves or mulch them with a properly equipped mower as they can suffocate grass. Matted leaves left over a lawn throughout the winter months can delay spring green-up. After clearing leaves, homeowners can compost what was collected to nourish plants and shrubs, reducing the impact on the landfill.

2. Replace unhealthy patches. Fall's favorable weather conditions, as well as moist and warm soil temperatures, create the ideal opportunity for successful seeding of bare lawn areas and overseeding of healthy grass to improve your lawn thickness and density.

3. Trim. Trees and shrubs are also vulnerable to winter weather and should be properly groomed and fertilized to avoid winter injury.

4. Give a good fall feeding. The roots of lawns, trees and shrubs need energy to prepare for a healthy, green spring revival. Keep fertilizer on target to prevent run-off and sweep fertilizer granules that may reach pavement back onto your lawn.

5. Give sprinklers a break. In most parts of the country, failing to winterize your sprinkler system can result in major problems that can also lead to costly repairs, such as cracked pipes, broken valves or damage to the lawn itself. Follow your owners' manual instructions to safely put your system to rest. Be sure to blow out underground systems to eliminate any remaining water that may freeze and expand.

6. Mow against snow mold. Keep lawns trimmed until growth ceases. This can help prevent snow mold, which mostly occurs in northern states due to extended snow cover and matted turf. Tall or improperly mowed grass is most at risk of developing snow mold.

Source: TruGreen

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Making Sure Your Home Office Is More Office Than Home

September 29, 2017 12:44 am

Working from home either full- or part-time is increasingly the norm in today's flexible business environment. For some of us, the transition from brick and mortar to a virtual or home office is seamless. For others, it can be challenging. Here are some small, but important, steps to take to make sure your home office is a truly productive space.

Set a space aside. With laptops and iPads, a home office doesn't necessarily revolve around a desktop computer anymore. If you're using a laptop, try not wander during the course of the day. Set aside a room or corner of your home that is specified for work; otherwise, you'll get distracted as you bounce from the couch to the kitchen table to the patio.

Limit noise. Nothing is more distracting than the dog barking, the neighbor's leaf blower or your partner watching TV in the next room. Make sure you choose a quiet place for your home office, and close the door behind you. Tell anyone else who may be in the house that you're working and can't be disturbed. Ditto for neighbors who think they can pop by because you're home.

Have the right equipment. Nothing hampers productivity more than not having all the necessary tools. Make sure you're equipped with whatever is essential to do your job—color printer, scanner, speaker phone, webcam, etc.

Make sure you’re connected. If you're not seamlessly connected to those working within the office, then your work-from-home situation won't, well, work. Make sure you can access all the office drives, and if you have a landline at the office, make sure it forwards directly to your mobile or home-office phone. Make sure you're able to teleconference in for meetings, as opposed to being a scratchy, hard-to-hear voice through the speakerphone.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Build a Better Business Plan

September 29, 2017 12:44 am

(Family Features)—Creating a business from the ground up is no small endeavor. From planning to financing to putting standard business services in place, there's a lot to tackle. All of that is in addition to operating the day-to-day business.

Once you've settled on a business model that meets your needs, developing a business plan is an essential next step. These five tips can help you get started:

Think long-term. A solid business plan should account for your start-up, of course, but also the longer range future of your operations. Consider how you want your business to look five years down the road. Create goals and build in milestones to chart your progress on that long-term path.

Write it yourself. No one can embrace your vision as completely as you can, and developing the plan yourself gives you a deep understanding of every aspect of the business, which is essential for good management. Even if you hand over certain responsibilities down the road, being aware of each aspect of your business can make you a stronger, more successful leader.

Review the plan over time. Know that time brings change. The business climate and other variables that influenced your original plan will likely shift over the course of your ownership. That's why it's important to revisit your plan at least annually to ensure your original roadmap is still on the right track strategically.

Share your plan with others. Inviting input from an adviser or experienced friend or colleague is a great way to spur new ideas and identify potential problem areas. Be sure you're prepared to accept constructive criticism to help shape the best possible business plan.

Stick to it. After all the sweat equity you invest in creating your business plan, the worst thing you can do is allow it to collect dust on a shelf. Use the plan to guide you in launching and growing your business. When business is booming and you're too busy to think strategically, you'll be grateful to have a well-conceived plan to rely upon.

Source: Family Features Editorial Syndicate

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Bosses: How to Better Serve Your Team

September 29, 2017 12:44 am

If you're leading a team of employees—whether it's a team of 10 or a team of 100—you should spend some time thinking about how to be a better boss. The best leaders not only look at the big picture, but spend time nurturing their individual relationships with their staff.

With this in mind, Robert Half Management Resources offers five tips for leaders:

Take a genuine interest. Talk to employees about their career goals and what keeps them up at night. You can only address their motivations and concerns once you know what those are.

Add meaning to the job. Employees should know how your firm's products and services improve the lives of customers and how their individual contributions support the company's mission.

Provide regular business updates. Make the organization's objectives an ongoing topic of conversation. Explain to staff the rationale behind operational goals and the steps being taken to attain them.

Tap experts. People won't feel confident in leadership if they don't have the support they need. Bring in consultants who provide in-demand knowledge not available internally, such as for a change initiative or merger integration. Interim professionals also can assist with spikes in activity, helping staff better manage heavy workloads.

Sell the firm to staff—again and again. Managers woo job seekers during the hiring process but often fail to keep the courtship alive. Keep employees apprised of the firm's successes and regularly promote the many great reasons to work there.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Your Commute: From Painful to Purposeful

September 28, 2017 1:05 am

Whether you're trapped in your car during rush hour or on a seemingly endless train ride, commuting can take its toll on even the most zen-minded among us. Try these tactics to not only preserve your sanity, but actually add a little productivity to your day, as well.

Catch up with loved ones. Whether via Bluetooth in your car or by text on public transportation, commuting time is a great opportunity to connect with Mom or your college roommate. When else would you have the free time to do so?

Learn something. This is a great time to bone up on your vocabulary, learn a new language, or take an online course in a subject that always fascinated you.

Get inspired. Whether it's a motivational podcast, a spiritual book, or a meditation app (for train/bus riders only, please!), commuting is great time to breathe deep and open your mind.

Binge watch. Are you stressed about all the series you have yet to watch?! Consider yourself lucky to be a commuter then. Download the latest season and be ready for the water cooler convo the next morning.

Rediscover the art of the album. With the dawn of digital music and playlists, listening to an album or CD from start to finish became a lost art. Yet musicians intended you to listen in exactly this way to appreciate the chronology and sequencing of their releases. Use commuting time to rediscover music the way it was meant to be listened to.

Trying out some of the above activities can help transform your commute from wasted time to a fulfilling hour or so each day.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Travel Tips for Fall

September 28, 2017 1:05 am

Are you hoping to hit the road (or air) this fall? You're far from alone. With the prices lower than summer, the weather still temperate and the foliage in full bloom, many choose fall as the season to get away.
Below are a handful of fall travel tips from MultiVu.

Stay Within Budget: Fall is a great time to travel. There are a lot of deals in places like New York City, San Francisco, and D.C., but to find these deals, comparison shopping is key. On sites like, you can check out affordable hotels, villas, apartments, or even boats or tree houses to stay in. They also have a customer service team to help travelers out 24 hours a day. Whether searching for an accommodation through the website or app, check out the guest-verified reviews.

Get Your Ride Ready: With stable gas prices, road trips are really popular with families this time of year. Before you hit the road, make sure your vehicle is road-ready and those tires are in good shape. Two big things: check your tire pressure and your tire tread—you can do that with a penny. Remember all tires are not created equal.

What to Pack: Fall is an active season for families. For starters, make sure you pack the right clothing. Also remember, hurricane season is not over—any bad weather can put travel plans in jeopardy. That's why more travelers are now looking to protect their travel investment, according to Allianz Travel Insurance. Travel insurance can reimburse your prepaid non-refundable expenses if you have to cancel a trip due to a natural disaster or for extended travel delays. It will also protect you against baggage issues and medical emergencies. If you do ever have to file a claim, you can do it straight from the TravelSmart app.

Source: MultiVu

Published with permission from RISMedia.

A Closer Look at Vision Health

September 28, 2017 1:05 am

(Family Features)—An estimated 4.3 billion people suffer from the same health problem regardless of gender, age or ethnicity: vision impairment. Whether moderate or severe, vision impairment can have far-reaching social and economic impacts.

As the number of Americans with visual impairment is expected to double by 2050, vision health has an obvious role in the national health conversation. Uncorrected vision is highly noticeable among certain groups, like the elderly and workers who rely on vision for safe and effective job completion. According to the Vision Impact Institute, two other groups significantly impacted by poor vision are drivers and children.

A study from the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that one of the major causes of visual impairment is uncorrected refractive error (URE), and that preventable URE causes nearly 80 percent of the global burden. The number of people impacted by URE is especially troubling when taking into account day-to-day activities such as driving. A report from the American Academy of Optometry revealed that even moderate visual field loss causes drivers to have significantly poorer capabilities in completing tasks, such as matching speed when changing lanes and maintaining lane position.

When you consider how changing technology and business models like ride-sharing companies and delivery services are adding drivers to the road, this impact becomes all the more crucial. If eye exams were part of the standard for renewing driver's licenses, then these issues could be called out by an eye care provider in advance of potential accidents on the road.

Today, vision impairments and eye disorders are the third-leading chronic conditions among children in the U.S., with costs for direct medical care, vision aids, devices and caregivers amounting to $10 billion per year. In the U.S. alone, the total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss was $139 billion in 2013.

Uncorrected vision problems in children can have serious negative impacts on their educations and future employment opportunities. In 2014, researchers studied the impact on academic performance after providing a vision screening and free eyeglasses to low-income and minority elementary school children in the U.S. The study found that among fifth grade students, both the screening and eyeglasses significantly improved student achievement in math and reading.

As 80 percent of all learning occurs through vision, a simple pair of eyeglasses could correct poor vision and drastically change the course of a child's life.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Do These Every Day for a Cleaner Home

September 26, 2017 12:44 am

Want a cleaner home but feel like you don't have the time? Think again. These quick (think five minutes or less) tasks can help tidy your home with minimal effort.

Post-shower swipe – To keep mold at bay, store a washcloth in your shower you use for wiping down the surfaces after you turn the water off—just make sure everyone in the family knows the purpose of the rag so it doesn't end up on anyone's face! Swap the rag out once a week.

Early morning clutter sweep – As you wait for the coffee to brew or the dog to finish his breakfast before your walk, run through the lower level of your home and take care of any clutter piles: junk mail in need of opening, shoes or jackets dumped by the door or blankets on the couches that may need folding.

Nightly surface wipe – Every night before you head to bed (or the TV room), grab a rag and wipe down your counters, kitchen or dining table, and any other surface that collects food particles, dirt or dust.

Closet self control – It can be tempting to strip off your clothes after a long day and dump them in a pile on the floor or toss them on a chair, nut properly putting your clothes away—either in the hamper, back in the closet, or in a pile for dry cleaning—will help tide weekly clutter.

Clean as you cook – Does your soup have 15 minutes left to simmer? Start on the dishes, sop up splatter on the counter or floor, or tackle the trash. Waiting until the end of the meal can make it all too easy to say, "I'll clean up in the morning."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Prepare Your Home for the Worst

September 26, 2017 12:44 am

No one likes to think of disaster striking their home; however, preparing for an emergency—be it a flood or an earthquake—can be the make-or-break factor for protecting your property should disaster hit. A storm can cause electrical outages, flooding, and water damage to your home itself, as well as your systems and belongings. To help, Gold Medal Service offers homeowners several ways to be prepared to weather a storm or severe weather conditions:

Waterproofing – Being below ground level, basements are most susceptible to water issues. Pump systems, waterproof sprays and interior drainage systems are all examples of ways to help you prepare for the next emergency.

Generator installation and inspection – Power outages are more than an inconvenience—they represent a real safety issue for your family. A backup generator can provide power for the home in case disaster strikes. Professional installation and periodic inspections will ensure that your home has power even when the lights go out.

Heating and vent inspection – Make sure the flues and vents throughout your heating systems are clean and clear of debris. Blocked vents can cause a dangerous carbon monoxide build-up in your home. If you are unsure how to check these, a professional inspection is quick and inexpensive, and will eliminate concern.

Alarm installation and inspection – Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms are a must—they save lives. It is always critical to ensure the alarms in your home are properly installed, inspected, and have fresh batteries in order to provide the required protection.

Being prepared goes beyond having your home's systems ready. Some emergency preparedness tips for the family are:

·       Have a plan in place to ensure your family has water, flashlights, extra food, and a few other necessities.

·       Something as simple as a solar charger for a cell phone can be a lifesaver, allowing you to receive much needed information.

·       A battery-powered radio is also a good backup way to stay informed.

·       Know your city's emergency shelters.

·       Review your insurance policies for adequate coverage.

·       Practice what your family will do in the event of an emergency.
Source: Gold Medal Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Add Family Fun to Chores

September 26, 2017 12:44 am

(Family Features)—When school is in session and just getting out the door is an accomplishment, having go-to routines can help make ordinary activities more exciting for the entire family. However, if you encounter resistance to everyday household tasks, you may just need a simple revamp to make activities more entertaining and engaging.

Refresh your family routines with these ideas designed to create more willing participants:

Trash Duty

No one likes taking out the trash, but with a nudge, even little helpers can find fun in this mundane chore. Ask for help sorting materials in the recycle bin for an educational chance to throw things without getting into trouble—or try timing how long it takes to gather trash from the bedrooms or bathrooms, and set a goal to break that record next week.

Personal Care

Getting kids to brush not once, but twice a day can be an onerous endeavor, but making the activity silly may be just the answer. The "Silly Brushing Song" is a fun, interactive music video and tool for parents that Tom's of Maine created in partnership with children's singer and songwriter Laurie Berkner to help get kids brushing for a full two minutes, twice a day, as recommended by the American Dental Association.

Yard Work

Tools made for pint-sized helpers can make all the difference in getting junior gardeners on board—and so can setting small, attainable goals so they can celebrate a sense of accomplishment. Try designating a flower bed to get rid of leaves or a section of the yard that needs sticks removed. Be sure to demonstrate proper techniques and give frequent praise for a job well done.

Clean-Up Time

It's no secret that kids can destroy a room in minutes, especially when it's a room filled with their favorite toys. When it comes to cleaning up, all that mess can be overwhelming. Look for ways to make the chore more manageable, such as picking up all the cars and trucks first, then the building blocks next, etc. Sing songs while you work to help make the time go faster.

Pet Care

For many households, pets are not only beloved members of the family—they're living, breathing lessons in responsibility. Once the novelty of a new animal wears off, however, so can the excitement of feeding and walking. A simple sticker chart can be a hands-on and effective way to remind kids that this is a chore that needs to be completed every single day. Plus, pet care can be a fun way to introduce children to the importance of responsibilities and becoming a "big kid." For added fun, make your own stickers using funny photos of your family pets.

Source: Tom's of Maine

Published with permission from RISMedia.

It's Not a Bug; It's Stress

September 25, 2017 12:35 am

If concerning aches, pains or other physical ailments have you on your way to the doctor for tests, be sure not to rule out stress. While it's easy to recognize the emotional effects of stress, you may be unaware that stress takes a physical toll, as well. The mind/body connection runs deep and stress will start to present itself in a variety of ways. Here are five physical symptoms that may actually be caused by stress, according to Self magazine.

1. Exhaustion – Our brains produce the hormone cortisol to give us short boosts of energy to get us through stressful situations. Feeling stressed for an extended period, however, releases too much cortisol, which can cause us to feel wiped out.

2. Gastro Pains – The excess production of cortisol along with epinephrine during stress can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system and cause cramps. Stress also exacerbates the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

3. Chest Pain – When you feel anxious or stressed, neurotransmitters are activated through your sympathetic nervous system, which can create a feeling of tightness in your chest. This leads many to fear they're having a heart attack, but chances are, your heart is just fine. Stress can also intensify heartburn, which can also mimic a heart attack.

4. Hair Loss – Everyone loses about 80 hairs or so a day, but increased cortisol due to stress puts your body in an inflammatory state, which means nutrients that usually go to your hair follicles go to other parts of your body instead. This can cause follicles to slow or stop production. Talk to your dermatologist about special shampoos and supplements.

5. Skin Issues – Skin rashes like psoriasis or eczema are intensified during stress. Similarly, the inflammatory state caused by stress also often leads to skin blemishes, such as acne.

While your doctor can offer medications and supplements to treat the above symptoms, remember that the ultimate cure is getting to the root of the problem and relieving the stress.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Reasons Your Travel Insurance Claim May Be Denied

September 25, 2017 12:35 am

Travel is a fun and exciting hobby; however, when something puts a wrench in your travel plans, it can quickly morph into a stressful and expensive nightmare.

Misunderstanding a travel insurance policy can lead to an automatic denial when it's time to file a claim. Below, Squaremouth explains three common reasons travel insurance claims are denied, and how to give yourself the best chance of getting your claim approved.

You Were Inconvenienced, Not Interrupted

Some travelers think their insurance will pay out because their trip didn't go as smoothly as they planned; however, in order for a traveler to be covered by their travel insurance, their trip must be cancelled, cut short, or delayed by a circumstance listed in their policy. If the reason is listed, they can be refunded for out-of-pocket trip payments, as well as additional expenses incurred.

Travel Insurance Claim Tip: Don't assume you're automatically covered if anything goes wrong. If you have specific concerns, make sure they are covered by your policy. If you are worried about something that your policy does not cover, you may be able to cancel the policy for a full or partial refund.

You Bought the Policy Without Knowing You Were Ineligible

Travel insurance only covers unforeseen events; however, many travelers think they can buy travel insurance after they become sick. If a traveler is already sick when they buy their policy, any claim related to that same illness will not be covered.

Travel Insurance Claim Tip: Some policies have the Pre-Existing Condition option, which can refund a traveler if their trip is impacted by an existing sickness or injury. To get this coverage, you usually must buy a policy within 14-30 days of making your first trip payment; however, even with this coverage, you must be medically able to travel when you buy a policy.

You Forgot to Keep Your Receipts

In order to be refunded, travelers typically need to provide proof of the expenses they incurred. Receipts are required to authenticate a claim, whether it's for a cancellation, delay, or medical emergency.

"We ask for receipts to prove the traveler made the payments they say they made, and to verify what happened," says Squaremouth Claims Director Brandi Morse. "Keeping your original receipts can speed up the process and improve your chances of getting your claim approved."

Travel Insurance Claim Tip: Ask for receipts to document any expenses incurred. If you forget, or if receipts are not available, your bank or credit card statement will usually prove you made the payments you are claiming for.

Source: Squaremouth

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-to Save Money While Shopping

September 25, 2017 12:35 am

(Family Features)—There's shopping for pleasure, then there's shopping for purpose. The latter is never quite as fun, but taking a practical approach to buying household necessities can help save money so there's more to spend on the shopping you enjoy most.

Tackle your household shopping with these cost-conscious tips from the experts at Scott Brand:

Keep a list. Knowing which groceries and supplies you have on-hand before heading to the store makes it easier to avoid overspending. Try an app on your smartphone to maintain a running shopping list. Look for one that includes sharing features so others in the household can let you know when they use the last of something that needs replaced.

Pull in price-cutting resources. Start by looking at store ads before heading out to shop so you know where to find the best deals. Plan your week's meals around sale items for an extra bang. Be sure to clip coupons from the local paper and print more coupons online. Also remember to do price comparisons at online shopping sites, especially those with subscription services that deliver items on a regular schedule with a steep discount.

Shop for value. Instead of simply purchasing the cheapest product, do your research to know which product offers the best value. Determining which products will meet your family's needs in terms of performance and long-lasting value at the lowest price can help you save in the long run.

Know when bulk spending is better. While it will likely make a larger dent on your wallet at the store, buying in bulk can provide long-term financial gain. Because you're buying in quantity, you'll likely be purchasing products that will last longer to help delay a return trip to the store. One way to minimize the "ouch" of the upfront expense: stagger your bulk-buying so you're restocking items over time, rather than all at once.

Avoid impulses. Especially when you're shopping with family members, it's easy to watch the shopping cart grow full with each "bargain" item at the end of the aisle. Unfortunately, these impulse buys can add up quickly. Instead, invite the whole family to help build a reasonable list and then help keep each other accountable to it. If you make it all the way to the register, reward yourselves with a small snack or treat from the check-out aisle.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Bank Card Defaults Drop, Mortgage Defaults Tick Up - What Does it Mean?

September 21, 2017 12:53 am

In some good news for the economic outlook, the bank card default rate recently experienced its biggest drop in 12 months this past July, down 18 basis points to .86 percent, according to the S&P Dow Jones Indices and Experian data. Meanwhile, auto loan defaults increased by four basis points, and the first mortgage default rate increased two basis points from June.

However, it’s important to look at the big picture. Though the National bank card default rate experienced its biggest drop in 12 months, it is still high. The bank card default rate set a recent low at 2.49 percent in December 2015. Since then, it moved irregularly upward before the July drop; it is now 3.31 percent. The composite, auto, and first mortgage default series are all close to their levels in July 2016.     

“Default rates for autos and first mortgage loans are at their lowest points in the last ten years, while bank card defaults remain modest,” explains David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Consumers’ use of credit is growing and the level of consumer credit outstanding is at an all-time high. In the year ending June 2017, consumer credit outstanding rose 5.7 percent, outpacing most spending categories across the economy. However, retail sales excluding autos as well as auto sales are down slightly since April, while home sales are little changed in recent months.

“While total consumer credit is at an all-time high, revolving credit – principally bank card loans – is close to the same level as mid-2008 early in the recession and financial crisis. At that time, revolving credit accounted for 38.5 percent of credit balances compared to 26.5 percent today. The revolving credit share of the total has declined steadily since 2008. The share of non-revolving credit rose and total non-revolving climbed from 61.5 percent to 73.5 percent of total consumer credit usage. The largest components of non-revolving credit are auto loans and student loans. Auto loans currently are about 40 percent of non-revolving credit. Student loans are the largest factor in the growth of non-revolving credit since 2008. Currently, they represent about 51 percent of non-revolving credit outstanding and 37.6 percent of total consumer credit outstanding.”

So while the economy continues to show gradual improvement on a macro level, debt continues to be a blight in terms of full recovery. Meet with your financial advisor to review your personal credit and debt scenario to see how you may be able to make improvements to the overall picture.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Easy Ways to Make Better Food Choices

September 21, 2017 12:53 am

(Family Features)--Maintaining a healthy diet can be easier than you think if you make your eating habits a priority and know how to make smart food choices.

For the best results, choose foods from all five major food groups with help from these tips:

Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and contain necessary fiber, vitamins and minerals. Rather than serving fruits with cream cheese or sugary sauces, opt for nut butters or organic honey, and toss raw, steamed, boiled or baked vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper instead of buttery sauces.

Protein. Select low-fat, lean cuts of meat and season them with herbs, spices and low-sodium marinades. Baking, broiling, grilling and roasting are the healthiest preparation methods. Try swapping ground beef for a lean or extra-lean cut, or opt for ground chicken or turkey instead. Non-meat protein options such as dry beans, peas and lentils can even be swapped for meat in recipes such as lasagna or chili.

Dairy. Choose skim or non-dairy milk, like soy, rice or almond milk, and use low-fat or part-skim cheeses in recipes. Nonfat or Greek yogurt can replace sour cream in many recipes and options like sherbet and soft-serve frozen yogurt are lower in fat than ice cream.

Grains. Choose products that list whole grains as the first ingredient, as they are low in fat and high in fiber. Some easy swaps include whole-grain flour, pasta and rice, as well as bypassing doughnuts and pastries for English muffins or bagels and opting for unsalted pretzels instead of potato chips.

Fats, oils and sweets. Too many high-fat foods can add excess calories to your diet, which can lead to weight gain and obesity, or increase your risk for certain health issues. However, a small amount of heart-healthy fat is actually good for you. When it comes to sweets, fig bars and gingersnaps make for healthy alternatives to cookies. Also beware of calorie-laden condiments and opt for nonfat and light mayonnaise and salad dressings instead.

Source: Family Features, Nice!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Protect Your Credit From a Security Breach

September 21, 2017 12:53 am

Recently Equifax, one of our nation's three major credit reporting bureaus, announced that it had been breached. This means millions of consumer credit reports were made available to hackers, including their credit card numbers, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver's license numbers. To help, Equifax has created a website ─ ─ where consumers can check to see if their personal information may have been exposed.

