REMAX 440/Central Blog

Making Sure Your HVAC is Ready for Action

May 23, 2017 3:27 am

As temperatures rise, our thermostats get lowered. Make sure your HVAC system is up for the challenge with some simple maintenance checks from Baltimore-based Winstar Home Services.

Replace your air filters: Air filters work overtime in the winter, so be sure to replace your filters. Dirty air filters make your HVAC system work harder than it needs to. This puts strain on the system, which can cause bigger issues and lead to higher utility bills.

Check and clear your unit's drainage line: Most HVAC units have a drainage line at the base of the cabinet. In order for the unit to run properly, the hole needs to be clear. To make sure the drainage line works properly, use a paper clip or a wire to ensure the hole is clear of any obstructions.

Check your ductwork for issues: Your home's ductwork, or ventilation system, can often be the cause of poorly distributed air, which means you're spending more money on cool air that isn't making its way into your house. Check for leaky connections and return vents, damaged or fallen insulation, and ensure your vents (both incoming and outgoing) are not blocked or obstructed by rugs or furnishings.

Test your unit: Turn on your AC and let in run briefly to see how it performs. If there are any problems, address them right away.

Make sure you conduct these tests before temperatures hit their peak.

SOURCE: Winstar Home Services

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How to Stretch Those Travel Dollars

May 23, 2017 3:27 am

Planning a vacation? With a few smart tweaks to your travel planning, you can save big money, according to travel resource Hotwire. Below are several Hotwire suggestions for getting more value out of your vacation.

When planning your trip, keep an open mind and focus on the type of vacation you want (beach, city, etc.), then search a variety of related locales to find the best deals.

- Check alternative airports if you're flying into a busy metropolitan area (e.g. LaGuardia and Newark if you're flying into New York City; Burbank and Long Beach if you're flying to Los Angeles).

- Consider finding a cheaper airfare and then driving to your destination to save money.

- If you can handle waiting, you'll often get the lowest rates if you delay and book a rental car or hotel room once you've landed in your destination. Use your Hotwire app for great Hot Rate deals.

- Once you have that car, fill it up yourself. Do not prepay for gas - it is almost never worth it.

- Most flights get delayed (or cancelled!) due to weather, and incoming planes being unable to land. Book your travel for early in the morning, and you'll be less likely to have to deal with the headache of cancellations.

- Try to eat before boarding your flight to be less tempted by dehydrating salty snacks and sodas during the flight. Staying hydrated is a must for combatting fatigue and headaches - especially on long flights across multiple time zones.

- If you exercise regularly, try and stick with your routine. If not, just some easy walks can help you acclimate to new surroundings and time zones.

- Be polite. Flight crews work especially hard during busy travel times; being nice to your crew (and your fellow passengers) will always enhance your travel experience.

- Do your homework – Try to spend a little time before you travel familiarizing yourself with your travel plans and airports you'll be traveling to. If you know you need to make a connection in Dallas, take some time to review the terminal maps to try and ease anxiety and frustration that can sometimes come with travel.

- And while we're on the topic of easing travel woes…just remember that with travel (and in life!), it's important to be flexible and embrace the unexpected – you can get a great experience in so many different ways.

Source: Hotwire

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You Really CAN Prevent Forest Fires

May 23, 2017 3:27 am

The majority of wildfires are actually started by people. One stupid mistake can take out acres and acres, threatening lives, homes, and nature. Whether you are camping, hiking, or just having a barbecue in your backyard, implementing proper fire safety tactics is crucial. Whenever you’re out enjoying nature, take the following suggestions into account to ensure you don’t start a wildfire.

- For campers, make sure campfires are lit a safe distance from tents or other flammable supplies.

- Contain campfires by using designated fire pits or use rocks to create a ring around your campfire.

- To extinguish a campfire, pour water on the fire, and fully drown all the embers.

- Never use volatile gasses, like gasoline, to start a fire.

- Avoid burning garbage, treated wood, or yard waste.

- For smokers, don't discard smoldering cigarette butts – snuff them out and put them in a designated garbage container.

Source: www.pemco.com/DontGetBurned.

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How to Prep Your Home for Summer

May 22, 2017 3:24 am

Summer is the sweetest season. But for homeowners, it can also be a busy time, full of improvements and repairs. Below is a list of preparations from Gold Medal Service that homeowners can do to prepare their homes for the summer.

Change air filters – Check your air filters every 30 days. During summer, air filters should be replaced every 30 to 90 days, depending on the type of filter you use. Dirty air filters reduce airflow through the system causing it to work harder than it should, while using more energy, resulting in higher energy bills.

Inspect window and door seals – Prevent hot air from leaking into your home through damaged window and door seals, or small cracks in the walls. Cheap materials like caulk and masking tape will go a long way to prevent hot air from entering your home and cool air from escaping your home. Good insulation will also help to keep your energy bills low.

Consider shades or overhangs for your windows – This will help to naturally cool your indoor space by reducing the amount of solar heat you let into your home.

Use your ceiling and/or attic fans – Moving air helps to remove heat from your home. Ceiling fans will help to reduce the thermostat temperature inside your home by about four degrees. Properly installed attic fans will also push the hot, trapped air out of your attic, reducing the workload on your HVAC unit.

Clear away debris from the air conditioning system's condenser – You have a condenser installed somewhere outside your home. Leaves, branches or any garden debris can easily build up against the system, which could cause problems in the long run. Remove any foreign material heaped up against the unit.

Clean the registers and ductwork inside the home – Make sure the registers inside your home aren't covered with carpets, furniture or anything else that will obstruct the air flow. Open each register and check for foreign objects like toys and pet hair that could be lodged in the HVAC ductwork. Use a flashlight to carefully check the surface of the ductwork for any signs of mold. Call a professional if you find signs of mold as it can cause respiratory distress and other health problems.

Schedule an annual tune-up – This is critical so technicians can catch minor problems before it becomes a serious, costly affair. A faulty system can emit harmful gasses, most notably carbon monoxide. Regular maintenance will not only prevent system failures, but also keep your family safe.

Mind your HVAC system's refrigerant – Homeowners with a cooling system that was manufactured before 2010, should be aware of the phasing out of R-22 refrigerant, an ozone-depleting gas used in older HVAC units. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of R-22 refrigerant, effective from 2020, due to the negative effect it has on the atmosphere. It will become increasingly difficult to find R-22 refrigerant needed for general maintenance of older HVAC systems, and prices will increase due to scarcity. Discuss your options with a professional if you have an older HVAC system.

Source: www.goldmedalservice.com.

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Travelers Today Are More Stressed Than Ever Before

May 22, 2017 3:24 am

While traveling can be exciting and fun, it can also be stressful. You’re in an unfamiliar place, you don’t know your way around, and you may not even speak the language! And despite the increase in easy technology -- there’s an app for everything these days! -- many travelers are reporting more stress today than a year ago.                                        
A new survey put on by Wyndham Vacation Rentals® has identified the main factors that are freaking today’ s travellers out.i

Too many choices: Two in three (67 percent) vacationers have become stressed due to 'information overload' and are paralyzed with too many choices when researching and planning. Two in five (41 percent) get stressed about scheduling things to do during their trip.

Trouble leaving the daily grind behind: Once on vacation, it takes time to unwind and forget about the stress of work and personal responsibilities. Three in 10 (30 percent) U.S. travelers don't feel truly relaxed until the second day of vacation or later.

Relationship-testing moments: Two in three (67 percent) have argued with a travel companion as a result of stress caused by planning or taking a vacation. One in four (25 percent) have even broken up with a significant other while traveling. The good news? One in four (26 percent) have also met the love of their life on vacation.

Source: About Wyndham Vacation Rentals

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Tips to Keep the Family Safe All Summer

May 22, 2017 3:24 am

Summer is a season of fun. But in between all that outdoor playtime, it’s important to pay mind to safety. Injury Prevention Specialist Jennifer Hoekstra shares the following tips for families kicking off the summer season:

Stay out of cold water.  Favorite swimming spots can still be cold in early summer months. Temperatures fluctuate from day to day in many inland lakes.  Resist the urge to swim until water temperatures rise above 70 degrees.

Watch out for heat stroke. Know how to identify heat stroke.  Limit your exposure to high temperatures and take breaks by going indoors to rest in air conditioning.  Try finding a shady spot and be sure children have adequate rest and hydration after play.

Drink water, not a diet cola. You cannot stay properly hydrated on Diet Coke or alcoholic beverages.  Drink lots of water if you are going to be in the heat.  If you experience dizziness or light-headedness, find a cool shady spot, sit down, and drink more water.  

Know your prescriptions. Many prescription drugs can trigger increased sensitivity to sunburn. Read labels carefully on any medication you are taking before going out in the sun.

Wait before you take a bite out of that peach! Take the time to wash any fruits or vegetables purchased at local farmers markets.  It is likely these items have not been washed and may have dirt or bacteria lingering.

Don't leave kids alone in the car. This warning is simple and very serious.  Do not leave your children unattended in your vehicle for any period of time. Within 10 minutes the temperature inside a vehicle rises by 20 degrees and by 40 degrees in an hour. If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911.

Be a water watcher.  Whether your children are in a backyard swimming pool, at a community center or swimming in a lake, always watch them. Swimming pools are the most common site for drowning among children 4 and under.

Pick out the right shades. Bring along a pair of sunglasses that provide adequate UV protection. Most brands come with labels stating if they are effective against the sun's harmful rays.  Grab your kids a colorful and fun pair too.

Always assume the fire is hot. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from a fire pit for 24 hours after use. Coals don't have to be glowing red to be hot and dangerous.

Don't walk distracted. When walking to friends' houses or the neighborhood pool, teach kids to put down their cell phones and not take photos while walking or crossing the street.  Always make eye contact with drivers before crossing and use designated crosswalks.

Source: http://www.spectrum-health.org

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Clean Machine: Tackling the Fridge and Freezer

May 18, 2017 12:42 am

If there’s a funky smell coming from the depths of your refrigerator or small icebergs forming in your freezer, it’s time to bite the bullet and do a deep clean. Not only will this make for an odor-free, organized environment for your fresh and frozen foods, more importantly, it will ensure your food’s safety. Follow these tips from the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association to make the task easy and effective:

1. Prepare. Unplug the refrigerator to save energy and to safely clean coils. Empty ice from your freezer into a cooler where you can store food you plan to keep. Fill the sink with warm soapy water for cleaning shelves and drawers. Set out dishtowels on counter tops for drying. Fill a spray bottle with a cleaning solution of 1cup water, 1 teaspoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of dish soap.

2. Purge. Empty the refrigerator, then the freezer, and place items on counter. Take time to sort and discard old, unwanted foods, drinks and condiments. Check expiration dates and beware of moldy and freezer-burned foods. When in doubt, toss it out!

3. Clean. Remove drawers and shelves and clean them in the sink with warm soapy water; set aside to dry. Spray the interior with cleaner, and wipe from the top down with a warm, wet sponge or towel. Thoroughly dry and replace drawers and shelves. Wash the exterior door and handles. Replace water and ice-maker filters if needed. Clean the grill on bottom front of refrigerator. Consider cleaning the condenser coils for optimum cooling efficiency (refer to manufacturer directions).

4. Check Temps. Food kept too long or at improper temperatures can become contaminated with bacteria, which can cause foodborne illness. Your refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40 degrees and your freezer 0 degrees or less to ensure food safety. You can check the temperatures with an appliance thermometer.

5. Organize. When restocking your clean refrigerator and freezer, organize according to usage and group like items together. Label and date new foods so you know when to use or throw out. Do not store perishable foods in the door as temperatures fluctuate there. Place meat, poultry or seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags and keep fruits and vegetables in separate drawers away from the meats to avoid cross-contamination.

Source: National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association

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How-to Buy a Home in a Tight Market

May 18, 2017 12:42 am

We all know the equation: low inventory means higher prices. Also known as a tight market, this setting can be stressful for buyers, who are trying to snap up their dream home but keep running into competition. According to the National Association of REALTORS® , attempting to purchase a house in this type of market can make the already complex process of buying a home even more overwhelming.

To help buyers successfully get through the buying process in a tight inventory market, NAR offers these five suggestions:

Determine and stick to a budget. Before beginning the house hunting process, prospective homebuyers should receive preapproval from one or more lenders to verify the amount of money they are qualified to borrow. Then, after taking into account additional costs of ownership such as taxes, utilities and insurance, buyers should determine a final budget they can comfortably afford. When listings are scarce, bidding wars can drive up prices, so buyers must be prepared to walk away if the asking price surpasses their budget.

Identify desired neighborhoods and home wants versus needs. When housing inventory is tight, buyers may need to compromise on what they believe they want from a home. Certain wants, such as stainless appliances or hardwood floors, can be added later. However, if a buyer wants to be in a specific school district or have a decent sized backyard, those cannot be addressed later and must be taken into account during the house hunting process.

Be ready to make a decision quickly. In a seller's market, homes rarely stay on the market long, so when a house that is in their budget and checks off all of their needs come along, buyers should not hesitate. Buyers should be ready to submit an offer quickly, or they may risk missing out on the home altogether.

Bid competitively and limit contingencies. It is tempting to submit a low offer as a starting bid, but in a seller's market buyers need to put forward their highest offer from the very beginning or they are likely to lose out on the home. It is also important to remember that in multiple bidding situations it is not always the highest offer that is most attractive to the seller but the one with the fewest contingencies. Removing restrictions related to the sale of a current home and being flexible with things like the move-in date can make a bid stand out to a seller.

Work with a Realtor®. All real estate is local, so it is important to work with an agent who is a Realtor®, a member of the National Association of Realtors®, and who is familiar with the areas and neighborhoods the homebuyers are considering. Realtors® are the most trusted resource for real estate information and have unparalleled knowledge of their communities; they can give buyers the competitive advantage needed in a tight market.  

Source: www.nar.realtor.

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How to Battle Back Pain

May 18, 2017 12:42 am

Those of us that sit at our desks all day likely suffer from back pain. To help promote the proper posture and avoid a slew of sitting-related issues, www.blitzresults.com offers the following tips.  

- Place your computer monitor at least one arm's length away. If it's too close, you will create tension in your shoulders and neck.
- The monitor should be set so that your eyes are at a downward angle. This helps to relieve strain on your neck and your eyes.
- Sit with the pelvis tilted slightly forwards. Ergonomic chairs and seat cushions help to retain the backs' natural posture, providing relief to the discs and muscles.
- Move around the office! Speak personally with your colleagues instead of sending them emails. Drink a lot of water: it's not only healthy, but it will keep you moving.
- Important: Adjust the desk and chair to your height so that you are relaxed while sitting. How does that work? Use an online calculator for ergonomic sitting.

Source: https://www.blitzresults.com/en/ergonomic/

 

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That Back Porch Hammock is Good for Your Health

May 17, 2017 12:42 am

The idyllic idea of languishing on a warm breezy afternoon in the snug comfort of a backyard hammock is very appealing.

But did you know that hanging around in your hammock can have a few health benefits? A 2011 study showed that rocking during a nap leads to the synchronization of brain waves, which results in the quicker onset of sleep and deeper sleep benefits.

According to a study by Neuroscientists at the University of Geneva, the kind of rocking movement one experiences in a hammock increased the length of N2 sleep, a form of non-REM sleep that takes up about half of a good night's rest.

It also increased slow oscillations and "sleep spindles" - brief bursts of brain activity that can cut into deep sleeping patterns. So hammocks can sometimes act as a natural cure for insomnia. The experts at Patio34,com in Oswego, Ill. say it's because there are no pressure points on your body.

While it can be difficult to get comfortable when settling into bed or onto the sofa, painful pressure points are soothed when you’re in a hanging hammock.

In addition, experts say that the best sleeping position is one in which you lay on your back with your head slightly elevated - just like the way you lay in a hammock. This opens the air passageways for unobstructed breathing and encourages healthy blood circulation.

So taking good care of your hammock is important - you want it ready and waiting when it's time to relay, right?

So here are a few quick tips to keep your hammock in tip-top condition from Patio43.com:

- Be mindful of the weight limit - putting excess weight on one can result in tears to the fiber or even large-scale rips.
- Bring it in during extreme weather - heavy snow, rain, winds, and other environmental factors can cause excess damage.
- Keep it free of debris - bacteria grows on natural debris, like fallen leaves and twigs, and lead to the growth of mold or mildew, so wipe off debris right away.
- Know your hammock's material - some are more weather-, mold-, and stain-resistant than others. So pay extra attention to manufacturer's recommendations for care, and follow them!

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How to Keep Kids Safe on Bikes, Scooters, Skateboards

May 17, 2017 12:42 am

Worried about your kids’ safety when they’re out on their bikes, scooters, or other wheeled toys? Perhaps you should be. More than 426,000 children – nearly 50 every hour – visited an emergency department (ED) in 2015 due to a wheeled sports-related injury.

A new report from Safe Kids Worldwide and Nationwide's Make Safe Happen program reveals alarming news about the risks kids take when riding bikes, scooters, skates and skateboards. Nearly 40 percent of the 1,600 parents surveyed admitted that their child doesn't always wear a helmet while riding.

The report shows a clear need to educate families about the very real injury risks for their children while riding and how to protect them. Below are some of the study’s top findings.

Why Aren't Kids Wearing Helmets?

Some kids don't wear helmets because their parents don't require it. Nearly half of parents said that they or the child's other parent don't always make them wear it.

Twenty-five percent of parents said that their child simply won't wear helmets, saying they find them uncomfortable or uncool.

Are Kids Wearing Other Protective Equipment?

Less than 1 in 5 parents of children who scooter and less than 2 in 5 parents whose kids skate said their children always wear knee or elbow pads.

Parents of children who skateboard reported even lower numbers, with less than 1 in 3 saying their children always wear knee or elbow pads and less than 1 in 5 reporting they always wear wrist guards.

How Can Parents Protect Kids?

- Wear properly-fitted helmets, which are the best way to prevent head injuries and death, for every ride.
- Ride in safe locations like sidewalks, bike paths or bike lanes whenever possible.
- Follow the rules of the road.
- Check all equipment at the start or end of every season.
- Ride together until kids are comfortable enough to ride on their own.

Source: safekids.org.

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Money Tips for College Grads

May 15, 2017 4:39 am

While they leave college with a diploma in hand attesting to their completion of a rigorous course of learning, recent graduates are falling short when it comes to financial smarts, according to a 2016 Experian survey.

The research reveals that although 69 percent of recent graduates surveyed do have student loan debt, 70 percent feel their college failed to properly prepare them to handle real-world personal finance.  KeyBank research shows similar concerns – nearly 20 percent of those surveyed know their financial goals, but are not confident they know how to reach those goals.

To help bridge the gap, KeyBank suggests college grads take the following steps:

Build a Budget
For many recent grads, that first, full-time paycheck may make them feel rich compared to what they were used to earning from their part-time and campus jobs. This makes now the perfect time to build a budget that takes into account all of their new economic realities: student loan payments, rent, utilities, transportation costs, career clothing, insurance and food.

Start a Savings Strategy
KeyBank recommends a three-pronged approach to savings that provides for short-term goals, long-term goals and saving for retirement.

- First, build an emergency savings that will cover 3 - 6 months of living expenses. This will allow grads to avoid turning to credit cards for unexpected expenses.

- Second, set up a second savings account for long-term goals, such as a car, travel or a down payment on a home.

- Third - and this will be tough one for grads to buy into - establish a retirement savings plan. Take full advantage of an employer’s 401K plan by allocating at least enough to qualify for any available 401K employer match, and then making a commitment to increase that contribution by 1 percent every year until you're saving 10 - 15 percent of your salary.

Monitor Your Credit Score
Establishing and managing a credit score is important for college graduates, as credit scores can affect their ability to rent housing, access utilities or eventually obtain a low-interest loan for major purchases. Good credit scores are built by managing credit payments, including student loan payments and credit card debt, paying bills on time and keeping any credit card debt at a minimum.

Adopting these three steps will put college grads on the road to financial security and help them build wealth long-term.

Source: KeyCorp

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Garden Safety 101

May 15, 2017 4:39 am

In terms of dangerous activities, tending your garden likely falls low on the list. But many consumers throw out their backs while gardening, and the presence of sharp tools and hot summer sun only ups the risk factor.

Before heading to the beds this summer, peruse these safety tips from the  American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

- Loosen your joints and muscles before gardening with simple stretches.

- Take breaks. Do not stay in one position for too long. Switch positions often to avoid overworking one part of the body.

- To avoid injuring your back when lifting heavy objects, position yourself close to the object you want to lift. Separate your feet shoulder-width apart to give yourself a solid base of support. Then bend at the knees, tighten your stomach muscles and lift with your leg muscles as you stand up. If an object is too heavy or is an awkward shape, do not try to lift it by yourself. Get help.

- Protect your back and knees from strain by sitting on a garden stool when possible to help relieve pressure on your spine and knees.

- Consider having a vertical garden, wall planters or hanging plant baskets to avoid the repetitive back bending and kneeling positions that's involved in traditional gardening.

- Stay hydrated with fluids, especially if you're working up a sweat.

- Children should not be allowed to play in or near where sharp tools, chemicals or gardening equipment are being used or stored.  

- Remove stones, toys and other objects from the yard before you start gardening.

- Wear protective gloves, sturdy shoes and long pants when working in the garden to protect against insect bites and injuries from stepping on sharp objects, or cuts from handling sharp tools.

- Familiarize yourself with the plants that are in your garden. If you identify poisonous plants or trees, ensure you keep young children away and educate them about the potential risks. If you cannot identify a plant or tree, take a sample to your local garden center for identification.

- Keep gardening equipment in good working order. For example, when using a hedge trimmer for the first time in a season, have it serviced to ensure that it is working correctly.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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Summer Safety for the Whole Family

May 15, 2017 4:39 am

(Family Features)--Summer is a time for playground fun, camping, boating, swimming, biking and other outdoor activities. Longer days mean more time outside and more physical activity, which translates to increased potential for injuries. Playground falls, lawn mower accidents, campfire and fire pit burns are some common childhood injuries that can happen during summer months.

"Sustaining a serious injury can be a life-altering event for a child," says Chris Smith, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Shriners Hospitals for Children®. "We see patients every day with injuries caused by accidents and we are committed to raising awareness about how to stay safe."

These tips from Shriners Hospitals for Children can help your family enjoy a fun, injury-free summer.

Go Outside and Play

Outdoor play provides physical and mental health benefits, including opportunities for exercise, creative expression, stress reduction and access to a free and natural source of vitamin D – sunlight. Before sending kids out to play, make sure they are wearing shoes to protect their feet from cuts, scrapes and splinters, and wearing sunscreen to protect against sunburns and harmful ultraviolet rays.

Playground 101

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger every year for playground-related injuries. Before your kids head to the playground, keep these precautions in mind:

- Choose parks and playgrounds that are appropriate for their age and offer shock-absorbing surfaces.

- Teach children that pushing and shoving on the playground can result in accidents and injuries.

- Remind kids to go down the slide one at a time and to wait until the slide is completely clear before taking their turn. Teach them to always sit facing forward with their legs straight in front of them and to never slide down headfirst.

- Remind children to swing sitting down. Encourage them to wait until the swing stops before getting off and to be careful when walking in front of moving swings.

Make a Safe Splash

While playing poolside may be a blast, Safe Kids Worldwide reports that drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children ages 1-4 and the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths among those under 19. Additionally, the University of Michigan Health Systems estimate that about 6,000 kids under the age of 14 are hospitalized because of diving injuries each year, with 1 in 5 sustaining a spinal cord injury.

Prevent accidents and injuries with these tips to ensure your family's safety around water:

- Instruct children to never swim alone or go near water without an adult present.

- Give children your undivided attention when they are swimming or near any body of water.

- Always jump in feet first to check the depth before diving into any body of water.

- Never dive in the shallow end of the pool or into above-ground pools.

Fun on the Water

Boating, tubing and other water sports can be great fun but can also be dangerous. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 71 percent of all boating fatalities are drownings, 85 percent of which are a result of not wearing a life jacket. Here is what you can do to enjoy the water safely:

- Always have children wear a Coast Guard-approved, properly fitted life jacket while on a boat, around an open body of water or when participating in water sports.

- Educate yourself. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 86 percent of boating accident deaths involve boaters who have not completed a safety course.

- Always check water conditions and forecasts before going out on the water.

Fire Safety Simplified

According to the CDC, more than 300 children ages 19 and under are treated in emergency rooms for fire- and burn-related injuries each day. Use these tips to help keep children safe around fires, fireworks, grills and other heat sources:

- Teach kids to never play with matches, gasoline, lighter fluid or lighters. Make a habit of placing these items out of the reach of young children.

- Do not leave children unattended near grills, campfires, fire pits or bonfires. Always have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby whenever there is an open flame.

- Take your child to a doctor or hospital immediately if he or she is injured in a fire or by fireworks.

- Leave fireworks to the professionals.

Source: shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/safesummer.

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How to Avoid Employee Burnout

May 10, 2017 4:33 am

If you’re a business owner or manage a group of employees, you know keeping them engaged and happy is vital to the well-being of your company. However, you should also pay mind to signs of employee burnout, which can lead to a drop in productivity, a negative attitude, and the loss of employees. A Workforce Trends study put out by Kronos Inc. and Future Workplace found that burnout plays a key role in 20 to 50 percent of their annual workforce turnover.

Here are four tips, courtesy of management consulting firm Peter Stark, to create an environment where employees love coming to work so that customers love doing business with you.

Meaningful work. Employees want more than a job. They want to work on something that has a purpose, is meaningful and makes a difference. The work you do is the biggest driver on whether you are engaged or disengaged.

Continuous learning. Learning and development consistently rates as one of the most important drivers of engagement.  On every assignment or project, set goals with your team members on what they will learn and how it will benefit both customers and your company, especially if your team is made up of millennials. Studies have shown that millennials and other highly engaged employees do not do well with busy work. It is estimated that by 2020, millennials will comprise 50 percent of the workplace and by 2025, they will make up 75 percent of the workforce.

Stay connected. In today's workplace, it is incredibly easy to get disconnected and disengaged. As organizations continue to grow their workforces and change how people do their work, it will be critical to create smaller networks who frequently connect, communicate, collaborate, and even have fun working together as a team.

Provide feedback. While some managers hate the annual review process, continuous feedback is important in helping team members know what they are doing well, as well as providing them with opportunities for improvement.  

Source: www.peterstark.com.

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Practice Sun Safety All Summer Long

May 10, 2017 4:33 am

Nothing feels as glorious as a splash of summer sun, especially after a long, cold winter. But staying safe in the sun is important for your short and long term health. Below are tips from DermatologistOnCall.com for better sun safety, all season.

Use sunscreen. Startwith a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) SPF 15 or higher and increase to at least an SPF 30 for prolonged exposure. Look for natural sunscreens without harsh ingredients that can be toxic to your body and damage the environment, especially the ocean’s marine life.

Limit exposure during peak hours. The sun is the strongest during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Apply and reapply. Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes prior to exposure and reapplied every two hours or after prolonged physical activity.

Wear protective gear. This includes wide-brimmed hats, sun protective fabrics, sunglasses and lip balms with an SPF greater than 15.

Be vigilant about your skin. Perform monthly head-to-toe self-exams, and see a dermatologist annually for a full-body skin cancer screening.

Source: DermatologistOnCall.com/SpotCheck17.

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Car-Buying Tips for College Grads

May 10, 2017 4:33 am

If you or a loved one recently graduated college, you may be thinking about your first major car purchase. Buying the first shiny car you see on the lot can be tempting, but it’s important to make a smart decision in order to protect yourself, and your finances.

Autotrader offers the following expert tips to make sure the car buying is experience is as satisfying and hassle-free as possible.

Consider new and used vehicles. New cars are almost guaranteed to have the latest technological upgrades, as well as extensive warranties and incentives that you generally can't get on the pre-owned market. However, used cars typically cost less and therefore depreciate less over time.  

Know your options when it comes to leasing and buying a vehicle. When you graduate from college, it's hard to say where you're going to be a few years down the road. But if you can count on staying put for at least two years, leasing could be a convenient option. The car is typically new or nearly-new, and if anything goes wrong unexpectedly, the dealership covers the cost.

Figure out what you can afford. Once you've decided on a few cars worth considering, it's time to find out what will work within your budget. If you're interested in financing or leasing your next car, determine your maximum monthly payment before you get your heart set on anything.

Source: Autotrader.com/CollegeCars

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Energy Efficient Tips for Thrifty Homeowners

May 9, 2017 4:33 am

Many savvy homeowners like to save money, but the savviest know you can save money while also being energy efficient. According to the experts at Petri Plumbing & Heating, these five home upgrades can make your home green, without breaking the bank.

On-demand hot water heater. On-demand or "tankless" hot water systems heat water as needed, which saves energy and money. New ENERGY STAR® tankless water heaters can reduce your annual water costs by up to 30 percent and last nearly 20 years, double the lifespan of an average, traditional hot water heater.

Low flow toilets. An excellent way to save money and water is to install new toilets. Many toilets use up to 5 gallons of water per flush. A low flow toilet is required to flush at 1.28 gallons per flush.

Smart thermostat. An easy and inexpensive way to instantly make your heating and cooling system more efficient is with a programmable thermostat. New programmable thermostats allow you to set your home at different temperatures for different times of day, so you aren't paying to heat or cool your home when no one is there. An added benefit of smart thermostats is you can control them remotely using a simple application on your smartphone.

LED lights. Swap out your old incandescent lights for ENERGY STAR qualified LED lighting and you'll consume 75 percent less energy. In addition to being more energy efficient, LED lights last up to 50 times longer than incandescent lights and up to five times longer than fluorescent ones, saving you time replacing burnt out bulbs.

Ceiling fans. Adding ceiling fans to your home is a low-cost way to reduce energy consumption. During hot summer days, ceiling fans can reduce cooling costs by up to 40 percent. Even in the winter, a ceiling fan helps circulate air and can save you up to ten percent on your heating bill.

Source: Petri Plumbing & Heating

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Stay Connected During a Storm

May 9, 2017 4:33 am

Whether you’re expecting an electric storm or a hail storm, it’s important to ensure you can stay connected to your loved ones should an emergency occur. Below, Verizon Communications offers tips for charging up--and staying charged--before the weather sours.  

Charge your devices before a storm hits, including smartphones, laptops, tablets, DVD players, flashlights and radios. To preserve battery life, dim the background light on your screen and turn off background data applications or Wi-Fi search services.

Create a list of emergency phone numbers and email addresses, including police, fire and rescue agencies; power companies; insurance providers; and family, friends and co-workers. Program them into your phone, smartphone, tablet or laptop and also have a hard copy handy, someplace easily accessible

Text, don't call. When communicating with family during an emergency situation, opt for brief text messages rather than voice calls. Text messages are likely to get through more quickly in a crisis.

Program your smartphone to receive emergency alerts. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are free wireless notifications that are delivered to your mobile device as part of a public safety system

Know your apps:
- Download weather applications and alerts that provide users with a variety of information such as radar images, forecasts and severe storm warnings.
- Download apps and subscribe to alerts from aid and relief organizations such as the American Red Cross' apps for first aid, hurricane and shelter, and the Commercial Mobile Alert System from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Use your free flashlight app. All smartphones have a free flashlight app in case the power goes out.

Backup your information on the cloud. The cloud can safely store your info should your devices become damaged. For Verizon customers, Verizon Wireless offers backup assistance through the Verizon cloud to store your phone's address book and contact information as well as pictures and other content on a secure server.

Source: Verizon Communications Inc.  

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How to Spring Clean Your Fridge

May 5, 2017 4:30 am

While you may be busy washing windows and woodwork, have you peeked inside your fridge lately? A clean fridge is essential for food safety, and to keep unsavory smells at bay.

The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association shares the following tips for keeping your fridge clean, and your food fresh.

Prepare. Unplug the refrigerator to save energy (also for safety if cleaning coils). Empty ice from your freezer into a cooler where you can store food you plan to keep. Fill sink with warm soapy water for cleaning shelves and drawers. Set out dishtowels on counter tops for drying. Fill a spray bottle with a cleaning solution of 1 cup water, 1 tsp white vinegar and 1 tsp dish soap.

Purge. Empty refrigerator (then freezer) and place items on counter. Take time to sort and discard old, unwanted foods, drinks and condiments. Check expiration dates and beware of moldy and freezer-burned foods. When in doubt, toss it out!

Clean. Remove drawers and shelves and clean in sink with warm soapy water; set aside to dry. Spray interior with cleaner and wipe from the top down with warm, wet sponge or towel. Thoroughly dry all and replace drawers and shelves. Wash the exterior door and handles. Replace water and icemaker and filters if needed. Clean grill on bottom front of refrigerator. Consider cleaning the condenser coils for optimum cooling efficiency (refer to manufacturer directions).

Check Temps. Food kept too long or at improper temperatures can become contaminated with bacteria, which can cause foodborne illness. Your refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40 degrees and your freezer 0 degrees or less to ensure food safety. You can check the temperatures with an appliance thermometer.

Organize. When restocking your clean refrigerator and freezer, organize according to usage and group like items together. Label and date new foods so you know when to use or throw out. Do not store perishable foods in the door as temperatures fluctuate there. Place meat, poultry or seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags and keep fruits and vegetables in separate drawers away from the meats to avoid cross-contamination.

Source:  National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association

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11 Tips for Career Success

May 5, 2017 4:30 am

When looking at life-long goals, “success” tops the list for many. But how can you ensure career success? Regardless of your field, there are several common denominators for achieving success. Provided by Robert Half Legal, below are a handful of helpful tips gleaned from a survey of 350 lawyers at law firms and legal departments in the United States and Canada.

1. "Choose a career that allows you to learn as you grow."
2. "Take risks and open yourself up to possibilities."
3. "Find a firm that has the same qualities and priorities as you do."
4. "Look for challenging work."
5. "Be willing to change if necessary. That includes location and your job itself."
6. "Every experience you have is a building block to the next level."
7. "Be self-motivated and strive to succeed."
8. "Try to learn as much as you can. Don't be afraid to take on new assignments. Expand
   your knowledge."
9. "When you quit learning, move on."
10. "Do not be afraid to ask for what you want."
11. "Be collaborative."

Source: roberthalf.com/legal.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Protect Your Digital Self While Traveling

May 5, 2017 4:30 am

Whether you’re traveling for a weekend, a week, or making a big move, protecting your digital property while on-the-go is essential for feeling safe and secure.

To help, TravelInsurance.com has compiled a list of digital travel security recommendations:

Backup Your Documents. Scan or take pictures of your travel documents, including your passport, airline tickets, hotel reservations and insurance papers on your phone in case the originals are lost or stolen.

Sanitize your Devices. Before leaving home, remove all non-essential personal information from your computer, phone and other devices. Make sure to set a strong password on your computer and mobile devices and look into possibly having the devices automatically wiped after a large number of incorrect password entries.

Assume Your Data Is Not Secure. Anyone can gather your data without much difficulty. Some countries monitor data and emails, while airports and hotels are generally public or semi-public internet hubs. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure your privacy and to access websites that might be blocked by local internet providers. A VPN is a private and secure internet network that you can reach via any internet connection. Never submit sensitive payment information on websites if the browser shows "http" instead of "https." Also, turn on two factor authentication on all of your email, banking and credit card accounts as an added measure of security (provided that you can receive text messages at your destination)

Download Apps. There are a variety of apps that can help keep you informed and secure while on the road. The State Department's Smart Traveler app is available free of charge from both iTunes and the Google Play store. It's a great source of information about specific countries, travel advisories and warnings.

Don't Fry Your Devices. Make sure that you have the right adapters. Check the tech specs of your devices and the electrical standards of your travel destinations.

Source: TravelInsurance.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Safe is Your Deck?

May 4, 2017 4:30 am

Warmer months means hours of fun in the sunshine on your deck or patio. But when is the last time you gave your deck a safety check?

"Decks are exposed to sun, rain, snow and extreme temperature changes throughout the seasons and the years," says Julia Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer of AZEK Building Products. "

Before you invite your friends and family to dine deck-side, follow these tips courtesy of AZEK Building Products.

Identify Instability. There should be no sagging, swaying or movement of the deck boards, railings or stairs, and the board attaching the deck to the house should be securely in place.

Inspect Railings. The IRC requires railings to be at least 36'' in height, measured from the deck surface to the top of the rail. Also look for loose balusters or post caps which could present a hazard.

Get up to Code. Check that the deck, electrical outlets and appliances are up to code, and that no electrical cords present a tripping or fire hazard. Inspect grills, fire pits and heaters at the start of the season.

Examine Boards and Fasteners. Check for splitting, rotting or decay. Look for rust on nails, screws and fasteners; a corroded fastener can cause deterioration in surrounding materials.

Source:  www.azek.com, www.timbertech.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Ward Off Mosquitos From Your Property

May 4, 2017 4:30 am

Nothing kills spring and summer fun faster than a swarm of mosquitos. These bitey bugs are more than just an itchy annoyance - they can also carry disease. Orkin recommends the following tips to help residents protect against mosquitoes:

Eliminate Mosquito-Friendly Conditions in and Around Your Yard
- Remove standing water buckets, toys and other containers, as mosquitoes can breed in just an inch of standing water.
- Change water weekly in bird baths, fountains, potted plants and any containers that hold standing water.
- Keep pool water treated and circulating.
- Regularly clean gutters so water doesn't pool.
- Trim shrubbery, as adult mosquitoes like to rest in dark areas with high humidity, such as under the leaves of lush vegetation.

Prevent Mosquitoes from Biting
- Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Mosquitoes can bite through tight clothing.
- Apply an EPA-registered mosquito repellent containing products such as DEET, picaridin or IR3535.

Eliminate Entry Points
- Repair and use window and door screens to help prevent entry.
- Close gaps around windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from getting inside.

Source: Orkin.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Add More Green to Your Diet

May 4, 2017 4:30 am

(Family Features)--Dedicating more of your plate to fresh-from-the-garden produce as well as rice and grains can lead to a healthier lifestyle, according to Cheryl Forberg, registered dietitian and award-winning chef and nutritionist for "The Biggest Loser."

"Most of my adult clients who are not veggie lovers usually had little exposure to them growing up, or they just weren't cooked properly," Forberg says. "It's important for parents to get their children involved in cooking, shopping and even gardening so kids can understand the journey from seed to plate."  

To start living healthier and greener lives, Forberg offers four simple tips:

Start in the garden. This hands-on approach is a fun way to learn about nutrition and where food comes from. Following produce from seed to plate can compel you to eat more healthfully. Plant a garden at home or become involved in a local project nearby.

Opt for veggies with big impact. Richly colored veggies contain the richest supplies of nutrients. Opt for spinach or romaine instead of iceberg lettuce in your salads. Skip the celery or carrots and go for red bell pepper slices to deliver a healthy serving of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Make smart swaps. Replace the dense calories of pasta noodles with a flavorful cup of cooked spaghetti squash. The squash is a satisfying and tasty alternative with a mere 40 calories, 2 grams of fiber and loads of vitamins.

Source: seedsofchangegrant.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Up Curb Appeal by Looking Up - At Your Roof!

May 2, 2017 4:30 am

When trying to up curb appeal, most homeowners focus on landscaping or repainting that front door. But did you know that by updating or repairing your roof you can increase your curb appeal by 40 percent?  

GAF, North America’s Largest Roofing manufacturer,offers help with these roof tips to up the ante on your curb appeal.

1. Start off by checking the roof framing structure to make sure it is not compromised. Visually scan the roof for any sagging or uneven areas.

2. Inspect and clean your gutter systems to make sure they are not clogged with branches, leaves, or other debris.

3. Make sure that gutters are fastened properly and are tight and secure so that they don’t cause overflow and build-up or fall off the fascia board.

4. Check the valleys of the roof to ensure that they are also free and clear of debris as this can add weight to the roof and also act as a barrier to rain.

5. Metal flashing should also be used around roof vents, pipes, skylights, and chimneys. One of the most common causes for roofing leaks is due to problems where these is lack of or damaged flashing.

6. Walk around your entire house and carefully inspect the shingles on the roof.  Look for curling edges, missing granules, missing shingles, etc.

Source: GAF

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Travel on the Cheap

May 2, 2017 4:30 am

Dreaming of a vacation but not sure if you can afford it? Read on for 5 suggestions for traveling without breaking the bank.

Stay in a house. Airbnb, HomeAway and comparable platforms can help you find more affordable options than pricey hotel rooms. These homes are often more comfortable than hotels, and offer added amenities like kitchens and laundry.

Eat like a local. Skip the pricey tourist-laden restaurants and opt for mom-and-pop style restaurants, open air markets and street food vendors.

Hit the web. Online resources like Groupon can help when you travel. Discounts on restaurants, experiences, tours and museums are often readily available if you do the leg work. Check out deals in the area in advance and plan your itinerary around them.

Cook! Remember that kitchen? Make use of it by shopping for local produce and cooking several meals. This is especially helpful if traveling with a large family. More mouths, more money.

Find a walk-friendly destination. Cab and Uber fares add up quickly. Save money (and stay fit) by choosing a city that allows you to walk from place to place.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


7 Tips to Avoid a Road Rage

May 2, 2017 4:30 am

Sometimes, it’s unavoidable to get angry in your car; the work commute is brutal, someone cuts you off, or the jerk in front of you is clearly texting while driving. However, the most dangerous thing you can encounter on the road is road rage - someone else’s, or your own.

Here are 7 tips from Zane’s Law to protect yourself and avoid a dangerous road rage situation:

Be a polite driver. Most dangerous road rage situations tend to involve two aggressive drivers. Someone cuts you off, you flip them off and they then respond. Don't tailgate, cut vehicles off, speed, weave through traffic, or engage in other aggressive driving behavior, especially in response to another drivers actions.

Slow down and let aggressive drivers go around you.

Use your horn sparingly. Horns are meant for emergency situations.

Be gracious. If you've accidentally done something wrong simply, smile, wave, and acknowledge your mistake.

Move over. If someone wants to pass you, let them.

Stay calm. Don't get angry and yell at other drivers. Even if they yelled at you.

Call 911 if you feel like you are in danger and drive to the nearest public place with witnesses. Do not get out of the car to confront another driver.

Source: http://zaneslaw.com/

Published with permission from RISMedia.


7 Ways to Cut Costs Without Cramping Your Lifestyle

May 1, 2017 12:30 am

Yes, you can slash your monthly expenses by cutting out that Starbucks stop every morning – or by cooking in more and eating out less. But, says Sharon Lechter, a contributor to the American Institute of CPA’s book, “Save Wisely, Spend Happily,” there are plenty of other ways to cut costs without making painful sacrifices.

Put it on paper. Write down every dollar you spend in a month, whether it’s paying a bill, paying for lunch, or buying a new pair of shoes. When you can see exactly where your money is going, you can pinpoint areas that can be cut down or cut out.

Shop from a list. Impulse buying gets expensive, so work out your meal plan for the week according to what’s on sale and shop for groceries from a list. (You may also save on gas by making fewer trips to the store.)

Pack your lunch. You can make it more fun by lunch-pooling with a few colleagues at work, taking turns to provide the main course for all.

Cancel your email sales alerts. When opening an email alert tempts you to spend money on something you hadn’t planned to buy, it’s time to cancel the alert.

Shop second-hand. Get out of the mindset that everything you buy has to be new. Shop Craigslist, e-Bay and local thrift stores for great buys on used kitchen gear, furniture, and more – including near-new or gently used clothing.

Ask for rate reductions. If you have a decent payment record, asking for a lower rate is often all it takes to get a lower rate on credit card interest, service subscriptions and memberships.

Save before you spend. Skim five or 10 percent off the top of every paycheck and bank it before you pay any bills or make any purchases. It will be there if you absolutely need if before your next check – or make it the basis for your savings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Sneak in Healthier Habits

May 1, 2017 12:30 am

At this point, many of us know the dangers of sedentary lifestyles. From obesity to heart disease and depression, those of us with a 9-to-5 desk job need to make a special effort to stand more and sit less. The great news is you don’t need to bust out a standing or walking desk (although you should if they interest you!).
Studies show that as little as seven minutes of moderate physical activity a day can help battle the desk doldrums.

Dr. Adrienne Youdim, MD FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine Cedars Sinai Medical Center, offers simple tips to incorporate healthier habits into your day, courtesy of MerckManuals.com.

1. Use your job as a gym

You don't need an expensive gym membership to get moving – simply create small breaks in your day. Set a timer on your phone to get up and move around every hour. Walk up and down a few flights of stairs or take a loop around the parking lot.

Many employers have realized the benefits of a healthy workplace. Research shows active employees are more productive and have lower long-term health care costs. Some companies are now investing in standing desks and small cycles that fit under employee's desks. If your company offers this kind of equipment, taking advantage of it is a no-brainer.

2. Wake up 10 minutes earlier

If you can't find time for an hour-long workout in your daily routine, create the time by setting your alarm just ten minutes earlier. Give yourself a few minutes of physical activity before your day gets crazy.

But don't overlook the importance of sleep. Research points to a close connection between sleep deprivation and obesity and diabetes. Make sure you're getting at least six hours of sleep (many people need more than that). If you're getting up earlier to exercise, hit the pillow a few minutes earlier, too.

3. Pack a lunch

If you do one thing to improve your daily health, make it this: pack a lunch. The average restaurant meal contains two-thirds of your daily calorie requirements. Even a salad can be spoiled by high-calorie dressings. Packing a lunch is an easy way to control your calorie intake.

While you're at it, use the time you would have spent picking up takeout to go on a 15-minute walk at lunch. One short walk and five-minute breaks every hour add up to almost an hour of additional activity a day.

4. Find your best motivation

Most of us are exhausted by the end of the work day. Even if we have the best intentions to exercise when we get home, it's easy to lose motivation the second we walk through the door.

The key is to find things that motivate you. If there's a TV show you can't wait to watch, commit to only watching it while running on the treadmill or elliptical. Keep a log of how you feel after every workout, so you'll remember how rejuvenated you feel after some physical activity. If you feed off others' energy, join a group fitness class.

5. Explore an active hobby

Being active doesn't have to mean doing jumping jacks or logging hours on an exercise bike. Spending time doing something active you love, such as dancing, gardening, fishing, rock climbing or bowling, can provide tremendous health benefits – and you'll be more likely to stick with it. Once you get started, you'll start forming habits that make it easier and easier to find the time and willpower every day.

Source: The Merck Manuals

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Riding in Cars with Kids: Car Seat Safety

May 1, 2017 12:30 am

Driving has a myriad of distractions, from traffic to pedestrians, what’s playing on your radio, and the to-do list running through your mind. But when you have kids in the back, the distractions multiply, and safety becomes priority. Luckily, car seat safety need not be a worry, so long as you do a bit of legwork.

"Studies from AAA have shown that nearly three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly," says Chuck Shotmeyer, Chairman of AAA North Jersey's Board of Directors.  "Taking the time to properly install child safety seats can save a life and drastically reduce injury."

"The national AAA's Safety Seats 4 Kids initiative found that car seats reduce the risk of injury by 78 percent to 82 percent and reduce the risk of death by 28 percent," says David Hughes, President of AAA North Jersey. "These statistics underscore the need for parents to understand how car safety seats work and the best way to utilize these important safety devices in their vehicles."

Hughes and Shotmeyer offered these safety tips for using child safety seats effectively:

Do your homework. It is important for parents to purchase a car seat for the right age group. Make sure the child safety seat fits the size of the child and meets national transportation standards.

Install the seat correctly. Read and understand the car seat instruction manual carefully. Additionally, parents should check the integrity of the seat and clear loose objects that might hinder or harm the child.

Understand your vehicle's design. Parents should understand their vehicle's safety features. Knowing how to enable child locks and the location of airbags in the vehicle will helps drivers place the child seat in the safest spot.

Source: AAA  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


9 Quick Tips for a Summer-Ready Slimdown

April 27, 2017 4:27 am

With spring in the air almost everywhere, swimsuit season can’t be far away. It’s time to get off the couch, get moving again, and get rid of those wintertime bulges.

Fitness gurus offer nine foolproof tips for melting away those extra pounds before summer is officially here:

Drink lots of water. No matter how much water you already drink, up the ounces and up them again. The extra water will flush out the bloat, keep you feeling full longer, and add a new glow on your skin.

Avoid alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are more than calorie bombs. They actually stimulate your appetite.

Skip soda. Sodas, even the diet kind, contain sodium, which contributes to bloat. Skip them in favor of iced tea or coffee, or guess what? Water!

Add some green tea. Green tea is rich in antioxidants, which is said to promote weight loss by increasing metabolism. It relaxes, too. Try for three cups a day.

Try a one-day cleanse. Kick start your weight loss routine with a juice cleanse followed for 24 hours of fresh fruits and veggies – and water.

Fight belly fat with the right foods. Fruits and vegetables that contain lots of water are your best snack choices. Try melons, tomatoes, kiwi fruit, pineapple and grapes.

Plan meals and make a grocery run. Planning ahead for three meals and two snacks daily will keep you on track and away from unhealthy temptations. Stick to healthy carbs like whole grains, lean proteins, and plenty of produce. Dinner leftovers can make great lunches.

Try a new workout. For maximum effect, skip the spot-toning exercises like sit-ups in favor of running or fat-blasting cardio routines.

Eat out smartly. Choose your restaurant with care and stick to salads and grilled proteins. Skip the sauces, dressings, and carbs.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prepare Your Home for Spring

April 27, 2017 4:27 am

Spring comes with showers, flowers, and...home preparation? To lengthen the life of many of your home’s features, giving them a spring update is necessary. Gilmore Heating, Air, Solar offers valuable tips to homeowners to inspect and repair winter storm damage and prepare their homes for the hotter months.

1. Check Indoor Air Quality

- Inspect and replace A/C air filters. A clean filter will ensure cleaner, fresher and healthier air in your home. Also, a clogged air filter allows less air to flow through your system, forcing it to work harder. This can cause extensive damage to your system and increase costs due to higher energy bills and costly repairs.

- Make sure the A/C registers and ductwork are clear. For homes with pets or children, it's very common for all sorts of items to end up lodged in ductwork.

- Inspect ductwork and vents for signs of mold growth.

2. Conduct Simple Air Conditioner Maintenance

- Examine your heating and cooling unit for strange noises, condensation leaks and indoor temperatures that do not match thermostat readings. These are all signs that your air conditioning unit needs repair.

- Request a seasonal system tune-up and cleaning to make sure your system works efficiently.

3. Insulate and Waterproof Your Home

- Check the insulation of your walls, attic, crawl spaces, basement, garage and ceiling. Also, visually inspect your roof for shingle lift. Poor insulation can be the cause of increased energy bills due to heat loss during winter and heat absorption during summer.

- Inspect your gutters. Remove any debris that could prevent your gutters from draining properly. Check that all the downspouts extend away from the home to prevent water from pooling close to your home.  

- Check the faucets inside the house for any leaks and seepage. Catching a water leak at an early stage will prevent costly damage to your home.

Source: Gilmore Heating, Air, Solar

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Relocating? Here’s How to Feel at Home Faster

April 26, 2017 4:27 am

Moving to a new city, whether it’s 30 or 3,000 miles away from your last one, can be stressful to say the least – perhaps even more so after you’ve dealt with the last of the packing boxes, because now it’s time to get to know your new community and begin to feel comfortable within it.

Relocation professionals offer practical tips to help you feel more at home faster:

Get connected. If they haven’t already done so, don’t wait for the neighbors to ring your doorbell. Knock on the doors of the neighbors to your left and your right to introduce yourself. Even if they don’t become friends, they can be a good source of city information as well as referrals for reliable window washers, babysitters, medical professionals and other service providers.

Walk or drive around town. Walking your neighborhood is the best way to pinpoint local stores, schools, libraries and more – and driving will widen your familiarity with the city and acquaint you with alternative driving routes.

Don’t hesitate to say you are new in town. Wherever you happen to be, from the dry cleaners to the kids’ new gymnastics school, let people know you are new in town.  You may be surprised to find how much good information they will want to share with you about their favorites in the place they call home.

Use social media. Get online to browse upcoming local events as well as trending restaurants, museums and other local attractions.

Find clubs, schools or shops of interest. Look online for appealing local activities for everyone in the family: Toastmasters, quilting shops, book clubs, photography classes or sports leagues. They can be your best source for meeting new people who share your interests.

Say yes to invitations. Agree to join colleagues for a drink after work or a neighbor’s invitation to a fund-raiser. The more people you meet as a newcomer, the more likely you will be to develop friendships.

Update your registrations. Finally, don’t forget to register your car with the DMV, apply for any necessary licenses, and re-register to vote. Identifying with your new location will help make you feel more connected.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Americans Find Moving More Stressful Than Weddings

April 26, 2017 4:27 am

After the excitement of finding a new home comes the stressful task of moving into it. Despite its stressors, moving is inevitable; The U.S. Census Bureau projects 40 million Americans will add another home to their list this year, with 65 percent moving between Memorial Day and Labor Day.   

According to a new survey released by SpareFoot.com, Americans have moved an average of six times throughout their lives.

Below are the top findings from SpareFoot.com’s study on the emotional side of moving:

More stressful than a wedding. Surprisingly, 58 percent feel moving is a bigger challenge than wedding planning!

Argument starter. Stress often leads to arguments, so it makes sense that 31 percent of Americans who have moved in with a partner– including 46 percent of Millennials – have had some of their worst arguments while moving.

A time for parents to be selfless. Prior to a move, 69 percent of American parents claim they prioritize their child's needs over their significant other's needs.

It takes longer with kids. Like with most things you do with your children, the actual process of moving with children can take up to eight days longer, on average.

Finder’s keepers. Wading through sentimental items may make your move take longer. The study found that 81 percent of parents admit they have kept a child's possession, even when given permission to get rid of it.

Source: SpareFoot.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Network Smarter

April 26, 2017 4:27 am

(Family Features)--Business is built on relationships. For many entrepreneurs whose small businesses are thriving, successful networking is one of the most common threads.

Making connections and building relationships are among the most beneficial aspects of networking with other small businesses, according to more than half of the respondents in a survey by The UPS Store. This is especially true among younger business owners, who are more likely than their older counterparts to take advantage of networking opportunities with fellow small business owners.

Not only do they crave these connections, 61 percent of small business owners say they want to establish in-person relationships. Attending networking and meetup events is a great way for entrepreneurs to form new relationships, share experiences and celebrate their hard work. In honor of National Small Business Week, The UPS Store will offer several networking events to facilitate small business connections. The following tips can help small business owners make the most of networking events.

Practice your elevator pitch. When introducing yourself, be prepared to give a brief explanation of your business, boiled down to a couple of sentences. Be sure to include your business name, the solution you provide and anything that makes you unique. The key is to deliver enough context that others can engage in meaningful conversation, while keeping it succinct enough that you have plenty of time to listen. If you think your elevator pitch is perfected, submit a 90-second video describing the business or idea to enter The UPS Store national Pitch Off contest at theupsstore.com/pitchoff for a chance to win $10,000.

Be prepared to participate. Successful networking is as much about giving as it is receiving. Ask open-ended questions and be prepared to listen to what others are saying. Actively participating not only leads to more productive conversations, it helps build stronger relationships.

Embrace the competition. It may feel counterintuitive to forge a relationship with a direct competitor, but there's some obvious benefit to trading notes with someone who is operating in your market from a similar vantage point. Remember, while neither of you is going to give up proprietary information, a respectful dialogue may get your wheels turning to think about solving a problem in a new way.

Represent your brand well. A networking event is intended to be social, but it shouldn't be treated casually. You are every bit the face of your business in this setting as you are within your business walls. Dress the part and present yourself as you would to potential customers. Make sure you have updated business cards, as 75 percent of survey respondents said they are the most common marketing tool used to promote their business, and any other printed materials such as brochures or fliers that showcase your business.

Retain your newfound knowledge. After meeting a handful (or more) of new people, all the faces and names can run together. When you get back to your desk, take some time to make notes on everyone you met. Include pertinent contact information and details of your conversation, areas where the connection may be fruitful in the future and any immediate follow-up.

Source: theupsstore.com/smallbizsalute.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Weird and Wacky Scholarships You May Not Know About

April 25, 2017 4:27 am

College admission season is in full swing, but many high school seniors are as concerned about where their tuition money will come from as they are about which schools will send them acceptance letters.

While scholarships are typically offered for scholastic and/or athletic achievement, there are plenty of oddball scholarships available to students with a variety of unique interests and talents.

Recent research turned up these options for openers:

Duct Tape designers – The Henkal Corporation’s Duct Brand Duct Tape’s “Stuck at Prom” competition offers 10 awards of up to $10,000 to individuals or couples who create prom outfits completely made of duct tape. To enter, send a photo of your creations to your personal Instagram or Twitter account along with hashtags #DuctTapePromposal and #Sweepstakes.

Duck Calling – The Chip and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest offers four $2,000 scholarships to the best high school senior duck callers, who have 90 seconds to demonstrate hail, feed, comeback and mating calls. Find out more at StuttgartArkansas.com.

Parapsychology – Undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in parapsychology programs such as telepathy, reincarnation, or near-death experiences can apply for a $3,000 grant from the Eileen J. Garrett Foundation. Details at parapsychology.org.

Golf caddies – The Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship offers renewable full tuition and housing scholarships to qualified golf caddies. Information is available online from the Western Golf Association.

Knitting enthusiasts – The National Make It Yourself With Wool organization awards two $1,000 or $2,000 scholarships to knitters who create killer knitted garments. Get the details at Makeitwithwool.com.

Trekkies – Yep, the Klingon Language Institute and the Starfleet Academy organizations offer several scholarships, including the Gene Roddenberry Memorial Scholarship for Young Writers. You don’t even need to speak Klingon. Look up the details at kli.org and acad.sfi.org.

Candy lovers – How about a $5,000 scholarship for students interested in confectionary technology who will major in food science or a related area? Find out more from the American Association of Candy Technologists at aactcandy.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Save Your Home From Lightning Damage

April 25, 2017 4:27 am

Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods - oh my! When it comes to protecting your home, there is a laundry list of natural disasters you need to be aware of. However, one lesser known issue for many is lightning damage.

To help a homeowner out, Southern Trust Home Services offers the following tips to prevent damage and limit the effects of lightning storms:

Protect your electronics with a whole-home surge protector. With thousands of dollars' worth of electrical appliances and electronics in your home, surge protectors offer a low-cost way to easily safeguard your investment. Not all surge protection systems are created equal, though. The most effective protection is through a whole-home system attached to your electrical panel. For a one-time investment, you get a system that protects small electronics and big ticket items like HVAC systems, refrigerators and medical equipment.  

Use point-of-use surge protectors. If you do not have a whole home-surge protector, plug all of your electronics into point-of-use surge protectors. Look for the UL label, or similar independent testing laboratory seal, when purchasing a point-of-use surge protector.  

Check your homeowners or renters insurance coverage. Even if you take all the precautionary steps, you will want to make sure your homeowners or renters insurance plan covers damage caused by lightning. Not all insurance plans are the same, so make sure yours will cover damage done to your home and electronics.

Source: www.southerntrusthomeservices.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Are You Conserving Water?

April 25, 2017 4:27 am

You recycle. You reuse. You shop second hand. Congratulations! You’re already taking many steps to reduce your carbon footprint. However, have you thought about how much water you may literally be dumping down the drain daily? A recent study shows that nine out of ten homes are currently wasting 70 gallons of water each day.

Save more with the following tips:

- Speedier showers. It may feel great to luxuriate in a steamy shower, but think about all the water you’re wasting for this luxury. Aim for a 3 minute shower - you would be amazed at what you can accomplish in this time. To help, shampoo and shave with the water off. Still can’t cut that shower time? Take a cold shower instead. This will naturally speed things up, and save you money on water heating, too.

- Turn off the faucet. While brushing your teeth or washing the dishes, don’t let the faucet run non-stop. Turn it on only when you need it.

- Let it mellow. If you can, avoid unnecessary flushing of the toilet. Flush only when needed.

This next batch of tips on home systems that can help you conserve are courtesy of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing®.

- Install low-flush toilets or a dual flush system. The EPA estimates that a family of four that replaces its home's older toilets with WaterSense (meets EPA criteria) labeled models will, on average, save more than $90 per year in reduced water utility bills.

- Ensure your home is equipped with low-flow showerheads. The average family could save 2,900 gallons per year by installing WaterSense labeled showerheads.

- Install a hot water recirculation system for instant hot water. This helps save an average of 25,000 gallons of water per household per year from not having to wait for the running water to heat up! Because of the significant water savings, some counties are making the installation of hot water recirculation pumps mandatory for new construction projects.

Source: Benjaminfranklinplumbing.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Eco-Vacations Where You Can Give Back While Getting Out

April 24, 2017 4:27 am

Looking to give back while you take a vacation? You’re not alone. Thousands of Americans have jumped on the trend of “eco-vacations”, perfect for those looking to put a green spin on their next adventure. Below are five of picks from CheapFlights for eco-vacations where you can give back on the go: 

Monitor climate change in Joshua Tree National Park in California - Spend some time in one of North America's most popular national parks while at the same time helping scientists monitor climate change and do what they can to preserve the Mojave Desert. As you hike through stunning Joshua Tree National Park in California, you'll be tasked with monitoring desert vegetation and collecting data on various plants; trapping, recording and safely releasing reptiles and amphibians and exploring the area for larger birds and animals alongside scientists. This is a great volunteer opportunity for anyone who loves hiking in the great outdoors and has a passion for environmental conservation. 

Help research global warming in Canada's Mackenzie Mountains - If you love getting out into nature, you're going to love this chance to work with scientists to discover clues about global warming in the Mackenzie Mountains, a majestic mountain range that runs along the border between Canada's Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The researchers here are working to preserve the area's sensitive environment and learn more about the effects of global warming. You'll help them look for and monitor signs of climate change, take soil and permafrost samples, monitor the health of the tree line and record information on native plant species. When you're not in the field, you'll have a chance to relax at the lodge and attend talks on climate change and the natural history of species in the area. 

Protect bottlenose dolphins in Croatia - The small village of Zambratija, Croatia, will be your base as you volunteer with bottlenose dolphin conservation on the Adriatic Sea where the bottlenose dolphin population has declined by approximately 50 percent in the last five decades. Your volunteer efforts will include dolphin observation and tracking as well as entering and analyzing data from field work. You'll learn how to distinguish between dolphin species and have the chance to attend morning talks about NGO efforts to protect marine mammals and ecology. During your stay, there will also be at least one organized group trip to a nearby national park. 

Care for wildlife in Hawaii - This volunteer opportunity is your chance to have an unforgettable beach vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii while also helping to care for native and exotic wildlife at a local wildlife center. During your stay, you'll be caring for resident exotic and non-releasable wildlife, working with injured wildlife and returning them to the wild if possible and educating visitors and locals about Hawaii's island ecology and animal behavior. When you're not working, you'll have the chance to enjoy the island's many beautiful beaches. 

Participate in island conservation in the Galapagos - Volunteer with Projects Abroad in the Galapagos Islands, one of the most naturally diverse environments in the world. Volunteers are based on San Cristobal Island in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and participate in a hands-on way with conservation efforts. The Galapagos Islands are renowned as a location for ecotourism, and work for this project includes removing invasive plant species, replacing them with indigenous species, participating in beach cleanups, and observing and collecting data on various native animals, especially the Galapagos Petrel, an endangered seabird. If that wasn't enough, you'll also get the chance to work at the Galapagos National Park's giant tortoise breeding center.

Source: www.cheapflights.com/news/top-ecotourism-destinations.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Slide Into Summer Safety

April 24, 2017 4:27 am

(Family Features)--Summer is a time for playground fun, camping, boating, swimming, biking and other outdoor activities. Longer days mean more time outside and more physical activity, which translates to increased potential for injuries. Playground falls, lawnmower accidents, campfire and fire pit burns are some common childhood injuries that can happen during summer months.