In addition, below are additional steps that consumers should take.

Obtain your credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus ─ Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. All consumers are entitled to obtain a free copy of their credit report from each of these companies every 12 months. You can do this by visiting, or by calling each of them by phone (Experian at 888-397-3742, TransUnion at 800-680-7289, and Equifax at 800-525-6285).

Consider placing a "credit freeze" on your credit reports with these companies. In most states, including Illinois, each credit bureau may charge you up to a $10 fee for a credit freeze. (Equifax announced on Sept. 12 that it will no longer charge $10 for a security freeze.) A credit freeze prevents lenders and others from accessing your credit information, making it much harder for someone to open a new account of any kind in your name ─ only your current creditors will be able to access your credit report. Also note that you can tell the credit bureaus to lift your credit freeze if you need to apply for new credit, which you can do for a particular credit application or temporarily for a chosen period of time. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won't prevent your creditors from reporting your payments on existing accounts to the credit bureaus.

Pay close attention to credit card and bank account statements for any unauthorized charges.

Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report files. This alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim, and they should take extra steps to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you!

Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service. Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring to all consumers, regardless of whether your personal information may have been stolen. You can find many other reputable companies that offer this type of service by conducting an Internet search for credit monitoring services.

Source: Equifax

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Here’s How You Can Afford Your Rent

September 20, 2017 6:44 am

If you’re like many Americans - in particular, millennials who are just starting out on their own - chances are high that your housing costs exceed what you can actually afford. According to federal guidelines, if you’re paying more than 30 percent of your pre-tax dollars on rent, you fall into the ranks of the cost-burdened. Here are some tips from RentHop to make rent more affordable and restore some balance to your wallet...and life.

Try a different neighborhood. This may sound obvious, but moving to a new, more affordable location is often overlooked as an option. While you may be dead set on living in a certain neighborhood, do the math. If living elsewhere means saving hundreds of dollars a month, it might well be worth it. Find out what more affordable neighborhoods are still within reasonable commuting distances to your job or if flex work schedules may be an option.

Try a different apartment. In other words, downgrade. While you may love the high-end amenities and the extra closet space, are they really within your budget? Consider scaling down a bedroom or forgoing an on-site workout facility. Figure out what you can live without and you’ll be rewarded by a much-needed cushion in your bank account.

Get a roommate. If you don’t want to give up the extra space, the great location or the amenities, it may be time to find a roommate. The savings are obvious - reduce your costs by half or two thirds depending on how many roommates you take on. Just be sure to figure out in advance how you’ll handle non-fixed expenses like groceries.

Looks into rental assistance programs. If you’re really having trouble making ends meet and having a roof over your head is in jeopardy, look into rental assistance programs that may be available in your state. These programs have a mission to help low-income tenants and families keep their current housing through providing financial support. Such rental assistance programs can be given through the government, charity programs, local resources, non-profits, etc. Do your research on short- and long-term assistance programs where you’re living. If you qualify as a low – to moderate-income family, you could be eligible.

Talk to your landlord. Before you make any big changes, talk to your landlord. He or she may be willing to accept a late payment or two, or partial payments until you can get back on your feet or find a roommate. This is particularly true if you’re renting from a local individual as opposed to a large property management firm.

Renegotiate your lease. If your lease is up for renewal soon, use this opportunity to renegotiate with your landlord to at least maintain the same price you had been paying. If you’re in a spot where you know there isn’t a lot of interest, it will work in your favor.

Sublet. If you have an opportunity to move to a more affordable place before your lease is up, see if subletting your apartment is an option. Before you do, however, make sure it’s not forbidden in your lease agreement and that there are no other laws against subletting. Discuss it with your landlord to be safe.

So if you’re feeling squeezed by your monthly rent, don’t despair. Sit down with a calculator and consider the options above. There is always a solution.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Save Your Car From Prowlers

September 20, 2017 6:44 am

The thought of having your car broken into is chilling - yet many of us park our cars in unattended lots and on sketchy streets at regular intervals, often in our own neighborhoods.

The PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll finds only about 1 in 5 respondents (19 percent) say they're extremely or very concerned about car prowls in their neighborhood. Instead, about half (48 percent) admit they're not very or not at all concerned about the threat of a car break-in. Among those surveyed, a majority of drivers say they regularly take basic precautions to prevent break-ins by locking doors and removing valuables. Just under half (45 percent) say they use an electronic alarm system to protect their car and belongings, as well.  

Beyond those simple steps, PEMCO recommends following these tips to keep valuable possessions safe from car prowlers:
- Never leave your car running unattended, even if you're just going away for a few seconds. If you do need to leave the vehicle, turn the car off, remove the keys and lock the doors so thieves don't have an easy target.

- If you park on the street, find a well-lighted area. Good lighting is even more critical if you're parking overnight, as thieves intent on ransacking cars often strike between 3 and 5 a.m.

- Don't leave anything in view, no matter what you think it may be worth. Even a few coats left innocently piled on the seat might look like they're hiding something worth stealing.

- If you have to leave items in the car, stash them in the trunk, and do it before you park so a prowler doesn't see you. If you don't have a trunk, put belongings out of sight on the floor or under the seat.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Renovating Your Bathroom? Think Safety First

September 20, 2017 6:44 am

A renovation can be a fun period where your wildest home-design ideas can be put into action. However, when planning out a brand new bathroom, it's important to keep safety in mind, especially if you have seniors or children living in your spaces. Moen notes that children younger than five account for more than half of all slips and falls in the bathroom.

Here are six tips from Moen to help make your bath safe and stylish:

Install grab bars. These bars can make or break a fall in the bathroom. The best places to install them are: 1) near the toilet, 2) along the showerhead wall and 3) on the back wall of the tub/shower.

Choose a dark grab bar. Darker finishes against a lighter wall allows those with impaired vision to easily find grab bars.

Love levers. Faucets with lever handles make turning the fixture on and off easier for everyone.

Go handheld. A handheld shower brings the water to you, which helps keep you safer and makes it easier to bathe children.

Shelf life. Keeping items (like shampoo) within reach on a shelf in your shower helps you avoid slips and falls.

Take a seat. Studies show that women are 72 percent more likely to be injured in the bath or shower than men. Add peace of mind with a shower seat to prevent slips during activities such as shaving legs.

Light it right. Consider three or four globe lights for a well-illuminated, safe bath.

Source: Moen

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Safety Warnings for Fidget Spinners

September 18, 2017 1:05 am

Any household where kids live or even visit today probably has a couple (or dozens) of fidget spinners lying around. However, I was recently contacted by the Consumer Product Safety Council about these clever new toys that are all the rage among our children.

On August 10 CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle announced her agency was investigating some reported incidents that prompted a warning to parents and caregivers to keep fidget spinners and similarly branded toys from small children because the plastic and metal spinners can break and release small pieces that can be a choking hazard. Buerkle said there have also been reports of fires involving battery-operated fidget spinners.

She said it is key to use the charging cable that either comes with the fidget spinner or has correct connections for the device - charging cables are NOT interchangeable, Buerkle warns.

Also, if a fidget spinner is marketed and is primarily intended for children "12 years of age and younger," its manufacturer and/or retailer must certify it meets standards, including limits for phthalates, lead content, and lead in paint including the U.S Toy Standard ASTM F963-16 - and be labeled as such. So remember:

- Keep fidget spinners away from children under 3 years of age.

- Plastic and metal spinners have small pieces (including batteries) that can be a choking hazard. Choking incidents involving children up to age 14 have been reported.

- Warn children of all ages not to put fidget spinners or small pieces in their mouths or play with the fidget spinner near their faces.

And if you have battery-operated fidget spinners:

- Have working smoke alarms in your house to protect you if there is a fire.

- Be present when products with batteries are charging.

- Never charge a product with batteries overnight while you are sleeping.

- Always use the cable that came with the fidget spinner.

- If the fidget spinner did not come with a cable, use one with the correct connections for charging.

- Unplug your fidget spinner immediately once it is fully charged.

Buerkle urges consumers to visit the CPSC Fidget Spinner Safety Education Center for additional safety tips, and urges consumers to report fidget spinner safety incidents to CPSC at

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Pro Gutter Cleaning Tips

September 18, 2017 1:05 am

Have you been putting off cleaning those gutters? Clearing out your gutters at least once a year is essential for avoiding overflow and backups. However, there are a variety of gutter cleaning tips that can bring sanity into this tedious task. Some of the basics are listed below, by gutter pro Robert Lenney, owner of Gutterglove, Inc.

Ladder Safety: Always let someone know you will be using a ladder to work on your roof or gutters. Use a safe and sturdy ladder, preferably with a small shelf strong enough to hold a five-gallon bucket to collect gutter debris. Make sure to secure the bucket with a lanyard. I recommend a four-legged step ladder for a single story home, and an extension ladder for a two-story home.

Garden Hose: Use a garden hose with a pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle. This type of spray nozzle allows you to adjust the water pressure with the use of just one hand.

Gutter Scoop: Scooping out the leafy debris seems to be the best overall method for cleaning out the gutter. An excellent tool for this job is the bright orange plastic "Gutter Getter" scoop, which can be purchased at most hardware stores.

Wear Gloves: Gloves can help protect hands against dirty, rotting leaf debris that often contains bird, pigeon and squirrel droppings that are ridden with bacteria. Gloves can also prevent painful cuts from the torn metal shards of an old, ragged gutter.

Protective Eye Wear:  Eye protection is a must because one never knows what might fly out of the downspout when cleaning gutters. People have experienced rats, birds, frogs, wasps and bees leaving at high speeds once they start removing a clog, and the last thing they want to have happen is an eye injury.

Rake Off Roof: Rake all debris off the roof first. Otherwise, the next rain will wash all the debris down into the clean gutter, clogging it up again.

Rubber Shoes: If walking on the roof is necessary to perform gutter cleaning, it is good to use rubber soled shoes. Rubber soles tend to adhere best and prevent slipping and falls.

Downspouts Unclogged: Make sure the downspouts (leader pipe) are clear. After all the gutters are cleaned out, run the water hose down the downspout at full pressure. If the water backs up out of the top, a clog is present.

Power Line Hazard: When cleaning gutters around a power line cable that drops from the power pole to the roof of a home, conduct a visual inspection of the electrical cable where it connects to the roof. This is to ensure that the protective wire insulation hasn't rubbed off through years of wear-and-tear by weather and nearby trees. If the cable appears to have damage, do not attempt to repair it. Call a licensed professional electrical contractor to fix it.

Gutter Guards: Using a quality gutter guard can eliminate the need for cleaning out gutters. Consider carefully the manufacturer's claims before purchasing a gutter protection system that keeps out leaves and pine needles, because many promises are made that can't be delivered. Lenney is the President and CEO of Gutterglove which is a manufacturer of top rated DIY and pro-install stainless steel micromesh gutter guards throughout North America.

Source: Gutterglove, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Simple Ways to Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

September 15, 2017 12:29 am

(Family Features)--When it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, some recommendations are fairly simple, such as exercising regularly and eating right. Many people, however, don't know how much exercise they should get or which foods are the best choices. They also may not realize there are other ways to take care of your body and mind to promote better overall health.

Start on the path to healthier living with these tips from the wellness experts at Walgreens.

Exercise regularly
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five days a week, and that's because an active lifestyle can help you achieve far more than muscle mass or weight loss. Regular exercise can also contribute to mental well-being, and even something as simple as a walking break or two at work can provide health benefits.

Eat well
The keys to a healthy diet are eating the right amount of calories for your activity level and eating a wide range of foods to ensure that you're receiving all the nutrients your body needs. 

Get enough sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being, and can help improve your mental health, physical health and quality of life. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night for adults and 9-11 hours for school-aged children. If you find sleep elusive, try implementing a bedtime routine to send signals to your body that it's time to sleep, avoid screen time immediately before lights out and eliminate caffeine after lunch.

Manage stress
Between juggling a career, family and other commitments, it's easy to find things to stress over. Practices such as meditation and yoga can help to better manage stress. Setting aside time for a favorite hobby can also help relieve stress and focus on an activity you enjoy. Aside from mental and emotional impacts, stress can also impact your physical health, so it's important to identify coping mechanisms that reduce overall stress.

Be social
Making time to socialize with friends and family is an important part of living a long and healthy life. Even if your schedule is packed, try to block out time at least once a week to spend with family and friends.
Break bad habits

Whatever their nature, work to break bad habits by first acknowledging the problem then working to replace the negativity with alternatives that make a more positive impact on your life.  Even a negative attitude can bring you down.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Tips for Deck Design

September 15, 2017 12:29 am

(Family Features)--Timing can be everything, especially when it comes to planning an outdoor living space. By getting a jump-start on planning, you can afford yourself time to complete the process with maximum creativity and minimal stress.

Try these expert tips and tricks of the trade to help make your dream deck a reality.

Lay a Solid Foundation
Don't skimp on the substructure. Often overlooked, the substructure can have tremendous impact on performance and appearance. For maximum strength and stability, opt for steel framing over wood in order to achieve a consistently flat decking surface. Wooden substructures can split, warp and shift over time, leading to an uneven surface in the deck boards. Dimensionally stable steel offers durability benefits over wood, plus greater design flexibility, sustainability, safety and fire resistance.

Get the Right Tools
In addition to magazines, TV shows and social platforms offer outdoor living ideas and inspiration. There are also a number of online tools designed to help guide you through the planning process, such as the Trex Deck Starter, which can help anyone at the outset of their deck building adventures. It provides a user-friendly way to experiment with various deck configurations and design combinations. In three simple steps, the tool can help you choose the right materials for your project and design a customized outdoor living space before ever raising a hammer.

Choose the Right Materials
When selecting materials, invest in decking that can hold up against the harshest weather and messiest cookouts. High-performance, low-maintenance composite decking offers superior durability and long-lasting looks. It can also outperform both wood and PVC alternatives over time. With a wood deck, the cost of regular sanding, staining and painting compound considerably over time. Over the life of a composite deck, the reduced maintenance costs of simple soap and water cleanings can add up to a greater return on investment - not to mention the value of all the time spent enjoying your deck rather than maintaining it.

Add Safety and Style with Railings
Railings can be one of the most visible parts of any deck so it should be considered at the same time as the deck boards. A good rule of thumb is to use the "three C's," which are: coordinate, contrast, customize. For example, crisp white posts and black aluminum balusters coordinate beautifully with gray deck boards, delivering an elegant look and feel. For a beachy vibe, opt for a contrasting look with all-white railings. Or go completely custom with sleek, black aluminum railings to create a space that's both modern and inviting.

Incorporate Personal Touches with Accessories
Have fun exploring the many design elements that are available for customizing your deck. Things like built-in seating, planters and storage, as well as add-ons such as a pergola or outdoor furniture, which can add comfort, character and convenience to your outdoor living space. Further personalize your space with a variety of deck and landscape lighting fixtures. Set up path lights to brighten walkways and use spotlights to showcase trees and architectural features.


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How-to Prep Your Home for Earthquakes

September 15, 2017 12:29 am

Earthquakes are rarely predictable. However, if you live in a state like California or Hawaii where quaking and shaking is common, there are several things you can do to your house to prepare for such emergencies. Consider the following tips from Brian Vardiman, owner of Best Service.

Secure the water heater – Unsecured water heaters often fall over, rupturing water and gas lines causing fires and flooding. Secure your water heater with two straps that wrap around the top and bottom of the water tank. Ensure the straps are made of heavy-metal gauge strapping. Many water heaters are currently secured with plumbers' tape; the thin metal in this strap is too brittle to be effective. If the homeowner is not sure if the water heater is secured with the proper straps and technique, call a professional to inspect it before the protection is needed.

Add flexible piping – The rigid pipes used to transfer natural gas, air and water into the home are susceptible to damage during an earthquake. Flexible piping is made from materials that will absorb the vibrations created during an earthquake before they can crack or break.

Install vibration isolators – The majority of the damage an HVAC unit sustains during an earthquake comes as a result of the shifting that occurs with seismic activity. Providing a buffer that can absorb the vibrations before they cause the unit to shift is a great way to prevent damage during an earthquake. An expert can retrofit a home's HVAC system with vibration isolators. These spring-type devices can be installed on the bottom of the unit to absorb movement before it affects the HVAC system's positioning.

Source: Best Service,  

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15 Tips for Staying Safe When Returning Home After Irma

September 15, 2017 12:29 am

If you live in an area impacted by hurricane Irma, you or someone you know may be displaced from their home. Here are a few important Red Cross safety steps to follow when returning home after the flood:

- Keep children and pets away from hazardous sites and floodwater. If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster. The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may upset them even more and cause long-term effects, including nightmares.

- If power lines are down outside your home, do not step in puddles or standing water. Report them immediately to the power company.

- Check the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams or other damage.

- Damage on the outside can indicate a serious problem inside. Ask a building inspector or contractor to check the structure before you enter.

- Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless you have been told that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from your local authorities.

- Take pictures of home damage, both of the buildings and its contents, for insurance purposes. Make temporary repairs such as covering holes, bracing walls, and removing debris. Save all receipts.

- If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.

- Sniff for gas. If you detect natural or propane gas, or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get far away from it. Call the fire department after you reach safety.

- If you have a propane tank system, turn off all valves and contact a propane supplier to check the system out before you use it again.
- Wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots, and be cautious when cleaning up.
- Throw out items that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected. This includes mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys.

- Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to flood waters and mud. When in doubt, throw it out. This includes canned goods, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and containers with food or liquid that has been sealed shut.

- If any gas or electrical appliances were flooded, don't use them until they have been checked for safety.

- Pump out flooded basements gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time, pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.

- Is your ceiling sagging? That means it got wet – which makes it heavy and dangerous. It will have to be replaced, so you can try to knock it down. Be careful: wear eye protection and a hard hat, use a long stick, and stand away from the damaged area. Poke holes in the ceiling starting from the outside of the bulge to let any water drain out slowly. Striking the center of the damaged area may cause the whole ceiling to collapse.

- Is the floor sagging? It could collapse under your weight, so don't walk there! Small sections that are sagging can be bridged by thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards that extend at least 8–12 inches on each side of the sagging area.


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Tips for Prioritizing Your Fall Maintenance Projects

September 13, 2017 12:35 am

No matter what part of the country your home is in, the coming of fall signals an opportunity to do whatever necessary or voluntary projects need to be done ahead of winter weather, the coming holiday season, and the New Year.

At, Elizabeth Kraus wonders if you have been putting off re-staining or sealing your deck? Her advice: take advantage of the remaining warm, dry weather to clean and seal or stain your deck before wet weather arrives to do damage.

The same, Kraus says, goes for your home’s window and door trim, gutters and other areas which may have had surfaces exposed, paint or stain eroded, and see to any loose exterior trim pieces, window or door seals, gutters, shingles, siding or roofing.

Kraus says late summer and early fall present the perfect time to have ducts and chimney flues cleaned and vacuumed, before you shut yourself and your family behind closed doors and windows with all of the dust which may have accumulated during the past year. And don't forget to dust off the blades of those ceiling fans, too!

The Virginia Farm Bureau ( says simply walking around the outside of your house is the best way to detect any areas in need of attention.

Got any obvious openings under your porches, or into your crawlspace, or basement? The bureau suggests sealing any places where wild animals might take winter refuge.

The bureau also says this time of year is an ideal opportunity to address this punch list:

- Trim back tree branches and brush that might damage your house during a storm, and remove dead trees near your house that pose a risk to your house during high wind storms

- Check that all outdoor stairs are in good shape and have sturdy railings

- Check your plumbing, testing pressure valves on hot water heaters and move any flammable materials away from furnace, hot water heater, and other heat sources

- Check water hoses on washer, ice maker, and dishwasher for leaks

- Clean lint from the clothes dryer exhaust duct and surrounding area to prevent fires

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Plumbing Safety Tips in Case of Emergency

September 13, 2017 12:35 am

When an emergency strikes, it's best to be prepared. The experts from Benjamin Franklin Plumbing ® offer the following tips to make sure you know how to ready your plumbing systems for any potential storms.  

- Check all downspouts and roof gutters to ensure they are securely fastened, free of debris and draining properly.
- Make sure yard culverts and street drains are free of debris and can carry water away as fast as possible.
- Consider installing a battery back-up pump that will operate in the event of a power failure.
- Inspect all floor drains throughout the house, including those in the garage, driveway, and basement.
- If you lose water pressure, open a faucet at the highest point in the house (such as an upstairs bathroom) to allow air into the system. Then draw water as needed from the lowest faucet in the home.
- Safe, clean water can be found in the water heater or a pressure tank for use in an emergency.
- If there is enough advanced warning of the emergency, assure the freshest water supply by flushing the tank and allowing it to refill with clean water.
- Turn off electricity or gas to the water heater so there is no risk that the heating unit could come on while the tank is being emptied. Draw water as needed from the drain valve at the bottom of the tank.
- Water stored in your home's plumbing system is safe - for a few days. After a longer time, it must be disinfected before it is used for drinking or cooking.
- Fill sinks and bathtubs with water for emergency use. Water stored this way is perfect for cleaning dishes, bathing or flushing toilets. However, due to the difficulty in getting tubs and sinks clean, this water is not recommended for drinking and cooking unless it is first disinfected.

For homes with basements:
- Inspect basement sump pump, if you have one. Ensure it is discharging water properly and is not clogged with debris. Do this by pouring a few buckets of water into your sump pit. In a matter of seconds, the pump should discharge the water and shut itself off.  Consider installing a battery back-up pump that will operate in the event of a power failure.

Source: Benjamin Franklin

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Tips for First-Time Life Insurance Buyers

September 13, 2017 12:35 am

Those of us who feel young and able don't likely thing much about life insurance. However, if you're married or are a parent, thinking about life insurance can help set up your family should a tragedy occur. With that in mind, Erie Insurance offers the following seven tips for anyone considering purchasing life insurance for the first time.
1. Understand who (or what) you're protecting. Major life changes like getting married, starting a family or buying a house are often when people think about buying life insurance for the first time. While anyone experiencing a significant life event like getting married or starting a family often recognizes the need for life insurance, others may not realize they could benefit from it as well. For instance, stay-at-home parents and student loan cosigners could have a definite need for life insurance. An insurance agent can help you figure out who and what you need to protect.

2. Buy what you can afford. Some people forgo purchasing life insurance for fear they cannot afford it. Start with what you can afford, and add to it over time. The good news is that life insurance is probably more affordable than people may think.

3. Consider your beneficiaries. A life insurance beneficiary is the person or entity you name in your policy to receive funds. Your beneficiary can be a person, business, trust, charity or even your church. And, you can have more than one. Carefully consider who your beneficiaries will be and if any proceeds meant to benefit a minor should be held in trust.

4. Get a will. Having a will can help ensure that life insurance proceeds are properly dispersed.

5. Do business with a financially sound company. You want to know your insurance company will be there when you need it. Erie Family Life Insurance Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and holds an A (Excellent) rating from A.M. Best, a respected provider of financial ratings for insurance organizations.

6. Learn about life insurance. While an insurance agent can help you navigate the world of life insurance, it also helps to have a working knowledge. These articles are a good starting point.

7. Work with a licensed insurance agent. A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price.  

Source: Erie Insurance

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Latest and Greatest Fall Home Trends

September 12, 2017 12:50 am

As the days shorten and autumn arrives, it's time to start considering holiday gift items, or even a couple of household goodies you might just want to keep for yourself.

Take, for example the remotely controllable slow cooker from WeMo, which let's you check on your meal in progress without actually having to be in the kitchen. Quickly and easily adjust your device's temperature and cook time via the WeMo smartphone app, or just turn it on or off completely while you're away. Plus, it's 6 quart oval stoneware cooking chamber is removable and dishwasher-safe.

Forget fall foliage and Indian corn - add some festive color to any of your home's doorways with a natural or faux-berry fall wreath. Many retail and online home stores and garden centers are offering stemmed bittersweet wreaths gleaming with russet red and persimmon instead of autumn's more understated browns and oranges.

Or, add rustic charm to any abode with small-scale set of burnished-bronze Anthropologie Airen antlers ( $21). Their hefty aluminum build is sturdy enough for holding purses and scarves by the door, or can just as easily be displayed in the living or bedroom as cruelty-free, cabin-inspired wall art.
Match them up with a pair of Pier 1 Imports antler-shaped candle stands ($28 each). Substitute in lieu of a traditional cornucopia to open up the visual space, while giving any tabletop or nook a more dramatic feel.

If you're not ready to panel an entire room, or looking to add a few natural woody accents, for one or more sets of decorative Weathered brand wood panels. Their eye-catching geometric design is described as the perfect home décor for the minimalist household.

Or if you want the easy to apply - and remove - effect of wood, offers extremely authentic looking and American made Beachwood Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper. Use it to freshen up a backsplash, as intriguing shelf backing, to accent small areas, or an entire wall.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Hurricane on the Way? Prep Your Home's Electricity

September 12, 2017 12:50 am

If you're preparing for a big storm or hurricane, make sure you pay mind to your home's electricity. Consider the following tips from the electricians at Mister Sparky ® electric.

Preparing for the Hurricane:

- Make sure flashlights, battery powered lanterns and other sources of light are readily available; make sure flashlights and radio batteries are fresh.

- Have an adequate supply of medicine, first aid supplies, and baby items.

- Keep at least two weeks supply of bottled water, non-perishable food items and batteries

- If prescriptions are essential, get them refilled in case of an extended power outage or extensive damage to the area.

- Make sure to have identification and documentation on hand such as social security card, driver's license, birth certificate, and insurance information for your home, car, and life.

- Have an evacuation plan for yourself and your family in case of an extended power outage.

During the Hurricane:

- Make sure to get inside a building and stay away from the windows.

- Don't leave candles unattended and keep them away from the furniture, draperies and other flammable materials.  Make sure to keep children away from open flames.

- Don't open freezers and refrigerators any more than absolutely necessary.

- Turn off your heating and air conditioning systems as well as electric range.

- Unplug sensitive electronic appliances such as TVs, VCRs, microwave ovens and computers – this will protect your appliances against power fluctuations that can occur when power is restored.

- After power is restored, be sure to wait five to ten minutes before turning on appliances and AC systems.

After the Hurricane:

- If power lines and poles are down in your yard or in the street, always treat them as if they are energized and dangerous. Never touch them and stay away.  Make sure to call your local utility company.

- Post-storm debris can hide power lines that have fallen.  Fallen trees that contain energized power lines can electrocute any item it comes in contact with, such as a metal fence, a pond or standing water.  Even the ground can be energized near fallen power lines.

- If your electricity is out make sure to check with neighbors to see if they have power.  If they do have power, you may have only a blown fuse or a tripped breaker.  Never replace a fuse or reset a circuit breaker with wet hands or while standing on a wet (or damp) surface.

- If you're without electricity and want to use a portable generator, make sure to use it in a well-ventilated area—preferably outside

- Avoid using candles if possible. If you must, never leave a burning candle unattended.

- Replenish your supplies of batteries, bottled water, & non-perishable food items for future hurricanes.

Source: Mister Sparky

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Prep Your AC Unit for a Hurricane

September 12, 2017 12:50 am

When a hurricane is on the way, it's important to batten down the hatches--including your AC unit. One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning recommends homeowners follow these quick tips for AC and general home prep:

- Turn off gas and electricity to your home to ensure safety if the water rises.

- Close all exterior crawl space vents and tape them off to prevent moisture from getting in.

- If your home is on a crawl space, have a battery backup with batteries in the upper floor of your home.

- Tie down the exterior air conditioning unit to keep it from washing away.

- If your home floods, make sure to have a Certified HVAC Technician inspect your A/C and furnace before you turn it back on.

- Do not wait until bad weather is here to shut off power to the AC unit.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Reasons to Paint Your Walls Gray

September 8, 2017 1:08 am

When it comes to painting your space, there are a myriad of ways to go. Bright and sunny yellow, the classic eggshell white, a soothing blue or a fresh green. But one color not to overlook when painting is gray. Below are five reasons why.

It matches. Gray is a fluid, flexible color that pairs well with a large variety of accents. This means you can swap up your color scheme over the years and keep the same paint job.

It's elegant. Gray is a classic choice for a wall. Whether it's a light smokey gray, a deep ash, or a lavender tinted hue, gray doesn't seem to age out.

It's calming. Along with green and some shades of blue, gray has been shown to sooth and relax. This makes it a great choice for your bedroom.

It opens space. If you choose a light gray, the color can help create the illusion of a larger area. White is the typical choice for opening up a space, but if you're looking for a bit more personality, gray is the way to go.

You can mix and match. Gray is an extremely flexible color. You can paint three of your walls a soft silvery gray, and then choose an accent wall to paint a deep slate. Or, paint your ceiling or floor a different shade of gray to add an interesting twist.

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How to Prep Your Pup for Winter

September 8, 2017 1:08 am

(Family Features)--The colder months are approaching, and it's not uncommon to lessen focus on diet and exercise, and the same goes for furry friends during the cooler seasons. To keep your pup healthy this winter, it's important to establish proper nutrition habits - which start by feeding your pet the right type of food.

"Whether it's the increase in holiday parties or the decrease in temperature, healthy eating routines typically fall to the wayside during winter - for humans and pets," says Dr. Jeff Weber, veterinarian and IAMS spokesperson.

"In addition, it's common for pet owners to stay indoors and out of the cold weather, which can negatively affect the daily activity and exercise required for dogs."

Despite all the distractions and temptations of the season, it's important to keep your dog on a steady diet that includes high-quality ingredients, each serving a purpose in his or her overall health.

"I recommend looking for a dog food with high-quality ingredients," Dr. Werber said. "I like IAMS(tm) dog food because it offers quality protein and essential vitamins and minerals for your furry friend to stay healthy and active during the winter months."

To provide these benefits, Dr. Werber recommends an option like the IAMS(tm) diet, which can help you see the following visible differences in your dog:

- Healthy skin and coat: A rich source of omega-6 fatty acids from chicken fat promotes excellent skin and coat health.

- Healthy energy: A customized protein and carb mix contributes to healthy energy levels.

- Healthy digestion: Beet pulp helps maintain intestinal health and aids his or her ability to absorb nutrients.
Heading into the colder months it's also important to sustain your active habits. Bundle up, head outside and let a high-quality diet fuel both you and your dog to make the most of the colder months.  

Source: Iams

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The Connection Between Joy and Travel

September 8, 2017 1:08 am

(Family Features)--Many facets of travel, such as the anticipation, the experience and even the return trip, can enhance your mood. It can create an element of the unexpected and give you the opportunity to gain new, memorable experiences.

To explore the connection between happiness and travel, and what makes a destination joyous, Bank of America, CondÈ Nast Traveler and happiness expert Shawn Achor created "The Joy Index." Achor delved into the psychology of experiences that awe people and the physiology of adventure to explain the relationship between joy and travel, and identified the 10 most joyous places in the world. He also shared the following tips on how to make travel attainable and maximize the joy of your vacations:

Predictors of Happiness
The Joy Index combined Achor's studies on travel and happiness with existing research from organizations, including the United Nations and Gallup, to identify six "happiness factors" based on the psychology of joy and travel: environment, wellbeing, culture, connection, adventure and wonder. These six factors, which encompass everything from weather to geography and local food to the friendliness of the culture, can have an impact on the joy experienced when visiting a destination.

"The three greatest predictors of happiness are gratitude, social connection and meaning," Achor says. "If you have an amazing life but are not grateful for it, you do not have access to happiness. These three things scientifically improve happiness, but not just for a moment - they change the lens through which you view the world."

Travel's Effect on Happiness
Travel allows you to discover something completely new and unique, which is why it can bring so much joy. According to Achor, the human brain craves novelty.

"The new experiences we have when we travel help us gain perspective and remind us that the world is bigger than our everyday problems," Achor says. "Another reason why traveling makes us joyful is the connection we experience. Traveling allows us to disconnect from our everyday lives and reconnect with the friends and family we are traveling with, as well as locals we meet along the way."

Maximizing Joy on Vacation
Remembering to be grateful is crucial for staying in the moment and finding joy in your trips.

"Try to think about how lucky we are to travel and experience the world. When things don't go your way, such as an inconvenient rainy day, see it as an opportunity to make your experience even more memorable," Achor says.

Putting yourself out there and engaging with the local culture can also be crucial for maximizing the joy of traveling.

"Learning about different stories of people with different cultures than our own helps us realize and understand some of the cool similarities we share and interesting differences based on our backgrounds," Achor said.

Making Travel Attainable
Achor stressed that happiness can be cultivated wherever you are, but to get the most out of a vacation, planning is crucial. Even though traveling can help increase happiness, many opt out of going on trips because of the cost.  This, too, is where planning can help.

Source: Bank of America

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How-to Protect Women from Talc-Related Ovarian Cancer

September 7, 2017 1:11 am

There are many things you can do to help avoid specific types of cancer. Quitting smoking and staying out of the sun, for instance, are simple precautions. But did you know avoiding talc can also reduce your cancer risk?

Approximately 21,000 women are annually diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, making it the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. While there are many factors that can contribute to ovarian cancer, like genetics,  four decades of prospective and retrospective scientific studies have shown a link between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer. In addition, laboratory-based human cellular studies show that the introduction of talcum powder to ovarian tissue produces inflammatory responses associated with cancer.

Following nearly $720 million in court verdicts, Dr. Roberta Ness, a recognized expert in women's health research and former Dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health, advocates, "It is time for doctors and women to realize that more than 40 years of scientific research doesn't lie: there is a link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. This cause is 100 percent preventable."

Dr. Ness is sharing the following tips to help protect women from contracting ovarian cancer as a result of genital talc use:

Look at Labels: It is important to look at the ingredient labels for all body powder products you use on your body. While some body powder products are beginning to include ovarian cancer warning labels on talc products, not all do. If you see talc listed as an ingredient, find an alternative that uses cornstarch.

Product Use: Despite decades of both broad-based and demographically targeted marketing campaigns by large companies, talc-based products should never be used for feminine hygiene purposes. If this talc use is part of your daily routine, stop using it immediately.

Consult Your Doctor: Annual Pap tests do not check for ovarian cancer. If you have ever used talc for feminine hygiene, it is important to consult with your gynecologist about proper monitoring and testing.

Observe Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and women should take time to learn more about this disease. Being aware of the symptoms such as bloating, pelvic pain, feeling full quickly when eating, can help raise red flags in early stages, and increase chances for survival with proper medical treatment.  

If you or a loved one suffer from or have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dr. Ness recommends connecting with trusted resource and support groups such as the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

"If you have to battle ovarian cancer, it is best to go through that battle with a community of other strong women," says Dr. Ness.  Source: Dr. Roberta Ness

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10 Foods You Should Never Freeze

September 7, 2017 1:11 am

With grocery prices rising, and economies essential, it’s a natural to freeze extra foods and leftovers to keep them fresh and ready for use – and most foods, nutritionists and chefs agree, are none the worse for the big chill.

But some foodstuffs lose not just flavor, but also quality and eye appeal for having served time in the freezer. Here’s a list of 10 foodstuffs not fit for freezing:

Milk – Milk other than non-fat, when thawed from frozen, will almost always be lumpy, okay perhaps for cooking purposes, but not for drinking.

Cheese - Soft cheeses, like ricotta, cream cheese, and goat cheese, will separate if frozen and thawed, changing their texture for the worse. Hard cheeses, like parmesan or cheddar, do better – but they will keep in the fridge for long periods, wrapped in wax paper rather than plastic, so why bother to freeze them?

Other dairy products - Yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or fresh cream will separate and curdle when thawed from frozen. On the other hand, you can successfully freeze extra butter.

Fresh potatoes – It’s tempting, when you know they will rot or grow eyes if you don’t use them in a timely manner. But freezing, or even refrigerating, fresh potatoes will give you gritty, grainy results.

Leftover gravy – Gravy thickened with flour or cornstarch will separate when thawed from frozen.

Fresh herbs – If you can’t polish off that bunch of basil, parsley or oregano, turn it into pesto or a compound butter to spread on French bread and pop under the broiler. Herbs frozen turn into mushy, brown messes when thawed.

Fried foods – That crispy fried chicken, zucchini or whatever is doomed to collect a lot of moisture in the freezer, thawing as something you may not want to eat.

Cooked pasta – Taken from the freezer, freshly cooked pasta will be a mushy, sticky mess, thoroughly bloated with water.

Whole eggs – The gooey insides may expand when frozen, cracking and potentially leaking. Egg-based foods, like mayo, also should also not be frozen.

Ground coffee – Opened bags of coffee stored in the freezer suffer condensation that can totally ruin the flavor, especially if you thaw it every morning, use a little, and return it to the freezer. You can, of course, safely stow it in the fridge.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Think Twice Before Storing Your Credit Card Information

September 5, 2017 1:02 am

The convenience of saving your credit card information on your favorite sites is so appealing - no more scrambling for your card, no more hassle of having to enter all that information - especially when it comes to purchases made on your mobile device.

According to the Better Business Bureau, however, consumers must take into account the risks involved in storing their credit card info in order to protect themselves and their financial information.

This is an important consideration due to the increasing amount and variety of data theft over the past several years. The theft of personal information from medical insurance companies, restaurants and retailers has understandably made consumers wary about how their information is handled.

The BBB offers the following suggestions for protecting your stored credit card information:

You can say no. In most cases, merchants will ask if you'd like them to keep your number on file. You have the right to say no. If a merchant isn't clear about their policy, then ask about it.

Remove your credit card information. Some online merchants automatically store your credit card info without asking, so after you’ve made a purchase, log into your account and find the option to remove your payment information from a company’s files.  

Stay safe when you’re out and about. Avoid making any transactions over a public Wi-Fi that does not require a password. Hackers can set up a fake network with a name similar to that of the store, coffee shop, retailer or library where free Wi-Fi is offered. If you connect to it, they can get into your files and steal your information. Ask for the name of the location's Wi-Fi network before connecting.

Use credit, not debit. Whether you use a debit or credit card, you are protected from any liability due to fraud. However, with a debit card, cybercriminals can empty your bank account after a data breach.

Keep a close watch on credit and bank statements. Be vigilant about scanning your statements for unusual or unauthorized charges. If anything looks suspicious, call your financial institution right away. In addition, check sites you usually visit to remove your debit or credit card information if you'd prefer to avoid the risks of a data breach.

Hope you found this helpful. If you’re interested in information about the real estate market, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Property Damage Repair Tips

September 5, 2017 1:02 am

Thousands of homeowners are feeling the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, while insurance companies and local contractors are overwhelmed with claims. The question remains: how can homeowners get things moving and not be taken advantage of? Paul Davis, one of the top restoration companies in the U.S. shares these tips:

- Call your insurance company ASAP and get a referral for a professional and certified restoration company who will assess property damage and work with you through the process; a company such as Paul Davis who will write a fair estimate that your insurance adjuster will accept, and perform the work efficiently and correctly.

- Turn in the claim as soon as you know you have damage – insurance companies will be assigning losses to their local adjusters, who will quickly reach capacity.

- Restoration companies understand how to write an initial, detailed estimate that your insurance adjuster will accept; they will help you process the payments and they can work with your insurance company if additional damage is discovered during the course of the project.

After contracting with a restoration company:

- Be prepared to provide the name of your insurance company, insurance agent, adjuster, deductible and a claim number.

- Sign the work authorization to begin the emergency work right away. This includes any drying, tarping, board-up, and protection of the contents of the home.

- One way to expedite approval of the repair estimate is to arrange for the insurance adjuster and restoration contractor to assess the damage together.

To help expedite repairs:

- Select items such as new carpet, tile, cabinets, paint colors, and light fixtures as soon as possible. Many of these items have lead times, especially in the aftermath of a major storm, when materials can run short.

- If the payments from the insurance company include your mortgage company, work with your contractor to ensure they process the payments and perform any inspections required, so that the contractor can receive progress payments as the work progresses.

Source: Paul Davis

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Will Your Trees Survive a Storm?

September 4, 2017 12:50 am

Whether it’s a hurricane, Nor’easter, or severe thunderstorm, extreme weather and high winds present a risk to your trees and home. Large trees that are in leaf are particularly susceptible as the leaves will catch more wind, posing greater mechanical stresses.

You can help protect your property in advance by determining which trees might pose the greatest threat during a storm. The Tree Care Industry Association advises looking for the following warning signs:

- Wires in contact with tree branches. Trees may become energized when they are contacted by electric wires.
​- Dead or partially attached limbs hung up in the higher branches that could fall and cause damage or injury.
​- Cracked stems and branch unions that could cause catastrophic failure of a tree section.
​- Hollow or decayed areas on the trunk or main limbs, or mushrooms growing from the bark that may indicate a decayed and weakened stem.
​- Peeling bark or gaping wounds in the trunk could also indicate structural weakness.
​- Fallen or uprooted trees putting pressure on other trees beneath them.
​- Tight, V-shaped branch unions, which are much more prone to failure than open, U-shaped unions.
​- Heaving soil at the tree base is a potential indicator of an unsound root system.

If your trees demonstrate any of these signs, trim branches accordingly, or contact an expert to see if the tree needs to be removed altogether. The time and investment of such advance work will help keep you safe and prevent much larger costs associated with damage.

If you’d like more homeownership information, please contact me.

Source: The Tree Care Association

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10 Easy Ways to Live Green

August 31, 2017 12:42 am

Living a more eco-friendly lifestyle is top of mind for more people every day. Happily, it doesn’t take a superhuman effort to do so, and it may even save you a few bucks.

Ecologists suggest simple tips for creating a lifestyle that should help make you – and the planet we live on – proud:

Be coffee savvy – If you brew your own, use a USDA Certified Organic brand, meaning it was grown using sustainable standards. If you stop for coffee every morning, take a reusable cup with you.

Save on printer/copier paper – Whenever possible, print double-sided pages, or re-use sheets of paper for notes, using the blank side before disposing of it.

Start kids young – Train them early to turn off the water while they brush their teeth. Encourage older kids to recycle aluminum cans and plastic bottles, redeeming them for cash they may keep.

Slow down and get pumped – Driving 10 mph above 60 is like adding nearly 50 cents to the price of a gallon of gas, since higher speed equals more guzzling – and check your tire pressure monthly. Adding air as needed can improve mileage by about three percent.

Install dimmer switches – Using them judiciously in the living room, dining room and bedrooms can save you up to $35 annually in electricity costs.

Coddle your water heater – Wrapping an insulation blanket around it can lower its running cost by about nine percent a year.

Buy a water filter – Use a faucet-mounted water filter and refillable bottles. By giving up bottled water, a family of four can not only conserve resources, but also save about $1,250 a year.

Recycle jars and plastics – Empty baby food jars are great for storing screws, nails, and craft supplies, larger jars for storing leftover soups and more – and reuse plastic sour cream, cottage cheese and whipped topping containers to send home ‘care packages’ for your guests and/or for all sorts of leftovers.

Get off junk mail lists – Unwanted catalogs are destroying trees for no good reason. Make the calls and get yourself off their mailing lists.

Grab microfiber – Buy a stack of inexpensive microfiber kitchen towels. One microfiber cloth can take the place of 60 rolls of paper towels before it needs replacing.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Pack Healthier Food for Your Child

August 31, 2017 12:42 am

While you can urge your child to eat healthier at home, once you send them off to school it can be difficult. But what your child eats during the day will fuel their brains for prime learning, so packing their lunch--rather than relying on the school's choices--is something you should consider.

In the following tips, Sodexo lays out ways to add balance and nutrition to school meals and snacks without sacrificing taste and enjoyment.

Think of the food groups when packing or purchasing a healthy, balanced school meal. Whether preparing meals at home or choosing meals at school, remember all foods groups play a role in creating and sustaining optimal health. These include wholesome grains, lean proteins, colorful fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. Look to add variety to your food choices. Instead of relying only on sliced bread, try whole-grain crackers, tortilla wraps or pita bread. Dairy foods are an important source of calcium and vitamin D, and you can help your children meet their three daily servings of dairy with any combination of milk, cheese, and yogurt (single serving, drinkable or squeezable). Pack or choose cut-up fruits and sliced vegetables and enjoy with low-fat dips or portable single-serving sizes of peanut butter or hummus. For more information about food groups and balanced meal planning, check out the ChooseMyPlate educational resources.

Be sure to include a protein source. Protein is an important part of every meal because it provides a source of sustained energy.  As protein foods typically take longer to digest than carbohydrate-rich foods like grains and fruits, adding protein to meals and snacks can help students feel full longer and help them stay focused in the classroom.  And don't forget about breakfast. Consider quick and portable protein sources like peanut butter on whole-grain bread with jam (or soy nut butter or other nut butters), string cheese, hard boiled eggs or a smoothie made with milk or yogurt. Other lunch time protein choices include tuna and lean lunch meats like turkey or chicken; shredded cheese for a salad topping; cottage cheese paired with fruit; and plant-based protein sources like edamame, beans or tofu.

Find creative ways to sneak in fruits and veggies. Add veggies like cherry tomatoes, spinach, broccoli florets, or bell pepper or zucchini slices to pasta salads, or add banana slices to a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread.  Use avocado as a sandwich spread and add lettuce and tomato, or try topping with shredded carrots.

Read labels when choosing treats. The USDA Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act requires schools to offer students snacks and beverages that are lower in calories, sodium and added sugars. Families can implement these same snack and beverage guidelines at home.  Think about the drink. For kids of all ages, water and milk are the best beverage choices. Besides having zero calories, water is a good way to stay hydrated throughout the school day. Milk is an important source of calcium needed to help build strong bones, and is also gaining popularity as an alternative to traditional sports beverages. Look for fat-free or low-fat milk to help manage calorie intake. If your child has a dairy allergy, consider soy milk as a dairy alternative, and be sure to read labels to compare amounts of added sugars.

Source: Sodexo

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5 Tips to Make Sense of Cyber Security

August 31, 2017 12:42 am

(Family Features)--It's no secret that kids have a sense of invincibility. While that trait can bring some endearing reminders of the innocence of childhood, it can also have some highly unfortunate consequences. In the context of cyber security, an action by an unknowing child can impact the entire family.

The majority of U.S. households are filled with devices that pose a potential threat to your personal security. In fact, according to the 2016 Global Consumer Security Survey by Trend Micro, nearly half of households have two or more computers and nearly a third have three or more smartphones. That means the opportunities are plentiful for missteps to occur.

Despite the many benefits of a highly connected world, the potential for danger is strong. The same study found that 65 percent of respondents' computers had been infected with a virus or malware. Other concerns included damage or loss of files, children viewing inappropriate content, cyberbullying and ID or password theft.

While there are plenty of parental controls and blocks available, they aren't foolproof. Educating children about the potential risks and how to avoid them can go a long way toward protecting your family from potential cyber problems.

Open up a conversation with your children about cyber security with these tips from the experts at Trend Micro:

Understand what you're saying yes to. Be involved, knowledgeable and interested in the devices, apps and sites your children use for school and for fun. For sites they use for school, ask their teachers for more information. For apps they're using at home, spend 15 minutes trying it out yourself.

Use privacy settings and features. Make sure you understand what privacy protections your browser or devices offer for your family when your kids are accessing their favorite sites, apps and online services. Many browsers allow you to prevent sites from tracking what you do and where you go online, so spend some time looking at web browser settings to see what privacy options are available to you. Mobile devices also have settings that can restrict apps from knowing your physical location or accessing your camera, microphone, photos or contacts.

Use features and services available within an app or website. Also take a look at the privacy settings available in the specific apps, websites or games your family uses. Most will let you have a private account, which means the whole world won't be able to see what you post or who you're connected to. It also means that people have to ask your permission before they can follow you.

Remember that being online is a public life. Nothing is truly private online. If you and your family keep this in mind, it can help you all think through what you are about to post, like and click on, as well as who you connect with online.

Talk to other families. Other kids or families may have a different definition of what is or isn't "private." Encourage your kids to talk to their friends about how they will respect each other's privacy online. Good friends will understand, think and ask before posting a photo or information about their friends. Talk to other parents about your feelings on privacy, too, and ask for their opinions with the goal of protecting and respecting each other's privacy online.

Source: Trend Micro

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How-to Add More Water to Your Diet

August 30, 2017 12:39 am

While most of us have heard we should be drinking eight glasses of water daily, many of us struggle to hit this mark.  Below are a few tips to help you up your water intake.

Add flavor. A squeeze of citrus, fresh mint or a handful of blueberries can make drinking water a bit more fun. Make sure to keep these twists simple and fresh, and avoid sweeteners (artificial or otherwise), which can have negative health repercussions.

Swap in tea. Unsweetened herbal tea can aid your water consumption, especially if you're steeping the bags yourself, which helps assure there are no sneaky additives. Add a hot cup of herbal first thing in the morning and before bed to squeeze in a few more fluid ounces.

Choose fruit. While this should not replace the water you drink, focusing on a few juicy fruits a day can help keep you hydrated. Try watermelon or oranges for a fresh liquid burst.