"Sustaining a serious injury can be a life-altering event for a child," said Chris Smith, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Shriners Hospitals for Children(r). "We see patients every day with injuries caused by accidents and we are committed to raising awareness about how to stay safe."

These tips from Shriners Hospitals for Children can help your family enjoy a fun, injury-free summer.

Go Outside and Play

Outdoor play provides physical and mental health benefits, including opportunities for exercise, creative expression, stress reduction and access to a free and natural source of vitamin D - sunlight. Before sending kids out to play, make sure they are wearing shoes to protect their feet from cuts, scrapes and splinters, and wearing sunscreen to protect against sunburns and harmful ultraviolet rays.

Playground 101

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger every year for playground-related injuries. Before your kids head to the playground, keep these precautions in mind:

- Choose parks and playgrounds that are appropriate for their age and offer shock-absorbing surfaces.
- Teach children that pushing and shoving on the playground can result in accidents and injuries.
- Remind kids to go down the slide one at a time and to wait until the slide is completely clear before taking their turn. Teach them to always sit facing forward with their legs straight in front of them and to never slide down headfirst.
- Remind children to swing sitting down. Encourage them to wait until the swing stops before getting off and to be careful when walking in front of moving swings.

Make a Safe Splash

While playing poolside may be a blast, Safe Kids Worldwide reports that drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children ages 1-4 and the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths among those under 19. Additionally, the University of Michigan Health Systems estimate that about 6,000 kids under the age of 14 are hospitalized because of diving injuries each year, with 1 in 5 sustaining a spinal cord injury.


Prevent accidents and injuries with these tips to ensure your family's safety around water:

- Instruct children to never swim alone or go near water without an adult present.
- Give children your undivided attention when they are swimming or near any body of water.
- Always jump in feet first to check the depth before diving into any body of water.
- Never dive in the shallow end of the pool or into above-ground pools.

Fun on the Water

Boating, tubing and other water sports can be great fun but can also be dangerous. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly 71 percent of all boating fatalities are drownings, 85 percent of which are a result of not wearing a life jacket. Here is what you can do to enjoy the water safely:

- Always have children wear a Coast Guard-approved, properly fitted life jacket while on a boat, around an open body of water or when participating in water sports.
- Educate yourself. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 86 percent of boating accident deaths involve boaters who have not completed a safety course.
- Always check water conditions and forecasts before going out on the water.

Fire Safety Simplified

According to the CDC, more than 300 children ages 19 and under are treated in emergency rooms for fire- and burn-related injuries each day. Use these tips to help keep children safe around fires, fireworks, grills and other heat sources:

- Teach kids to never play with matches, gasoline, lighter fluid or lighters. Make a habit of placing these items out of the reach of young children.
- Do not leave children unattended near grills, campfires, fire pits or bonfires. Always have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby whenever there is an open flame.
- Take your child to a doctor or hospital immediately if he or she is injured in a fire or by fireworks.
- Leave fireworks to the professionals.


Source: Shriners Hospitals for Children
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Take a Mindful Approach to Fighting Spring Allergens

April 24, 2017 4:27 am

(Family Features)--While springtime means blooming flowers, warmer temperatures and more time spent outdoors, it also means allergies and pollen. Tackling dust mite matter, tree pollen and animal dander is completely different from protecting your home against the winter flu and requires a new regimen of preparation and cleaning.

Take on spring allergens by refreshing your home with these simple practices, and help get your family ready to enjoy the warmer months.

Prep for Bed. Allergens don't go to bed when you do; they can continue to irritate even while you're sleeping, causing a restless slumber. To help ensure allergens and pollens aren't tracked into bedrooms, leave a laundry basket in the hall and have family members remove their clothing before entering their rooms. A quick rinse in a warm shower before bed can help you relax and wind down while also washing away any unwanted pollens still stuck in your hair or on your skin.  

Freshen Fabrics. Clothing, towels and bed linens - items you come in contact with multiple times a day - can trap pollens, dust mite matter, allergens and dander.  It's important to not only rinse these items but to use a detergent that removes allergens and is gentle on skin.

Ingredients Matter. Taking preventative measures against spring allergens can start in a surprising place: the refrigerator. While most people think about treating allergens in their homes and on their clothes, they tend to forget that a good diet is also a good defense. Avoiding aged, pickled or fermented foods like blue cheese and kimchi with naturally occurring histamines can help prevent coughing, sneezing and itching triggered by spring allergens. Instead, look to boost your meals with ingredients found in the Mediterranean Diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables like apples and broccoli as well as nuts and fatty fishes that have essential vitamins and nutrients known to fight allergy symptoms.

Give Pets a Makeover.  Your furry friend may be one of the biggest culprits for sneaking allergens and pollen into the house, so this season make sure to give pets twice-a-week baths to wash out dander and pollen. Remember to also wash pet beds and chew toys that are thrown around the yard to help prevent allergens from being transported into and throughout your home.


With these four steps to help protect your home and family against spring allergens, you can start enjoying a healthy, clean spring.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Moving Tips for Single Parents

April 21, 2017 4:24 am

Let’s face it. Even under optimal circumstances, moving is stressful. When you’re a single parent, the process of packing up and moving your home and children can be even more complicated.

According to consumer data website GoodCall, moving prep starts way before you start packing boxes, so taking care of as many details in advance  as possible, like getting rid of items you no longer need and cancelling your Internet service, will help decrease moving stress.

You pre-moving focus should also involve preparing your kids, especially if the move involves changing schools and leaving friends behind. Invest the necessary one-on-one time to answer all of your child’s questions and concerns, and introduce them to their new neighborhood and school in advance of your move. Remind them how they’ll be able to stay in touch with friends through Snapchat, Facetime, video games and messaging apps.

Prepare for the moving day itself by enlisting the help of family and friends well in advance. If you’re uncomfortable asking for help with the manual labor of moving, ask for help with watching the kids instead, so that you can focus on the heavy listing. Or maybe you have a well-organized friend who would be happy to head up a yard sale on your behalf. There are many ways people can help and they will most likely be happy to do so.

For many single parents, the costs involved with moving can be the biggest hurdle. Easy ways to save money from GoodCall include:

- Reusing boxes from your office or the local grocery store.

- Instead of investing in scores of bubble wrap, ask neighbors to donate their newspapers once they’ve been read for packing material. Also, utilize towels, socks and blankets - you’re packing them anyway and they make great cushions for your breakables.

- Instead of paying movers, rent a truck yourself and enlist friends to help.

- Save one eating out or take-out by stocking up the cooler with sandwiches, snacks and drinks.

- If you’re moving for a job, you may be able to deduct moving expenses.

With the right preparation and the right support group, moving can be an exciting instead of stressful experience.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Follow These Tips Before Hiring a Contractor

April 21, 2017 4:24 am

If you’re adding an addition or plan to build a new home, you likely have a ton on your plate. Planning, researching, and dreaming up designs can be fun, but stressful. When it comes to hiring the right contractor, make sure you do your due diligence so you don’t end up with a lemon.

NICB suggests you consider these tips before hiring a contractor:

- Get more than one estimate.
- Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations should be detailed.
- Demand references and check them out.
- Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number.
- Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later.
- Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code.
- Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.
- Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them.
- Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language.
- Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Things to Consider When Buying a Mattress

April 21, 2017 4:24 am

(Family Features)--When it comes to buying a mattress, individual needs and preferences vary across the board. Just like there is no "one size fits all" for jeans, there is not one mattress for everyone. What might be comfortable and supportive for one person may not be the best fit for someone else.

Having a wide variety of options is key to picking out your new mattress because you can mix and match different levels of comfort with size and adjust your pick based on your sleeping position and surrounding factors. When choosing the mattress that's best for you, consider these factors.

Size

The basic mattress sizes include twin, full, queen, king and California king. Choosing a size depends on the amount of space you have available, whether or not you share your bed with a significant other and personal preference. Think about your current sleeping situation and if you're happy with the amount of space you have to sleep. If you're fighting for space with your partner, it might be time to think about upgrading to a larger size. If your room is small and your bed is taking over the space, downsizing might be a good option.

Comfort Level

Mattresses come in all different levels of comfort ranging from firm to plush to pillow top as well as contoured and personalized. To provide a variety of comfort levels for mattress shoppers, Mattress Firm offers a Comfort by Color system that categorizes levels of comfort to help customers shop in their comfort zone.

Sleeping Position

Another important factor to consider when choosing a mattress is your sleep position. Knowing whether you are a front, back, stomach or side sleeper, or move around frequently throughout the night, will help you narrow down your options and choose a mattress that accommodates your needs. For example, side sleepers might get better sleep with a plush or pillow top mattress that supports the spine's natural curve versus a mattress with a firmer comfort level.  

Temperature

Temperature plays a role in how you sleep, and it's not limited to hot summer temperatures. Heavy comforters, heat settings and even your mattress can affect the quality of your sleep. While pillow tops and traditional memory foam can make for a warmer night's sleep, Serta's iComfort mattresses contain cooling technology to help you sleep at a comfortable temperature all night long. If you naturally heat up in your sleep, cooling technology may be something to consider.  

Pain

If you experience any sort of pain - especially while you sleep - your mattress can either help or hurt that pain. For example, if you have lower back pain, you may need a firmer mattress to help keep your back aligned. By identifying any pain you have and being transparent when shopping, you can find the right mattress to help alleviate discomfort and improve your sleep.

Source: Mattress Firm

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Want to Increase Your Home’s Value? Look No Further than Your Closet

April 20, 2017 4:24 am

Before you embark on adding another bathroom or installing brand new kitchen appliances, consider a much simpler way to add value to your home: an updated closet.

According to CNBC’s “The Deed” star, Sydney Torres says, there’s money to be made in closets. By making a relatively small investment in customizing and maximizing the space in your home’s existing closets, you can see a nice return on your investment, advises the real estate mogul.

HGTV experts recommend revamping closets in the rooms where people need the most storage: the master bedroom and the kitchen. No matter which room the closet resides in, your goal should always be about creating organization and space.

In bedroom closets, consider adding custom drawers, shoe racks and shelves. On a budget? Decorative baskets and fabric-lined boxes can do the trick. Make the most of walk-in closets by adding a bureau or a center island with drawers. Also consider the popular trend of converting existing closet space into his and her closets. If your closets are tall enough, double the available space by adding two hanging bars.

Also consider your closet doors. If you have a single door or sliding doors, for example, modernize the look by replacing them with double doors.

In kitchen closets, add hooks for hanging pots and linens on the inside door, and also tack up a cork or chalk board. Use see-through storage containers for housing flour, sugar, rice and dried legumes, and install a lazy susan for quickly finding items. Maximize floor space with decorative baskets to store paper towels, garbage bags and cleaning supplies.

Investing in your closet space will not only add to your home’s value, it will enhance your quality of life at home for years to come.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Spring Clean Your Digital Life

April 20, 2017 4:24 am

Spring cleaning may call you to empty those closets, wash the windows and lug mountains of items to the local thrift store. But have you ever considered paying the same attention to your digital spaces?

NCSA has identified our top, trouble-free tips that everyone should follow this spring.

- Keep a clean machine: Ensure all software on internet-connected devices – including PCs, smartphones and tablets – is up to date to reduce risk of infection from malware.

- Lock down your login: Your usernames and passwords are not enough to protect key accounts like email, banking and social media. Begin your spring cleaning by fortifying your online accounts and enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.

- Declutter your mobile life: Most of us have apps we no longer use and some that need updating. Delete unused apps and keep others current, including the operating system on your mobile device. An added benefit of deleting unused apps is more storage space and longer battery life. Actively manage your location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera – making sure apps use them appropriately.

- Do a digital file purge: Perform a good, thorough review of your online files. Tend to your digital records, PCs, phones and any device with storage just as you do for paper files. Get started by doing the following: 

- Clean up your email: Save only those emails you really need and unsubscribe to email you no longer need/want to receive.

- Back it up: Copy important data to a secure cloud site or another computer or drive where it can be safely stored. Password protect backup drives. Make sure to back up your files before getting rid of a device, too. 

- Own your online presence: Review the privacy and security settings on websites you use to be sure that they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. It's OK to limit how and with whom you share information.

- Know what devices to digitally "shred": Computers and mobile phones aren't the only devices that capture and store sensitive, personal data. External hard drives and USBs, tape drives, embedded flash memory, wearables, networking equipment and office tools like copiers, printers and fax machines all contain valuable, personal information. 

- Clear out stockpiles: If you have a stash of old hard drives or other devices – even if they're in a locked storage area – information still exists and could be stolen. Don't wait: wipe and/or destroy unneeded hard drives as soon as possible.

- Empty your trash or recycle bin on all devices and be certain to wipe and overwrite: Simply deleting and emptying the trash isn't enough to completely get rid of a file. You must permanently delete old files. Use a program that deletes the data, "wipes" it from your device and then overwrites it by putting random data in place of your information ‒ that then cannot be retrieved.

Source: The National Cyber Security Alliance

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Ways to Get More From Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

April 20, 2017 4:24 am

Hopefully, you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. But do you know if it’s working? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20,000 Americans visit the emergency room yearly for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.  

"Carbon monoxide can be produced from any system or appliance that burns fuel. While all home appliances are designed to vent properly to the exterior, cracks or blockages can cause leaks into the home," says Steve Truett, president of Aire Serv, who stresses the importance of scheduling annual maintenance for all equipment including furnaces, water heaters and space heaters. “Routine upkeep and other preventative measures, such as installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home, can help ensure the health and safety of the entire household."

Below are three tips to get more from your detector.

- If a vehicle is left running in the garage, the dangerous gas can build up inside the home. Place the detector within a few feet of the internal door to the garage.

- Avoid placing detectors in places that receive direct sunlight, or near open windows or other areas where there is a strong draft.

- Though detectors are meant to alert homeowners when there is a leak in a fuel-burning appliance, it's important to place them at least 15 feet away to prevent a false alarm.Source: Aire Serv

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Much Money Do You Need to Live Comfortably?

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

Have you ever wondered how many people are living “comfortably?” Are you yourself financially comfortable? A recent GOBankingRates study showed some shocking news regarding Americans’ financial comfort: only 11 of the 50 biggest U.S. cities have a median income high enough to cover what's needed to live comfortably.

The study used the 50-30-20 budgeting rule when determining the income required for a comfortable living in each city. This rule divides income into three buckets: 50 percent is expected to go toward necessities, 30 percent towards discretionary items and 20 percent towards savings.

Top 5 Cities Where People Struggle to Live Comfortably:

- Miami: $44,840 deficit income

- New York: $33,073 deficit income

- San Francisco: $29,063 deficit income

- Los Angeles: $25,842 deficit income

- Oakland, Calif.: $25,820 deficit income

Top 5 Cities Where People Can Easily Afford to Live Comfortably:

- Virginia Beach, Va.: $13,985 surplus income

- Arlington, Texas: $6,906 surplus income

- Colorado Springs, Colo.: $5,112 surplus income

- Albuquerque, N.M.: $4,585 surplus income

Austin, Texas: $3,058 surplus income

Additional Insights:

- Texas is the state that boasts the most cities in which the median income is enough for a comfortable living (Five out of the seven cities on this list).

- All of the nine Californian cities on this list have median incomes below what is needed to live comfortably.

- Almost 40 percent of the biggest U.S. cities face a deficit of $10,000 or more between average income and what is needed to live comfortably.

- Kansas City, Mesa and Omaha had surplus income last year, but now have average incomes below what is needed for a comfortable living.

- While San Francisco still faces one of the largest deficits in the country, the city's deficit has dropped from $41,192 last year to $33,073 this year.

Source: GOBankingRates

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Athletes: How-to Protect Your Eyes

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

Whether you’re a pro athlete, a weekend warrior, or the parent of a little all-star, it’s important to consider eye safety when playing sports.

Here are some tips for both the professional athlete and the Little League star to stay safe:

- Athletes should wear sports eye protection that meets requirements set by appropriate organizations.

- Parents should make sure that children wear eye protection. Most often, those who sustain sports-related eye injuries are 18 years old or younger.

- Eye protection can weaken with age and may no longer provide adequate protection. Consider replacing when damaged or yellowed.

- For basketball, racquet sports, soccer and field hockey, wear protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses.

- Athletes who wear contacts or glasses should also wear appropriate protective eyewear. Contacts offer no protection and glasses do not provide enough defense.

- Professional athletes should also wear sports goggles that meet national standards.

Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Will Interest Rate Increases Affect Your Home Sale?

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

As the Fed began nudging up interest rates in March, I wondered what it might mean for the housing market. So we turned to  K.C. Sanjay, Senior Real Estate Economist at Axiometrics.com, who recently blogged about the subject.

When examining the potential impact on the single family housing market, Sanjay makes the following points:

- About 5.5 million existing homes were sold in 2016, according to the National Association of REALTORS, and the annual pace of new homes sold averaged more than 563,000, according to the U.S. Census. We expect the pace of home sales to pick up moderately this year and next. First-time home buyers remain on the sidelines, and other structural issues surrounding the single-family market prevent robust growth. Existing home sales are expected to average 5.76 million per year over the next five years, the NAR said.

- Housing months of supply remained low in 2016 at 4.5 months. So Axiometerics expects this rate to pick up during the next three years.

- The pace of housing starts during the past few years has been dominated by multifamily. So Axiometrics expects this to change during the next three years, as the pace of single-family permits picks up.

- Mortgage rates are expected to gradually increase over the next three years, yet remain low.

- The increase in rates is a sign of increases in general economic conditions. Though there will be less savings and higher risk to consumers because of rising rates, higher income growth will mitigate some of the hurdle in the short-run.

- Having said that, buyers today may be more sensitive to increased rates than in the past, because of higher requirements to qualify, sluggish income growth and rapid acceleration in prices over the past three years. Low interest rates helped offset these drags.

When examining how Americans are going to pay for their new homes, Sanjay points to the 4.7 percent unemployment rate – which is below the “natural rate” of 5 percent. He added that increasing wage-growth numbers added sufficient evidence of the U.S. economy’s strength to move the rates higher.

Axiometrics forecasts an average jobs gain of over 200,000 per month from 2017-2021.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What to Buy (and Not Buy) in May

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

The month of May brings us Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, both traditionally heavy shopping periods for spring clothing, cosmetics, and a wide variety of spring and summer outdoor goods.

While some retailers will tempt us with early summer sales, spring apparel will see the deepest discounts closer to Memorial Day weekend, according to consumer watchdog dealnews.com. Look for coupons in print and online to get the best prices on your favorite stores and brands.

The best deals anytime in May, says deal-news, will be on certain home goods, with a few surprises thrown in:

Buy a mattress – Memorial Day historically offers a chance to buy mattresses at 40 to 50 percent off regular prices. Check local sales and coupons.

Buy patio furniture – Sales on backyard furnishings, as well as camping gear,  begin in time for Memorial Day and may not be this good again until after July 4.

Check out big-screen TVs – But not too big. While spring is not the best time to buy a TV, you should find really good prices on 42- and 55-inch screen models.

Satisfy your Stars Wars fans – Believe it or not, May 4 is Star Wars Day. (“May the Fourth be with you! Get it?) Look for deals on Stars Wars-related toys, gear, and accessories on Amazon.com, the Disney Store and other retailers.

What about Jewelry? – If you’re looking for some bling for Mom or yourself, shop early. Strangely, jewelry prices tend to go up the closer you get to Mother’s Day. Or wait until just after Mom’s Day, when many retailers are anxious to unload unsold inventory.

Hold off on laptops – The best deals on Apple and PC laptops are found just before graduation in June or in time for back-to-school sales in September.

Stay out of the water – Swimsuits are just hitting the stores in May, and sales are not the norm. Hold off until July 4, if you can. That’s when the sales kick in.

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How to Prevent Mosquito Bites for Your Kids

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

Spring and summer bring warm weather, longer days, and mosquitos. Luckily, you can do your part to help minimize mosquito activity around your home, and prevent those pesky little bites so that you and your family can stay bite-free.

Remove standing water. Mosquitoes love water and wet areas. Remove standing water from any place it collects, like flowerpots, drains, birdbaths, children's pools, and roof gutters, and teach children not to play in puddles.

Make sure your home has screens on doors and windows. Even small holes can let in mosquitoes, so be sure to repair any tears in the screens. Children can help by playing "detective" to find any holes in need of repair!

Mosquito netting can also be used to protect strollers and infant carriers or when sleeping outdoors.

When outdoors, use personal repellent, following the label instructions, and wear light colored and long-sleeved clothing.

Source: www.scjohnson.com

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High Credit Card Balance? The New Normal

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

It’s no surprise that nearly three quarters of all adult Americans have at least one credit card. What may be surprising, however, is how much credit card debt we’re carrying. A January online poll from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) revealed that 56 percent of respondents carry $15,000 or more in credit card debt in their household, while only four percent declare themselves to be debt-free.

Unfortunately, high balances often lead to difficulty maintaining minimum payments and safeguarding your credit score. Before you come close to getting into credit card trouble, learn how to spot these early warning signs from the NFCC and take action:

Check your credit card usage regularly. Keep an eye on how and when credit cards are being used each month. If there is an increase in the number of times a credit card is used for purchases that had been covered in the past with cash, it could be a sign that you’re using credit to fill gaps in your budget. Instead of charging more often, look for ways to cut back to keep expenses in line with your cash flow.

Keep an eye on your balance. Each credit card comes with a credit limit. Your goal should be to keep the balance as low as possible compared to the limit. This makes payments more affordable and helps avoid running the risk of incurring costly penalties for overcharging. Stay out of trouble by paying off balances as quickly as possible, either all at once or by paying more than the monthly minimum payment.

Count your cards. Make sure plastic isn’t taking up too much space in your wallet. Federal Reserve data shows that Americans with credit carry nearly four credit cards on average. Most experts advise carrying less than that. If your number of cards is on the rise, consider consolidating. This makes it less stressful to keep track of payments and balances, which helps make debt management easier.

Source: The National Federation of Credit Counseling

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Not Your Usual Mom’s Day Gift Ideas

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

It isn’t easy to think of cool Mother’s Day ideas once the days of your hand-scribbled cards are just a memory for both of you – so Country Living magazine editors brainstormed to come up with a few ideas that may just fill the bill:

Cooking in style – If she likes to cook, how about a basket full of trendy (read: expensive) ingredients Mom might never buy for herself – truffle oil, infused vinegar, exotic spices, imported teas. A trip down the aisles of a gourmet cook shop should easily fill your basket.

Luxury skincare – A loofah sponge and a lavish assortment of bath oils, soaps and body lotions may be just the thing to keep Mom happy and relaxed. Wrap them all in a new terry robe and watch her face light up.

A Sunday outing for two – Afternoon tea? A movie or concert? Choose an outing you know Mom will enjoy – and make it just for the two of you!

A chauffeured spa day – Taxi Mom to a local spa for a day of pampering; a leisurely massage, manicure, pedicure and/or facial.

A family brunch – gather up the kids and a few of their handmade gift creations (A photo bookmark? A handmade picture frame? A hand painted mug?)) PLUS all the fixings for a fabulous brunch that can be put together very quickly in her kitchen or yours.

A fix-it day – As people age, they find minor repairs more difficult to make. Ask Mom for a ‘honey-do’ list, and spend a weekend on a ladder and in your toolbox crossing chores off the list.

A planted garden – Indoors in pots or in her yard or patio, plant strawberries, tomatoes, or her favorite flowers – with a firm promise to help maintain them.

A sentimental journey – Fill a memory book with photos of family trips and activities taken through the years. Today, when so many of our photos are in digital formats, an album she can actually leaf through may bring a happy tear or two – and that’s a good thing on Mom’s Day!

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How to Prevent a Dog Bite

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

While you likely love your fluffy friend and can’t imagine them biting anyone, even the friendliest of dogs can sometimes bite when provoked, especially when eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. Since dogs who have bitten someone can sometimes face heartbreaking consequences, it’s important to keep both people and dogs safe by preventing dog bites wherever possible.

Here’s a list of things you can do with your pooch to help avoid a bite.

- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, even if it is a family pet.

- Interactions between children and dogs should always be monitored to ensure the safety of both your child and your dog.

- Teach your children to treat the dog with respect and not to engage in rough or aggressive play.

- Make sure your pet is socialized as a young puppy so it feels at ease around people and other animals.

- Never put your dog in a position where s/he feels threatened.

- Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep him/her healthy and to provide mental stimulation.

- Use a leash in public to ensure you are able to control your dog.

- Regular veterinary care is essential to maintain your dog's health; a sick or injured dog is more likely to bite.

- Be alert, if someone approaches you and your dog - caution them to wait before petting the dog, give your pet time to be comfortable with a stranger.

Source: http://www.americanhumane.org

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Spring Cleaning Can Provide A Windfall To Local Charities

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

As spring cleaning commences across the nation, remember that donating items you might be inclined to trash may not only provide a treasure to another consumer, but donating qualified items through local charities could also bump up your charitable tax deduction next April.

According to Charity Navigator, the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities, generous donors looking to donate non cash items to a worthy cause should take the following steps to maximize the impact of noncash contributions.

Step 1: Determine whether or not the items you wish to donate are useful.

Most charities can only make use of items that are new, unused, or nearly new. If you think that the items you wish to donate may be of use to someone else proceed to..

Step 2: Consider selling your items and donating the proceeds to charity.

By donating cash you allow charities greater flexibility in spending the money so that it reaches the people or animals that need it most. You also eliminate the for-profit middleman that can take a big cut of the money intended for charity.

And by selling the items yourself, you know the exact value of the donation you can report to the IRS..
Whether or not you decide to sell your items and donate the cash, or you still think your items may be of use to a charity in need, proceed to Step 3 to find the right charity to accept your generous support.

Charity Navigator recommends you start locally to avoid transportation costs that can lower the impact of your donation. You can use Charity Navigator's database to find a charity in your local area that might be interested in donated goods within a set radius from your zip code.

Once you see a few efficient charities that you think may be interested in your donated goods you can use contact information on their ratings page to discuss how to arrange your donation.

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Refresh Your Space for a Brighter Season

April 19, 2017 12:24 am

(Family Features)--As temperatures rise and springtime blooms, it's time to wipe away winter and refresh your home. Spring is all about airing out your space and spending more time outside, which calls for cleaning and perking up your routine.  

While a seasonal overhaul can sound daunting, here are five simple steps to help make spring preparations a breeze.  

Clean Out the Fridge. Before tackling messes around the house, start at the heart of the kitchen by cleaning out your refrigerator. Get rid of old leftovers, forgotten frozen meals and expired condiments. By removing perished contents from your fridge, you'll get rid of lurking odors and have plenty of room for all the fresh produce that spring has to offer.

Soften and Eliminate Odors from Fabrics. Throughout the cooler seasons, spring clothing that has been stored away can take on odors and become stiff after being folded for so long. Preparing your wardrobe is an essential step to ease into the seasonal transition.

Declutter to De-stress. While disinfecting and removing odors are the cornerstone of spring cleaning, it's also important to re-evaluate items that were hoarded over the winter months. For example, revisit your spring wardrobe and pick at least three items to get rid of or donate to a clothing drive for every new item that you plan to bring in. Start by eliminating what doesn't fit or what's no longer needed. Cleaning out your wardrobe is an easy way to declutter your space.

Add a Pop of Color. Say goodbye to winter grays and blues and invite color back into your home with affordable and small swaps to celebrate the hues of the season. Replace white table napkins or plain placemats with patterned prints or shades of magenta, red and orange for a pop of color, or snip a few buds from the garden and place in different sized vases and jars to decorate the table spaces and windowsills around your home.

Update Your Calendar.  After you refresh your space, revisit your calendar to update with spring sports, holidays and events. Warmer weather and sunnier days mean a more full social schedule, and keeping your calendar organized is just as important as keeping your home organized. Hanging a whiteboard calendar in a central location is an efficient way for the whole family to make real-time updates. Add flower magnets or use pink and green dry erase markers for a seasonal touch.

Make the most of your spring cleaning with these tips to start enjoying a more fresh, colorful and organized home.

Source: Snuggle

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Things To Know Before You 'Hit The Wall'!

April 13, 2017 12:51 am

In talking with remodelers and interior designers this year, the biggest trend seems to be: less is more - especially when it comes to interior walls.

So in the interest of learning the ins and outs of interior walls, we turned to Lee Wallender at thespruce.com. He examined the difference between renovating load-bearing, versus non load-bearing walls.

Wallender says while walls always define rooms, they only sometimes bear weight from above and are important to the structural integrity of the entire house.

He notes that:

- All exterior walls are load-bearing.
- If the wall parallels the joists above, it is likely not bearing loads.
- If a wall is bearing loads, it will be built perpendicular to the joists above it.

But walls built at a perpendicular angle still might be non load-bearing. A closet is a good example.

When removing a non load-bearing wall, Wallender says the main thing that you need to be concerned about is utilities running through the interior wall: electrical, plumbing, cable, and telephone. If your interior non bearing wall has utilities, then you have the added cost of hiring a plumber or electrician to come in and “cap off” those utilities.

On the other hand, load bearing walls are structural elements, so he says removing a load bearing wall and replacing it with a beam is significantly different from removing interior non load bearing walls.

He says when you or a contractor remove a load bearing wall, it must be replaced with either:

- Beam Only:  Horizontal beams of sufficient size.  Other than the two ends, the beam has no vertical resting points.
- Beam + Post:  Horizontal beams whose strength is augmented with one or more vertical posts between the two end resting points.

Wallender says it should come as no surprise that your local or county permit agency wants to know if you are taking down a wall that affects the structural integrity of your home.

Even though you have determined that you can remove your wall with zero effect on the house's structural integrity, he says your city or county permit agency still does not quite believe you. This is because there is a long history of homeowners before you removing walls and causing serious damage to the house and even injuring others.

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Planting Pro: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Tree

April 13, 2017 12:51 am

While planting a tree in your yard may seem intimidating, all it takes is a little muscle and some good know-how. Follow these guidelines from the expert arborists at the Tree Care Industry Association:

· Measure the height and diameter of the root ball or root spread.

· Dig the hole just deep enough to allow the first structural root to be at level grade. The diameter of the hole should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball or root spread.

· Set the tree on undisturbed solid ground in the center of the hole. The tree should be planted so that the root flare, the base of the tree trunk where the roots begin to "flare-out," will be visible above grade.

· Backfill with soil from the planting hole, using water to pack or settle the soil around the root ball. Do not tamp soil by stepping on it.

· Mulch the planting area with 2 - 4 inches of an organic, composted mulch such as wood chips. Do not mulch up to or against the trunk. Start the mulch six inches away from the tree trunk.

· Trees should be pruned after planting to remove broken, damaged, diseased or dead branches.

· Stake and/or protect the trunk of the tree if there is a real potential for wind damage or lawn-mower injury. Remove the supportive wires and materials when the staking is no longer needed or the tree could be injured or even killed.

· Prune to develop a good branch structure once the tree has become established in its new home, usually 1 - 3 years after planting. Never remove more than 25 percent of total foliage in one year.

· Fertilizing is not recommended at the time of planting.

A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best care for your trees. Contact the Tree Care Industry Association at www.tcia.org.

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Last Minute Tax Tips for the Procrastinator

April 13, 2017 12:51 am

Life can be busy, and during tax season, many wake up to find their filing deadline is just days away, and they have yet to begin their returns. If this story sounds familiar, you’re in luck.

Use these 11 last-minute tips from the EY Tax Guide 2017 as your checklist:

- First and foremost, check your math, even if you use software to file.

- Be sure that your Form W-2 and all Form 1099s are correct. If not, have them corrected as soon as possible.

- Double-check that your social security number has been correctly written on the return.

- Triple check that you have claimed all of your dependents, such as elderly parents who may live with you.

- Attach all copies B of your W-2 forms to your return in order to avoid correspondence with the IRS. If you received a Form 1099-R showing federal income tax withheld, attach copy B of that form as well.

- If you're married, consider whether filing separate returns is more beneficial than a joint return.

- If you are single and have a dependent who lives with you, consider the possibility that you might qualify for the lower tax brackets available to a head of household or surviving spouse.

- Check that you signed and dated your return and entered your occupation. If you are filing a joint return, be sure that your spouse also signs as required.

- If you worked two or more jobs, see if you can claim a credit for any overpaid social security taxes withheld from your wages.

- Be sure to sign your return.

- Keep copies of all documents you have sent to the IRS.


Source: www.ey.com/EYtaxguide

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City Mouse or Country Mouse? How to Know Where to Buy

April 12, 2017 12:51 am

You’ve made the big decision to become a homeowner - congratulations! Now, the question is, where to buy? While many, many factors go into selecting the right home, the most important of all is location.

Deciding where to buy begins with choosing urban or suburban. Is city life the right choice for you? Or are you better suited for the suburbs or even more rural locations? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help decide:

Do I want to be close to my job? Many who choose to live in urban areas do so in order to be within walking, biking or public transportation distance to their jobs. If a long train ride or battling traffic in your car is unthinkable, then being too far out in the ‘burbs might not be the right choice.

Do I want a yard? If you like the feel of grass on your bare feet and are passionate about gardening, then an urban condo or townhouse is not the right choice for you.

Do I want easy access to nightlife and culture? If the social buzz of restaurants, bars, theaters and live music is high on your priority list, choose an urban location that affords you quick access to all of these activities and more.

Do I want peace and quiet? Of course noise level varies from location to location, but generally speaking, urban areas come with the sounds of traffic, people and sirens. If crickets and morning doves are what you’re after, then head for the hills.

Do I want a lot of square footage? Or the simplicity of a small space? How much space you want your home to have is a clear indicator of whether you’re better suited for an urban environment or a house in the suburbs.

Do I plan on expanding my family soon? If a significant other, pet or kids are in your near future, consider whether you’re better off opting for a larger space you can grow into. Not to mention a neighborhood that’s family friendly and has quality schools. If this is your plan, then heading away from the city is probably the better option.

If you’d like more urban vs. suburban real estate information, please contact me.

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Who Can Provide The Best Advice On The ROI Of Home Repairs?

April 12, 2017 12:51 am

I was recently drawn to a Kiplinger report that affirmed home sellers can get some of the best advice on repairs they could make to sell their home faster, from their own REALTOR®.

According to the Kiplinger report by Pat Mertz Esswein, your agent can recommend the improvements that he or she thinks will provide the most bang for your buck, the quickest sale, or the highest asking price.
The article also suggests if sellers have any doubts, they can verify their agent’s advice by attending open houses of comparable homes in their market.

One Denver Realtor® told Esswein that if a seller anticipates a major home system is reaching the end of its useful life, the seller should pay to have it inspected and serviced.

Dana Dratch at bankrate.com unpacked another source - the inaugural Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Similarly, that study examines 20 home renovation projects, analyzing what they potentially return at resale. The big surprise in that report is that neither kitchen or bathroom remodels came in at the top.

The winning remodels in terms of ROI? Replacing old siding with new vinyl siding costs about $12,000 and returns about 83 percent of what is spent, the study finds. Dratch talked to David Pekel of NARI who is president / CEO of Milwaukee's Pekel Construction & Remodeling.

He says for many street-facing homes, a new garage door “has traditionally ranked as one of the highest returns on investment." At an average cost of $2,300, according to the report, that project returns about 87 percent at resale.

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How to Improve Your Credit Score

April 12, 2017 12:51 am

Many Americans hope to improve their credit score. Whether you’re planning on applying for a mortgage or a loan in the future, or just want to do your financial due diligence, the experts at Experian offer the following tips for improve your credit score.  

Review your credit report regularly — Your personal credit report is an easy-to-read record of your credit accounts and total indebtedness. Be sure to obtain a copy of your credit report once every 12 months (and especially before major purchases) and dispute any information you believe is inaccurate. You can request a copy of your report directly from Experian or once every year from Annual Credit Report.

Check your credit score — Credit scores can play an important role in your financial journey. They translate the information in your credit report into a number reflecting the risk of doing business with you. To check your risk, request a credit score when you order your credit report. You will receive an explanation of what the score means and which details from your credit report are most affecting it.

Keep your utilization rate low — Your utilization rate, or balance-to-limit ratio, should never exceed 30 percent of the credit limit. Your total credit card balances should never be more than 30 percent of your total credit card limits, and you don't want any one card to have a balance of more than 30 percent of its limit. Both can hurt you. Remember, 30 percent isn't a goal; it's the maximum your balances should ever be. The lower your utilization rate, the better.

If you have missed payments, get current and stay current — Late payments, called delinquencies, may have a major negative impact on credit scores. To see the fastest improvement in your scores, catch up on late payments and pay down your balances. Late payments are the most important indicator of credit risk, so they have the greatest and longest-lasting impact. The more recently the missed payment occurred, the greater that impact will be, and the more missed payments you have, the longer it will take to recover. If you fall behind on your payments, contact your lenders to see if they can improve the terms of your debts.

Source: Experian

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To Your Health: Time to De-screen

April 11, 2017 12:51 am

We wake up in the morning and reach for our smartphone. Then we open up our laptop to check email. Then we get to the office and hunker down at our desktop computer for hours on end. Then we come home and watch TV. Before we turn out the lights, we read a few pages of our ebook or make a few moves in Words With Friends on our tablet. Then sleep, wake and repeat.

While screens have become a constant in our lives, they come with many negative side effects, including eye strain, sleep deprivation, neck strain and a loss of social and creative skills. With the right commitment and a few go-to strategies at hand, you can reduce the number of hours spent in front of a screen. Here are a few ideas to try. Your mind and your body will thank you!

Get outside and leave your smartphone at home or at least in your pocket on silent. Go biking with your kids, take the dog for a stroll, or sweat it out on a brisk walk or jog. Not only will this get you away from your screens, it will get you upright and moving.

Make mealtime non-negotiable. Whether at home, in a restaurant or at the office, commit to sitting down at a table, away from computers and phones, and conversing with friends or family; or if solo, catching up with a good book or simply using the silence to let your mind wander.

Set a reminder and get up and away from your computer at least once an hour while you’re on the job. This is critically important if your job involves mostly desk time. Instead of shooting off an email, get up and deliver your message in person. Go fill up your water bottle, take a quick stroll around the parking lot or to the coffee shop, or do some simple stretches in the employee lounge or conference room. This will give your eyes, back, neck and brain a much-needed break.

Make the bedroom a no-screen zone. Get rid of the television in your bedroom, leave your phone on the kitchen counter, and save your laptop and tablet time for the living room. By not allowing screens in your bedroom, you’ll wind down properly and get much better sleep.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Employers Can Make the Workplace More Pet-Friendly

April 11, 2017 12:51 am

From in-house baristas to flexible vacation time, offices and businesses across the country and finding innovative ways to support their employees. Making your place of business pet-friendly can help attract animal-loving talent, lower stress in the office and even boost activity. Below are several tips for making  any office environment more pet-friendly, courtesy of PetsBest.com:

Introduce the Idea Over Time – Slowly adapt employees to the idea of having pets in the office. While some employees will be ecstatic, some may not be as thrilled. By slowly introducing pets with a weekly "bring your pet to work day," employees can get used to the new additions to the office.

Pet-Proof Your Space – Just like bringing a baby to the office, pet-proofing is just as important. With cords and trashcans throughout a space, resolving these issues prior to having pets in the office will relieve chaos and issues down the road.

Set Rules and Expectations – Some dogs just aren't set out to be an office dog. Setting both pet and owner behavior rules and expectations, everyone in the office is on the same page of what is expected of them. Whether it be barking or mess clean up, having expectations laid out will hold everyone accountable.

Hold Pet Interviews – Before employees can bring their dog into the office, hold pet interviews. Some dogs, when in unfamiliar surroundings and with many people may not react appropriately for the work place. Like the trial run, this will give the dog and employees a chance to engage and become more familiar which will be helpful in the long run.

Stock the Break Room – Not only with treats for Fido, but the essentials.  Accidents happen, so making sure you have the appropriate supplies will make them that much less of a headache. By stocking up on cleaning supplies, stain remover, waste bags and treats, everyone will be happy knowing you are ready for whatever accident my come your way.

Offer Pet Insurance as a Benefit – While some companies are scaling back on wellness benefits for humans, record numbers of dogs and cats are covered for veterinary expenses through employee-benefits plans that include pet insurance. Providing pet insurance to every employee will set the tone and reassure employees that you support and care for them, and their entire family.

Source: www.PetsBest.com.

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Where Are the Most Family-Friendly Beaches?

April 11, 2017 12:51 am

Looking to take your family on a quick beach getaway this year? You’re not alone.

"Beach vacations are at the top of so many families' must-do list throughout the year," explains Lissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of Family Vacation Critic. "Whether for a day trip or a longer vacation, our list aims to help families narrow down the options to find beaches that truly are fantastic for families – every beach has lifeguards, in addition to kid-friendly activities and a selection of lodging options nearby. These beaches go beyond just a day on the sand, but offer some really fun features for families to enjoy together."

The following is Family Vacation Critic’s list of this year's winning beaches:

Long Beach Island, New Jersey (Long Beach Island, N.J.)
Insider Tip: The Surflight Theatre – and its popular Show Place Ice Cream Parlour – will reopen in 2017, presenting live children's performances all summer long.

Ponce Inlet, Florida (Ponce Inlet, Fla.)
Insider Tip: The Marine Science Center offers families the chance to learn about the area's sea turtles and other native wildlife.

Jones Beach State Park, New York (Wantagh, N.Y.)
Insider Tip: Kids can touch live marine animals, dig up whale bones and walk through the butterfly garden at Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, right in Jones Beach State Park.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (Rehoboth Beach, Del.)
Insider Tip: Families can enjoy the new Lefty's Alley and Eats – just a short drive from Rehoboth – with bowling lanes, a state-of-the-art arcade, a two-story laser tag arena and an on-site restaurant.

Coronado Beach, California (Coronado, Calif.)
Insider Tip: New in 2017, visitors can transform into a mermaid as part of Hotel del Coronado's Mermaid Fitness classes – cardio and core exercise classes while wearing a mermaid fin.

Balboa Beach, California (Newport Beach, Calif.)
Insider Tip: The area's famous Balboa Fun Zone amusement area has been entertaining families for decades, with its Ferris wheel, arcades and shopping.

North Beach Park, Wisconsin (Racine, Wis.)
Insider Tip: The Wind Point Lighthouse is one of the oldest and tallest active lighthouses on the Great Lakes, and is open for guided tours the first Sunday of every month from June through October.

Coast Guard Beach, Massachusetts (Eastham, Mass.)
Insider Tip: Cape Cod National Seashore offers a wide range of ranger-guided activities, including guided walks, campfires and canoe trips.

Weirs Beach, New Hampshire (Weirs Beach, N.H.)
Insider Tip: Half Moon Amusement Arcades offers families the fun of two arcades – the Penny Arcade and the Family Fun Center – with more than 250 games combined.

Seaside Beach, Oregon (Seaside, Ore.)
Insider Tip: Families can visit the Seaside Aquarium to explore its hands-on discovery center and interact with its resident seals.

Source: Family Vacation Critic

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Are Your April Showers Inside? Time to Evaluate Your Roof

April 10, 2017 12:51 am

It is said that April showers bring May flowers, but they can also produce leaks or signs that indicate a roof repair or replacement is required.

The experts at Sarasota, Florida's Sonshine Roofing (sonshineroofing.com) say that any buckling, curling, rotted, or missing shingles are sure signs of something going wrong underneath - which exposes the rest of the house to water invasion during heavy precipitation.

Folks at APCO Home Improvement Company in Columbus, Ohio (apco.com) say if your roof is pushing twenty, twenty-five years, it’s time to let it go, especially if you’re not the original homeowner. The company says old roofs start experiencing all kinds of disrepair; some of it is obvious, but some stays well-hidden until it’s too late.

Brown Rooftops serving Georgia and South Carolina astutely point out that your gutter system is an extension of your rooftop, so one affects the other. If there are any granules or obvious and excessive debris in your gutters, you could be looking at replacements for your roof, your gutter, and more exterior issues.

The California Shingle & Shake Company (calshingle.com) says there is no simple answer to cost out a roofing project. A typical bid should be based on square footage, the pitch of the roof, accessibility, type of roofing material needed, 1- or 2-story home, removal of old roof (if necessary), roof permit and city license, and labor.
In their neck of the woods, the average cost to replace a roof runs from approximately $2,000 to $12,000 depending on the size of the roof and the quality of the workmanship and materials.

Calshingle.com suggests that if you suspect or know you need a repair, get detailed quotes from at least two or three different contractors, and compare estimates with special attention paid to materials used and labor costs.

Make sure you also talk to people who have used the contractors you are considering. Ask if they had any complaints, and if the contractors cleaned up nicely, finished on time and kept to the contract.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Buying Property in Another Country? What you Need to Know

April 10, 2017 12:51 am

Maybe you have a close family member living in Mexico. Or perhaps skiing in Vancouver is your favorite winter vacation spot. Maybe you have a child attending school in London. Or maybe you want to retire to the small town in China that your ancestors are from.

No matter what the reason may be, more and more Americans are looking to purchase property outside of the U.S. And as the world becomes an increasingly connected place, it’s become easier to do so.

According to the 2016 National Association of REALTORS Profile of International Activity in U.S. Residential Real Estate, approximately 14 percent of REALTORS® reported that they had a client who was seeking to purchase property in another country, compared to six percent in the previous 12-month period. The report also revealed that 46 percent of Americans bought a home outside of the U.S. as a vacation or investment home.

Looking to spread your wings and explore homeownership in another corner of the world? Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

Find the right local real estate professional. You’ll need an excellent point person in the country you’re considering. The best way to find this person might be right here at home. Talk to your local real estate professional first - he or she might be part of a global network that has affiliates in other parts of the world.

Find out if there’s a real estate association representing your destination country in the U.S. These organizations are in the U.S. to support real estate transactions from and to their countries. They can be an incredible resource for your mission.

If you’re not fluent in the language of the country in which you want to purchase a home, find someone who is. The language of real estate in particular varies from country to country so having an interpreter is essential.

Consider the value of the dollar where you’re headed. If the dollar is weak, you may want to hold off on your decision to purchase until the economic picture shifts. Conversely, if the dollar is faring well, you may want to accelerate your plans.

Enlist U.S. home search engines that have international listings - like realtor.com and LeadingRE.com. Not only will these sites provide you with listings to peruse, they’ll serve as a resource for information on currency and customs, and connect you with real estate professionals to work with.

So when it comes to your next home purchase, think global but enlist local resources. For more information on real estate listings, contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Things to Know About Driverless Vehicles

April 10, 2017 12:51 am

From smart home features to the latest app, the future is sneaking up on us fast. But driverless vehicles are arguably one of the most controversial technological advancements on the horizon. Below are three things that you need to know about driverless vehicles, courtesy of Zane’s Law.

Driverless vehicle technology is here now. The primary limitation is that it is extremely expensive to make driverless vehicles safe.  One current obstacle to a world of driverless vehicles is the current inability to manufacture true driverless vehicles at price point that is affordable to most consumers.  The current Google driverless car needs over $200,000 in equipment to be able to drive.  It uses a Velodyne 64-beam laser to create a 3D map of the vehicle's surrounding environment, which is a must in order for the vehicle to be able to drive autonomously.

The driverless car design that manufacturers seem to have in mind is a car without a steering wheel or pedals. A driverless car is unlikely to be able to avoid an accident with a car driven by human who makes a mistake.  A human driver would make a decision.  Are we as a society ready to accept the decision in this scenario being made by the manufacturer who programs it into the car's computer before you ever set foot in the vehicle?

Driverless cars will initially make congestion worse. Simulations have shown that, until most vehicles on the road are driverless, driverless vehicles will create bigger traffic jams than we currently have. But as driverless vehicles become the majority, experts believe the consumer will eventually have an improved commute.

Source: http://zaneslaw.com

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Seasonal Sport Safety

April 7, 2017 12:48 am

For those interested in seasonal sports like skiing or snowboarding, it’s important to keep safety top-of-mind in order to avoid an injury.

Knee injuries, particularly the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), are the most common injury for skiers due to the twisting motion of the sport. Snowboarders typically experience more impact-related injuries to their wrists and shoulders from falls.

Meredith Bean, MD, specializes in treating injuries from sports, including skiing and snowboarding injuries. Here are Dr. Bean's top five tips to avoid skiing and snowboarding injuries:

Be prepared: The best way to prevent snow sport injuries from occurring is to be physically fit before hitting the slopes. Prior to your trip up the mountain, incorporate strengthening, agility, balance, and endurance exercises to your workout routine.

Use proper equipment: All skiers and snowboarders should use a helmet, but be aware that helmets do not provide full protection at higher speeds. She encourages snowboarders, especially beginners who may fall often, to wear wrist guards to help prevent wrist fractures, as those are the most common injury she sees for that sport. Skiers should use pole straps appropriately to avoid thumb injuries.

Keep hydrated: When it's cold, you may not feel as thirsty but your body is still losing water through sweating and breathing. If you can see your breath, that's water leaving the body. So when heading out to the slopes, drinking lots of water is important to reduce muscle fatigue and injury.

Stay in control: Know your fitness and ability limits and stay within them.

Stop if you're tired: Many snow sports injuries occur on the final run of the day. This often is due to fatigue or a change in conditions on the mountain, which can lead to a lack of focus or control and result in injuries. If you are tired, but considering one last run, it is best to play it safe and call it a day.

Source: Saint Francis Memorial Hospital 

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Spring Cleaning Tips to Save on Energy Expenditure

April 7, 2017 12:48 am

Spring cleaning can do more than clear out your closets; it can also lower your energy expenditure, keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in the bank.  

Gentec Services recommends five things homeowners can do during spring cleaning to save money:

Clean or change heating and air conditioning filters regularly. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm. Residential heating and cooling systems account for over 50 percent of the energy costs in the average Bay Area home. A properly maintained system can be 30 to 40 percent more efficient than one that is not properly taken care of.

Use low-flow faucets and shower heads to save on water bills. Replacing older water fixtures with low-flowing ones is a relatively low-cost and quick way for your home to conserve water and save money. For maximum water efficiency, select a shower head with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gallons per minute.

Reduce water heater temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy and money on heating water. It's also a good practice to wrap the water storage tank in a specially-designed, insulated thermal blanket to retain the heat.

Install a programmable thermostat to save up to 10 percent on cooling and heating costs. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates. Although thermostats can be adjusted manually, programmable thermostats will avoid any discomfort by returning temperatures to normal before you wake or return home.

Install a security alarm system. By setting an alarm system to "arm" upon leaving the home, this event can command lights to turn off. Additionally, when you cross a predetermined "Geo Fence" (set by the homeowner) the physical location of the homeowner's phone can easily turn off lights, lamps, plugs and appliances as well. It's always good practice to turn off electronics whenever possible. A power strip can help turn off multiple items at once. In addition to turning off lights manually, you may want to consider using sensors, timers and other automatic lighting controls.

Source: Gentec Services

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Take a Holistic Approach to Retirement Planning

April 7, 2017 12:48 am

(Family Features)--Although retirement is a milestone for all working adults, decades of hard work may not pay off if you haven't planned for your financial needs once a regular paycheck stops coming.

According to research by the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI), millions of Baby Boomers stepping into their retirement years have unrealistic expectations and lack a full understanding of the danger of running out of money during retirement. However, the challenges do not stop with Baby Boomers. A recent study indicated 47 percent of Gen-Xers and more than half of Millennials believe a secure retirement is beyond their reach.

"Most people recognize the need to grow their wealth before retirement, but getting there isn't always a clear path," says Cathy Weatherford, IRI president and CEO. "Starting early and taking a holistic approach to financial planning is truly essential for a safe and dignified retirement."

Experts generally concur that it's never too early to begin planning for retirement, but depending on your stage of life, your approach may vary. Consider this advice from the experts at IRI to get on a path toward financially secure retirement.

Student

Forming good money habits can set you up for a lifetime of success. An act as simple as putting spare change in a jar can help you start saving. Talk to adults you trust about how to create a budget and work toward a financial goal. Auto insurance and cell phone bills are important expenses to factor into your budget.

Building a career

Once you have a solid budget, stick to it and set aside some money to save. Compound interest adds up over time and the earlier you start compounding, the better. Credit will also start to play more of a factor in your life, as major expenses like buying a house or car, or starting a business rely greatly on your credit.

Mid-career

At this stage, your employer may offer a retirement savings plan. Whether you have various investments to manage or not, you should start to look at your building your portfolio and retirement plan. This mid-career life stage is a good time to set a retirement savings goal, and now is also the time to consider hiring a financial advisor.

A professional can help you explore less understood but worthwhile approaches to holistic retirement planning such as annuities. Annuities are essentially insurance contracts that come in different types and offer several options to meet a variety of financial objectives. They are a guarantee of income as you age.

Late career

At this stage, you probably have a better idea as to when you will be able to retire, but it's important to review your savings on an annual basis and make adjustments, if needed, to stay on track. As you approach retirement, you'll want to research Social Security, Medicare and long-term care options to ensure you have a comprehensive view of your future finances.

Ready for retirement

If you haven't already done so, the time has come to better research your Social Security benefits (and when it's best to start accessing them), Medicare coverage and long-term care options. This is the time to start making some choices, such as whether you will downsize your home and how to eliminate as much debt as possible. One of the more complex aspects surrounding retirement can be determining which of your accounts to tap and in what order, and a professional can help guide you.

Explore more resources and tools to aid your retirement planning at retireonyourterms.org.


Source: Insured Retirement Institute
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What’s the Deal with Ceiling Paper?

April 6, 2017 12:48 am

You may have heard that wallpaper is making a comeback. But have you heard about wallpapered ceilings? Technically, this trend is called ceiling paper, and it can transform a room in the same way papered walls can.

Highlight a space. Do you have a home office tucked to one side of your family room? How about a cozy reading nook? Add colorful ceiling paper to one portion of a room to divide the space naturally.

Make a statement. Just like a colorful throw cushion on a neutral couch, jazzy ceiling paper can make a “boring” room bold. Choose a fun print or color that shows off your personality and style.

Accent, accent, accent. Tie your ceiling paper into the rest of your decorating scheme by choosing the right accent color. Whether you go with a solid, stripes or a soft pattern, a papered ceiling done up right can complete the look of a room.

When wallpapering a ceiling, it may be best to bring in a pro, as the application can be tricky. If you’re a diligent weekend warrior and feel like going DIY, make sure to properly prep your ceiling for application by removing any paint and electrical fixtures. Experts also suggest creating a ceiling blueprint for precise application.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Your Business Can Prep for an Online PR Crisis

April 6, 2017 12:48 am

As a business owner, you’re likely in constant preparation mode. Having an online crisis plan in place is a necessity, according to MarxLayne.com. When dealing with a disrupting event that spreads online, organizations should consider the following fundamental guidelines:

1. Actively listen for "brand" mentions
If you want to mitigate trouble online, you must be alert to what is being said about your organization. Are online conversations taking place about your "brand?" If so, are they positive or negative?

2. Monitor your social spaces constantly 
It's critical to constantly monitor what people are commenting and sharing. To help expedite, numerous social medial listening tools — like Google Analytics, Social Mention, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Topsy — can identify trends.

3. Have a consisten presence
Nothing looks worse than an organization that never communicates except when absolutely forced to do so. An active and steady presence on the social pages you own will help you be better prepared for a potential crisis.

4. Respond swiftly
This is perhaps one of the most important ways to avoid a crisis. Just like with the news media, even if you don't have an immediate answer, just letting people know you are listening and care about what's going on will help soften stressful situations.

5. Include your communications and legal teams 
Being prepared for an online crisis means establishing a protocol in advance that includes not only your social/online specialists, but also your PR and legal teams. Concise messaging that is consistent with the organization's policies and positions is essential to any crisis strategy.

6. Have a plan of action 
Make certain you have a detailed plan on how you will execute if an online crisis occurs, including:

- Establishing the crisis team. In addition to your online, PR and legal teams, think about who else needs to be included. Consider every area of your organization.

- Knowing the chain of command in a crisis. What should the approval process look like? Who should be responsible for what? And what does the timeline look like?

- Brainstorming potential scenarios. In any organization, there are dozens — if not more — of potential situations that could develop into a crisis. Work with your team to identify these scenarios and develop a "response template.

Source: MarxLayne.com.

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Is Home Flipping for You?

April 5, 2017 12:42 am

While you may think that home flipping went the way of the dinosaurs after the real estate bust, flips actually rose 3.1 percent from 2015 to 2016, with gross profits averaging $62,624, according to research from ATTOM Data Solutions.

Home flipping enjoyed a boost last year thanks to low inventory in many areas of the country and an infusion of foreign and domestic capital, says ATTOM, who reported that roughly 6 percent of condo and single-family home sales in 2016 were flips - the highest share in three years.

Hot markets in California - like San Jose, San Diego, and San Francisco - along with cities such as Baltimore, Md., Boston, Mass., New York, N.Y. and Seattle, Wash. earned more than $100,000 in profits. The most flipping took place Florida and Tennessee, where it comprised 11.7 percent of all sales in Memphis, Tenn.

Are you ready to get into the flipping game? Consider these pros and cons from The Balance:

Pro: Home flipping can be very lucrative, earning you a sizable sum of money within a very short period of time

Con: Conversely, when a flip becomes a “flop,” you can lose money. This can happen when unexpected expenses for home repairs or taxes arise, or when holding costs accrue from paying the mortgage and other expenses for a longer than anticipated period of time.

Pro: Home flipping is a great learning experience and will sharpen your skills on all things real estate, including construction, related finances and the local market.

Con: The process can be very stressful. There will be bumps along the way and there is always a risk involved, so make sure you’re ready for the roller coaster ride.

If you’d like more detailed real estate information about your market, please contact me.

Source: ATTOM Data Solutions

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How to Tackle the 5 Peskiest Carpet Stains

April 5, 2017 12:42 am

Most homeowners know what it’s like to find ketchup or nail polish on your favorite carpet. The following quick tips from Rainbow International can help save your area rug or wall-to-wall carpet from the peskiest stain culprits.

Gum: The most crucial ingredient when removing gum from carpets is patience. Scrape away as much of the gum as possible, using a dull object like a spoon, and apply a dry-cleaning solvent such as Goof Off. After allowing time for the solvent to soften the gym, use a white cotton cloth to pull or wipe away the gum from the carpet and repeat this process until the gum is completely removed.

Ketchup: If there are large amounts of ketchup (whether fresh or dried-on), remove it by scraping lightly with a spoon, and use a white cotton towel to blot any residual ketchup. Next, mix a solution of one teaspoon dishwashing detergent and one cup of water, and apply the mixture to the stained area. Starting at the outer edge and working inward, work the solution into the stain and rinse by dabbing with water. If the stain remains, you can attempt to remove it with a three percent hydrogen peroxide solution, but be sure to first test it in an inconspicuous part of the carpet to ensure it's safe to use.

Nail Polish: Whatever you do, don't rub the stain, as rubbing will not only cause the stain to be driven further into the carpet, but it could also cause damage to the carpet's fibers. Wipe or blot the stain from the outside in using a non-acetone nail polish. If the stain remains, you'll need to call a cleaning professional.

Lipstick: Start by removing any excess lipstick by lightly scraping it with a dull object. Then, working from the outer edges of the stain and moving toward the center, apply a dry solvent to the stain, blotting with a white cotton towel. This may take multiple attempts but the dry solvent should do the trick. Once the stain is removed, rinse by dabbing the area with a dampened cloth and blot with a dry cloth to remove as much moisture as possible. To speed up the drying process, you can use an electric fan.

Crayon: First, as with most of the previously mentioned stains, scrape away residual crayon with a dull object, and then cover the remaining crayon mark with a white paper towel. Next, heat the area with a blow dryer, which should melt the crayon and help it absorb into the paper towel.

Source: www.rainbowintl.com 

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10 Tips to Minimize Driving Distractions for Your Business

April 5, 2017 12:42 am

When you’re on the road, nothing inhibits your safety—and the safety of others—like distractions, especially from cell phone usage. According to CNA, using the phone while driving is akin to driving while intoxicated, and puts the driver and others at risk of injury - or even death. However, if you have a business with company-owned vehicles, it’s even more vital to drill auto safety into the forefront of your mind.

CNA recommends these 10 tips can help businesses minimize auto distractions:

- Issue a written policy on avoiding all distractions and cell phone use while driving for the company.

- Prohibit the use of cell phones when operating any vehicle on company business.

- Use cell-blocking technology for cell phones in company-owned vehicles.

- Require drivers to be legally parked if they want to use a cell phone from their vehicles.

- Implement a discipline program for violation of in-vehicle behavior and cell phone policies.

- Allow voicemail to handle calls.

- Allow a passenger in the vehicle to handle calls.

- Notify callers via voicemail if a driver is unavailable or behind the wheel and that the driver will return calls when it is safe.

- Have drivers inform regular callers of their driving schedules and when they will be able to talk.

- Tell drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes and mind on the road.

Source:  www.cna.com

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Tips From ‘the Cheapskate Next Door

April 4, 2017 12:42 am

Author Jeff Yeager met with hundreds of self-described skinflints for his bestselling book, “The Cheapskate Nest Door: Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means.”

He recently shared with Kiplinger Magazine editors the tips and incentives that motivate serious money savers:

They are not misers. While they are careful about how they spend money, they do not spend their waking hours thinking up ways to save a nickel. Some are motivated by religious or environmental concerns and others simply see no reason to live any other way but frugally.

They run the gamut of lifestyles. Some are millionaires and some have such limited income that they could qualify for public assistance if they chose to. The commonality is that they spend less than they make and they determine to live debt-free. Only five percent of those surveyed had any consumer debt other than a mortgage, and among those who had a mortgage, 85 percent said they were working to pay it off early.

They splurge selectively. They make certain they really want something before they buy it. When they do splurge, it is more likely to be on an activity rather than on a possession – not surprising, since social science points out that possessions often disappoint over time, while experiences, such as sports or vacations, appreciate in value in our memories.

They offer some practical advice. They typically stay away from yard sales because you tend to buy stuff you didn’t set out to buy. They like thrift stores, which they see as department stores full of perfectly good used merchandise. They barter or negotiate to save on goods and services – and they’re generally tuned in to worthwhile cyber tips for saving money, checking websites like freecycle.org for freebie giveaways and accidentalwine.com for good wines discounted simply because the label is damaged.

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New Study Tells You Where to Retire

April 4, 2017 12:42 am

Whether you’re thinking of retiring next year or within the next two decades, it never hurts to brush up on retirement trends, especially if you plan to relocate. A recent Bankrate study on retirement locations noted that half of non-retired U.S. adults would move to a different city or state when they retire. The percentage is greatest among millennials (58 percent) and falls to 46 percent of Gen Xers, 37 percent of Baby Boomers and 12 percent of the Silent Generation.

The report examined eight key factors which were weighted in line with a nationally representative survey of non-retired U.S. Adults. The categories of focus were: cost of living, healthcare quality, crime, cultural vitality, weather, taxes, senior citizens’ well-being and the prevalence of other seniors.

The results may surprise you; Florida—long considered a retirement hot spot—didn’t even make the top five. According to the report, New Hampshire is the best state to retire, with Colorado, Maine, Iowa and Minnesota following suit.

Florida came in 17th. Although it has the nation’s highest percentage of residents age 65 and older, it surprisingly didn’t score high in any other area.

Source: Bankrate.com

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Getting Ready to Rent? Buying Might be a Smarter Choice

April 4, 2017 12:42 am

Between down payments and closing costs, buying a home is a big financial commitment that may seem out of reach for those who ultimately choose to rent instead. However, in today’s market environment of rising rents, the difference in cost between renting and owning is actually narrowing, making this a favorable time to buy a home in most U.S. cities.

According to a recent national index from Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University faculty, the Beracha, Hardin & Johnson Buy vs. Rent (BH&J) Index, 15 of the 23 cities covered are solidly in buy territory, while another five are only marginally in rent territory.

Want to know if buying is a better than renting for you? Ask yourself the following questions:

How stable is my employment situation? Lenders will take the length of time you’ve spent at your current job into consideration, so if you’ve jumped around a lot or just started a new position, that may work against you.

Are you ready to settle down for awhile? Buying a home is an excellent long-term investment, not usually a quick flip. So if you’re still testing out different cities or interested in seeing the world, renting may be a better option.

What shape is your credit in? Your credit score weighs heavily in securing a favorable mortgage loan. If yours is not in the best shape, it may be better to rent while you work at building a better credit profile.

What’s your true financial picture? While your salary may seem more than sufficient to make your projected mortgage payments, keep in mind that homeownership involves many different costs, from property taxes to repairs. So run the numbers carefully before deciding to buy.

The best way to decide whether to rent or buy is to consult a real estate professional in your area. If you’d like more real estate information, please contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


You Can Still Save for Spring Break 2017

April 3, 2017 4:39 am

If you’re looking for a last-minute getaway, you’re not alone. Hotwire recently announced the top five last-minute spring break travel destinations, and some ways you can save big with your late purchase.  

Where should you go?

Well-known for tequila and mariachi music, Guadalajara, Mexico is perfect for Spring Break travel and prices are 15 percent lower than last year. You can grab a 4-star hotel for $56 a night.

You can never go wrong with a little sunshine. Phoenix, Ariz. has 15 percent savings relative to last year, and 3-star rooms for less than $100 a night.  

Looking for sand and margaritas? Head down to San Jose del Cabo for 10 percent savings compared to 2016. Book a 3.5 star room for $166 a night.

Head to Boston, Mass. for a family-friendly trip and enjoy 10 percent savings relative to last year. Grab a 3.5-star hotel starting as low as $153.

Book a trip to Colorado Springs and see some of the most beautiful iconic red-sandstone formations in the world. With 10 percent savings relative to last year and 3.5 rooms starting at $66, it's a great place for the whole family.

So now you know where to go. But how can you save?

Buying in bundle can help you save significantly. If you buy your plane ticket first, you can unlock even better car and hotel deals.

Traveling during off-peak days and times usually will lend you the best savings. Instead of leaving on Friday, travel Saturday to Monday. Sunday nights are usually the least expensive nights for hotel stays and everything is less crowded.

If you're flying, try to schedule an early morning flight or book the redeye for the best savings.

Source: Hotwire

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Lifestyle Tips for Those with Diabetes

April 3, 2017 4:39 am

For those with diabetes, every day can be a bit more complicated. Recently, USA Medical released some healthy lifestyle habits for people living with diabetes.

"If you, like more and more people, have been diagnosed with diabetes, it's important to arm yourself with ways you can better manage the disease,” says Jordan Sessler, Co-Founder and President of USA Medical.

Maintain a diet of whole grains, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.  Dairy should be nonfat and meats should be lean.  Limit high fat and high sugar foods.  Don't overeat.

Keep an active lifestyle to help bring down blood sugar and lower chances of getting heart disease.  Exercise will also help ease stress and shed excess weight.   Aim for at least 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular activity.

Stop smoking. Combined with diabetes, smoking raises the chances of health problems such as eye disease, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and nerve damage.  Smoking can also make exercise more difficult.

Consume alcohol moderately because excessive amounts will negatively impact blood sugar.  According to The American Diabetes Association, women should not have more than one drink a day while men should not consume more than two.  Those who take diabetes drugs or use insulin should have food when drinking.

SOURCE: USA Medical

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3 Tips to Clean up Your Workspace

April 3, 2017 4:39 am

Navigating the work day can be stressful enough. But when you’re trying to work in a messy workspace, it can be even more stressful, not only for you but for those working around you.

More than half of senior managers (54 percent) interviewed by staffing firm OfficeTeam said the most distracting or annoying aspect of employee workspaces is sloppiness or disorganization. Interestingly, one in 10 respondents acknowledged a desk that's too clean or bare raises a red flag.

OfficeTeam offers three tips for creating a workspace that leaves a good impression:

Clean up your act. Spend a few minutes every day clearing out old documents, food wrappers and dirty dishes. Reduce clutter by organizing files or going paperless.

Keep it simple. It's OK to have a few things in your workspace that are inspiring or fun to look at, but covering your desk with too many knickknacks can be an eyesore.   

Don't be offensive. Remember, items in your work area aren't always for your eyes only. Ditch the political posters, risqué photos and anything that might be too controversial.

Source: www.officeteam.com

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How to Have a Healthier Smile

March 31, 2017 12:33 am

You take care of your body by staying active and maintaining a balanced diet – but do you ever give a thought to the health of your teeth? Read the following tips, courtesy of dentalplans.com, for a healthier smile.

Be gentle. Brushing teeth roughly can weaken enamel, causing cavities, tooth decay and gum disease. Use a soft brush, and take it easy.

Brush Properly. Hold the brush is at a 45° angle against the gum line and sweep the brush up and away from your gums.

Floss. From dental hygienists and dentists to the Department of Health and Human Services to the American Dental Association have, for decades, recommended daily flossing to keep mouths and teeth healthy. But a recent report from the Associated Press (AP) indicated that there may be no medical benefits associated with flossing. Regardless, removing food debris and bacteria caught between one's teeth is helpful and recommended until truly proven ineffective.

Go to the dentist. Removing tartar is not something that can be done at home, without risking the chance of causing dental damage. Dental hygienists are trained to remove tartar that causes decay and gum infections safely.

Do not wait. People tend to pay out of pocket as dental problems arise, waiting until a costly dental crisis occurs before purchasing a plan. And, dental insurance imposes waiting periods, sometimes of six months to a year, before coverage for expensive dental treatments kicks in. Dental savings plans, an alternative to traditional dental insurance, make dental care more affordable, saving members 10 percent - 60 percent on most dental care procedures.

Source: dentalplans.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Refresh Your Home, Room by Room

March 31, 2017 12:33 am

(Family Features)--Spring is a sensible time to refresh and restore your home after heavy indoor use during winter. It's also an opportunity to conduct overdue home maintenance and achieve a sense of accomplishment.

Tackle the project room by room with these tips from the experts at Office Depot to make the work feel more manageable and ensure you complete a thoroughly satisfying job.

Entryway
The main entrance, whether it's the front door or a mudroom entrance off the garage, tends to become a dumping ground where items are shed with each trip through the door. You may have to wade through some clutter to make headway, but after a thorough cleaning of the furniture, floors and walls in this space, your next challenge is making sense of all the mess.

One solution is assigning designated storage spaces for each family member. A series of plastic storage boxes or cubby-style organizers can help contain possessions like shoes, backpacks, handbags and more. Rely on stylish hooks or a coat tree for extra storage. Put your finishing touch on the freshly cleaned entryway with some pops of color and personality, such as cheerful wall art and a welcoming rug.

Home Office
If there's any room that comes close to the clutter of the entryway, it's the home office. A major difference is that generally, office messes come in the form of paperwork, and paper can actually be organized quite easily.

Sorting is the best first step, so you know exactly what you're up against. Create piles for all the different types of paper you're likely to encounter, from bills and to-do lists to the kids' school work. Separate other items by category, such medical records and financial documents or art supplies and books, into piles of their own.

There are dozens of options when it comes to home filing systems. Consider keeping current documents in a location you can access at your fingertips, such as a hanging file drawer or a desktop filer. Labeled tabs and color-coded folders can help make frequently used documents more easily accessible.

For archival materials, such as tax returns and insurance policies that you're likely to consult infrequently, a secure but separate storage solution makes more sense. Drawer labels and colored hanging file pockets paired with a categorical or alphabetical organization system can make it easy to dispose of unwanted clutter without tossing important papers.

Once you've dealt with all the paperwork, don't overlook important details like dusting the computer desk and screen to make your freshly cleaned office extra inviting. Adding a stylish, functional centerpiece can also help you stay organized now and in the future.

Kitchen
Because it's likely the most used room in the house, the kitchen sees a fair bit of cleaning year-round. However, in any busy household it's easy to let deeper cleaning slide. While you're tackling the rest of the house, take time to give the kitchen its due. Mop the floors, disinfect all surfaces and remove clutter that has accumulated, including old and out-of-date food from the refrigerator and pantry.

Because consumables are such an integral part of this space, it's a good idea to use green cleaning products that won't leave harmful residues on your cooking surfaces or distribute contaminants into the air.

Bedrooms
When warm spring weather arrives, throwing open the windows to circulate fresh air can be one of the most welcoming ways to wake up the bedroom after long winter months. Freshly washed linens and a flipped or rotated mattress can also give the room a freshness you can see and feel.

Beyond the typical chores like vacuuming and dusting, don't forget dusty baseboards and make sure to wipe down any glass or mirrored surfaces for extra shine. Another way to make a big difference is organizing items that exceed the storage capacity of your furniture. In the bedroom itself, a trunk at the foot of the bed or a wardrobe organizer that complements your other furnishings is a smart bet.

In the closet, you can repurpose common office supplies and organizers to make the most of limited space. For example, adhesive hooks are perfect for handbags, necklaces and scarves. Lightweight shelving or cubbies make it easy to confine shoes, and for an assortment of accessories and knick-knacks, try stacking plastic bins. Another idea to maximize drawer space in your dresser: move undergarments and socks into a portable storage cart with trays or drawers that fits neatly in the closet.

Multi-Purpose Rooms
Sometimes space dictates that each room in the house cannot be dedicated to just one purpose, but combining multiple spaces – such as a home office and craft room, den or storage area – can often lead to clutter accumulating. Start by organizing things into piles based on which part of the space is best suited for each item. 

Also, take time to check for broken items or ones you haven't used in a while and determine what can be repaired, donated or discarded. Once everything has been properly sorted, store any items that didn't previously have a home. Hanging items that are used often for crafting is one way to make creative use of your space and free up space for additional furniture or storage, such as shelving or attractive totes.Source: OfficeDepot.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Help Your Kids Adjust to Glasses

March 31, 2017 12:33 am

Change can be difficult for all of us, but for children, a large change like getting glasses for the first time can be stressful and nerve-wracking.

"Most children just want to fit in and not stand out from their peers," explained  Amanda Thompson, PhD, a pediatric psychologist in Washington, D.C. "Anything that makes them feel different, including something as minor as needing to wear glasses, may impact a young child's confidence."
With increased use of electronic devices (shown to strain eyes at  faster rate), more and more children are in need of glasses at a younger age than ever before. To soften this transition to wearing glasses, Dr. Thompson shares these tips for parents:

Normalize the experience of wearing glasses.

Helping children to see glasses as common and "normal" is a great way to make them feel less "different." Read books about characters that wear glasses. Point out people in their life who wear glasses—a classmate, a favorite teacher, their baseball coach.  

Involve children in picking out and customizing their glasses.

Let them try on different colors and shapes and have a say in picking their favorite. This helps give them a sense of control and feel more connected to and invested in their new accessory. Glasses become something special to show off, rather than something to keep hidden in their backpack.

Provide lots of positive attention and specific praise for wearing glasses.

Plain and simple: kids respond to positive attention. Providing praise for wearing glasses encourages them to keep at it! Be specific and tell them, "I love when you wear your glasses. You look so smart!" Or, "I'm so glad you are wearing your glasses to do your homework. I'm really proud of you."

Deal with teasing if it occurs.

If your child tells you they are being teased, praise them for letting you know (it can be hard), calmly listen, and validate their feelings. Communicate that teasing is unfair, unkind, and hurtful, and then talk about some ways to deal with teasing if it happens again. Role-playing can be a helpful practice. 

Source: www.GlassesUSA.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Positive Trends to Emerge for Buyers in 2017

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

In 2016, home prices experienced increases, despite the predictions of many that prices would fall for the first time since the recovery began. Home price gains were buoyed mostly by limited inventory, with entry-level homes being particularly short in supply. Many areas across the country saw sales prices touch their pre-2007 values, while mortgage rates […]

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With American Home Shield®, All Systems Are Go

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

NAR PULSE—A home warranty offer is available to members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) from American Home Shield®. Coverage now includes the same features previously only available as part of a real estate transaction. As always, NAR members enjoy a $50 savings through NAR’s REALTOR Benefits® Program. Learn more. Are You Reaching Millennials […]

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Hispanic Homeownership Rate Rises for Second Straight Year

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Momentum Could Be Cut Short If Trump Carries Out Mass Deportation, Wall Hispanics are an overriding force in homeownership, flouting national figures as they establish owner households at a rising rate for the second straight year. According to the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals’ (NAHREP) recently released 2016 State of Hispanic Homeownership Report, […]

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Bookworms: Here’s Where to Move If You Like to Read

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com: Live Like Country King and Queen Johnny Cash and June Carter How to Decide If Your Dream Home Is a Good Deal Now You Can Own Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s Santa Barbara Villa It’s a […]

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Working Together to Achieve Real Estate Success

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

In the following interview, Julie Jones-Bernard, broker/owner of Florida Luxurious Properties in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., discusses marketing listings. Region Served: South Florida Years in Real Estate: 17 Number of Offices: 1 Number of Agents: 25 Favorite Part of Your Job: Helping both U.S. and global customers achieve their real estate goals and smoothly integrate into […]

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NAR Video Spotlight: 2017 New Member Orientation

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Editor’s Note: This is part of a monthly video series from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to inform and educate members about important aspects of being a real estate professional. Watch for this series each month in RISMedia’s Daily e-News. The National Association of REALTORS®’ (NAR) new 2017 Orientation Video includes an introduction by […]

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Prepare for a Real Estate Rush This Spring

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Homebuyers this spring will meet out-of-this-world prices and unsparing competition—a real estate rush. According to Clear Capital’s recently released Home Data Index (HDI) Market Report, the national median days on market is 43 days, down from an 85-day stretch seen in January 2012. Days on market in Denver, Colo., Lincoln, Neb., and Raleigh, N.C., are […]

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Pending Home Sales Warm Up in February

March 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Pending home sales warmed in February to their highest level in almost a year, rallying 5.5 percent in the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recently released Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI). The PHSI posted 112.3 in February, up from 106.4 in January—the second-highest reading since May 2006, at 112.5. The Index is based on contract […]

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How to Stay Safe in a Power Outage

March 24, 2017 1:51 am

Whether it’s a bad storm or a downed utility pole, power outages can strike at any time. While most only last for a couple of hours, a prolonged power outage presents a whole host of obstacles. Here’s how to make sure your home and your family stay safe next time you lose electricity:

- Stay far away from downed power lines and any debris those power lines are in contact with; they have the capability of delivering a fatal charge. Wait for your utility company to take care of the problem.

- If flood waters in your basement are covering utility outlets, do not step into the water. Call your utility company and have them turn the water off at the meter.

- If using a generator, make sure nothing is plugged into the generator when you turn it on. Operate generators in well-ventilated, dry outdoor areas.

- While power is out, be sure to turn off all electronics, otherwise your circuits could overload when power is restored. Leave one light on so that you’ll know when power is back.

- For lighting, stick to flashlights not candles to avoid fire hazards.

- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. According to the American Red Cross, an unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

- Avoid traveling, especially at night. With traffic lights and street lamps out, driving becomes hazardous.

When power returns, continue to avoid downed power lines and examine food carefully - throw anything away that you suspect may have gone bad while unrefrigerated. If you hadn’t done so already, make an emergency supply kit with dry food, water, batteries, flashlights, blankets, etc. so you’ll be well-prepared next time the lights go out.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Preparation Is Key for Buying or Selling Home

March 24, 2017 1:51 am

Whether you’re buying or selling a new home, preparing well in advance is crucial to a successful transaction. In fact, of over 13,000 U.S. residents surveyed, the number one regret for both buyers and sellers was not starting their home search or prepping their home to sell soon enough. 

The Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends reveal strategies for how to buy and sell in today's highly competitive market.

Buyers

Keep your options open. More than half (52 percent) of buyers said they also considered renting, and more than one third (37 percent) of first-time buyers seriously considered continuing to rent. Savvy shoppers will have a Plan B in place, hoping to buy if it works out, but willing to sign a lease for a home if they don't make a deal by the time they need to move.

Be realistic with your budget. Once you set it, stick to it: first-time home buyers are more likely to exceed their budget than repeat buyers (39 percent vs 26 percent). Before you meet with a lender to determine how much mortgage you'll be approved for, take a good look at your individual finances and spending preferences to determine the monthly payment range that you feel you can comfortably afford.  

Get your financing squared away early. Plan to meet a few lenders four to six months ahead of when you're planning to buy to ensure you can make a competitive offer quickly when you find your dream home. The majority (82 percent) of buyers get pre-approved, with 77 percent getting pre-approval from a lender before finding a home on which they are interested in placing an offer.

Find an agent with a winning track record. Take the time to find an agent who has expertise in fast negotiation, leveraging escalation clauses, and winning bidding wars. Only 46 percent of buyers got the first home on which they made an offer, demonstrating that competition is now part of the process.  

Communication is key. Make sure your preferred method – and frequency – of communication matches that of your agent. One third (33 percent) of all buyers preferred phones call with their agent over emailing (21 percent) or texting (15 percent). Buyers can use the agent reviews on Zillow to learn more about prospective agents and their clients' experiences. 

Sellers

Start early and be strategic. Sellers consider putting their home on the market for five months before they list it. But the top seller regret is that they wished they spent more time prepping for the sale. Many cities have a magic window in the spring when homes have a higher likelihood of selling quickly for more money.

Work with an agent from the start. The vast majority (90 percent) of sellers who sold quickly and for more than list price worked with an agent, and two out of three (58 percent) began working with an agent at the very beginning of their selling journey.

Pay attention to your online curb appeal. The majority of buyers begin their search online. Sellers who sold their home for more than list price made imagery and home information available online: 48 percent had professional photos taken of the home, 30 percent shot video footage and 21 percent even shot drone footage.

Home improvements can be a worthwhile investment. Sellers who fetched above list price tackled home improvement before listing their home, being 50 percent more likely to take on a large project like modifying an existing home plan and 20 percent more likely to renovate a kitchen than the average seller. 

Don't be afraid to try again. In many markets, nearly half of listing views occur in the first week the home is on the market. Twenty-six percent of those who sold above list price took their home off the market once to adjust the sales price, opting to start anew rather than letting the home languish on the market with minimal activity. 

Source: www.zillowgroupreport.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for a Vintage Kitchen Remodel

March 24, 2017 1:51 am

(Family Features)--When you renovate an older home, the goal is not always to replace old with new. In fact, some renovations are all about preserving the past with a design that reflects and pays respect to the yesteryear features that make your home unique.

Whether you're planning a renovation for a 60-year-old home, or working to infuse some retro charm into a newer place, the ultimate goal is capturing the nostalgic feel of older homes: the classic lines, hardwood, moldings and woodwork, and features like fireplaces or stonework, bannisters or windows and doors.

The kitchen can be a particularly challenging room to renovate because the blend of old charm with modern convenience and functionality can seem at complete odds. These ideas from the design experts at Elmira Stove Works can help you combine practical function with timeless features for a room filled with character and purpose.

Keep cabinet facades true to the era. Updating the cabinets is practically a necessity for any vintage kitchen remodel. Although many older kitchens lacked the cabinet space modern homeowners desire, you can still achieve a retro look with ample storage by focusing more on the shape and style than on the quantity. With this approach, you can add as much storage and as many functional amenities as your space allows while still capturing the right look for the era. Opt for sleek and understated styles, or for some extra flair incorporate exaggerated angles and curves common to mid-century design. Material and color options abound, so you're free to go bold and glossy or more subdued.

Design with a focal point in mind. In a retro kitchen, standout elements such as colorful appliances can enhance the space and act as a focal point in the room. Stainless steel has become almost "default" in kitchens from coast to coast. Whether your home is on the beach, in the mountains or in a suburban neighborhood, for those who find beauty in the past, choosing a retro refrigerator or a vintage stove might be a better choice. These appliances act as a major design element in the space, and fortunately there are plenty of options when it comes to retro appliances with exciting pops of color.

Let the details bring it all together. Vibrant color is the signature of any retro kitchen, so don't forget to carry that design element through the space with accessories like dishes, cookbooks and vintage relics that celebrate bygone days. Other details like hardware, small appliances and utensils that harken the past can bring a cohesive look to the kitchen for a seamless style that feels like stepping back in time.

Bringing old character to life can be a tricky proposition when it comes to remodeling, however, with the proper focus on appliances, major features like the cabinetry and small details that make a big difference, you can confidently create a new space that takes you to another time.


Source: Elmira Stove Works
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Are Environmental Hazards Lowering Your Home’s Value?

March 23, 2017 1:48 am

You may be well versed in the factors that can improve your home’s value, like adding on a bathroom, installing energy-efficient appliances or putting on a new roof. But are you aware that certain environmental hazards, such as poor air quality can actually detract from your home’s value?

Research from ATTOM Data Solutions Environmental Hazards Housing Risk Index shows that 17.3 million single-family homes and condominiums are at high risk of an environmental hazard, such as brownfields, or property potentially contaminated by a hazardous substance, polluters, poor air quality and superfunds.

"Home values are higher and long-term home price appreciation is stronger in zip codes without a high risk for any of the four environmental hazards analyzed," says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions.

ATTOM details how home values have been affected by each of these environmental hazards:

- In areas with a "very high" brownfield risk - areas previously used for commercial development which may now have environmental contamination - 17.2 percent of properties are "seriously underwater," according to the Index; in areas with a "very low" brownfield risk, 8.9 percent of properties are seriously underwater. Median home prices in very high brownfield risk areas are 2.8 percent below 10 years prior, while median home prices in very low brownfield risk areas are 2.8 percent above 10 years prior. Home sellers in very high brownfield risk areas gained 25.3 percent on average at sale, while sellers in very low brownfield risk areas gained 18.9 percent.

- In areas with a very high polluter risk, 12.7 percent of properties are seriously underwater, compared to 9.2 percent of properties seriously underwater in very low polluter risk areas. Home sellers in very high polluter risk areas gained 16.6 percent on average at sale, while sellers in very low polluter risk areas gained 27.7 percent.

- For areas with a "low" or "moderate" risk of poor air quality, home sales volume has increased 26 percent in the past five years, according to the report; for areas with a "high" risk of poor air quality, home sales volume has increased 16.5 percent in the past five years, while in areas with a very high risk of poor air quality, home sales volume has increased 3.3 percent over the past five years.

- Median home prices in very high superfund risk areas - a U.S. federal program designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants - are 1.5 percent below 10 years prior. Home sellers in high superfund risk areas gained 19.6 percent on average at sale, while sellers in very low superfund risk areas gained 24.4 percent.

Source: ATTOM Data Solutions

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Five Ways You’re Worsening Your Allergies

March 23, 2017 1:48 am

Sniffle, sneeze, cough – we all know the signs of seasonal allergies. But did you know your lifestyle could actually be making your seasonal allergies worse? Read on for five ways you may be worsening your allergies.  

Drinking alcohol: An extra glass of wine at dinner could irritate existing allergies. A Danish study found every additional alcoholic drink in a week increased the risk of seasonal allergies by three percent. The researchers suspect the bacteria and yeast in the alcohol produce histamines and cause a stuffy nose or itchy eyes.

Making your bed: Dust mites love to put down roots in bedding and mattresses. AFC physicians say at night, while you sleep, moisture from body sweat helps keep the little critters alive. When you make your bed in the morning, you are tucking in those pesky bugs so they cannot escape. Airing out your sheets can make it harder for allergens and bedbugs to stay alive. 

Wearing contact lenses: AFC doctors say, in some cases, lenses can trap pollen against the surface of the eye. This can be an even bigger issue for anyone who is already suffering from red, itchy eyes triggered by seasonal allergies. 

Eating certain fruits and vegetables: We are raised to think eating our veggies is good for us. Researchers with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found proteins in certain foods can cause ragweed sufferers to end up with an itchy mouth. The experts say bananas, melons and tomatoes can cause a cross-reaction. 

Using the dishwasher: A Swedish study published in the journal Pediatrics found children do not develop as many allergies if they eat off hand-washed dishes rather than plates or bowls cleaned in a dishwasher. Researchers found automated dishwashers kill so much bacteria children cannot build up an immunity.

Source:  www.AmericanFamilyCare.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


4 Tips for Helping Pets in Need

March 23, 2017 1:48 am

(Family Features)--For pet owners, their dogs, cats and other pets play an important role in bringing added happiness to their lives. As not every dog and cat is as fortunate, you may be looking for ways to give back and help pets in need.

As many as 6-8 million pets enter shelters every year across North America, according to The Humane Society of the United States. There are numerous ways you can help homeless pets and give back, starting with these tips.

Volunteer at Your Local Animal Welfare Organization
Almost every community has at least one animal shelter or rescue group that needs help. A simple internet search is a good place to start, or ask your veterinarian for recommendations on local organizations that assist pets in need. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities at shelters and rescue organizations, from office duties and community outreach and education to training, feeding and socializing, so people with every skillset are often able to lend a hand.

Donate Supplies
Items such as food, cat litter, cleaning supplies and blankets are almost always in demand at animal shelters and rescues. While pets await adoption, they need access to food, making pet food a significant operating expense for animal welfare organizations. Through PetSmart's Buy a Bag, Give a Meal program, for every bag of dog or cat food purchased online and at its more than 1,500 stores across North America through the end of the year, the leading pet specialty retailer will donate a meal to a pet in need served by animal welfare organizations and food banks.

Foster or Adopt a Pet
As many animal welfare organizations have dogs or cats not suited for living in a shelter atmosphere, fostering a pet in your home is a simple way to give back without the long-term commitment of pet ownership. These pets may be older and in need of a quiet environment or need space to recover from a recent surgery. Of course, if you're ready for a new pet, your local shelter or rescue organization may have the perfect one waiting for you. Adopting from a rescue or shelter can not only save that pet, but also open a spot in the facility and potentially save another animal as well.

Take Care of Pets at Home
One of the most important things you can do for pets in need is simply not become part of the problem. Be ready for the responsibility before adopting a pet and know that having a pet requires a long-term commitment. Be sure to keep pets fed, watered, groomed and vaccinated, and have your pet spayed or neutered to help avoid pet overpopulation.

Pets give so much to their owners; pay it forward by being a responsible pet parent and giving back to animals in need in your community when possible. Find more ways to get involved at your local shelter or rescue group.

Source: Petsmart.com/giveameal.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Not to Sell Your Home

March 22, 2017 1:45 am

While the fundamentals of home staging, like decluttering and removing family photos, are critical when it comes to getting your home sold, it’s just as important to focus on what not to do as certain factors can act as immediate deal breakers to would-be buyers. Make sure your for-sale home doesn’t include any of the following turn-offs:

Odors. Whether it’s pet odors, last night’s stir fry or that musty basement, any type of strong odor can be an immediate deterrent to a buyer, no matter how beautifully your home is decorated or staged. We usually get accustomed to our home’s unique scent, so have a professional cleaner do the necessary work to make the environment odor-free.

Artwork. While all art is certainly subjective, keep in mind that not everyone will appreciate artwork with severe subject matter or nudity. Stick to subtle landscapes and still life subject matter, or remove artwork altogether. Sparsely decorated walls will make your home appear more spacious.

Collections. Your shelves of antique dolls or Norman Rockwell plates might be your most prized possession, but for prospective homebuyers who don’t share the same affinity, collections can skew their opinion of your home - not to mention, make it appear very cluttered. Pack away your beloved collectibles in preparation for their new home.

People. Sometimes, being present during showings can be a plus - you can provide buyers with certain details about your home and what you love most about the neighborhood. But most people don’t want the owners present when they tour a home. So clear out and give them the freedom to pour over every detail of your home and make honest comments to the REALTORS.

Weeds. Curb appeal really is everything, so if your yard isn’t up to snuff, buyers may turn around before they ever step foot inside. There’s no need to break the bank - just make sure the basics are covered: mow the lawn, weed borders and beds, trim bushes and trees, and remove all sticks, leaves and debris.

For more tips and advice on getting your home in perfect condition to list, contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Why So Salty? How This Hidden Ingredient Impacts Your Health

March 22, 2017 1:45 am

We’ve all heard that a diet high in sodium is not a healthy one. A diet high in sodium raises blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke -- two of the leading causes of death in the United States. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, consuming too much salt has nothing to do with that cute shaker on the dinner table.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Americans get 77 percent of their salt from processed foods and restaurant meals, compared to 6 percent from the salt shaker at the table and 5 percent added during home cooking. Studies show that Americans ages 2 and up consume an average 3,400 milligrams of salt each day -- well above the recommended Federal Drug Administration's guideline of 2,300 milligrams per day, or 1,500 milligrams per day for people diagnosed with or at risk for high blood pressure.

So where can you nix extra salt? According to the CDC, sneaky salt sources come from the following culprits:

- Breads and rolls

- Cold cuts and cured meat (e.g., deli or packaged ham or turkey)

- Pizza

- Fresh and processed poultry

- Soups

- Sandwiches such as cheeseburgers

- Cheese

- Pasta dishes (not including macaroni and cheese)

- Meat-mixed dishes such as meat loaf and tomato sauce

- Snacks such as chips, pretzels and popcorn

Avoid these to lower your daily salt intake.

SOURCE: American Academy of Family Physicians

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Have a More Functional Home

March 21, 2017 1:45 am

(Family Features)--Turning your home into the living space of your dreams takes effort and commitment, but while the weather is warm and motivation is on your side, it's time to put your visions to the test.
Whether you choose to start your renovation poject on the inside or outside, for fun or for function, the important part is committing to getting it done and doing it right. That includes finding the right materials and products to suit your specific needs and style, whether it's for closet organization, a beautiful kitchen upgrade, adding features like skylights or anything in between.

Your dreams and desires for your home are attainable and within your reach, so long as you're devoted and willing to put in the time.  

Natural Light and Fresh Air from Above
You can brighten your space in an eco-friendly way with Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered fresh air skylights which provide natural light and ventilation to reduce energy costs. Adding solar-powered blinds can further increase energy efficiency. These products, along with installation costs, qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit. To find certified installers, visit whyskylights.com.

Versatile Home Storage
It's time to get organized. Turn any closet or area in your home into a designer-inspired storage showcase. Find free design, inspiration and organization solutions at closetmaid.com/suitesymphony.

Functional Furniture
Ideal for enjoying a serene cup of coffee or welcoming guests for some outdoor fun, you can liven up your backyard space with a patio furniture set to help both aesthetically and functionally. The right set for your deck, patio or yard can lend a pleasing element to the eye and a comfortable spot to sit and eat, drink or rest after a friendly game of whiffle ball. Available in myriad colors and combinations, look for patio furniture that matches your style and personal preferences.

Backyard Getaway
Find a comfortable temperature and enter your most relaxed state at any time with your own backyard hot tub. The gateway to a restful opportunity, a hot tub gives you a chance to close your eyes and unwind whether it's the end of a long day or starting out your Saturday morning. With varying options like in-ground or above and a multitude of sizes, plus the ability to tune individual jets to your liking, a backyard hot tub can be the perfect personal oasis.

A Finishing Touch
Bring everything together in a kitchen or bathroom with the subtle feature that can sometimes be forgotten – the faucet. Extravagant or simple, modern or classic, the faucet can serve multiple aesthetic purposes like catching attention upon entering the room or simply complementing the design elements around it. Adding the final touch with the right faucet can be a beautiful way to wrap up a room.

Source: eLivingToday.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don’t Get Burned by an Online Purchase

March 21, 2017 1:45 am

Online shopping has grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, according to recent Pew Research, eight in 10 Americans are now shopping online - that's 79 percent of U.S. consumers who shop on the web or their phones, up from just 22 percent back in 2000.

However, despite the amazing level of convenience, there are important risks involved when shopping online. According to the Connecticut Better Business Bureau (BBB), the risk often involves the sale of “gray market” goods. The gray market consists of popular merchandise manufactured for export, and then re-imported to the U.S. to be sold for less than current market prices. This often means products with no warranty and items not manufactured according to U.S. regulatory standards.

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize that risk and nab a great deal. The BBB offers the following five tips to protect yourself when making an online purchase through an unfamiliar website:

Research the seller. If you are not familiar with a website, check it out with the BBB. If you buy through an auction site, check the seller's rating and customer reviews.

Ask the seller about the merchandise. Sellers are obliged to tell you if they are selling gray market goods. Most states require sellers to disclose when an item is not covered by a valid U.S. warranty, as is the case with gray market merchandise.

Carefully inspect the merchandise and make sure it is in working order. Gray market goods may not be factory-fresh, having gone through the hands of several third parties. Check to see whether the manual and other printed material is in English.

Where can it be repaired? Since gray market merchandise will most likely not be eligible for repair by the manufacturer's authorized service center, ask where you can get repairs done competently.

Pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card allows you to dispute the charges if the item was misrepresented online or is broken.

Taking these precautionary steps will ensure that your online shopping endeavors are not only convenient but fruitful.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Have Healthy Skin

March 21, 2017 1:45 am

We think about dietary health and physical fitness, but how often do you think about the health of your skin? Not enough, according to the American Skin Association.

"Our skin is our largest organ and protects us from harmful bacteria, pollution, and toxins in the environment," explains Dr. Jean L. Bolognia, professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. "As we age, those defenses weaken, making us more susceptible to infection, pain, and hospitalization. The need to establish skin healthy behaviors and protect our skin throughout our lives is more critical today than ever before."

The American Skin Association (ASA) recently announced the official launch of its Seven Principles for a Lifetime of Healthy Skin. Read them below.

Minimize exposure to UV light. Limit time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., apply broad spectrum sunscreen daily, wear sun protective clothing, and avoid tanning beds and similar artificial tanning devices entirely.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes regular water intake, sleep and exercise. Do not smoke. 

Visit your dermatologist once a year or as needed. 

Examine your skin daily, and report concerning changes in skin condition and/or color to your dermatologist or Health Care Professional as soon as possible.

Hydrate your skin daily, especially after bathing or showering. 

Maintain good hygiene for skin, hair and nails by giving gentle and constant attention to avoid irritation.

Immediately attend to wounds. To avoid infection and scarring, never pick or squeeze blemishes. 

Source: www.americanskin.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Stressed? You’re Not Alone

March 20, 2017 1:45 am

No matter where your political affiliations lie, it’s been a stressful time for Americans. In fact, according to a recent research from the American Psychological Association (APA), two-thirds of Americans reported feeling stressed about our nation’s future, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.

In the APA’s report, "Stress in America™: Coping with Change,” more than half of Americans (57 percent) reported that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.

"The stress we're seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it's hard for Americans to get away from it," says Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA's executive director for professional practice. "We're surrounded by conversations, news and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most."

At the same time, more Americans said that they experienced physical and emotional symptoms of stress in recent months.  The percentage of people reporting at least one health symptom because of stress rose from 71 percent to 80 percent over five months. A third of Americans have reported specific symptoms such as headaches (34 percent), feeling overwhelmed (33 percent), feeling nervous or anxious (33 percent) or feeling depressed or sad (32 percent).

How to deal with all this stress? The APA recommends watching your information intake. While it’s important to stay informed, it’s more important to know your limits and work to diminish exposure to distressing information.

Here are some other strategies for reducing stress:

- Limit your social media intake. Social media is supposed to be relaxing and entertaining but has become a hotbed for all sorts of harsh political opinions. Avoid those “friends” for the time being whose posts set your blood boiling.
- Get plenty of exercise. Now more than ever, it’s important to take some time and unplug. One of the best ways to do so is to get outside and walk, run or take the kids to the park. Fresh air and activity will stop stress in its tracks.
- Volunteer. Whether it’s volunteering at the soup kitchen or reading to your child’s class, getting involved with a good cause is a surefire way to generate positive feelings and focus on helping others instead of worrying about big-picture problems.

Source: American Psychological Association

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Why Should Homebuyers Size up Smart Homes Carefully?

March 20, 2017 1:45 am

Smart homes and their related technology are only a few years old. That means that first generation of smart homes are just beginning to hit the marketplace as owners relocate or vacate those properties.

A recent NBC news report pointed out that while smart homes are still a small part of the overall market, they are expected to grow significantly in the next few years as more homeowners install these devices and homebuyers come to expect them.

As a result, the National Association of REALTORS is now teaching its agents how to spot IoT devices and how to deal with them at closing.

Recently, Parks Associates announced new research showing that approximately one-third of smart home device owners experience problems with their smart home devices and nearly 10 percent report problems connecting a smart home device to the home network router.

Consumers encounter these issues more often when setting up smart sprinkler systems, networked security cameras, and water leak detectors compared to other smart home devices the study found.
Ed Oswald at cheatsheet.com says there are four major reasons why homebuyers might do well to consider a smart home purchase - or upgrade - very carefully:

1. It can be hacked. This started happening way back in 2014, when security researchers showed that hackers can take complete control of Belkin WeMo smart home devices.

2. The technology is moody. When you use a smart switch or press a smart button to operate a connected device, the signal first heads to your smart hub, then the hub sends it to the cloud, where it is sent back to your hub, and finally to your device. What happens when this fails? Those devices don’t work.

3. Many competing “standards.” The sheer number of smart home platforms and technologies is staggering, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WeMo, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and a host of others. Not every platform talks to one another, and many aren’t even compatible with others, making the problem worse.

4. The price is too high. Before you know it, you could be in deep — to the tune of hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And what if you want to switch smart home technologies? There’s no guarantee what you just bought will even work.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Simple Spring Cleaning Tips

March 20, 2017 1:45 am

We all know we’re “supposed” to clean for springtime. While we should ideally be cleaning our spaces well year-round, a little seasonal push can sometimes offer the motivation we need to give our home a good scrub. Below are a handful of simple spring cleaning tips from BISSELL.

- Get an early start and dive in before the weather tempts you to spend Saturdays outdoors—this will ensure you won't skip any important tasks.

- When it comes to deep cleaning any floor surface, make sure to vacuum or sweep first, and move as much furniture as possible for a blank slate.

- Don't forget about the furniture. Items like couches, beds and cabinets are in constant use year-round and need a thorough clean.

- Clean from the top of the room down. Get the cobwebs in the corners, ceiling fans and the tops of appliances clean and work your way down to the floor. That way you don't have to clean anything twice.

- Use your vacuum crevice tool to clean dust off of baseboards, from between kitchen chair spokes and on the stairs.Source: www.bissell.com.

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Food Trends: What’s the Hype on Coconut Oil and Gluten-Free?

March 16, 2017 1:45 am

Nutritional guidance, like ready-to-wear, tends to go in and out of fashion. Eggs, once slammed for their high cholesterol, came back into dietary good graces in 2015 when a government report dropped its warning. More recently, gluten-free foods have been proliferating in supermarkets while coconut oil appears to be the new rage for chefs.

What’s going on here, and what’s a consumer to believe?

A report published this year by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology offers some clarity on which foods are the best choices for health-conscious individuals:

Fresh fruits and fresh veggies, especially berries and leafy greens, remain the number one source of nutrients and antioxidants, and are best eaten raw or cooked, rather than juiced.

Whole grains and legumes, low- and nonfat dairy products and limited quantities of lean meat and fish are also among the mainstays of a heart-healthy diet.

Eggs, like nuts, remain a good source of protein, but moderation is key. Eggs, which do contain a fair amount of dietary cholesterol. Should be limited to one or two a day while nuts, which are high in fat, should be limited to a handful.

Coconut oil, like palm oil and all other oils, including olive oil, should be consumed in moderation because they are high in fat, although olive oil is still recommended as the heart-healthiest of the bunch.

Gluten-free foods are valuable for people with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities, but there is no evidence for recommending them for use by the general population.

Dietary supplements, for which there no compelling findings of cardiovascular benefits or antioxidants, are recognized as a costly substitute for their fresh food counterparts.

Sugar and processed foods are best avoided whenever possible.

The report concludes that following these dietary guidelines can reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, although physical activity and family history are also factors in determining personal health.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prep Your Home for Floods

March 16, 2017 1:45 am

Floods in your home are often unexpected. Whether from immense rain or a busted pipe, there is often little time to act. With this in mind, it’s important to have a few things prepped in case of a sudden flood.

Here are a few tips from Puzio to help homeowners prepare before a flood occurrence:

Obtain a Flood Insurance Policy and Know Your Coverages - Find out if you have a flood insurance policy. If you don't have a flood insurance policy, contact your insurance agent today. Make sure you are clear on your coverage amount before a flood occurs.

Protect Important Documents - Keep copies of all important documents in a safe place outside the home if possible, including mortgage papers, passport, bank information and insurance policies.

Itemize and Take Photos of Property - Create an itemized list and take pictures of your home, property and possessions as proof of your pre-flood assets, and store them with your important documents offsite if possible.

Establish an Emergency Contact List - Create an emergency contact list with the phone numbers of your family, employers, insurance agents and financial information. Update and exchange contact information, and store your list with your important documents offsite.

Build or Buy an Emergency Kit - Keep an emergency kit on hand with a battery-powered radio, flashlight, batteries, candles, waterproof matches, bottled water and non-perishable food for a minimum of three days.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 25 Highest Paying Jobs of 2017

March 16, 2017 1:45 am

Are you the parent of a college student, or thinking of jumping into a new career yourself? While it’s important to follow a path you love, it doesn’t hurt to keep pay in mind. Below are Glassdoor’s 25 highest paying jobs in the country, alongside how many positions are currently available via Glassdoor.com.

1. Physician
Median Base Salary: $187,876
Number of Job Openings: 7,770

2. Pharmacy Manager
Median Base Salary: $149,064
Number of Job Openings: 2,370

3. Patent Attorney
Median Base Salary: $139,272
Number of Job Openings: 525

4. Medical Science Liaison
Median Base Salary: $132,842
Number of Job Openings: 391

5. Pharmacist
Median Base Salary: $125,847
Number of Job Openings: 5,496

6. Enterprise Architect
Median Base Salary: $112,560
Number of Job Openings: 1,320

7. Physician Assistant
Median Base Salary: $112,529
Number of Job Openings: 13,547

8. Applications Development Manager
Median Base Salary: $112,045
Number of Job Openings: 516

9. R&D Manager
Median Base Salary: $111,905
Number of Job Openings: 185

10. Corporate Controller
Median Base Salary: $110,855
Number of Job Openings: 259

11. Software Engineering Manager
Median Base Salary: $109,350
Number of Job Openings: 1,011

12. IT Architect
Median Base Salary: $105,303
Number of Job Openings: 250

13. Software Architect
Median Base Salary: $104,754
Number of Job Openings: 1,147

14. Nurse Practitioner
Median Base Salary: $104,144
Number of Job Openings: 12,566

15. Solutions Architect
Median Base Salary: $102,678
Number of Job Openings: 4,174

16. Data Architect
Median Base Salary: $102,091
Number of Job Openings: 1,438

17. Actuary
Median Base Salary: $99,507
Number of Job Openings: 463

18. IT Program Manager
Median Base Salary: $98,883
Number of Job Openings: 250

19. UX Manager
Median Base Salary: $98,353
Number of Job Openings: 263

20. Systems Architect
Median Base Salary: $97,873
Number of Job Openings: 1,167

21. Plant Manager
Median Base Salary: $97,189
Number of Job Openings: 1,286

22. Scrum Master
Median Base Salary: $95,167
Number of Job Openings: 2,072

23. Financial Planning & Analysis Manager
Median Base Salary: $94,862
Number of Job Openings: 501

24. Nuclear Engineer
Median Base Salary: $94,852
Number of Job Openings: 155

25. Attorney
Median Base Salary: $94,695
Number of Job Openings: 1,010

Source:  Glassdoor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


When it Comes to Homeownership Decisions, Pets Rule

March 15, 2017 1:42 am

A lot goes into the decision to buy, sell or remodel a home. After all, this is one of the most significant investments of your lifetime, so there are a lot of factors to be weighed and considered...including how happy your pet will be.

Yes, you read that right. In fact, 81 percent of respondents to a recent report from the National Association of REALTORS (NAR), reported that animal-related considerations play a role in determining their next living situations. In 2016, 61 percent of U.S. households either have a pet or plan to get one in the future, so it stands to reason that our animal companions will play a significant role in our housing decisions for the foreseeable future.

According to NAR’s 2017 Animal House: Remodeling Impact report, 99 percent of pet owners said they consider their animal part of the family, and 89 percent of those surveyed said they would not give up their animal because of housing restrictions or limitations. In fact, 12 percent of pet owners have actually moved in order to accommodate their furry, finned or feathered family member, and 19 percent said they would consider moving to accommodate their animal in the future.   

No one knows the relationship between homeowners and their animal friends better than REALTORS. Those surveyed for the report said that one-third of their pet-owning clients often or very often will refuse to make an offer on a home because it is not ideal for their pet.

Other interesting statistics from the report include:

- 67 percent of REALTORS say animals have a moderate to major effect on selling a home. If you’re selling your home, make sure you’ve cleaned or replaced any areas affected by pet damage or odors.
- 52 percent of respondents said they had completed a home renovation project specifically to accommodate their pet, such as fencing in their yards, adding a doggie door or installing a pet-friendly laminate flooring.
- 80 percent of REALTORS consider themselves animal lovers, so you’ll have lots of support in accommodating your pet’s housing needs when buying!

Source: National Association of REALTORS

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How to Help Friends and Family Members with Post-War PTSD

March 15, 2017 1:42 am

Helping a family or friend reintegrate into society after leaving war can be complicated, but when your loved one has PTSD, it can be even more intricate. To date, an estimated 400,000 service members live with invisible wounds of war, including combat stress, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to a report released by Institute of Medicine in 2014, 47 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD in 2013 after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan did not receive treatment. Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) believes it is imperative to raise PTSD awareness and offer education in our communities.

"PTSD is a normal reaction to a very bad situation, and no one should be ashamed of suffering and seeking help," said John Roberts, WWP warrior relations director. "Combat veterans need to know that PTSD does not have to be a lifelong sentence. It can be treated and managed. Life can be better." 

Here are tips for helping warriors who are coping with PTSD:

- Let veterans determine what they are comfortable talking about, and don't push.

- Bring veterans to a quiet place or suggest some deep breathing exercises when the stress seems overwhelming.

- Encourage creative outlets like writing to help veterans clarify what is bothering them and help them think of solutions.

- Avoid unhealthy habits as ways to solve problems. Alcohol and drug use make things worse in the long run.

- Stay aware of your surroundings. Crowds, trash on the side of the road, fireworks, and certain smells can be difficult for veterans coping with PTSD.Source: Wounded Warrior Project

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8 Ways to Optimize Your Sleep

March 10, 2017 1:36 am

(Family Features)--While a healthy lifestyle requires a balanced diet and exercise, sleep is another pillar of overall wellness that is both essential to your health and success, and often overlooked.

By simply making small changes to your daily routine you can improve your quality of sleep. Follow these tips from Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm's sleep health consultant and director of Duke University's Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program, and get on your way to better rest and a healthier life.

1. Manage your sleep time. Rather than trying to accomplish everything on your to-do list at the expense of sleep, reverse your approach. As the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night, make sure to set aside the time needed for a full night of rest.

2. Stay on schedule. Try to keep your bedtime and wake time consistent on both weekdays and weekends. With time, your brain and body will acclimate to these set times, but until then, rely on an alarm - not only to wake in the morning, but to keep you from staying up too late at night, too.

3. Find a routine. A routine performed 20-30 minutes prior to bed every night can subconsciously ease your brain into sleep. Unwinding with a book, taking a warm bath or meditating are all ways to slow your mind and transition toward peaceful rest.

4. Brighten up the morning. Getting plenty of bright light in the morning helps keep your sleep timing on track, particularly if you wake up early. Make opening the drapes and blinds your first task each morning.

5. Ditch the clock. Fixating on the time can create stress and keep you up at night. Instead, set your alarm, turn your clock around and forget about the time.

6. Get moving. Research shows that exercise can act as a natural sleep remedy, often leading to a more sound slumber. However, if you exercise late and have difficulty falling asleep, consider moving your workout earlier in the day. The increase in body temperature from exercise tends to be prolonged, sometimes making it hard to fall asleep.

7. Kick the caffeine habit. Morning caffeine can linger in your system until it's time to sleep. Coffee, tea, dark sodas and dark chocolate are the main offenders for most people.

8. Pay back debt. If you are chronically deprived of sleep, allow your body extra sleep time to make up for the loss. In these cases, even 8-9 hours each night may not be enough. Allow your body to catch up then commit to more consistent sleep patterns in the future.

Source: DailyDoze.com.

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7 Tips for a Better Spring Garden

March 10, 2017 1:36 am

It’s never a bad idea to plan for that spring garden. Whether you like to plant edibles, like veggies, or gorgeous florals, planning ahead of time for that garden can equate to a better growing period, and a heartier bounty.

OPEI encourages homeowners, gardeners and commercial facility managers to keep these smart landscaping tips in mind when planting this spring:

- Plant a living landscape that breathes. It creates the oxygen we need and sequesters carbon.

- Follow the "right plant, right place" rule. Put in living trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants that are right for your climate zone. Once established, Mother Nature will weather climate changes.

- Remember wildlife in your planting choices. Add flowering plants to support pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies. Our yards, parks, schoolyards and other green spaces connect and form wildlife corridors.

- Plant for your lifestyle. If you have kids and pets, remember our yards are safe spaces for families, kids and pets. 

- Put in a mix of adaptive and native plants that can handle people traffic as well as provide food and habitat for wildlife.

- Don't overwater. Plants and trees will grow stronger and work harder, creating deeper, vertical roots, if they need to seek water.

- Let plants go dormant in drought conditions. They will "green back up" when the rains come.

Source: www.OPEI.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


City vs. Suburbs: Families Spend $9,000 More for Urban Living

March 10, 2017 1:36 am

It’s no real shocker that living in a city is pricer than living in the suburbs. But a new Cost of Living analysis from Zillow and Care.com details exactly how much pricier your city life is—especially if you have kids.

According to the analysis, families spend an average of $9,073 more per year to cover basic housing and child care costs in the city than in the suburbs. This is no small chunk of change.

But where is the biggest variance? New York, Chicago and Dallas have the highest variance between urban and suburban living, with city dwellers paying as much as $71,237 more a year, or nearly $6,000 extra a month. However, city living is not always more expensive. In Philadelphia and Baltimore, families could pay up to $14,000 more a year to live in the suburbs. 

Nationally, families living in the city spend $43,652 a year on housing and child care. Yet, in the suburbs they spend just $34,579.

While high property taxes and rising home prices are usually the reasons why city living is more expensive, child care can also play a part. In Minneapolis, child care is nearly $4,119 more a year in the city, but housing costs are actually $189 cheaper.   

"Deciding whether to live in the city or suburbs is a personal choice, but when you do the math, it's easy to see why moving to the suburbs is about more than just a bigger yard – it can also save you a lot of money," says Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist. "More than a third of families exceed their initial budget when buying a home, according to the Zillow® Group Consumer Trends Report, so before embarking on a move, consider the cost of living beyond just the home's sticker price."

In addition to potentially cheaper living costs, the median suburban home is nearly 280 square feet larger. Meanwhile, reported commute times are roughly the same between urban and suburban residents.ii

"Figuring out where your family will live and grow is arguably one of the most exciting and daunting times in a parent's life," adds Joyce Hodel, data scientist at Care.com. "While moving to the suburbs often brings significant cost savings, city living can still be the right choice for some families and is less expensive in certain metro areas. The Care.com and Zillow Cost of Living Report aims to help families understand how their family's housing and child care costs may change before making that big family move."Source: Zillow, Care.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Do You Know About the Top New Products for Your Home?

March 9, 2017 1:36 am

Are you up with the latest new home products? A national representative survey of 40,000 consumers conducted by Kantar TNS, a global leader in consumer research, helps determine the Product of the Year winners each year so that consumers can best identify the top new products.

The 28 winners of the 2017 Product of the Year Award were announced at a recent New York City soiree hosted by "Saturday Night Live" alumnae Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer.
Mike Nolan, CEO, Product of the Year USA. says this year's winners will be "able to utilize the distinctive red Product of the Year logo on packaging and in brand advertising to show shoppers that 40,000 consumers recommend their product against the competition."

Now in its 30th year, Product of the Year takes entries from new consumer products launched within the previous year that demonstrate innovation within their industry.

Product nominations are then placed into categories such as beauty, personal care, household essentials, food and beverages, and are assessed on seven key measures. One product is then named the winner of each category, based on the results of the consumer survey.

The top winners of the 2017 Product of the Year Award for the home are:

- Home Care: Lysol Disinfecting Wipes
- Bathroom Cleaner: Lysol Power & Fresh 6 Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaner
- Bath Tissue: Charmin Essentials Soft
- Liquid Laundry: Tide PurClean
- Laundry Pacs: Tide PODS Plus Febreze Odor Defense
- Fabric Conditioner: Snuggle PLUS SuperFresh Dryer Sheets
- Laundry Booster: Downy Fresh Protect with Febreze Odor Defense
- Air Care: Air Wick Bloom Scented Oil Warmer

For additional information about the 2017 Product of the Year winners, visit productoftheyearusa.com and follow #POYUSA2017.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Maintain Natural Stone Counters

March 9, 2017 1:36 am

(Family Features)--Durability is one reason homeowners choose natural stone for their kitchens and bathrooms, but the greatest appeal is often the sheer beauty of the material. Maintaining that luster and shine requires a bit of effort, but the ability to enjoy the unique character of natural stone makes it all worthwhile.

It's important to understand the shine on granite and other natural stone is not from applying a wax, but a natural shine that reflects a rigorous process.

After being quarried from the earth's surface using a combination of diamond wire cables, drills and even dynamite, these stone blocks are taken to a factory for processing. A giant gang saw using diamond blades slices the blocks into a calibrated thickness, similar to a giant bread slicer.

The next step is a polishing line, where blocks pass under diamond polishing heads that apply thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch. Here, progressively finer grits bring out the natural polish of the stone. It's this factory finish that enhances the inherent characteristics of natural stone – the veins, swirls and crystals. From there the slabs are bundled and shipped to local stone manufacturers and installers to be cut to a homeowner's specifications.

Once installed, you can maintain that luxurious factory finish with these tips from the experts at Granite Gold.

Clean often. Even miniscule particles could have a detrimental effect on your natural stone. However, it's important to avoid common cleaners and abrasives as they can break down the protective seal and result in expensive repairs or replacement. Also avoid using an abrasive scrubbing pad, which may leave unsightly scratches. Rely on scrubbing pads designed specifically for natural stone or look for "non-scratch" on the packaging.

"Common, everyday household cleaners aren't formulated for granite, marble, travertine or any other natural-stone surface," says Lenny Sciarrino, CEO and co-founder of Granite Gold Inc. "They will dull the natural finish – the great luster and shine everyone enjoys – and lead to costly repair or replacement."

Seal frequently. Frequently sealing natural stone surfaces maintains maximum surface protection, penetrating stone surfaces to provide superior, long-lasting resistance to staining, etching and soil buildup. It's easy to test when to reseal. Pour water (about 3 inches in diameter) on the surface and let it sit for 30 minutes. If the water beads, then the stone remains sealed. However, if a dark mark or ring is created by the water, it is time to reseal. Be sure to repair any etching or stains before the sealant is applied.

Polish regularly. Polishing not only brings out the stone's natural beauty, it reinforces the protective seal and provides ongoing protection against water spots and fingerprints.

Source: GraniteGold.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Save Your Kids’ Sleep From Daylight Savings

March 9, 2017 1:36 am

Whether you’re a friend or foe of daylight savings, it would be hard to argue that the time change has no impact on you and your family, especially if you have little ones. In fact, half of all American parents say Daylight Saving Time (DST) affects their kids and 29 percent report it's more difficult to get children to sleep after the time change, according to a new survey from the Better Sleep Council.
Of those parents who report bedtime challenges for their kids after DST, a stunning 94 percent report it takes two or more days for kids to get back into their regular sleep pattern and 31 percent say it takes six days or more.

Overall, more than one-quarter (28 percent ) of all parents do not like putting their clock ahead one hour for DST. Other findings from this group:

- Moms (32%) are more likely to feel this way than dads (22%)
- Parents who use childcare (37%) are more likely to feel this way than parents who don't use childcare (24%)
- Parents who are unemployed/stay-at-home parents are more likely to feel this way (36%) than parents who work full time (25%)
- Parents who feel their kids do not get enough sleep are also more likely to feel this way (37%) compared to parents who feel their kids do get enough sleep (25%)

When asked about children's regular bedtime patterns, many parents reported they already feel like their kids aren't getting enough sleep (24 percent). About half (48 percent) of those same parents find it at least somewhat frustrating to get their kids to sleep on a typical night. These feelings are more prevalent with parents of tweens and teens (11-18 years).

The BSC suggests the following top tips to help kids get back into their regular sleep pattern after Daylight Saving Time goes into effect:

Go slow. In the week before DST, try to put your kids to bed 15 minutes early to prep them for the time change.

Create a ritual. Your kids likely already have a bedtime routine. Stick with it and consider adding an extra step or two like reading a storybook together or having them take a warm bath or shower to help relax before bed.

Keep it light. Avoid eating heavy meals at least two to three hours before bed. Eating too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep quality.

Source: www.bettersleep.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Protect Your Pet’s Oral Health

March 7, 2017 1:33 am

You may brush your teeth twice a day, but do you ever think about your pet’s dental hygiene? Taking care of your furry friend’s teeth is just as essential as taking care of one's own, and can save them from many health issues later.  

Below are a few tips for taking care of your pet’s mouth.

1. Brush their teeth. Yep, you read this right. Get a feline or canine tooth paste. Do NOT use human toothpaste as fluoride can be poisonous to animals. Brush your pet’s teeth when they’re relaxed, perhaps after they’ve had a decent amount of exercise. There’s no need to do this every day. Talk to your vet about frequency.

2. Feed them dry food. Dry food is better for your pet’s teeth, as soft food sticks to their teeth and gums and can cause decay.

3. Find dental toys. There are lots of dental toys and chews that help clean your pets teeth painlessly. Talk to your vet about one that may be a good fit.

4. Feed them a proper diet. Just like people, your pet’s health will improve with a proper diet. Avoid feeding them table scraps, “people food”, and sugary food to improve their oral health.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Protect Your Identity While Traveling

March 7, 2017 1:33 am

If you travel a lot for work, your identity may be at risk, according to International SOS. Whether in-transit, or at their destination location, business travelers – and by extension their corporate networks – are potentially more vulnerable to malicious cyber and physical information security threats, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and audacious in their methods of accessing travelers' confidential corporate information.

Below are a handful of helpful tips from International SOS to help protect your data while on the move:

Before you travel, it's important to research the potential threats to your company's sensitive commercial information, specific to the location you'll be visiting. This will enable you to implement effective security measures to help prevent problems during your trip.

Avoid advertising the exact location or purpose of your business trip.

Make sure that all software on your devices (including but not limited to antivirus software) is up-to-date before departure.

Avoid connecting to non-secure networks (such as public WiFi hotspots) when you travel. Where possible, disable any WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, which can provide additional entry points for attackers and can be exploited without your knowledge. Turning these off will further reduce the likelihood of sensitive information being stolen from your devices.

In locations assessed as HIGH threat (this may vary from company to company, depending on the nature of their operations), maintain physical control of your devices and sensitive information at all times. Keep your laptop with you as carry-on luggage and do not loan it to anyone while traveling. When you return from a high-threat location, or if you have witnessed any suspicious activity on your devices, ask your IT service desk to check for signs of malware, unauthorized access, corruption or intrusion. Do not connect your devices to sensitive networks until they have been verified as safe.

Source: International SOS

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Financial Tips for International Travel

March 7, 2017 1:33 am

Heading overseas? Whether it’s for business or pleasure, take care of your finances first, says GO Group, LLC.  Below are their top tips for protecting yourself as you spend time abroad.

Inform Your Bank and Credit Card Issuer of Your Trip 
Financial institutions often block transactions coming from unexpected locations, such as foreign countries to guard against fraudulent activity and identity theft. Call your banks and credit card companies in advance of your journey and tell them where you'll be going and when to let them know you'll be using your card or account from those locations. If you're still blocked, a simple call to customer service should resolve any issues that crop up.

Acquire Local Currency 
Cash is still quite useful in certain geographic regions where credit card acceptance is spotty at best. Convert your dollars into the local currency, but beware of doing so at the airport. You'll get a better exchange rate from a bank or at an ATM. Merchants may offer to accept your USD and convert it at the time of purchase, but they might use unfavorable rates of exchange, so it's best to keep a few hundred dollars worth of local money.

Bring Multiple Types of Payment 
Don't rely on only one means of payment. Rules about accepted payments options vary from place to place, so it's prudent to have at least one backup handy. Try to bring both a Visa and a MasterCard issued by separate companies. If one doesn't work, try the other.

Explore Specialized Payment Methods 
Traveler's checks and pre-paid debit cards might save the day if your credit card is declined or stolen. They're also appropriate for paying wherever credit isn't accepted. If nothing else, they provide extra methods of payment, giving you more flexibility.

Most credit cards charge fees when you make purchases abroad, but there are foreign-friendly credit cards that don't. With the right card, you may even be able to accumulate cash back or other rewards on the purchases you make in other countries.

Do Your Banking Online 
Online banking allows you to perform many banking functions which is helpful if your bank doesn't have branches in the area you're visiting. Setting up automatic bill payment ensures you don't fall behind on your obligations while you're out of the country.

Certain stressors are unavoidable when traveling, but money woes don't have to be among them. Save money, lower your expenses and protect your peace of mind with the tips.

Source: The GO Group, LLC

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Car Safety Devices That Can Save Your Life

March 6, 2017 1:33 am

Seat belts and airbags are not the only car safety devices that can save a life. Below are a handful of car safety systems, courtesy of Zanes Law, that can make a huge difference in your vehicular safety.

Forward Collision Warning – A forward collision warning system is the safety system that should be on the top of your list because it is designed to keep you from crashing into the back of a vehicle that suddenly stops in front of you.

Blind Spot Warning – Blind spot warning and rear-cross traffic alert will warn you when you are attempting to change lanes and a car is in your blind spot.

Backup Cameras –Backup cameras are such a great feature that they should be standard on all cars by 2018. 

Inflatable Seat Belts – Developed by Ford, in a crash they deploy and spread the force of a crash over an area of the body that's five times greater than a traditional belt, further reducing the likelihood of injury. Source: Zanes Law

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How to Promote Better Eye Safety at Work

March 6, 2017 1:33 am

We all know too much time in front of a screen can be detrimental to our eyesight. But what happens when our job requires it?  To combat this, the Academy provides the following tips to help avoid workplace eye injury or strain:

Wear protective eyewear: Ensure that your eye protection is appropriate for the type of hazard that may be present in your workplace, such flying debris, falling objects, chemicals, intense light, and heat. Your eyewear must be American National Standards Institute ANSI-approved and OSHA compliant. You must use special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shield or helmet if you are near hazardous radiation welding, chemicals, lasers or fiber optics.

Position your computer 25 inches away: If you are working on a desktop computer, try placing the monitor at an arm's length away from your face. You may need to adjust the font size to appear larger at that distance.

Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Eye strain and dry eye occur after long, continuous periods of viewing digital screens up close. To help alleviate this, take a break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Looking at a distance allows your eyes to relax and return to a regular rate of blinking again. Normally, people blink about 14 times a minute[6] and with every blink, your eyes are lubricated with fluid that contains moisturizing elements, including oil.

Reduce glare on your smartphone and digital screen: While many new phones and digital devices have glass screens with excellent picture quality, they also produce a strong glare that can aggravate the eyes. If you use a glass screen device, adjust the low light filter setting to lower screen brightness or use a matte filter to reduce eye strain.

Adjust environmental lighting at your work: If your computer screen is brighter than your office surroundings, your eyes need to work harder to see. You can reduce eye strain by adjusting the lighting in your surroundings.