Keep it cold. If you enjoy cold beverages, then keeping chilled water around can help you drink it down faster.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Keep Your Pets Safe in a Storm

August 30, 2017 12:39 am

You may have a safety plan in place for your family, but have you thought about your pets? The American Humane Rescue team recently released the following tips to help care for your pet before, during, and after a storm.

Before the storm

- Microchip pets or put a tag on their collar with your name, address and cellphone number so they may be returned quickly in case you are separated from your pets. Be sure that any microchip information is up-to-date.

- Tie down or anchor outside objects that might fly about and injure someone.

- Know a safe place where your pets can go if you need to evacuate or seek shelter. Evacuation destinations may include a friend or family member's home, going to a pet-friendly hotel, or temporarily housing your pet(s) at a boarding facility. Plan multiple routes to your safe destination. Review your evacuation plan and double-check emergency supplies - including bowls, water and food.

- Evacuate your family and pets as early as you can and remember to take your disaster preparedness kit for your pets (i.e. First Aid kit, leashes, and pets' carrying cases, bowls, sanitation materials, chew toy, minimum 3 days, ideally 7-10 days of food, meds, water, your veterinarian's contact information, a photo of your pet).

- Bring pets inside; bring outdoor animals inside with a carrier ready large enough to turn around and lie down comfortably.

- Have a carrier at the ready. The portable carriers(s) should be large enough for your pets to stand-up and turn around in ready to go at a moment's notice. Practice loading cats and dogs in pet carriers before you have to.

- If your family must evacuate, take your pets with you.

During the storm….if you cannot evacuate

- Choose a safe room for riding out the storm—an interior room without windows – and take your entire family there, including your pets.

- Stay with pets. If crated, they depend on you for food and water. Don't leave pets in vehicles.

- Keep your emergency kit in that room with you (food, water, litter, meds, etc).

- Know your pet's hiding places. That's where they may run; keep them with you.

- Secure exits and cat doors so pets can't escape into the storm.

- Do not tranquilize your pets. They'll need their survival instincts should the storm require that.

After the storm

- Make sure the storm has fully passed before going outside and assess damages before allowing children or animals out.

- Keep dogs on a leash and cats in a carrier, and children close at hand. Displaced objects and fallen trees can disorient pets and sharp debris could harm them.

- Give pets time to become re-oriented. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and cause a pet to become confused or lost.

- Keep animals away from downed power lines and water that may be contaminated.

- Uncertainty and change in the environment affect animals, too, presenting new stresses and dangers. Your pet's behavior may change after a crisis, becoming more aggressive or self-protective. Be sensitive to these changes and keep more room between them, other animals, children or strangers. Animals need comforting, too. Comfort your pet with kind words and lots of pats or hugs. If possible, provide a safe and quiet environment, even if it is not their own home.

Source: American Humane and the American Humane Rescue program

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3 Steps Toward Better Sleep

August 30, 2017 12:39 am

(Family Features)--With over-scheduled days full of early-morning conference calls and endless to-do lists, it's impossible to avoid the stress that comes with working hard. Hand-in-hand with all that pressure, a lack of quality sleep can lead to aches and pains, stiffness, sore muscles, tingling or numbness in your extremities, general fatigue, as well as an increased risk of getting sick.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night. In fact, a survey by Mattress Firm showed a correlation between stress and those who receive less sleep than recommended.

Twice as many stressed people get fewer than five hours of sleep each night compared to those who are not stressed. What's more, those who are stressed are five times more likely to experience insomnia at least once a month.

The proper amount and quality of sleep can have a dramatic impact on your life. If you're stressed and experiencing trouble sleeping, these tips from the sleep experts at Mattress Firm can help ensure you're getting the rest you need to improve your sleep health.

Minimize technology use before you head to bed. The survey found that quality of sleep is negatively impacted because of stress-induced technology use. For example, those who are stressed are 60 percent more likely to watch TV an hour before bed, more than twice as likely to post to social media an hour before bed, twice as likely to check email an hour before bed and more than 40 percent more likely to sleep with their phones next to their beds.

Ensure your body is getting adequate support. What felt comfortable to sleep on eight years ago may not provide the support your body needs today. Your weight, pressure points, ailments, etc. can change over the course of time, so it's important to check the mattress tag. If it's more than 8 years old, it is time to replace it. Another way to make sure your body has the proper support and alignment is to figure out your sleep position and select the right pillows to support your body. This can help alleviate tossing and turning, and provide a more comfortable night of sleep.

Avoid nighttime snacking. About 24 percent of extremely stressed people indulge in a snack an hour before bed, according to the survey. There are many food and drink options that encourage a good night's sleep more than others, such as tryptophan-rich foods like dairy, nuts and seeds, bananas, honey and eggs. Conversely, foods and medications with caffeine and foods with high-fat content should be avoided. The foods you choose are important, but also pay attention to the timing of when you eat and drink. Even fighting stress with an afternoon espresso can affect your ability to sleep hours later when your head hits the pillow.

Source: Mattress Firm

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Try These Easy Indoor Flowering Plants

August 29, 2017 1:03 am

Are you looking to add a bloom to your home? Indoor plants do more than simply add color to your space; they can also improve the mood of those who live with them. If you're looking for a blooming plant, consider one of the following four:

Bromeliads. These funky, spiky plants are in the pineapple family! Bright and tropical, they like lots of light and don't require too much water, which makes them a great choice for a beginning gardener.

African Violet. These are some of the most popular blooming house plants, as they flower for a long duration and are relatively easy to care for.

Begonias. A well-cared for begonia will bloom almost continuously. Place them in a bright location away from windows.

Peace lily. These lovely, graceful flowers are adaptable and low-maintenance. They don't demand too much light and can survive stints of both over- and under-watering.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How-to File a Home Insurance Claim

August 29, 2017 1:03 am

Hopefully, you never have to use your homeowner's insurance. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't know how. To help, the I.I.I. offers the following tips on how to file an insurance claim:

Contact your insurer as soon as possible to begin the process. Provide your insurer with your policy number and the best phone number and email address at which to reach you. After a major storm, insurers visit those with the most severe damage first. Be prepared to provide an accurate description of the extent of the property damage. Explain any special needs of your family, particularly if personal circumstances require that you get priority. Ask your insurer when you can expect to be contacted by an insurance adjuster so you are ready for the visit. Since adjusters may be in areas in which cell phone towers are damaged, it is also a good idea to get the phone number of your adjuster's supervisor so you have an additional contact. If you have a flood insurance claim, contact the agent or broker who sold you the policy to start the claims filing process.

Document your loss. The insurance adjuster most likely will inspect the damage to your home, auto and possessions in order to write a check to help you replace, repair and rebuild. It is a good idea to take photographs and document the details of damaged items, including the date of purchase and approximate value—and collect receipts, if you have them. Many companies will ask you to submit an inventory of the items.

Check with your insurer before discarding damaged items and materials. You will generally need to show storm damaged items to your adjuster. If, however, you are required by your local municipality to discard them for safety reasons, take photographs to help with the claims process.

Sign up for SMS/text alerts. Many insurance companies use SMS/text message alerts that will notify you of the status of your claim. You will receive text messages on your phone when you first report your claim, when your estimate is available and when a payment has been sent.

Know what emergency services are available. In the event you need emergency services, such as removing water from your home, covering your roof, or boarding up windows or doors, many companies will dispatch an approved emergency services company to protect your home from further damage. If your home has sustained severe damage, making it unlivable, your homeowners insurer will provide you with a check for additional living expenses.

Keep a claim diary. Good recordkeeping is important when filing a claim. Make a list of everyone you speak to about your claim. Note their name, title and contact information. Also, keep track of the date, time and issues discussed. The better organized you are, the simpler and easier the claims process will be.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Where to Find the Best Fall Foliage

August 28, 2017 12:57 am

Hoping to take in the views this fall? You're not alone. Every year in September and October, thousands of Americans make a seasonal trek to witness the changing of the leaves. Below, offers tip and our picks for top leafing peeping spots at points throughout the season.

If you're traveling in early September

Aspen, Colo. Leaf peepers have to act fast in Aspen, Colo., as the start and end of the changing of leaves from green to yellow, orange and red typically lasts just a week. It's difficult to predict when the leaves will change, but, once they arrive, it's easy to get Instagram-worthy pics. Stroll through downtown Aspen, kayak the Roaring Fork and Colorado River, hike Snowmass and ride the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain — there are leaf peeping options for everyone.

If you're traveling in late September

Kootenay Rockies, British Columbia, Canada - Located in southeastern British Columbia, the Kootenay Rockies afford leaf peepers picture-perfect fall foliage. A short drive from Canadian Rockies International Airport, the region known for its glacier-capped mountains, rivers and alpine lakes, is an increasingly popular spot for seeing autumn leaves change. Head to this scenic spot, nestled along the Rocky Mountains, to admire fall's hues via a multi-day hike along the Rockwall Trail, a soak in natural hot springs or a drive along the Hot Springs Circle Route, a route along the Columbia River and past hoodoos (tall, thin rock formations caused by natural erosion).

Upper Peninsula, Mich. - With 7 million acres of tree coverage, the hardwood forests of Michigan's Upper Peninsula turn fiery red, gold and orange between mid-September and mid-October. Keweenaw Peninsula, technically an island separated from the rest of the Upper Peninsula by the Portage Canal, is one of the most picturesque places to leaf peep because of its abundance of sugar maples, birch and oak trees all aglow. Drive along the 9.5-mile Brockway Mountain Drive, which affords bird's eye views of Lake Superior, flanked each autumn by colorful fall foliage. Houghton County Memorial Airport is just 7 miles from Keweenaw National Park, making it an easy journey for hopeful leaf peepers.

If you're traveling in early October

Stowe, Vt. -There are plenty of places to leaf peep in Vermont as forests cover 3 quarters of the state, and Vermont boasts the highest percentage of maple trees in the U.S. The color change starts in northern Vermont near the Canadian border and at higher elevations in early September and progresses south and into the valleys from late September to the end of October. The fullest color can be found from late-September in the north to mid-October in the south. The first 2 weekends of October are the state's busiest of the year, according to Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, so early trip planning is advised as accommodations fill up quickly. One of the best places for leaf peeping is Stowe, Vt. Known for its ski resorts, Stowe is approximately 50 miles and just under 90 minutes by car from Burlington International Airport. Driving along Smugglers Notch mountain pass affords picture-perfect panoramas. Plus, the area includes points of interest like the Alpine Slide at Stowe Mountain Resort and Bingham Falls.

If you're traveling in late October

Oakland, Md. - The tiny town of Oakland, Md., in west-central Maryland is arguably one of the best destinations for leaf peeping in the mid-Atlantic and beyond. It's worth the 160-mile drive from Washington Dulles International Airport or 175-mile drive from Ronald Reagan Washington Airport along the state's scenic byways. Here, the changing fall foliage is celebrated during the Autumn Glory Festival, which celebrates its 50th year Oct. 11-15, 2017. The free, 5-day fall festival includes parades, concerts, art exhibits, and arts and crafts.


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3 Tips to Make Healthier Choices, Permanently

August 28, 2017 12:57 am

The key to being healthier is creating healthier habits. No, not eating the occasional salad or dusting off your gym membership once a month, but creating real routines you can stick to.

Below are three simple suggestions from Herbalife Nutrition that will help make nutrition and exercise a permanent part of your lifestyle:

Stay Active - Our lives are busy, but take 20-30 minutes to move around, take a walk around the block, it will make a difference.  If you don't have 30 minutes, break it up into 3 – 10 minute sessions.

Stretch to Avoid Injuries - Tight muscles can lead to serious injury and muscle tears.  Prepare your body with fluid flowing stretches such as arm circles, leg swings and gentle bending. Then dedicate at least 10 minutes after your workout to loosen tight muscles with static stretches that you hold for approximately 30 seconds.

Proper Balanced Nutrition and Hydration - It's difficult to make the right food choices when you're constantly faced with temptation, or when you don't have a plan. Undoing a lifetime of poor nutritional choices takes time so it's important to stay strong and not get discouraged.Balanced nutrition and hydration are key to sustained energy and performance, and staying fit. Three things you can do include:

- Plan your meals ahead of time. We need to fuel our bodies and skipping meals can do more harm than good. If you find you're often skipping meals, find a meal replacement shake that's convenient and nutritious.  

- Hydration is one of the most overlooked aspects of exercise and diet and can often be the most harmful if not addressed.   60-70 percent of our body weight is water and it helps keep your joints lubricated and increases muscle endurance.

- Keep a food journal so that you don't go off track. Writing down what you eat can help keep you accountable for your choices, and allow you to notice eating patterns you may be unaware of.

Source: Herbalife Nutrition

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3 Ways Pups Can Improve Seniors' Health

August 28, 2017 12:57 am

(Family Features)--Furry friends can play a significant role in pet owners' lives. The old saying goes, "dogs are man's best friend," and research shows they may be more than that. In fact, they just might be the key to keeping seniors active.

According to a study conducted by the University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University in collaboration with Mars Petcare Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, dog owners 65 and older were found to walk over 20 minutes more a day than seniors who did not have canine companions at home.

The study documented three key conclusions:

1. Dog owners walked further and for longer than non-dog owners.
2. Dog owners were more likely to reach recommended activity levels.
3. Dog owners had fewer periods of sitting down.

"Older adult dog owners are more active than those without dogs and are also more likely to meet government recommendations for daily physical activity," says Nancy Gee, human animal interaction researcher at Waltham. "We are learning more every day about the important roles pets play in our lives, so it's no surprise that pets are now in more than 84 million households. It's great to recognize how pets can help improve seniors' lives."

Walking with your pup can help both the pet and owner get in shape. Pets can keep older adults active and even help them meet the recommended public health guidelines for weekly physical activity. According to the study, on average, dog owners more often participated in 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity and achieved 2,760 additional steps.  

However, the benefits of pet ownership go beyond physical activity. It's no secret that pets provide companionship. From reducing rates of stress, depression and feelings of social isolation, pets can play a significant role in improving people's lives, which ultimately can make pet owners happier and healthier.

Not only do pets serve as companions in their own right, studies have shown that dog owners can get to know their neighbors through their pets. Pets can even help facilitate the initial meeting and conversation, which may come as no surprise for many dog owners who have chatted with others while walking their dogs. For older adults who live alone or in a group facility, having a pet is also a great way to build relationships with others.

As senior citizens are celebrated on upcoming days that acknowledge older adults, it turns out living with a pet can be a healthy choice for seniors in more ways than one.

Source: Mars Petcare

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Necessities and Niceties for Your Newborn

August 25, 2017 1:09 am

Parents-to-be – and new grandparents – are sometimes overwhelmed at the amount of ‘stuff’  a new baby requires. But while some equipment is essential to baby’s well-being, not all baby gear is created equal.

Before you shop, check the necessities and niceties suggested by Parents Magazine:

The Must-Haves:
- Crib and mattress – There are many reasonably priced cribs on the market, and a ‘gently used’ crib that meets safety standards can save big bucks. But do buy a new mattress.
- Bedding – Choose sheets that fit snugly around the mattress. Steer clear of potential safety hazards like pillows, quilts, and even bumper pads.
- Changing pad – A sturdy one with a safety strap is a must. But put it atop a low-profile chest of drawers the child can use for years instead of investing in a changing table that will soon be consigned to the attic.
- Basic diaper pail – Fancy diaper disposal pails and refills are costly and store up odors. Consider a simple, easily emptied diaper pail lined with plastic grocery bags.
- A comfy chair – At feeding time, or when baby is fussy, a comfy chair or rocker can be a blessing. Before you buy new, check the ads for a good, used recliner or glider.
- Car seat – This is the single most important item you can purchase. Nothing will do more to protect an infant, and hospitals generally won't allow you to take the baby home without one. Put your money on a new one rather than used.
- Infant carrier -- Front carriers and slings free up your hands and are very packable – and consider a standard infant carrier, usually a molded bucket seat lined with soft cushioning. Some parents find babies love to sleep in their infant carriers, even at home.
- Baby seat – The infant carrier is a safe spot for baby to sit. But after the first six weeks, most parents want a more entertaining contraption. Options range from simple bouncing seats to battery-operated swings to baby gyms/activity centers. Good used choices are easy to find.
- Stroller - Invest in a combo stroller system that can be used through several stages of growth.
- Bath tub – Most are inexpensive – or consider a spongy tub or sink liner.

The Niceties
If you can stretch your budget, consider:
- Baby monitor
- Crib mobile
- Hooded towels
- Backpack-style carrier

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What Does Your Sleep Style Say About Your Intelligence?

August 25, 2017 1:09 am

We all have our own sleep preferences, from bedtime to atmosphere and sleep position. However, new research suggests the position you sleep in can actually tell you a lot about yourself – your health, your age, perhaps even your education level.

Commissioned by the Better Sleep Council (BSC), the new study found those who reported higher levels of education, such as graduate school or more, were less likely to sleep in fetal position, which is the most common sleeping position among Americans (47 percent). The study also noted differences between age groups in reported sleep position preferences as well: Gen Xers and Millennials were more likely to sleep in Freefall position (arms and legs outstretched) than Baby Boomers.

It's no real surprise that the study also found sleep positions affect sleep quality. For example, people who sleep in the log position report getting a better night sleep than those in the fetal. Also, people who sleep in the starfish or log positions are more likely to sleepwalk.

Other insights from the study include:

- Women are more likely to sleep in the fetal position compared to men (54 percent vs. 39 percent).

- The soldier (11 percent), starfish (7 percent) and log (6 percent) sleep positions are the least popular, yet those who sleep in these positions are more likely to say it has medical benefits.

- Log sleepers are more likely than fetal, freefall or yearner sleepers to say their mattress is very comfortable. It could be they feel this way because they're more likely than other sleepers to lay down and test their mattress before purchasing.

BSC sleep expert Terry Cralle, RN, a certified sleep educator and author, offers these better sleep position tips:

Back sleepers (soldier or starfish) – Sleeping on your back may induce lower back pain and sleep apnea, which interferes with normal sleep. If you experience back pain, consider placing a pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees to align the natural curve of your spine.

Stomach sleepers (freefall) – Sleeping this way can cause strain on your lower back and can cause potential neck pain. Try using a soft pillow or none at all when sleeping, so your neck won't be at an awkward angle.

Side sleepers (log, yearner, fetal) – Side sleeping is one of the most common ways to sleep; sleep specialists recommend you sleep on your side in order to rest more comfortably and lessen the likelihood of interrupted sleep.

For more information on sleep positions, including visuals on each one, visit

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Last Minute Things to Do Before Back-to-School

August 25, 2017 1:09 am

For parents, back-to-school is looming on the horizon. But that doesn't mean you can't squeeze a bit more out of the season! Below are a handful things you can still do with your family before they head to school, offered by

Plan a last-minute family vacation: They are so important not only for reducing stress, but for bonding and making memories, and a trip doesn't have to be expensive. Use a travel app or website like They have more than one million unique places to stay for any budget, from five star hotels, to villas, to boats and even tree houses! No matter what you buy or reserve online always check out reviews, they can be so important.  

Bargain hunt: Back to school spending is expected to top $27 billion dollars! Every year more and more moms are shopping online because it's easier to price compare without the kids in tow. On trend clothing this year is denim on denim, embroidery and hoodies, but shoes are a must-have and finding a great way to get the latest most popular shoes at a better price is key. Rack Room Shoes has an ongoing promotion that offers a buy one pair get one 50-percent off! You can find everything from Adidas, to Nikes, to Pumas, and there's a great selection of trendy backpacks, and fun lunch bags.

Stay organized: Dealing with after school chaos can always be huge task. And then I found a great new app to help streamline everything. BAND is the leading group communication app, and it's great at streamlining school and after-school activity planning. We all know what it's like to get those weekly emails from a team or group, lost among hundreds of other emails, it's particularly frustrating when you're a coach or group organizer. The app keeps schedules, messaging with the teams and parents, and any last minute updates all in one place. You can even share photos privately with the group.

Summer to school transition: Bedtime and mealtime can be more flexible during the summer. Try to start getting into the school year routine before the first bell. It's easier to get kids to go to bed earlier, if you wake them up earlier. And while studies show social media is not directly connected to poor school performance, the closer a device is, the more distracting it is…even if it's turned off. So park the phone at bedtime, and in the locker during school hours.


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Healthy Habits to Start the School Year Right

August 24, 2017 12:39 am

Whether it’s the first day of kindergarten, or the beginning of senior year in high school, trading summer’s laid-back habits for a more regimented routine is never easy. But things tend to go more smoothly for families who re-focus on safety, good nutrition, and good habits.

Family physicians and child-rearing authorities suggest where to put the emphasis:

Healthy eating – It’s easier to pour a bowl of cereal than to whip up an omelet in the morning. But while some cereals provide some nutrition, a protein-based scramble beats the you-know-what out of sugared oats – and eating healthy food keeps kids full longer, making them better able to focus and learn. Pack lunches and snacks – as well as the dinner table – with proteins, fruits, veggies and healthy carbs.

Regular bedtimes – Between dinner, homework, lessons, sports, and playtime, it can be challenging to keep a set bedtime. But studies show kids who keep regular bedtime routines are calmer and less likely to act out. To ease your child into a scheduled bedtime, try lowering the lights and reading a story 30 minutes before sleep time.

Exercise – Kids who walk or ride bikes to school and/or get a workout on the playground get a good start on healthy exercise. But whether they’re doing homework or playing video games, too many kids become couch potatoes after school. Give them lots of opportunity to play outdoors  and exercise their bodies as well as their minds.

Safety – Much as we’d like to go back to Mayberry, today’s world is not a safe one. Teaching young kids about stranger danger, and how to handle emergencies is more than ever vital. Even the youngest children should be taught to walk in groups, watch for traffic, wear helmets, and stay alert. Play-acting hypothetical situations such as bullying, reacting to approaching strangers, and handling common playground disagreements are a good way to prepare your kids without scaring them.

Family time – Family mealtimes and family game nights are great opportunities for parents and children to reconnect. Mealtimes, especially, give children the chance to express their feelings and talk about what they are doing in school and with their peers. Recent studies show that family time leads to higher self-esteem and grades and lowers the rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression.

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How to Appreciate Your AC Unit

August 24, 2017 12:39 am

The heat of the summer is winding down, but ask yourself: Have you thanked your AC unit for its hard work this summer?

With that in mind, experts from One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning® encourage homeowners to do the following:

Show your unit some love. Your air conditioner collects dust, leaves and other debris that degrade its performance over time. After shutting off the power to the unit, remove debris and trim any shrubs back from the unit.

Have a monthly date with your A/C to change the filter. Your air conditioner breathes through its filter, and when that filter becomes clogged, your unit struggles. A dirty filter can cause your fan to wear out prematurely and can sharply increase your energy use. Make a habit of replacing these on time.

Schedule a play date with your AC's best friend (i.e. a licensed technician!). It's important to tune up your AC unit annually. A thorough tune-up from a licensed technician is the only way to give the machine a thorough inspection to make sure everything is operating as it should. You'll experience fewer breakdowns, lower energy bills and a longer life for your air conditioner.

Give your A/C a break by conducting periodic energy audits to help identify opportunities for energy savings. Through this process, you can seal up leaky ducts, upgrade insulation, locate hidden drafts and more -- all of which is good for your air conditioner and your wallet.

Source: One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning®

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Bringing Nostalgia Back to Road Trips

August 24, 2017 12:39 am

(Family Features)--A family road trip can bring on a strong sense of nostalgia. Although much has likely changed since you embarked on your first journey as a child, there are still plenty of ways to appreciate road tripping with the family and bring the best of "then" to "now."

Seating selection. A generation ago, road trips meant putting down the seats in the station wagon and creating a giant play space in the rear of the car. Keep the same spirit in your road trips now by attaching a travel kit in an accessible bag or organizer to the front seat backs to hold plenty of diversions. If you plan your trip well, you can build in frequent stretching breaks to coincide with points of interest along the way.

Electronic-free entertainment. Handheld devices and headphones may be the norm for this generation, but there's no time like a family road trip to put down the electronics. Old-school games like I Spy and The Alphabet Game add some free, fun entertainment that encourages a look out the window at the passing surroundings. Other games that never get old: Make the Trucker Honk and competing to see who can find the most cows, windmills or whatever fits your region.

Vehicle maintenance. Remember the old 3-months or 3,000-mile oil change rule? Forget about it. Most of today's vehicle manufacturers recommend changing your oil every 5,000-7,500 miles. However, to prepare for your family road trip and avoid mechanical failures along the way, most mechanics will offer the same tip: change the oil. If you haven't already, consider making the switch to a synthetic motor oil to help your engine achieve maximum performance and extend the time between oil changes to give you more time on the open road. An AAA engine oil research study confirmed synthetic motor oil performs better than conventional motor oil by nearly 50 percent. Also remember to check your vehicle's fluids, battery, wipers, tire tread and air pressure to ensure road-trip readiness. Refer to your vehicle's owner's manual for the recommended maintenance information according to the manufacturer.

Gas prices. When the Griswold family hit the road on their infamous trek to Walley World 34 years ago, gas rang up at $1.16 a gallon. Today the national average for a gallon of gas is $2.49. While yesterday's gas prices will likely never return, a road trip is still an economical choice for families. Consider a one-tank destination over a cross-country trek to help deliver a memorable experience with your family.

No matter where your trip down memory lane takes you, be sure to remember what the magic of the open road is all about: freedom, adventure and good, old-fashioned family fun.


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America’s Favorite Investment? Real Estate

August 23, 2017 12:33 am

Looking for the best way to invest your money long-term? Most Americans say real estate is the way to go.

According to a recent report from, when asked the best way to invest money not needed for more than 10 years, 28 percent of U.S. adults replied real estate, followed by cash investments (23 percent), the stock market (17 percent), gold/other precious metals (15 percent) and bonds (4 percent).

The survey has been conducted five years in a row and this is the third straight time real estate has grabbed the number one slot. Interestingly, the stock market has never placed higher than third, which is particularly surprising since the S&P 500 is up more than 50 percent since the question was first asked in July 2013.

Republicans and households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more were the only demographic groups to select stocks as their preferred long-term investments. Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation were more likely to choose stocks than millennials and Gen Xers.

The Financial Security Index dipped slightly recently, but is still at its third-best reading since the Index debuted in Dec. 2010. Four of the five components have improved from 12 months ago: job security, comfort level with debt, net worth and overall financial situation. However, Americans are feeling slightly worse about their savings relative to last year.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like more information about investing in real estate.


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How to Save for Your Child's College Tuition

August 23, 2017 12:33 am

Whether your child is five or fifteen, saving for their future is important. It's never too early to start squirreling away money for tuition. To help, MassMutual offers the following five tips for families planning and saving for college:

Start early. Start saving what you can at birth. Little monthly or annual savings really add up over 18 years.  

Make it automatic. Consider automating checking account or payroll deductions to interest-earning savings accounts specifically designed for higher education, such as a 529 savings plan.

Encourage monetary gifts (including 529 plan gift cards) from family members and friends for college savings plans for gift-giving events. Prior to your child's birthday and holidays, remind loved ones that the best gift they can give is the gift of a strong future.

Know how much you need to save. Determine how much you need to save using free online tools such as MassMutual's college savings calculator.

Protect your loved ones for unexpected events. In addition to saving for school, life and disability income insurance are solid considerations for parents with children.

Source: MassMutual

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Save Money Through Energy Efficiency

August 23, 2017 12:33 am

(Family Features)--As much as half of the average homeowner's monthly utility expenses go toward cooling and heating, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). For many households, that makes energy the largest home-related expense each month, next to a mortgage payment.

Fortunately, numerous technological advances are making it easier than ever to manage home energy use. In fact, the DOE estimates you can save as much as 10 percent a year on energy costs by simply adjusting the temperature up or down when you're away during the day. Installing a programmable thermostat that never forgets to adjust on a busy morning and kicks back on before you arrive home can help you earn these savings and reduce energy consumption.

Home Automation
Newer smart, programmable thermostats can be controlled remotely by internet-connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones. Some models can also monitor your energy usage and system efficiency, providing data to help you make further adjustments to how you operate your HVAC system.

Lighting is another major energy challenge. However, smart light bulbs let you adjust your home's ambiance (and energy usage) with just a couple of quick taps. Paired with motion sensors that detect movement (or a lack thereof) and adjust lighting accordingly, smart bulbs can help reduce the waste of energy caused by lighting unused rooms.

Similarly, smartphone applications that connect to other appliances, utilities and home features offer the best of personalized comfort and convenience while providing tools to help minimize your home's energy consumption.

Zoned Climate Control
If you're like most homeowners, there are parts of your house that simply don't get much use or only get used during certain times of the day. Maintaining the temperature in those uninhabited areas can be costly and wasteful. As an alternative, an option such as zoned climate control allows you to stay comfortable in the rooms you use without spending a fortune on energy bills.

While a zoned system is generally considered a premium home feature, it isn't unattainable and actually offers long-term savings, due to its energy-efficient operation. The home is divided into zones, designated by floors, rooms or areas - however the homeowner chooses - which eliminates the "all on" feature of traditional air conditioners.

A system like Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating's Zoned Comfort Solutions offers a true zoning-system with convenient controls and automation, along with whisper-quiet operation. Both ducted and non-ducted units are available depending on the space and occupant needs. Additionally, some models have advanced filtration features to help eliminate allergens, contributing to improved air quality.

For a new build, installing a zoned system from the outset is relatively simple. However, zoned systems are also a possible solution for replacing your home's HVAC system or rectifying a problem with a single uncomfortable room. Pairing the system with sensors or remote app controls can bring operating costs even lower through computerized automation.

Renewable Energy
Another option to offset some of your home's energy and utility costs is generating your own renewable energy through solar or wind power systems. Installation depends on many variables, such as how much energy you use, local codes and standards, and whether the house and surrounding terrain are situated to allow you to capture adequate natural power. For a home under construction, your builder should be able to offer guidance; for an existing home, contacting a local renewable energy organization or state office is a smart first step.

Cost Control
A state-of-the-art zoned climate control system can be configured to your specific needs, but all the customization options can make it tricky to predict how much your installation might cost. Taking into account these variables can give you a better sense of how much you'll be spending.

 New equipment. Each system includes an outdoor unit, indoor unit(s), controls and parts including the refrigerant line-set, wiring and electrical accessories. Conditioning one room or zone comes at a significantly different price than cooling and heating a home with eight or more zones. Generally, new equipment comes in between $3,000-$15,000, depending on the number of zones and size of the home.

Labor. This is what you will pay a licensed HVAC contractor to install the system (and remove your old one, if necessary). Contractors' labor prices vary widely, but expect to spend an amount roughly equal to your equipment cost, depending on your geographic location and the complexity of the installation.

Additional costs. Depending on your existing system, you may incur costs for items such as electrical work to install a new 240V outlet ($200-$1,000, or more if your electrical panel requires a new circuit); an equipment pad, stand or brackets for the outdoor unit ($50-$300); ductwork (prices vary greatly depending on the home); and controller options (approximately $200-$300 each).

Unique situations. Some homes, such as older homes, high-performance homes and homes in extreme cold-weather regions, often require auxiliary heat or specialized designs or equipment, all of which can impact the cost of the system. However, with Mitsubishi Electric's Zoned Comfort Solutions, 100 percent heating down to a 5 F outdoor temperature can be attained.

Rebates. Some states offer rebates for the installation of more energy-efficient appliances, including HVAC systems. These rebates can help offset some of the upfront costs associated with installing zoned systems. Consider speaking with a professional or researching available rebates in your region before purchasing a new system.

Source: Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating

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5 Quick Curb Appeal Projects

August 22, 2017 12:45 am

Need to add some curb appeal to your home to get it ready for market? Or are you just in the mood for a quick refresh? Here are five easy DIY projects to help dress up your home using lightweight, decorative millwork accessories or architectural elements. The composition and durability of the products make them a long-lasting, low-maintenance way to dress up your home for years to come.

Entry Door - Make a front entry door 'pop' by surrounding it on both sides with a set of decorative pilasters and topping it off with a pediment. Select from simple peaked pediments or more ornate acorn or rams-head pediments.

Brackets - Install lightweight decorative brackets to a porch or under an eave for a fast way to personalize a home.

Windows - Add a simple header directly over the exterior of a window frame to add more visual appeal to the window. Select from straight or arched headers for the style that best matches your home.

Column Wraps - If your home has worn or boring porch posts, hide them with PVC column wraps. These decorative pieces fit right over a post for an instant makeover.

Shutters - If your shutters are suffering from peeling paint or worn finishes, consider replacing them with UV-resistant polyurethane shutters. Made to resist moisture and insects, such shutters can be quickly installed and will maintain their curb appeal for years to come.
If you’d like more homeowner information, please contact me.

Source: Nu-Wood

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A Back-to-School Guide for Parents

August 22, 2017 12:45 am

Back-to-school season can be a crazy, hectic time, especially if you have more than one child at more than one school. Regardless of how many kids you have or how old they are, every parent can use a little help during the new school season. USAGov offers the following tips to help:

Schedule time with teachers. Keep an open dialog with school staff to help your children thrive.

Get those shots. Some schools require immunization records for entry. Find out if your child needs any vaccines before school starts.

Ease into the school routine. A good night's sleep is key to a successful school day. Preschoolers need 11-12 hours of sleep a night, school-age children need at least 10 hours, while teens need 9-10 hours.

Pack a healthy and safe lunch. Choose a balanced meal for your children's lunchbox and make sure you keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Low-income families may qualify for free or reduced price school meals.

Shop smart. Some states have sales tax holidays in August. Make a list, know what you need, and shop the sales. Knowing where the bargains are will help you save.

Talk to your kids about online safety. Identity theft, cyberbullying, or inappropriate behavior can happen online. Teach your children about online safety as they use social media to connect with old and new friends at school.

Plan and practice how to get to school. If your kids' school or school system provides bus transportation, find the nearest stop to your home and the pickup and drop-off times. Teach your kids to be safe whether by car, bus, bicycle, or walking.

Teach time management. Leisure time, sports, and "screen time" can interfere with homework. Keep your family's schedule on time with these tips.

Make sure kids are insured. Your child could qualify for free or low-cost insurance through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Listen to your kids. Anxiety and nerves can take over, so provide a safe environment at home and in the classroom. Talk to kids about bullying and what to do if they encounter it.

Get tax credits on tuition. Check out the IRS website for tips to see what kind of tax credits you can get based on the price of education.

Learn money management. No student wants to interrupt his or her education because of financial troubles. Visit to get age-appropriate checklists to help students manage finances while in elementary school, high school, or college.

Source: USAGov

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How to Tell if a Job Candidate is Lying on Resume

August 22, 2017 12:45 am

The hiring process is a complicated, tricky endeavour. A new OfficeTeam study shows that as job markets steepen, more and more candidates are lying on their resumes. If you're currently searching for a new team member, keep the following OfficeTeam tips to avoid falling trap to false resume readings.

OfficeTeam identifies five signs a job seeker may be lying on a resume — and offers tips for confirming details:

Skills have vague descriptions. Using ambiguous phrases like "familiar with" or "involved in" could mean the candidate is trying to cover up a lack of direct experience. To assess a worker's abilities, conduct skills testing or hire the person on a temporary basis before making a full-time offer.

There are questionable or missing dates. Having large gaps between positions or listing stints by year without months can be red flags. Inquire about the applicant's employment history during initial discussions and ask references to validate timelines.  

You get negative cues during the interview. A lack of eye contact or constant fidgeting may suggest dishonesty, but don't eliminate a promising candidate by making a judgment based solely on body language. Consider the individual's responses to your questions and feedback from other staff members who met him or her.    

References offer conflicting details. Ask initial contacts about additional people you can speak to about the prospective hire. Also check if there are connections in your network who can provide insight about the candidate.  
Online information doesn't match. Don't always take what you find on the internet at face value. There may be multiple professionals with the same name or legal issues with how the information can be used. Verify facts during the interview and reference check processes.

Source: OfficeTeam

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How-to Brighten a Dark Room

August 21, 2017 12:36 am

Do you have a room in your house that always seems dark no matter what? Perhaps it's due to low ceilings or minimal windows. Maybe the walls are painted a darker color than you would like. Whatever the reason, don't worry. Below are a few simple ways you can brighten the space.

Remove or minimize window coverings. A dark room will only seem darker with heavy window hangings. Choose something light and gauzy, or remove window coverings all together to welcome the sunlight.

Paint it white. From the ceilings to the floors, painting surfaces a white or off-white color will brighten your space, and make it appear larger.

Add mirrors. We all know the old mirror trick can make a space seem larger, but did you know it can brighten it, too? Mirrors reflect light, so the more mirrors, the more light you will have reflected. Try a mirrored wall or a mirror-topped coffee table.

Remove (some) furniture. The less crowded a room, the more space for light to bounce around. Nix any unnecessary furniture, knick knacks or clutter.

Trim the trees. Okay so you've cleared the curtains, added a large mirror and painted your dark wood floors white. Does the room still seem dark? Head outside and look for any trees or shrubs that may be encroaching on your sunlight.

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The Hottest Consumer Products This Summer

August 21, 2017 12:36 am

While I typically look at new consumer products and gadgets in January and February, it appears a number of hot new consumer products are hitting the market during the dog days of August.

For example, Denver-based RavenWindow has launched its Gen3 line of affordable smart windows. The company claims to produce the only solar-intuitive smart solution for optimizing natural light, blocking Ultraviolet (UV) rays and mitigating glare — three key factors for occupant health, well being, and comfort. 

These thermally activated window transition from clear to tinted during peak heat hours, and then back to a clear state as outside temperatures cool, within minutes, with no need for programming, wiring or additional installation.

LG Electronics USA just launched a new fleet of Hom-Bot Turbo+robot vacuums with wifi enabled features, home security settings, and Google Assistant compatibility. The Hom-Bot absorbs vibrations and reduces noise, delivering what the company claims is the quietest robot vacuum on the market on non-carpeted floors.

Using the LG SmartThinQ app on any Android or iOS smartphone, owners can activate one of up to seven Hom-Bot cleaning modes, or live-stream what's going on in the house using its front facing camera. The Hom-Bot HomeGuard motion detection system can even be programmed to snap and transmit five photos to your mobile device if it senses any movement.  

Whirlpool unveiled several new products to the builder industry at this summer's PCBC conference, including its Sunset Bronze Kitchen Suite. By color blocking painted stainless steel, the Sunset Bronze line presents a perfect blend of mixed warm metallic tones, with a surface texture that is both fingerprint-resistant, and available in black matte as well.

And forget about your mom's garbage disposal! Whirlpool's new Zera Food Recycler gives consumers an easy and convenient way to reduce the amount of waste they're sending to the landfill by converting food waste into ready-to-use, homemade fertilizer.

Finally, RIVA Audio announced its award-winning RIVA WAND (Wireless Audio Network Design) Series is now available for purchase. The customizable and easy-to-use multi-room "+" wireless audio system combines the freedom to deliver high-fidelity audio to every room or outdoor location with the flexibility to play from any networked or local source.

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How to Preserve Your Water Quality

August 21, 2017 12:36 am

Did you know August is National Water Quality Month?  With that in mind, New York-based Petri Plumbing offers residents these tips to help preserve water quality:

Flush the tap – The DEP is responsible for providing high-quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components. Many of the older plumbing pipes or fixtures leading to the home can absorb lead and pass it through the tap water. One way to minimize the potential lead exposure is to flush the tap for 30 seconds to two minutes before using the water for drinking or cooking.

Be aware of what goes down the drain and how it affects the water supply. Medications, detergents, creams, lotions and soaps all end up in the water supply. Consider switching to environmentally-friendly and non-toxic household cleaners and personal care items.

Discard trash and pet waste appropriately – Trash and pet waste, if not disposed of properly, can cause bacteria to run into storm drains and water supplies. The best practice is to tie pet waste in a recycled-plastic pet-waste bag and place it in the trash.

Have the water tested by a professional – If a resident is concerned about the quality of water entering their home through old pipes and possibly picking up contaminants in the delivery process, contact a professional to test the water. Once the water is tested, and any contaminants are identified, the expert can recommend a water filtration system that will work best for the home. The primary water filtration system uses charcoal to remove sediment and debris that build up in your pipes. A whole-home water purification system to remove lead, chemicals, heavy metals, chlorine and other contaminants is an option many homeowners select to give them peace of mind when it comes to the safety of their water.


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5 Questions to Ask Before Requesting that Credit Line Increase

August 18, 2017 12:46 am

When you see that tempting “request a credit-line increase” message on your credit card statement, it can be very tempting to take advantage of the offer. Before you apply for an increase, however, recommends asking yourself these five questions:

Why do I need a credit-line increase? Do you need an increase to help you finance a large purchase, like a trip or a new fridge, that you’ll be paying off the following month? Or are you spending more than you make and running out of credit? If it’s the latter, an increase is not a smart move and will only land you further in debt.

What’s my credit score? Before applying for an increase, make sure you know your current credit score. Even though you’re an existing credit card holder, asking for an increase is like applying for a new loan so check your credit report to see if there are any existing issues. Add up all your credit card lines and compare that to your total usage to determine your credit utilization score. If you’re using more than 30 percent of your total credit, that will negatively affect your score. If you have a history of late payments or have made only the minimum payments in the last six months or so, don’t ask for a line increase.

Can I afford a “hard pull?” When you apply for a credit-line increase, it oftens triggers a hard pull on your credit report - inquiries that are noted on your credit report for two years, and are factored into your credit score for a year, according to FICO. Before you apply for a line increase, contact the credit card company to see if they will do a hard pull, to avoid shaving even a few points off your credit score.

Will an increase help or hurt my credit score? A credit-line increase can help your credit score as it will automatically shrink your credit utilization ratio. However, if you quickly convert the increased line to new debt, then your credit score will suffer.

How much more credit do you really want? Do some soul searching and reality checking to figure out how much credit you can actually afford. Larger limits can tempt you into overspending and damage your long-term financial health.

I hope you found these credit tips helpful. Feel free to contact me if you’d like information about your local real estate market.


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How to Keep Your Water Clean

August 18, 2017 12:46 am

We think about keeping our homes clean and our clothes clean, but how often do you stop to consider the cleanliness of your water?

"Lakes, rivers, and streams are significant resources that the U.S. relies on heavily as principal sources of water," says Tommy Webber, owner of T. Webber Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. "We may use these water sources recreationally, but we take them for granted. Neglect, pollution, and overuse has put the water quality in danger.  

With that in mind, Webber offers residents these tips for cleaning up water.

Use a rain barrel – During the summer months, garden and lawn watering make up about 40 percent of a household's total water consumption. If your state allows it. Webber recommends using rain barrels to collect runoff from rooftops and use that to water lawns and gardens.

Wash the car on the lawn – Several of the soaps and detergents that are used to wash cars contain phosphorus and other nutrients that may be good for the grass, but may not be so good for our water sources. By washing the car on the lawn, the runoff goes into the ground as opposed to storm drains where the harmful chemicals will negatively impact lakes and rivers.

Properly dispose of pollutants – Used motor oil, antifreeze, paint, roof tar, rechargeable batteries, unused fertilizer, unused medication and other similar contaminants can be recycled at the Wheelabrator solid waste plant. This will prevent these dangerous substances from entering the water supply.

Pick up pet waste – One ounce of dog waste contains 23 million microorganisms of disease-causing fecal coliform bacteria. Either flush your pet's droppings or put it in the garbage.

Put trash where it belongs -- Recycle, reuse or put it in the garbage. Plastic does not decompose and can harm many animals and fish as well as pollute the water.

Have the water tested by a professional – Some residents rely on private wells for their water source. Unlike public water systems which are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), private wells are not. Households that use private wells need to take special precautions to ensure the water that enters their home is safe for their families. Homeowners that are concerned about the safety of their water should contact a professional to test the water. Once the water is tested, and any contaminants are identified, the expert can recommend a water treatment system to improve the water quality and provide peace of mind.

Source:T. Webber Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Safely Photograph an Eclipse

August 18, 2017 12:46 am

With August 21 on the horizon, residents across the country are gearing up to witness the first total eclipse since 1979. However, according to The American Academy of Ophthalmology, there is one thing that sets this month's total eclipse apart from others: Smartphones. Millions of ordinary people are expected to use smartphones and digital cameras to photograph this eclipse. Eye care professionals are concerned that first-timers might train their cameras on this phenomenon, unaware of the damage they can do to their eyes.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Optometry teamed up to offer the follow tips on how to safely photograph an eclipse:

Buy a solar filter or modify your eclipse glasses to function as a solar filter for your smartphone. Cut your glasses in half and tape one eyepiece over your smartphone camera lens.

Take the filter off during totality. Totality is when the moon entirely blocks the sun's bright face. The path of totality for the Aug. 21 eclipse stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. Unless you're in the path of totality, keep your solar eclipse glasses on throughout the eclipse.

Use a tripod to keep your camera stable.

Use a remote trigger. With a remote, you can adjust settings and shoot the photo while keeping your camera stable.

Practice. Take photos just after sunset during twilight to get an idea of what the light levels will be like during totality.

Shoot photos of the moon to learn how to manually adjust the focus on your camera. Tap the screen and hold your finger on the image of the moon to lock the focus. Then slide your finger up or down to darken or lighten the exposure.

A telephoto lens system is a must-have for eclipse photography with a smartphone. There are zoom lenses for smartphones designed solely to provide magnification without resorting to digital zoom.

Try the pinhole effect. This eclipse effect is easily captured with point-and-shoot cameras. Use a straw hat or a kitchen sieve and allow the sun's shadow to fall on a piece of white cardboard placed several feet away. The small holes act like pinhole cameras and each one projects its own image of the eclipsed sun.

Make sure you purchase solar eclipse filters and glasses from reputable manufacturers. There have been reports that some companies are selling counterfeit products labeled as if they conform to international safety standards.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Mortgages Are Going to the Dogs

August 17, 2017 1:06 am

A third of millennial-aged Americans (ages 18 to 36) who purchased their first home say the desire to have a better space or yard for a dog influenced their decision, according to a recent survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage, a division of SunTrust Banks, Inc. Dogs ranked among the top three motivators for first-time home purchasers and were cited by more millennials as reasons for buying a home than marriage/upcoming marriage (25 percent) or the birth/expected birth of a child (19 percent).

Only the desire for more living space (66 percent), and the opportunity to build equity (36 percent), were identified by more millennials as reasons they purchased their first home.

According to Dorinda Smith, SunTrust Mortgage president and CEO, renting can be expensive and stressful for dog owners, making homeownership a better living situation.

Among millennials who have never purchased a home, 42 percent say that their dog – or the desire to have one – is a key factor in their desire to buy a home in the future, suggesting dogs will also influence purchase decisions of potential first-time homebuyers.

SunTrust offers the following tips when considering a first-time home purchase:

Understand your initial expenses. The down payment and closing costs can really add up, but don't forget to budget for moving expenses. These include everything from truck rental to setting up water, power, cable, internet and more.

Organize your finances. While there are different types of loans for different needs, your finances will be thoroughly evaluated during the credit application. Make sure they are organized so you can better retrieve them throughout the application process.

Get pre-qualified. Lenders can use your income and credit history to give you an estimate of the home loan amount for which you qualify. The pre-qualification amount can be a helpful guideline when you are considering which properties to purchase.

Create a realistic timeline. Even with a pre-qualification, loans can take weeks to be finalized. Work with a loan officer to decide the best type of loan for your situation and make sure your loan will be ready in advance of your closing.

For more information about preparing to buy a home, please contact me.

Source: SunTrust Banks, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Millennials Buying Homes

August 17, 2017 1:06 am

Are you, or someone you know, a millennial currently dreaming about your first home? Is something holding you back?According to a survey conducted by loanDepot, 52 percent of Millennials  cite no longer wanting to pay rent and being ready to start a family as two top drivers motivating them to start looking into home ownership. However, according to the survey, half of those are anxious about the expense of real estate and mortgage payments, with only 18 percent saying they think a home purchase is affordable for them.

"It's clear from the survey results that Millennials have a lot of anxiety built up about the home-buying process," says David Norris, loanDepot's Head of Retail Lending. "There is good news, however, as there's more flexibility than most Millennials think regarding how to qualify for a loan and what's needed for a down payment."
Top tips for Millennials from loanDepot lending professionals around the country include:

Know how much is needed for down payment

According to survey results, Millennials are unsure how much down payment they need to put down, with the average coming out to 32 percent. And while the industry standard is typically 20 percent down payment, there are other options.

John Pearson, a loanDepot licensed lending officer based in Hoboken, N.J., says there are many programs for first time homebuyers (FTHB) that allow them to finance a property with 10 percent, 5 percent, or even 3 percent down. There are also loan assistance programs offered by FHA that many don't realize their can qualify for.

"The best advice I have for young buyers is to not believe everything you read on the Internet," Pearson says. "When talking with a professional, you can discuss your specific financial situation and the lending officer can help you determine how much down you'll need and what a monthly mortgage payment will look like. You'll probably discover you don't have to wait until you reach the point of a 20 percent down payment."