"It takes only a few seconds to protect yourself from eye related issues that can cause vision problems," says Brenda Pagán-Durán, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "I can't stress enough the importance of incorporating eye wellness into your daily routine; whether it's simply adjusting the setting on your computer monitor, or wearing appropriate protection to avoid serious eye injury. This is truly an ounce of prevention that can safeguard your vision."

Source: www.eyesmart.org.

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3 Smart Ways to Pass Wealth to Your Kids

March 3, 2017 1:33 am

Leaving money to your kids can cause unwelcome tax burdens unless you plan ahead and do so wisely. Financial experts at The Motley Fool, recommend three smart ways to pass your hard-earned wealth to your children:

Pass the cash – The IRS lets you give up to $14,000 tax-free per year to each child. You may be able to give them additional sums if they have tuition or medical bills. If you pay those bills -- by sending the money directly to the school or healthcare provider(s), not to your child -- then those sums can be tax-free gifts as well.

Spend it on education - You can help your child avoid student loan debt. One way to do this is with a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA.) As opposed to a 529 plan, a Coverdell allows you to make investment decisions. While that may not matter to a novice investor, it means that a seasoned market participant can maximize stock opportunities as they arise. Distributions from a Coverdell ESA are not taxed if they are spent on qualified education expenses. Caution: you are only allowed to contribute $2,000 per year per child. Furthermore, if the money isn't used for qualifying education expenses, it can be taxed -- which defeats the purpose of the Coverdell. But given that the contribution limits are low, while college costs are historically high, it’s unlikely to be an issue.

Use a Roth IRA - From an estate-planning standpoint, a Roth IRA has useful features. You can contribute to it as long as you have earned income, and you're not obligated to withdraw any money for as long as you live, so you can leave your investments to grow for the rest of your life. Your heirs won't have to pay tax on withdrawals so long as the account has been open for at least five years. After your death, your kids can take the proceeds as a tax-free lump sum, or allow the money to grow and compound for years. (They will, however, have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the account beginning in the year you die.)

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Protect Your Eyes from Your Mobile Device

March 3, 2017 1:33 am

We’re all guilty of spending too much time staring at our screens. But a recent survey from the American Optometric Association's (AOA) revealed that 88 percent of Americans know that digital devices can negatively affect their vision, but the average American still spends seven or more hours per day looking at their screens. According to the AOA, this overexposure to blue light – high-energy visible light emitted from digital devices – can lead to digital eye strain, sleep problems, blurred vision, headaches and neck and shoulder pain, among other things. The AOA survey also indicates that the average millennial spends nine hours per day on devices such as smartphones, tablets, LED monitors and flat-screen TVs which also emit blue light.

Read on for tips from the AOA on protecting your eyes.

Power down before you turn in: Turn your digital devices off at least one hour before bed.
Unplug with the AOA 20-20-20 rule: When you are using any device or computer, make a conscious effort every day to take a 20-second break and look away from the screen, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.

Step back: Maintain a comfortable working distance from your digital device by using the zoom feature to see small print and details, rather than bringing the device closer to your eyes.

Adjust your device to fit your needs: The AOA recommends reducing the glare by adjusting device settings or using a glare filter to decrease the amount of blue light reflected from the screen.

Schedule an appointment: Visit a doctor of optometry by visiting AOA.org to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam to detect and address vision problems.

Source: American Optometric Association

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Five Tips for Easy Spring Cleaning

March 3, 2017 1:33 am

Is spring cleaning on your mind? It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Below are five tips for easy cleaning, from MaxSold.com.

Decide what you are keeping
Heard of the KonMari decluttering method?  Keep an item if it brings you joy and if you have room for it - if not, set it aside.  Start with a post-its to speed up the process as you go along - bite the bullet and blaze through it in a day, or tackle one room at a time.

Don't take it to the dump
One person's trash is another person's treasure - it's amazing how much money you can recover for your unwanted things. Instead of filling up landfill, fill up your wallet.  Barry Gordon, the founder of MaxSold, an online selling platform, says "A chair that the owner was going to leave out in the side of the curb sold for over $2000, and a box of extension cords that would have gone to the dump sold for $40."

Don't prematurely sell off high value items
Ever post an ad online and get a response in an instant? This will leave you wondering if you grossly underpriced the item.  The opposite is also true - if no one responds to your ad for weeks, maybe you overpriced it, and lowering the price over days for 100s of items is inefficient.  Use an auction platform like MaxSold to sell everything where multiple people compete for the goods. Things that are better will engage more people and foster competition for not only items in demand, but for everything you are clearing out.

Don't put stuff in storage
So many people are focused on "What's my dining room going to bring?"  The hard truth is that no one is going to give you a lot of money for your dining room.  It's going to be heartbreaking.  It's going to be awful.  If you've got someone to give it to in the family, then that's a good idea. But most people do not.  And since they have nowhere else to go with it, they decide to put it into storage.  Unfortunately, they end up paying thousands of dollars in storage cost each year, only to have the items further depreciate in value.Source: MaxSold.com

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Travel Time: How to Organize a Group Cruise

March 3, 2017 1:33 am

Are you dreaming of travel time? Are you trying to corral one large group into the same destination? Whether you’re planning a spring break, a wedding party, or a trip with your extended family, a cruise is a great way to travel together. But organizing a large group of people can be a huge hassle.

Here are six tips courtesy of Carnival Corporation for putting together the perfect group cruise:

Appoint a group leader. This point person can help get everyone on the same page, coordinating when and where and on what ship your group wants to cruise and serving as the liaison with the experts in the cruise line's group department.

Make reservations well in advance. You will want to lay claim to a block of cabins as soon as possible. Booking a year in advance is preferable, which means now is the time for your group to look at winter 2018.

Work with a travel agent. Experienced travel agents can help take pressure off the group leader, handling logistics and working with the cruise line to make your experience special.

Book a shore experience. As you seek to create memories consider splurging on a group outing, designed by cruise line experts and led by local guides at a port of call.

Plan a special meal. For a memorable celebration, book the steakhouse or one of the ship's other specialty restaurants. The ship's experienced food and beverage team can assist with menus and wine selections.

Source: Carnival Corporation

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Become The Winter King Of Your Block With A Backyard Ice Rink

March 2, 2017 1:33 am

While warmer months beckon families, friends and neighbors to come sit around your pool or firepit, freezing temperatures and blankets of snow can put an immediate chill on any prospect of entertaining outside until springtime.

Unless you are one of the growing number of homeowners using the arctic weather patterns to create a temporary outdoor activity destination in your own backyard like a modest outdoor skating rink.

Jim Stoller, President of NiceRink (nicerink.com) in Southeastern Wisconsin advises using a white liner stretched over a light wooden frame to prevent heat absorption from the sun, and ensuring the liner is not more than 10" deep.

After filling with water, as long as nights remain colder than 23F/-5C to 18F/-8C and days aren't too much warmer, Stoller says you should be able to skate in 3-5 days. Usually, he says, 3"to 4" of ice depth will hold most kids and average size adults.

Joe Proulx at backyard-hockey.com says there is nothing in this world that compares to having your own backyard rink. Proulx says you really need four things: a liner, a frame to drop the liner into, supports to keep the frame up, and water.

All-in-all, your DIY ice rink can cost as little as $250, Proulx says.

Kelly Burke, a Lawn Care & Lawn Alternatives Expert at About Home (lawncare.about.com) says a no frills rink can start with a 1" base of lightly packed snow. Then, use packed snow, wood boards, or PVC pipe to create a minimum 3" lip to contain the water.

Burke says apply several light sprinklings of water to freeze a base before flooding the rink. This ice layer prevents water from soaking through the snow and reaching the grass.

So can a backyard rink wreck your grass?

Stoller says depending on how you build your rink and what type of liner you use will determine the health of your grass come spring. With a white liner and the flood method, he has seen a 99.9 percent effective rate in turf health.

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Protecting Those Pearly Whites

March 2, 2017 1:33 am

A nice smile has more importance than mere aesthetics; in addition to general mouth health, an ailing mouth can also be a sign of how healthy your heart is. Recent research has linked periodontal disease (the most severe form of gum disease) with a heightened risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.

Much of the population of the U.S. will experience gingivitis (the mildest form of gum disease) during their lives; while 30 percent -40 percent will experience periodontitis. Signs may be:

- Loose teeth
- Red, inflamed or tender gums
- Gums pulling away from teeth
- Gums that bleed when brushed
- Persistent bad breath

DentalPlans.com has the following tips for taking care of your mouth.

Limit sugar: Aside from their obvious detrimental health effects, sugary foods activate the oral bacteria that leads to tooth decay and gum disease.

Quit tobacco: Tobacco products can cause gum disease, tooth decay, oral cancer, and cardiovascular problems. For help quitting smoking, visit the American Lung Organization's web site. For those who chew tobacco, consider participating in the Great American Spit Out on Feb 23.

Stay hydrated: One's heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles when hydrated. Hydrating also helps avoid dry mouth, which can cause tooth decay.

Maintain good oral hygiene: Brush teeth properly at least twice a day, floss and get regular checkups and professional cleanings.

Source: DentalPlans.com.

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How to Save Big on Energy Costs

March 2, 2017 1:33 am

Those of us juggling mortgage payments, monthly phone and cable bills, and electric bills know the financial strain of homeownership. And while you may not be able to reduce that mortgage payment right now, you can certainly curtail your energy costs with a few tweaks.

"Swapping out light bulbs, turning on ceiling fans, and replacing air filters are a few easy ways to save energy," says Eric Corbett, president and owner of Larry & Sons. "Even the smallest problems with your furnace or inconsistencies in heating effectiveness throughout your home can cause your energy bill to skyrocket during winter."

Corbett offers the following tips on how to save energy and lower utility bills during winter:

- Seal the doors and windows. Homes are built to protect you from the elements. However, over time the seals around doors and windows can become weak. You may find that the seals between your doors and window frames are not as tight as they once were when the home was brand new. Weakened seals allow cold air to enter and warm air to exit. Therefore, heating your home isn't working if your seals are weak.

- Run your fans. Turning on the indoor fans will help to move air around the room. This evens out the temperature in a room instead of the hot air accumulating near the ceiling. It also helps to eliminate any cold spots in corners of the home.

- Swap old bulbs for LED lights. Swapping out old incandescent lights for LED lighting can save you extra money over time. In addition to being more energy efficient, LED lights last up to 50 times longer than incandescent lights and up to five times longer than fluorescent ones. This saves you time and money replacing burnt out bulbs.

- Turn down your thermostat and water heater if you're leaving home. If you are traveling, turn down the thermostat and water heater before leaving your home. Don't completely shut them off, just turn them down to save energy. If you shut your thermostat and water heater off, pipes can freeze without sufficient warmth.

- Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to set the temperature for various times of the day so that your furnace turns on to warm your house before you wake up, or it shuts off to save energy when everyone is asleep.

- Call a professional. Your HVAC is a complex system. If it's malfunctioning and runs without repair, it could potentially lead to greater damage and a more expensive repair. Invest in routine low-cost maintenance and tune-ups to save money in the long run.

- Clean your furnace filter. The simplest thing to do is to replace your air filter often. An HVAC unit drives air through a filter into the ductwork to the rest of the house. This keeps your air clean and filtered for impurities. As the filter removes impurities and dust from the air, it blocks airflow causing the furnace to work harder, which draws more energy.

Source: www.larryandsons.com.

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Contact Lens Safety Tips

March 1, 2017 1:33 am

(Family Feature)--With nearly 41 million adults in the U.S. wearing contact lenses as a safe and popular form of vision correction, there is a growing trend among Americans to alter the appearance or color of the eyes by using decorative contact lenses. However, if these lenses are bought illegally and without a prescription from your eye doctor, they could lead to serious health issues and potentially damage your eyesight permanently.

“Many consumers consider these lenses a fashion or costume accessory when, in reality, decorative lenses are also classified as medical devices and still pose the same potential safety and health issues as corrective contact lenses and require a prescription,” says Andrea P. Thau, O.D., president of the American Optometric Association (AOA).

The AOA recommends contact lens wearers take proper steps to protect their eyes and maintain a consistent hygiene routine, including:

- See a doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye examination and proper fitting and prescription for decorative contacts lenses, even if you don’t require lenses to correct your vision.

- Never buy lenses from retail outlets or online sites that don’t require a prescription.

- Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule prescribed by your eye doctor.

- Wash and dry hands before handling contact lenses.

- Carefully and regularly use cleaning solution to rub the lenses with fingers and rinse thoroughly before soaking overnight in multi-purpose disinfectant solution.

- Use fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses – never reuse old solution.

- Only use products recommended by your eye doctor to clean and disinfect lenses. Saline solution and rewetting drops do not disinfect lenses.

- Store lenses in the proper storage case and replace your case every three months. In addition, cases should be rubbed with clean fingers, rinsed with solution, dried with a tissue and stored upside-down when not in use.

- Remove contact lenses before exposing them to water.

- See your optometrist immediately if you experience redness, pain, irritation or blurred vision while wearing your lenses.

Source: aoa.org.

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Money Matters: Finances and Your Relationship

March 1, 2017 1:33 am

Communication is important in every aspect of your romantic relationship, but when it comes to finances, being open and honest—even when uncomfortable—is a necessity.

"Money discussions are tough to have, often bringing up core issues about our own relationship to money, as well as anxieties about the future," says Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®. "While it can be a hot button issue for many, not being open with your partner about money can often lead to more issues down the line."

In her latest contribution to LetsMakeAPlan.org, Schlesinger offers tips for how to start a conversation with your partner about your finances.

Set up time to talk: Trying to have a meaningful conversation about money amid a heated argument is fruitless. Instead, set aside a specific time and place to talk about the dreaded topic. You can reduce emotions by setting specific objectives and basic ground rules: No judgments – just open dialogue. 

Share information: During your conversation, you should share information including any outstanding debt, investments, bank and retirement accounts, and any bonds you may have. If you've never created a balance sheet or estate plan, now is the perfect time to do so!  Create a master list of assets and note who owns each, or whether it's jointly owned. Also include any account usernames and passwords, broker names and contact information, and other account info to share with your partner.

Get on the same page: Make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to financial priorities – retirement, college planning and cash flow management. Do you want to keep separate bank accounts and both contribute to a joint account? There is no "right" answer, but agreeing on a path forward will help avoid confusion in the future.

Divide and conquer: After you have the conversation, divide financial responsibilities that work for each partner's strength. If one likes to use apps to track spending, they should monitor the day-to-day bills. If the other is more inclined to manage the long-term investments, they should manage those accounts. Make sure you understand the game plan together and allocate tasks appropriately.

Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

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How to Check Your Roof for Damage

March 1, 2017 1:33 am

Whether your roof is aged or just weathered a severe storm, staying on top of possible damage is key to extending the life of your home’s top half.

Highland Commercial Roofing offers these tips to help detect and prevent water damage:

Inspect your roof for damage after a severe storm.

Remove any loose objects and debris. A clean roof eliminates leaves and other items. from accumulations on the roof and clogging drains and gutters.

Check gutters and downspouts for debris that will inhibit proper drainage.

Bubbles on the roof may be a sign of trapped moisture under the cover.

Worn, cracking seams can allow water to enter below the cover.

Standing water or prolonged ponding of water can lead to premature aging and deterioration.

Check skylights for securement and cracking around the edges.

Source: www.highlandroof.com

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Developing Children’s Character at Home

February 28, 2017 1:33 am

(Family Features)--We all want our kids to become good, honest, well rounded adults. Take an active approach to helping children develop a solid foundation in good character with these tips:

Help children recognize their feelings. Help little ones recognize and understand their feelings by giving them vocabulary words to express themselves.

Lead by example. Children learn a lot by watching the interactions of adults. Model social-emotional skills by listening to others, apologizing when you hurt someone’s feelings, being respectful of others, etc. 

Help children identify other perspectives. Point out differences in other people’s thoughts and feelings. When reading with children, ask what they think the characters are feeling or narrate the emotions and exaggerate facial expressions for young children. 

Talk about your own decisions in terms of right and wrong. As children’s abilities and understanding grows, discuss your values and take advantage of everyday situations to describe and demonstrate good citizenship and desirable behavior.Let kindness and respect rule the day. Set household guidelines grounded in showing kindness and respect, and help children learn to follow them. When they break the rules, calmly explain how or why their behavior was unkind and how they could have better handled the situation.

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Can Pesky Household Chores Be Healthy?

February 28, 2017 1:33 am

Can household chores be more than a series of to-dos? What if they could be both fun and healthy? I went looking for some data recently to learn exactly which chores burn the most calories, which ones people prefer to do, and what tasks we avoid (hello, cleaning the bathroom!).

Calorielab.com provides a deep breakdown of dozens of calorie-burning household chores. It turns out that as you transition from winter to spring, carrying of boxes up and down stairs as you're swapping seasonal stuff from the attic or basement can burn between 300 and 500 calories or more per hour, depending on how vigorous your pace.

- Make good use of a mop, vacuum or carpet sweeper for 15 minutes, and boom - you're down around 40 calories. Keep it up for an hour and burn off around 170.

Calorielab.com says even 15 minutes of light cleaning - dusting, straightening up, changing linen, or carrying out trash - is good for a 26 calorie burn. Step outside to scrub your car, wash windows, or clean the garage; an hour's work can burn 136 calories.

There are also a ton of simple but necessary chores that really stack up over time. Housekeeping.org sourced this zippy to-do list from all over the web:

- Use a nut to take scratches out of a wooden table in five minutes by rubbing the meat of a walnut over them.

- Use Alka Seltzer to clean a toilet - plop plop two tablets in, wait a few minutes and then brush the bowl clean.

- Dump a cut up a lemon, some salt and a few ice cubes and running them through your garbage disposal to freshen and disinfect.

- Disinfect light switch covers and door knobs - this task is especially important during cold and flu season and only takes a few minutes.

- Put a handful of wet paper towels or sponge into the microwave, turn it on for a couple minutes, then wipe out the microwave with the wet paper towels and you’re done

- Implement a 5-minute pick-up game with a timer - grab a laundry basket and walk around adding anything that doesn’t belong in each room. Once you’re done, put everything back in its rightful place before the timer dings.

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How to Use That Fire Extinguisher

February 28, 2017 1:33 am

Hopefully, most of us will never have to deal with a fire in our home. But for safety’s sake, it’s important to understand how to use that fire extinguisher collecting dust. A new poll from PEMCO Insurance shows about a quarter of residents in Washington and Oregon do not have a fire extinguisher in their home, and only about half of all residents feel very confident using one.

"Fire extinguishers are an important part of overall fire safety and prevention plans – just as critical as having a home fire-escape plan and working smoke alarms," says PEMCO Spokesperson Derek Wing. "If a small fire breaks out in your home, using a fire extinguisher within six seconds can prevent it from quickly growing out of control."

To use a fire extinguisher, PEMCO urges all residents to remember the acronym PASS, which stands for "pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep." First, make sure the fire extinguisher is upright, then:

Pull the pin from the handle.

Aim the nozzle low, while keeping the extinguisher upright.

Squeeze the handle to release the fire-fighting chemicals. When you can see the fire is being put out, move in toward the fire, keeping your aim at the base of the flame.

Sweep the extinguisher from side to side until the fire is out.

Experts also recommend you follow these tips to maximize your fire extinguisher's effectiveness:

Choose the right fire extinguisher. A dry chemical ABC, size 2-A: 10-B: C is often considered the best all-around home fire extinguisher, and can fight most common household fires.

Hang fire extinguishers in the kitchen and garage, but never near the stove. If a fire breaks out there, you'll need to grab the extinguisher from elsewhere in your home.

Replace or refill your fire extinguisher once it's been discharged, even if you used only a little.

Be extremely cautious. If the flames are bigger than you are, it's too big to put out with a fire extinguisher. Get out and call the fire department if the fire doesn't diminish immediately when you hit it with the spray.

"Even the most basic understanding of fire extinguishers and how to use them can make a big difference in keeping your home and your family safe," Wing adds. "If you don't feel comfortable operating your fire extinguisher, or are looking for more detailed information, don't hesitate to contact your local fire department."

Source: PEMCO Insurance

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Northern Style: Winter Lawn Care Tips From The Pros

February 27, 2017 1:33 am

Recently, I started examining a few winter lawn best practices for many homeowners throughout the south.

Now I will shift focus to let those in the more northerly climates can help their lawns flourish with a few winter maintenance tips.

Central Sod Farms, Inc. (plantsod.com) authorities identify Tall Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, along with Annual and Perennial Ryegrass among the most popular of northern region cool season turf grasses - a term applied to grass that grows well in the middle to northern half of the United States.

Cool season grasses usually have two growing seasons; spring and fall. Some species go through a winter dormancy lasting between one and four months depending on location and severity of the winter. This turf tolerates cold weather very well.

But Borst Landscape & Design professionals in New Jersey (Borstlandscape.com) say harsh winter weather can damage even the heartiest northern lawns by pushing a lot of debris from storms and wind onto your property. They recommend clearing away fallen branches, twigs and other debris that blows onto your lawn asap.

The Borst website says debris left on a lawn during cold weather, especially in snowfall, can create large dead spots. So when spring comes, those areas will show thinner grass and less growth than the rest of your lawn.
Loveyourlandscape.org advises homeowners who are using salt and melting agents for snow and ice, that those spreads can damage plants and trees by drawing water away from their roots.

They say get rid of extra salt that may have swept onto grassy edging by flushing out the soil with plenty of water.

The experts at plantsod.com also watch out for the occasional ice storms that coats blades of grass with ice. Walking on lawns covered in ice will damage encased blades of grass and you will see brown "footprints" for several months until warmer weather returns.

Northwesterners can take a tip or two from Seattle's swansonsnursery.com - where they suggest taking time during mid-winter to sharpen mower blades and tune-up your mower, and check lawn for standing puddles of water.

February and March are the perfect months to correct drainage where necessary or replant  areas with more suitable ground covers. Do not mow at this time, however, because birds pecking at the turf help remove soil grubs such as crane fly.

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Home Security Systems: What to Know before Buying

February 27, 2017 1:33 am

Everyone wants to protect their home, their property, and most of all, their families. In fact, market research suggests the home security business is growing at a rate of about 9 percent a year. But home security systems are not all alike.

Some systems can not only warn you of intruders, but can also notify authorities, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and/or include video surveillance. Mot security alarm installers can provide services that include equipment plus installation and monitoring service.

If you are thinking about buying a home security system, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that you:

- Get references from friends, neighbors or relatives.

- Check out companies online and check the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

- Verify that the contractor’s license is in good standing via the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies.

- Get written estimates from several companies.

- Read the fine print regarding costs, installation timeline, warranty, and an explanation of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract.

- Ask lots of questions:
  • Who will perform the installation and monitor the system? Some companies subcontract this work to a third party.
  • What is the contract period for monitoring? One year? More? Are there penalties for early termination? What happens if you move before the contract term is up?
  • How much does the monitoring cost? How often will you be billed?
  • Does the company call you before notifying the police?
  • How soon after the alarm sounds will you be notified?
  • What happens if the alarm company can't reach you when the alarm is sounding? Is the alarm reset? Are the police called? Are alternate numbers called?
  • What happens if the power goes out? Is there a back-up battery system?
  • What does the warranty cover, and for how long? Is it from the manufacturer or their installer?
  • Who is responsible for repairs or upgrades to the system?
- Does the company offer interactive services like smoke and fire detection, remote control, video surveillance, email notifications and special apps for smart phones?

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Health and Safety Go Hand-in-Hand

February 27, 2017 1:33 am

(Family Features)--Most people recognize the importance of a healthy lifestyle when it comes to physical and emotional well-being, but you may not realize that some health-related activities can pose a safety risk if you don’t take proper precautions. Making safe habits part of your healthy lifestyle can help ensure you’re able to enjoy the results of your efforts.

Warm up your workout. Exercise and physical activity are essential to a healthy lifestyle, but failing to approach your workouts with the proper warmup and know-how can really backfire. According to the experts at WebMD, a warmup is important because it gets blood circulating and eases muscles into more vigorous activity, getting them loose, warm and ready for the challenge.

Know that technique matters. Another potential safety pitfall when it comes to working out is improperly using weight machines or employing improper technique for activities like yoga or core training. Failing to execute your exercises correctly can not only produce sub-par results, you may actually end up hurting yourself by causing a sprain or other injury. Even if you tend to be a loner when it comes to working out, enlist the expertise of a trainer or coach who can show you the ropes before you set out solo.

Exercise caution outdoors. A few hours spent in the great outdoors can leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated; fresh air is good for your body and your spirit. However, spending too much time soaking up the sun can have a detrimental impact on your health – overexposure to UV rays is a major risk factor for developing skin cancer. Exposure to the elements, such as strong winds or harsh cold, can also take a toll on your body. The American Melanoma Foundation recommends lathering up with a sunscreen that has a Skin Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 any time you’ll be outdoors for more than 20 minutes. Even winter conditions pose a threat to bare skin, as snow can actually reflect UV radiation.

Be wary of expiration dates. Most people at least periodically use prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines as part of their commitment to staying healthy. However, for people who rarely use medicines, their cabinets may be filled with potentially dangerous, expired medications. According to the FDA, both prescriptions and over-the-counter meds can lose their effectiveness over time and even become unsafe. Especially concerning are the medicines that can change chemical composition or become a breeding ground for bacteria over an extended period of time. That’s why it’s important to properly discard medicines after their expiration dates have passed.

Make reasonable eating choices. With countless diet options available, it may seem impossible to know which is most likely to help you achieve your desired results. When evaluating eating plans, be careful to avoid diets that are excessively restrictive, as these can have a serious impact on bodily organs that rely on nutrients to function. Also be wary of diets that recommend cutting entire food groups; a balanced diet with moderate portion sizes is the best approach for delivering your body the nutrition it needs for top performance.

Source: elivingtoday.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Household Cleaning Tips That Save Time and Money

February 24, 2017 1:30 am

Spring – a time for new beginnings – is just around the corner. It’s time to air out the winter blahs and let the sun shine in. But there’s no need to knock ourselves out or over-spend on cleaning supplies. The home editors at Good Housekeeping magazine offer tips on cleaning every corner of your home without exhausting yourself or your wallet:

One simple solution – No need to spend money on specialized cleaning products. Fill an empty spray bottle with a quart of warm water mixed with four tablespoons of baking soda, and use it for most surfaces, including windows, counters, tile, and appliances.

Toothpaste trick – If your kids are a little too creative, a dab of toothpaste will remove colored marker stains from wooden tables.

Wipe out wall doodles – A good sprinkling of baking soda on a damp sponge should wipe your walls clean of ‘artwork.’

Funky cutting board? – Rub the cut side of a lemon over it to remove old stains and odors.

Wake up patio furniture – add a squirt of dish soap to a bowl of warm water. Wipe down surfaces and hose them off with plain water.

Soften scratchy towels – Get rid of mineral build-up by washing scratchy towels in the hottest water possible with nothing but a cup of ammonia added.

Easy copper cleanup – A little ketchup – yes, ketchup – will get those copper-bottomed pots and pans shining.

Dishwasher duty – Once every few weeks, especially while flu season hangs around, get rid of bacteria by adding a quarter cup of bleach to the regular dish cycle .

Disinfect the disposal – Run a few lemon peels, a little salt, and a few ice cubes through it to sanitize and banish odors.

Don’t forget the sponge – Keep that wet sponge clean and bacteria-free by zapping it in the microwave for one minute.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Nurturing Selflessness in a Selfie Culture

February 24, 2017 1:30 am

(Family Features)--In a typical day, it’s possible for children to spend more time engaging with technology than interacting with their peers face-to-face. As a result, the “selfie culture” is on the minds of today’s parents, who worry about how they can make sure their children grow into kind and selfless adults.

However, a national survey revealed that parents don’t fully realize the power they have when it comes to developing good character in their children. The online survey, commissioned by preschool provider Primrose Schools®, profiled hundreds of U.S. parents whose children attend, will attend or have previously attended an early education program between the ages of 3-5.

In today’s social media-focused world, 92 percent of parents agree that nurturing positive character traits in children is more important than it used to be. Yet nearly 50 percent of parents are unaware of just how early they can and should start helping their children develop these traits.

When Character-Building Should Begin

The foundational skills for good character start emerging in the first year of life. Children as young as 6 months old can demonstrate outward signs of budding empathy skills. Character and emotional intelligence continue to develop throughout the early years and are significantly influenced by young children’s interactions with their parents and caregivers. Yet almost 50 percent of parents believe preschool is too early for children to start learning social-emotional skills, and could be missing critical opportunities to support their child’s development.

Why Nurturing Good Character Early is Important

Intentionally nurturing social-emotional skills starting at birth is an important and often overlooked opportunity as these skills have been shown to be key predictors of future health, academic and life success. Early brain and child development research now shows more clearly that the first five years of life are critical for building the foundation for traits such as honesty, generosity, compassion and kindness, which will impact children for a lifetime.

“We now know that IQ no longer represents an accurate predictor of school readiness, much less future life success,” said Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and nationally acclaimed parenting and children’s book author. “It’s not just about learning the ‘3 Rs’ of reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic anymore. It’s the addition of a fourth ‘R’ that represents relationships and the importance of reading other people, which sets children up for success in today’s world.”

Finding Child Care that Nurtures Good Character

In addition to parents, child care providers play a key role in helping children develop a strong foundation. However, more than half of parents surveyed feel their child did not or will not acquire honesty, generosity and compassion (54, 54 and 62 percent, respectively) during their early education experience.

Parents seeking early education and care for their children should look for providers that emphasize character development. In these nurturing environments, children have opportunities to learn and practice social-emotional skills every day through games, puppet play, books, music, art projects and more. At Primrose Schools, their Balanced Learning® approach also includes hands-on experiences to help children apply concepts like generosity in real-life situations.

For example, each year thousands of children at more than 325 Primrose schools across the country take part in the annual Caring and Giving Food Drive. The preschoolers earn money to purchase canned goods through chores at home. They practice perspective taking, learning about the importance of giving through stories, songs, art projects and more. They even take field trips to grocery stores to shop for food items, which are then donated to local charities. At the end of the experience, the children feel a sense of accomplishment and have practiced skills like empathy, generosity and compassion.

“We believe who children become is as important as what they know,” said Gloria Julius, Ed.D., vice president of education and professional development for Primrose Schools. “That’s why nurturing children’s social-emotional development and building character has been an integral part of our approach for more than 30 years.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Surviving With Five - Experts Pick Their Top Countertop Accessories

February 24, 2017 1:30 am

Do you cast your eyes around your kitchen and think clutter. When weighing the most critical countertop accoutrements, there is no shortage of authorities ready to tell you how to most strategically equip your kitchen surfaces.

Janet Hall at remodelista.com says one of the new-generation countertop ovens is among her kitchen must-haves. She likes one of the new line of smart convection ovens that offers nine operating modes to meet almost any culinary demand.

Chris, a kitchen equipment expert at consolidatedfoodservice.com thinks a panini maker or panini press deserves a spot on your counter. Besides pressing crunchy, hand-crafted sandwiches - in a pinch, a panini maker can be a handy grill for meat, sliced potatoes, chicken, and even fried eggs.

Kitchen.com showcases several new products on the market that pack a punch and save tons of kitchen space, including a combination stand mixer, blender and food processor that also works as your juicer, meat grinder, shredding, slicing and whisking appliance, all in one machine - that occupies a relatively small countertop footprint.

Speaking of multi-function, at thekitchn.com, Cambria Bold says she loves her Instant Pot - a seven-in-one multi-cooker that works as an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and sauté pan all in one ($135).

Bold describes her electric kettle as: one of those deceptively essential small appliances you don't think is necessary until you have one. She says it's more energy-efficient than boiling water on the stove, and 10 times as fast.
Claire Murdough at lifehacker.com thinks small appliance hunters on a budget should avoid overspending on kitchen appliances by asking themselves five questions before buying something that may go without much use, wasting space and money:

What's the return on value? Murdough says his most cost effective tool is a slow cooker.

How frequently will you use it? His pick for most frequently used appliance is a microwave.

Could you make do without? Murdough says the most useful specialized appliance is a blender.

Will having to clean it deter you? His easiest to clean most useful appliance winner is a hand mixer.

Do you want it just for the novelty? If so, Murdough's best bet for a novelty appliance is a George Foreman brand or similar type of double heated electric grill.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Is This Your Year? The Time Is Now For Prepping To Sell!

February 23, 2017 1:27 am

If 2017 is the year you put your home on the market, there are a few important things you can start doing right now to be ready when spring and summer home buying season hits.

One Upper Michigan REALTOR(r)'s blog suggests restless pending home listers host a pre-market open house. Invite friends, family and three full time real estate agents to a weekend “get to know” your home gathering.

The blog says it will help get the word out that you’ll be selling come spring. Don't forget to ask for feedback from guests and be ready for what you’ll hear - good and bad.

Now is the time to start a to-do list of repairs, updates and streamlining with a timeline to complete before your home goes on market, the blog states. Also gather references for contractors if you need to hire work done - mid-winter months are typically slow for building trades and a good time to schedule repairs.

Don’t forget the basement - dark, dirty and musty basements are a turnoff to buyers:

· Add extra lighting, paint the floor and vacuum out all the cobwebs.

· Organize storage areas and take the time to clean the washing machine and dryer.

· To spruce up the hot water heater and furnace, wipe down with a strong cleaner.

· Scrub the laundry tub and sweep left-over leaves out of exterior stairs and window wells.

· Run a dehumidifier to reduce basement moisture.

Dawn Jamison at QuickenLoans.com says another REALTOR(r) in Exton, Pa. says winter house hunters should keep their search going regardless of the weather because a home that meets their ideal criteria and at the right price can pop up on the market at any time.

Another Detroit REALTOR(r) told Jamison that said if a buyer can locate a home that meets their needs, then being a winter buyer is not a hindrance. And because of typical mid-winter lack of inventory, he advises buyers to be certain their financing is figured out ahead of time so that they can submit competitive offers quickly when an appropriate home hits the listings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The 5 Best Money Tips to Teach Your Kids

February 23, 2017 1:27 am

The money habits children develop while they’re young can help form habits that guide their financial future, and the younger they are when learn good money habits, the more likely they are to value them.

Financial editors at the money and investment site, The Motley Fool suggest the five most important money tips you can teach kids at an early age:

1.  Money grows – It has the potential to earn you more if you stow it properly. Show your kids that if you put $500 into a savings account at just one percent interest annually, you will have $552 in ten years with no more effort on your part. As your kids get older, you can explore more lucrative earnings efforts including investment opportunities.

2.  Look for value – There’s nothing wrong with buying what you want, but you can make the effort to spend less for it if you wait for them to go on sale or consider a store brand instead of a name brand. You can show kids how this works with a trip to the supermarket, and teach them to research the differences between products.

3.  Saving is less expensive than borrowing – Kids, like many adults, want what they want when they want it. They may not have access to credit cards, as adults do, but next time they want something they don’t have enough money for, offer to lend it to them. But charge interest. Once kids see that borrowing entails extra cost, they may see the value of saving up.

4.  Your friend’s money is none of your business – When your kids are trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ explain that they have no idea how much their friends have or where there money goes or is coming from. It’s wise to focus on your own situation, rather than on someone else’s.

5.  Know that your time has value – Kids should be willing to work to earn money, but understand that their time has value. Selling lemonade on a quiet col-de-sac with little foot traffic, for example, may not be a good investment of their time. Having a strong work ethic will be valuable all their lives, but they should understand that time and effort have worth.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Maximizing Your Assets in Retirement

February 23, 2017 1:27 am

(Family Features)--No matter how diligent you may have been about saving for retirement, unexpected life changes and economic realities can negatively impact your retirement budget. Sustained low interest rates have suppressed yields on income from bonds and rising health care expenses have affected retirees of all ages. Many retirees are surprised to learn that one of the most valuable assets in their portfolios may be a life insurance policy that they no longer need.
 
It’s not uncommon for people to outlive their need for life insurance, and if you no longer need the policy or can no longer afford the premiums, you could consider selling the policy through a life settlement. This is a financial transaction in which a policy owner works with a company, such as Coventry Direct, to determine if they qualify to sell their life insurance policy. The policy seller receives an immediate cash payment while the buyer assumes all future premium payments. Most life insurance policy types qualify, even convertible term life policies.
 
Consider this story about a financial advisor who recently retired from a long, successful career. He decided the money he was spending on the rising premiums for his $799,975 life insurance policy could be used to help fund his retirement. After some research, he called Coventry Direct and was happy to learn he had an option other than just letting the policy lapse. He sold his policy through a life settlement for $25,000, which was more than four times the value he would have received if he surrendered the policy back to the insurance company.
 
If you don’t own a life insurance policy or still need your coverage, you may want to evaluate the real estate you own. Think about downsizing to a smaller home or selling other property you no longer need. Many retirees discover that they have significant equity tied up in real estate – equity that could be used to help fund expenses.
 
Another useful exercise is reviewing your investments. If your retirement income is failing to produce the amount needed to maintain your lifestyle, you may need to rebalance your portfolio in order to meet your changing needs.
 
If you find your retirement income is insufficient, there are options available to maximize your assets. For many retirees, an existing life insurance policy may be a hidden asset that can be utilized to generate cash.
 
Source: coventrydirect.com 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Find Money around the House

February 20, 2017 1:27 am

Need to start adding some more money to your monthly credit column and reduce the amount in the debit column? If you take a good look around your house - and no, not under the sofa cushions - you can upturn money in several different areas.

Evaluate your cable needs. Take a good look at your cable bill. Are you paying for a landline you don’t use anymore? Channels you never watch? Cable boxes you don’t need? Chances are you can slash your bill dramatically. In fact, if you’re mostly watching Netflix, using an Apple TV or Roku, you might not need cable at all.

Be more energy efficient. Talk to your energy company about the options available to you. Thanks to deregulation, you now have a choice of providers. Also consider solar panels. After the initial installation cost, your monthly energy spend will drop significantly.

Be proactive with your mobile provider. Take a good look at your mobile bill for unnecessary expenses and to make sure you’re getting the best plan. Carriers are always introducing new package deals and specials, so be proactive and ask them how you can reduce your bill. You also might want to consider going without a contract and paying month to month.

Bundle insurance. Insurance providers want your business and will offer discounts when you bundle your various insurance needs with them--auto, home, life, etc. But discounts for bundling vary widely - from 3 - 22 percent, according to insure.com. So make sure you shop around before you choose a provider.

Drive less. Economic indicators point to gas most likely reaching $3 per gallon this year. No matter what happens with prices, though, gas expenses add up. Look for ways where you can reduce your time behind the wheel. Try car-pooling, biking and walking when you can. And if you’re in the market for a new car, it’s worth considering a hybrid, diesel, or other fuel-efficient model.

Manage your meals. If you’re not tracking your grocery expenses, start immediately. You’ll be surprised (maybe even shocked!) at how much you’re spending on groceries. Once you get a clear picture of what you’re spending, find ways to reduce that amount. Shop in bulk for items you use frequently, shop weekly specials and clip coupons, and make sure you join the rewards programs of the stores you frequent most. You will also save money if you plan your meals for the week. This will enable you to buy only those items that you really need, reducing impulse purchases.

Evaluate gym memberships. Good health is priority one, so if you use your gym regularly, stick with it. However, if you’re not taking full advantage of your membership, nix it. Or at least freeze it until you can commit to going more often. In the meantime, try any number of great exercise apps at home, or get out in the fresh air and walk. As long as you keep moving, you’re moving toward better health.

Sell stuff. Why the idea of organizing a yard sale may be overwhelming, there are much simpler ways to make some money from clothing and household items you no longer need. In addition to eBay and Craigslist, Techlicious recommends the following apps: OfferUp, Gone, Vinted and Tradesy. The best site to use depends on what you’re selling, so do your research. You’ll want a different site for selling a computer as opposed to that designer purse.

The most important rule to remember when finding ways to cut expenses around the home? No savings is too small. You will be amazed how quickly they add up to real dollars!

I hope you found these ideas useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Make Your Life Insurance Work for You

February 20, 2017 1:27 am

(Family Features)--Life insurance is a valuable asset, but over time you may find that your life insurance no longer fits your situation. You might be surprised to learn that in addition to your home, stocks, bonds and antiques, your life insurance is another asset you can sell.

Life insurance policies can be converted to immediate cash through a life settlement, but as many as 85 percent of seniors don't realize this option is available, according to a survey conducted by Coventry Direct.

A life settlement is a financial transaction in which a policy owner sells an unneeded life insurance policy for more than they would have received from the insurance company if they were to lapse or surrender the policy. Most life insurance policy types qualify, including universal life, whole life, variable life, survivorship and even term life policies.

Among the reasons you might consider a life settlement:

- Your life insurance policy is too expensive to maintain. If your premium payments have continued to increase, your policy may no longer be affordable. However, simply allowing the policy to lapse results in a total loss of the premiums you have paid.

- You have more life insurance than you currently need. As your circumstances and need for financial protection change, you may want to reduce the overall insurance you own. For example, if your policy was intended to pay off your mortgage in the event of your death, but you've since sold the home or paid off your mortgage, you may not need the same amount of coverage.

- You need help with increasing medical or long-term care expenses. Selling your policy can help cover your immediate needs for health care or other unforeseen medical expenses.

- Increasing your retirement funds will increase your peace of mind. The proceeds from the sale of your policy can help boost your savings and supplement your retirement income.

- Your debt load exceeds your comfort level. Whether a single emergency incident or a combination of variables compounded your debt, working your way out can be emotionally and mentally draining, but applying untapped assets to reduce the burden may help.

For example, one policy owner no longer had a need for several life insurance policies totaling $500,000. The life insurance company would only pay him the cash surrender value of $28,500. Instead, he contacted Coventry Direct and was able to sell the policies for $110,000, which he used to supplement his retirement and plan a family vacation.

Source: Coventry Direct

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Work More, Live Longer

February 17, 2017 1:27 am

Whether motivated by the desire to stay active and vital, or by the need for continued financial support, people are putting off retirement and working longer. In fact, according to research from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, about 75 percent of people over 50 say they see themselves continuing to work well past the traditional retirement age range. The good news? Not only is it good for your wallet, it’s good for your health.

According to a recent TODAY show segment with financial expert Jean Chatzky, creator of the HerMoney podcast, researchers from the University of Miami found that those over age 65 who were still part of the workforce were more likely to report that they were in good, very good or even excellent health, as compared to their peers who were unemployed or retired.

What’s more, a similar study from Oregon State University revealed that those who continued to work past age 65 had an 11 percent lower chance of death from all causes. Beyond keeping you generally healthy, working past age 65 has several specific benefits, such as:

- Keeping your mind sharp - staying engaged helps mental acuity

- Keeping you connected to others - many retirees find themselves somewhat isolated after leaving the workforce

- Maintaining your sense of worth - our identities are often tied up in what we do for a living

- Increasing your financial health - the longer you work, the more you can add to that retirement savings account

- Social security boon – According to Kiplinger's, the full retirement ag for social security is now 66 for people born between 1943 – 1954, and it will gradually rise to 67 for those born after 1960. However, for every year you delay taking social security past the retirement age, you get a bump of 8 percent until age 70.
So before you trade in your briefcase for a tennis racket, take the above into consideration.
I hope you found this research interesting. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Source: Jean Chatzky, This Week in Your Wallet

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Surprising Bridal Trends for 2017

February 17, 2017 1:27 am

With spring wedding planning in seriously high gear, some brides-to-be are stunned to view the bold, trending bridal fashions unveiled at recent shows.

“Somehow,” noted one busy New York wedding planner, “dress designers are devising ways for brides to wear all of the traditional wedding accoutrements – like long sleeves, a train, and the veil – while baring as much skin as possible.”

Here’s a recap of the most surprising trends embraced by forward-looking bridal fashionistas:

Plunging necklines – Demure brides are out this season as figure-flattering, if deeply plunging, necklines are incorporated into traditional motifs.

Off-the-shoulder styles – It figures that skin-baring, off-the-shoulder styles are available in vintage as well as contemporary bridal gowns.

Hot colors – Shades of pink, followed closely by warm yellows, are increasingly popular as white or off-white alternatives.

Short dresses and bridal boots – This year’s unique crop of bridal designs gives a wide berth to traditional dresses in favor of over-the-knee white wedding boots paired with chic and lacy short wedding dresses.

3-D detailing – To complement some of the most daring dresses, designers have come up with three dimensional stick-ons, like lace flower cutouts, that adhere to the bride’s bare skin above the neckline.

Modern Renaissance – Featuring sculpted shoulders, a deep square neckline and sheer, leg-exposing veiling below the waist, one Dror design is an updated take on an old Renaissance motif.

Jumpsuit train – One Mark Zunino design features a modern, off-white silk jumpsuit with a skirt and full train attached.

Crop tops – Several featured designs pair a chic, short, lacy crop top with a high-waisted, full-length skirt. 

Modern lace-up – Given the popularity of lace-up shoes, it’s perhaps no surprise these lace-up dress designs take the trend to the wedding dress, with cut-out designs baring the waistline between quiet satin bodice and skirt.

Boudoir lace – This slipdress-as-daywear design is carried into a wedding gown, among the most relatively demure in popular lingerie shades.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Combatting Concussions in Youth Sports

February 17, 2017 1:27 am

(Family Features)--With athletes of all ages taking to fields and courts, there are important steps to take in keeping young athletes safe during practice and games.

Data from U.S. Youth Soccer shows that the number of kids playing increased nearly 90 percent - with nearly 3 million children ages 7-17 playing each year - from 1990 to 2014. As soccer has risen in popularity, so has the rate on injuries - especially concussions - according to a Nationwide Children's Hospital study published recently in "Pediatrics."

The number of youth treated in emergency rooms in the United States due to soccer-related injuries increased by 78 percent over the 25 years covered by the study. While concussions and other "closed-head" injuries accounted for just 7 percent of those injuries, the annual rate of those injuries per 10,000 children playing soccer increased drastically.

While the study's authors from the hospital's Center for Injury Research and Policy said some of the increase reflects the growing awareness about concussions, there are steps that can be taken to reduce exposure and increase overall player safety.

Know Concussion Signs

Be aware of concussion symptoms and encourage players to report potential injuries. The first signs of a player potentially suffering from a serious head injury can include:

- Headache
- Blurry vision
- Nausea
- Vomiting
- Noise or light sensitivity

Practice Proper Technique

The U.S Soccer Federation recently ruled that there should be no heading in games or practice for any players age 10 and under and a limited amount of heading for those ages 11-13. It is important that coaches know the correct techniques and have the right educational tools to properly train their players. The fundamental steps include:

1. Keeping feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent in an athletic position.

2. Tucking the chin and maintaining a stiff neck.

3. Using arms for balance (and to shield opponents).

4. Concentrating with eyes open and mouth closed.

5. Focusing on striking the ball with the middle of the forehead.

Understand Return-to-Play Protocol

Coaches and parents should encourage players to always report blows to the head and be vigilant in looking for athletes who may have sustained injuries. If a player does sustain a concussion, they should seek medical attention and work together with an athletic trainer on proper return-to-play protocol before returning to competition.

By instituting proper athletic safety measures at the youth level, coaches, parents and athletes can continue to enjoy the positive benefits of sports.

Source: National Soccer Coaches Association of America

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Trees Need Help? Hire a Pro

February 16, 2017 1:27 am

Aside from the obvious risk to your personal safety, tackling tree work on your own can also be harmful to your tree. Whether it’s pruning, having branches removed or taking down the tree entirely, hiring a professional is the way to go.

Professional tree-care companies are aware of what can harm the tree - such as using spikes for climbing - and come equipped with proper equipment, like ropes and climbing harnesses or aerial lift devices or cranes, if accessible. This, coupled with their training and experience, contributes to the future health of the tree. Here are some tips from the Tree Care Industry Association for finding the right professional:

Good References: Ask for references and check on the quality of the tree company’s work. Don't be rushed by a bargain and don't pay in advance.

Proof of Insurance: Ask for current certificates of liability and workers' compensation insurance, if applicable. Be aware that if the tree-care company you hire doesn't have insurance or is not a legal company, you could be held responsible as a contractor.

Solid Reputation: Verify professional affiliations the company might have, such as memberships in business and/or professional organizations such as the Tree Care Industry Association.

Up-to-Date Knowledge: Ask if they follow American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. A professional arborist will be aware of the current safety, pruning, fertilizing and cabling standards.

Contract: Insist on a signed contract as to cost, dates when work is to be performed, and exactly what is to be done. Insist that climbing spikes are used only if the tree is to be cut down.

Taking care of your tree needs professionally will ensure safety for all involved…most of all, your tree!

I hope you found these tips useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Source: Tree Care Industry Association

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top Tips for Healthy Eyes

February 16, 2017 1:27 am

From healthy eating to maintaining healthy finances, “health” is something on many of our minds. But how about your eye health? As we age, it’s important to keep our eyesight front and center. Below are tips from the Lighthouse Guild on keeping your eyes healthy.

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 actions can be taken to maintain eye health.

Get regular exams. Your eye doctor will tell you how frequently you should have a dilated eye exam if you have risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension or a family history of eye disease. Otherwise, the American Optometric Association recommends an exam every two years, if you're younger than 60 and are not experiencing symptoms of eye or vision problems, and once a year if you're over 60 and not experiencing symptoms of eye or vision problems.

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 protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

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).

Source: Lighthouse Guild

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Ride Well: Better Bus Safety

February 16, 2017 1:27 am

(Family Features)--For millions of school-age children, each day begins and ends with a bus ride. While parents entrust their children's safety to the capable hands of bus drivers, these tips from the National Association for Pupil Transportation provide some measures parents can take and lessons they can teach to increase safety going to and from the bus, and even during the ride.

Before the Bus Arrives

- Ensure backpacks are packed securely so papers and other items don't scatter as the bus approaches.

- Create a morning routine that puts kids at the bus stop five minutes before the scheduled pickup time. This helps avoid a last-minute rush, when safety lessons are easily forgotten, and ensures kids are safely in place for boarding.

- Encourage children to wear bright, contrasting colors so they can be seen easier by drivers.

- Instruct children to walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, advise them to stay out of the street, walk single-file, face traffic and stay as close to the edge of the road as possible.

- If kids must cross a street, driveway or alley, remind them to stop and look both ways before crossing.

- Verify that the bus stop location offers good visibility for the bus driver; if changes are needed, talk with nearby homeowners or school district officials to implement changes. Never let kids wait in a house or car, where the driver may miss seeing them approach the bus.

- Remind children that the bus stop is not a playground. Balls or other toys could roll into the street and horseplay can result in someone falling into the path of oncoming traffic.

On the Bus Ride

- Instruct children to allow the bus to come to a complete stop before approaching it.

- When boarding the bus, items can get bumped and dropped. Caution children that before picking anything up, they should talk to the driver and follow instructions to safely retrieve their possessions.

- Teach safe riding habits: stay seated with head, hands and feet inside at all times; use a seatbelt (if available); keep bags and books out of the aisle and remain seated until the bus stops moving.

- Remind kids that just like when riding in your car, loud noises are off limits so they don't distract the driver.

Leaving the Bus

- Remind children to look before stepping off the bus. If they must cross the street, teach them to do so in front of the bus by taking five big steps away from the front of the bus, looking up and waiting for the driver to signal that it is safe to start into the street.

- For parents who meet their kids at the bus, remember that in their excitement kids may dart across the street. Eliminate the risk by waiting on the side of the street where kids exit the bus.

- Make the bus ride part of your daily "how was school?" discussion. Encourage kids to talk about the things they see and hear on the bus, so you can discuss appropriate behaviors and, if necessary, report any concerns to school administrators.

- Bullying is more prevalent than ever and buses are no exception. Ask your child to tell you about any bullying they observe, whether against another child or themselves, and talk about how to shut down bully behavior.

Source: Propane Education & Research Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Moving? Make Sure the Kids are Alright

February 15, 2017 1:24 am

Moving to a new city or state is filled with many different exciting possibilities - new home, new job, new restaurants to try. But for kids, relocating is fraught with fear - new school, new faces, new neighborhood.

Former Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive back Johnnie Johnson has started an organization to help children in this exact situation. As the CEO of World Class Coaches, an organization that facilitates the Moving Families Initiative, Johnson helps connect relocating families with the right resources - teachers, counselors, service providers, real estate professionals, etc. - to ensure a smooth transition.

If there’s a relocation in your future, here are a few ways to help your kids adjust and embrace their new home:

Do your research. If you can’t visit your new community together in advance, do some research and find out what attractions may be particularly interesting to your child. Perhaps a great zoo or aquarium if he or she is an animal lover, a beach for swimmers, or an amusement park for fun seekers. Get your child excited about all the new places to explore.

Get to know families with same-age children. Invite them over or arrange for a play date at the park. This will help your child bridge the often difficult gap of making new friends.
    
Get them involved. The sooner your child gets involved in the local activity of their choosing the better. Scouts, dance, sports, music - joining in with children who share the same interests is the quickest way for your child to get acclimated and feel like they belong.
    
Enlist a support group. New teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and clergy can all play a critical role in helping your child adjust, so get them on board right away.
    
Acknowledge their feelings. Most important of all, allow your child to mourn the loss of their former home, community and friends. Let him or her know these feelings are normal and that you, too, miss your old home sometimes. This will help your child process these feelings more quickly and move on to the new possibilities at hand.

Remember to keep the sense of adventure going and continue to highlight the positives about your new home and location. Spend extra time with your child too, as you explore your new surroundings together. In no time, they’ll settle in nicely… and so will you!

I hope you found these tips useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Financial Stability Top Wanted Trait in a Partner

February 15, 2017 1:24 am

When looking for a romantic connection, there are many things to consider. However, according to a new survey by SunTrust Banks, nothing is more important when choosing a new partner than their level of financial sustainability.

The SunTrust Banks survey found that 41 percent of Americans consider financial stability to be among the traits they find most important in a partner, ranking only behind personal values (78 percent) and personality (73 percent). Further, more people value financial stability than looks (21 percent) or physical fitness (21 percent), according to an online survey conducted in January 2017 by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust among over 2,000 U.S. Adults. The SunTrust survey also found that a third of Americans in a relationship believe they are the saver and their spouse/partner is the spender. In contrast, only 21 percent claimed they are the spender and their spouse/partner is the saver.

SunTrust suggests asking your partner the following questions to better understand his or her views when it comes to managing money.

What are your most important goals? Talk to your significant other about aspirations and make a list of what you have in common. If aligning your goals is difficult, create a blend that represents your collective core values.

How does your past influence your spending and savings habits? Make an effort to understand your partner's personal history. Financial habits are often handed down by parents, so it's important to empathize with your partner and understand how he or she was raised.

Would you share your plans before making a big-ticket purchase? It's important to know whether your partner wants to maintain a level of financial independence. Decide whether you need to talk with each other before making purchases above a certain price point, or whether you agree to keep finances separate.

What is your debt philosophy? Financial disagreements often arise from different views of debt, from how much to use a credit card to the term and amount of a new car loan. Ask your partner what he or she considers an acceptable level of debt and see how much it diverges from your answer.

Source: SunTrust Banks, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Protect Your Landscape: 5 Tips for Transplanting

February 14, 2017 1:24 am

Whether it’s due to overcrowding, a need to make room for more sun, or the addition of a new deck, patio or swimming pool, transplanting a beloved tree, bush or perennial eventually becomes a must in every yard. Yet many garden lovers approach transplanting with trepidation, and for good reason - no one wants to accidentally kill off a prized planting. Here are some tips to make sure your transplanting is a success.

Pick the right time. According to Northscaping.com, the best time to transplant a plant is when it’s dormant - either before it’s budded or after it’s done blooming for the season.

Dig the right hole. Proper planting is critical for roots to take hold and develop. According to the Soils Matter blog, for large garden plants, dig a hole about twice the diameter of the plant's existing size and 1.5 to 2 times as deep. Make sure there is plenty of loose soil at the bottom of the hole for roots to thrive.   

Nourish the roots. While you may be anxious to see your transplanted tree or plant bloom again, for the first year, it’s more important to focus on the roots, so choose only root-boosting fertilizers to help the plant’s development underground.

Practice “even watering.” Too much or too little water are both detrimental to your new transplant. Test to see if the water level is even by putting your finger about 1 inch underground. If the soil isn’t moist, it’s time to water.

Keep a close eye on your transplant. Every tree or plant will undergo some degree of shock from the transplant, so inspect frequently. If there seems to be pests or fungus, watch to see if it goes away on its own. If not, snip off an infected leaf and bring it to your local garden center to find out what you're dealing with.

Above all, be patient. It will take your plant a year or more to really start thriving in its new location but the rewards will be worth the wait!

I hope you found these tips useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


6 Things to Know About Your Tots’ Teeth

February 14, 2017 1:24 am

Having a kid is full of surprises, whether it’s your first child or your fifth. For those new parents, every twist and turn is an adventure, including your kids first set of teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) has created an essential list of “tooth-truths” to help parents and caregivers stay in the know about the health of their children’s teeth.

When Teeth First Appear. Your baby is born with 20 teeth below the gums, and they usually start coming through between six months and a year. Most children have their full set of teeth by three years old.

When to Start Brushing with Toothpaste. Decay can happen as soon as teeth first appear. If you see some pearly whites peeking out when your little one smiles, it's time to pick up a tube of fluoride toothpaste. Find one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

How Much Toothpaste to Use. It doesn't take much to clean your child's teeth. Until you’re comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush. If your child is three or younger, use a smear of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). For children three or older, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste will do.

When to Schedule Your Baby's First Dental Visit. It's another milestone in a year of exciting firsts. Your child’s first dental visit should take place after their first tooth appears, but no later than the first birthday. Why so early? As soon as your baby has teeth, they can get cavities.

When to Start Flossing. It doesn't matter if you floss your child's teeth before or after they brush as long as you clean between any teeth that touch. You can use child-friendly plastic flossing tools to more easily floss your child’s teeth until your child learns to do it.

Water Works. When your child has worked up a thirst, water is the best beverage to offer – especially if it has fluoride! Drinking water with fluoride (also known as “nature’s cavity fighter”) has been shown to reduce cavities by 25 percent.

Source: The American Dental Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Convertible Furniture: A Boon for Growing Kids

February 13, 2017 1:21 am

Active kids require bedroom and playroom furniture that is tough enough, and adaptable enough, to offer years of fun and flexibility throughout a child’s toddler and early school years – and manufacturers are meeting those needs with a growing number of choices.

Children’s room furniture designs previewed at a recent show included pieces new or improved for 2017:

DaVinci-Kalani 4-way bed – This flexible bed with a $199 price tag converts from full-sized crib to toddler bed and then to a daybed or, with the aid of an optional conversion kit, to a full-sized bed your child can sleep in till he goes off to college. It’s made of solid wood that wipes clean with soap and water.

Million Dollar Baby 4-way bed – With its carved posts and classic arches, this $399 model made of New Zealand pine adds plenty of style and flair as it converts from crib to toddler and/or full-sized bed. It’s available in Espresso or Grey and is carried at Target stores. Conversion kits are sold separately.

Chicco Urban 6-in-1 modular stroller – While the $399 price tag may seem daunting, this versatile product is a stylish and complete solution for baby’s changing needs.  Comes with a click-in car seat adapter for Chicco’s top rated Keyfit infant carseat, and converts to an infant carriage, toddler stroller, and more.

Crayola wooden table and chair set – Budding young artists deserve a workspace as bright and colorful as their artwork. At a cost of about $90, the set feature chair backs shaped like Crayola crayons, and each table corner has a fabric pocket to hold art supplies. Flip over the erasable whiteboard top and a black chalkboard surface awaits.

Little Tykes picnic style set with umbrella – This indoor-outdoor, polystyrene set features bench seating and is equipped with an umbrella to shield your kiddos from the sun. Bonus: It’s inexpensive at under $50, is lightweight enough to move easily, and folds flat for storage when not in use.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Make Pets More Affordable

February 13, 2017 1:21 am

While nothing completes the feeling of home more than a furry, four-legged family member, becoming a pet parent can come with a steep price tag. According to the ASPCA, in fact, the first year of pet ownership often exceeds $1,000, which is a lot to fit into your household budget, especially if you just moved into a new home.

If your family just isn’t complete without a pooch or a feline, however, there are some ways to curb the costs of pet ownership:

Consider adoption - While you may have your eye on a purebred, take a trip to a local animal shelter or rescue organization instead. Many cats and dogs are in desperate need of adoption. Not only will you be doing a good deed, you’ll be saving hundreds of dollars.

Look into pet insurance. Whether or not pet insurances pays off is dependent upon a lot of factors, such as the age and breed of your pet, and what the particular coverage covers, i.e, accidents, cancer, preventative care or all three. While less than 1 percent of pets in the U.S. and Canada are covered by a plan, the numbers are quickly growing, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance organization. Consumer Reports recommends talking to your vet about your pet’s breed and associated medical conditions, and his or her experience with pet insurance providers. This will give you a better idea of whether pet insurance is worth it and which providers to look at.

Cut costs on pet food. According to The Balance, there are several ways to save on pet food, which can otherwise be very pricey: look for coupons online; join rewards programs; buy in bulk; look for discounts offered by your vet; or even try making your own!

Swap pet care. If you’re heading out of town and can’t take your best friend with you, start a cooperative arrangement with a neighbor, friend or family member. Boarding and paying for care can be very expensive, so trade-off coverage with other pet owners you know and trust. Your pet will come to view these folks and their pets as extended family, which helps reduce separation anxiety.

By taking a little extra time and doing your research, you can trim the costs of pet care and make room in your budget for a cuddly new family member.

I hope you found these ideas useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tis the Season: Stop the Stomach Bug in its Tracks

February 13, 2017 1:21 am

While you may have gotten your flu shot and stepped up your vitamin C intake to beat the common cold, another culprit to defend against is the norovirus - otherwise known as the stomach flu.

According to GOJO Industries, the makers of Purell, norovirus typically peaks between December and April, and is extremely contagious, even up to two weeks after an infected person feels better.

Symptoms usually appear 12 - 48 hours after first exposure to the virus, and last approximately one to three days. Here are some common ways norovirus is spread:
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus, most likely prepared by an individual who is infected
  • Touching surfaces or objects with the virus on them and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth
  • Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, by sharing food, utensils, etc.
The good news is there are ways you can reduce the spread of the stomach flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends following these steps:

Keep your hands clean. It may sound basic, but frequent hand washing with soap and water is one of the best ways to avoid catching the virus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol can be used in addition to handwashing.

Disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Immediately disinfect and clean contaminated surfaces with a disinfectant and cleaner formulated to kill norovirus.

Wash laundry thoroughly. Don’t forget sheets, pillowcases and throw blankets.

Wash fruits and vegetables when preparing food.

Stay out of the kitchen when you’re sick. Leave the meal-prep to another family member or order take-out.

Of course, don’t forget to call your doctor for additional advice and to make sure you’re not dealing with something more serious. In the meantime, make the above steps part of your everyday routine.

I hope you found these insights useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Source: GOJO Industries

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How-To Impress Your Valentine

February 10, 2017 1:21 am

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, thoughts turn to making the best possible impression on that special person in your life. It’s not about how much you spend or which hard to get reservation you manage to get. Too often we measure our feelings against a sum of money spent. But it’s really not about that. It’s about putting some thought into what you do, to let that person know that you see them: you really see them!

Do you have a skill?

Can you sing? Paint? Draw? Write a poem? Take a beautiful photograph? Do you have a skill that you can leverage to create something that will show your love that you spent actual time to give them something from your heart?  

Serenade them with their favorite song. Create a painting for them that they will love. Write a poem to express everything you’re feeling. These are all special ways to show your intended that you care.