Don't be surprised by closing costs

According to Marc Bui, retail lending manager for loanDepot in Newport Beach, Calif., many Millennials he works with don't realize there are costs beyond the down payment required to close.

"When I'm working with today's youngest buyers, I help them plan for all final costs, which can include HOA (homeowners' association) fees, property taxes, private mortgage insurance (PMI) for those putting less than 20 percent down, title, appraisal, etc. It's important to understand everything that goes into closing so there are no unpleasant surprises," Bui says.

Include parents but listen to professionals with an open mind

About 54 percent of Millennials say they plan to ask their parents about how to buy a home, with slightly fewer at 52 percent saying they'd first turn to a mortgage broker or company.

"It's great when young home buyers include their parents in the process," says Scott Nadler, a top 1 percent licensed lending officer in the U.S. and based in loanDepot's Manhattan office. "When young couples come to me wanting to buy their first home, many times I'll suggest a 7- or 10-year adjustable mortgage, which allows them to build equity while having a lower monthly mortgage payment. Many parents are nervous about adjustable mortgages but if someone plans to trade up in a few years, they will be out of the mortgage before the adjustment. My best advice for Millennials is to make sure they feel comfortable with the product they select."

Student loans may not prohibit a home loan

According to the Urban Institute, student loan debt has increased sharply over the last decade and has surpassed credit card debt. This stressor is a top concern for Millennials who are interested in purchasing a home in the near future.

At the end of April, Fannie Mae announced three policy changes designed to help prospective homeowners struggling with student-loan debt. Two changes help borrowers with high student-loan debt qualify for mortgages while the other policy change helps homeowners refinance their home to pay down their student loans.

Debt paid by others: This change widens borrower eligibility to qualify for a home loan by excluding non-mortgage debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and student loans, paid by someone else, such as parents.

Student Debt Payment Calculation: This change increases the odds that borrowers with student debt will qualify for a loan by allowing lenders to accept student loan payment information on credit reports.

Student loan cash-out refinance: Fannie now offers homeowners the flexibility to pay off a high-interest rate student loan while potentially refinancing to a lower mortgage rate.

"Some lenders have special programs for borrowers with certain types of student loans," says Mary Bane, vice president, regional production for loanDepot in the Chicagoland area. "Medical professionals with student loans that have been deferred for 12 months or longer can avoid having that debt repayment counted as part of their debt. The assumption is that their income will increase dramatically so they will pay off the debt quickly as soon as they are fully employed."

Another potential option is the 40-year mortgage loan program from loanDepot that requires 10 percent down payment and good credit, but has a 10-year interest-only initial repayment period that could help borrowers tackle their student loan debt while they make lower mortgage payments. The following 30 years are fully amortized.

Source: loanDepot

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Tackling a DIY Deck Project

August 17, 2017 1:06 am

(Family Features) While planning a new outdoor living space can be overwhelming, chances are there's a home improvement retailer nearby that offers an abundance of resources to help you tackle virtually any project. If a DIY deck project is on your to-do list, these tips can help you navigate the aisles like a pro.

Do your homework. Get started by perusing retailer websites to learn about their product offerings and services. Then visit manufacturer websites for more information and to compare aesthetics and performance. Research your options and decide what materials and styles make the most sense for your lifestyle and preferences. For instance, if you are looking to spend more time enjoying your deck than maintaining it, you may consider a high-performance composite material, like Trex. Unlike wood, composite decking won't rot, warp, crack or splinter, and resists fading, scratching and mold.

Take advantage of retailer resources. After you've decided on a preferred material, your local big-box retailer can help you obtain additional information, design ideas and product samples. In addition to perusing an array of decking options, you also can preview designer-curated railing pairings. Once you find a combination that suits your outdoor space, you can download the materials list to better guide your in-store experience.

Explore the store. Once you have determined the direction of your project and narrowed down your product preferences, orient yourself with the store landscape so you can navigate the merchandise in an order that correlates with your project. It may be easiest to start with decking materials in the lumber aisle and then move to railings, which can typically be found in an adjacent aisle or on an end-cap display. Pay close attention to signage and look carefully for logos to make sure you're finding the brand you want.

Ask an associate. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The staff at your local retailer can provide tips to help you successfully navigate your project and the store. For instance, if the materials you are looking for aren't on the shelves, many options are available via special order. Typically, an associate can arrange for the product you want to arrive in-store in about 10 days. Most stores also offer assistance with installation.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Simple Steps for Cleaning Your Hardwood Floor

August 15, 2017 12:45 am

If you're the proud owner of a hardwood floor, you may be engaged in a constant cleaning battle. Hardwood looks best when it's buff and gleaming, but with a busy schedule, it can be hard to keep the floors sparkling at all times.

Below are a handful of tips for quickly cleaning your wood floors.
Clear the space. This may seem obvious, but it's an often overlooked step in the cleaning process. Clear your furniture (picking it up, not dragging it) so you can access the full plane of your floor.

Vacuum. Use a vacuum to get up surface dirt and pet hair that will interfere with your mopping. If your vacuum has a crevice accessory, put it on and get in the tough to reach spots, like corners and baseboards.

Mop. Going with the grain, mop your floor from wall to wall, including your baseboards. If your floor is sealed with polyurethane, you can use simple dish soap for a little extra cleaning oomph.

Buff. Using a clean cloth or dry mop, buff the floor until it sparkles. Once fully dry, replace the furniture and enjoy.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Personal Space: 4 Ways to Add Privacy Inside and Out

August 15, 2017 12:45 am

While a cabin in the woods may not be your thing, there are times when we all crave a little privacy. No matter what your living environs may be, there are several strategies beyond fencing for creating private spaces both inside and outside your home.

Plant a tree wall. While this strategy takes a bit of patience, the payoff is big and permanent. Plant a border of fast-growing evergreen trees - try cypress, arborvitae, juniper or holly - along those perimeters of your yard that are exposed to the street or between you and your too-close neighbor.

Surround your deck or patio. If you’d like a little more privacy when entertaining, plant flowering trees, shrubs or tall grasses around your outdoor gathering space.

Experiment with fabric. Have a great front porch? Try adding breezy drapes that make a great design statement when gathered and drawn, and add romantic privacy when released. You can also section off a secluded area of your porch with an attractive screen.

Screened-in nooks. Screens also work to create private spaces inside your home. Use them to section off a corner of a living room or bedroom and use that space for a small desk, comfy chair or dressing table.

Rethink closet space. Whether it’s a large pantry or a walk-in closet in a bedroom, have it rejiggered to serve as a private workspace instead. Use the shelves to store supplies and add a small desk and chair.

Privacy is possible no matter how small your living space or how close your neighbors may be. Try these ideas and get more inspiration from Pinterest and your favorite home design sites.

If you’re looking for more information on homeownership, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Be a Better Listener as a Boss

August 15, 2017 12:45 am

If you're running a business or a team, you likely have a lot on your mind. Is listening one of them?

"A boss has the opportunity to impact an organization and its employees on many levels, and to serve as a primary catalyst for its future growth and success," says Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, author of the book "Becoming the New Boss: The New Leader's Guide to Sustained Success" (Indie Books International, 2017). "While leading is exciting and fulfilling, it can also be challenging."

One of Hoff's largest bits of insight for being a better boss is to become a better listener. Here are eight listening tips for leaders from Hoff's book:

See eye-to-eye. One crucial element of good listening is making strong eye contact. By fixing your eyes on the speaker, you will avoid becoming distracted while also demanding genuine attention. Eye contact is an important element of all face-to-face communication, even if you know the speaker well.

Use receptive body language. Without saying a word, our bodies communicate much about attitudes and feelings. We need to be aware of this in any conversation that we have. If seated, lean slightly forward to communicate attention. Nod or use other gestures or words that will encourage the speaker to continue.

Position yourself wisely. Always be careful to maintain an appropriate distance between you and the speaker. Being too close may communicate pushiness or lack of respect. If you remain distant, however, you may be seen as cold or disinterested. Body postures matter too in most cultures. The crossing of one's arms or legs, for example, often conveys close-mindedness.

Stop talking and start listening. This is a most basic listening principle, and often the hardest to abide by. When somebody else is talking, it can be very tempting to jump in with a question or comment. This is particularly true when we seek to sound informed, insightful, or if we start to feel defensive due to the speaker's criticisms. Be mindful that a pause, even a long one, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Let the speaker continue in his or her own time; sometimes it takes a few moments to formulate what to say and how to say it.

Humbly take on their point of view. Approach each conversation from the vantage point of the speaker. Seek to empathize and to objectively consider their position, regardless of their rank. Be humble enough to listen carefully, even if you disagree with what is being said.

Summarize and clarify. When the other person has finished talking, take a moment to restate and clarify what you have heard. Use language like, "So, to summarize, I think you said…" End by asking whether you heard correctly, which will encourage immediate feedback. considering the message that was just shared.

Leave the door open. Keep open the possibility of additional communication after this conversation has ended. You never know when new insights or concerns may emerge.

Thank them for approaching you. Do not take any conversation for granted. For many employees, requesting a meeting requires that they summon much courage and rehearse their message time and again. Moreover, you probably learned something useful and meaningful during your talk: information or ideas that may help you as the leader.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Steps for Picking Bathroom Tiles

August 14, 2017 1:12 am

Looking to redo your bathroom? You're likely already thinking about tiling options. Big, small, colored, clear, glass or ceramic - the choices are endless. To help, we've compiled several tips for choosing a better bathroom tile.

Think about versatility. To truly draw your bathroom together, you will likely want a tile that translates to floor and wall. Visualize the tile in each space to make sure it moves seamlessly.

Size matters. Should you go big or small? There is lots to think about. A small tile will call for more grouting (think, more cleaning mold), but a larger tile tends to be slippier if used on a wet floor or in the shower area. However, a smaller tile is good for fitting in unique spaces, such as a built-in shower shelf or bench.

Going glass? Choose wider. Glass tiles can be finicky, as they can show mold or moisture that may squeeze behind the tile during its lifetime. That said, if going with glass, choose a smaller tile so any upcoming imperfections will be less apparent.

Choose for the clean. Be honest: How often do you wish to clean your bathroom? If you enjoy cleaning and do it frequently, small tiles with lots of crannies will be fine for you. If you prefer to clean less frequently, a wider tile--or even a ceramic or glass panel-- may be better for you.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How a Good Real Estate Agent Can Help You Find the Home You Really Want

August 14, 2017 1:12 am

The internet is an invaluable resource when searching for a home to buy. From a great selection of homes in your price range to tools that allow you to store your favorites and alert you to price drops, listing portals offer an array of benefits.

But when it comes to finding your ideal home, nothing compares to working with an expert real estate agent. Here’s why a professional agent can help you uncover the home that’s right for you:

- A good real estate agent is always networking and may know about homes on the market - or coming soon to the market - that you wouldn’t find online yet.
- Agents are experts in the areas and neighborhoods you’re interested in and will, therefore, be able to tell you aspects about a home that you can’t see online - like the noisy neighbors next door, the musty smell in the basement, or the dead tree that poses an imminent threat to the roof.
- When it comes to price, agents will know the particular circumstances of the seller, including if they need to sell in a hurry and are willing to negotiate on price. A home listed online that you thought was out of your price range, might be affordable after all.
- A good agent will be your eyes and ears. Once they get to know you and your needs and tastes, and understand what you’re really looking for in a home, they’ll be able to alert you right away when there’s a home that’s a perfect match.

So while the internet is a great place to begin your home search, be sure to get some recommendations and enlist a great real estate agent once you’ve narrowed down your choices. Their personal guidance and expertise will be critical in helping you find the perfect home at the right price.

If you’re looking for more real estate information, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Dog vs. Yard: How to Keep Your Landscape and Your Pet Happy

August 14, 2017 1:12 am

Any dog owner has likely watched their beautiful new garden dug up by their four-legged family member, or their beloved new grass become Spot's outdoor toilet.  With this in mind, TurfMutt offers their top five tips for ensuring the family yard is a place everyone can enjoy year-round.

Consider your dog's needs
Each dog – senior, puppy, small, big, active breed or not-so-much – has different needs. Is your dog a water hound? Maybe you should include a splash pool or water fountain. Got a digger? A sand pit might work well to keep your dog entertained – and the mess contained. Does your dog love to run the perimeter of your yard? Design your yard with his path in mind. Does she have dog friends next door? Maybe an eye-level hole in the fence would keep her from barking. Jot down everything your dog needs from your family yard, then you map out your landscaping accordingly.

Keep your pet safe and sound
One of the most important pet features in your family yard is a secure fence – whether it's made of wood, metal, vinyl or concrete. Inspect and fix your fence – or install one – so you can rest easy knowing your dog is safely within the boundary of your yard.

Consider turfgrass
Turfgrass is safe – unlike concrete, asphalt or hard ground – and offers your pet a soft, cool spot to lie down, even during the hottest conditions. It also creates a comfortable backyard playground, and provides a place to take care of business – just be sure to clean up regularly! There are many types of turfgrass that can handle "ruff-housing" from dogs and kids alike. Check your climate zone to make sure you're selecting an appropriate grass species for where you live. (Another bonus benefit is grass is very good at capturing and filtering rainwater.)

Select the right plants
You'll want to have a balance of grass, flower plants, trees and shrubs in your family yard. Including this mix of species will not only be beautiful, it will also help support biodiversity. Remember, nature starts in your own backyard! Keeping your climate zone in mind, select appropriate landscaping for the areas you've identified in your yard. Around walking paths, for instance, you'll want to include sturdy, yet soft foliage that can stand up to puppy and people traffic without scratching. Use elevated boxes and patio planters for more delicate flowering plants.

Avoid toxic plants  
One last word of important advice – there are some plants and shrubs that are poisonous to dogs. You'll want to avoid these in your outdoor living room entirely. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a list of toxic plants that you should refer to when shopping for your family yard.

To learn more about how living landscapes in the family yard benefit people and pets visit

Source: TurfMutt

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Why You Should Landscape in August

August 11, 2017 12:36 am

While next spring's landscaping is likely far from your mind, August is actually a great time to plan for and equip yourself for September and October landscaping practices that will make a great and beauteous impact on your property come spring, according to the folks at Snow Creek Landscaping ( down in Asheville, N.C.

The Snow Creek crew says by pressing pause now, property owners aren’t preparing their landscape to be the best it can be during the winter, spring, and next summer. In fact, they say it could all go to waste without proper late season TLC.

Massachusetts based Harvest suggests four key things anyone can do to prep their fall landscape for maximum spring splendor:

- Letting grass grow longer protects it from frost and makes it more resilient to lawn fungus and diseases, as well as invasion by voles, mice and other critters.
- Aerating the soil allows for water drainage and prevents it from becoming waterlogged from snow. After aerating (or even if you don’t aerate), Harvest says topdress the turf surface with a 1/4″ layer of compost, which will add nutrition and fortify grass roots.
- Seeding your lawn encourages the growth of turf roots during fall and winter. Splurge on high-quality seed products to ensure the lawn will be able to stand up to drought, disease and pests.
- Instead of bagging and dragging fall leaves to the curb, use a small patch of lawn to create a compost pile. If you have existing compost soil, mix it in with the leaves and turn all the materials well with a pitchfork.

Alternatively, you can place leaves onto the top of the garden between plants and on top of bare soil as a natural layer of mulch that will moderate soil temperatures.

Harvest says by doing this you are simply recycling a natural resource and enriching your soil for free - and it will save time and money and raking and bagging!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Slow Your Hectic Pace

August 11, 2017 12:36 am

These days, everyone is over-scheduled, over-worked and over-tired—it’s a common lament of modern times. But don’t despair. There are some small steps you can take to make your life less hectic, more enjoyable and healthier all around.

Say no sometimes. One of the most effective ways to slow down is to simply do less. While we may not have flexibility in our work schedules, we do have control over our personal lives, so politely decline that next volunteer request or dinner invitation and spend some time relaxing and recharging instead.

Delegate. Whether it’s on the job or at home, relinquishing control is necessary when you’re juggling too much. Take a step back and see what tasks can be delegated to co-workers and what chores and errands can be handled by family members. Usually all you have to do is ask.

Take nature breaks. While you may not have time for a three-mile hike or an afternoon at the beach, incorporate small doses of fresh air into your daily routine. Bag your lunch and eat outside instead of ordering in, walk to the local coffee shop for your caffeine fix instead of hitting up the office Keurig, and eat dinner on your patio or balcony. These small moments outside will help you slow down and destress.

Unplug. Make sure to mandate device-free time each day. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or for an hour before bed, put your phone on do-not-disturb and power down your laptop. Disconnecting for brief periods each day is necessary to achieve peace of mind.

Remember to laugh. Nothing breaks the momentum of a hectic pace like a good laugh. When stress mounts, call a friend and relive a funny moment you shared or pull up your favorite Saturday Night Live skit. This will help you gain perspective and relieve tension.

When it comes to slowing down, it’s all in the details. So breathe deep, take charge and relax a little!

If you’re looking for information on our local real estate market, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Why You Should Get an Eye Exam

August 11, 2017 12:36 am

Has your vision been hazy lately? You're not alone. According to The National Eye Institute of Health, around 14 million people in the U.S., have some sort of impaired vision. Among these masses, over 11 million could have improved their vision earlier with the use of glasses or contact lenses, if only they had gotten an eye exam.

Dr. Andrea Zimmerman, a low vision specialist at Lighthouse Guild says, "Early detection and treatment of visual impairment is the key to better eye health. Undiagnosed and untreated visual impairment can lead to permanent vision loss. Regular eye exams are important for adults and children of all ages."

Dr. Zimmerman suggests the following five reasons to get an eye exam:

Correct prescription: Vision changes over time, and the prescription that worked in the past may not be accurate anymore. Adjusting your prescription may be necessary to ensure you are reaching your best vision potential. The correct prescription will reduce eyestrain, optimize performance, and make your vision as clear as possible.

Detect health problems: Eye exams can detect health issues such as diabetes, glaucoma, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Identify eye disorders: Diseases that affect the eye often do not have symptoms early, but can severely impact vision over time. Seeing a vision specialist regularly will help catch problems early on to improve treatment options. This is particularly important for degenerative eye conditions like macular degeneration or glaucoma, which can be treated if caught early.

Maximize school performance: Experiencing vision problems can be extremely difficult for students, making it impossible to focus while in the classroom or studying and contributing to reading and learning issues. Getting the proper vision correction is essential to success in school.

Treat headaches: Frequent headaches can be a symptom of vision issues. When a vision problem is untreated, eye strain can result which can bring on headaches.

Source: Lighthouse Guild

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Understanding Energy Costs

August 10, 2017 12:30 am

I was recently contacted by the Consumer Energy Alliance, which provides consumers with unbiased information on U.S. and global energy issues. Its affiliates represent sectors from the energy industry, academia, small businesses, conservation groups to travel-related industries.

The CEA recently released a sweeping study of energy consumption across the country, and analyzed various regions, states, even major municipalities, promoting ideas to enhance efficiency and preserve an uninterrupted flow of energy based on expected future population shifts.

To the end consumer, the report paints a fascinating picture of who is paying what for their energy, and why it costs so much, or in some regions, so little.

According to the CEA study, the average Mid-Continent family currently enjoys some of the lowest electricity costs in the nation. While these low costs are attributable to the region’s access to natural resources and booming energy production, the report suggests that could end in only a few years unless new infrastructure and pipeline
projects are hastily approved.

This planning is especially important, as some of the nation’s poorest communities like Camden, Ark.; Opelousas, La.; Deming, N.M.; Commerce, Okla.; and San Benito, Texas, dot the Mid-Continent region. The average household income in these communities is $24,857 - 55.43 percent less than the national average, the CEA report states.

Even small increases in energy prices could have a devastating effect on families in the Mid-Continent region where median household incomes are $10,000 to $25,000 less than the national average. In this region, the CEA reported that low-income households pay roughly 22 percent of after–tax income on residential utility bills and gasoline.

While most Mid-Continent families currently pay, on average, a rate roughly 9 percent lower than the national average of 12.90 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), it is also home to states like Texas where the average monthly bill is 17 percent higher than the national average.

In addition, the recent analysis found:
- The bottom 20 percent of earners spend almost 10 percent of their income solely on electricity - more than seven times what the top 20 percent pays.

- Of those low-income earners that spend 10 percent of their income on power bills, half are African-American families.

- The average household in the U.S. currently pays 13 cents per KwH using on average 901 KwH per month totaling $116 in electricity bills. That represents almost one-fifth (4.78 percent) of the average income of the poorest Mid-Continent families.

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5 Fun Ways to Promote Tween Confidence

August 10, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--Experts say a significant drop in self-esteem happens between ages 9-12. Instilling confidence in kids during these pivotal years can start with action-oriented activities that promote family time and conversation.

"Simple tasks like doing a good deed for others, learning something new or accomplishing a goal, goes a long way in boosting self-esteem for tweens," says Dr. Michele Borba, a globally recognized educational psychologist, parenting expert and author of "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World." "It's important for parents to support and encourage their tween by creating experiences they can complete together as a way to build confidence."

With the arrival of a new school year, set out to tackle this bucket list, created by Tom's of Maine Wicked Cool! Deodorant in partnership with Borba, to help build confidence:  

1. Spread kindness. Encourage your tween to team up with a pal to complete five acts of kindness in one week for people outside of your immediate circle. It could be helping a coach clean up after practice, holding the door, pitching in with a neighbor's yard work, paying for the ice cream of the person behind you in line or any number of small gestures that help spread kindness.   

2. Test out a new activity. Brainstorm activities with your tween that he or she has always wanted to learn but never tried like drawing, kickboxing or yoga. Engage your child in exploring how to make it happen. Ask around: many places offer free trial classes, the library may have a how-to video or you can work together to find someone who can help teach the new skills.

3. Be an agent for good. Inspire your tween to look for someone who has had a hard day, needs a friend or just a positive boost and encourage him or her do something to make their day a little brighter. Think of simple, small gestures like leaving a note of encouragement for a friend, baking extra treats to thank a neighbor or cleaning up trash for the school janitor. Let your tween decide whether to make the actions known or keep it a surprise.

4. Interview a grown-up. Promote positive role models by asking your tween to interview someone he or she admires. It could be a favorite uncle, grandparent, teacher or anyone they find interesting. Challenge them to discover at least three new things, take notes or record the conversation and then write up a story to share the discoveries (be sure to send the interviewee a copy).

5. Learn a new family task. Initiate a chore swap with family members and encourage your tween take on a task someone else normally does around the house to foster learning new skills that can come in handy later in life. Options could include doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, washing dishes or cooking a meal. Invite your tween to watch how, ask for pointers and then practice until he or she masters another life skill.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Enjoy Your Outdoor Kitchen All Year Long

August 10, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--Building an outdoor kitchen is a significant investment that can be rewarding for years to come. It's important to take advantage of nice days and temperate seasons as much as possible, no matter in which part of the country you live. However, with proper planning and preparation, you can fully maximize the enjoyment of your outdoor kitchen all year long, even when temperatures drop.   

There are ways to do it, and many homeowners are catching on. In fact, a majority of grill and smoker owners (61 percent) enjoy grilling year-round, according to the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association.

These tips and ideas for design and entertaining from Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, can help you make the most of your outdoor kitchen throughout the cooler fall and winter seasons.

Fall: Keep the grill fired up  

Weekends are everything in the fall. Kids are back in school, football games are in full swing and everyone is trying to extend grilling season with one last barbecue.   

Rather than hanging in a parking lot for the big game, throw a "home-gate" party in your outdoor kitchen. Many homeowners are outfitting their spaces with outdoor TVs and speaker systems that rival watching at popular neighborhood pubs. All you need to decide is what will be on the menu.

Autumn is all about smoky wood fires, so try capturing that atmosphere by grilling over a large wood-fired grill, such as an Argentine-style grill. You can impress your guests with all of the flavors you can only achieve with a wood fire.

Remember temperatures can fluctuate from cool to hot in the fall, so make sure you have portable shade for when you want to stay cool and stowed for when you need to warm up.  

In terms of maintenance, sink covers offer much-needed protection against seeds, petals and falling leaves.

Winter: No need to hibernate

November officially kicks off the holiday season. Your holiday get-togethers can stand out from the pack by bringing outside flavors into the warm comfort of your home.

The intense flavor of slow-roasted meats is the perfect pairing with wintertime. Also known as indirect grilling, food is placed in an area without fire below it and cooking is done with the grill hood closed. Add the flavor of a wood fire for "smoke roasting." This is a perfect way to prepare a beef or pork roast for the holidays. Purpose-built smokers, such as Kalamazoo's Smoker Cabinet that uses a gravity-fed charcoal fire for heat, are ideal for smoking the Thanksgiving turkey. This also frees up your indoor oven for other holiday dishes.

Be the hero of the holiday party by surprising your guests with delicious, slow-cooked brisket or roasted ham, but keep your outdoor grill or smoker conveniently located adjacent to your indoor kitchen and within close proximity to the back door for quick, easy access, reducing your time out in the cold.

With shorter days, you'll need to consider lighting. Make sure you have plenty of task lighting to not only see your food on the grill, but also transport it back inside when it's done cooking.

Infrared space heaters go a long way toward making winter grilling more comfortable. One of the last things you want is a delay for the big meal because you're simply not warm enough to cook effectively.

Instead of allowing your outdoor kitchen to go unused during the cooler months, take steps to make it useful year-round.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Help your Historic or 'Classic' Home Weather the Heat!

August 9, 2017 12:51 am

From the coast of Seattle to the hillsides of New York's Hudson Valley, I have been watching and worrying about the toll repeated heat waves are taking on our historic, or 'classic-era,' housing stock.

Tommy Webber, who owns a New York HVAC company, recently reached out to affirm that many homes in his region were built before central heating and air conditioning was available, leaving homeowners to struggle with cooling their homes during extreme heatwaves.

Webber says historic homeowners looking for relief from the sweltering heat should:

Turn on ceiling fans – Used in conjunction with an air conditioning system or not, Webber says ceiling fans are very effective circulating cooler air. Remember - in the summer, ceiling fan blades should rotate counterclockwise to push cool air down; in the winter hit the reverse button to save heat.

Postpone the use of 'hot' appliances — The oven, dishwasher and dryer should only be used in the evening or overnight. Or grill outside versus using the oven or stove.

Keep inside doors open — Webber says you want air to flow freely - good airflow means a cooler home.  

Check window coverings — Thermal drapes, cellular shades, or blackout curtains will keep the heat outside and the cool inside.

Webber finds many Hudson Valley classic or historic homes have no ductwork - and installation is invasive and expensive. So he often recommends a mini-split ductless system, which permits customized heating and cooling throughout - even room to room.

Webber says several ductless air-handling units can hook up to one outdoor compressor / condenser, and unlike ducted systems, the footprint of a ductless system is minimal.

These systems, he says, are least invasive and the fastest way to heat and cool a new addition or a repurposed room. Ductless systems also use substantially less energy, Webber says, estimating his clients are saving as much as 30 percent on annual utility bills.

Finally, Webber says traditional ducted HVAC systems must be professionally cleaned on a regular basis - but even after cleaning, dust and allergens are left behind. While ductless systems offer multi-stage filtration to drastically reduce dust, bacteria, pollen, allergens and other particles in the air.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Safe Flying with Your Infant

August 9, 2017 12:51 am

Are you gearing up for a trip with your baby? Whether it's the first time flying with a child or the tenth time, it's never too late to brush up on safety. Below are a handful of things to keep in mind from

Pre-trip preparation

Pick the best time to travel with an infant - Keeping your child on a routine that's similar to their regular daily schedule lessens the odds of crankiness and fussiness. Avoiding early morning or late night flights may work for some parents, while others may find that is the best time to fly. Avoiding peak travel times will potentially give you more space on board and fewer people to avoid should your child have a meltdown.

Non-peak times include late mornings and Saturdays. Depending on the length of the flight and where you are headed, it might be advantageous to schedule nap time during your flight time. As Christine Stevens, a Certified Sleep Consultant at Sleepy Tots Consulting, suggests, "do whatever you can to get your child to sleep. Sleep rules go out the window and it's more like a 'do what you have to do' scenario."

Packing tips for traveling with infants and toddlers - Lap infants don't typically get a carry-on or checked baggage allowance, so you'll have to combine your baby's stuff with your own. Airlines typically let passengers flying with infants and children check strollers and car seats for no additional cost (a few airlines may even let you bring these items on board as carry-ons too). Infants and children with their own seats typically get the same baggage allowance as adults. No matter what the baggage situation is, be sure to pack as light as possible. It may also pay to shell out a little extra to check bags rather than wrestle with keeping track of both carry-ons and kids at the same time. If you're traveling solo, packing light and checking bags to free up your hands is ideal.

Tips for travel day

What to remember before you board:
- Check out the departure airport's website ahead of time to see what amenities are offered – from nursing pods to family bathrooms to restaurants and children's activities.

- At the gate, let your children walk around and let the baby crawl. This is the time for kids to use up some of that extra energy before they have to sit for a while.

Inflight tips and tricks

Accidents/spills: Drinks spill, food falls over – especially during unexpected turbulence. Keep calm and carry on. If you have forgotten wipes, ask a flight attendant for napkins or a wet cloth. "Our son once got air sick, and we forgot an extra pair of pants. I had an extra shirt so we fashioned a pair of pants for him out of a shirt," says Jessica Moran, an expatriate who has moved eight times with her two children and travels frequently with them as well.

Bad behavior: If you think your child might act up or get fussy, speak up. "Pre-apologize to everyone around you for your potentially fussy/tired children," says Moran, who notes other passengers are normally quite understanding and helpful.

What to remember once you land in your destination

- If you gate checked your stroller, you can pick it up right as you get off the aircraft.

- If you're making a connection, speak to the ground staff about amenities that can help, from the use of luggage carts to transport carry-on items to shuttle service between terminals. Some airlines have staff that will help passengers get from gate to gate.

- Check out the arrival airport's website ahead of time to see what amenities are offered – from nursing pods to family bathrooms to the location of hotel shuttles and car rental desks.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Why Everyone Should Plan for Long-Term Care

August 9, 2017 12:51 am

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Be a Better Volunteer

August 7, 2017 1:03 am

(Family Features)—Volunteers are the driving force for many community causes. Get your start as a volunteer with these tips:

1. Identify a cause or organization that strikes a personal chord. Investing personally helps ensure you genuinely enjoy the time and means you're more likely to give your best effort.

2. Explore what you can give. It may be basic labor like sorting donated items, making calls or stuffing envelopes, but there could also be room to lend your own special skills or talents, such as bookkeeping or artistry.

3. Approach your volunteer role as you would a paying job. Meet with leaders beforehand to gain a clear understanding of mutual objectives, organize a work schedule and deliver on your commitments.

4. Invite friends or family to join you to make giving back to your community an experience you can share together.

Source: Family Features Editorial Syndicate

Published with permission from RISMedia.

3 Strange Things to Clean With

August 7, 2017 1:03 am

When cleaning your home, look past the vacuum and mop to get the job done right. Below are three strange household items that can be a huge help when cleaning.

Mismatched Socks
You know those socks that seem to lose their partners in the wash? Put them in a pile and use them for cleaning! Unlike a rag, you can slip your whole hand inside the sock, which offers better accuracy and mobility when cleaning the shower, counters and more.

Aluminum Foil
Did you know you could clean your old tarnished silver with boiled aluminum foil? Yep, you read that right! Simply boil one liter of water, a tablespoon of baking soda and one strip of foil. Once rolling, drop your tarnished silverware in for 10-20 seconds and remove with tongs. Voila!

Clean smudges from your windows, streaks from your glass and stains from your silver by scrubbing with a little bit of toothpaste. Afterward, wipe clean to avoid any lingering residue.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

8 Odd Things to Wash in the Dishwasher

August 7, 2017 1:03 am

Move over, dinner plates! The dishwasher can actually be used to wash a myriad of strange items. Below is a good rundown. A quick bit of common sense: if sudsing up something super greasy or grimy (like an old hubcap), don't mix your eatery into the same load.

Rubber boots and flip flops. Want to wash your favorite rubber footwear? Pop them in the dishwasher upside down.

Kitchen spongers. Toss them into the silverware tray for a speedy sanitize!

House keys. Ever wonder how filthy your house keys get over the years? So long as none of your keys have electric starters, pop the whole ring into the silverware tray.

Grill rack. Is your grill rack covered in grease? Place it on the top tray and set the heat to high to get it gleaming again.

Hubcaps. Crazy but true! Just add a cup of white vinegar to your detergent and hit start.

Nail clippers. Pop these in the silverware tray and they're good as new.

Tools. Get your favorite tools gleaming with a quick cycle in the washer.

Contact lens cases. The dishwasher is a great place to sanitize these every couple weeks or so.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Can You Retire on a Cruise Ship?

August 4, 2017 12:36 am

For many of today's retirees who are younger, stronger, and far more active than retirees of yore, the idea of retiring to a cruise ship lifestyle—adventure, luxury dining, daily maid service and more—has very definite appeal.

In fact, with a full agenda of activities and entertainment, medical care available if you need it, and no dishes to wash or beds to make—ever—at a cost that may be no more prohibitive than retirement village living, it may make more than a little sense.

So say the alternative retirement planners at Cruise Retirement Ltd., who make it possible for people 50 years-plus to purchase a stateroom on a luxury cruise ship and enjoy unlimited travel in style. You can have full access to cruise ship amenities, see the world's most exotic destinations, and pay all your bills (with the exception of personal extras) with a single monthly payment.

You take your cruise ship friends with you all over the world, families can visit you in any port, and you'll never lack for something to do or a dance or dining partner.

For retirees who don't need regular medical supervision, it may be a wonderful option—so much so that a number of cruise companies directly target the retirement and pre-retirement set.

How financially viable is the idea?

According to a survey published in PubMed, which aggregates biomedical data for the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), living on a cruise ship costs only about $2,000 more annually than staying in a retirement village or an assisted living facility—although critics have said that rising prices may make that figure outdated.

Still, the next time you (or your parents) embark on a luxury cruise, don't be surprised if you (or they) consider staying on that ship for years!

Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Help Your Community

August 4, 2017 12:36 am

(Family Features)—Social responsibility comes in all shapes and sizes, but ultimately it comes down to one common purpose: making the world a better place. From volunteering at local shelters and community centers to feeding those in need at your local food bank, there are countless ways to give back within your community.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 25 percent of people in the U.S. volunteered in 2015. However, studies on health and volunteering show that people who volunteer report feeling emotionally, mentally and physically better. Multiple studies show that volunteering has been linked to lower stress levels, lower levels of depression and longevity.

If that's not incentive enough, lending support to organizations in your community can often bring immediate and tangible results that give you a connection and sense of community. There are some programs that even enable people to make a difference by matching them with volunteer or funding opportunities.

"It's exciting to see communities strengthened by their residents," says Angela Allen, program manager for the America's Farmers Grow Communities program, which focuses on supporting local nonprofits in rural communities with the help of local farmers. "The good news is there are several simple and easy ways people can get involved in their communities and make a difference.”

Here are five ways that you can lend a hand:

Volunteering. Nonprofit organizations rely on the support of loyal donors and volunteers to deliver on their missions to improve the communities they serve. Time and talent are among the most valuable gifts you can give a deserving cause. One of the greatest benefits of volunteering is the chance to put your energy and abilities to use for a cause you care about, whether it's feeding the hungry, rescuing animals or some other cause that is close to your heart. Volunteering provides a feel-good way to pursue your personal interests.

Giving blood. According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. There is an ongoing need to replenish a communities' blood supplies, whether for medical uses or in the aftermath of a tragedy. Giving blood is fast, relatively painless and can save lives.

Donating. Money doesn't make the world go 'round, or so the saying goes. However, it can make a difference when it comes to bettering the community. Nonprofit and community organizations rely on monetary contributions not only to fulfill their existing program needs, but also to expand those services to impact more people. Rather than a single, one-time gift, consider setting up an ongoing donation so your impact continues over time. For small or rural nonprofits in particular, a little bit goes a long way. Another touching way to donate funds: give in honor of a loved one, either as a gift for a special occasion or in memoriam. Rather than giving your parents a gift for Mother's Day or Father's Day, think about a small donation to their favorite charity.

Applying for funding opportunities. Another way to help your community thrive is by exploring avenues to create new funding opportunities for nonprofits. For example, the America's Farmers Grow Communities program provides farmers an opportunity to help a nonprofit of their choice. Eligible farmers can enroll in the program until November 1 at for a chance to direct a $2,500 donation to a local eligible nonprofit organization. Since 2010, the program has given more than $26 million to nonprofits, including food banks, emergency response organizations, youth agriculture programs and more.

Paying it forward. Not every step you take in support of your community has to be a large one; in fact, the ripple effect of a series of smaller deeds can have a truly momentous impact. You can set the feel-good wheels in motion in your own community by simply thinking about a time when someone generously gave their own resources to benefit you and paying forward that kindness with a matching endeavor. You might let a frenzied mom go ahead of you in line at the grocery store or pay for a meal for the elderly couple behind you at the drive-thru. Small gestures spread a feel-good spirit that can encourage others to do their part to make the community a better place, as well.

These are just a few ways that you can give back. Get out and meet with your friends and neighbors in your community to discover how you can best use your time and talents to help the greater good.

Source: Family Features Editorial Syndicate

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Help Your Kids Get Back to School

August 4, 2017 12:36 am

While summer is still in full swing, the annual back-to-school hustle isn't far off. Whether you have kids in Pre-K or high school, Huntington Learning Center shares the following five tips to help parents start the school year off on the right foot:

Get Organized: Now's the time to get everything prepared for the school year. Set up a homework area that is comfortable, well-lit and free of distractions. Prepare an organization system for homework and any paperwork that comes home for the parents. Stocking up on brand-new school supplies can get your child excited about the year ahead of them, and don't forget to grab a new planner for the student to stay on top of assignments.

Do Some Refresher Work: Incorporate school work into your child's schedule as the first day of school approaches. To practice writing, have your child keep a daily journal on the things they did during the day, and integrate reading in the nightly routine. If possible, pull out any workbooks or assignments from last year and review the material with your child.

Get Back Into Routine: Summer schedules are oftentimes more relaxed than during the school year, so prepare your children for school once again by implementing the school routine a few weeks before school actually starts. Begin enforcing an earlier bed and wake time that are similar to the school year routine and think about getting a family calendar started.

Review Expectations: Strong parent-student communication is a key to success, so establish an open communication system. Before the school year starts, be open with your child about your expectations about performance and assignment completion. When the syllabus comes home, walk through the upcoming year with your child, discussing large projects or tests and how to best tackle them.

Talk About Goals: Goal-setting can be a powerful tool. Talk with your child about the things that he or she would like to accomplish or change this school year on both the academic level and others. If your child had any difficulties last year, let him or her know you are there to help and want to maintain open communication about school.

Source: Huntington Learning Center

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Age in Place Easier

August 2, 2017 12:45 am

If you hope to age in your home, you’re not alone. Aging in place is becoming increasingly popular, as many Americans choose to live in their own spaces longer. However, if you hope to age in your home, or you’re helping a loved one age in theirs, you may need to do a remodel. The most common space that needs revamping is the bathroom. Below are a handful of tips from Gold Medal Service for redesigning your bathroom in an age-friendly style.

Things homeowners can do to adapt their bathrooms so it is safer for anyone with limited mobility to use include:

Remodel the bathroom on the main floor. If you have a house with multiple levels, consider remodeling the bathroom which is located on the same level as the bedroom of the physically impaired person who will be using it. Having to climb stairs every time they need to use the bathroom is challenging for individuals with limited mobility, and presents an increased risk.

Provide extra space in the bathroom. Make sure there is enough room in the bathroom to move a wheelchair around. Plan for extended periods of time when the physically-impaired person will need a wheelchair, a walking frame or cane, with doorways set to at least 32 inches wide. And ensure that there is enough space to position a wheelchair next to the toilet, bath or shower, to enable a safe and easy transfer.

Stick with non-slip floors. Non-slip tiles are a must to prevent slipping and tripping on the bathroom floor. Loose rugs can be hazardous so stick with non-slip materials.

Make tubs and showers more accessible. Consider a customized bath wet area. Walk-in tubs are a great solution for the physically impaired, and older bath tubs can easily be replaced with a walk-in bathtub. Consider having a seating area in the shower so an individual does not have to remain standing the entire time while showering. And be sure that the tub and shower surfaces are non-slip as well.

Add grab bars. Using towel rails as grab bars is a major safety risk as they will not support a person. Instead, install grab bars following manufacturer's instructions carefully. Having grab bars next to the bath, shower and toilet are critical to help support someone when they move around the bathroom.

Mind the lighting. Make sure you have ample lighting in the bathroom with a minimal amount of glare.

Remember an elevated toilet seat. People with mobility impairments often find it difficult to stand up from a low-set toilet. Adapting to an elevated toilet seat is helpful and reduces the stress of sitting and standing. Wheelchair users will also find that a wide toilet seat is beneficial, as they can then rely on a lateral sliding transfer to move from the wheelchair to the toilet seat and back.

Consider extra accessories. Properly locating things like soap dishes, shaving stands and shower caddies will make using the bathroom more convenient and safe. Having your professional bathroom installer advise you on where to install accessories will eliminate the need to stretch or reach for soap or shaving cream, minimizing the risk of falling.

Use low-maintenance materials. When you remodel your bathroom, consider using modern materials that are easy to clean, are mildew-resistant, and have a lifetime guarantee. There are many available options for colors, patterns, and styles.

Source: Gold Medal Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.

A Guide to CEO Activism

August 2, 2017 12:45 am

Are you a CEO considering taking a stance as an activist? CEOs speaking out on hotly debated current issues comes with both risks and rewards. Below, Weber Shandwick identified 10 strategies that CEOs and their companies should consider when approaching activism.

- Don't ignore the slippery generational slope. Millennials are moving into the next generation of leadership and they do not want their CEOs to be bystanders.

- Estimate the price of silence. Millennials are watching.

- Be fully prepared to commit time and company resources.

- Look in the mirror to make sure your organization practices what it preaches. You will be held accountable.

- Consider the channels, messages and tone of voice used when speaking out. Ensure the reasons behind the CEO's stance are clearly articulated and vetted.

- Strength in numbers such as petitions, coalitions, etc. might be a viable solution to a steady drumbeat of contentious political and social issues.

- Have a crisis preparedness plan for a potential social media firestorm.

- Expect to be asked to speak up the next time a hot button issue arises.

- Develop a thick skin and anticipate criticism.

- Establish a firm link between the issue, your company's values and its business.

Source: Weber Shandwick

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Reduce Energy Reliance with Home Upgrades

August 2, 2017 12:45 am

(Family Features)--Enhancing your home's energy-efficient features is a savvy way to make the space more livable while also making a smaller impact on the environment and your bank account.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average American homeowner spends about $2,000 a year on energy for heating, cooling and other power needs throughout the house. However, inefficiencies caused by poorly operating systems, drafts and other energy drains may account for as much as 10-20 percent of wasted money each year.

Whether your motivation is reducing home energy expenses, creating a more earth-conscious lifestyle or both, there are numerous ways you can make a significant impact on your home's energy efficiency.

Faulty seals and cracks are responsible for as much as 20 percent of air infiltration into or out of the home, according to U.S. Department of Energy data. Windows are a major culprit for these types of leaks.
If a complete window replacement is out of your budget, there are still numerous ways you can improve the energy efficiency of existing windows. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that adding storm windows can reduce the amount of heat lost through windows by as much as 25-50 percent. Caulking and adding weather stripping around windows can also make a noticeable difference, as can window coverings such as blinds or drapes that minimize the transfer of heat and cold through window panes.

Like windows, doors, and especially their perimeters, are a common source of lost energy. Poor insulation due to faulty installation or simply wear over time can contribute to energy loss.
Aside from ensuring a properly installed, insulated and sealed doorway, the door itself can also make a difference when it comes to energy efficiency. For example, foam insulated entry doors offer greater energy conservation than wooden alternatives. Also remember that proper sealing and installation applies to all access points, including garage doors.

Fifth Wall (a.k.a., the Ceiling)
An often overlooked home element, but one homeowners and interior designers are increasingly turning attention to, is the ceiling, affectionately dubbed the "fifth wall." Not only does this surface offer a blank slate for introducing new style to a room, it's also an ideal space to integrate energy-efficient features such as skylights.
Skylights engage all of the senses while providing balanced, natural light that reduces reliance on powered light and ventilation fixtures. In addition, skylights can work in concert with vertical windows to create the "chimney effect" where cool, fresh air enters through vertical windows and warm, stale air escapes from the skylights, cooling your home without using electricity.

Some models like the Velux No Leak Solar Powered Fresh Air skylights, which along with installation costs are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit, are powered by solar energy, making them even more efficient. Additional features can further enhance the energy-saving benefits of installing skylights. For example, for added flare and light control, homeowners can add blinds to skylights, choosing from more than 100 colors and styles.  Learn more about making the fifth wall part of your energy-saving plan at

HVAC System
Climate control accounts for as much as half of the average home's annual energy costs, so while it's a behind-the-scenes home feature, it's an important one. An outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, or a system that isn't big enough or strong enough for your home's footprint, will draw more energy than necessary to maintain a desirable temperature. Regular service can help keep systems operating smoothly, but eventually all HVAC systems need replacing.

Source: Velux

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The First Steps for Your First Home

August 1, 2017 1:03 am

If you’re diving into homeownership for the first time, don’t panic. This is an exciting (albeit stressful) time, and there’s a lot to consider. To help, SunTrust offers the following tips when considering a first-time home purchase:

Understand Your Initial Expenses. The down payment and closing costs can really add up, but don't forget to budget for moving expenses. These include everything from truck rental to setting up water, power, cable, internet and more.

Organize Your Finances. While there are different types of loans for different needs, your finances will be thoroughly evaluated during the credit application. Make sure they are organized so you can better retrieve them throughout the application process.

Get Pre-Qualified. Lenders can use your income and credit history to give you an estimate of the home loan amount for which you qualify. The pre-qualification amount can be a helpful guideline when you are considering which properties to purchase.

Create a Realistic Timeline. Even with a pre-qualification, loans can take weeks to be finalized. Work with a loan officer to decide the best type of loan for your situation and make sure your loan will be ready in advance of your closing.

Source: SunTrust

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Better to Buy or Rent? Depends on Location

August 1, 2017 1:03 am

If you’re wondering whether to buy or rent, you should know that your location matters. To help home-seekers better navigate the housing market in their community, GOBankingRates surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and identified which states are best for buying a home and which are better suited for renting.

1. Arizona

Monthly rent: $1,273
Monthly mortgage: $1,326

2. Colorado

Monthly rent: $1,807
Monthly mortgage: $1,918

3. Washington, D.C.

Monthly rent: $2,632
Monthly mortgage: $2,718

4. Hawaii

Monthly rent: $2,433
Monthly mortgage: $2,916

5. Idaho

Monthly rent: $1,187
Monthly mortgage: $1,299

6. Montana

Monthly rent: $1,239
Monthly mortgage: $1,420

7. Nevada

Monthly rent: $1,293
Monthly mortgage: $1,373

8. North Carolina

Monthly rent: $1,157
Monthly mortgage: $1,233

9. Oregon

Monthly rent: $1,642
Monthly mortgage: $1,704

10. Utah

Monthly rent: $1,440
Monthly mortgage: $1,606

11. Wyoming

Monthly rent: $1,166
Monthly mortgage: $1,174


Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Eat Like an Italian

August 1, 2017 1:03 am

It’s long been rumored that a Mediterranean style of eating is great for your health. But what is a true Mediterranean diet, and how can you emulate one at home? According to, the Society for Vascular Surgery, "Mediterranean diet" is a catchall phrase for cuisine found in Mediterranean countries. The diet generally features lots of fish and non-red meat sources, extra-virgin olive oil and plenty of fruit and vegetables, with additional flavor coming from herbs and spices, not salt.

A diet following these guidelines has been shown to improved vascular health and reduce deaths from cardiovascular issues. Below are a handful of tips to guide you:

1. Less salt, more flavor. The sodium in salt contributes to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for artery disease. High blood pressure causes blood to pump harder through the vessels, which stresses and weakens them. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of sodium per day as an ideal goal, and no more than 2,300 mg.

TIP – Cut back on salt; perk up flavor with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, vinegars, lemon juice and other favorite flavorings. Seasonings popular in Mediterranean cooking are basil, chilies, cloves, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, oregano, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon and thyme.

TIP 2 - Avoid pizza. As an example, one slice of meat-topped pizza from a national chain has 1,300 mg of sodium, according to the company's website.

2. Eat salmon or mackerel. These fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which inhibit plaque inside the arteries, reduce blood clots and may increase good cholesterol and lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week. Other high omega 3 fish choices: cold-water varieties like tuna, trout, sardines and herring.