Think activity versus gift

One of the best gifts you can give is your time. Spending time together doing something meaningful is far more romantic than a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers. Is your valentine a book-lover? Take them to their favorite store and hand them a gift card to spend there and then, while you wait patiently. No tapping your foot! Does your love have an interest in marine biology? A trip to the aquarium followed by a picnic might be the ticket. The key is to be tuned in to their interests and to come up with something you can do together that speaks to those passions. There’s nothing like noticing the details to create that magical spark.

Take care of the details

Be ready for all eventualities by ensuring that you’ve thought of them. Planned a picnic? What if it rains? What’s Plan B? It turns out your date is allergic to shellfish and you’ve booked a table at a seafood restaurant? Don’t let that happen. Make sure you know what you need to know, going in, and leave nothing to chance. That attention to detail will be noted and appreciated, even if the words aren’t spoken. 

Be confident

Confidence is about feeling good in your skin. So if you’re afraid of flying, a helicopter ride over the city is likely to leave you a sweating, hot mess. In other words, not exuding confidence! Don’t get dressed up and booked in at the most expensive restaurant in the city if you don’t have the funds for an appetizer there! You will be off your game all night.

In order to make your date feel good, you need to feel good. Pick an activity that allows you to be you too. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort: you can’t just show up after your soccer game, sweaty and gross and hope that your date will be thrilled to see you that way. But you don’t need to be something you’re not. If they don’t like you for you, it probably isn’t a good match anyway.

Be on time!

This one cannot be stressed enough. Being ten minutes ‘fashionably’ late may be cute in the world of cocktail gatherings, but when your date is sitting on tenterhooks waiting for your arrival, being late is just off-putting and not likely to lead to romance.

Bring a little something

If you’re not doing ‘gifts’, it’s still a good idea to bring a little something to your date. It doesn’t have to be big or even very expensive: a single rose can have more impact than a dozen long stems. Her favorite book. Extra points for a signed or first edition! A jigsaw puzzle that is made from a picture of the two of you. A monthly subscription box to his preferred coffee company. That’s the gift that really keeps on giving! Whatever they are into, think about it and offer a token. Even a handmade card with an inside joke written in it will be something to make them laugh and remember the evening fondly.

On the ‘don’t’ list
- Don’t drink too much. That’s just off putting.
- Don’t brag too much. About what? Anything. Work, money, friends...
-- Don’t complain about your ex. At all.

If it’s a new relationship, these are all true but even a more long standing attachment needs to be preserved and worked at.

The best first impressions are made when everything seems effortless and fluid, where conversation flows and time flies by in the blink of an eye. If you both are enjoying your time together, that will leave the best impression of all.

Source: PeopleLooker.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


These Foods Can Boost Your Immune System

February 10, 2017 1:21 am

Being healthy doesn’t have to be a hassle. You can add these five foods into your diet to help you feel your best all winter long no matter if you’re trapped indoors, traveling, or just in your day-to-day activities.

Eat colorful fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals.  Reach for red and pink grapefruits, oranges, kiwis, and berries. Choose cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. These fruits and veggies are not only loaded with essential vitamins and phytonutrients, but they are also rich in antioxidants which give your immune system a boot and help build up your digestive track.

Add in pistachios as a heart healthy, protein rich snack. Pistachios are also rich in antioxidants and the heart healthy fats to help your body absorb vitamin E.  Vitamin E is needed by the immune system to fight off invading bacteria. Pistachios are also rich in vitamin B6 which also helps prevent infection and create healthy red blood cells your body needs.

Look for omega 3 fatty acids and selenium which are found in shellfish, salmon, mackerel, and herring.  These foods help white blood cells produce a protein which helps clear flu viruses out of the body. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body by clearing the lungs pathways. This can help protect from colds and respiratory infections.

Make yogurt your go-to breakfast or snack. Yogurt contains probiotics; “healthy bacteria” that your body needs to keep your immune system strong and keeps your digestive free of disease causing germs.  Yogurt is also filled with protein that keeps your body energized and strong.

Spice up your food with turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon.  These spices are especially known to contain antioxidants that help to protect your cells and keep inflammation in the body down.  I add turmeric to soups, eggs, rice, and poultry. Fresh grated ginger brings warmth to any beverage. Cinnamon can be sprinkled on oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, and easily added to anything you bake. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What’s With All the White Lies?

February 10, 2017 1:21 am

Many of us have told a white lie from time to time. Research shows that 80 people of people are willing to tell a white lie now and again. Whether it's out of the goodness of your heart (you just can’t tell your friend how her new haircut looks), or to get out of an awkward social event, white lies are often told.  But what are the most common ones?

These were the top 10 most popular white lies that respondents to a OnePoll survey would admit to:

- "I'm on my way!" - More than 62% of people admitted to saying they were somewhere they weren’t.

- "I got stuck in traffic!" - 53% of respondents used busy roads and transport as their excuse for being late.

- “I like your outfit!” – Protecting feelings, or protecting themselves? Either was, 53% of people copped to telling this white lie.

- "It was on sale!" - Although more popular amongst women, almost 45% of people told the occasional fib about how much they were spending.

- “I’m ill!” - 44% of people said they’ll occasionally pull a sickie to get off work.

- “My phone ran out of battery!” - 41% of respondents dodged a conversation by blaming their technology.

- "I only had one drink!" – 36% of respondents said they’d understated how much they’d put away.

“I didn’t have any signal!” - 44% of people just didn’t want to pick up the phone.

- 35% of people said they had lied about spending time with loved ones.

- 32% of our respondents admitted to "boosting" their CV a little bit.

Source: OnePoll

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Protect Your Customer’s Privacy

February 9, 2017 1:21 am

If you run a business, then you know the customer is king. But what about the customer’s privacy? Help your business be more thoughtful about what information is collected and how you can protect that data and foster trust, with these tips from the NCSA.

If you collect it, protect it: Follow reasonable security measures to protect individuals' personal information from inappropriate and unauthorized access.

Be open and honest about how you collect, use and share personal information: Clearly communicate your data use practices and any features or settings you offer to consumers to manage their privacy.

Don't count on your privacy policy as your only tool to educate consumers about your privacy practices: Communicate clearly and often what privacy means to your organization and the steps you take to achieve and maintain consumer privacy and security.

Create a culture of privacy in your organization: Educate employees about their role in privacy, security and respecting and protecting the personal information of colleagues and customers.

In addition to your privacy practices, do your due diligence and monitor partners and vendors: You are also responsible for how they use and collect personal information.

Source: SOURCE National Cyber Security Alliance

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tax Time: Five Tips to Ensure an Accurate Form W-2

February 9, 2017 1:21 am

Tax season is a troubling time for many of us as we wade through forms and paperwork from the preceding year.  The American Payroll Association, has five W-2 tips to ensure your W-2 is accurate this tax season.

1. Get your hands on all of your W-2s. If you received compensation from more than one company during 2016, you will need to obtain a W-2 from each business. If you haven't received your W-2 by February 3, contact the company's payroll department to request a 'reissued statement.'

Did you earn $600 or more from a single company for freelance or contract work? You need the Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, instead of a W-2. You may be responsible for all taxes on those earnings.

2. Ensure your Social Security Number (SSN) matches your social security card. Your name and SSN on the W-2 must match your social security card to receive the social security benefits to which you are entitled. If they do not match, ask your payroll department for a corrected W-2.

3. Compare your W-2 to your final paystub. 

Items to review on the W-2:

A.  Box 1 will differ from your final 2016 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you participated in a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored savings plan.

B.  The Box 3 total should not exceed $118,500 – the 2016 social security wage base.

C.  Boxes 1, 3, and 5 will be different from your final 2016 paystub year-to-date gross pay if you use pre-tax dollars to pay insurance premiums or for transit benefits, or to contribute to flexible spending accounts.

4. Check for tax credits. Depending on your eligibility, you may qualify for thousands of dollars from the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read the back of the W-2 copy B, C, and 2 to determine your eligibility.

5. Put some money in your pocket! If you receive more than $1,000 in refunds adjust your Form W-4 to more closely match your tax liability. By updating this information, you could give yourself an instant raise.

SOURCE: American Payroll Association
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Move During the Winter

February 9, 2017 1:21 am

Moving is rarely fun, but in the winter, it can be downright miserable. From frigid temps to icy roads, there are many challenges with moving in the colder months. Below are a handful of helpful tips from Ross Sapir, CEO and Founder of Roadway Moving.

Make sure your electric is turned on early. Before you move in, be sure that all utilities have been turned on so you can comfortably enjoy heat and light for your first couple nights.

Avoid any falls. Clear the driveways and walkways of snow and make sure you salt the icy areas so you and your movers are safe walking to and from the trucks

Have a back-up plan. If a winter storm is threatening your move, make sure you've already spoken to your moving company to see if they have a policy in place for any unexpected date changes.

Protect your home. Going in and out of your home during the move will drag salt and dirt all over your floors. Avoid this by laying down plastic or cardboard boxes for protection

Dress in layers. Moving boxes in and out will work up a sweat so make sure you have the proper clothing on that you can either add layers when you go outside or take off layers once you get inside.

Source: Roadway Moving.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Smarter Ways to Keep Your Home Warm

February 8, 2017 1:21 am

(Family Features)--When cool winds are blowing and the temperatures outside take a dive, even a well-insulated house may feel the chill. Simply kicking up the thermostat can be expensive and depending on your home’s circulation, you may still have areas that need an extra blast of warmth. Cozy up with these tips for heating up your living space.

Check for gaps and cracks. Poorly sealed windows and doors are among the biggest sources of heat loss in a home. Not only do those imperfections let heat escape, they also let in the cold. If you can see daylight, there’s definitely a problem, but even less visible gaps and cracks can be problematic. Clear plastic sheeting is one temporary DIY solution for windows. It’s also easy to replace the weather stripping around doors.

Rely on supplemental heat. When it’s impractical to completely eliminate drafts, or other measures aren’t fully correcting the problem, you might consider a home upgrade to your cooling and heating system. One of the most efficient products on the market is a floor-mounted indoor heating system, designed to ensure the whole room warms up evenly and quickly.

Layer up. Especially when cooler weather first appears or makes a comeback, many homeowners forget to dress for the weather, even indoors. Trading in your t-shirt and shorts for long sleeves and pants can help push your comfort several degrees warmer, and even a couple of degrees can result in big savings on your heating bill. If extra clothes aren’t enough, invest in a few plush throw blankets and a cozy robe and slippers for more comfortable lounging.

Enjoy a crackling fire. If your home has a fireplace, use it. These features are often treated as ornamental, but they serve a true function. When paired with blowers, the heat from a fireplace can warm a significant portion of the house, well beyond the room where the fireplace is located. Before your first fire, take proper safety precautions, including checking that the flue is clean and open. Also be sure you have protective features such as glass or mesh covering to prevent popping embers, and be sure to create a barrier that keeps small children safely out of reach.

Decorate your way to warmth. Subtle changes to your decor can make a big impact on a room’s climate and comfort level. Two areas that can make a big impact: the floor and windows. An area rug is an addition that not only takes the physical chill out of a wood or tile floor, but adds visual warmth, as well. Although windows can be a major source of energy loss and drafts, they can also let in a natural heat source: sunlight. Use heavy draperies at night to block the chill and provide privacy, but during daylight hours, throw those curtains open and let the warm light shine.

Source: mitsubishicomfort.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Choose the Right Online University

February 8, 2017 1:21 am

For those with busy schedules, a family to take care of, or an already-demanding career, the option of earning a degree online is a game changer. However, not all online universities are the same, and it’s important to choose an accredited program that fits your needs.

WGU Texas offers these tips to help busy adults choose the right online university to stay on track with their goals.

Know your learning style. Learning in an online environment is similar to what you would expect in a more traditional brick and mortar environment. You will study, write papers, complete projects and take tests. Online, when and where you study and interactions with faculty and other students can be quite different. Earning your degree takes self-discipline with a strong commitment to earn a degree. You'll need to set aside sufficient time and effort to realize your goals. When choosing a school, one that offers a competency-based program allows you to study and learn at your own pace, apply what you already know and advance when you demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

Understand the total cost of your education. Tuition at online universities varies widely. Before you make your decision, be sure to understand all of the costs. Compare tuition rates, books, fees and financial aid options of various schools. Speak to a financial advisor about financial aid, and only borrow what you need to graduate, as this will help keep costs under control without incurring unnecessary additional student debt. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree—the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.

Make sure the university is accredited and the degree is meaningful. Regional accreditation is the highest form of accreditation and ensures that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of regional accrediting agencies that are recognized as reliable authorities on educational quality and effectiveness of the institution. The degree program you choose should offer relevant and up-to-date curriculum to ensure that you'll earn the credentials you need for the job market. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys and graduate rankings on national test scores.

Source: texas.wgu.edu 

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What Americans Would Give Up to See Their Team Win the Super Bowl

February 8, 2017 1:21 am

It’s no shocker that Americans love their football—especially when it comes time for the Super Bowl. But what would you give up to see your team win? That’s the question GoBankingRates asked their audience, and you may be surprised to read the results.

GoBankingRates asked their respondents to choose from one of the following, in exchange for their team winning the big game.

Would you rather:
- Give up your vacation days for one year
- Give up your annual bonus
- Give up your 401k
- Give up the total amount in your savings account

The result? Fifty two percent of respondents said they would give up an entire year's worth of vacation days in order to secure a win for their favorite team in this year's Super Bowl.

Additional Findings:

- 1 in 3 respondents said they would give up their annual bonuses to see their team win, the second most popular choice among all age groups.

- Perhaps surprisingly to some, more female respondents (57%) were willing to sacrifice a year's worth of vacation days over men (48%).

- Zero percent of those aged 35 years and above said they would scrap their 401k savings, compared to 12% of those ages 18-24.

- While women might be more comfortable giving up vacation days, they were 9% less likely than men to give up an annual bonus for a Super Bowl win.

Source: GOBankingRates.com

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Tax Time: Five Simple Form 1099 Tips to Avoid Penalties

February 7, 2017 1:18 am

Many business owners hire independent contractors at some point. Whether you have several contractors working for you regularly, or just bring one on from time-to-time, properly tracking payments to service providers can be a challenge. The following Form 1099-MISC preparation tips, offered by The American Payroll Association, can ensure your tax reporting is correct for 2016.

Form 1099-MISC must be given to all non-corporate service providers. If you paid a service provider at least $600 for services during 2016, you must provide a 1099-MISC to them no later than January 31, 2017. If the provider is a corporation you generally do not have to provide Form 1099-MISC.

Cover all of your bases. If you are unsure whether a Form 1099-MISC is required, go-ahead and send one. If you don't send all qualified service providers their Form 1099-MISC, you set yourself up for penalties.

Deadlines Matter. If you're sending Forms 1099-MISC to service providers by mail, make sure to send them out no later than January 31, 2017. New for 2017!! If your Forms 1099-MISC include an amount in Box 7, Nonemployee Compensation, you have until January 31, 2017 to send paper copies to the IRS (less than 250 forms) or file electronically. If there is nothing in Box 7, February 28 is the last day to submit paper copies to the IRS (March 31 if you file the forms electronically).

TIN truncation. Payees' Tax Identification Numbers (Social Security number or employer identification number) may be truncated on their paper or electronic copies, but forms filed with the IRS must contain their full TINs. Under the truncation procedure, the first five digits are replaced with either asterisks or Xs: ***-**-1234 or XXX-XX-1234.

Let your credit card handle the paperwork. If you paid for contractor services with a credit card, debit card, or gift card, do not file the Form 1099-MISC. The bank or credit card company that made the actual payment will take care of it for you by sending the contractor Form 1099-K.Source: www.americanpayroll.org

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3 Diet Tips for Fighting Heart Disease

February 7, 2017 1:18 am

Diet impacts a variety of general health and wellness issues, but for those at risk of heart disease, diet is integral. With this in mind, USA Medical offers the following diet tips from the American Diabetes Association, whose community has a higher risk of heart disease:

Limit sodium intake. Excessive sodium in a diet increases the risk for heart disease. The federal daily recommendation allows up to 2,300 milligrams of sodium intake, but those with high blood pressure should drop their consumption to under 1,500 milligrams. Beware of restaurant meals and packaged foods that are often dangerously high in salt.

Eliminate trans fats and limit saturated fat. Avoid red meats high in saturated fat such as lamb, beef and venison, and meats high in sodium such as bacon and ham. New York City registered dietitian Willow Jarosh explains that trans fats are "especially bad because too much can lower your HDL ['good'] cholesterol and raise your LDL—a double whammy to your heart health."

Maintain the correct balance and portions of a heart-healthy diet. Make fresh fruits and vegetables staples of your meals. Focus on eating mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Include tofu, beans, fish and lean meats for protein, and whole grains for nutritious carbohydrates. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli; don't make meat the main course of any meal.
Source: USA Medical

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How to Maintain Marble Floors

February 7, 2017 1:18 am

(Family Features)--Veins of color and unique patterns give marble tile a truly stunning appearance. However, maintaining that elegance may seem anything but effortless.

Common advice cautions against using vinegar, bleach, ammonia or other general-purpose cleaners, while taking care to prevent scratches from the wheels of an old vacuum or basic sand and dirt is paramount. With all these rules, it may seem impractical to care for a marble floor, but once you understand the basics, it’s actually quite simple.

Know the difference between etches and stains. “Marble is porous and can stain when it absorbs liquids,” says Jacqueline Tabbah, vice president of the family-owned stone restoration company International Stoneworks in Houston.

Stains can discolor marble and have a dark appearance; they are oftentimes caused by kitchen grease or makeup and lotions.

An etch mark is a chemical corrosion of the surface layer of the stone caused by the acids found in most household cleaners and in substances like tomato sauce, lemon juice and alcohol. Etch marks are often most visible at an angle, when they appear duller and less shiny than the surrounding surface.

If a spot is lighter than the surrounding stone, it’s most likely an etch mark. If a spot is darker than the surrounding stone, it’s probably a stain.

To remove stains, use a poultice, which you can buy at a hardware store. Spread it on the stain then cover the area with plastic wrap, holding it down with painter’s tape. The next day, remove the plastic, allow the poultice to dry completely and gently wipe it up. If the stain is still there but noticeably lighter, repeat the procedure. If it’s just as bad as it was, it will only come out with the help of a professional restorer. Etch marks can usually be prevented by wiping up spills immediately and using the right cleaners.

Be careful what you use to clean. Acids are the main enemy of calcitic marbles. Avoid cleaners containing vinegar or citrus, as well as abrasive powders and creams, which can scratch softer stones. Strong household cleaners like toilet bowl cleaner, metal cleaner or oven cleaners can cause irreparable etching or permanent color changes in stone.

Tabbah recommends a cleaner with a pH level of at least 7 or 8, or buying one that specifically mentions marble.

Mop carefully. “A microfiber mop is the main line of defense for your marble floor,” says Tom Workman, owner of Floor Cleaning Experts, a Florida company that cleans and restores commercial and residential floors.

A dry microfiber mop draws in dry hair and dirt. For deeper cleaning, saturate the mop with water. The thin microfibers have tiny triangular wedges that lift grease and oil as the mop glides across the floor. The small amount of water won’t stain your marble.

Soften water in showers. “If you have hard water, a water softener is a must,” Workman says.

Mineral deposits build up slowly but surely, requiring professional honing and polishing to remove. If you don’t use a water softener, leave the vent fan on after showering and squeegee the walls after use.

Use a doormat. Place a mat outside your front door and another mat or rug inside. They’ll absorb dirt and sand before it gets to your marble floors.

Source: naturalstoneinstitute.org/consumers/care.

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Save Energy This Winter

February 6, 2017 1:18 am

Regardless of how cool or warm you like your home to feel, you probably like to save on heating bills.  Below are a handful of simple tips you can use to save energy and money this winter, courtesy of the Florida Power & Light Company.

Start at 68 – If you need to heat your home, set your thermostat to 68 degrees with the fan set to "auto" and be sure to turn off your heat when you leave. Every degree below 68 saves you five percent on heating costs.

Check your filters – Clean or replace your air conditioner filter regularly (approximately each month) to help your unit operate more efficiently.

Keep warm air in – Seal doors and windows with weatherstripping or caulk, which helps prevent warm air from leaking out.

Harness the sun – Make sure your south-facing windows are clean and open those curtains during the day to heat your home with the sun.

Lower your water heater temperature – Set your water heater temperature at 115 to 120 degrees to conserve energy. Shortening your showers helps, too!

Source: FPL.com/wintertips.

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How is Your Financial Fitness?

February 6, 2017 1:18 am

The gym isn’t the only area you can work on your fitness. How about your finances? The following financial wellness tips, courtesy of CFP, can help you save more, all year long.

Create a budget: Creating a budget is a simple way to determine how best to spend your money. Start by reconciling last year's expenditures and creating a list of necessary payments. Giving yourself a "cheap month," such as spending $100 a week, can help define your needs. In addition, working with your spouse or partner can help identify a realistic budget and prevent overspending.

Put yourself first: Spending too much on adult children, parents and other family members can jeopardize your long-term financial situation. Having children live within a budget will force more careful spending while teaching a valuable lesson. For adult dependents, spend carefully; you can't take care of others if you haven't taken care of yourself.

Maximize benefits: Take full advantage of your existing benefits package, such as your 401(k) or retirement plan. For a 401(k), make sure to maximize your investment by matching your employer's contribution. If you operate within individual funds, rebalance your 401(k) account periodically. Establishing a dollar cost averaging arrangement – investing set amounts at regular intervals regardless of the financial climate – for a new account, such as a Roth IRA or 529 plans, can also increase your savings.

Know yourself: Many people have chronic issues of overspending or mismanaging debt. Developing smart habits can improve your finances. If you fail to prudently spend with credit cards, cut them up. If you struggle to meet basic payments, round up to the nearest whole number on larger expenses. For example, if your car payment is $375, plan on spending $400 per month.

Big or small, everyone can take steps to improve their financial well-being.  

Source: www.CFP.net  

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How to Make Your Valentine’s Flowers Last Longer

February 3, 2017 1:09 am

Fresh flowers can brighten anyone’s day – and that goes for men as well as women! Of the 110 million roses purchased each Valentine’s Day, 75 per cent are bought by men, according to Teleflora, one of the largest purveyors of fresh flowers delivered nationwide. But the number of women buying flowers for their loved ones is rising every year.

With proper care, most fresh flowers should last for seven to 10 days. So man or woman, if you receive a bouquet this February 14, revel in the fact that someone loves you – and keep those flowers looking fresh as long as possible by following these five Teleflora tips:

Feed them – That little packet of ‘life extender’ material that comes with so many delivered flowers is mostly composed of sugar. Use it if you have it. If not, add a nourishing teaspoon of sugar or an aspirin (not ibuprofen) to the vase after you fill it with water.

Water them – Fresh flowers drink a lot of water, and some are thirstier than others, so check the water level daily and keep the vase filled.

Nip the stems – Every two or three days, remove each flower and cut off an inch or so of the stem. Cut it an angle to ensure it absorbs the most water and toss out any discolored petals or buds that have fallen below the water line.

Display them in a cool spot – Cut flowers don’t like direct sunlight, so choose your display spot with that in mind.

Refresh them – After three or four days, remove the flowers, rinse the vase and refill it with room temperature water. Add sugar or an aspirin to keep bacteria from growing, and rearrange the flowers in it, discarding any blooms that have wilted.

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A Total Body Approach to a New You

February 3, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--New Year’s resolutions typically focus on reactive goals like losing weight or getting back into that workout routine. However, thinking about resolutions in a more proactive, long-term way can give you more motivation and the willpower to stick with it.

A commitment to proactive total body care, including these tips from Massage Envy, can keep your body and mind tuned up, allowing you to do more of what you love in 2017 and beyond.

Feel confident by upping your skincare
Skin is an organ – the body’s largest organ, in fact. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to it. Regular skincare can help you feel good on the outside by reversing signs of aging, improving skin tone and texture, moisturizing skin and reducing blemishes and breakouts, and better on the inside, as feeling good about how your skin looks can boost your confidence.

A daily hydrating moisturizer with SPF does double duty to protect and hydrate. Regular facials that cater to your skin’s unique needs can also help minimize wrinkles, cleanse pores, encourage skin cell renewal and improve overall tone and texture.

Live happier and stress free
The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. Spending time with friends, meditating and practicing mindfulness can help, but there are also physical ways to soothe stress. A quick walk can do wonders for clearing your head, and a single massage session can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, relax your muscles and increase the production of endorphins, your body's natural "feel good" chemical. Stress relief is one of the benefits of regular massage therapy, and a key component for anyone trying to achieve a lifestyle that gives them the freedom to do more of what they love.

Veg out on the good stuff
A healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, feel good and boost your body’s immunity so you can stay well. Occasionally, indulging your sweet tooth or salty cravings is OK, but to really take care of your body, leading health-focused agencies recommend piling your plate high with colorful fruits and veggies, lean meats like chicken and fish, and whole grains.

If you started off with a commitment to eating better in the New Year, push hard to stick to it. Before long, you’ll find yourself automatically making smarter choices when it comes to mealtime, and when you put good fuel in your body, you get better results.

Source: MassageEnvy.com  

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3 Things to Say “Yes” to This Year

February 3, 2017 1:09 am

As we struggle through our day-to-day routines, it can feel like we’re stuck in a wheel of negativity. Get out of this slump by saying yes more often. Read on for three things to say “yes!” to this year.

Social time. Your coworker asks you to go to an impromptu happy hour, your childhood friend invites you to a last-minute weekend girl’s getaway, or a mother of your child’s friend invites you in for tea when you had just planned to drop your kid and run. Many of us say no to social invites that our out of our normal routine and comfort zone. But by doing so, we’re closing ourselves off to new experiences and the brain boost that comes from face-to-face time. Say yes to more social invites and you may find your life feels fuller, and more fun.

Giving time. Does your friend need help moving or organizing a charity walk? Say yes when they ask if you can pitch in. Giving back is a great way to boost your spirits, and donating your time is just as valuable as making monetary contributions. The next time you hear of an opportunity to give back, answer with a big fat yes.

Travel time. Leaving the comfort of our own home expands our view of the world and makes us feel more fulfilled. The next time you’re invited on an outing, say yes, and then figure out how you can afford it. Can you sell some of the used items sitting in your basement? Rent out an extra bedroom in your home? Do some pet sitting? Cut back a few luxuries, like that weekly manicure or daily latte? If you commit, you will find a way to make it happen. Of course, it’s important to only commit to things in reason. A long weekend at the beach that may cost $500 is doable. A cruise to Europe that will set you back $3,000? Maybe not so much.

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Experts Tap Top Anticipated Home Design Trends For 2017

February 3, 2017 1:09 am

I recently reported on a number of cool innovations being presented at the 2017 CES. But the new year also heralds predictions and previews from hundreds of sources about the top home design trends for 2017.
At housebeautiful.com, Brie Dyas is digging mixing antique with modern elements. And she is expecting to see more furnishings scaled or custom made for the space they are intended to occupy to avoid the overstuffed feeling that larger furniture pieces can bring to even large airy spaces.

Heidi Caillier who is based in Seattle tells decorist.com that designers will be promoting much more "maximalism" in 2017. Gone are the super clean, plain, unadorned rooms of the past few years, she says. Lines remain clean but prints are layered in and colors pop. More is more and it's super fun.

Caillier says designers will be seeing green in all tones popping up in small doses such as in accessories and objets and also in larger upholstered pieces.

Kelsey Kloss, writing for elledecor.com, also says cheery shades of green will be everywhere around the home in 2017 as Pantone's Color Of The Year, "Greenery" takes center stage on the design palette representing refreshment and revitalization. She also predicts butterfly motifs - symbolizing grace and optimism - showing up all around the home this year.

Vogue's Monique Valeris syas weaving texture into interior designs will make spaces more inviting as the idea of mixing fabrics and materials will be on the rise. And her sources say that the new year will include an emphasis on uniquely crafted furniture, quirky lighting fixtures, and the natural clean combination of marble and brass will be popping up in both kitchens and baths in 2017.

And finally, Mitchell Parker of the Houzz editorial staff says laundry rooms in particular are seeing more love. Design tricks to bring in more light, smarter storage and better function resonate with homeowners who realize that since they spend a lot of time doing laundry.

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How to Enhance Your Outdoor Living Space

February 3, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--No matter the season or the region, outdoor living is more popular than ever, as homeowners look to "bring the indoors out" and create spaces that are true extensions of the home. The newest designs in outdoor living spaces do not simply feature the look of the indoors, but the functionality as well.

"Advances in all-weather materials have made it possible for homeowners to enjoy more and more of their favorite activities outside," says Adam Zambanini, vice president of marketing for Trex Company. "The movement toward 'outdoor rooms' has evolved into fully functional outdoor kitchens and entertainment centers that make it even more difficult to determine where the indoors end and the outdoors begin."

Regardless of the size of your deck – or budget – these simple tips from the experts at Trex can add interior function to your outdoor oasis:

Absolute Al Fresco
While grilling and al fresco dining are longtime hallmarks of backyard entertaining, outdoor kitchens are now finally living up to their name. From storing seat cushions to keeping drinks cold, today's outdoor kitchen accessories can make outdoor spaces look as put-together as the rest of the home.

Railing Redefined
Even railings have taken on a more functional role in today's backyards. One of the most popular trends is "cocktail railing," which provides a flat surface for drinks and plates. By using a matching deck board to create a shelf for the top rail, you can achieve a look that complements your home's deck, while making great use of space.

Lights, Please
Lighting is another "bright" idea for adding versatility to the outdoors. Lighting systems that incorporate deck lighting and other exterior lighting work together to create ambiance that can be adjusted for any setting. By choosing which outdoor elements to highlight, it's easy to change the look of an outdoor living space without moving any furniture.

Connection Protection
The idea of enjoying a favorite show or movie outdoors has always been enticing, but not exactly practical. However, with advancements in both equipment and equipment storage, enjoying the big screen experience in the great outdoors has never been easier. Electronics manufacturers now offer televisions and entertainment equipment specifically designed for the outdoors, taking into consideration differences in lighting and outdoor acoustics. Meanwhile, storage options now include durable, wall-mounted television and entertainment centers that beautifully conceal and protect pricey electronics from the elements.

Material Matters
Just because people are spending more time on their decks doesn't mean they're willing to put in extra hours for maintenance. Wood alternatives, particularly wood-plastic composites, are especially popular due to their low-maintenance features. Unlike wood, composite decking resists fading, staining, scratching and mold – and won't rot, warp, crack or splinter. No sanding, staining or painting is required, and food and drink spills wash off easily with soap and water. The latest generation of composite decking also features wood-grain patterns and rich, saturated colors that look and feel more natural than ever before.

Source: trex.com

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5 Steps For Easy Entertaining

February 3, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--Hosting a large group of family and friends can be overwhelming, especially if entertaining isn’t something you do often. No matter the occasion, these tips can help you avoid common party pitfalls so you can keep the focus on having fun.

Offer an assortment. Rather than attempting to plan the menu around a wide range of likes, dislikes, allergies and other considerations, simply create a menu that satisfies everyone’s cravings. If you’re serving a buffet, provide a mix of hot and cold dishes in a variety of tastes and textures. For a plated meal, offer several robust sides so if the main dish misses the mark for one or two guests, there’s no chance of anyone going hungry.

Create a beverage cart. The kitchen is likely to be a hotbed of activity, but setting up a remote beverage cart can help redirect some of that traffic. A cart or table with multiple shelves is ideal. Stock the cart with an ice bucket and tongs; garnish such as lemons, limes, olives and cherries; and an assortment of glasses. Offer a couple of bottled beers on ice (one light and one with a bolder flavor), at least one white and one red wine, and a couple of liquors that work with a wide array of mixers, such as vodka and rum. Round out the cart with a few mixers, including fruit juice so non-drinkers can enjoy mocktails as well.

Never compromise on wine. Lots of times, guests have wildly different tastes in wine and it can seem impossible to select a couple bottles that everyone will like. If you want to please everyone but worry you’ll end up with a stash of partially poured bottles, there is an alternative to pulling all those corks. The Coravin Wine System lets you serve wine without removing the cork, allowing your guests to pour as much or as little wine as they like (you can save the rest or what’s left for another day).

Plan ahead for refills. Clear as much space as possible in the refrigerator for extras so you can easily replenish anything that runs out. Make extra pitchers of punch, and have bowls of popular items ready to replace as needed. For warm items, use the warming feature on your oven to hold dishes at serving temperatures, or simply leave the oven off and contain the precooked dishes’ warmth.

Remember to enjoy yourself. Your guests can easily sense when you’re frazzled or stressed, so plan ahead and get all your preparations completed well before anyone arrives. Then you’ll be ready to mingle, visit and set a warm and inviting tone for an event that everyone can enjoy.

Source: coravin.com.

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Want a Better Brain? Get Some Zzzz’s

February 2, 2017 1:09 am

We’ve heard it over and over again, but a new scientific report by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) stresses the relation between getting 7 – 8 hours sleep a day and maintaining your brain’s health as you age.  

While the AARP Sleep and Brain Health Survey found that 99 percent of adults age 50-plus believe that sleep is important for their brain health, more than four in 10 (43 percent) say they don't get enough sleep. Additionally, more than half (54 percent) of adults report they wake up too early in the morning and can't get back to sleep.  

"We know how many questions adults have about how much sleep is enough, and the role that sleep plays in brain health and cognitive function," says Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, professor of Neurology and director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. "This report answers a lot of these questions."

The new recommendations cover a wide range of sleep-related issues, including common factors that can disrupt sleep, symptoms of potential sleep disorders, and prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids. Based on the scientific evidence, the GCBH report offers the following tips for better sleep:

- Get up at the same time every day, seven days a week.

- Restrict fluids and food three hours before going to bed to help avoid disrupting your sleep to use the bathroom.

- Avoid using OTC medications for sleep because they can have negative side effects, including disrupted sleep quality and impaired cognitive functioning.

- Dietary supplements such as melatonin may have benefits for some people, but scientific evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Be particularly cautious of melatonin use with dementia patients.

- Avoid long naps; if you must nap, limit it to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

I hope you found this information helpful. For more helpful tips, contact me today!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Protect Your Family in 2017

February 2, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--Protecting your family and loved ones is one of your most important responsibilities. Many people think It is dif cult to protect loved ones if you are not healthy about protection in terms of physical acts, such as yourself. Make sure you receive proper preventive care, practicing safe driving, but there are many more such as regular health screenings and check-ups that are aspects of your lifestyle and home that affect your loved recommended for your gender and age. Find a checklist of ones’ safety.

Protect your family’s financial health

Although it can be painful to consider, your untimely death may leave your family reeling. Life insurance can help cover funeral costs, child care or act as income replacement. It can also help pay off any loans you’ve accrued, such as a home mortgage, car payment, credit card debt or student loans.

Ensure your family is breathing safe air

One threat you may not be aware of is radon, a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment but can create significant health consequences in anyone exposed to unsafe levels.

Radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that can go undetected in homes until it is too late. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among non-smokers in America, and claims the lives of nearly 21,000 Americans each year.

Protect the home of your loved ones

There are over 2 million burglaries annually in the United States, according to FBI statistics. Home security systems can help put your mind at ease, and having a security system can also decrease the premiums you pay for monthly homeowner’s insurance. Studies have shown that homes with a security system see a 39 percent decrease in financial loss compared to homes with no security system.

Safeguard your family from hazards

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that two-thirds of home related deaths result from homes with either no smoke alarms or non-working smoke alarms. Batteries wear out and may be taken out to cease persistent beeping then never replaced. Smoke alarms should be in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area and on each level of your home.

Source: MyExamOne.com.

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3 Communication Tips to Help You Listen Better

February 2, 2017 1:09 am

Are you having trouble communicating with your partner, friends, or colleagues? Do you forget what your friend just told you only minutes after the conversation ended. In a world geared toward multitasking, it can be hard to drop fully into a conversation and just listen. Below are three tips to help you be more present in your conversations.

Ask questions. Don’t just smile and nod. Make your conversation partner feel more heard by asking questions that are relative to what they’re saying. Ask for more details to dig deeper and listen fully.

Repeat what you heard. Every few minutes, repeat what you heard so you know you’re retaining prevalent information. This will also help you avoid accidental miscommunications.

Wait to offer a solution. When we’re listening to a friend with a problem, our go-to response is often to fill silence with a solution. But sometimes, people just need to feel heard and understand. You can even ask your friend if they’re looking for a solution or just space to vent.

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On the Job: How to Get More Done Each Day

February 1, 2017 1:09 am

It happens to the best of us. You look at the rising list of emails in your inbox, the blinking light on your phone, the increasing number of unread texts, and panic sets in. You’ll never catch up, let alone get ahead.

Believe it or not, some simple adjustments in your daily habits can yield a more productive day and let you get a handle on your workload again. Try these:

Close your email. If you need to focus on getting a project done, close your email. The constant distraction of emails popping in diverts you from a task that might otherwise take no time at all.

Put your landline and your mobile on do not disturb. You can take an hour off from constant connection and get some real work done in the process.

Pop in your headphones. Today’s open work space environment often comes with frequent chatter and background noise, so plugging in to some relaxing music can help you stay focused on your work. Alternatively, hunker down in an available conference room or quiet lounge area. The change of scenery will remotivate you as well.

Pause and focus. Sometimes our worst enemy is our own mental distraction—issues at home, errands we need to run at lunch, what to make for dinner... Take a pause, take three deep breaths and focus in on the task at hand. Repeat this practice every time your inner chatter takes over.

Work from home. If you’re under a really big deadline, take a day and work from home, provided that’s not an even more distracting environment.

Tack on an hour before or after work. If you’re a morning person, getting in an hour early before your coworkers arrive and while your mind is at its sharpest can result in super productivity. Conversely, maybe you’re really foggy in the morning, but sharper once the sun goes down. If that’s the case, get in later and stay later.

While these strategies may seem simplistic, they actually can yield unbelievable results, turning overwhelming tasks into happy checkmarks on your to-do list.
 

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Protect Your Kids at Home

February 1, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--Every year, more than 2,200 children die from injuries that occur at home, according to estimates from Safe Kids Worldwide. While every parent knows that accidents can and do happen, there are many areas of the home where some preventive steps can help reduce the risk. Go throughout your home to check for these common risk factors and implement corrective actions based on advice from the experts at Safe Kids.

Kitchen

Although it may be tempting to hold a fussy child while working in the kitchen, a safer alternative is a high chair where they can see all the action but be safely out of harm’s way. Place the chair or seat on the floor to avoid possible toppling from atop a counter or furniture, and use the provided straps as instructed to prevent falls and strangulation hazards.

Keep pan handles turned inward, out of reach of little hands, and before opening the oven door, ensure little ones are a safe distance away, putting your own body between the child and the oven so you can prevent any sudden lunges.

Use the rear burners when possible and keep dishes filled with hot food out of reach on counters or table tops.

Bathroom

Always check the water temperature before placing a child in the bathtub. Remember that small children cannot tolerate the same level of heat that many adults enjoy.

Use a minimal amount of water in the tub, as drowning can occur in as little as a couple of inches. Drain the tub as soon as you are finished.

Reduce access to other water sources by closing toilet lids and keeping bathroom and laundry room doors closed.

Immediately unplug and store items such as hair dryers, curling irons and straight irons, which can retain heat long after being turned off and pose an added strangulation danger with dangling cords.

Keep medication out of reach and always use the intended dosing devices. Common kitchen spoons vary greatly, so using these to measure a medication may be imprecise and result in over or under medicating.

Living Areas

Prevent window falls and injuries by installing window guards and stops.  

Eliminate dangling cords from blinds, either by hooking cords out of reach or using an alternative window covering.

When possible, place heavy items on low, sturdy furniture and use safety brackets, braces and wall straps to attach furniture and large items like TVs to the wall to prevent tipping.

Stairs

Use safety gates at the top and bottom of staircases to prevent falls. Ensure gates are securely attached on both sides and review manufacturer instructions to verify gates are constructed for their intended use. For example, not all gates are intended for use at the top of stairs and may give way under pressure.

Pantry/Garage

Products containing harmful chemicals, such as cleaners, should be stored out of reach, but also out of sight to avoid temptation.

Keep products in their original containers, which include instructions for proper use and guidance on what do to if ingested, rubbed in eyes, etc. This also helps ensure items are not mistaken for something else and used dangerously.

Source: eLivingToday.com.

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3 Ways to Clear Clutter Daily

February 1, 2017 1:09 am

Do you look around your living space at the end of the busy work week and think “what happened?” Piles of mail, dirty laundry and dishes are lurking around every corner. Between work and family, it can be hard to carve out the time to clear clutter. Below are 3 tips to manage clutter daily.

Make a clutter clearing playlist. At the end of the day, choose one or two songs, put them on, and do a surface clean. Put the laundry away, empty the dishwasher, clear the kitchen table. By the time your chosen tracks are up—roughly 6 to 8 minutes—your place will look a lot better, and so will your mental state.

Set yourself up for success. By having designated areas for the items that end up laying around, you will be more likely to put things away properly. Have a basket for mail that needs opening, a bin for shoes by the front door, and a station for things like keys, headphones and change that gets dumped for your pockets when you walk in.

Enlist help. Do you have a roommate, spouse, or kids? Get them to pitch in every night after dinner and clear the day’s clutter before relaxing in front of the TV or with a book.

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Building a Home? Do This, Not That

January 31, 2017 1:09 am

Which home designs will yield the best results in terms of lifestyle and value? According to D.C.-area homebuilder, Miller & Smith, the following trends will change the way we occupy our living space. From technology innovations to creative ways to bring the outdoors in, the following do’s and don’ts serve as a great guideline for your living environment.

Do – Bring the outdoors in
Don’t – Keep it out
Whether it’s entertaining fireside on your patio or enjoying a rooftop sunset, today’s new homes are equipped with unique features that make it easier to become one with nature.  

Do – Go hybrid
Don’t – Stick with one style

Gone are the days of picking one design for your home’s interior. Today’s homeowners are creating their own unique aesthetic by mixing and matching modern and traditional design choices, rather than implementing one style across the board.

Do – Create multi-purpose space
Don’t – Stick to one room, one use

Instead of rooms that are relegated to one function or setting, today’s floorplans feature rooms meant for multiple purposes, multiple guests and multiple generations.

Do – Go open air
Don’t – Define spaces

Tear down those walls! Instead of limiting a room to a confined space, opt for a free-flowing floor plan that connects organically, and makes moving and living much easier.

Do – Hide features in the walls
Don’t – Take up space

Many new homes feature speakers, televisions and other items built right into walls and ceilings.  

Do – Connect your home with one device
Don’t – Get lost in a sea of remotes and gadgets

Instead of using multiple devices, the market’s most high-tech homes involve one central operating system and mobile platform.

Do – Make life easier and smarter
Don’t – Do it manually

New homes’ smart locks, keyless entry and other wireless features mean you never need to dig in your purse for your keys or remember which rock you hid your spare key under again.

Source: Miller & Smith

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4 Ways to Stretch Your Health Benefits

January 31, 2017 1:09 am

(Family Features)--Often, employees enroll in medical insurance plans for protection against unpredictable events, sudden illness or serious health concerns that may result in expensive medical bills. Getting the most from your benefits requires understanding coverages and deductibles, as well as taking advantage of voluntary benefits, like dental, vision and hearing, to stay healthy and save money.

Avoid surprises. About 91 percent of adults in the United States are confused about what their benefits cover, according to a recent Harris poll. The best starting point is to review your plan so you understand the care and services covered. If you have a high-deductible plan, you will need to pay for most or a percentage of the health costs until reaching the individual or family deductible. Be prepared to pay any copayments or deductibles the plan requires before receiving care. Also, before scheduling appointments, ask for a cost estimate for the appointment, tests or service.

Preventive dental and vision. Many voluntary plans, such as dental and vision, offer preventive exams, such as routine cleanings and vision exams, that are fully covered. That’s because these preventive exams help to maintain and improve overall health and help reduce health costs. Voluntary coverage is affordable and many plans offer added incentives. For example, coverage for LASIK, dental, vision and hearing benefits can increase from one year to the next for those who continue to enroll and use their benefits. Members could earn monetary rewards to use for dental, vision, LASIK, orthodontia and hearing benefits, care materials and services simply by using their benefits and keeping the benefits paid out under a specified amount.

Medical screenings. Routine health screenings, such as mammograms, immunizations, colonoscopy procedures and prostate cancer screenings, which may be covered fully or in part by your medical coverage, can help you stay healthy and lower health care costs.

Get paid to save. Many employers encourage employees to save money by matching a percentage of the amount the employee contributes to the plan. If available, enroll in a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account to set aside money to pay for health care costs.

Remember that these accounts are not a substitute for the coverage provided by voluntary benefits.

Source: ameritasinsight.com.

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5 Ways to Stick to Your Fitness Goals

January 31, 2017 1:09 am

Do you keep making fitness goals only to give up after a few months, weeks, or even days? You may be setting yourself up for failure. Read on for five ways to set yourself up for success with your fitness goals, whether they’re big or small.

Go to bed earlier. If you want an early morning wakeup or the energy for a post-work  workout, go to bed earlier to feel more rested in the morning.

Sleep in your workout clothes. This may seem a bit extreme, but for many, this tip is oddly helpful. Sleep in your gym shorts so you have one less step to take in the morning (after you hit the coffee pot, of course).

Enlist a buddy. Whether it’s a trainer, colleague or your best friend, having someone waiting for you at the gym or track will ensure you show up.

Pay yourself. Give yourself $1 or $2 for every workout you make, and subtract $1 or $2 for every one you miss. Save up for a dream vacation or a special splurge. Can’t seem to get this rolling? There are apps for that! Check your app store for fitness accountability apps.

Find a fun workout. If running seems worse to you than doing 10 straight hours of dishes, choose a different fitness activity. Do you enjoy yoga or swimming? Do that instead. By focusing on tasks you enjoy, you will be more likely to stick with it.

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Do You Live in One of America's Kindest Communities?

January 30, 2017 1:06 am

If you are looking to live in one of the nation's kindest communities, a recent WalletHub survey can help. WalletHub calculated the Most Caring Cities in America - comparing 100 of the largest U.S. markets across 32 key metrics, including “homelessness rate," “percentage of income donated to charity” and “special-education teachers per capita.” Some key points of the survey include:

- Memphis, Tenn., has the highest share of income donated to charity, 5.4 percent, which is 2.8 times higher than in Laredo, Texas, the city with the lowest at 1.9 percent.

- Virginia Beach, Va., has the most volunteering hours per capita, 45.9, which is 2.9 times more than in New Orleans, the city with the fewest at 16.0.

Milwaukee has the highest share of residents who do favors for neighbors, 20 percent, which is four times higher than in Phoenix, the city with the lowest at 5 percent.

Lexington, Ky., has the highest share of sheltered homeless persons, 98 percent, which is 4.1 times higher than in Fresno, Calif., the city with the lowest at 24 percent.

Fremont, Calif., has the lowest child-poverty rate, 6.2 percent, which is 9.2 times lower than in Detroit, the city with the highest at 57.1 percent.

Lincoln, Neb., has the most residents who work in community and social services per 100,000 residents, 1,164.79, which is 3.3 times more than in Las Vegas, the city with the fewest at 351.25.

The listing is not without its peculiar metric, however. For example, Pittsburgh, which ranked 9th best among the top 10 cities on the survey also came in as 6th worst in percentage of income donated to charity per capita. And every one of the bottom five cities with the lowest percentage of workers who carpool also made the top 20 of best overall cities for kindness and giving - perhaps a reflection on urban density or the quality of public transportation.

Check out where your city ranks on kindness and charitable giving at wallethub.com/edu/most-caring-cities/.

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4 Mantras You Can Use to Be Happier Today

January 30, 2017 1:06 am

Some days, keeping a smile on your face may be a struggle. Whether you’re dealing with a stressful career, medical issues, or just feeling weighed down by your daily routine, repeating positive mantras can help shift your mood—if you’re open to it.

Below are four helpful happy mantras to lift your mood.

You can do it. Whether you’re under a huge deadline for work or trying to finish that last mile on the treadmill, telling yourself that you can do it will make your success more likely. Be your own cheerleader!

Just breathe. Feeling overwhelmed? Remind yourself to breathe. Pair this mantra with big, deep inhalations to feel calmer and happier.

Thank you. Gratitude goes a long way, and can shift your perception of things (and the way people perceive you) if integrated into daily life. Be thankful of getting to work safely, even if you had a longer-than-usual commute. Be thankful you have the funds to buy groceries, even when your list of errands seems endless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

No judgements. This is easier said than done, especially in a world where other people’s lives are constantly popping into our news feeds. Annoyed at your co-worker’s cheesy engagement photos? Irritated that your college roommate seems to be traveling constantly, when you can’t even afford a staycation? Remind yourself to pay attention to your own life, and don’t judge or envy others for their choices.

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Welcoming a Puppy Home

January 30, 2017 1:06 am

(Family Features)--Nothing is more heartwarming than the first warm nuzzle from a new puppy. With new pets, however, come new responsibilities and opportunities, which can often lead to New Year’s resolutions involving new furry friends.

“No matter the season, it’s always a moving and emotional experience when a puppy finds a new home,” says Eran Cohen, chief customer experience officer at PetSmart. “Our passionate associates are available to help bring pet parents closer to their pets so they can live more fulfilled lives.”

To help puppy parents welcome their pets home – and keep New Year’s commitments – PetSmart, the largest specialty pet retailer across North America, offers this expert advice on nutrition, socialization, essentials and health care to help keep pets happy and healthy.

Find a Veterinarian
A veterinarian should be your first call if your puppy gets into something that could potentially harm him or her. Vets are also great resources to keep you up-to-date on puppy care, like vaccination timing. Use a tool like the free askPETMD app, available in the Apple App and Google Play stores, to find a veterinarian near you.

ID Your Pet
While pets are getting acclimated to their home, and with people going in and out, it can be easy for them to slip out a door. Be prepared in case they embark on an unplanned journey around the neighborhood. To ensure you are reunited, outfit your pup with proper ID, including a personalized ID tag.  

Pup-Proof Your Home
Dogs love to chew, whether it’s on shoes or something more dangerous like wiring or extension cords. To protect them and promote positive chewing experiences, use toys or treats to occupy their time and allow them to chew safely. It’s also important to place household products like trash, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies out your pup’s reach.

Give Puppies Their Own Space
According to a survey commissioned by PetSmart and conducted by Wakefield Research, 47 percent of U.S. dog owners let their puppy sleep in bed with them seven nights per week. However, when it’s time for puppies to rest on their own, a puppy crate can perform double duty, providing puppies their own area away from stressors to nap and serving as a structure that promotes potty training.

Give Your Dog Time to Acclimate
Socialization is critical during a pup’s early years. While everyone may be ready to meet the new member of your family, consider introducing them to one or two people at a time, so the puppy can get to know them and warm up to their scent.

Research Nutrition
It may be tempting to feed a puppy human food, but they require specially formulated food and often have different eating schedules than an adult dog. Do your research, read labels and ask questions. Consider leading natural pet lifestyle brands, like Only Natural Pet, which offer formulas such as Puppy Power Feast food, as well as a variety of treats.

Invest in Training
Consistent training is an important responsibility of a puppy parent. Dogs crave love and praise, and a properly trained pooch will better understand what’s expected of him or her. If necessary, get help from puppy training experts to help ensure all family members are able to live happily in one harmonious pack.

Source: PetSmart

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New Takes on Baby’s Room

January 27, 2017 1:06 am

If there’s a new baby coming to your house this year, you may be thinking about nursery room themes. If so, take heart from professional decorators, who say individual tastes are at the top of the list this year.

“While grey walls are popular, parents are choosing a variety of color schemes and themes these days, and gender is not a deciding factor,” according to California designer Allyson Becker.

From bright and playful to vintage cool, you may find inspiration from seven new moms who shared their design decisions with Parenting Magazine:

Nature’s bounty – Celebrate the great outdoors with grey walls and splashes of yellow, apricot and sage. Perfect for boys or girls, the scheme is easily carried out in baskets, area rugs, linens and window blinds.

Pink the modern way – If you want the room to look girly, but not too girly, stay with neutral walls, dark-colored furniture and soft pinks in the window coverings and rugs, livened up with a few hot pink accents.

Mellowed yellow – Perfect for either gender, a focus on yellow can be ‘tweaked’ with accents of aqua, grey or pale peach in the wall décor and window treatments.

Easy as ABC – Choose white or any neutral color for the walls and hang a set of colorful alphabet cards, classroom style, around the walls. Finish the décor in primary colors taken directly from the cards.

Off the wall – Start by choosing a children’s wallpaper pattern that delights you. Cover one wall with it, and use it as a springboard for selecting the wall color, rugs, lamps, and other accents appropriate to the wallpaper’s theme.

Chalk it up – Paint one wall with chalkboard paint, which actually becomes a canvas for baby when he or she is old enough to "paint" with chalk. Because the slate color is dark, accent the room with light, bright pastel hues.

Go on safari – The easy availability of giant-sized stuffed giraffes, elephant-shaped clothes hampers, and other safari animal accents makes this a solid design choice. Go ‘wild’ with color choices or stick with neutral. The theme is fun either way.

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How to Lower Your Chance of Heart Disease

January 27, 2017 1:06 am

As Americans age, their risk of heart disease grows. However, your rick heart disease can be thwarted with proper dietary care.  USA Medical offers the following three diet tips from the American Diabetes Association, whose community has a higher risk of heart disease:

Limit sodium intake. Excessive sodium in a diet increases the risk for heart disease. The federal daily recommendation allows up to 2,300 milligrams of sodium intake, but those with high blood pressure should drop their consumption to under 1,500 milligrams. Beware of restaurant meals and packaged foods that are often dangerously high in salt

Eliminate trans fats and limit saturated fat. Avoid red meats high in saturated fat such as lamb, beef and venison, and meats high in sodium such as bacon and ham. New York City registered dietitian Willow Jarosh explains that trans fats are "especially bad because too much can lower your HDL ['good'] cholesterol and raise your LDL—a double whammy to your heart health."   

Maintain the correct balance and portions of a heart-healthy diet. Make fresh fruits and vegetables staples of your meals.  Focus on eating mono- and polyunsaturated fats.  Include tofu, beans, fish and lean meats for protein, and whole grains for nutritious carbohydrates.  Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli; don't make meat the main course of any meal.
SOURCE: USA Medical

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Yes, You Should Protect Your Child From Identity Theft

January 27, 2017 1:06 am

Many grown Americans take necessary precautions to protect themselves from identity theft. However, not everyone thinks about protecting their child from the same situation.

While child identity theft is not as common as identity theft among adults, it is still a risk. One in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised, according to the most recent survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group (2012).

All it takes is a Social Security number – often applied for at birth – which can be paired with a different name, birth date and address to apply for credit. This is called a synthetic identity. And, for nearly 18 years, there is typically little risk of detection.

According to PNC, other warning signs your child may be a victim include:

- Notification by the IRS of unpaid taxes in your child's name.

- Notification that a child's Social Security number was used on another tax return.

- Receiving collection calls for a minor child

- Receiving bills in a child's name for products or services not ordered or delivered.

- Declined for government benefits because benefits already are being paid to another account using the child's Social Security number.

Parents can be proactive in protecting their child from identity theft:

- Never carry your child's (or your) Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Keep it in a safe place, where it is not at risk of being stolen.

- Pay attention to forms from schools, doctor offices and others asking for personally identifiable information about your child. Opt out if you can or use the last four digits only.

- Shred all documents that show your child's personally identifiable information before throwing them away, just as you do for your own documents.

Most importantly: Request a credit report for your child annually, using the child's Social Security number for reference. Every individual is entitled to one free copy of their credit report once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. If there is no credit history on record, then typically the child has not fallen prey to identity thieves.  If there is a credit history for a minor child, he/she has mostly likely become a victim.

Source: http://www.pnc.com

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Do Generations Work Differently?

January 26, 2017 1:06 am

As more millennials enter the workforce and boomers choose later retirements, multi-generational work teams are the norm. But do workers of different ages work differently, and if so, how?CFOs in a Robert Half Management Resources survey said they see the greatest generational differences in employees' communication skills, ability to adapt to change and technical abilities. Only 7 percent of executives noted there are no differences.

Communication style: Baby boomers tend to be more reserved, while Gen Xers favor a control-and-command style, the research indicates. Conversely, Gen Yers prefer a more collaborative approach to communication, and Gen Zers prize in-person interactions.

Change management: According to the research, Gens X and Y tend to see change as a vehicle for new opportunities, while Gen Z is accustomed to change and expects it in the workplace.

Technical skills: When it comes to building their abilities, employer-backed training is expected by all workers. Baby boomers and Gen Xers most value traditional instructor-led courses or self-learning tools; millennials, which include Generations Y and Z, prefer collaborative and technology-centric options.

Robert Half Management Resources offers five tips for managing a multigenerational workforce:

- Don't overthink it. Start with the understanding that everyone wants to do a good job and help the company. This commonality lays a strong foundation for relationship-building.

- Customize your style. Staff possess common attributes, but they also have individual needs. Tailor your management for each person's strengths, personality and aspirations.

- Go off-site. Host team-building events outside the office to give employees a chance to get to know each other in a different setting.

- Let newer professionals take the lead. Institute reverse mentorships, where less-seasoned staff advise and share their insights with veteran colleagues. Also invite team members from all generations to share their unique areas of expertise.

- Mix and match project teams. Put together groups with complementary skills and diverse perspectives. This can prompt innovation and new problem-solving techniques.

Source: Robert Half Management Resources

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Black Ice, Snow and More: How-to Stay Safe on Winter Roads

January 26, 2017 1:06 am

Winter is often the worst time to be on the road. From freezing temperatures to hidden patches of ice and flurries of snow, driving in a winter wonderland can be dangerous. In order to help drivers appropriately weather the winter storms, Meemic Insurance has compiled a list of five safety tips to help avoid accidents and keep the roads safe:

Keep your gas tank at a safe level – preferably half-full or higher. Because the roads are so unpredictable, you never know what you might come across. The last thing you'd want is to run out of gas with below freezing temperatures.

Maintain slow speed when accelerating and decelerating. This is the best method to use in order to avoid unpredictable sliding and regaining traction with your tires in slippery conditions.

Make sure your vehicle servicing is up-to-date. Regularly checking your vehicle for any potential problems will keep everything in tune and running properly amidst wintery conditions. Focus on parts of your vehicle that are typically affected by cold weather such as tire pressure, battery life, break lines and more.

Bundle up and prepare your vehicle for the elements. In case your vehicle would break down in the winter, it's crucial to keep useful materials on hand. Stow away blankets, hats, gloves and warm clothing to ensure safety from biting temperatures. Snow brushes, flashlights, jumper cables and shovels are also important tools that can keep you out of danger in the event of a slide off or accident.

If you don't need to be somewhere, stay home. This is ultimately the best decision to make in the middle of a winter weather advisory. It's always better to be safe than take unnecessary risks on dangerous road conditions.

Source: Meemic Insurance Company

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Do You Know Your Generator Safety?

January 26, 2017 1:06 am

Many homeowners have a backup generator in case of power outages. If you’re the proud owner of a genny, or are considering making a new purchase, Gilmore offers tips on how to practice safe generator use during power outages.

Buy the right generator. Make sure to get a generator rated for the amount of power you need. Pay attention to the electrical loads shown on labels of lighting, appliances, and your equipment that you plan on hooking up to the generator.

Hire an electrician to set up a generator safely. Hooking up a generator to the home can be challenging. Consider calling a professional that can set-up the appropriate equipment in the appropriate place at your home.

Beware of generator hazards. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic exhaust, electrocution, and fire. Never use a generator inside a house.

Install battery-operated CO alarms or plugins. If CO gas enters your home and poses a serious health risk, the alarms will sound to alert you.

Never use portable generators indoors. This includes an indoor garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, or any other partially enclosed areas of the home. Opening doors and windows will not prevent CO buildup inside of a home. The CO from generators can lead to death.

Keep generators away from openings. If you want to keep your windows open during a power outage, be sure to place portable generators at least ten feet away from windows, vents, and doors to prevent CO entering the home.

Let the generator cool down before refueling. If gas spills on a hot generator it could potentially ignite and cause a fire.

Plug appliances directly into the generator. Never try to power all appliances from a small extension cord that runs from the generator. If you use an extension cord, make use of a heavy duty, outdoor-related cord that is (in watts or amps) equal to the connected appliances.

Do not plug the generator into a wall outlet. A hazard known as "backfeeding" can occur. It presents extremely dangerous electrocution risks to any nearby utility workers and neighbors on the same transformer.

Source: www.gilmoreair.com.

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Sleep Tips for the Boss

January 25, 2017 1:03 am

Running a company or managing a fleet of employees is no easy task. Whether you’re up late working, or up late thinking about work, compromising your sleep is no way to be an effective leader.

To help combat work-related stress, Robert Half Finance & Accounting offers five tips for CFOs to mitigate work challenges and rest easier:  

Address issues as they arise. Workplace conflicts only get worse when ignored and avoided.

Set goals and timelines. Make the results you need to see from your staff clear, with deadlines and expected outcomes.

Recognize your team. Different people respond to varied motivational techniques, but everyone likes to hear when they're doing a good job. Don't hold back on genuine praise.

Evaluate your hiring strategy. In addition to having the necessary skill sets and fitting in with the corporate culture, great employees share a few qualities, including a can-do attitude, right-sized ego and sense of humor. Periodically refresh your recruiting plan to ensure you're attracting the right people.

Drive employee acquisition and retention. Finding skilled professionals when you need them can be stressful. But if you nurture a talent pipeline year-round, you'll be better equipped for the future.

Source: roberthalf.com/finance

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Are You Being Threatened by Collection Callers?

January 25, 2017 1:03 am

There's few things more embarrassing and troubling than a collection call. I recently learned an increasing number of those receiving collection calls are being bullied and intimidated by agents on the other end of the line.

In mid-January, a first of its kind Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) survey revealed  more than one-in-four consumers contacted by debt collection agencies felt threatened, and one in seven were sued in state court.

Shockingly - the CFPB found the about 75 percent of those sued do not go to their hearing, - generally making them responsible for the debt.

Melissa Stegman, Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Senior Policy Counsel recognized that an overwhelming majority of those in debt and being pursued by collectors are not in debt by choice, but due to unexpected job loss or serious illness.

Debt collectors generate more complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), CFPB, and many state Attorneys General than any other industry. And sadly, Stegman says, communities of color, lower-wealth families, service members, and older Americans are more likely to be harmed by these unscrupulous collection practices.  

CRL recently found that debt collectors frequently use state court to pursue Colorado residents, even when debt wasn't owed or where they lacked information to support a lawsuit. And 71 percent of these cases brought by four large debt buyers ended in a default judgment, meaning the consumer did not respond to the lawsuits and were legally stuck with the bill.

Lisa Stifler, CRL Deputy Director of State Policy said in a release that she has seen debt collectors lawsuits in state courts filed against the wrong person or for a debt not owed.

The CFPB also released a study of potential risks in the online debt marketplace, where consumer debts and personal information are for sale. This study found that most debts sold are at least five years old and 75 percent of those debts had previously been collected TWO or MORE times.

Review the entire CFPB study at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201701_cfpb_Debt-Collection-Survey-Report.pdf

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Can You Master the Art of Multitasking?

January 25, 2017 1:03 am

We’ve all done it: Finished an email while watching TV, doing chores while catching up with family on the phone. Multitasking can be an effective way to plow through your to-do list. Nearly 2 in 5 Americans (38 percent) feel they don't have enough time to complete household tasks, according to a recent Moen survey, conducted online by Harris Poll among more than 2,000 U.S. Adults. Below, Moen tells us how to multitask effectively.

Practice Prioritizing
More than half of Americans (59 percent) wish they could manage their time better throughout the day. Step one – learn how to prioritize. Determine the most important items on your list, then create a schedule that pairs complementary elements together. For example, while laundry is in the washer, use that time to vacuum, dust and mop. By the time you switch your clothes to the dryer, all your chores will be complete.