TIP – Fresh salmon can be pricy, but diners can save money by following the next tip.

3. If you like beef and pork, choose lean cuts, only occasionally and keep portion sizes moderate. Avoid lamb and poultry with skin. These are all high in saturated fats, which contain dietary cholesterol that can build up in the arteries. Researchers are still looking at the causes and effects of eating red meats, but until scientists have definitive answers, moderation is best.  

TIP - Get protein from beans, legumes and nuts. Plant-based proteins are filling and healthful; think minestrone soup with beans or quinoa with pine nuts.

4. Eat more whole grains. Whole grains found in Mediterranean cooking include barley, oats, polenta, rice and couscous. Whole grains have soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help improve blood cholesterol levels by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Whole grains also are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

TIP – Avoid highly refined white bread, such as that in garlic bread, and white flour pasta.

5. Make fruits and vegetables a staple. In Mediterranean cuisine, a rainbow of vegetables and fruits are used in abundance. Not only do fruits and vegetables add vitamins and fiber to the diet, a new study has found that eating three or more servings per day is associated with a significant decrease in developing peripheral artery disease (PAD) and the foods are also associated with fewer heart attacks and strokes.

TIP – Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are better than canned. Avoid adding extra salt or sugar for maximum benefit.

6. Use extra-virgin olive oil in place of other fats. Olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), may have important health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs may lower bad cholesterol and improve the function of blood vessels. They also may help with insulin and blood sugar control, which is good for diabetics.

TIP – Avoid trans fats, such as those in margarine and some commercial baked goods, as they contribute to artery disease

Source: Society for Vascular Surgery

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Digital Communication: Anytime, Anywhere

July 31, 2017 12:54 am

How do you chat to colleagues at work? According to two surveys recently conducted by Robert Half Technology, most professionals still believe email reigns supreme in the workplace.

Survey results show that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of CIOs and 53 percent of office workers still think email will be the most common way to communicate internally through 2020. Quicker, less formal means of touching base may also be gaining favor, as those who believe email is on the way out cited instant messaging as the most likely replacement.

When asked which communication channel is most effective for planning, strategizing and follow-up, though, office workers from various industries and roles ranked in-person meetings first (37 percent), followed by email (27 percent), instant messaging (19 percent) and phone calls (9 percent). Perhaps unsurprisingly, busy CIOs favored email (41 percent), followed by in-person meetings (22 percent), instant messaging (13 percent) and phone calls (9 percent).

Although email is expected to remain the most popular form of workplace communication, more than one in four professionals (28 percent) surveyed cited instant messaging as their primary channel for communicating with coworkers. One reason may be immediacy: 76 percent of workers surveyed said they feel more pressure to respond immediately to instant messaging versus email, and 90 percent expect an immediate response when they send an instant message. Following are some additional findings on how workers view instant messaging:

Rules of Engagement: 54 percent of professionals said their company has clear rules about how to use its internal messaging platform, like a requirement to update status as "Online," "Busy" or "Away" to keep colleagues informed.

Do Not Disturb: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent of respondents) have received a message when their status is set to "do not disturb" or "busy," and 30 percent of those professionals said they were "annoyed" by the intrusion. Professionals thirty-five and older were more annoyed than their younger colleagues and more likely to refrain from sending a message when a coworker's status is "busy."

Open for Business: Most professionals said their primary motivation for staying "online" with their organization's messaging platform was to inform coworkers they are working and available (56 percent). Other respondents use it to quickly access their colleagues (22 percent) and talk to fellow employees in real-time (17 percent).

Source:  Robert Half Technology

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Redoing Your Bathroom or Kitchen? Faucets First

July 31, 2017 12:54 am

If you’re planning a home renovation, there are dozens of details you’re likely juggling. When it comes to the bathroom and the kitchen, the experts at Moen suggest starting with the faucet and building out. If you aren't sure where to begin, Moen suggests that a wholesale showroom may be a good starting point to get ideas "flowing." Below are their top tips for faucet shopping:

Do Your Faucet Research
Beginning is as easy as logging onto your computer. Simply search the terms "wholesale plumbing showrooms," along with your city, and you'll quickly have a list of showrooms in your neighborhood. In addition, many manufacturers offer "Where to Buy" functions on their websites which provide a list of local showrooms located within a certain radius of your home.

Before venturing out to your local wholesale showroom, be sure to check which are open to the public and which are for trade professionals only. Showrooms that are open to the public may have consumer orientation programs and tours, which is a great way to familiarize yourself with the showroom and see if they offer your favorite brands. If you don't have the opportunity to take advantage of the tours, you're welcome to simply visit the showroom and look around on your own or take a virtual tour online.

Compiling a list of questions, as well as brands and specific products you find interesting, may also help streamline your wholesale showroom shopping process. Eighty two percent of shoppers consult the internet about a purchase they're about to make in-store*, but a showroom can save time by providing the answers you need in-person and help turn your online dreams into a reality.

Browsing and Buying Faucets at Showrooms
One advantage of wholesale showroom shopping is seeing the most innovative and stylish products from today's top designers and manufacturers. For example, when looking to purchase a new faucet, wholesale showrooms display many of the latest products with innovative features such as pulldown and pullout spouts, as well as new finishes including stainless, oil rubbed bronze and matte black. Showroom consultants can be another great resource and advantage. Also versed in the latest trends, they can be helpful in recommending products to suit your lifestyle. In addition, showrooms often feature products in vignettes made to look like actual kitchens and baths.

Happy Faucet Shopping
Don't be overwhelmed with the size or number of products offered at many showrooms. Remember that the showroom consultants are there to be your guide – to assist in your selection process and serve as a valuable resource. Also, don't be afraid to share a realistic budget with the consultants. It will only help you both in selecting products that are right for you and your home. Lastly, enjoy the experience! Showrooms are a virtual wonderland of new products, styles and trends and have offered design inspiration to thousands of homeowners.

Source: Moen

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Hittin’ the Road With Rover

July 28, 2017 12:54 am

There’s nothing like the excitement of packing up the family for that greatly anticipated road trip… except when you have to leave your best friend behind. A recent survey from Nature's Recipe® found that although two-thirds of pet parents nationwide wish they could take their pup on every trip, nearly half avoid traveling with their dog due to the hassle.

To help solve the dilemma, Nature's Recipe enlisted travel expert and author of, Stefanie Michaels, for the following tips on how to take your pup along on your next adventure:  

Choose a trip that suits your dog: Select a destination that works for your dog. For example, if your trip involves long hikes and your pooch is elderly or not in the right condition for such exercise, this may not be the best vacation for him or her.

Find pet-friendly lodging: There are a lot of dog-friendly hotels around the country but many have a specific amount of rooms allocated for pets, so make sure to book ahead of time.
Pet food on-the-go: Instead of packing pet food ahead of time, lighten the load by purchasing dog food at when you arrive destination.

Pack for your pup: Be sure to bring a few things that matter to your dog: favorite toys, treats and chew toys, a blanket, food and water bowls, and an extra leash.

Keep your dog entertained: Investigate places along the way that you can enjoy with your dog as opposed to leaving him or her in the car. Look for outdoor events, parks, and pet-friendly restaurants. This will make the trip more memorable for the entire family.

"I've traveled to hundreds of places and many of my favorite trips included my four-legged family members," says Michaels. "Bringing your pets on trips can be a great bonding experience."

Source: Nature’s Recipe

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Summer Water Conservation Tips

July 28, 2017 12:54 am

Whether you live in a drought-prone area or are just trying to green up your home routine, there are many ways you can conserve water this summer. Below are a few:

Take shorter showers. Luckily, hot weather makes it easier to take shorter showers, as you don’t need to wait for the water to heat up. Cut water off while you shampoo or shave, then turn it back on for rinsing.

Install aerators on your faucet. This device mixes air with water, which causes you to use less. It's a simple way to conserve water while using your faucets without even thinking about it.

Invest in energy efficient appliances that use less water, like your toilet, washing machine or dishwasher.

Double check your plumbing for leaks – either from toilets or faucets. There are a couple different ways to do this, so we suggest calling a local plumber to help determine the best approach for your home.

Source: Benjamin Franklin Plumbing®

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Include More Nutrients into Your Diet

July 28, 2017 12:54 am

(Family Features)--A nutritious diet is crucial for overall health and well-being. While it's OK to indulge from time to time, it's important to make sure you're providing your body with appropriate nourishment.

There are many ways to help you add more of the essential nutrients you need into everyday meals, including these nutritious ideas from CocoaVia.

Sneak in More Fruits and Vegetables. You can bulk up the nutritional value of nearly any meal by incorporating fruits or vegetables directly into your recipes. Pureeing veggies is a good way to disguise textures or flavors you might typically avoid. For example, celery is a natural flavor enhancer for many types of broth soup. Adding finely pureed celery to the stock will add the flavor without the crunchy bits. You can also slip vegetables like spinach or carrots into smoothies, and depending on the base and fruit, you may never even taste them. Fresh, canned or frozen, fruit can give a boost of nutrition to dishes like oatmeal or pudding. You can also use purees (think applesauce) as a low-fat substitute for eggs and oil in baked goods like cake.

Go Frozen. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a wealth of essential vitamins and nutrients, but you may be surprised that their frozen counterparts do the same. Frozen foods are often perceived as less nutritious, but they can contain just as many nutrients as fresh produce. In fact, since freezing often involves picking the food at its peak and then quickly freezing it, freezing can actually help retain vitamins more efficiently than refrigeration or canning; frozen vegetables can actually hold on to nutrients longer than fresh produce and are a great alternative when seasonal fruits and vegetables are unavailable. In many cases, frozen veggies also make it easy to experiment with better-for-you meals because the cleaning and prep work is already done. You can try adding them to soups, stir-fries, casseroles and even pasta dishes.

Cook Quickly. If you've historically shied away from cooked vegetables, you may find that proper preparation is the secret ingredient. Not only does overcooking veggies deplete their flavor, in most cases it also diminishes their nutritional value. Cook veggies lightly and quickly using methods like stir-frying or steaming to help retain water-soluble nutrients like vitamins B and C.

Get Saucy. You may think of dishes covered in rich gravy or sauce as unhealthy, and in some cases, you would be right. However, it's actually quite possible to create saucy dishes that taste terrific. Both tomato sauce and pesto add nutrients and can top pretty much anything, from pastas to grilled chicken. Tomato sauce contains lycopene, a bright plant pigment known as a carotenoid that has been linked to a range of health benefits. Pesto is traditionally made with healthy pine nuts and basil, but you can also get creative and prepare this light sauce alternative with options such as arugula, spinach and heart-healthy walnuts or pecans.

Consider Cocoa Flavanols. Another option to consider adding to your diet is cocoa flavanols. These plant-based phytonutrients are found naturally in cocoa, and research supports that these flavanols work within your body to help maintain healthy blood flow. While chocolate, including dark chocolate and natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder, can be sources of cocoa flavanols, they are often not a reliable source of cocoa flavanols. The way cocoa is handled matters in the retention of these phytonutrients. However, one easy way to add cocoa flavanols to your routine is by incorporating a daily cocoa extract supplement, such as CocoaVia, which contains the highest concentration available in a cocoa extract supplement today.

Source: CocoaVia

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Up the Cozy Factor in Your Home

July 27, 2017 12:48 am

Looking for a home so cozy you almost want to cuddle with it? The follows design elements can create a comforting, warm space that you will never want to leave.

Warm colors. Add warm colors to your walls, accents, linens window hangings and more to create a snuggly vibe inside. Deep orange, rusty reds, buttery yellows and soft off-white colors can all add a “stay at home” vibe to your space.

Plush textures. From fleecy blankets thrown over every chair, to faux-fur pillows and rugs, having textures you want to lounge on will seriously up the cozy factor in your living space.

Soft lighting. Nothing derails a cozy home faster than harsh lighting. Add dimmers to your overheads and add ample accent lights on the walls and tables for a soft, warm glow.

Well designed storage. Clutter is the antithesis of a cuddly space. From properly organized closets to sneaky storage spaces (like under your sofa seats or automan), having a place to stow away your belongings that aren’t being used will create a sleek vibe.

Extra lounge areas. Move past the living room set for lounge spaces. An oversized sofa, a sweet day bed, a hammock, big cushy floor pillows--all of these lounge areas can up the cozy ante in your home.  

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Have Happier Children on Vacation

July 27, 2017 12:48 am

Vacation is fun and exciting. But when traveling with children, things can get stressful--especially when you’re exposing young children to new experiences and taking them out of their routings. So how can you ensure your kids are relaxed and at ease while traveling?

According to, parents said that the two most important things to avoid disaster were to bring travel games and books to occupy their little ones as well as having a first aid kit handy (both 43 percent).

This was followed by:

- Packing emergency snacks (42%)
- Covering kids in bug spray/sunscreen (41%)
- Making sure that they brought familiar comforts, so the space feels like a home away from home (33%)
- Packing key items (e.g. swimsuit/ski gear) separately or at the top of the suitcase (31%)
- Checking out the fastest way to the beach/ski slopes (28%)
- Packing travel adapters and chargers at the top of the suitcase (25%)
- Enrolling kids into a club prior to arrival (12%)
- Renting a stroller (8%)

Even so, two in five parents (41 percent) believe that the first 24 hours of a trip can be memorable - it's sometimes the trials, tribulations, excitement and drama that are the things which can really make a vacation special.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Keys to a Successful Side Hustle

July 27, 2017 12:48 am

(Family Features)--Deciding to join the leagues of entrepreneurs launching a part-time small business can be a major personal and professional step. It's a way to stretch your creative muscles, build new skills, earn extra income from home and potentially unlock additional possibilities for you and your family in the future. It's also a significant investment of your time and talents, which is why it's important to choose the right "side hustle" for you.

Most part-time small business owners get started because they want extra income, low-risk wages, flexibility and the opportunity to contribute to the common good. However, these benefits are not enjoyed evenly across the many different types of businesses you may be considering. Learn to ask smarter questions about these highly sought-after benefits to make sure you find the right fit for you and your family:

1. Extra income: Many people seek a side job with a specific, money-oriented goal in mind. That can be increasing the monthly household income, saving toward a down payment for a new home or going on a vacation. In order to make the income you want, it's important to look at how much you can expect to earn on an ongoing basis. Look for a side gig that solves daily problems around necessities like cooking or eating to ensure your services are in-demand year-round.

2. Low-risk wages: The ideal side job is easy to start without heavy investment or training. An independent consultant business, for example, can provide low start-up costs, easy ways to join and the built-in appeal of an already established brand, so you can get to earning extra income faster. Before jumping on board, take time to learn the start-up costs associated with any part-time gig and how long it will take you to learn the necessary skills to recoup your investment.

"Starting a business can be a very expensive thing," Pampered Chef consultant Rachel Hanson said. "I was looking for something that was affordable and gave me everything I needed to get started."

3. Flexibility and family time: Being your own boss allows you to decide when you will work and when you won't, but some side gigs require work during "high-traffic" times that can detract from the freedom you are seeking. Be sure to pick a side hustle that fits your schedule and can be done at any time - or even from the comfort of your own home - if flexibility is important to you.

4. Work with purpose: If you get your drive from a powerful sense of purpose, like improving people's health or bringing families together, a side job that makes an impact is likely to give you the job satisfaction you need to succeed long-term. There are many franchise and direct-sales businesses that have strong charitable partnerships so you can give back locally while you earn extra cash. Beyond charitable work, look for roles where you are teaching important skills or solving common problems for your customers, beyond simply selling products.

Source: Pampered Chef

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Choose the Best AC Unit For Your Home

July 25, 2017 12:54 am

Summer is the season of cranking up that good old AC unit. But if you’re in the market for a new unit, you may be confused by all of the offerings. What is best for you?

"Many homeowners assume that bigger is better when it comes to an air conditioning system, but this is not the case," says Mike Nicholson, owner of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. "An oversized air conditioner can cause just as many issues as an undersized system can."

Problems with an oversized air conditioner

According to Nicholson, the air conditioning system has two jobs: it lowers the temperature of the home, and it removes moisture from the air. "If a unit is too large," he says, "it starts up and shuts down more frequently because it runs for only a short period of time to meet the thermostat set point. Then a few minutes later, it comes on and again runs for a short time. The rapid short cycling wears out the HVAC equipment out faster."

The more this occurs, the shorter the life of the system. These short cycles also impede the ability of the system to dehumidify the air as efficiently as a right size system otherwise would. In order to dehumidify the air, the system needs to run longer and not short cycle.

Problems with an undersized air conditioner

An undersized HVAC system does not put out enough air to properly cool the home and will struggle to reach the desired temperature. The unit may run longer than it needs to, as the space that it is trying to cool is too large for its output capacity. Not only will this drive up energy costs, but it will also put excessive wear and tear on the system. It may result in operational problems more frequently than it otherwise would. The long cycles of an undersized air conditioning system will result in very dry air in the home, as the HVAC system removes humidity from the air the entire time it is in operation.

If the homeowner is considering investing in a new air conditioning system for a new property or ready to replace an old, ailing system, it is important to work with a trained professional to ensure that the AC is of the right size for the home. If not, the homeowner will encounter a number of different issues while trying to cool the living space.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Trampoline Safety For the Family

July 25, 2017 12:54 am

Trampolines offer hours of fun, and great exercise for kids and adults alike. However, trampolines can also be a major safety hazard.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that parents and caregivers ensure the following to minimize and avoid trampoline injuries:

- Do not allow children younger than 6 years of age to use trampolines.

- Provide careful adult supervision, proper safety measures and instruction when trampolines are used for physical education, competitive gymnastics, diving training, and other similar activities.

- Allow only one participant at a time to use a trampoline.

- Ensure that spotters are present when participants are jumping. Somersaults or high-risk maneuvers should be avoided without proper supervision and instruction; these maneuvers should be attempted only with proper use of protective equipment, such as a harness.

- Place the trampoline-jumping surface at ground level.

- Ensure that supporting bars, strings, and surrounding landing surfaces have adequate protective padding that is in good condition and appropriately placed.

- Regularly check equipment for safety conditions; discard worn or damaged equipment if replacement parts are unavailable

- Do not rely on safety net enclosures for injury prevention; most injuries occur on the trampoline surface.

- Remove trampoline ladders after use to prevent unsupervised access by young children.

Source: AAOS

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Create a Better Work Environment for Your Employees

July 25, 2017 12:54 am

Looking to bolster the vibe in your office? You’re not alone. Maybe employers are looking to boost their office culture, which will attract the right talent, and keep your existing all-stars happy.

The Creative Group offers five tips for managers to foster an attractive, authentic company culture:

Add meaning to the job. The top driver of career satisfaction for creative professionals is doing worthwhile work, according to the Robert Half and Happiness Works study. Your team will be more engaged and enthusiastic if you assign them a variety of projects and make sure they understand how their contributions support your organization's overall purpose.

Create a learning environment. Show employees you are invested in their long-term career growth. Let staff attend trainings during business hours or send them to industry conferences, and ask individuals to share what they learn with their colleagues.

Be flexible. Many professionals want the freedom to work when and where they want. Consider offering telecommuting or alternative scheduling options if you don't already provide them.

Customize the workspace. Your physical environment can have a big impact on employees' moods and productivity. Construct spaces to accommodate different needs, like open areas for collaboration and private stations where staff members can concentrate free of distractions.

Keep it real. Fun perks like free snacks are great, but they cannot compensate for significant issues — like a culture of mistrust or lack of transparency. Potential hires will know if you're trying to woo them with cool perquisites to cover up problems.

Source: The Creative Group

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Tips to Maintain Your Fridge

July 24, 2017 12:48 am

Whether you have a brand new fridge or are trying to squeeze some extra life out of your old faithful, working to maintain your appliance before there is an issue is key.

Follow these tips to keep your fridge running smoothly for years.

Pay attention to the seals. When door seals loosen, your fridge will have to pump out extra cool air to keep your contents cool, which can put unneeded strain on the appliance. In addition to cleaning the seal to make sure it’s free from mold or food residue, you can slip a dollar bill in, close the door, and see if it stays in place. If it falls to the floor, have a service professional come to check your seals.

Keep it stocked. Regardless of how often you cook, keeping your fridge and freezer full will help it run more efficiently. More empty space means the fridge has to work harder to keep a low temperature. When the fridge stock is low, store beverages, grains, boxes of pasta or simply bottles of water to help create more thermal mass. 

Make sure the temperature is right. Proper fridge temps should stay between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0 degrees. Any higher or lower can strain your appliance.

Clean those coils. If your fridge coils are covered in dust, your appliance will have to work overtime. Twice a year, pull the fridge from the wall, unplug it and clean the coils with a soft brush or gentle vacuum.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Driving Safely With Your Pet

July 24, 2017 12:48 am

It can be fun to cruise with your pet in the car. With the window down and Fido’s tongue out, driving can feel free and easy. However, you want to be mindful that your driving habits with your pet are as safe as they are fun.

PEMCO recommends following the following to keep pets and drivers safe when hitting the road:

Restrain your pet. A well-ventilated carrier that's buckled-in prevents injury to drivers, passengers, and pets. A dog safety harness that attaches to a vehicle's rear seat belt is another safe solution.

The backseat is best. Because pets face the same front-seat injury dangers as a small child, pets are safest in the back seat - especially when using a harness.

Keep heads inside the vehicle. Feeling the wind in their fur can come at a high cost – not only can pets suffer injuries from flying road debris (even insects can seriously wound a dog's eyes), they can develop respiratory trouble from forcing cold air into their lungs.

No riding in pickup beds. While it may be legal in some areas, it's still a bad idea. In a serious crash, even a crated dog has minimal protection.

Talk to a vet. A veterinarian may be able to suggest ways to ease the trip for any beloved cats or loyal dogs who aren't happy travelers.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Understanding the Annual Monarch Butterfly Journey

July 24, 2017 12:48 am

(Family Features)--Every year, monarch butterflies embark on a 3,000-mile migration across North America. This feat of endurance lasts eight months, spans three countries and captivates people worldwide.

These graceful pollinators rely on milkweed for feeding and reproduction, but over the last decade, a reduction of milkweed habitats has occurred along the butterflies' flight path. The decline of any species can be a threat to natural diversity.

When the weather starts to warm each year, monarchs make their way north from Mexico to begin breeding. Upon arriving in Texas, the butterflies begin to lay eggs on milkweed. Milkweed is the sole food source for monarch larvae, more commonly known as caterpillars. As milkweed plantings have diminished, so has the monarch population.

Environmentalists and butterfly lovers have taken notice of the monarchs' dwindling numbers. BASF, a company that serves farmers and agricultural customers, launched Living Acres in 2015. Living Acres is a research initiative designed to help farmers establish milkweed beds in non-cropland areas.

"The goal is to raise awareness about the important role milkweed plays in the monarch life cycle," said Laura Vance, biology team lead, BASF. "We also want to make milkweed planting easier by researching the most efficient ways to raise it and then offer that knowledge to growers nationwide."

Farmers and landowners can play an important role in helping increase monarch populations simply by starting a milkweed garden. With employee-tended monarch gardens, BASF is also sustaining butterflies at its manufacturing sites. The gardens are tended to ensure the milkweed is healthy and ready for the arrival of monarchs.

As summer approaches, caterpillars begin their metamorphoses, hatching and transforming into vivid orange and black butterflies.

"If you have milkweed planted somewhere in your yard, be sure to keep an eye out for those mesmerizing monarchs," Vance said. "You just never know when one might flutter by."

Once mature, the monarchs continue their journey northward, passing over cool valleys and prairieland. Monarchs look for resting places in open plains, often settling in beds of milkweed. Prime milkweed habitats include areas alongside cornfields, gardens, playgrounds and rural roadsides.

Some of the most popular flight paths include the Corn Belt and Interstate 35, a corridor that runs from Texas to Minnesota. Legislators implemented a federal plan to create habitable space along highways for monarchs by planting milkweed in ditches. This initiative offers food and shelter for weary butterflies and provides nursery sites for monarch eggs.

Monarchs then begin winging their way south to the oyamel fir forests of Mexico. They spend their winters there, crowded together on the tree branches for warmth, which can appear to transform the trees into blazing orange clouds. When warm weather returns the following year, monarchs resume their migration northward and continue the cycle of breeding the next monarch generation.

Establishing your own milkweed habitat is a great way to get involved and make an impact on the continued reign of the monarch butterfly.

For planting tips, visit Living Acres at

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Banish Bugs From Your Kitchen, Naturally

July 20, 2017 1:00 am