Use Your Mind and Body
While at home, nearly three quarters of Americans (71 percent) stated they usually multitask while watching TV and two thirds (67 percent) say they do so while cleaning.  By combining a physical task, like cleaning, with a mental one, such as making phone calls, you easily can check items off your list. Loading the dishwasher can be a tedious job, so why not make it an efficient chore by turning on your speaker phone and letting the conversation flow as you pre-rinse and load? Or, maximize time in the shower to make mental checklists or contemplate a challenge you're facing at the office.

Tap Into Technology
We live in the digital age, so it's no surprise that nearly three in five Americans (58 percent) use technology to multitask at home. Whether we're answering emails on our smartphones while stirring spaghetti sauce, or tapping away on our laptops during family movie night, tech tools make tackling several tasks at once super simple.

Don't let a busy schedule get the best of you. With a little effort, you can multitask your way to a completely crossed off to-do list.

Source: MOEN
 

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Tax Tips For Personal Injury Settlements

January 24, 2017 1:03 am

Like it or not, tax season is just around the bend. If you received a personal injury settlement or award this past year, it is important that you understand all the tax ramifications before filing your tax returns. Read the following helpful tips from Zanes Law.

Money for Pain and Suffering

The best way to look at the money that you are being paid for "pain and suffering" is that this is the actual money being paid to you for your physical injury.  Currently, according to the IRS compensation that a person is paid for physical injury is federal-income-tax-free. Compensation for emotional distress is also tax-free because it is considered to be part of your physical/personal injury.

Money for Medical Expenses

Money paid to you in order to cover your medical expenses is tax-free too. However, if you claim a tax deduction for accident related medical expenses and you are later reimbursed for those same medical expenses as part of your case, you must "recapture" that amount and will have to pay tax on it because you previously benefited from the deduction that you took.  If your settlement or award does not specifically allocate an amount for medical expenses and you previously took a tax deduction for your accident related medical expenses, the award or settlement is automatically considered to be a reimbursement for such expenses up to the amount of those expenses.  So the key here is the tax deduction.

Reimbursement for Lost Wages

Oddly enough, amounts paid for lost wages are federal-income-tax-free, even though the wages would have been taxable if you had received them.

What About Attorney's Fees?

You cannot deduct attorney fees incurred to collect a tax-free award or settlement for physical injury or sickness. In other words, no deductions are allowed for fees in order to collect tax-free compensation.

Source: http://zaneslaw.com/  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Brush up on Your Winter HVAC Performance Tips

January 24, 2017 1:03 am

The winter is the worst time to have your HVAC system fail. To keep everything running smoothly, follow the following five tips courtesy of Winstar Home Services.

Clean your home
Your home is a reflection of your ductwork, as dirt and debris in your air filter comes from dirt and debris in your home. Removing all dust, dirt and debris will help your air filters work more efficiently.

Change your air filter
A dirty filter can slow down airflow, causing your system to work harder to keep your home warm (which also means wasted energy and a higher utility bill). A clean filter will prevent dirt and debris from building up in the system, which helps limit expensive maintenance and avoid early system failure

Clean your outdoor HVAC unit
Take a few minutes to inspect the area around your outdoor unit. Leaves, shrubs and grass cuttings can build up on the outside of your HVAC unit, decreasing the system capacity and reducing airflow.

As a general rule, keep trees, shrubs and other outdoor elements at least two feet away from the unit so it is free to pull in air.

Seal any gaps in your home and ductwork
Inspect both the interior and exterior of your home's windows, air ducts, and exterior doors for any cracks or gaps and seal any exposures. Even a small gap can lead to warm air escaping your home, which translates into more wasted energy.

Examine your thermostat
Check to make sure your thermostat is working properly and keeping your home at the right temperature. If you still have an older mechanical thermostat, it is recommended to upgrade to digital, programmable model, as switching to a programmable thermostat can save you upwards of $200 a year.

Some new models even allow for remote operation via a cell phone, which are perfect for extremely low temperature days, since you can save energy by setting the temperature lower during the day (when your family is out of the home) and then changing it to a higher temperature before heading home.

Source: Winstar Home Services

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Creating your Get-out-of-Debt Plan

January 19, 2017 12:48 am

Consumer confidence is on the rise, which is great for our economy, but may mean more debt for many over-enthusiastic buyers. A recent poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) revealed that 80 percent of respondents have placed debt repayment at the top of their goal list this year. That’s encouraging news, but the question is where to start?

The NFCC offers these strategies for taking on the daunting task of paying down debt:

- Knowledge is power when it comes to managing debt, so start by examining every detail related to each debt: balances, transactions, interest, fees, terms and conditions. Don’t leave any stone unturned, and be sure to ask questions along the way. This will empower you to put the right plan in place.

- Pick up the pace. High interest rates and lengthy repayment schedules are a costly combination, so make plans to accelerate the payoff of balances so they cost less over time. The key is to pay more than the minimum whenever possible.

- There is always a way.  If there is no extra money to be found for paying down debt faster, reach out to trusted sources who can help you uncover some solutions. Start with the lender to see what programs they may offer, but also work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency to help you brainstorm possibilities for affordably managing your debt. These experts will have ideas that you never thought of, so take advantage of their services.

Remember, repaying debt can be a very long process, especially when it involves a mortgage or auto loan, so devising a plan and quickly putting that plan into action is essential. Before long, you’ll begin to make progress and take back control of your finances.

Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Steps to Protect Yourself from Medicare Fraud

January 19, 2017 12:48 am

(Family Features)--Every day, Medicare fraud affects people with Medicare and their families across the U.S. – regardless of background – robbing them of hard-earned money and peace of mind.

Scammers know the ins and outs of the Medicare system and their attempts can be well thought-out enough that it's not always easy to know when and where fraud is occurring. By remembering some simple but effective tips, you can protect yourself against scams, including identity theft and prescription drug fraud. Remembering to protect, detect and report fraud helps everyone, including you.

Protect
Protecting your personal information is your best line of defense against health care fraud. Treat Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security numbers like credit card numbers. Never give them to a stranger and don't carry your cards unless you need them for appointments. Medicare doesn't call or visit to sell you anything. Outside of a trusted health care setting, never give this information to anyone who asks for it.

Detect
No matter how careful you are, you may be targeted for fraud. Always review your Medicare statements closely. Things to look for include charges for something you didn't purchase or receive, duplicate charges and charges for services not ordered by your doctor. Compare these documents to your personal records and receipts. Recording medical visits and procedures in a journal or on a calendar can help you keep track of what happened at each appointment and make it easier to spot inaccuracies.

Report
If you suspect you've been a target of fraud, report it. This can help you and others at risk for fraud. If you have questions about your Medicare statements, call your health care provider.

Source: SMPresource.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


7 Ways to Add Functional Style to Your Closet

January 19, 2017 12:48 am

(Family Features)--If you're one of the 57 percent of those who believe having an organized closet would make finding what you want easier and faster, there's no time like the present to stop dreaming about having a beautiful and organized closet. Take charge and start the project now.

Shine the light. A trendy light fixture can add fun and bling while providing adequate lighting to illuminate all the treasures your closet has to offer. Diffused lighting is a good way to chase away shadows and ensure none of your favorite garments and accessories get left in the dark.

Organize by color. When you're ready to hang clothes in your newly designed space, sort garments by style; group dressy tops, casual pants and so on. Then take your organization another step further by hanging like colors together. The streamlined color palette is pleasing to the eye, but it also makes it easier to select the right combinations and avoid overlooking any options.

Hang clothes with care. Give your clothes some TLC and make the switch to high-quality hangers. Not only do uniform hangers make your closet appear more organized, they help keep your wardrobe in tip-top shape by preventing stretching. Slim velvet hangers are optimal for saving space, but if you have the room, a heavier wooden version is even better.

Add some special flair. It's not just the structure that affects the overall mood of your closet. One easy way to add some personal charm is with colorful and patterned fabric drawers. They provide a home to hide and consolidate more personal belongings and add pops of color and style to your shelves.

Make creative use of wall space. If you have some unused wall space, this is the perfect place for a dream board. A simple cork surface is all you need. Add pictures of your favorite outfits so you can remember pairings that made you feel great. You can also use the space for inspiration and add wish list items from magazines or photos of looks you'd like to try.

Dedicate a container for capturing rejects. Avoid hanging on to unwanted items by designating a container to capture clothing destined for donation. When the bin is full, transfer to a cardboard box and drop off at a local charitable organization. A similar approach can be used for items that need repair; when a few items have accumulated, either haul out the sewing machine or head to the nearest seamstress for professional assistance.

Don't forget the floor. While much is made about the wall space, the floor is an important element of your closet, too. For carpeted rooms a rug may be more ornamental, but if you have hardwood floors, an area rug can be a safety feature that keeps you from slipping in your hurry to get dressed and out the door.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Your IRA Can Help You Invest in Real Estate

January 18, 2017 12:48 am

While we think of IRAs as strictly for retirement, they can actually play a role in building wealth before reaching our golden years.

According to Jason Craig at the Entrust Group, you can use your retirement dollars to invest in real estate—even if you don’t have the full cash amount. Craig offers these three strategies for funding a real estate purchase even with a small IRA:

Partner the IRA
You can partner a self-directed IRA or Real Estate IRA with other IRAs, investors’ money, or personal funds. If partnering with just one other source still doesn’t provide the amount needed, try partnering with a group. The IRA would own a fraction of the investment and share the profits and expenses with other investors in that same proportion, says Craig.

Leverage the IRA
Your IRA can actually take a non-recourse loan to complete a real estate transaction in a self-directed IRA.  A non-recourse loan is a loan in which you, as the IRA holder, are not personally liable for repayment nor guaranteeing the loan. Instead, the lender you work with will lend to your IRA, and will have no recourse against you or other assets in your IRA in the event of a default. According to Craig, the lender will only be able to recover the property and your equity in the property that has the loan.

Lend your IRA
You can also passively invest in real estate by providing capital from your IRA for a real estate transaction, says Craig. As the IRA owner, you determine the rate and terms of the loan to the investor, which is secured by the property.

Source: The Entrust Group

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Where Are People Living Paycheck to Paycheck?

January 18, 2017 12:48 am

Are you still living paycheck to paycheck? Many people across the country are – but where? According to the latest GOBankingRates study, Hawaii houses the most Americans living paycheck to paycheck, whereas residents of Mississippi are least likely to be living this way. Below are the studies findings.

The 10 states where Americans are most likely to live paycheck to paycheck:

1. Hawaii
2. California
3. New York
4. Massachusetts
5. Alaska
6. Maryland
7. Connecticut
9. Vermont
9. New Jersey
10. Oregon

The 10 states where Americans are least likely to live paycheck to paycheck:

1. Mississippi
2. Arkansas
3. Oklahoma
4. Tennessee
5. Indiana
6. Alabama
7. Kansas
8. Missouri
9. Kentucky
10. Michigan

Source: GOBankingRates

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Are You Giving Your Space Heater Enough Space?

January 18, 2017 12:48 am

Those of us living in colder states know the comfort of a space heater keeping our toes warm all winter long. But CPSC estimates that portable electric heaters are involved in about 1,100 fires per year, resulting in about 50 deaths, dozens of injuries and millions of dollars in property loss. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 32 percent of home heating fires involve space heaters, resulting in about 80 percent of home heating fire deaths in the United States.

Below are several tips for buying and using your space heater safely.

Before you buy:
- Make sure your space heater has a seal of a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL. This ensures that it won't ignite tissue if tipped over.

- Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and inside each bedroom and test them once a month.

In the home:
- Remember, your space heater needs space! It's flaming hot! Keep material such as curtains, sofas, beds, clothes and papers at least three feet away from the front, sides and rear of the heater.

- Make sure the heater is placed on a stable, flat surface, and located where it cannot be knocked over.

- Never leave the heater on while unattended, or while sleeping. Consequences could be disastrous.

- Do not use extension cords or power strips with space heaters, to reduce the risk of fires.

- During use, check frequently to determine if the heater plug, cord, wall outlet or faceplate is hot. If so, turn it off and have a qualified electrician inspect.       

Kerosene Heater Safety:

- A quick note about kerosene heater safety. Use only water-clear 1-K grade kerosene. Never use a substitute like gasoline or any other fuel.

- Never refuel heater while it is operating or hot.

- Operate only at recommended flame height.

And please remember, always operate heater with doors of rooms open to reduce exposure to indoor pollutants, such as carbon monoxide.

Source: www.CPSC.gov

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Tried and True Secrets to Losing Weight

January 17, 2017 12:45 am

Nearly everyone ‘goes on a diet’ occasionally – maybe to lose a substantial amount of weight, or maybe just to squeeze into that dress by Saturday night. But, say diet and nutrition experts, the real secret to shedding pounds is NOT necessarily which diet plan you choose, but your mindset going in.

Big changes can result from small lifestyle changes, according to nutrition experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), who recently shared tips for achieving healthy weight loss based on attitude and small but healthy lifestyle changes:

Set small goals – Don’t go into any diet determined to lose 40 pounds – or 50 or 150. Resolve, rather, to meet manageable goals, such as losing three or four pounds this month, adding two minutes to your daily walk or exercise routine, or consciously switching to healthier meal choices at least five times per week.

Eat more veggies – Try some veggies you have not tried before and nibble on them often. You may find them to be really delicious, but even if you don’t, filling up on veggies throughout the day will make it easier to eat less at dinner time.

Move more –It’s no secret that exercise burns calories. But you don’t have to start with a rigorous daily routine. Walk more than you are accustomed to walking. Move your arms and legs while seated. Try out various types of exercise and find one or two you can handle daily.

Practice portion control – dialing down the amount you eat will result in weight loss. Don’t let your eyes rule your stomach. Be aware of how much you put on your plate. Put down your fork between mouthfuls.

Don’t drink sugar – For every sugary soda or alcoholic drink you replace with water or a zero-calorie beverage, you will save yourself from ingesting 100 to 300 calories.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Buying a Home in Winter? What to Look for

January 17, 2017 12:45 am

While spring and early summer rein as peek home-shopping seasons, there’s no good reason why you can’t find that perfect house in the middle of winter, too. In fact, you might even get a good deal from homeowners who are anxious to sell as soon as possible and don’t want to wait for the spring thaw.

Looking at homes in winter, however, requires a different strategy, so consider the following before you start your search:

- Winter weather may prevent you from getting a good sense of a home’s yard, particularly, if it’s covered in snow. Make sure you’re informed as to the exact size of the plot, patios and decks, and ask your agent to show you pictures of the yard and home’s exterior in the spring and summer, if there aren’t any posted online.

- Ditto for the landscaping. If gardens are a high priority for you, find out which perennials, bulbs, shrubs and flowering trees are planted on the property, and whether or not the owner maintained a vegetable garden. This will give you a sense of what will emerge come spring and what your options are for further gardening endeavors.

- While you can experience the quality of the home’s insulation and heating system first-hand in the winter, you won’t be able to get a feel for the central air. Find out how old the system is, when it was last maintained and make sure the inspector takes an especially close look.

- The natural lighting in a home can be drastically different in winter compared to summer. Take time to notice the number of leafy trees on the property to get an idea of how much shade cover there will be when summer arrives. This will also give you a sense of the leaf clean-up job on deck for fall.

- In cold or inclement winter months, when people tend to hibernate indoors, you may not get a full sense of the neighborhood. Ask the agent about the number of and age range of children in the neighborhood, how active the community is, common traffic patterns and noise level.

The good thing about buying a home in winter is that you’ll be all moved in and ready to enjoy the warm weather when it rolls around. So throw on an extra layer and start your search!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don't Be Duped By Bogus Reviews

January 17, 2017 12:45 am

I can hardly resist the temptation to whip out my phone or rush to the keyboard when someone asks where to find everything from the best kitchen stove or garden tractor, roofer, or REALTOR® - and decisions are often weighed against those cyber-commentaries.

But Howard Schwartz at Connecticut Better Business Bureau cautions consumers to be careful about potentially fraudulent online reviews before making purchasing decisions.

So, can online reviews be trusted?

The answer depends on who writes the review according Schwartz. Unfortunately, he says technology has helped unethical businesses obtain stellar ratings while trashing competitors with excessively negative, even falsified reviews.

In other cases, consumers could be relying on paid reviewers who may have never used the merchandise they are praising. Schwartz has even seen the same review and identical wording for different products on various sellers' websites.

It may not be illegal, Schwartz says, but the very least the practice is misleading and unethical. So, he and the BBB offer these tips to spot phony product reviews:

Check for "marketing speak" - Does the review sound like something you or your friends would write, or by someone selling a product.

Too many details - If the merchandise is a "Model XG52 Widget," and the product's full name and model are repeated several times in the review, it is a sign that it was likely planted by a paid writer.

Silly, overblown claims about the product - If you are considering purchasing a vacuum cleaner and reviews that say things like "This product changed my life," does it make sense to you?

Unreasonably long reviews - Would you write a 5-paragraph review that not only tells you about a product but also describes how to use it? This is a clear red flag.

Negative reviews that are short on details - You may see only a couple of words that say things like "This product stinks," without telling you why. Be wary of these.

Check the username - If a reviewer's screen name has 3 or more numerals typically at the end of their screen name, it is usually a sign of an automated review-writing program.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Is Your Smart-Home Device a Security Threat?

January 16, 2017 12:42 am

Did you recently welcome a Google Home or Amazon Echo into your home? How about a smart TV or a fancy new Apple Watch? While all of these devices can work wonders in terms of making our lives easier, they can also pose a security threat to your privacy. Internet-connected devices provide endless possibilities, but they rely on technology and collected data to deliver on their promises.

"I don't necessarily think about someone hacking into my new smart thermostat and accessing temperature preferences,” says Steve Platt, global executive vice president of Fraud and Identity for Experian. “But if they can access my thermostat, they can get into my Wi-Fi network. From there they can access my computer or other connected devices where I have a lot more private and valuable information. The Internet of Things is only as strong as its weakest link. That's why it's so important to understand and treat each connected device as part of a broader network."

According to Platt, you can have both convenience and privacy, as long as you know how to secure your devices along the way. Here are eight tips from Experian for protecting your identity while enjoying your new gadget:
  1. Make sure the products and services you are connecting were purchased from reputable companies.
  2. Take a few minutes to review the privacy and data usage policies for each product or service. These privacy policies and data-use statements should be clear, easy to read and easy to understand. It's important to know how your personal data is used, stored or shared and to be comfortable with the terms before using the device.
  3. Look for devices that use end-to-end encryption, meaning third parties can't read or listen to your communications. More and more products are including this terminology right in the product description. If it's not there, ask.
  4. Be careful when turning on features for less secure devices. Remember that a less secure device can open a door into your network, which can lead to access to other connected devices.
  5. Change the default password before connecting the device to your network and enable two-factor authentication options, when available, for additional security. For example, you might use a username and password plus something else that only you know.
  6. Pay extra attention to your Wi-Fi network and leverage all available security options, including things like router and network passwords, encryption, firewalls and firmware.
  7. Be aware of the applications installed on devices, and download applications only from reputable providers. Also, only download apps created by trusted entities.
  8. Make sure children are supervised when using Internet-enabled devices, especially when downloading apps and connecting to other devices.

Following these tips will allow you to make your home smarter and safer.

Source: Experian

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Money-Saving Tips to Combat the Cold

January 16, 2017 12:42 am

Brrr. Winter weather not only sends us scurrying indoors; it also bumps up our monthly bills. Below are a few helpful hints for saving money all season.  

- The thermostat can be the biggest contributor of high winter bills. Select the lowest comfortable setting on your thermostat when you're home, then lower the temperature a degree or two when you leave.

- Change air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes a heating system work harder, which uses more energy.

- Inefficient heating can also add to monthly power bills during colder temperatures. Regular service calls from a licensed technician will help to properly maintain your heating and cooling system.

- The ceiling fan is a great way to enhance your home's warmth in the winter. Simply set the fans to operate in a clockwise direction, which pushes warm air back down into the room.

- On sunny days, leave your drapes or blinds open to allow the sun's rays to warm the house. Close your drapes at night to provide additional insulation for the windows.

- Wear warm clothing for additional energy savings at home. That way, you can bump down the thermostat a degree or two and still stay warm.

Source:  Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Book a Better Vacation For Less

January 16, 2017 12:42 am

Looking forward to your next big trip? Read on for five ways to book a better, cheaper vacation, courtesy of Expedia.

Book your trip at the right time  

Purchasing airplane tickets 21 days or more in advance offers the best prices-especially for trips within Europe and the United States. Some trips can give discounts of as much as 30 percent for booking three weeks before the departure date.  

To get the best deals on trips within Europe, you need to book flights almost two months ahead (at least 56 days) so for short haul Easter breaks its best to start booking now. For travel to Asia and the US it's best to book flights around 6 months ahead (+ 171 days for Asia and + 180 for the US) so now is also a great time to plan your big summer break.

Book flights and hotel at the same time 

One critical, but often overlooked, method to drive savings is for travelers to simultaneously book their flight, hotel and/or rental car on an online travel agency. Flight and hotel bookings can be offered at a steep discount.

Those savings can be lost if travelers book these elements independently, which is common, so flight and hotel bookings remain the single easiest way for travelers to save hundreds on travel, both domestically and internationally.

Include a Saturday night stay 

After evaluating terabytes of data regarding the impact of including a Saturday night stay on average ticket prices, Expedia has concluded that the urban myth is true and most tickets including a Saturday stay offer the lowest prices and best deals. In Central Europe, average ticket prices for itineraries that include Saturdays can be as much as 74 percent less and 47 percent less for flights within the UK and Ireland. The impact of Saturday night stays exists independent of what day of the week a ticket was booked and how many days in advance it was purchased.

Head to an alternative neighborhood on your city break 

By checking out the alternative areas of a city you can save even more on your hotel. Expedia's local experts have provided advice - such as booking in a business district for a weekend stay - to help travelers to find money-saving alternate destinations that aren't too far from the downtowns or most popular areas of the cities in question. For example, staying in the Financial District or Battery Park City when traveling to New York can offer savings but still offers the chance to stay in two spots that are fast becoming the city's new must-visit areas.

Source: Expedia.co.uk

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mastering Mindfulness

January 13, 2017 4:39 am

The concept of mindfulness may conjure up images of incense and Tibetan monks, but it’s actually a practice that we everyday people can—and should!—easily incorporate into our daily lives.

The benefits of mindfulness—the practice of clearing your mind, breathing deeply and focusing on the present moment—are many. According to Dr. Nina Smiley who leads meditation practices at New Paltz, N.Y.’s Mohonk Mountain House, mindfulness boosts the immune system, heightens focus, and can reduce anger, insomnia, and depression. Being mindful can help you perform better at work and enrich personal relationships because it helps you live in the moment, which goes a long way toward performing better on the job and creating a more meaningful family life.

While many confuse it with meditation, which is focused on clearing all thoughts, mindfulness is about focusing our thoughts on the task at hand. So how does the average person achieve this state of mastering the present moment? Here are four easy steps to follow from the Mrs. Mindfulness blog:

Step 1. Stop and take three, deep, slow breaths, focusing the mind on the breathing and nothing else for that time. If random thoughts enter your mind, don’t throw in the towel—just acknowledge the thoughts and steer yourself back toward the breathing.

Step 2. Put aside all thoughts about the past and worries about the future. Think only about the present moment—use your senses to really become aware of the environment around you in that moment.

Step 3. Now you’re ready to go about your activity or task, slowly and deliberately, focusing only on what needs to be done right now.

Step 4. Keep your mind alert and in the moment. Try to keep your unconscious “mind chatter” at bay and stay completely absorbed in your activity. If your mind does wander, gently guide it back to what you’re doing.

Practicing mindfulness in this way will add meaning and enjoyment to simple everyday tasks, help you accomplish more, and lead to better peace of mind.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Stay Safe in a Power Outage

January 13, 2017 4:39 am

There's often no time to prep for a power outage. Whether from winter storms, electric heat during summer, or a simple issue with your power provider, power outages can hit when your least expecting it, and drag on for days. Below are several tips for staying safe in an unexpected outage.

Don't drive. If your outage happens in the winter, it's important to stay off the road. With no traffic lights and treacherous weather, driving can be extremely dangerous.

Pay attention to proper generation. If you're without electricity and want to use a portable generator, make sure you use it in a well-ventilated area. Do not connect a generator to your home's electrical panel or fuse boxes. It may cause electricity to feed back into the power lines, which can endanger linemen and damage electric service facilities.

Cook with caution. If using Sterno or charcoal to cook food, always to do so outside in a well-ventilated area. Cooking indoors with Sterno or charcoal will produce deadly carbon-monoxide fumes.

Be weary of debris. Remember, following a storm, debris can cover power lines that have fallen and even standing near lines that are down can be dangerous.

Back up your batteries. If you know a storm is coming, take time to make sure cell phones and back-up batteries are charged  so that you can stay connected.

Stock away supplies. Make sure you have a supply of flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods, medicines, etc. Also, ensure a portable, battery-operated radio, TV or NOAA radio is on hand.

Know your needs. Families who have special medical needs or elderly members should closely monitor weather forecasts and make plans for potential alternate arrangements should an extended outage occur.

Look for down lines. Stay away from power lines that have fallen or are sagging. Consider all lines energized as well as trees or limbs in contact with lines. Please report downed power lines to Duke Energy and your local police department. If a power line falls across a car that you're in, stay in the car. If you MUST get out of the car due to a fire or other immediate life-threatening situation, do your best to jump clear of the car and land on both feet. Be sure that no part of your body is touching the car when your feet touch the ground.

Source: North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives; Duke Energy

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Are You Brushing Your Teeth Wrong?

January 13, 2017 4:39 am

Brushing our teeth is something we hopefully all do twice a day. However, it is highly possible you've been brushing your pearly white the wrong way. The American Dental Association (ADA) offers the following tips provide easy ways to fix common brushing blunders.

Keeping your toothbrush for too long: The average life of a toothbrush is three to four months. Make a resolution to change your toothbrush with every season this year. Frayed and broken bristles are signs it's time to let go.  

Not brushing long enough: Teeth should be brushed for a full two minutes, twice per day. The average time most people spend brushing is 45 seconds. If you're racing through cleaning, try setting a timer. Or distract yourself by humming your favorite tune.

Brushing too hard: Be gentle with your teeth. You may think brushing harder will remove more leftover food and the bacteria that loves to eat it, but a gentle brushing is all that's needed. Too much pressure may wear down the hard outer shell on your teeth and damage gums.

Brushing right after eating: Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing – especially if you have had something acidic like lemons, grapefruit or soda.  

Storing your brush improperly: Keep your toothbrush upright and let it air dry in the open. Don't keep your toothbrush in a closed container, where germs have more opportunity to grow, and if your toothbrush is in a holder next to another, keep them as separate as possible.

Using a brush with hard bristles: Soft bristles are the way to go. You don't want to use medium or hard bristles because these may wear down the outer shell of your teeth and may cause sensitivity when eating or drinking cold food and beverages.

Improper brushing technique: Get your best brush with these steps:

- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. 
- Gently move the brush back and forth in short (tooth-wide) strokes. 
- Brush the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- To clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes.

Source: ADA, MouthHealthy.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Are Your Passwords Protecting You?

January 12, 2017 4:39 am

As more and more of life takes place online, we’re sharing an increasing amount of private information on the Internet... and getting a lot more comfortable about doing so. Therein lies the problem; as we become more lax, criminals become more adept at hacking information, such as credit card and bank accounts, and social security numbers.

Your first line of defense for protecting yourself on the Internet? A stalwart password. Here are some guidelines for creating and maintaining super-strong passwords.

- Never share your password with anyone. You may think it innocent enough to give your password to a close friend or family member, but once it’s out of your hands its safety is out of your control. You never know when it can accidentally land in the hands of the wrong person.

- Create complicated passwords, but one’s you can remember.  Combine facts only you know, such as your childhood phone number, the name of your first crush or your confirmation name. Then take the first letter and/or digit of such facts and create a password that’s a mystery to others but one you’ll never forget.

- Use a mix of lower and upper case numbers, letters and symbols, choosing numbers and symbols that double for a letter, such as the @ sign for A, $ for S, and the number 1 for I. Mix these numbers and symbols to abbreviate a familiar phrase.

- Consider double authentication, like fingerprints or images.

- If it’s in the dictionary, don’t use it. There’s actually software that criminals can use to guess words used in dictionaries for passwords.

- Mix it up. While it’s tempting to only have to remember one password, don’t. Use different passwords for different sites—that way if one gets hacked, it won’t take down your entire online world.

Source: connectsafely.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Home Issues That May Secretly Cost You Hundreds

January 12, 2017 4:39 am

It's no secret that being a homeowner is a financial commitment. However, there may be places in your home that are secretly upping your expenses. Read on for a rundown of those secret money leaks, courtesy of Gentec Services.

Air leaks. One of the biggest energy drains on a home is air leakage, which means the conditioned air in your home exits through cracks and leaks and is replaced by unconditioned air from the outside. While windows are the top culprit, air can come in anywhere your heating and cooling system runs or any place that the exterior structure of the home has been joined together. Leaks can be sealed with caulk, weather stripping or spray foam insulation.

Insulation. Pay special attention to the attic, basement or crawlspace, and all exterior walls. Since heating and cooling are responsible for upwards of 40 percent of all energy expenditures in the average home, keeping your house well insulated can significantly lower energy costs.

Power strips. Electronics can drain electricity even when they're turned off. Putting them on a power strip is an excellent way to stop the draw when electronics are in a standby mode, while at the same time protecting them from power surges. You probably have 30 or more electronic devices in your home, so the drain can be substantial. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that some homes carry phantom loads that raise the monthly electric bill by as much as 10 percent.

Water fixtures. If your toilet was installed in 1992 or earlier, it probably uses between four and five gallons of water per flush. Older ones could use up to nine gallons. Buying low flow toilets can cut this water use in half. Updating shower heads and faucets means even more savings.

Your heating and cooling system. Things like soot build-up on gas furnace burners or dust and debris on air conditioner condenser coils can hurt the efficiency of your system. Getting the system cleaned and professionally maintained could mean a 10 percent efficiency improvement.

Light fixtures. The major trend has been toward compact fluorescent bulbs, but these aren't the best choice because they contain mercury, and they also lose lifespan when they are constantly turned off and on. LEDs, although more expensive up front, last much longer and use half the energy of compact fluorescents.

Source: www.gentecservices.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Sleep Better, Tonight

January 12, 2017 4:39 am

A great night's sleep is a sacred thing for most adults. Sleep helps regulate your hormones, keeps you energized, primes your brain for proper functioning, and more. A recent AARP consumer survey found that 99 percent of adults age 50-plus believe that sleep is important for their brain health, but over four in 10 (43 percent) say they don't get enough sleep. More than half (54 percent) of adults report they wake up too early in the morning and can't get back to sleep.

Below are several tips for sleeping better:

- Get up at the same time every day, seven days a week.

- Restrict fluids and food three hours before going to bed to help avoid disrupting your sleep to use the bathroom.

- Avoid using OTC medications for sleep because they can have negative side-effects, including disrupted sleep quality and impaired cognitive functioning.

- Dietary supplements such as melatonin may have benefits for some people, but scientific evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Be particularly cautious of melatonin use with dementia patients.

- Avoid long naps; if you must nap, limit to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

Source: AARP

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Brighten Your Winter Skin

January 11, 2017 4:36 am

Dry, cold air does more than just drive us indoors. It also dries out our skin. Adjust your winter skincare routine to keep yourself soft all season long.

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. When you find yourself turning the heat on at home, it's probably time to switch to a more hydrating moisturizer. Cold temps mean dry skin and it's no fun feeling like your skin is flaking.

Reach for the SPF. Most of us use SPF in the summer, but the harsh winter sun can actually do double damage on your skin by reflecting off snow. Use a daily hydrating moisturizer with SPF.

Eat water-rich foods. Good skincare isn't just about hydrating from the outside; you must also hydrate internally by eating water-rich foods that stay in your body longer and can give do more for your skin than simply drinking water. Try vegetables like green pepper, cauliflower and spinach, which are hydrating choices.

Your mouth matters. Your lips are skin, too. In fact, they're most susceptible to drying out in the winter months. Take care of them with a gentle lip exfoliation to get rid of excess dry skin using a small amount of sugar scrub, followed by a hydrating lip treatment.

Stay positive. If you minimize your stress level and keep a positive attitude it will make all the difference for your skin. Neuropeptides, which are released when you're angry or upset, can accelerate the aging process. Find reasons to feel good and hold onto the hope that spring will be on its way before you know it.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Plan Ahead For Power Outages

January 11, 2017 4:36 am

(Family Features)--Ahead of the frigid winter weather blowing into cities and neighborhoods, families can take steps to prevent frozen pipes, spoiled food and the uncomfortable situations that arise when temperatures drop and a home’s power goes out.

Families that may endure a power outage this winter should remember these helpful tips to stay safe and comfortable.

Before the storm:
- Stock-up on batteries and flashlights.
- Evaluate the family’s non-perishable food supply and restock if necessary.
- Review how to manually open the electric garage door.
- Conduct a practice run to help ensure your family knows how to properly locate and operate any equipment required during the power outage.

During/after the storm:
- Never use a gas stove, oven or grill to heat a home.
- During the first few hours of the outage, keep the refrigerator and freezer closed. Snow can be used as ice to keep items cold in a cooler.
- Choose mittens over gloves and wear layered loose clothing to stay warm.
- Always operate a portable generator outside of a home.

Alternate energy source
- A loss of electricity poses one of the greatest potential dangers and inconveniences when a winter storm strikes.

“Having a backup power solution ready ahead of a utility power outage prevents most of the headaches that go with living without power. With backup power, families won’t necessarily need to worry about perishable foods going bad, for example,” said Dan Roche, director of marketing for portable power and cleaning systems at Briggs & Stratton. “This gives families the security they desire to comfortably ride out long winter months.”

The most popular backup power solutions are portable generators and permanently-installed standby generator systems. Both types of backup power can keep a home’s lights, furnace and necessary appliances working in the event of a weather-related power outage or other emergency. Understanding the differences and capabilities between the two options can make selecting the best generator for a family’s needs much easier.

Portable generators are generally low maintenance, compact and easily maneuverable on the property. These units are typically powered by gasoline and can work well as a quick solution during a power outage to provide reliable electricity to a few essential items and appliances such as a refrigerator, basic light circuits and portable electric heaters at the same time.

While portable generators can provide users with flexibility and comfort, they need to be used appropriately at all times in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never run a portable generator inside a home or in a garage. Visit TakeYourGeneratorOutside.com to learn more about portable generator safety.

Families who want a backup power source that offers uninterrupted power should opt for a home standby generator system. Home standby generators are permanently installed, so they need to be done by a professional. These generators are connected to a house’s existing propane or natural gas line. When utility power to a house is interrupted, the home generator automatically turns on within seconds. Home standby generators can power more of a home’s high-wattage appliances, like the furnace, electric water heater, stove and clothes dryer simultaneously, so your family doesn’t experience any interruptions during unexpected power outages.

Source: briggsandstratton.com. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Protect Your Family in 2017

January 11, 2017 4:36 am

(Family Features)--Protecting your family and loved ones is one of your most important responsibilities. Many people think about protection in terms of physical acts, such as practicing safe driving, but there are many more aspects of your lifestyle and home that affect your loved ones’ safety.

Protect your family’s financial health

Although it can be painful to consider, your untimely death may leave your family reeling – not only emotionally, but financially, too. Life insurance can help cover funeral costs, child care or act as income replacement. It can also help pay off any loans you’ve accrued, such as a home mortgage, car payment, credit card debt or student loans.

If you don’t have life insurance, it’s never too soon to explore your coverage options. You may be able to save on premiums and get more coverage for your dollar by completing a health exam as part of your application, which helps build a more accurate assessment of your health.

If you do have coverage, it’s a good idea to regularly review your coverage to ensure it still meets your needs. Also check your beneficiaries to ensure your policies are updated with your current information, especially if your family has grown.

Ensure your family is breathing safe air

One threat you may not be aware of is radon, a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment but can create significant health consequences in anyone exposed to unsafe levels.

Radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that can go undetected in homes until it is too late. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among non-smokers in America, and claims the lives of nearly 21,000 Americans each year. 

Know your own health status

It is difficult to protect loved ones if you are not healthy yourself. Make sure you receive proper preventive care, such as regular health screenings and check-ups that are recommended for your gender and age.

Many employers and health plans offer health screenings. If you have applied for life insurance, many policies provide the laboratory results from your application that you can share with your physician. Find a checklist of important preventive screenings at CDC.gov/Prevention.

Protect the home of your loved ones

There are over 2 million burglaries annually in the United States, according to FBI statistics. Home security systems can help put your mind at ease, and having a security system can also decrease the premiums you pay for monthly homeowner’s insurance. Studies have shown that homes with a security system see a 39 percent decrease in financial loss compared to homes with no security system.

Safeguard your family from fire hazards

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that two-thirds of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with either no smoke alarms or non-working smoke alarms. Batteries wear out and may be taken out to cease persistent beeping then never replaced. Smoke alarms should be in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area and on each level of your home.

In addition to regularly checking alarms and batteries, it’s a good idea to make a family escape plan in the event of a fire.

Source: MyExamOne.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Ways to Be More Energy Efficient at Home

January 6, 2017 12:30 am

We all want to save money while helping the environment, and one simple way to do that is to scrutinize your energy usage at home. Here are 10 easy, low-cost tips for making your house operate more efficiently.

1. Insulate the water heater. Older natural gas storage water heaters can lose a lot of heat through their walls. Wrapping a heater in an insulating jacket can prevent excess heat loss and energy waste, but should be left to a professional installer so as not to accidentally cover the top, bottom, thermostat or burner compartment.

2. Seal leaks with weatherstripping. Air sealing, specifically weatherstripping, eliminates drafts to save energy while improving air quality and comfort. Weatherstripping reduces air leakage by creating a tight seal between movable components such as doors and windows. Before application, detect air leaks and assess the ventilation. Find air leaks through a blower door test from a qualified technician, or by inspecting inside and outside the home.

3. Insulate water pipes. Insulate hot water pipes to reduce heat loss and keep the water from cooling off before it reaches the tap. Adding insulation also will prevent cold water pipes from freezing.

4. Replace or clean the furnace filter. Change the heating system's furnace air filter on a regular basis to keep air flowing without overworking equipment. This also keeps out dust and dirt that can lead to expensive repairs or early system failure. A clean furnace filter can lower natural gas consumption by up to 2 percent.

5. Use less hot water. Reducing hot water use is an easy, affordable way to see significant savings on energy and water bills. Run the automatic dishwasher only when full, and wash and rinse full loads of laundry in cold water. Install low-flow showerheads, and don't forget to check for and repair plumbing leaks.

6. Use ceiling fans. Save on heating costs by using an ENERGY STAR® certified ceiling fan, which helps warm air circulate better and allows for setting the furnace temperature lower.

7. Install a programmable or smart thermostat. Programmable and smart thermostats can lower heating expenses and fit any lifestyle. Set the thermostat at 68 F, and then program it to decrease the temperature 8 degrees when no one is home and overnight. Smart thermostats are similar to programmable thermostats, but they also perform more advanced functions. A smart thermostat allows you to monitor and control the temperature in your home remotely from your smartphone or other web-enabled device.

8. Look for ENERGY STAR. If purchasing a new appliance, make it an ENERGY STAR rated appliance. For instance, an ENERGY STAR certified refrigerator uses less energy than a regular 75-watt light bulb.

9. Lower the water heater thermostat. Set your water heater thermostat to 120 F to save energy and money. For most homeowners, storage water heaters set above 120 F are simply using more energy without providing any additional benefits. One set to even 140 F can waste $36 to $61 annually in standby heat loss, and more than $400 in demand loss. Be sure to turn down the water heater when going on vacation to avoid energy waste.

10. Be smart with the fireplace. Open-hearth fireplaces draw heated air from inside the home, sending it up the chimney. When using the fireplace, install a snug-fitting set of glass doors and crack open a nearby window. Doing so reduces the amount of heated interior air drawn into the fireplace and improves efficiency by up to 20 percent.Source: Peoples Gas

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How-to Avoid Overdraft Fees

January 6, 2017 12:30 am

The only thing worse than a low bank balance is landing an overdraft fee as a result of you're low balance. These tips, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, can help assure you never get another overdraft fee again.

Sign up for automatic funds transfer: Instruct your bank or credit union to automatically transfer money from your savings or other accounts to your checking account to cover any shortages. Note: you may have to pay a fee for this service.

Sign up for low-balance notices: Sign up for text or email notices from your bank or credit union if your checking account balance drops below a certain amount.

Make sure funds are available: Make sure deposits into your checking account are actually available for your use before you spend that money. Note: review your bank or credit union's "funds availability" policy.

Take advantage of technology: Frequently check your account balances online, by phone, or nearby ATM machine.

Check all transactions on your statements: Carefully review your monthly account statements, looking for fraudulent transactions as well as taking into account any checks written and deposits made that may not appear until next month's statement.

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Simple Ways to Enjoy More Family Time

January 6, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--Skillfully balancing an entire family's demands from school, sports, activities and careers leaves little down time, but keeping family values front and center may be easier than you think when you make a commitment to carving out meaningful moments to share.

Unplug from the digital world. Today's technology-ridden world makes it easy for families to be present but not engaged. When you create a technology-free zone, you eliminate distractions so you can keep the focus on each other. Dedicate time every week to spend as a family without the use of TV, tablets, computers and phones.

Bond and bake together. There's a little baker in everyone. After all, who can help but "woo-hoo" when you pull fresh cupcakes out of the oven? Take a little time to embrace your inner Doughboy, turn your kitchen into a fun zone and savor all the moments with your family.

Share family stories. Reminiscing about special family moments is an essential part of keeping those memories alive. Showcasing old photo albums is a great way to share fun and nostalgic memories, which can help bring your family closer together. Whether it was a trip to the mountains or visiting a nearby museum, discussing and reliving these memorable moments can evoke fond memories and a willingness to create new ones.

Set a day each week for family night. It's easy to get caught up in a busy schedule, which is why consciously setting aside family time is essential. Once it's set, you may be tempted to turn the open night at home into an invitation to catch up on housework or even just relax. Avoid the temptation and instead look for fun ways to spend that time as a family. The dishes and laundry will still be waiting after you spend a few hours together. Start a puzzle or play a board game. Initiate a DIY project for the house, spend time baking or cooking a meal or simply sit together and talk about what's happening in the lives of those who matter most.

Create traditions. Rituals are a way of life. Find the little things that make your family unique and celebrate them together by creating special occasions that give everyone in the family something to look forward to and reflect on with joy. If you're passionate about cooking, volunteer at a local soup kitchen together once a month. If sports are more your game, arrange for regular family outings to support the local team with everyone decked out in their favorite lucky attire. Silly or sentimental, traditions are the stuff memories are made of.

Source: Pillsbury

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Ways to Kick Start Your Career

January 5, 2017 4:30 am

If you're looking for a new job, you're not alone. Below are three tips from Career Builder to improve your chances while hunting down a new gig.  

Grow your network: Tired of collecting business cards at cocktail mixers and lunch-and-learns? It might be time to mix up your networking routine with some fresh new tactics. Try stepping outside your usual roster of groups and events to grow your professional circle even wider.

Polish your personal brand: By having a clear message of who you are, what experience you have and what direction you're going in, you're conveying your identity to the hiring manager instead of being a faceless part of the crowd.

Make social a priority: Follow companies you like on social media and engage with them. Consider starting a blog that is related to your career interests. While on social channels, make sure you clean up your own digital dirt. Nothing is truly private on the Web, and it would be a shame to miss out on a job opportunity because of some embarrassing photos from years ago. Also make sure your profile is relevant. Think through the eyes of a recruiter and keep your employment history and education updated.

Source: CareerBuilder®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Tips for Managing Diabetes

January 5, 2017 4:30 am

(Family Features)--Living with diabetes is no laughing matter, but as many would say, laughter is often the best medicine.

This is certainly true for comedic actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2013.  In partnership with the American Diabetes Association and Colgate Total through the "Laugh Out Loud" campaign, Brown offers the following tips for a healthy smile and managing diabetes with a touch of humor.

Get Moving

When it comes to diabetes, small lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Taking the first step toward exercising can be difficult for many, but a little bit goes a long way. Try parking further away from the door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or taking the longer route when you walk the dog. Whatever it may be, choose an activity that you enjoy doing and keep it consistent.

Give Your Smile Some Extra TLC

You're twice as likely to develop gum disease if you have diabetes. When Brown learned that, she immediately started taking better care of her teeth. She recommends brushing morning and night with a specially formulated toothpaste, which reduces 83 percent more germs that cause gingivitis, the most common form of gum disease, as compared to an ordinary non-antibacterial toothpaste.

Befriend Your Dentist

Don't be afraid to become friends with your dentist. Brown has her dentist on speed-dial, even calling or texting him in the middle of the night sometimes. You don't have to be best friends with your dentist, but it's crucial to establish a good relationship. They're the expert who you can turn to for all your oral health care needs, and oral health care is important for those living with diabetes.

Find Your Tribe

When you're living with diabetes, you need a strong support system. Be it friends, family or an online community, things are easier when you've got your tribe. A good place to get your questions answered and find people who are going through the same journey as you is OralHealthandDiabetes.com.

Live Confidently

"Every time I think about my type 2 diabetes, I say to myself 'So what? You are a strong, confident woman. Don't let your diabetes run your life,'" Brown said. Diabetes isn't a hindrance, it's just a slight hiccup in life that you learn to live with. Get your mindset right, don't let it dictate what you can or cannot do.

When Brown was a kid her mom would say, "Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying." That's sometimes what people do when they get any kind of health diagnosis. The first response is, "Oh no," and then you find a way around it.

Source: Colgate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Steps to Quit Smoking

January 5, 2017 4:30 am

The majority of smokers often think about quitting. In fact, nearly 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit but only 6 percent are able to each year. However, quitting is extremely difficult, and it's important to put your best foot forward. Below are 10 steps from BecomeAnEX.org to make and execute a plan to quit.

1. Set a quit date, and be strategic

Some smokers prefer to dive right in and just start quitting. It's best to intentionally setting a date to quit smoking. Big changes in life benefit from good planning. Take a look at your calendar and be strategic about when it would be a good time to quit. Consider quitting on a day without too many temptations (like a holiday party) or stressors (like a looming work deadline).

2. Identify triggers and track cigarettes

Much like using a step counter to track your activity if you're trying to get in shape or lose weight, figuring out what makes you want to smoke is part of your quit plan. "Triggers" are the things that cue you to smoke. Some common triggers are having a cup of coffee, driving, going out drinking or stress. Use the tools on BecomeAnEX.org to identify your triggers by logging the situation surrounding each cigarette you smoke leading up to your quit date. You'll need this data to beat those triggers come quit day!

3. Beat your triggers

Now that you've identified your triggers, you can plan for how you'll avoid or overcome them. Do you always smoke on your drive to work? Try keeping sunflower seeds in your car to munch on instead. Or make a playlist to belt out at the top of your lungs. Really think about what you can do instead of smoking for each of your triggers. Or, make a plan for what you'll do instead of your triggers (like drink tea instead of coffee for a few days).

4. Get smart about your smoking addiction

Smoking is more than just a "bad habit." It's a physical addiction. Learn the effects of nicotine on your brain and make an educated decision about using quit smoking aids to boost your chances of quitting successfully. Learn more by watching videos on BecomeAnEX.org.

5. Choose a quit smoking aid

Once you've learned more about how addiction works and different quit smoking aids, talk with your doctor, health care provider or pharmacist about which one feels right for you. Quit smoking medications (such as gum, the patch, inhaler or prescription meds like Chantix or Zyban) can make quitting cravings and withdrawal easier. Even if you've tried medication before, consider trying a different one this time around.

6. Tell someone, anyone

Quitting can be lonely, but it doesn't have to be! Consider telling at least one friend, family member or coworker you trust that you're quitting–maybe even ask them not to smoke around you, if they're smokers, too. Or, connect with others who know exactly what you're going through in the BecomeAnEX Community. They get what it's like to feel anxious, irritable or frustrated while quitting. Around the clock and all year long, the EX Community is full of other smokers and former smokers who genuinely want to answer your questions, be a supportive listener and cheer on your success!

7. Out with the old and in with the new

The first step in forgetting an old flame is throwing out all the stuff that reminds you of "the way we were." Go through your house, your car and your workplace and toss out everything that has to do with smoking. Lighters, ashtrays, even the dashboard lighter in your car. Get rid of all of them! Consider getting your car detailed, washing your clothes and bedspread or doing a deep clean on your house to make everything around you smell fresh instead of smoky.

8. Get ready, get set

If you're using medication, make sure you have plenty of it on hand. Get ready to quit by having other good ways to cope with cravings. Find a refillable water bottle; stock up on things to chew on like carrot sticks, toothpicks, sugarless candy and gum; and snag something fun for your hands like a squeeze toy or drumsticks. Keep yourself motivated. Make a list of "reasons I want to quit smoking" and tuck it into your wallet, purse, car, bathroom mirror, office … or everywhere!

9. Go

You know when your triggers will be popping up. And you know how to beat them when they do. Get up and attack the day. Get dressed, eat, grab your bottle of water and your quit smoking aid and go! Just focus on getting through this one day without smoking. You can survive your first day of quitting smoking. And then take it one day at a time.

10. If you need to, pick yourself back up

Quitting is hard, and often takes more than one try. If you smoked after your quit day, pick yourself back up. It helps to understand why you slipped up in the first place. Were you stressed out? Having a drink? Did someone offer you a cigarette? Think back to what happened and make a plan for getting past it next time.  Source: BecomeAnEX.org

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Choosing An Online University? What You Should Ask

January 3, 2017 4:30 am

With college tuitions rising, more and more people are choosing to study online. With lower tuitions and flexible schedules, it can be a great choice for many. However, not all online universities are created equal, and it's important to do your due diligence before choosing one.

To help, Western Governors University (WGU), has a list of five questions to ask to ensure that you choose the right university for your needs.

Is the university regionally accredited? Regional accreditation is the highest form of accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of regional accrediting agencies that are recognized as reliable authorities on the quality of education or training offered by institutions of higher learning. Accreditation ensures that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree.

How much will it cost? Tuition at online universities varies widely, from approximately the same cost as a public university to more than twice as much. Be sure to understand all of the costs—tuition, books, and fees—before you make your decision, along with the possibility of receiving financial aid. If you are approved and decide to receive financial aid, make sure you only borrow what you need to graduate, this will help steer you away from incurring unnecessary additional student debt. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree—the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.

How will you learn? Some aspects of your student experience at an online university will be similar to what you would expect in a more traditional environment. You will study, write papers, complete projects, and take tests. Other aspects, such as when and where you study and how you interact with faculty and other students, are quite different. You may want to consider a competency-based program, which will allow you to study and learn on your own schedule and advance as soon as you demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

What kind of help and support will you get? Online should not mean alone. Support from faculty and administration is key to your success as a student. Be sure that the university you choose provides a high level of faculty support and opportunities to interact with other students.

Will your degree prepare you for career advancement or graduate work? Make sure that the degree program you choose offers relevant and up-to-date curriculum to ensure that when you graduate, you will have the real-world skills employers need. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys, and graduate rankings on national test scores.

Source: www.wgu.edu

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Avoid Getting Sick During Flu Season

January 3, 2017 4:30 am

When winter rolls around, it can seem like everyone around you is down with some sickness. In fact, a recent Harris Poll survey found that 42 percent of Americans believe getting sick during cold and flu season is inevitable. The same survey found 36 percent believe the workplace to be the most likely place to catch a cold or the flu, while nearly a quarter blame their sniffled on public transportation.

Below are a handful of tips from osteopathic family physician Rob Danoff, DO, on staying well all winter.

Make sure your family is vaccinated.

The flu shot may not save your life, but it very well could save someone else's, according to Dr. Danoff, who adds that children who receive the flu vaccine are far less likely to be hospitalized by the flu. The shot also helps protect those who cannot be vaccinated, as well as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions that make flu a greater threat.

Upgrade your hand washing technique.

Scrub like a doctor and you'll avoid myriad germs that the typical "wringing and rubbing" technique misses. Researchers who looked at people's freshly washed hands found that the insides of the fingers often aren't clean, Danoff noted, giving the hundreds of viruses that cause colds a safe hiding place. Also remember to scrub the backs of your hands and under the finger nails.

Eat your veggies and go to bed.

Get your vitamins from food, not a pill, and you'll reap countless protective health benefits. Better nutrition directly translates to better resilience and fewer illnesses, according to Dr. Danoff. Add 7-9 hours of daily sleep and your body is primed to battle the pathogens that proliferate when people spend more time indoors.

Get outside when the sun shines.

Decreased levels of vitamin D can weaken your immune system. Take a morning or afternoon walk to soak up the sparse rays during the winter months and you'll boost both your mood and your immunity.

Keep moving.

Adding exercise on top of a daily sunshine walk makes your immune system function more effectively. A bit of indoor cardio or strength training conditions your body to fight off illness—including the winter doldrums. Drink enough water to meet your hydration needs, which don't drop along with the temperature.

Stay social.

People have a tendency to "socially hibernate" during winter. Humans are social beings and positive interactions with friends improves mood and wards off depression, which can compromise the immune system.

Source: www.DoctorsThatDO.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Dodge Winter Lawn Damage

January 3, 2017 4:30 am

(Family Features)--Winter conditions can present a wide range of challenges to your lawn and landscape, but there are precautions you can take to protect your lawn, as well as your trees and shrubs, from seasonal harm.

Preventive steps from the lawncare experts at TruGreen can help your lawn survive the winter season’s harsh elements.

Snow Plow Damage

Install brightly-colored boundary markers along the edges of paved areas to help protect lawn and shrubs from snow plow and snow thrower blades. Lightweight wooden stakes, at least four feet tall with bright reflective tape and brightly covered fiberglass rods, serve as good markers. Avoid heavy metal, fence posts and other large objects, as they can pose a hazard to snow plow operators.

Cold Temperature Stress

More so than any other season, trees and shrubs are vulnerable to changing weather conditions during the winter. Wide temperature fluctuation and extremely low temperatures are the biggest factors of tree stress, meaning your trees are more susceptible to things like frost cracks, sunscald and winter burn.

Keep twigs and limbs from breaking under the weight of ice by carefully brushing away, whenever possible, any snow load from plants, which will reduce the weight on the limbs and decrease the damage. Placing a burlap cover around shrubs such as boxwood and yews will help reduce winter desiccation.

Proper fertilization can help keep your trees and shrubs healthy well into spring, and allow them to better tolerate winter. A service can help with tree and shrub services customized to meet your landscape’s every need, including applications to control overwintering insects, pests and mites.

Freezing Temperatures

Damage to plants, shrubs and trees as a result of sustained low temperatures can typically go undetected until spring or early summer, when plants fail to produce new growth. To help prevent damage, maintain a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to help protect the crown and roots from weather extremes.

Winter Dehydration

During the colder months of winter, plants cannot replace moisture lost from leaves and needles. This leads to “dehydration” – technically known as desiccation. To help avoid this problem, maintain proper watering late into the fall, or water during periods of winter thaw.

Ice Melt

Ice-melting agents, such as rock salt and products containing calcium and magnesium chloride, may accumulate in the soil and cause damage to plants. Use extreme care when applying ice-melting agents to prevent damage to your plants or concrete surfaces.

Source: TruGreen.com.

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7 Things to Remove From Your Home When You List It

January 2, 2017 4:30 am

When listing your home, there are a lot of things to think about. How you stage your space should definitely be at the top of that list. While you may not have the means to bring in a pro stager, you can put your best foot forward by removing the following from your space.

Family photos. While these treasures may mean the world to you, personal items like this make it difficult for a potential buyer to imagine themselves in your space. Pack up these photos for the move—you'll need to do this eventually anyway, so consider it a head start.

Odors. From a musky basement to the closet where the kitty litter box is kept, odors in your home are a huge turn off. Rip up mildewed carpet, open windows, light candles--whatever you need to do to keep a buyers nose from wrinkling.

Clutter. While you may love your corners stacked high with books and your shelves piled with mementos and knick-knacks, clutter can be distracting for buyers. Pick a few key items to leave out on shelves and pack the rest away.

Non-neutral design elements. Black lights in the basement or lacy, frilly curtains in the sunroom may seem fun to you, but these bold design elements can throw a buyer. Create a neutral atmosphere wherever possible.

Junk. Clear any old, unused items from your closets, storage spaces, basement and attic. You're going to have to get rid of these items when you move anyway, so you may as well do this now so your buyer can envision their own items filling up these spaces. 

Pets. While it may not be possible to banish your furry friends while your home is for sale, you can make sure they're out of the way when a buyer is visiting. You never know what allergies or fears buyers may have, so put the animals outside or bring them over to grandmas for an hour, if possible.

Worn-out furniture. That sagging, stained couch in the basement may not be a big deal to you, but it can be an eyesore to an outsider. An empty space is better than a poorly furnished space, so adjust where needed.

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5 Financial Resolutions for the New Year

January 2, 2017 4:30 am

When it comes to making resolutions, many Americans hope to stash away more cash. Below are several easy financial resolutions you can make to bolster your bank account.

Open a separate savings account to force yourself to build an emergency savings fund. Make it separate from your main financial institution, with no ATM card, so you will be forced to go into a branch to withdraw money.

Educate yourself. Check out some books on personal finance or subscribe to a magazine or personal finance blog.  

Pull your credit score and report. A good way to start the year is to find out exactly where you stand financially. Download your credit report (one free each year from each of the three main reporting bureaus) at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Plan ahead. Get in the habit each night of preparing for the next day: Packing lunches, prepping breakfast and dinner.  That way you will not be tempted to buy convenience food on the run, because you are rushed.

Unsubscribe. Remove the temptation of impulse buying online by unsubscribing from retail email.  This can take some time, but, ultimately, you will save time and money by not being bombarded with emails "deals", tempting you to buy.

Source: www.greenpath.org

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Shopping for a New Car? Game on!

December 29, 2016 4:24 am

Dreaming of a shiny new car in your driveway? Then come back down to earth and create a solid game plan. While the prospect of a new set of wheels is very exciting, it’s critical to slow down and make wise decisions—after all, a car is a big investment. Here are some tips for becoming a savvy car consumer:

1. Get your loan first, advises Consumer Reports. Even before you know what type of car you’re going to buy, do some loan comparison shopping online and find out what sort of interest rates you’re looking at—a difference of only two percentage points can add up to more than $1,000 over the life of the loan. Focus on the annual percentage rate (APR) and go for the shortest timeframe possible—you will end up paying much less for your car over four years as opposed to five.

2. Do upfront research online. According to financial expert Clark Howard, start with the annual April auto issue of Consumer Reports, which features their list of recommended cars to buy. Once you’ve decided on the cars you’re considering, search online for the dealer cost of the vehicle with the options you want. Then, says Howard, get some online price quotes and contact dealers to see if they’ll match the quote.

3. Know your “shopping style” and stick to it, says Kelley Blue Book. Many car buyers get swept away in the moment—or by an effective salesperson—and end up buying a car they didn’t have in mind. So have a clear understanding of what matters most to you in new car - such as value, image or safety - and don’t be talked out of it.

3. Time to choose: new, used or lease? There are several options available when it comes to buying a car, and thanks to the popularity of leasing, you can add certified pre-owned (CPO) to the list. According to BankRate, a CPO may offer the best of all worlds—they’re cheaper than brand-new cars, usually have some warranty left and must meet certain criteria to ensure their condition. Know the pros and cons of each option and decide what will work best for you in advance.

4. Don’t skimp on the test drive. Forget the quick spin around the block—ask the dealership if you can take the car for a few hours or maybe even for the weekend. You want to make sure you’re experiencing the car in a variety of ways (i.e., highway and street) and  in several conditions (i.e, rain, snow, nighttime). BankRate also suggest that you spend some time in the car while it’s in park—play with the seat adjustments and other controls, and survey the backseat and trunk space.

Following the above steps will help stave off buyer’s remorse and keep you happily rolling along in your new ride for years to come.

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Firework Safety for the New Year

December 29, 2016 4:24 am

New Year's Eve is a wonderful time to celebrate. However, if libations flow freely on New Year's night, make sure you're not manning any fire works. Just like you wouldn't drink and drive, drinking and shooting fireworks is a huge safety hazard, resulting in many deaths and injuries every year.

Nancy Blogin, President of the National Council on Fireworks Safety notes: "Each New Year's Eve, consumers are injured because their judgment has been impaired by beer, wine, or other alcoholic drink. In the past several years, there have been reports of accidents where the person that was injured had been under the influence of alcohol and did not handle the fireworks in a responsible way.  The lesson is simple: alcohol and fireworks don't mix."

In addition, the National Council reminds shooters of consumer fireworks of these other important safety tips:

- Only use fireworks outdoors.
- Use fireworks as directed on the product label.
- Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
- Never give fireworks to young children.
- Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
- Always have a bucket of water, or water hose, nearby.

Source: www.FireworksSafety.org.

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How to Use a Gift Card Exchange

December 29, 2016 4:24 am

We've all received a gift card we know we'll never use. Instead of letting the card gather dust or purchasing something you don't truly want, consider using a gift card exchange network to trade that card for one you value more, or swap it for cash value.

According to Cardpool, gift card buyers and sellers interested in using exchange services can follow these tips when considering their gift card exchange options:

Look for trusted exchange providers with a gift card purchase guarantee. For example, Cardpool guarantees that gift cards purchased from its website will be valid at the merchant for the dollar amount specified on your order for up to 180 days from the date of your purchase and up to a maximum of $1,000 per customer.  Do your research before selecting your gift card exchange company. Search news coverage and online reviews including the exchange company's status with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Choose an exchange that verifies the gift card balance. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting with a site that is clear and visible.  

Understand how the buying and selling process works. Read the fine print. Check out reviews and see if former users are satisfied. Be an informed consumer and you will have a positive experience.  

Source: www.cardpool.com.

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Walking: For Your Health and for Your Home’s Value

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

Requiring little athletic ability and virtually no cost, walking has become a popular fitness option for people of all ages. But for a growing number of Americans, walking is about much more than exercise—it’s a lifestyle choice.

Developers and agents across the country can attest to the popularity of this real estate trend and the increase in walkable neighborhoods. A rise in urban living space nationwide is in direct response to consumer demand for the ability to walk to public transportation, restaurants, stores and more.  

While according to the 2015 National Community and Transportation Preference Survey, conducted by the National Association of REALTORS® and the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University, millennials prefer walking over driving by 12 percentage points, walkable neighborhoods are not just for the young—retiring baby boomers are also looking for a lifestyle that puts culture and entertainment within walking distance.

According to the report ‘Foot Traffic Ahead,’ conducted by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business in conjunction with LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, walkable urban places are growing in all of the 20 largest metro areas in the U.S., gaining marketshare against suburban competitors for the first time in decades and garnering higher rent premiums, reports Curbed.

What makes a neighborhood walkable? According to Walk Score®, which helps people evaluate an area’s walkability when deciding where to live, walkable neighborhoods feature the following characteristics:

- A center of town, such as a main street our public space
- Enough people to allow local businesses to thrive and public transit to run frequently
- Mixed-income and mixed-use housing, including affordable housing near businesses
- Plenty of parks and public space
- A pedestrian-friendly design, i.e, buildings are close to the street while parking lots are located further back
- Schools and workplaces that are close enough for most residents to walk to from their homes
- Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians and transportation

And here they are—2016’s 10 most walkable cities, according to Walk Score:

1. New York City
2. San Francisco
3. Boston
4. Philadelphia
5. Miami
6. Chicago
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Seattle
9. Oakland
10. Long Beach

Lace up your sneakers and take a stroll in your neighborhood to get a sense of its walkability. There might be more within reach than you realized—and at the very least, your health will thank you.

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How-to Protect Your Mental Health

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

You protect your home, your passwords, and your finances—but how about your mental health? The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers simple tips everyone can implement to take care of their mental health.

- "Put your own oxygen mask on" before helping others: it's impossible to pour from an empty cup. 

- Recognize the difference between a false alarm and a real emergency -- anxiety is usually a false alarm. 

- Take time to develop your inner peace through meditation, mindfulness, or journaling your thoughts and feelings.

- When having a negative thought, try pairing it with a positive thought and a neutral thought. 

- Allow yourself to feel however you feel; don't try to change it or deny it.

- Schedule regular physical activities to protect against stress, reduce inflammation, improve self-image, and release feel good endorphins.

- Get outdoors when possible to help reduce stress and boost overall well-being.

- Volunteer to help others. It will give you a quick boost and an invaluable perspective of your community.

- Embrace perspectives different than your own. This will help promote positive change in the world around you and in yourself.

- Evaluate who you want to see, be with, share with and just do that. You don't have to interact with everyone.

Source: The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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Have You Heard? Vinyl Is Making A Comeback

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

For many, it's a great feeling to pull out the old vinyl records and settle down in the den to enjoy those vintage sounds. But vinyl is also enjoying a popular comeback in other rooms of the house as well.

The folks at Contractor Quotes (contractorquotes.us) are handling a lot more vinyl floor installations in recent years, and are helping homeowners with advice on how to protect it from everyday wear and tear.

A recent blog on the company website points out that vinyl flooring is a great choice of material for bathrooms and kitchens because it's waterproof and extremely easy to clean. Moreover, vinyl is inexpensive, yet very attractive - providing a cushioned core which tends to be more comfortable to work on.

In addition, the blog says that vinyl plank flooring is warmer as compared to wood or tiles - and with proper cleaning and maintenance, the flooring can look great longer and its original shine and luster could last for years.

If you plan to install vinyl flooring contractorquotes.com has a few tips to consider:

- Make use of doormats. Dirt, dust and debris on shoes can cause damage to vinyl flooring. Even tiny pits of chemicals, gravel and asphalt are abrasive to vinyl and eventually will make the flooring yellow and scratched.

- Sweep the floor. Sweeping every day is one of the most effective ways to protect vinyl plank flooring.

- Clean spills immediately. Regardless of the liquid, clean it up immediately and dry the floor. Sugary drinks become more difficult to clean up as they dry, and even plain water could cause damage when left to sit for too long.

- Use vinegar for daily washing. A mild solution of apple cider vinegar is a harmless cleaning agent that can help keep vinyl flooring looking brand new. Avoid more harsh vinegars that might be tough on the floor.

- Get to know jojoba. Remove scuffs off vinyl flooring using jojoba oil and a soft cloth. As long as they are shallow surface scuffs, the jojoba oil should rub them off easily.

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Why Dogs Make Us Better People

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

There’s much more to owning a dog than gaining a cuddly companion. According to one study, dogs enhance our overall well-being, providing a range of emotional, behavioral and physical benefits for their humans.

But can dogs really make us better people? Yes, say 93 percent of dog owners who responded to a survey from BarkBox. Survey findings reveal that:

- Seven in ten (71 percent) dog owners report that their pup has made them happier, with nearly four in five claiming that their dog’s greeting actually makes it easier to get out of bed!
- About half of dog owners say their pooch has made them more patient (54 percent), responsible (52 percent) or affectionate (47 percent).
- More than four in five (83 percent) say their dog has made them more active, with 72 percent reporting that their dog plays a role in their exercise decisions.
- Eighty-five percent of dog owners say that their dog has helped them through a difficult time in their life.

Given the remarkable impact dogs have on their humans, it’s no surprise that the bond between people and their pups is iron clad. According to the survey, close to nine in ten (87 percent) dog parents say they love their dog “more than they ever thought possible” and more than half (56 percent) wish their dog could understand how much they meant to them. For many, the bond even rivals the selfless love between two humans.

So give your dog an extra treat and big hug tonight – you may owe them more than you think.
Follow me for more insights into family, lifestyle and real estate trends.

Source: Bark & Company

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Top Tips for Whiter, Brighter Teeth

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

When the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry asked people what they would like to improve most regarding their smile, the response was overwhelmingly similar: white teeth. Similarly, the American Association of Orthodontists found that nearly 90 percent of its patients request tooth whitening.

Dr. John Luther, Chief Dental Officer with Western Dental, offers helpful teeth whitening information and tips below:

Why do teeth change colors? Coffee, tea and red wine are three primary staining culprits. So are tobacco (tar and nicotine), aging, and certain medications (some antihistamines, antipsychotics and high blood pressure).

How does teeth whitening work? Whitening products contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, two tooth bleaches. They break stains into smaller pieces, making the color less concentrated and the teeth brighter and whiter.

Does whitening work on all teeth? No. Bleach works well on yellow teeth, but not as much on brown teeth. And gray tones may not bleach at all. Whitening doesn't work on caps, veneers, crowns and fillings.

Below are the top three ways to put a shine back in your smile:

Whitening Toothpastes: Western Dental recommends Opalesence as a safe toothpaste that has polishing agents to provide additional stain removal effectiveness.

In-Office Bleaching: Chairside appointments usually require only one office visit at Western Dental. A dentist will apply either a protective gel to the gums or a rubber shield to protect the gums. Bleach is then applied to the teeth. A special light or laser might be used to enhance the action of the whitening agent.

At-Home Whitening Kits: Western Dental suggests using kits that include 10 upper and lower whitening trays with a 10-percent hydrogen peroxide gel solution that are applied to each arch for an hour a day, whitening teeth up to six shades lighter. Over-the-counter whitening strips are available, but the results are not as dramatic.

Source: www.westerndental.com.
 

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Millennials More Fiscally Responsible Than You Think

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

While millennials often get a bad rap when it comes to responsibility, a new report shows that this generation of 18 – 34 year olds is more on board with financial values than you may have thought.

According to the Credit Karma Millennial Report, millennials are not the irresponsible job hoppers they are often perceived as, but rather loyal employees when treated and paid fairly.  The survey of more than 1,000 millennials also revealed the following surprising facts:
Millennials are financially driven when it comes to career. Almost two-thirds of Millennials said a wage increase or promotion motivated them to change jobs, as opposed to a desire to simply try something new.

Millennials are loyal employees. Seventy percent of older, currently employed Millennials (ages 29-34) said that on average, they had stayed four years or longer at each job they've held. Among younger Millennials (ages 18 – 28), 63 percent said they anticipated working for their current employer for four or more years.

The majority of Millennials are opening credit cards and building positive credit histories early. Millennials are taking the step of opening credit cards just as generations before. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they had at least one open credit card. Among the minority who do not have a credit card, 48 percent cited an aversion to debt as their number one reason.

The majority of young people are saving for retirement and have an emergency fund already. Of the 52 percent of Millennials saving for retirement, 89 percent started at age 28 or younger. Sadly, the survey found the majority (62 percent) aren't confident Social Security will be waiting for them and they are still reeling from the impact of the 2008 recession. In fact, 75 percent of Millennials cite the 2008 financial crisis as moderately, very or extremely influential in shaping their beliefs about personal finance management.

Student loans aren't holding them back. While it's true that this generation is drowning in student loan debt, it isn't holding them back. Less than 20 percent of Millennials surveyed who do not have any open credit cards cited their student debt load as impacting their decision to take out credit. Just 4 percent said that student loans were holding them back from owning a home, making them prime candidates to soon enter the real estate market.

Source: Credit Karma

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What Americans Hope to Do With Their Money in 2017

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

Money is often on the mind of many of us, from daily uses (to latte, or not to latte?) to big ticket spending items and the management of debt. To find out what people hope to do to improve their finances come 2017, GOBankingRates.com asked 3,000 adults to name their top financial resolution for the upcoming year. Below were the options:

- Create a budget and stick to it
- Build an emergency fund
- Improve my credit score
- Save more, spend less
- Increase my income
- Pay down debt
- Save more for retirement
- Have more spending freedom
- Make a large purchase (home, car, etc.)

The most popular choice, hands down, was “save more, spend less.” While what people are saving up for may vary, the fact that they wish they were saving more does not waver. Here's to hoping for big savings in the new year!

Source: GoBankingRates.com

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Procrastination: It’s a Good Thing

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

Were you the kid in school who waited until the last minute to cram for a test or bang out an essay? Are you still pushing off the inevitable as an adult, whether it’s a work deadline, your taxes or a necessary home repair? If so, you’ve probably been shamed with the label of procrastinator. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

According to Psychology Today magazine, highly productive people tend to procrastinate in ways that actually increase their productivity. For example, one thing procrastinators tend to do is take care of small tasks in order to avoid attacking the larger task at hand. While this may seem counterproductive on the surface, you’re actually getting things done and thereby clearing the mental space needed to tackle your big job.

Another classic procrastination tactic is diverting your attention by chatting with a friend or colleague, or surfing the net. But this may be exactly the type of activity your brain needs to get jump-started or inspired to move on to your project. A good laugh, an interesting blog or video, or a few words of inspiration will help you relax and potentially spark a creative idea that sets you in motion.

Procrastination may also be the smartest choice when we’re confronted with making a big decision. According to “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay,” author Frank Partnoy advocates that we wait as long as possible when faced with making a decision—up until the last possible minute, in fact.  In an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Partnoy says, “People are more successful and happier when they manage delay. Procrastination is just a universal state of being for humans. We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks. The question is not whether we are procrastinating, it is whether we are procrastinating well.”

How does one “procrastinate well?” Here are some tips for effectively pushing things off:

Get outside. Take a quick walk, have lunch at the beach or read a magazine in the park. Fresh air will reset and relax the mind.
Phone a friend. You probably owe your best friend or your mother a call. Take a few minutes to invest in a relationship.
Get inspired. Scroll through some favorite quotes or watch a YouTube video of someone you admire.
Keep busy. A body in motion stays in motion, so do small tasks while you’re procrastinating. Vegging out on the sofa can be a dead-end street.
Take a nap. Sometimes, however, we’re just plain tired. So take a 20-minute power nap and wake up with a fresh set of eyes.

Stay tuned for more tips on productivity, life at home and real estate trends.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Keep Those Healthy New Year's Resolutions

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

Whether it's going to the gym, eating more veggies or quitting smoking, many of us make health resolutions at the beginning of the year. But as the year rolls forward, those well-intended resolutions can fall by the wayside. Below are a few tips from USA Medical for keeping up with your health goals, in the new year and beyond. 

Define clear goals. Author and behavioral psychologist, Dr. Paul Marciano specializes in behavior modification and motivation.  In an interview for Forbes, he suggests setting "SMART" goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.  If you're trying to lose weight, for instance, specify the number of pounds you would like to lose, and by when.

Be realistic. How many changes can you actually make?  On WebMD, psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada, Dr. Ian Newby-Clark explains that multiple resolutions often fail because we have limited amounts of willpower.  Most resolutions require more than one simple behavior change.

Use calendars and reminders. Set alarms to remind yourself to work towards your goals.  Keep progress reports and set check points to see if you're on pace.  Think in increments.  Instead of trying to cut all sugar intake immediately, consider drinking one less can of soda a week.  Smaller tasks seem more manageable.  

SOURCE: USA Medical

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What to Do With Your Holiday Tree

December 28, 2016 12:24 am

After Christmas has passed and the presents have been opened, many wonder what to do with their holiday tree. Luckily, many counties have services to dispose of or recycle your old tree. Below is a breakdown.

Curbside pick-up. Many cities and counties schedule a curb-side tree pickup around two weeks after christmas. Typically these trees are then turned into mulch, but feel free to call your city planning office and inquire. Before you drag your tree to the curb, be sure to remove any and all decorations.  

Non-profits. There may be non-profits in your area that will pick up your old tree for a small fee. Call around to find the best option.  

Drop off. Many stores and centers take old trees at no charge. Many Home Depot locations take drop offs. Call around to find the best fit.    

Whether you're dropping off or having your tree scooped up, there are some thing you must do to prep.

1. Remove all decorations. This means ornaments, tinsel, lights, and tree stands.

2. Trim it down. Many pick-up services require trees cut into four feet lengths. Call your service in advance to find out.

3. Make sure it's out of the way. If you're having a curb-side pickup, make sure your tree is out of the way of the road and sidewalk.

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How to Save Electricity When You're Away

December 20, 2016 4:39 am

When planning to leave your home for vacation, there's a lot to think about: finding someone to feed the cats, holding your mail at the post office, packing your bags, and more. But how about lowering your electric bills when you're out of town?  The following 5 tips courtesy of Duke Energy can help shave dollars off your bill. Keep in mind that savings will vary depending on the length of your trip, your home size, your home's insulation and your  heating system.

1. If you have a programmable thermostat, use the "vacation" mode. If you have a manual unit, adjusting your thermostat just a few degrees cooler will have a significant impact. A change of just three degrees for 24 hours a day can save 30 percent on your heating costs. Also, set the fan to "auto," not "on." Leaving the fan on all the time costs up to $25 a month. If the forecast is for mild weather, consider turning the system off completely.

2. Turn off your electric water heater at your breaker if you plan to leave home for a few days. Most models will reheat the water to the set temperature in about an hour. A large amount of the cost of running a water heater is due to the "standby" losses. Water heaters are among the top three energy using appliances in your home.

3. Most of us empty our refrigerators before heading out of town, but did you know a fully stocked refrigerator keeps cold better than an empty one? Keep the fridge and freezer full and tightly packed, and the cold items will keep one another cold. It doesn't even have to be food; you can use water containers or ice trays. Conserve even more energy by adjusting the thermostats on your refrigerator and freezer to higher settings; 38°F for the refrigerator and 5°F for the freezer. For trips lasting four weeks or more, consider emptying your refrigerator completely and unplugging it.

4. Unplug small electrical equipment such as radios, DVD players or TVs when not in use. Electronic appliances can act like energy vampires, sucking power even when they are not in use. This is called phantom loads. Your coffee maker, cable box, game console, laptop computer and even your rechargeable toothbrushes are a few examples of these phantom power users.  

5. Make sure fans and lights are turned off. For security lights, consider using a timer. And, switch bulbs to LEDs or CFLs to save even more.Source: duke-energy.com/save

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An Easy Guide for Year-End Financial Planning

December 20, 2016 4:39 am

With your eyes on the new year, it can be easy to make fresh resolutions and forget to pay mind to your spending habits from the year past. Considering that an estimated one in three Americans will make a New Year’s resolution related to their finances, it's important to do a little end-of-year financial planning. Below are 5 tips offered by Fifth Third Bancorp.

1. Reduce taxable income 

In order to offset taxable income, the most important strategy for investors to consider is tax-loss selling and taking advantage of underwater securities.

“Selling stocks, bonds or mutual funds that have lost value should be a priority this time of year,” says Jeff Korzenik, chief investment strategist for Fifth Third. “When done in conjunction with rebalancing a portfolio, investors can minimize the tax consequences and impact.”

Additionally, Korzenik suggests taking interest rates into account throughout the planning process. Gradual interest rate increases are being monitored for next year, which are typically associated with the latter half of an economic expansion. With this in mind, investors should expect lower returns from the bonds portion of a portfolio and be more selective in their equity investments as they plan for next year.

2. Maximize investment opportunities

To wrap up 2016, Melissa Register, senior wealth planner for Fifth Third Private Bank, recommends being selective in investment decisions. By working with a wealth management advisor, you can ensure that your allocation aligns with your goals and time horizon for both your taxable and tax-deferred accounts. From this checkpoint, you can identify necessary adjustments.

“Investors can plan ahead by rebalancing portfolios and diversifying their investments before the close of the year,” said Register. “There are significant growth opportunities for 2017 in alternative investments and selective international exposure.”

3. Plan for charitable giving during the holidays 

When it comes to charitable giving, Glen Johnson, managing director of Mirador Family Wealth Advisors, suggests engaging family members in the decision-making process.

“More than half of charitable giving is done in one month of the entire year: December,” said Johnson. “Holiday gatherings are an opportune time for families to set joint year-end goals and develop a strategy for allocating philanthropic donations in 2017.”

Johnson also suggests using assets that have appreciated in value as gifts for charitable donations to avoid capital gains. “People often don’t think about real estate, collectibles or art as potential gifts, which could ultimately fund a new program or service for a charity,” said Johnson.

Source: www.53.com

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How to Save Money on That New Vehicle

December 20, 2016 4:39 am

On the wishlist for many of us is a shiny new car. However, three out of four U.S. consumers believe that new vehicles are unaffordable. This is not necessarily true. Below are four money-saving tips that can help you snag that new vehicle, courtesy of Requisite Press.

Obtain preapproved financing. Financing costs can add thousands of dollars to a vehicle purchase. Car buyers can ensure a competitive financing environment and avoid unnecessary costs by obtaining a preapproved loan from their bank or credit union.

Sell a trade-in separately. When a purchase is combined with a trade-in, a seemingly great price quote may be offset by a mediocre trade-in offer. Separating the transactions ensures that the price quote can be easily compared to quotes from competing dealers.

Avoid add-ons. Add-ons, such as a vehicle service contract, are costly and rarely make financial sense. Consumers are better served by using savings to pay for both planned and unplanned maintenance.

Obtain a market price. There are internet prices, "fair" prices, and better than the neighbor's price prices—all higher than the market price. The best price—a market price—is obtained through robust competition. This can be efficiently achieved with negotiation-free car buying.

Source: http://www.requisitepress.com/ABAI

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Will Renters Pay More For An Energy Efficient Pad?

December 15, 2016 12:36 am

You might think that renters across the U.S. would be most concerned about making their monthly rent payments. But we were surprised to learn that more of today's renters are worried about their utility bills than their rent.

The latest Freddie Mac research shows more renters are worried about rising utility bills than rising rents, and nearly half of the renters surveyed say they are willing to pay more for rentals with cost-saving water and energy features.

A large majority (88 percent) agreed multifamily properties with green energy, and water-saving features would help reduce their utility bills, with 84 percent saying green properties are generally better places to live.
Nearly half (47 percent) say they are willing to pay more for an environmentally-friendly rental. Renters in the South (52 percent) and West (49 percent) were more likely to say they would pay more than those in the Midwest (39 percent) or Northeast (44 percent).

David Brickman, executive vice president and head of Freddie Mac's Multifamily business says it is striking that so many are apparently willing to pay more for properties with features they believe will reduce their utility bills.

Other significant findings from Freddie Mac's new research show:
  • Most renters say the rental experience is satisfying and affordable.
  • More than half expect to rent their new home.
  • Down Payments are ranked below other savings goals.
  • Concern about household finances is rising.
By generation, Gen-Xers' showed the biggest increase in concern about household financial situations over the past year (53 percent to 70 percent), followed by Millennials (64 percent to 68 percent) and Baby Boomers (61 percent to 62 percent).

Overall, the percentage of renters who say they have enough money to go beyond each payday fell from 41 percent to 34 percent over the past year. The percentage of renters who say they either live payday to payday, or don't have enough for basics between paychecks, rose from 59 percent to 66 percent.

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A Holiday Lesson in Light Safety

December 15, 2016 12:36 am

Nothing is more festive than a home ablaze with holiday lights. However,  it's important to remember that your favorite holiday décor could pose serious hazards, like fire or electrical injury. To avoid this, make sure you take the proper precautions.

- Use good quality light sets. A good quality light set should be sturdy with a minimum of 22 gauge (awg) wiring, no loose connectors, and have fuses at the plug to protect against overheating.

- Test your lights and check cords for damage. It's always a good idea to plug in your lights before you hang them to look for bad bulbs and frayed cords.

- Use lights, extension cords and surge protectors that are specifically rated for outdoor use when hanging lights outdoors. You'll know they are outdoor-approved by clearly marked labels and tags.

- Limit the length of your light strings. Many holiday light manufacturers advise connecting no more than three strings of incandescent lights together. LED light sets can be longer, but it's important to avoid running extension cords, wires or strings of lights across driveways, sidewalks, stairs, or anywhere they could present a tripping hazard.

- Take proper safety precautions when using a ladder to string lights. Safe ladder usage means setting the ladder on stable ground and about one foot away from the wall for every four feet the ladder reaches up.

- Use a timer to ensure that your lights and other decorations are only lit between sundown and bedtime. This will help illuminated décor from overheating.

Source: www.mistersparky.com

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Financial Well-Being May Be Best Gift This Season

December 14, 2016 12:36 am

While gifting loved ones with holiday cash or gift cards has been a long-standing option, retailers are offering new ways this season give your favorite people some financial well-being instead of the latest toys, fads or fashions.

Among them, according to Sarah Skidmore Sell at the Associated Press, is Stockpile, a company whose gift cards can be redeemed for stock, which is rolling out its products to more than 14,000 stores this holiday season.

Sold at popular retail chains like Target, Kroger, and Safeway, the gift cards may be purchased for a dollar amount of stock rather than the price for a share – and purchases can be in any amount.

Gift of College, which gives people another way to contribute to college savings plans or pay down student loans, began selling its gift cards at Toys R Us and Babies R Us nationally this month.

All 529 college savings plans grow tax-free, and withdrawals for educational expenses are also untaxed. The giver may get also a tax break, as 34 states and the District of Columbia offer either a state income tax deduction or tax credits for such contributions.

Since the average debt at graduation with a bachelor’s degree was more than $35,000 last year, Gift of College gift cards are becoming so popular that some employers are offering them as holiday bonus gifts for their workers, Sell said.

Financial gifts, whether in the form of cash or gift cards, may have tax implications, so it may be advisable to check with a financial advisor if your gift will be substantial. But in most cases, gifts of cash or any of these new gift card options offer a unique opportunity to send love and best wishes in a way that may help recipients develop an interest in thrift and/or in future investing.

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Protecting Your Home against Wicked Weather

December 14, 2016 12:36 am

While the east coast recently suffered through Hurricane Matthew, severe weather can strike anywhere, anytime. The Massachusetts-based Hanover Insurance Group recently shared these tips to help homeowners protect both their families and their properties during a storm.

Know what's in your home. A home inventory is often overlooked. An industry poll indicated homeowners' insurance claims are processed nearly twice as fast if home inventories are completed in advance.

Gather supplies. It is always a good idea to create an emergency supplies kit. Consider including items such as flashlights, batteries, medicines, a first aid kit, cash, a battery-powered radio, and a week's worth of water and nonperishable food for the household.

Prepare your house. Make any necessary repairs to loose boards, shingles, downspouts or other items that can pose problems in high winds and torrential rain. Move any unsecured items indoors, including grills, toys, planters and lawn furniture. Trim or remove any decaying and damaged tree branches.

Have a plan. Learn the local evacuation routes and make note of where local shelters are located. Have key telephone numbers on hand, such as family, friends, fire and police departments, and your insurance agent.

Stay informed. Sign up for alerts if possible. Many towns offer weather alerts to help inform residents of ways to stay safe.

Check your insurance protection. An independent insurance agent can help ensure comprehensive coverages are in place. Some good questions to consider include:
  • Are current rebuilding costs covered?
  • Should separate flood insurance be considered?
  • Are there any gaps in coverage?
​Source: The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc.

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Holiday Tips for Alzheimer's Families

December 14, 2016 12:36 am

While the holidays are often a joyous time for celebrating with friends and families, for families living with Alzheimer's, celebrations can be a bit of a challenge. Read on for tips on helping your family have the best holiday season possible.

Talk to friends and family before they arrive
Explain that your loved one with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him or herself.  Everyone can help by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts. Help visitors understand that in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer's, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited. 

Adjust expectations
The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Make sure everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine.

Involve the person with dementia
Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums. As the person's abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table.

When the person lives in a care facility
Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities. Bring a favorite holiday food to share, sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in or read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud.

Source: www.alz.org/nyc

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Make Your Home Just a Little Smarter

December 12, 2016 4:30 am

According to a 2016 HomeAdvisor research report, Americans spent on average $564 - $2,260 to install a home automation system, with prices ranging as high as $15,000 to install a hard-wired system. While outfitting your home with a full suite of smart home technology can be pricey and intimidating, there are some smaller ways you can start to incorporate this all-the-rage trend into your abode.

Smart home automation deals with syncing household devices and systems with schedules or responsive sensors, says HomeAdvisor, which means that smart home technology is dependent upon  smartphone apps and wireless internet routers. The goal is to save on costs, and add convenience and security throughout your home.

A good place to start is with your thermostat. A variety of smart thermostats are available, allowing you to automate and control your home’s temperature from your smartphone. Some, like Nest, learn your habits throughout the day and set the temperature accordingly.

You might also want to consider a smart television. An evolution of the Roku and Apple TV external devices, smart televisions have integrated everything you could ever want right into your set - Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Go, Pandora, network TV, gaming and much more.

Another great feature to consider is smart shades or blinds. These programmable, remote-controlled window coverings allow you to schedule open-and-close times in conjunction with the room’s exposure, putting you in control of energy saving and setting the mood.

Speaking of setting the mood, a whole host of smart light dimmers give you the option to control the lights in your home from your smartphone. This is an especially useful security feature while you’re away from your home for extended periods of time.

Another great security option is smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors—this technology alerts you to not only what the problem is but within which part of your home it’s happening.

While the smart home technology options are endless and fascinating, keep in mind that they are internet dependent, so if your home goes offline, so will your devices.

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Personal Finance 101: What is a Fiduciary?

December 12, 2016 4:30 am

Those looking into hiring a finance advisor may have heard the term “fiduciary” thrown around. But what is a fiduciary, and do you need one?

"Consumers are hearing the term 'fiduciary' more often, but increased awareness doesn't necessarily equal increased understanding," explains  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors CEO Geoffrey Brown.

What is a fiduciary? A fiduciary is a professional entrusted to manage assets or wealth while putting the client's best interests first at all times. Financial advisors who follow a fiduciary standard must disclose any conflict, or potential conflict, to their clients prior to and throughout the advisory engagement. Fiduciaries will also adopt a code of ethics and will fully disclose how they are compensated.

Non-fiduciary financial professionals can recommend investments with higher fees, riskier features and lower returns because they earn more money for the advisor, even if those investments are not the best choice for their clients.

Who is a fiduciary? Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are held to a fiduciary standard of care. By law, they must act solely in the best interest of their clients. To ensure your advisor or a potential advisor is following a fiduciary standard, request to see the advisor's ADV (a form filed with the SEC) or ask if they will sign a Fiduciary Oath.

How can you find a fiduciary? Accountability is important in financial planning. While there are many people in the financial industry who profess to have the client's best interests at heart, they still may have conflicts that impact their recommendations. It's important for consumers to ask the right questions of any potential advisors.  

Source: http://www.napfa.org

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How to Keep Your Pipes From Freezing

December 12, 2016 4:30 am

Winter means toasty fires, steaming cups of hot cocoa and—for many—frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can lead to major damage, so it's important to keep them protected when cold air hits.  

Gary Eisenhauer, a manager at The Sunny Plumber in Las Vegas, recommends a few tips for protecting your pipes as the weather turns cold.  

- When an overnight freeze is expected, slowly run one or two faucets to keep water moving through the lines.

- Outdoor hoses and their connection to water sources are particularly vulnerable to freezing weather. Eisenhauer advises consumers to unscrew hoses from the outdoor facet to allow for drainage and keep outside hose bibs open to allow water to drain.

- All outside pipes and hose spigots should be insulated, this is easy to do with the purchase of an installation kit from your local hardware store.

- Pipes running against exterior walls, like those in kitchens, are often subject to freezing and typically have little to no insulation. Keep cabinets under kitchen and bathrooms sinks open to allow for warm air flow to prevent freezing.

- Pipes in unheated areas like basements, attics and near garages are also susceptible to damage from cold. Take special care to insulate these areas.

- Heat tape is a great product to insulate water pipe. These "pipe sleeves" could be as simple as newspaper wrapped around pipes to keep them warm and insulated.

- During cold spells, Eisenhauer recommends keeping your thermostat set at the same temperature during the night and day – this helps regulate temperatures and prevent unwanted expansion.Source: thesunnyplumber.com.

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How to Pay Less at the Gas Pump

December 9, 2016 4:24 am

While gas prices dropped to a 12-year low this past July and are expected to remain favorable, it’s always a smart idea to be prudent when it comes to fuel usage – both for your wallet and the environment. Here’s some great advice from the U.S. Department of Energy, on saving money at the pump.

Turn your engine off when you’re parked for more than 10 seconds. Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size, adding up to $.03 cents* of wasted fuel a minute.

Calm down behind wheel. Aggressive driving – i.e., speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration -  can lower your highway gas mileage by up to 33 percent and your city mileage by 5 percent.

Watch your speed. Every five miles per hour above 50 miles per hour, equates to an additional $.19 cents per gallon of gasoline. 

Stow items inside the car as opposed to the roof rack. This reduces “drag,” which can decrease your fuel economy by up to 8 percent in city driving and up to 25 percent at Interstate speeds. 

That said, avoid keeping heavy items in your car; an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could increase your gas costs by up to $.03 cents per gallon.

Run all your errands at once since stopping and starting cold can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

Drive less. Of course telecommuting, carpooling, and public transportation are the ultimate ways to save on fuel costs. Try walking or biking and you can tick off the exercise box, too.

*All cost estimates assume an average price of $2.69 per gallon.

Source: fueleconomy.gov

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5 Tips for Easy Holiday Shipping

December 9, 2016 4:24 am

(Family Features)--It's the most wonderful time of the year, and holiday gift-giving and receiving is at the top of everyone's to-do list. There are several simple steps you can take to make those deliveries a little easier.

1. Pack like a pro (or rely on one). Be sure your packages arrive intact by using the proper materials. Use sturdy, corrugated boxes as well as foam packaging peanuts and bubble cushioning to protect your gifts. Allow at least 2 inches on all sides of the items being packed, including the top and bottom.  

2. Secure delivery locations. If you're expecting deliveries of online purchases or gifts, you may hesitate to leave the house and enjoy holiday outings and family activities. Some companies allow you to redirect packages to a neighbor or a nearby business so you can rest assured your packages are in good hands.

3. Ask for a guarantee. After spending precious time selecting each gift, you need assurance and peace of mind that your efforts won't be for naught. For example, The UPS Store offers the Pack and Ship Guarantee, a service that covers lost or damaged items. Some providers even offer coverage for the cost of packing materials, service and shipping.

4. Use tracking tools. The holiday season is no time to wonder when or if your package will arrive. Using a trackable delivery service helps ensure you can monitor your package's progress and receive an alert when it is successfully delivered.

5. Ensure gifts arrive before Santa. Timing is key when it comes to holiday shipping. Mark the calendar with these shipping deadlines so all gifts arrive just in time.

Source:  theupsstore.com 

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How to Prepare Your Car for Winter

December 9, 2016 4:24 am

As winter weather blows in, many of us are thinking about the holidays. But with temperature drops and inclement conditions involving snow and ice, it's important to pay attention to your car to ensure your safety all season long. Routine maintenance, changing tires and fluids, and traveling with an emergency kit can help drivers avoid weather-related issues.

Below are six tips to prepare for the winter season, courtesy of YourMechanic.

Store an emergency kit in your car that includes a first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, jumper cables, food, water, flares, warm clothing, blankets, tools, and any other items that may help if your vehicle breaks down or you are at risk of being stranded.

Check your engine coolant to ensure it is able to withstand the coldest sustained temperature in your region. Consider scheduling a cooling system flush to keep the vehicle in top condition.

Inspect the windshield washer system. Make sure wiper blades are working and regular washer fluid has been replaced with winter washer fluid, which has antifreeze properties. Replace old wiper blades before winter and keep an ice scraper in your vehicle.

Perform routine maintenance including regular oil and filter changes. Extreme cold weather, below -25°F, may require a different blend of motor oil for your vehicle.

Consider winter tires if your vehicle will be driven in a region with three or more months of snow annually. The tread on winter tires provides enhanced traction. All-season or summer tires lose effectiveness below 45°F.

Test your battery. A weak battery may have difficulty starting because reserve energy levels drop when temperatures plummet.  At 0°F, a car battery can lose about 60 percent of its strength, and at 32°F the battery can lose 35 percent of its strength.

Source: http://www.yourmechanic.com

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Med-free Ways to Conquer Insomnia

December 7, 2016 4:24 am

Whether it’s due to stress, health issues or simply age-related, insomnia is sheer misery. Poor sleep can wreak havoc on our productivity and relationships, both at work and at home. Chronic fatigue is also dangerous, contributing to a host of illnesses and making it unsafe to drive or perform certain tasks.

But are over-the-counter or prescribed sleeping medications the only answer? For some, there may be no choice, but for many, there are several great, drug-free ways to induce better sleep. Give the following a try before turning to pharmaceuticals.

Read. Find a book that really grabs your interest, and make reading your nightly before-bed ritual. Reading relaxes the mind, whereas screens of any kind – TV, phone, tablet – stimulate your brain and make falling asleep even more difficult. If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, instead of endlessly turning and tossing, start reading again. A good story will divert your mind from anxious, middle-of-the-night thoughts, and before you know it, you’ll be slipping back into sound slumber.

Meditate. For anxiety-induced insomnia, meditation can be life-saving. The goal of meditation is to relieve your mind of all thoughts and simply focus on the power of deep breathing. Don’t be discouraged if you find this almost impossible to do—meditation is an acquired skill and the mere act of just trying, starts relieving your mind of stress. Try a popular meditation app, such as Deepak Chopra’s Ananda, which allows you to choose you meditation, music and the duration. A simple 10-minutes worth can provide tremendous benefits.

Do Some Yoga. While certain yoga poses get the blood flowing and leave you invigorated, other poses are geared toward relaxation and will help you wind down, such as Locust pose and Legs up the Wall. According to mindbodygreen.com, these restorative poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to counteract stress and promote relaxation. Such poses are for beginners and pros alike and can even be done right in bed!

Try Some Tea. Often underrated, natural night-time teas can work wonders. You can also brew a cup if you wake up in the middle of the night, since they are always caffeine-free. There are many on the market, but look for ingredients such as chamomile, valerian, lavender and lemon balm. You can also grow your own lemon balm and add a little to your dinner.

If all else fails, please do see your doctor. A good night’s sleep should be priority-one for all.

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Make Safety a Priority This Holiday Season

December 7, 2016 4:24 am

Your ideal holiday likely does not involve a trip to the emergency. Unfortunately, approximately 15,000 people are seriously injured and visit the emergency room during the holiday season. Between stringing lights on tall trees, enjoying fires inside and shoveling snowy drives, there are numerous ways to forget your own safety.

Below are a few holiday safety tips, courtesy of the National Safety Council.

- Never use lighted candles near trees or boughs

- Use a ladder or step stool to decorate high places

- Keep poisonous plants such as poinsettias out of reach of animals and children

- Check holiday lights for fraying, bare spots, gaps in insulation or excessive kinking in the wire

- Turn off all tree lights and decorations when not in use

- When cooking, wash hands, sink, utensils and anything else that touches raw meat

- Immediately refrigerate leftovers, and reheat food to at least 165 degrees

- If you are hosting a party and serving alcohol, make sure everyone has a safe ride home. Impairment begins with the first drink.

- Avoid giving children gifts with small parts or button batteries, which are easily swallowed and can be fatal.

Source: nsc.org

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Parents: Five Tips to Avoid Toy-Related Eye Injuries

December 7, 2016 4:24 am

While it can be tempting to give your kid that gift they've been begging for, be sure to do your due diligence to make sure that product is safe. A number of recent studies have shown that some popular toy types are commonly associated with childhood eye injuries. These include air guns and other toys that shoot projectiles, high-powered lasers, and sports equipment.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers the following toy safety tips.

- Beware of airsoft, BB guns, and other projectile toys. Every year ophthalmologists treat thousands of patients with devastating eye injuries caused by seemingly safe toys. Avoid items with sharp, protruding or projectile parts such as airsoft guns, BB guns and other nonpowder gun–related toys. Foreign objects can easily propel into the sensitive tissue of the eye.

- Never allow children to play with high-powered laser pointers.  A number of recent reports in the United States and internationally show that children have sustained serious eye injuries by playing with high-powered lasers (between 1500 and 6000 milliwatts). Over the years, these lasers have become increasingly more powerful, with enough potential to cause severe retinal damage, with just seconds of laser exposure to the eye. The FDA advises the public to never aim or shine a laser pointer at anyone and to not buy laser pointers for children.

- Read labels for age recommendations before you buy. To select appropriate gifts suited for a child's age, look for and follow the age recommendations and instructions about proper assembly, use, and supervision.

- Don't just give presents. Make sure to be present. Always make sure an adult is supervising when children are playing with potentially hazardous toys or games that could cause an eye injury.

- Know what to do (and what not to). If someone you know experiences an eye injury, seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. As you wait for medical help, make sure to never to touch, rub, apply pressure, or try to remove any object stuck in the eye. If an eye injury occurs follow these important care and treatment guidelines.

Source: www.aao.org.

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5 Reasons Why You Should Open a Health Savings Account

December 6, 2016 4:18 am

Many reports in recent years place medical expenses as the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in America – even for those who have health insurance. No matter what your insurance status may be, there’s no denying that medical costs are expensive.

One way to ease the burden is by opening a pre-tax Health Savings Account (HSA). While you should check with your employer or financial advisor, here are some reasons why an HSA may be a good idea, according to Optum Bank.

1. HSA contributions are tax deductible. This means you are actually receiving discounts on health care expenses. For example, if you receive a dentist bill for $400, when you pay with your HSA, you are saving between $100 and $140 dollars based on your tax rate.

2. Your HSA money is yours to keep. Any money deposited into your HSA, either by you or your employer, is yours to keep, with no deadline for spending the money. According to Optum, this makes an HSA a great way to save for retirement – any money you keep in your account will earn interest.

3. An HSA gives you a cushion for the unexpected. You never know when a big medical expense will hit, so having a cushion in your HSA account is extremely helpful. You can also reimburse yourself from your HSA account when you pay for medical expenses out of pocket.

4. You can use your HSA for anyone in your family. You can use your HSA to pay for the qualified medical expenses of anyone you claim on your taxes, even if you're only enrolled with single coverage.

5. Your HSA can be used for many drugstore items. You can use your HSA card to pay for many common items that tend to really add up, such as over-the-counter cold medicines, pain relievers, allergy medicines, first-aid items, etc.

A small, pre-tax contribution to your HSA every month can help you meet deductibles and provide some often needed peace of mind in today’s economic climate.

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How to Make the Holidays Safe and Bright

December 6, 2016 4:18 am

The holidays are a time of friends and family. Unfortunately, they can also be a time of fire. Between 2009 and 2013 fire departments responded to over 1,000 home structure fires in the United States due to holiday decorations and/or Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The following eight tips can help ensure safety during the holiday season:

- Install smoke detectors on every level of the home, making sure at least one is located outside the sleeping area.

- Use holiday lights that are approved by a nationally recognized testing organization, such as Underwriter's Laboratory (UL). Only use indoor lights indoors and outdoor lights outside.

- Before hanging any lights, inspect them for frayed wires, broken sockets or other signs of wear. Test each light string and discard damaged sets.

- Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord. Place extension cords against the wall to avoid tripping hazards. Do not run cords under rugs, around furniture legs or across doorways.

- Keep electrical connections off the ground and make sure they are clear of downspouts, railings, aluminum siding, standing water and snow.

- Never leave lights on trees and decorations unattended. Turn them off before you go to bed or leave the home. Consider using a timer.

- If you use an artificial tree choose one that is tested and labeled as fire resistant.

- If using a real tree, lessen the fire hazard by making sure it stays fresh. Cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood and insert the base into a stand that holds water. Keep the stand filled with water. Keep the tree away from heat sources such a furnaces and heat registers, fireplaces, and space heaters.

Source: www.ConsumersEnergy.com.

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3 Ways to Get Resourceful with Gift Wrapping

December 6, 2016 4:18 am

(Family Features)--After spending hours searching for the perfect gift, it's only fitting that the wrapping is just as special as the gift itself. Luckily, elaborate wrapping doesn't have to be pricey – you can easily find ways to perfect and personalize your gift with what you have left over from last year and everyday items around the house.

1. Use what's around you. You don't have to buy fancy, expensive wrapping paper to make a gift special. Use household items like newspapers, paper bags and even magazines for unconventionally wrapped gifts that still give off a wow-factor. If you have extra bakers twine, use it to create a shabby-chic bow and adorn the present with a small sprig from your Christmas tree. These household items can give gifts a handmade and homey touch that friends and family will love.

2. Don't let anything go to waste. Get the most out of gift wrapping by using every last bit of your supplies. If you're at the end of two rolls of different wrapping paper, use the scraps to create a perfectly mismatched present by covering 2/3 of the gift with one paper and the remainder with the other. Use Scotch GiftWrap Tape where both papers meet to create a seam that blends flawlessly into the wrapping paper and top with a bow. If you have leftover birthday paper, using it for a holiday gift is no problem. Flip the paper inside out to use the white side, then simply adorn the gift with decorative tapes to add pizazz, texture and dimension.

3. Accessorize and personalize. Embellish your present with personal touches and accessories to make it stand out. There's no need to go out and buy fancy bows and ribbons when you can turn everyday items into personalized decorations directly related to the gift itself – like decorating with crayons if you're giving a coloring book. For quick, DIY monogramming you can do at home, simply use stencils to cut out the letters of your recipient's name and tape them directly onto the box. If you're worried about choosing the perfect card, save your money and easily create your own out of cardstock or construction paper for a special touch and personalized message. Whichever way you choose, the time and care you put into personalizing your gift will not go unnoticed.

Source: ScotchBrand.com. 

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Be Wary of Winter Scam Artists

December 2, 2016 4:15 am

While the holidays are a time of joy and togetherness, they are also a time when scam artists prey on unsuspecting consumers. ScamAwareness.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about financial fraud, is warning consumers to watch out for three scams that typically increase during the holidays. 

Internet Purchase Scam 
The internet purchase scam is consistently the top fraud complaint reported by U.S. consumers each year. According to the National Retail Federation, this holiday season customers are expected to spend an estimated $117 billion online. These shoppers are prime targets for scam artists offering merchandise, gift cards and even pets at a steep discount. Many of these offers look too good to be true, and they usually are. Consumers should never wire money for an online purchase. A money transfer is the same as cash and once it is received it cannot be recovered.

Fake Charity 
American charities receive one-third of their annual donations during the holiday season. Scammers take advantage of this outpouring of goodwill by creating new charities or misusing the name and brand of a well-known charity to get donations sent directly to them. Before donating, consumers should verify that the charity and its web address are legitimate. When sending the money, use a check or credit card instead of a wire transfer or cash for donations.

Holiday Employment 
Holiday employment scams have many different twists. Some scammers target people looking to earn extra money by offering a person a job that involves spending money up front for "training" or a "start-up kit" that the victim never receives. Other fraudsters may send a fake check to a "new hire" and ask them to cash it, keep some of the money as payment, and then wire what's left back to them. The victims in both of these situations end up losing their money and a job they thought they had. Consumers should be aware that no legitimate company will ask them to pay money in order to earn money.

"Consumers should never send money to someone they really don't know. While they are enjoying their holidays, fraudsters are hard at work plotting to take their money," says Juan Agualimpia, executive vice president of ScamAwareness.org. "Our organization works year-round to help spread the word about common scams and we hope that all consumers will use ScamAwareness.org as a resource this holiday season to learn how to spot scams and protect themselves and their family members."  

Consumers who think they've been scammed should contact their local police immediately.

Source: scamawareness.org.

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Tips for Handling the Holidays after a Divorce

December 2, 2016 4:15 am

There is no easy time to go through a divorce, but handling your first holiday alone can be extra hard. Here are three other things to remember when dealing with the holidays following divorce.

1. Think about the Children First. First and foremost, remember the children. No matter how you and your ex-spouse feel about each other, you both love your children, and they need to understand and experience this. This means that you need to keep any negative feelings towards your ex to yourself.

2. Don't Overcompensate. There is a temptation to overcompensate for a divorce by "buying your children's love" at holiday time. Trying to outdo the other parent by purchasing more or higher priced presents won't make your children love you any more; it will only confuse them and inflate your credit card bill.

3. Plan Schedules That Work. The holiday season can be demanding enough as it is; as a recently divorced single parent, it can be even more difficult. As you are planning schedules keep the children in mind. Be thoughtful about timing of transitions for the children keeping in mind traditions, sleep and meal schedules. These things are more important than making sure you and your ex have equal holiday time. Also take care of yourself. Make time to unwind and relax every day. This will help you be a better parenting during this challenging time.

Source: www.Boystown.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Ways Soapstone Enhances Home Design

December 2, 2016 4:15 am

(Family Features)--Move over, marble and granite. There’s a new, old stone that’s coming back into vogue. After first coming into use 5,000 years ago, soapstone is once again becoming a “go-to” material for kitchen and bath designs, indoor and outdoor living spaces and more.

There are three primary reasons for the revived interest in soapstone, according to Steven Schrenk, digital media director and design consultant at Polycor, who has been working with natural stone for 22 years.

Aesthetics: One major factor driving soapstone’s appeal is shifting aesthetic trends. While designers and homeowners have been fascinated by the bright, wide range of colors and bold patterns that could be discovered in natural stone, people are coming back to a tonal, more muted palette, according to Schrenk.

Schrenk sees more designers working with textures within a similar palette of color and playing up the tactile qualities of materials and patterns within that limited palette.


“This is where soapstone plays well in pairing with these different finishes,” he said. “It tends to blend into its space and become more integrated in the whole design instead of being a separate, individual entity.”

Another aesthetic benefit of soapstone is that multiple tonalities can be achieved depending on the finishing techniques.

“It may be a cool, blue-gray color when left in its natural honed state or a deep, sultry black when waxed or enhanced,” Schrenk said. “You can go from a highly figured, dramatic statement piece to a minimal and moody silky surface in the slabs that are neutral without veining.”

Function: When it comes to home design, there’s no doubt that appearance is key, but so is a material’s ability to stand up to its task. Soapstone is nonporous, so it doesn’t stain. It’s softer than granite and marble, dense and heavy, but not brittle. It doesn’t chip easily, but if it does chip, it can be repaired with sandpaper. Those high-performance features make soapstone well-suited to serve numerous functions.

Versatility: “No matter how you slice it, there are 101 ways to style soapstone; whereas with some other materials, there are more limitations,” Schrenk said.

Because of the stone’s ability to absorb and radiate heat, it can be used for unique items, such as pizza ovens and foot warmers, says Glenn Bowman, owner of Vermont Soapstone. He has also seen soapstone used in a variety of everyday applications, both indoors and outdoors, including tiles, flooring, backsplashes, sinks and a variety of custom stonework.

Source: usenaturalstone.com. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Know the Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

December 1, 2016 4:15 am

Carbon monoxide poison is a silent danger that claims over 400 lives in the U.S. Annually, as well as over 20,000 visits to the emergency room, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To keep your family safe, know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning:

- Headaches
- Nausea
- Vomiting
- Dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue

"Safety is our top priority at DTE Energy, and we urge residents to be particularly alert to carbon monoxide danger during the fall and winter heating season. It's when CO exposure most frequently occurs," says Brad Burcz, senior safety and health engineer, DTE Energy.  "One of the best defenses against CO poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide alarm near all sleeping areas in your home. If dangerous levels of CO are detected, an audible alarm will alert you."

DTE offers the following tips to prevent CO poisoning in homes and businesses:

- For businesses, install carbon monoxide alarms in main areas away from vents and appliances or equipment that produce smoke or steam.

- Replace batteries in CO alarms annually.

- If a CO alarm is activated, or the presence of carbon monoxide is suspected, immediately get out of the house or building into fresh air, and if necessary, seek medical attention.

- Ensure all fuel-burning appliances are operating and venting properly. 

- Get an annual furnace inspection by a licensed professional.

- Check yearly to verify flues, vents and chimneys are connected, in good condition and clear of debris.

Source: dteenergy.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Easy Steps for a Cleaner Home

December 1, 2016 4:15 am

(Family Features)--Whether it is a family dinner after a long day at work, sitting down with a book on a rainy day or entertaining friends during the weekend, there is nothing like spending quality time in the comfort of your own home. With a few simple steps, you can have a fresher, cleaner and healthier home, taking comfort to a whole new level.

Leave your shoes at the door. The bottoms of shoes can track bacteria and chemicals into the home from the outdoors that you may not notice. Create a designated station near the front door to drop shoes off – this can serve as a reminder for your family as they walk in, and guests will hopefully follow suit when they arrive.

Disinfect the handles on doors and appliances. Viruses and bacteria can live on indoor surfaces for several hours, and sometimes even days. Get into the habit of wiping down doorknobs and handles, especially in the bathroom, with disinfectant each night or after use to limit the spread of germs around the house.

Use natural cleaning products. Common household cleaning products leave chemicals lingering in the air long after the cleaning is over. Opt for greener methods that get the job done without compromising the air you breathe. There are dozens of DIY recipes to create natural cleaners on your own, such as an all-purpose cleaner made of one part baking soda, two parts vinegar and two parts water, not only making for a healthier home, but also saving you money.

Check your air filter every 30 days. Every breath is a reason to care about your air, and more time spent at home can stir up indoor allergens like pet dander and dust.

Expose textiles to heat. Just because your sheets are odor-free and the curtains are stain-free doesn’t mean that the fabrics are free of dust mites or other bacteria. Tackle hidden germs by washing your bedding in hot water each week and throwing your pillows and curtains in the dryer for at least 30 minutes.

For more ways to make your home happy and healthy, visit Filtrete.com.  

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Cold, Bronchitis or Pneumonia? How to Tell the Difference

December 1, 2016 4:15 am

When illness hits hard, it can be hard to differentiate symptoms—especially when you're curled up in bed. However, it is important people are aware of the differences between a cold, bronchitis and pneumonia so that you know when to seek professional help.

- Colds may be characterized by a clear runny nose, cough, and a low-grade or lack of fever. While it is one of the most common infectious diseases, it is usually mild and resolves without treatment.

- Bronchitis happens when air passages are inflamed. Possible symptoms may include: a frequent cough with mucus, wheezing, fever, and a lack of energy. Brought on by a viral infection, acute bronchitis is more prevalent of the two basic types. Chronic bronchitis is a cough that lasts 2 to 3 months annually, for at least two years—typically caused by smoking.

- Pneumonia produces fluid in the lungs due to an infection. Symptoms may include a cough, fever and difficulty breathing. Older adults, babies and people with other illnesses may need to be hospitalized for treatment.

Source: USA Medical, ABC 4 Utah

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Lesser-Known Jobs That Pay $100,000 or More

November 28, 2016 4:12 am

You don’t need to work on Wall Street, or be a doctor or lawyer, to earn a hundred grand a year or more, says the research team at Glassdoor.com, a site focused on careers.

Lesser-known jobs that pay over $100,000 annually include:

Special agent – Whether you work for law enforcement or a private corporation, people who examine criminal trends and propose crime deterrent strategies can earn a median of $125,000. Qualified candidates should have law enforcement or military backgrounds plus a degree in criminal justice.   

Airline pilot – In addition to ably handling a plane, pilots need to oversee crews and be savvy communicators. Candidates must be certified with an Airline Transport Pilot License and hold a bachelor’s degree in aviation or have served in the military. Median salary is $134,000.

Regional sales executive - Successful sales executives need to be well-versed in their company’s products and acutely aware of customer needs. Stellar communicators – with or without a college degree – earn a median income of $103,500.

Nurse practitioners – Those with a master’s degree in nursing can earn a median of $106,300. They will perform physical exams, treat common injuries and illnesses, and prescribe some medications.

Reservoir engineer – These professionals identify and pursue oil and gas reserves underground.  The goal is to extract the maximum amount of energy without over-tapping the reservoir. Those with a degree in chemical engineering – and some experience in the field – can earn a median of $143,000.

Equity research associate – Qualified candidates with a bachelor’s degree in finance, economics or similar use financial models to analyze and report on financial trends. The job incorporates the excitement of investment banking but is less demanding, and commands a median salary of $100,000.

Geophysicist – Geophysicists study the earth using gravity, seismic, electrical and magnetic methods. Some study how the earth is changing while others locate valuable minerals beneath its surface. Requires a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in geology and pays a median $119,380.

Software architect – They take the lead in communicating about system developments with the company’s leadership. Most candidates have at least a bachelor’s degree in math, software engineering, or similar, although some acquire the right skills through an online coding boot camp or another accelerated online program. Long hours pay off with a median salary of $116,500.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Creating Healthy Food Habits for Your Kids

November 28, 2016 4:12 am

(Family Features)--More than nine in 10 millennial moms think it's important for their kids to learn about where their food comes from, and more than three-quarters of those moms actively do things with their kids to help learn just that, according to recent findings.

Building healthy habits is the top reason moms cite for encouraging more learning when it comes to food, according to research conducted by IPSOS on behalf of Cuties – the sweet little clementines. Even when the weather is colder outside, these tips make it fun for families to learn about where their food comes from and help encourage kids to eat healthy for a lifetime.

Grocery shop together or go to a farmers market. Many cities now have year-round indoor markets, where together you can select fruits and veggies to try. Often the farmers are there, so you can learn about produce and get ideas for how to prepare unfamiliar items at home.

Cook with your kids. Find fun recipes that let them explore fresh foods where they can be creative. Find age-appropriate ways to involve them, like stirring or measuring, and encourage them to get hands-on with recipes, such as this fun Flower Salad recipe from registered dietitian Ellie Krieger.

Explore the story of where some of their favorite foods come from. Kids learn and remember information when it comes in the form of a story. Cuties is giving families the chance to uncover those stories by encouraging them to submit questions using #AskAGrower on Facebook. Actual growers will answer with stories about how this sweet, seedless and easy-to-peel fruit is grown with care by their family of growers. A video series at cutiescitrus.com/our-story also helps bring the stories to life.

Source: cutiescitrus.com

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Protect Your Feet and Ankles This Winter

November 28, 2016 4:12 am

It is never a good time for a foot or ankle injury, but some might consider the colder months to be the most inconvenient time to have their feet or ankles out of commission. Ironically, it is during the winter when many injuries in the lower extremities occur due to weather-related incidents.

To help, ACFAS provides three critical and easy-to-follow tips that can mean all the difference between comfort and pain in your feet during the winter.

Wear the Right Shoes 
"Whether caused by wearing high-heels on icy surfaces or just sheer accident, falls are one of the most common causes of weather-related injuries. Often time, wintertime falls result in an ankle sprain, or worse, a broken bone in the foot, ankle, heel or toe. I encourage patients to wear low-heeled shoes or boots with a traction sole to help prevent slipping," says Massachusetts—based foot and ankle surgeon and ACFAS Fellow Member Greg Catalano, DPM, FACFAS.

Equally important, wearing warm shoes or boots can protect a person's feet in frigid temps. "Wearing water-resistant, insulated footwear serves as a barrier between the feet and outside elements; this is particularly important for patients with neuropathy or Raynaud's phenomenon. While different, both conditions block normal blood flow in the feet and places a person at a greater risk of developing additional problems. In some cases, people can incur chilblains, which are itchy, tender, red patches that emerge in response to cold air, or in extreme cases, frostbite," adds Dr. Catalano.  

Remember, the thicker the insulation, the greater the protection is between a person's feet and the adverse effects caused by cold weather.

Keep Your Feet Dry
Damp feet can cause cold feet and can be just as harmful. Wearing moisture-wicking socks will help keep feet dry from internal wetness caused by sweat, while water-resistant footwear will ward off external weather elements that can cause dampness.   

"I encourage my patients to wear appropriate socks as a standard practice during the winter months to guard their feet in both foreseen and unexpected inclement weather conditions," says Dr. Catalano. 

For some, inserting foot warmers in their shoes serves as an extra layer of protection. Before doing so, it is best to consult with a foot and ankle surgeon. If worn incorrectly, foot warmers can burn the skin and cause severe harm for those with nerve damage.

Get the Right Help
With all that can happen to the feet and ankles during the winter months, it is best to know what to do when faced with a condition or injury brought on by cold weather. 

"In the case of a suspected fracture or sprain caused by a fall, see a foot and ankle surgeon or visit the emergency room as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis and treatment. If medical care is unavailable, for temporary relief of symptoms, try the RICE principle—Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. But, remember, delaying treatment can result in long-term complications," adds Dr. Catalano.  

For feet that are exposed to cold and dampness for a prolonged period, soak them in warm water – avoiding hot water or direct heat. Soaking them in warm water will allow the feet to regain their normal temperature gradually.  

Source: foothealthfacts.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Snorkeling Hot Spots to Add to Your Bucket List

November 25, 2016 4:09 am

If you love snorkeling, you’ve probably discovered some favorite spots in the Caribbean islands. But contributors to Travel and Leisure Magazine recommend five dream spots for ocean aficionados that can’t be beat for snorkeling and other ocean sports:

Komodo Islands, Indonesia – While the giant lizards here get most of the attention, Komodo’s Pink Beach will put you in a colorful undersea garden with rays, schools of groupers, and hawksbill turtles. Alternatively, visit the sea surrounding Komodo National Park, which offers unmatched underwater exploration with over 1,000 species of fish, 260 types of coral, and 14 types of endangered whales, dolphins, and giant turtles – not to mention rays, sharks, and a flourishing coral reef.

Buck Island, St. Croix, Virgin Islands – In this paradise for beginning snorkelers, you can make your way through the Elkhorn coral barrier reefs in brilliant blue waters and see colorful parrot fish, three species of sea turtles, terns, and endangered brown pelicans.

Palau – Only one of the marine lakes that dot Palau is open to snorkeling, but it’s worth the trip. Jellyfish Lake on the uninhabited island of Eil Malk lives up to its name, filled with millions of golden jellyfish that have thrived in the isolated lake for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For a truly other-worldly experience, you can snorkel among these amorphous floating creatures, which have a non-poisonous sting that can hardly be felt by humans.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia – It’s impossible to talk about the world’s best snorkeling spots without mentioning the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. Made up of 2,900 individual reefs that stretch over 1,400 miles off the Australian shoreline, the area boasts eye-popping coral, brilliant marine life, barracuda, manta rays, and the bones of ships that have crashed on the reef over the years. For an easy place to start, head to the Whitsunday Islands right off the shore of Queensland.

Hawaii’s Big Island – The underwater state park at Kealakekua Bay offers spectacular coral and colorful fish. Hit the water near the Captain Cook Monument to see dolphins, turtles and a variety of undersea creatures. For more underwater adventure, head to the crystal waters of Honaunau Bay to explore coral gardens, dolphins and tropical fish.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keep Your Home Safe Without Compromising Style

November 25, 2016 4:09 am

(Family Features)--Home accidents cause nearly 13 million injuries a year. Some simple updates to your home can help you avoid these accidents, as well as give your rooms a facelift.

“People often think that home improvement projects mean a complete overhaul of a room,” says Matt Muenster, a licensed contractor, designer and HGTV and DIY Network TV host, “but there are dozens of smaller updates that people can DIY that can have a big impact on the room. It’s the subtle details that make a difference in how you use and enjoy the space.”

To get your home makeover underway, try these tips from Muenster, who has teamed up with 3M, to keep your home both safe and stylish:

The Less Clutter, the Better: Sometimes the bulky knife block can be an eyesore or take up too much space on small countertops. If you are looking for new and interesting ways to store sharp knives, try installing magnet strips on the backsplash in the kitchen. This will not only keep your counter clutter free, but give your kitchen some flair.

So Fresh and So Clean: Enjoy fresh, filtered water at home without having a bulky filter attached to the faucet or the hassle of constantly refilling a pitcher. The new 3M Maximum Under Sink Water Filtration System stays out of sight while allowing high water flow from your existing faucet. The system, which is available at Lowe’s stores or Lowes.com, is easy to install using just a screwdriver, wrench and drill, and the quick-change filter lasts up to six months. Best of all, it reduces contaminants that may be in your water, including 99.3 percent of lead, as well as microbial cysts, chlorine taste and odor, sand, sediment, rust and soil.  

Step It Up: Have kids at home? Put a stepstool that slides into the toe kick beneath the sink so that your kids are able to roll it out like a drawer and step up to wash their hands. This is also great for parents who have young chefs in the house who like to help out in the kitchen.

A Soft Landing: If you find yourself having “butterfingers” more often than not, try putting down flooring that is made from a soft material like cork in the working areas of the kitchen. This way, you can help prevent breakage next time something slips through your fingers.

Get a Grip: If you are planning a bathroom remodel or simply want to make a change, choose tile with textured surfaces. This will make them less slippery under wet, bare feet. Smaller tile with more grout also helps prevent slippery surfaces.

Let There Be Light: Whether it’s a trip to the kitchen for a midnight snack or to the bathroom in the middle of the night, toe kick LED lighting that is connected to a motion sensor can be a great nightlight that doesn’t always have to be left on.

A kitchen or bathroom remodel can be big or small, but with some planning and the right tools, the projects can be accomplished using your own hands. By tackling these projects yourself, not only will you have the assurance that your home is safer without sacrificing style, but your new space will also feel extra special.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Americans Overspend During Holidays

November 25, 2016 4:09 am

We all know what it's like to spend more than we meant to. The SunTrust Banks, Inc. annual Holiday Financial Confidence survey reveals that 43 percent of Americans feel pressure to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season. Pressure to overspend is up four percent since the survey was first conducted in 2014 by Harris Poll, but down slightly from a high of 46 percent last year.

In the 2016 SunTrust Holiday Financial Confidence survey, two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) admitted they typically experience stress during this time of year.

To create a more memorable holiday season, SunTrust offers the following tips:

Align spending with your values. The most meaningful gift you can give isn't a present you buy, but your presence in the moment. Take the financial pressure off by giving gifts that promote personal connection, like offering to help an elderly grandparent with grocery shopping for a month.

Embrace creative and unique gifts. If you're an artist, gift a sketch. If your friend collects vinyl, scour secondhand stores for unique records. Reject the notion that a special gift has to break your bank account.   

Trim costs, not your social life. Togetherness around food is a hallmark of the holidays and a great way to connect with loved ones, but it can be expensive if you're the host. To avoid the high cost of a lavish party, host a wine and cheese gathering or try an old-fashioned potluck.

Choose the virtual shopping cart. Start your holiday shopping early and price compare online first. This can help relieve the pressure of last-minute purchases that often end up costing more.

Take preemptive steps to avoid a holiday hangover. If reconciling your checking account balance isn't a habit, the holidays are a good time to start. Tracking purchases every few days can help you keep spending under control and avoid financial regret in January.Source:  SunTrust

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top Tips to Become a Proactive Homeowner

November 24, 2016 4:09 am

We've all heard homeownership sometimes referred to as “a money pit.” Sure, homes are expensive, but there is no substitute for the sense of pride and comfort you achieve from living in a space that is truly your own.

That said, it's true that from the day you move in to the day you sell your home, there will always be something that will need to be repaired or even  remodeled as you—and your family—grows, shifts and changes. But to be a proactive homeowner, you will want to keep an eye out for the small issues that could cost big bucks down the line—like a crack in the foundation or a drafty window.

Below are a few top tips for forward-thinking. This information will protect your real estate investment far into the future:

Take Inventory
Get in the habit of taking an inventory at least once every year of every nook and cranny of your home to check for potential problems. Examine the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical wiring—basically everything. Try to fix trouble spots as soon as you uncover them. This proactive approach will help you avoid larger expenses later on, so leave no stone unturned when taking inventory.

Budget Accordingly
Some say you should expect to spend one percent of the purchase price of your home every year to handle a myriad of tasks, including painting, tree trimming, repairing gutters, caulking windows and routine system repairs and maintenance. An older home will usually require more maintenance, although a lot will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years.

Tell yourself that the upkeep of your home is mandatory, and budget accordingly. Otherwise, your home’s value will suffer if you allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Remember, there is usually a direct link between a property’s condition and its real estate market value: The better its condition, the more a buyer will likely pay for it down the road.

Play it Safe
Don't assume that a problem will stay the same if left unattended. If your gutters are clogged, play it safe and unclog them to avoid leaks. Adopt the attitude that the cost of good home maintenance is usually minor compared to what it will cost to remedy a situation that you allowed to get out of hand. For example, unclogging and sealing gutters may cost a few hundred dollars. But repairing damage to a corner of your home where gutters have leaked can potentially cost several thousand dollars.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Beat Stress This Holiday Season

November 24, 2016 4:09 am

While the holidays offer a great opportunity to see family and friends, it can also be one of the busiest, most stressful time of the year. When you throw cold weather into the mix, many of us end up sick, stressed and sniffling. Below are some tips for beating stress and making this holiday season the happiest yet.  

Make your freezer your friend
To avoid stressing out over cooking for your visiting family or all the friends your college kid is bringing home, spend the weeks leading up to the holidays making health, hearty soups and casseroles, and then pop them in the freezer. Come holiday time, you can relax and enjoy your house guests knowing that most of the cooking is just waiting for a little defrost.

Sweat it out
We all know a good sweat session raises endorphins and lowers your levels of stress. Just because the season is busy and chilly doesn't mean you need to nix your workouts. Schedule time to exercise – make it a family event by going skiing or hiking, or simply grab a pal and walk those three miles to the coffee shop.  

Say no
Saying “no” is a muscle many of us have trouble exercising. When your inbox is overflowing with invites, allow yourself to pick and choose where you want to spend your time. You can't do it all, so feel free to gracefully opt out of events that are stacked too close to one another or require a lot of travel.  air, so leave yourself some extra breathing room in your travel time, to avoid the stress of feeling like you’re always late.

Eat mindfully
From company parties to dinners with the in-laws, food is in abundance during the holidays, and we're not talking light bites. To avoid stress eating, stand last in line at the buffet, pile your plate with veggies and take smaller serving of richer items, and remind yourself to eat slow. Strike up a conversation at the dinner table to pull the focus from the food and avoid mindless eating.  

Make time for you
Do you savor your morning coffee or Tuesday afternoon yoga class? Don't forgo these moments just because your schedule is demanding. Making more time to create space for yourself will lower your levels of stress and help you feel calm and grounded.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Do Energy Savers Decorate for the Holidays?

November 24, 2016 4:09 am

It's that time of year for bright, glowing, blinking and shimmering holiday decorations start going up. But most homeowners would rather not see those cheery decorations doubling or tripling their energy bills. In light of this, we turned to a host of holiday helpers for some practical tips on energy efficient home holiday decorations.
The U.S. Dept. of Energy says think reflective so you can maximize the power of whatever lighting you choose. Reflective ornaments and tinsel are just as bright at night, so getting creative with your lighting display can multiply your resources for shine.

Their advice at energy.gov even suggests mirroring your neighbors' frighteningly costly display with a string of silver bells on your railing. Don't forget the ribbons, wreaths, garland, and reflective menorahs, for electricity- free age-old traditions that still 'reflect' your holiday cheer.

If you are looking for lighting, energy.gov says this year offers a variety of savings opportunities. You can find local rebates and coupons on ENERGY STAR® qualified Decorative Light Strings at many hardware and department stores.  These lights have a three-year warranty, come in a variety of colors, and have indoor and outdoor models.

The folks at directenergy.com say that replacing incandescent holiday lights with energy-efficient LED lights can help. ENERGY STAR® qualified LED lights use 70 percent less energy while providing a brighter light.  They also remain cool to the touch and are not made of glass or filament, making them safer for children. In addition, these bulbs also last 10 times longer, ensuring homeowners will have an energy-efficient solution for many years to come.

Shifting to other energy saving opportunities, improvementscatalog.com says if you plan on doing some holiday cooking or baking, consider using the microwave or toaster oven for smaller tasks such as melting chocolate for dipping, and keep the oven reserved for larger items, such as cooking a turkey. While cooking on the stove, keep the lids on your pots so your food will cook in less time.

The site also suggests if you are having family or friends over for a party, you can really take advantage of the body heat that will generate in your home. Have a warm and sparkling holiday season!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Living Large - Why It's Time To Buy That Big House

November 23, 2016 4:09 am

A few years ago, I wondered if the trend in subdivision building of larger than average sized homes - 5,000 square feet or more - had seen its day. Apparently not.

According to a recent National Association of Home Builders report, and citing the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction, new homes with 5,000 square feet or more of living space increased both as a share of all new construction and in absolute number in 2015.

And that same year, the share of new homes this size reached a post-recession peak of 3.9 percent of new homes started. The total number of 5,000+ square-foot homes started that year was 28,000 units.
NAHB analyst Ashok Chaluvadi observed that in 2012, the number of new homes started with 5,000+ square feet rose to 15,000 units, yet their share remained at only 2.8 percent.

In 2015, while the number of 5,000+ square feet homes started (28,000) was the highest since 2008, their share of the new market (3.9%) was the highest since 2004.

When analyzed by the different characteristics, Chaluvadi says that 79 percent of 5,000+ square feet home started have a finished basement, 68 percent have a 3 or more car garage, and at least 60 percent have a patio or porch.

More than half of these homes have 5 bedrooms or more, and 70 percent have 4 bathrooms or more.
But before you run out and start shopping for a large home, consider the advice of K.C. Hernandez at budgeting.thenest.com, who advises that before you make a large financial commitment on a bigger house, consider several financial and life factors to determine the right time to buy.

Hernandez says buying a bigger house makes the most sense when your income is stable and you expect it to remain the same or increase for the foreseeable future.

He also says that upgrading to a larger home is a good idea when market conditions favor buyers, who have more opportunity to negotiate better prices with sellers. Just keep in mind that if you plan to sell your current home before moving into a bigger one, you will likely face the same challenges finding buyers at the right price.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What Millennial Homebuyers Want in a Garage

November 23, 2016 4:09 am

Millennials are the largest generation shaking the housing market, according to research by the National Association of REALTORS. Despite this great news, when compared with the generations that came before them, millennials remain delayed in purchasing their first home. One aspect of homes millennials are particularly interested in is technology. From smart appliances to easy access garages, millennials love the latest gadgets.

For those interested in the latest and greatest in garages, read on for a handful of tips.

Access: Millennials use their phones for more than just communicating. They use them to buy coffee, book exercise classes and directly pay friends and family. Access to the garage should be no different, and with the availability of garage door apps,  homeowners can control entry to the home through their smartphones.

Security and Safety: More than 70 percent of homeowners use the garage as the main access point to the home, making safety and security a top priority when selecting the right home. Through LiftMaster's partnership with Nest Cam, homeowners can have an added security element. With Nest Cam, users can also access a video feed of what's happening in the garage the moment the garage door is activated, allowing for enhanced security and peace-of-mind. Garage safety is also vital – when viewing a potential home or during home inspection, millennials should ensure the garage functions securely and safely.  

Home Control: A connected garage is an easy way to make any home a "smart home." When looking to purchase a home, millennials should examine the capabilities of the garage door opener. Is it Wi-Fi® capable? Is it compatible with technology that controls the lights or thermostat? If not, consider asking the seller to replace the garage door opener with one that is,

Source:  LiftMaster.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


UV Rays Inside: Tips for Protecting Your Eyes At Home

November 23, 2016 4:09 am

When it comes to protecting our eyes against harsh, damaging UV rays, most of us think about popping on sunglasses for long days at the beach. However, it's possible to incur UV damage right at home, especially if you have an abundance of wide, bright windows.  According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), nearly half of all eye injuries occur at home.  

Untreated windows protect the eyes from only about 25 percent of damaging UV rays. As the AAO states, continued exposure to UV light raises the risks of many issues for the eyes, from cataracts to cancer.
To battle this, the International Window Film Association (IWFA) suggests consumers have professionally installed window film applied to all of the windows in their homes to protect their family's eyes from the damage caused by UV rays.

Having window film professionally installed on a home's windows can block up to 99 percent of UV rays from entering the home, protecting eyes from damage over time, while at the same time reducing glare and eliminating the need to squint when enjoying the view outside.


While extremely thin and virtually invisible to the eye, window film provides powerful protection without altering the look of a home.  Though it can be tinted in several shades, homeowners can also opt for clear film, which does not alter the view in any way. 

Source: www.iwfa.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


City Living Without Sprawl - Downsized Communities Offer Options

November 22, 2016 4:06 am

So you like the idea of popping down the block to a nice jazz club, or grabbing a quick bus or train to a minor league ballpark? I recently discovered why small cities are a big destination for home buyers thanks to WalletHub's in-depth look at 2016’s Best Small Cities in America.

With small cities growing 10 percent faster than the nation as a whole since 2000, WalletHub analysts compared 1,268 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 using a data set of 30 key metrics ranges from “housing costs” to “school-system quality” to “number of restaurants per capita.”

So what did the Wallethub researchers determine? Here are a few high points:
- The Villages, Fla., has the highest homeownership rate, 96.50 percent, which is 148 times higher than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the lowest, 0.65 percent.

- Westfield, N.J., and Holly Springs, N.C., have the lowest percentage of residents below poverty level, 2.20 percent each, which is 24.3 times lower than in Statesboro, Ga., the city with the highest, 53.40 percent.

- Leawood, Kan., has the highest percentage of residents with at least a high school diploma, 99.2 percent, which is 2.6 times higher than in Maywood, Calif., the city with the lowest, 38.2 percent.

- Fort Hood, Texas, has the shortest average commute time, 10.4 minutes, which is 4.1 times shorter than in Waldorf, Md., the city with the longest, 42.9 minutes.

- East Lansing, Mich., has the lowest mean weekly work hours, 27.8, which is 1.8 times lower than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the highest, 50.

-Duluth, Ga., has the most coffee shops per 100,000 residents, 194.10, which is 142 times more than in Pharr, Texas, the city with the fewest, 1.37.

-Castle Rock and Parker, Colo., have the lowest percentage of adults reporting fair or poor health, 7.2 percent each, which is 5.3 times lower than in Eagle Pass, Texas, the city with the highest, 38.3 percent.

Source: Wallethub  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top Safety Tips for Riding Your Bike at Night

November 22, 2016 4:06 am

Are you a bike enthusiast? Long work days may mean you're hitting the pedals at night. Below are a handful of safety tips for all of you night riders.

Plan your routes. For night riding, pick spots with features that enhance night rides: slow traffic, bike lanes and street lights are a must. And although you don't want to ride on a busy street, try to find spots that are somewhat well traversed; you don't end up all alone on a deserted trail with a flat tire or worse.

Get the right lights. Lights are key for safe night riding. Make sure you have a bright red light on the back of your bike (this will help ward off rear-ends) and front lights to warn oncoming drivers.

Slow down. Sure, you may love the wind in your hair as you whip down a dark city street. But speedy riding is more likely to end in an accident, especially when you're riding in the dark, so navigate slow and steady and you'll reach your destination safely.

Reflect. Sure, you may feel dorky wearing one of those reflector vests, but a safe dork is far better off than a squashed cool kid. In addition to wearing reflectors on your person, install them on your spokes, and the back and front of your bike.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Make A Big Impression By Cooking Small For Thanksgiving?

November 21, 2016 4:03 am

If cooking small on what is arguably the biggest food holiday of the year seems like an exercise in culinary futility, I have tapped several noted sources who will tell singles and small intimate Thanksgiving hosts otherwise.

At finecooking.com, Tom Douglas writes that smaller turkeys are easier to cook than 25-pound behemoths, and their meat is more likely to stay moist while the skin crisps up nicely. In fact, Douglas says even if you’re cooking for a large group, you’re better off roasting two medium turkeys than the biggest turkey you can find.
He prefers about a 12-pound turkey rubbed with smoked paprika and toasted fennel seeds, then roasted over a bed of onions, which become the base of a flavorful gravy.

And finally, Douglas prefers not to truss his turkeys or chickens so the heat circulates better - and don’t forget to let your roasted bird rest 10 to 20 minutes before carving to give the juices time to settle.

Emma Christensen at thekitchn.com reassures those hankering for a scaled-down feast, that it is doable. Her favorite alternative recipes for two to four people include:

Rolled Turkey Breast with Sausage Pecan Stuffing - The turkey breast by itself cooks much more quickly than the whole turkey, plus it stays moist and tender in a dish like this.

• Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash - One half for you, the other half for your guest.

• Kale and Ricotta Salata - this recipe offers fresh flavors to create a nice balance to heavier holiday dishes.

• Fingerling Potatoes with Chives and Parsley - Teeny fingerlings are perfect for a small-sized meal.

At seriouseats.com, Maggie Hoffman is pitching openers like shucked oysters, and is also a fan of the turkey breast versus the whole bird. She dresses it with an earthy, mushroomy gravy that starts with good homemade turkey stock, and is flavored with dried porcini mushrooms and a little sherry for added savory flavor.

Hoffman also suggests a side of uncooked cranberry relish with orange zest and apple, that can be whipped up in the food processor a few days in advance. And she says it's also fantastic on a leftover-turkey sandwich.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Refinishing Your Kitchen Cabinets: Paint vs. Stains

November 21, 2016 4:03 am

So you've got new kitchen cabinets. Congratulations! But now what? For those wondering how to finish their brand spanking new cabinets, we run down the pros and cons of painting vs. staining—the two most popular finishing avenues.

Pros for paint
- It's flawless. Regardless of the color you choose, painting your cabinets covers up any quirks or blemishes in the natural wood, which can often be magnified by staining.

- Your color choices are endless. When it comes to picking a paint, the world is your multi-colored oyster. Get crazy and really customize the look and feel of your cabinets.

- Paint sticks to lower quality materials. If your cabinets are not made of wood (think particle board), paint is your BFF. It sticks to these materials just as well as higher grade wood options, and no one but you will know the difference.

Cons for paint
- It looks more uniform. Remember those natural quirks we mentioned? Well you may not want to cover these up. If you're looking for a more natural, country vibe that highlights those stunning features like grain and knots, opt for a stain over a paint.

- It's pricey. While not too expensive in the grand scheme, paint is more expensive than a stain, so if budget is a concern, take heed.

- Harder to touch up. Even if you can't find an exact match for your cabinet color, when you're working with stain, odds are you'll have better luck blending touch-ups in stain than with picky paint.

Source: Houzz

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Must-Read Financial Tips for First-Time Parents

November 21, 2016 4:03 am

So a babe is on the way? Congrats! Along with the chaos of, well, everything that is to come, your finances are soon to get an upheaval as well. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will cost upwards of $245,000 to raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18 – and this does not include college. Feeling that bank account burn already? Below are 5 tips for rocking your budget as a new mom or dad.

1. Tweak the budget. Your new little one is going to cost a pretty penny. From hospital costs to diapers and child care, budgetary stress is an added strain on you as a new mom or dad. Look for any un-necessaries you can slash to make room for more baby dollars. The more prepared you are, the better.

2. Track your spending. Don't just make that budget and set it aside. Set a monthly meeting with your spouse to look over your spending, make sure you're on track, and identify any problem areas or potential saving pockets.

3. Learn your tax credits. I bet you didn't see this one coming. Being a parent has some advantages at tax time, so talk to your tax professional about the child tax credit, the earned-income tax credit (EITC), and the child and dependent-care credit, all of which can save you mad money come tax tie.

4. Automate, automate, automate. Not only can automation help you avoid bouncing bills, but by having money withdrawn from your account, you can pad up your savings, too. Figure out how much you can part with every month and automatically squirrel it away into an emergency savings account, a college savings account, or both.

5. Set financial goals. While creating a budget and savings plan is great, setting goals for your family can help you stay on track. Looking to have a set amount in a college account by the time your kid hits 18? Do the math and decide how much you need to save monthly to hit it. Is an annual family vacation a must for connecting? Figure out how to stash some cash for that, and then make it happen. Don't forget to be realistic (a tour of Europe with a two-year-old wouldn't be that fun, anyway), and forgive yourself if it takes some time to get on track.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keeping Kids Active in Cooler Temperatures

November 18, 2016 3:57 am

(Family Features)--As the weather gets colder, it can be harder to motivate kids to step away from their computers and devices and get off the couch. However, it’s essential for kids to participate in active play all year round. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles, promotes psychological well-being and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

Sadly, physical activity is becoming less of a priority in kids’ daily routines. A recent survey conducted by Let’s Play, an initiative from Dr Pepper Snapple Group to make active play a daily priority, found that 64 percent of parents said busy schedules stand in the way of more active play for their children, up from 56 percent in 2015.

Each season brings its own opportunities for play, and fall is no exception. Families can beat the cold weather blues and stay active together by trying some of the following activities:

Plan a nature walk to find inspiration and materials for art. Even though it’s chilly outside, your family can still get out and enjoy the outdoors. Bundle up and take a nature hike with your kids around the neighborhood or at a local, national or state park. Encourage your kids to collect items like pinecones, acorns and leaves as you go and to be on the lookout for wildlife to observe. After the hike, take out art and craft supplies and help them create projects with the items they found.

Plan an indoor scavenger hunt. When a really cold day comes along, send your kids on a fun and active scavenger hunt around the house, searching for items that you can hide in advance. Work together as a family to locate the items or create some friendly family competition to see who can find all the items first. Having the family move around the house with a mission prevents the temptation of staying on the couch in front of the television all day.

Join a class or indoor sports team. Whether you are playing a favorite sport or learning a new one, it is always more fun with other people. Longer stretches of active play are often more likely to occur with friends or siblings. Sign your children up for an indoor sport or class they have never tried before, such as gymnastics, rock climbing, swimming or dance. This allows your children to learn something new, meet kids their age and be active for an extended period of time.

Volunteer. While giving back is always in season, this time of year is a perfect opportunity to teach kids about giving back to those in need and being grateful for what they have. Sign the whole family up to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, participate in a toy drive for a children’s hospital or help out at an animal rescue shelter. Your children will not only be active, but will also grow emotionally, socially and intellectually as a result.

Source: LetsPlay.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Pull Your Holiday Table Together with a Tablescape

November 17, 2016 3:57 am

With the holidays looming, many are busy planning their holiday home décor. One decoration often overlooked is the tablescape – the decoration of your holiday table.

These top tips can help you pull together a festive tablescape this holiday season.

Think about the centerpiece: The centerpiece can tie the full look together. Fill a lantern with pumpkins, go for fall florals, or add a table runner to add various sizes of pumpkins lining the table.  

Create the look based on atmosphere: Think through all the details including where you will eat, who will attend, and how big of a crowd you'll host. You can still have a dinner al fresco with Edison bulbs or have a formal dinner for a larger group with stylish, party dinnerware that looks like the real deal. 

Expand décor beyond the table: Spreading leaves on a side table, adding candles and other thematic décor throughout the house can make decorations cohesive.

Themes don't need to be traditional: If you're going for different look this holiday season, At Home offers its Grateful Shores line – complete with driftwood and pumpkin decor that have a nautical twist.

Source: http://www.athome.com/.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Four Steps for Downsizing Your Home

November 17, 2016 3:57 am

(Family Features)--For one reason or another, you’ve determined the house you’re living in has become too much to handle. Seniors, empty nesters or those moving from a suburban home into a loft or apartment in the city all face similar challenges when it comes to downsizing.

For example, after Judy Raphael’s husband was diagnosed with dementia and moved to a nursing home, it became difficult for her to take care of her large house the couple had lived in for 23 years. At first, Raphael tried to maintain the house by herself, but things started to pile up and soon the house was in need of serious repairs.

“There were a lot of unknowns on what was wrong in the house – from mildew and mold to the driveway that needed to be replaced, the list goes on,” Raphael said.

When it comes to downsizing your living space, you can start preparing with these steps.

Determine what’s next. Think about what type of lifestyle you want to live moving forward, but take into account how much space you’ll actually need to accommodate that life. Whether it’s a smaller house or alternate option like an apartment or townhome, the first step is to decide what you’re looking for in your next living space. This can also help you figure out what items will move with you and what will need to be sold, donated, thrown away or left behind.

Assess what you actually need. Now that you’ve determined that downsizing is your best option, you’ll need to figure out what size, space and things you need. Maybe there’s a pile of stuff collecting dust in your attic or basement that can be sold or donated, or maybe you believe you can move all of your belongings into a more compact area. Either way, a downsize means going through storage spaces, closets and room in your home to determine what stays behind and what goes with you.

Sell your home. Raphael knew she needed to fix the house before it would be considered sellable, but knew she could not manage it alone. Working with a reputable real estate brokerage will help you sell your home faster, and with ease.

Stay organized during the move. You’ve now spent a ton of time and energy going through old things and boxing up possessions for the big move – don’t let that time go to waste by allowing your organization to fall apart on move-in day. Make sure you store items in places that make sense, going room-by-room in an organized fashion.

Source: homevestors.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Plan Your Outdoor Living Space

November 16, 2016 3:57 am

(Family Features)-- Nothing makes your home feel more expansive than functional outdoor spaces. Whether you're planning a deck, an outdoor kitchen or a poolside patio, read on for quick tips to make creating your outdoor oasis exciting and easy:

Get digitally inspired
The Internet is a great place to get your creative juices flowing. There are countless online resources to help homeowners create and plan their ideal outdoor living space. A great starting point is perusing the outdoor living projects posted on social media channels, such as Houzz and Pinterest. For more inspirational images and valuable information, check out the websites of home and garden magazines, contractors and decking manufacturers.

Dive into design
Designing a deck starts with the same questions as planning interior rooms, such as whether it will be used for relaxing, grilling or socializing. Determine how to incorporate those activities into your space by exploring the possibilities with online apps. Trex offers several ready-to-build Deck Design Plans representing today’s most popular and versatile designs. Once a user selects a design, the tool provides the details of the deck’s dimensions and materials needed, as well as an overview of the design’s benefits so that homeowners can be assured they are selecting the ideal layout for their planned outdoor living activities.

Decide on details
When planning, have fun exploring the many design elements that are available for customizing your deck. You’ll need to decide early on if you want to incorporate features like built-in seating, planters and storage, as well as add-ons such as a pergola or outdoor lighting, which can add comfort, character and convenience to your outdoor living space.

Incorporate railing
As one of the most visible parts of the deck, railing can provide design inspiration and should be considered from the outset. Available in a wide array of styles, shapes and materials, you can tailor your railing to personalize and frame your outdoor space.  

Understand costs and value
To ensure your dream deck remains within reach, keep costs in mind. Several factors will affect the price, including the size and shape, along with any extras you incorporate. When evaluating expenses, think beyond the initial material and labor costs and peer into the future. With wood decks, the costs of sanding, staining and painting add up over time. Over the life of a composite deck, the reduced maintenance costs of simple soap and water cleanings add up to a greater return on investment – not to mention the value of all the time spent enjoying the deck rather than maintaining it.

Source: trex.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Buying a New Furnace

November 16, 2016 3:57 am

Whether you're snagging a new furnace for your just-purchased home, or replacing your old clunker with an updated option, below are top tips for those looking into a new furnace for their home

Size matters – One of the most important factors when buying a furnace is to have a professional installer examine the size of the house and then determine the size of the furnace necessary for the space. A furnace that is too large leaves gaps in temperature as it turns on until it overwhelms the thermostat. The house ends up cooling down until the next cycle and creates an inconsistent temperature. A furnace that is the right size for the space, however, will be able to better regulate a constant temperature.

Fewer emissions – Being energy and environmentally conscious does not have to stop at the furnace. With Napoleon’s HYBRID 150, the fuel comes from three different sources – wood, oil or electric. This furnace is one of the cleanest and most efficient combination solid fuel-burning furnaces on the market today. The furnace switches from wood to oil or electric automatically and if the furnace runs out of wood a second thermostat will keep the house nice and toasty even if you are not at home.

Don’t buy on price alone – Always be sure to ask a professional installer, contractor or reputable salesperson about annual operating costs for whatever furnaces you may be looking at. While there are a variety of factors to consider, price should not necessarily be number one. Efficiencies, however, can vary drastically depending on price, which means that if you pay more up front now, you’ll still enjoy lower heating bills 10 or 15 years later.

Get the right documentation – Any reputable installer or manufacturer will be sure to not only include the purchase agreement and warranty information but also explain exactly what you are getting. If you feel confused or unsure about anything don’t be afraid to ask.

Correct installation and maintenance – Furnace installation should be done by a trained professional as not only can it be a safety hazard but if anything is off it can severely impact your efficiency and therefore your heating bill. Regular maintenance, generally in the fall, will keep the furnace performing like it should, keeping your family warm and your wallet a little fuller.

 Source: Napoleon

Published with permission from RISMedia.


8 Tips to Protect Your Identity

November 14, 2016 3:57 am


Identity theft is more than just someone tapping into your bank account. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million U.S. residents experienced the misuse of their personal information in 2014, up from 16.6 million victims in 2012. 
 
“Fraudsters can use your personal information to conduct a variety of illegitimate transactions, such as opening bogus accounts, filing tax returns and getting access to medical care,” says Doug Johnson, American Bankers Association’s (ABA) senior vice president of Payments and Cybersecurity Policy. “As a result, consumers are urged to safeguard their personal information before it gets into the wrong hands.”

ABA offers the following tips to help consumers protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft:

Don’t share your secrets. Don’t provide your Social Security number or account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically. Do not reveal sensitive or personal information on social networking sites.

Shred sensitive papers. Shred receipts, banks statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.

Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other mail containing your financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Also, don’t mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up.

Use online banking to protect yourself. Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.

Monitor your credit report. Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com.

Protect your computer. Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.

Protect your mobile device. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Use caution when downloading apps, as they may contain malware and avoid opening links and attachments – especially for senders you don’t know.

Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. 

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Rules to Simplify Your Holiday Entertaining

November 14, 2016 3:57 am


(Family Features)—The hustle and bustle of the holiday season may feel overwhelming at times, and for hosts throwing holiday parties, sticking to formal cooking and dining traditions can be time-consuming and stressful. In the season dedicated to spending time with family and friends, experimenting with simple entertaining ideas and informal settings can allow for more time to enjoy the party with your guests.

To simplify your festive soiree, try these insider tips from Macy's Culinary Council, the national culinary authority featuring some of the nation's leading chefs from across the country.

Simple Satisfaction
Sometimes less can be more, even when trying to impress guests. Chef Nancy Silverton suggests using quality ingredients like flavorful lettuces or vegetables. There is no need to mask them with fancy sauces; the ingredients can speak for themselves. A simple drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, squeeze of lemon and some sea salt is enough to dress up a dish that guests will deem delicious.

Less of a Mess 
Complicated cooking methods that require too much cookware and gadgets can keep hosts in the kitchen instead of socializing with guests. Chef Rick Bayless says his focus is on simplicity and ease in the kitchen, such as using the least amount of pots and pans possible to accomplish the same goal. Try a one-pot dish in a slow cooker to reduce kitchen clutter and ensure easier clean-up.

Comfort Is Key
A less formal seating arrangement encourages relaxation and comfortable dining for all. When entertaining, Chef Johnny Iuzzini places chairs and stools throughout his home for guests to enjoy as they please rather than structuring how and where they sit and eat. Place appetizers on the coffee table or create a buffet-style spread on your dinner table. This informal layout allows for a laid-back atmosphere where hosts can easily mingle with guests.
 
Source: Macys
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Would You Sell Part of Your Home to Investors?

November 14, 2016 3:57 am


We bring you important points in housing each week—and this week (literally!) is no exception.

A new startup, Point (Point.com), aims to make homeowners free of debt and able to unlock the wealth in their home—but to do that, a homeowner must sell a portion of the equity in his or her home to Point’s investors.

How does it work? A homeowner provides some basic information about their home and household finances. Point instantly assigns homeowners pre-approval or denial based on the information they provide.

If pre-approved, Point provides a provisional offer based on the data provided—that offer is typically for between 5 percent and 10 percent of the home’s current value. To be eligible for Point, the owner(s) need to retain at least 20 percent of the equity in their home after Point's investment. The homeowner then completes a full application and provides documentation for the Point underwriting team. 

Within approximately a week, Point will schedule a home valuation visit, which the homeowner covers— generally between $500 and $700. Once the valuation is complete, Point will share the appraiser's report with the homeowner.

If the valuation is deemed acceptable by the homeowner, Point will finalize the offer following the appraisal and receipt of all supporting application documents, and call the homeowner to meet with a notary to sign the Point Homeowner Agreement.

Point then files a Deed of Trust and Memorandum of Option on the property in the county recorder's office. Once filings have been confirmed, Point transfers the offer funds (with less than 3 percent escrow and processing fees) electronically to the homeowner’s bank account.

If the homeowner sells his or her home within the agreed-upon terms, then Point will be automatically paid from escrow. If the homeowner does not sell his or her home, he or she can buy back Point’s stake at any time during the term, at the then-current appraised property value. 

Would you sell part of your home to investors?
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Protect Your Mobile Device from Hackers

November 11, 2016 3:57 am


By now, the smartphone acts as an extension of a limb—everyone from teens to geriatrics walks around with that familiar head tilt eyes on the screen. And while technology has made everything from banking to shopping much easier, it has also made things much easier for hackers.

To battle this, the American Bankers Association (ABA) is recommending 12 tips to help consumers safeguard their data and protect their mobile devices from fraudsters.

“Mobile usage has grown tremendously in recent years and consumers are using their phones to access and transmit very sensitive information,” says Doug Johnson, ABA’s senior vice president of payments and cybersecurity policy. “It’s extremely important that consumers avoid doing their banking and shopping on unsecure networks to limit their exposure to online threats."

ABA recommends that consumers take extra precaution to protect the data on their mobile device by doing the following:

• Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.

• Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.

• Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.

• Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.

• Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”

• Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.

• Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.

• Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.

• Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.

• Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.

• Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren't very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network. 

• Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Heat Your Home More Efficiently

November 11, 2016 3:57 am


Cold weather months come with the added expense of heating your home. Whether you heat your space to the point you can parade around in a bathing suit or pile on sweaters and socks as your thermostat stays low, you can glean some tips for using natural gas more efficiently.

1. Seal off unused rooms by closing the registers and keeping the doors shut tightly.

2. Keep furniture away from heating registers.

3. Install a timer that kicks the heat on an hour or so before you will arrive home from work, and shuts if off when you leave.

4. Make sure a clean furnace filter is installed.

5. Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.

6. Clean out the dryer lint trap before each load.

Source: www.MissouriGasEnergy.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Understanding Bankruptcy: What You Should Know

November 10, 2016 3:57 am


While most Americans hope they never need to file for bankruptcy, many don't know exactly what bankruptcy is. Bankruptcy is a proceeding in a federal court in which an insolvent debtor's assets are liquidated and the debtor is relieved of further liability.

Medical expenses continue to be the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. According to the United States Courts, bankruptcy filings fell 6.9 percent (819,159) in June 2016 compared to the number of filings in June 2015 (879,736). This number of bankruptcy filings has not been this low since December 2007.

Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of filing for bankruptcy, courtesy of American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).

Advantages
One of the most important advantages of filing for bankruptcy is that consumers can obtain a fresh financial start. If you are eligible for Chapter 7 most of your unsecured debts may be forgiven or discharged. A secured debt is one which the creditor is entitled to collect by seizing and selling certain assets if payments are missed, such as a home mortgage or car loan. You may be able to keep (that is, exempt) many of your assets, although state laws vary widely in defining which assets you may keep. Collection efforts must stop as soon as you file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Disadvantages
A bankruptcy can remain on your credit record for 7-10 years and can affect your future finances and ability to borrow funds. A bankruptcy may impede your chances of getting a mortgage or car loan for some time. Not all debt will be discharged. Examples of debt that cannot be discharged include child support, alimony, some student loans, divorce settlements and some income taxes. You should check with an attorney on the specific categories of debt that will be allowed for discharge.

Source: American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Knowing Your Role as a Financial Caregiver

November 10, 2016 3:57 am


Over 90 million Americans care for a loved one living with a disability, disease or experiencing reduced financial capability as a result of aging, according to the Caregiver Action Network. In addition to doling out love and services, these caregivers play an important role in ensuring that all finances—from routine to complex—are managed wisely, helping their loved ones maintain the best quality of life possible.

ABA Foundation, through its Safe Banking for Seniors program, offers the following tips to help individuals understand their role as financial caregivers:

Learn the rights and restrictions that apply to your role. Financial caregivers, such as those with a power of attorney, trustees, and federal benefits fiduciaries, are fiduciaries with a duty to act and make decisions on their loved one’s behalf. Learn the legal responsibilities of your assigned authority in order to better execute your role.

Manage money and other assets wisely. Financial caregivers may be in charge of daily, unexpected and future expenses their loved one may incur. Especially if the beneficiary has a fixed income or limited finances, it is extremely important that caregivers minimize unnecessary costs and budget accordingly to ensure that all money is properly allocated.

Recognize danger signs. Seniors have become major targets for financial abuse and fraud. Make sure to stay alert to signs of scams or identity theft that may put your loved one’s assets in peril.

Keep careful records. When acting as a financial agent, proper documentation is not only encouraged but required. Make sure you keep well-organized financial records, including up-to date lists of assets and debts and a streamline of all financial transactions.

Stay informed. Monitor changes in financial status of the beneficiary and take appropriate action, as needed. Also, be sure to stay up to date on changes in the laws affecting seniors. 

Seek professional advice. Consult a banker or other professional advisors when you’re not sure what to do. 

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Where to Live If You Want to Build Wealth

November 10, 2016 3:57 am


If you're looking to live in a wealth-building area, then results from a new Bankrate survey may be a bit of a surprise: pack your bags and move to the San Francisco Bay area.

Yep. Despite having some of the highest rents in the country, the Bay Area is the best U.S. metropolitan area for building wealth. The Bankrate survey ranked 21 large metro areas in five categories: savable income, human capital, debt burden, homeownership and access to financial services. 

The nation’s highest savable income is a big part of San Francisco’s No. 1 overall ranking. The average Bay Area resident can sock away $16,657 per year, almost twice the national average, after subtracting local expenses from incomes. While it’s a very expensive place to live, there are plenty of high-paying jobs, so residents are able to keep their non-mortgage debts low (fifth lowest among the 21 markets) and their credit scores high (second highest).

Minneapolis/St. Paul is second-best overall (aided by the lowest average unemployment rate over the past five years), Washington, D.C. is third (only San Franciscans are able to save more), St. Louis is fourth (it offers the best access to financial services) and Detroit is fifth (it has the highest homeownership rate and the lowest non-mortgage debt burden).

“Different metro areas affect households’ abilities to amass wealth in different ways,” says Bankrate.com analyst Claes Bell, CFA. “In some metro areas, like San Francisco, homeownership can be prohibitively expensive, but higher-than-average salaries can help residents stash more money away in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. On the other hand, Minneapolis-area residents don’t earn as much, but the area’s affordable housing and recovering real estate market provide opportunities to build wealth over the long term through home equity.”

Source: Bankrate
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Best Paying Jobs for College Grads

November 8, 2016 3:57 am

The good news for recent college graduates is that with unemployment at a four-year low, there are plenty of jobs to be had. The bad news is that competition is stiff for the highest-paying positions.

Where are these coveted jobs, and how much do they pay? Employment counselors recommend several directions savvy degree-holders might take:

Purchasing Manager – Most companies hire purchasing professionals to acquire the goods and services they need to run their business. Candidates need to be personable as well as analytical, and a degree in business or economics is a plus. Annual starting salaries average $58,000.

Computer Hardware Engineer – Computer science majors can use their skills to design and modify computer parts that increase speed and efficiency. Starting salaries average $58,000 per year.

Biomedical Engineer – One of the fastest-growing fields today is biomedical engineering, which mixes medicine with biology, math, physics and chemistry to create equipment that solves medical problems. Median starting salary is $54,800.

Mathematicians – Mathematicians provide solutions for the problems businesses face, with numbers to back up their work. Starting salaries for people good at math average $56,400.

Sales Manager – These are the professionals who oversee a sales force, setting quotas, policies, and best practices, dividing the work into territories and monitoring goal achievement. Candidates with some sales background and a business management degree can expect starting salaries of $51,760.

Nuclear Engineer – While some nuclear engineers work in power plants, others explore uses for radiation and nuclear energy in medical and industrial applications. Qualified candidates will start at about $63,900.

Aerospace Engineer – Starting salaries for aerospace engineers, who design new developments for airplanes, spacecraft, and defense systems, are an average $59,400.

Petroleum Engineer – Hold onto your hats. Salaries for these math and science whizzes, who develop methods for extracting oil out of different areas, begin at an average of $93,000.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Decorators Share: Transitioning from Fall to Winter

November 8, 2016 3:57 am

Decorating for seasonal transitions—spring to summer, summer to fall—is a trick many decorators use to stretch the longevity of their designs. Decorating for the transition from fall to winter is no exception.

There are many transitional trends this fall and winter. Real or faux marble accents, such as coasters or cutting boards, and statement pieces, such as side tables and wallpaper, are on the incline, Decorilla.com reports.

Coziness is necessary in fall and winter, and accessories that evoke this feeling are in. According to PopSugar.com’s Kate McKenna, decorating for coziness this year involves a mix of bold patterns, glossy metallics, soft neutrals and matte blacks.

Those matte blacks could translate into a full-on monochromatic design, especially as the holiday season sets in, predict the experts at Harding Botanicals, a Massachusetts-based company.

Rose quartz, which was named this year’s color of the year by Pantone, is another trend that eases effortlessly from fall to winter. The experts at Harding suggest pairing it with champagne, pearl or silver shades.
Come the holidays, red and green continue to be popular, this year with accents of blue and white, DecoratorsWisdom.com reports.

Experiment with motifs like silver tree shapes, blue, silver or white snowflakes and snowmen, the website recommends—or, combine accents like silver candlesticks and vases with natural arrangements of greens and berries.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Plan Ahead for Winter Power Outages

November 8, 2016 3:57 am

With the snowy weather of winter comes a less beautiful seasonal sensation: power outages. To keep your family safe and cozy sans power, follow these tips:

Before the storm:
• Stock-up on batteries and flashlights.

• Evaluate the family's non-perishable food supply and restock if necessary.

• Review how to manually open the electric garage door.

• A practice run will help ensure a family knows how to properly locate and operate any equipment required during the power outage.

During/after:
• Never use a gas stove, oven or grill to heat a home.

• During the first few hours of the outage, keep the refrigerator and freezer closed. Snow can be used as ice to keep items cold in a cooler. 

• Choose mittens over gloves and wear layered loose clothing to stay warm.

• Always operate your portable generator outside of your home.

“Having a backup power solution ready ahead of a utility power outage prevents most of the headaches that go with living without power. With backup power, families won't necessarily need to worry about potentially dangerous temperatures, for example,” says Melissa Thomas, marketing assistant manager, Briggs & Stratton Standby power. “This gives families the security they desire to comfortably ride out long winter months.”

The most popular backup power solutions are portable generators and permanently-installed standby generator systems. Both types of backup power can keep a home's lights, the furnace and necessary appliances working in the event of a weather-related power outage or other emergency. Understanding the differences and capabilities between the two options makes selecting the best generator for a family's needs much easier.

Portable Generators: Immediate Backup Power Supply
Portable generators are generally low maintenance, compact and easily maneuverable on the property. These units are typically powered by gasoline and work well as an immediate solution during a power outage.

Additionally, they are designed to provide reliable electricity to a few essential items and appliances such as a refrigerator, basic light circuits and portable electric heaters at the same time.

While portable generators can provide users with flexibility and comfort, they need to be used appropriately at all times in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never run a portable generator inside a home or in a garage.

Standby Generators: High-Wattage Backup Power Supply
Families who want a backup power source that offers uninterrupted power should opt for a home standby generator system. Home standby generators need to be professionally installed, so homeowners should allow time for the installation process and associated costs.

These home generators are connected to the existing propane or natural gas line of a house. When utility power to a house is interrupted, the home generator automatically turns on within seconds. Home standby generators can power more of a home's high-wattage appliances, like the furnace, electric water heater, stove and clothes dryer.

Source: www.briggsandstratton.com

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


One Home System Not to Overlook

November 7, 2016 3:57 am

Over 25 million houses in the U.S. have a septic system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Proper maintenance of the septic system is essential, but often overlooked—out of sight, out of mind.

An un-maintained septic system can contaminate groundwater, harming the environment by releasing bacteria, household hazardous waste and viruses to local waterways, according to the EPA. Maintaining the system not only protects the environment and public health, it also saves homeowners from having to make costly repairs due to neglect.

The EPA’s tips for homeowners include:
Protect It and Inspect It – Homeowners should have their system inspected every three years by a qualified professional, or according to their state or local health department's recommendations. Tanks should be pumped when necessary—typically every three to five years.

Think at the Sink – Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the kitchen sink. These substances can clog the septic system’s pipes and drain field.

Don’t Overload the Commode – Do not flush foreign items, such as cat litter, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers/wipes and feminine hygiene products down the toilet. These can all clog, and potentially damage, the septic system.

Don’t Strain Your Drain – Be water-efficient by spreading out water use, including laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day. Too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
Shield Your Field – Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drain field, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

Source: www.epa.gov/septicsmart.

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Millennials Move Past Gender Stereotypes When Shopping for Cars

November 7, 2016 3:57 am

Millennials continue to make waves as a generation like no other. New research from Edmunds.com shows that today's millennial car shoppers don't stick to the outdated (and oft illogical) stereotype that men should make important car-buying decisions while women stand by.

According to the study of 3,000 U.S. adults ages 18 - 65, more than 70 percent of both men and women feel self-assured during the car buying and negotiating process. However, when broken out by generation, Edmunds found that millennial men and women are more alike in their feelings toward car shopping than Gen Xers and baby boomers. For example, when asked if they believe if women are equal or better than men at car shopping, 64 percent of millennial women and 54 percent of millennial men agreed. When baby boomers were asked the same question, 67 percent of women agreed, while only 48 percent of men did, resulting in an opinion gap nearly twice as large.

Other noteworthy differences between millennials and older generations include:

Millennial men are more likely than older men to believe that women are equally or more logical than men during the car shopping process. There was a 15 percentage point gap in gender opinion for millennials (59 percent of men vs. 74 percent of women), compared to a 27-point gap among Generation Xers (52 percent of men vs. 79 percent of women).

Millennial men and women feel nearly equal levels of self-assurance and empowerment during the car shopping process, with a gap of only one percent and two percent respectively between the genders. This gap widens within the older generations, to eight percent for Gen Xers and 14 percent for boomers.

When it comes time to close the deal and purchase the vehicle, millennial men are more confident in women than men in older generations. Sixty percent of millennial men say that women are stronger negotiators versus 50 percent of Gen X men and 49 percent of boomer men.

"Gender inequality has been in our society for a very long time," says Lacey Plache, chief economist at Edmunds. "Shifting gender roles have been a main catalyst for lowering gender inequality, but this change is still in motion, and the differences aren't fully dissolved yet. As this continues to decrease on a societal level, we'll see its impact manifested in major industries like automotive, but until gender inequality is completely gone, the old-fashion notion that men control the garage will still linger." 

Source: Edmunds.com

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Traveling Baby Boomers Head to New Destinations, Study Shows

November 7, 2016 3:57 am

A new study by AARP focuses on the travel plans of baby boomers. While travel has always been an objective for older Americans, the AARP study shows that 99 percent of Americans age 50 and up are traveling for fun, with the majority planning at least one leisure trip in 2017, and the average boomer planning a whopping five or more leisure trips throughout the upcoming year.

So where are they heading?

Within the U.S., boomers still favor the predictable choices: Florida, California and Las Vegas. But things are shifting among international-bound boomers, with Latin America taking center stage as Europe moves to the back burner.

According to AARP's study, the top five destinations for international boomer travel include:
  • Mexico
  • The Caribbean
  • England/UK/Ireland
  • Central/South America
  • Italy  
Source: AARP

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Make Mornings More Tolerable

November 4, 2016 3:54 am

Waking up on the right side of the bed comes naturally to some people. For the rest of us, mornings can be painful. Morning person or not, however, your habits upon rising have a lot to do with how the rest of your day will go. Here are some painless ways to turn your mornings into good beginnings:

1. Wake up gradually. Bolting out of bed to a loud, jarring alarm is not the way you want to begin your day. Set the option on your smartphone alarm for ascending sound, so that your alarm starts off quietly and gradually builds, gently rousing you from sleep.

2. Make coffee time sacred. Instead of hitting the snooze button for an extra 10 minutes of poor sleep, take that time to sit quietly with your coffee, tea, cocoa or whatever your morning poison happens to be. The few moments of peace will ease you into the day.

3. Gather your thoughts. Meditate, pray, journal, etc. This will help calm and focus your mind. The frenetic pace of the day is lurking around the corner, so here’s your one chance to get grounded.

4. Exercise. Even if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep and still feel exhausted, getting a workout or a walk in will wake you right up. Exercise boosts your serotonin and energy levels and will always put you in a better mood to face the day.

5. Eliminate decisions. Even the smallest decisions can seem overwhelming in the morning when you’re rushing to get out the door. Save yourself some angst by figuring out what you’re going to wear and bring for lunch the night before. Do the same for the kiddos, too.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Money Management

November 4, 2016 3:54 am

If you’ve been hit recently with a late fee or two, or thought you’d paid that overdue gas bill when you hadn’t, your money management skills may need a boost.

Consumer finance pros at Business Insider suggest five easy ways to make managing your money easier:

Automate your finances to simplify control – Sign up for auto-pay, and monthly payments are automatically charged to your credit card or paid from your checking account. Even if you prefer to pay off the full amounts due each month, signing up to have the minimums automatically paid will ensure you won’t be faced with late fees if you fail to make a payment on time.

Put due dates in your calendar – For bills you can’t automate – such as rent or utilities – enter reminders in your daily calendar a week before payments are due.

Sign up for text or email reminders – As an alternative to writing reminders in your calendar, check with your credit card company, mortgage servicer, auto loan servicer and/or student loan servicer about getting alerts for your due dates. Getting digital reminders can help you stay on top of payments.

Enroll in credit monitoring – Your credit score and credit report are important parts of your financial life, but keeping tabs on them may seem inconvenient or time-consuming. When you sign up for credit monitoring, the service will notify you if things on your credit report look suspicious, which could be a sign of identity theft. If you don’t enroll in a monitoring service, it’s a good idea to review your credit regularly – and if you see mistakes, dispute them.

Download a savings app – If you find it tough to save, download an app like Digit or Smarty Pig, which keep tabs on your accounts and analyze what you can put in a savings account. They can then automatically transfer money from your checking account into a savings account. Another app, called Acorns, will round your purchases to the nearest dollar and invest your spare change.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don’t Let the Holidays Sabotage Your Fitness

November 3, 2016 3:54 am

It all started with Halloween. We bought way more candy than there were trick-or-treaters, and tore a little hole in the bag and started sneaking some treats days before the holiday even rolled around. From there, we roll right into Thanksgiving and Christmas, and end up ringing in the new year with the dreaded extra 5 - 10 pounds.

Sure, we can simply accept this as part and parcel of enjoying the fall and winter holidays – after all, we’ve worked hard all year and deserve some fourth-quarter indulgence. But, it is actually possible to splurge a little while maintaining your physique, not to mention your overall health. Here are a few simple strategies to avoid a holiday health meltdown:

1. Make it convenient: Ever wonder how celebrities are able to stay in such great shape? Because it’s so easy for them! From personalized nutrition plans to live-in chefs and trainers, the keys to fitness are at their fingertips because their paychecks depend on it. Try to make diet and exercise convenient in your world, too—make healthy meals on Sunday that you can eat all week, develop a quick home-exercise routine for when you can’t get to the gym, and pick a work-out buddy to help keep you accountable.

2. Keep the leftovers on the move: Bring leftover candy and cookies to work, or donate them to a school. Stock up on take-out containers, and as you’re cleaning up holiday dinners, make a doggie bag for guests. Satisfy your holiday baked-goods craving by hosting a cookie swap, which provides built-in portion control.

3. Strategize party days: Who wants to avoid partaking in the festive foods and beverages of the season? No one! On days when there’s a party or family gathering on the calendar, get a workout in early before having a low-calorie, nutrient-packed breakfast and lunch. That way you can let loose a little later without blowing your calorie goal for the day.

4. Commit to your pillow: To add insult to injury, most of us tend to shortchange our sleep thanks to the hectic holiday pace. However, getting enough sleep is actually essential to avoiding weight gain. The more sleep deprived you are, the higher your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which leads to weight gain. See what holiday-related activities can be cut from your to-do list in favor of getting more sleep, and don’t feel guilty about sneaking in a nap when you can. Your body—and your loved ones!—will thank you for it.

The biggest plus of staying healthy and fit during the holidays? No need to add “lose weight” to your new year’s resolution list!
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


America's Greatest Small Cities Offer an Affordable Urban Lifestyle

November 3, 2016 3:54 am

Are you looking to move to a city, but worried about the high cost? A new study broke down the best (read: most affordable) small cities across the country. Look past the Big Apple and the Windy City and find a space in one of America's great urban underdogs.

Why a small city? Well, urbanites in smaller spots still enjoy the perks of a thriving city scene, but with a cheaper cost of living—generally speaking, that is. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a two-parent, two-child family would need to earn $49,114 a year “to secure an adequate but modest living standard” in Morristown, Tenn., compared with $106,493 in Washington.

To hunt down these small cities, WalletHub’s analysts compared 1,268 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. The study's data set of 30 key metrics ranges from “housing costs” to “school-system quality” to “number of restaurants per capita.”    

Behold, the top 10 small cities in America:

1. Westfield, Ind.
2. Princeton, N.J.
3. Leawood, Kan.
4. Littleton, Colo.
5. Brookfield, Wisc.
6. Kirkland, Wash.
7. Holly Springs, N.C.
8. Milton, Mass.
9. Brentwood, Tenn.
10. Southlake, Texas

Source: WalletHub

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Choosing the Right Health Insurance

November 3, 2016 3:54 am

When it comes to choosing health insurance, there is no “one size fits all.” Factors to consider include your age, lifestyle, marital status, and more. Whether you’re a newlywed, a new parent, recent college graduate or recently retired, there are several things you should consider when selecting your plan.  

Newlywed
Marriage is an exciting new adventure, and it impacts everything—including your health insurance. When researching plans, make sure the one you choose fits in with your family budget. Look at what you’ve spent on health care in the past and evaluate what you’re comfortable spending on monthly premiums now that you’re no longer single. Evaluate whether or not it makes the most sense to assume coverage under one of your employer-sponsored plans or an individual family plan.    

New Parent
Preparation is key when you're expecting, and this extends far beyond reading parenting books and decorating the nursery. Remember to make sure you choose the right insurance plan before you bring home baby. For new moms (and moms-to-be), plan choice will affect everything from prenatal and maternity care to pediatrician visits and immunizations. Consider the rules for in-network and out-of-network healthcare providers: how long of a hospital stay is covered? What prenatal tests are covered?    

Recent Grad
See ya later college! For new grads, there are many options to choose from when it comes to your health insurance. Whether it’s opting for a plan through your new job, remaining on your parent’s plan, or opting for an individual plan through the healthcare marketplace, it’s important to do your research and pick the plan that best fits your needs. 

Retiree
For those looking to retire, consider whether the Medicare plan you’re thinking about covers the health services you need. Look into the prescription drug benefits offered, how much your premiums and deductibles will cost and what you can manage to pay out-of-pocket based on your lifestyle.

Source:  Anthem.com

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Prepare Your Home for Holiday Entertaining

November 2, 2016 3:54 am

(Family Features)--As the holiday season approaches and you're tasked with hosting family and friends, it can be a little overwhelming to imagine all the work that has to take place for a successful celebration.

However, there's no reason the host can't join in the fun. To help keep calm and have your home ready for the party, follow these tips.

Cleaning
More often than not, the first step to readying your home for a house full of guests is to clean. Start by going room to room seeking out trash, recyclables and things that can be stored away – anything to clear up much-needed space. Once the clutter is cleared, work from the top down to clean surfaces, so any dust or debris that hits the floor can be vacuumed or swept neatly away. Remember to steer clear of harsh or highly fragrant chemicals, which may be an irritant to some guests.

Upgrading
Don't try to sneak by with old appliances this time around. Instead, upgrade your most important resources throughout the house in order to find success when it comes to playing host. For example, swapping out your old, cluttered refrigerator for a Whirlpool French Door Refrigerator with industry-first infinity slide shelves is a useful way to create more space in the kitchen. Its pantry-inspired layout lets families fit and find all their edible favorites. Every section, shelf and bin in the refrigerator was redesigned to deliver smart organization with panoramic shelves and unique features to store 30 percent more than other leading French door bottom mount refrigerators.

Planning
Staying organized and having a precise plan are vital to putting together the perfect night with family and friends. Make sure to nail down the specifics, such as the number of guests, what food will be brought, what needs prepared in advance and what can wait until the big day. Making lists and involving others in the family to help can make a seemingly insurmountable volume of work feel instantly manageable. As you think through your plans, remember to anticipate the unexpected and have an emergency party kit on hand to quickly respond to pitfalls, like spills or broken glass, before they derail the festivities.

Decorating
With all the energy you put into planning and upgrading, don't overlook the importance of taking time to make your home shine with a creative touch. Go festive with holiday-specific decor or keep it classic with timeless decorations placed throughout the home to make it really sparkle. For close family and friends, consider adding personal touches like mementos of holidays past. Or go with a themed approach with similar colors and textures that you carry throughout the house.

Source: www.whirlpool.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Daylight Savings Time: Chores to 'Fall Back' On

November 2, 2016 3:54 am

We all lament the loss of an hour as Daylight Savings Time ends—but that loss can also serve as a reminder that it's never too soon to see to a number of chores around the house.

For example, Bel Red Energy Solutions of Seattle reminds its customers to change the batteries in all smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, and make sure they are all in working condition.

Bel Red explains that since sensors in CO detectors don’t typically last as long as smoke detectors (2-3 years, on average), it may be time to replace one or more of them.

What if you don't have a CO detector? If you’re looking to purchase one for the first time, or replace an aging one, Bel Red suggests a new, low-level CO detector with a 5-year sensor.

Boise Basin Insurance Services, on the other hand, recommends using Daylight Savings Time as a prompt to clean your medicine cabinets. Remember: some medications should not be thrown away in a trash can or flushed down the toilet. Find a drug disposal facility in your area, or contact your local law enforcement agency, for more information.

Boise Basin also suggests taking the twice yearly opportunity to drain your water heater—flushing it out is the best way to remove any built-up sediment, which can lead to reduced efficiency.

And—as long as you're setting clocks ahead by an hour—replace the batteries in those, too!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Here's How to Avoid Scary Paint Failures

November 2, 2016 3:54 am

Looking to tackle an outdoor painting project? Good for you. However, nothing is worse than dedicating hours and energy to your paint job, only to find out you've hit a big fat fail: peeling and flaking paint, wrinkling, blistering, and hideous "alligatoring," where paint cracks open in a pattern that resembles a reptile's scales.

Below are a handful of tips to avoid these epics fails, courtesy of Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute.

Properly prepare the surface.  It was Ben Franklin who said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail" -- apt advice for almost everything, including painting.  Good surface preparation is essential if you want to avoid the nightmare of early paint failure.  So, before ever picking up a brush or roller, be certain that the surface is sound and clean, with no sign of loose or peeling paint.  Prime any bare or unpainted wood or metal.  Only then should you begin to apply your paint.

Invest in top quality paint.  If the surface has been properly prepared, the best way to protect against frightening failures is to use a top quality 100% acrylic latex paint.  "This type of paint will tightly adhere to the surface below, but remain flexible enough to expand and contract when temperatures rise or fall," says Zimmer.  By investing in top quality paint, you'll get an extremely tough and durable finish that will keep the demons of paint failure at bay.

Work with high quality brushes and rollers.  The best quality tools permit you to apply a thicker, more uniform coat of paint, one that offers maximum protection against forbidding failures.  Choose brushes with split bristles of multiple lengths that are packed tightly together.  And, when working with latex paint, use brushes and rollers made of synthetic material, which are better at holding their shape to give a better result.  

Apply paint only in moderate weather.  When applying any exterior coating, avoid working in spine-chilling temperatures.  They're uncomfortable for you...and, they can have dire consequences for your paint.  Paint forms the best protective film when it isn't too cold or too hot outside, and when the wind isn't excessive.  Still days with temps above 50 degrees F. are ideal.

Source: blog.paintquality.com.

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9 Ways to Get a Jump on the Holidays

November 1, 2016 3:54 am

From the time the first Halloween masks appear in the stores, we seem to rush headlong into the holidays, caught up in what seems like a veritable whirlwind of baking, decorating, and shopping. The home editors at Southern Living and Vibrant Life magazines offer tips on slowing down the rush by getting a head start on the basics.

Update Your Mailing List – Now is a good time to bring your address book up to date, so you won’t be searching around at the last minute for Aunt Minnie’s new address.

Start Saving – Open a new account or start stuffing a piggy bank with loose change, refund checks, and any unexpected little windfalls—perhaps even the cash you ‘saved’ by using coupons. Anything you can stow away in the next three months can help out at holiday time.

Stock the Pantry – As fall begins, many supermarkets put baking supplies on sale. Begin stocking up now on all the ingredients you know you will need later.

Add Gift Cards to Your Shopping List – Purchase one gift card every week as you do your weekly shopping. You’ll be glad to have them to use as gifts anyone on your list will enjoy.

Get Cooking – If you bake cookies, can fruits or veggies, or make jams and preserves, get a head start now. Stored properly in freezers or on shelves, they’ll make great gifts later.

Get Crafting – If you knit, sew, or do other handicrafts, start now to create personal creations to brighten the faces of those you give them to.

Start Making a List – Make a note of it as the people around you mention items they have seen or heard about or think they might like to have. Working from such a list can shortcut the time you spend shopping.

Think About Scaling Back – Gifting is expensive, and all the more so as kids get older. Instead of exchanging gifts with every member of your cousin’s family, send an e-mail now suggesting one gift for the family—movie passes? A restaurant gift card? A basket of heavenly edibles?

Hit Garage Sales – You may find gift items still in the box, new or gently used holiday décor, needed kitchen ware and more.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Are There Rats in Your Attic?

November 1, 2016 3:54 am

If you've heard things go bump in the night, chances are it's not a spooky spirit. More likely, it's a roof rat. Pest control provider Terminix announced the top 10 cities with the most reported roof rat infestations, giving Memphis, Tenn. the "honor" of the top spot.

The cities in the United States with the most reported roof rat infestations are:

1. Memphis, Tenn.
2. Gilbert, Ariz.
3. Pleasanton, Calif.
4. Scottsdale, Ariz.
5. Tempe, Ariz.
6. Sacramento, Calif.
7. Salinas, Calif.
8. San Bernardino, Calif.
9. San Antonio, Texas
10. Plano, Texas

Roof rats are a creepy-crawly variety of rodent with a long, scaled, Halloween costume-ready tail that distinguishes them from their better-known relatives. They tend to seek entry into buildings through holes around soffit vents, cables entering buildings, and turbine and box vents on roofs, where they take up residence and multiply.

These pests often gain access to structures by climbing on wires and trees to seek shelter inside, where they can grow up to a full foot long and pose seriously scary health and safety risks. They can chew through building materials like drywall and insulation, and may even pose a fire risk by damaging wiring.

Warning Signs
"Roof rats often stay out of sight, but there may still be warning signs of an infestation," says Paul Curtis, board-certified entomologist and manager of technical services with Terminix. "They're most active at night, and homeowners with roof rats often report hearing them moving overhead after dark, as well as finding droppings and smudge marks from oil or dirt in their attic."

What to Do
A key strategy in preventing roof rats from making their way into your home or business is eliminating things that might attract them. Homeowners should keep firewood, debris and piles of stone or brick as far from the foundation of the home as possible, protect their homes with steel wool- or wire mesh-reinforced sealant along any holes or cracks larger than a quarter inch, and install a thick weather stripping along the bottom of doors to keep rodents from entering.

Because roof rats can bite and are safety hazards, a trained professional should inspect any homes suspected of harboring roof rats or another pest.  

Source: Terminix.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Keep Pets Healthy During the Holidays

November 1, 2016 3:54 am

People aren't the only ones putting on a bit of winter weight. With holidays comes family gatherings heaped with rich eats, many of which end of passed down to your favorite four legged friend. And with cooler weather, dogs may not be getting as much outdoor exercise, meaning they too can pack on a few pounds. Unfortunately, weight gain in pets can lead to long-lasting health problems.  

“If people get a bit too relaxed and overeat during the holidays, they often do the same with their dogs,” explains Will Post, founder and CEO, Hound & Gatos Pet Foods Corporation. “The problem with that is that it can be quite detrimental for dogs if we relax too much and let our guard down about taking care of them in a healthy manner.”

Here are 5 ways to help keep pets healthy through the holiday season:

Scratch the scraps. Many people like to get their dog in on the holiday food craze, but there are things they shouldn’t be eating. It’s important that dogs don’t consume things like chocolate, nuts, or onions. These things can be toxic to their nervous system, or even lead to anemia.

No bones about it. That big turkey leg may look appetizing to your furry friend, but handing them the bones can prove dangerous. Dogs can choke on bones or they can also lacerate their intestines. Skip giving them the bones, as it’s not a risk worth taking.

Investigate treats. Most people purchase their pooch a gift at some point during the holidays. Those who will purchase special treats will want to give due diligence to their quality. Opt for ones that have ingredients only from the U.S. to help minimize the exposure to potentially harmful ingredients.

Keep exercising. Although people tend to get a little lazy during the holiday season, and especially as it gets colder outside, it’s important that pets still get plenty of exercise. Make a goal to ensure they keep moving and get daily exercise so they stay healthy and don’t pack on the pounds over the winter.

Commit to high quality. After the holiday comes the new resolutions that everyone makes. Start early, but resolve to feed your pets only high quality food that has been made with ingredients sourced in the U.S. This will help keep them healthier and reduce exposure to potentially harmful ingredients that may be imported from places such as China.

“We take keeping pets healthy serious, which is why we have won so many awards for our natural pet foods,” adds Post. “We know how important pets are to their human families, so we do our best to ensure that people have the best quality ingredients in order to feed them well, feel proud, and keep them vibrant.”

Source: www.HoundGatos.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Making Halloween Safer for Kids

October 31, 2016 3:51 am

Despite a growing trend to keep kids in at Halloween, showing off their costumes at the local mall or partying with friends at home, trick-or-treating on the street is a rite of passage in many neighborhoods.

If you are at home, turn on porch lights early to help prevent slips and falls. Children will typically be trick-or-treating between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. If you hand out treats, consider choosing mini-bags of pretzels or other non-sugary snacks, or small boxes of crayons, or mini-flashlights.

Additionally, to make the celebration safer for all children— and adults—Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization committed to preventing child injuries, provides nine tips for making Halloween safe as well as happy:

Keep costumes creative, but safe. Choose light colored fabrics and/or decorate costumes and treat bags will reflective tape or stickers.

Choose face paint or makeup instead of masks. Masks can obstruct a child’s vision.

Have children carry glow sticks or flashlights. It will help to make them clearly visible to drivers.

Have an adult close to trick-or-treaters. Children under 12 should never be alone on the streets, even in neighborhoods they know. Children over 12 should stick to the streets they know.

Cross the street at corners. Use crosswalks and traffic lights when available, and look left and right before crossing.

Stow away electronic devices. Keep phones in pockets and keep your head up as you walk.

Watch out for cars. Even on a quiet street, cars may be backing up or turning. Be sure children know to never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.

If you are driving, be alert. Be prepared for heavy pedestrian traffic and turn on headlights early.

Drive more slowly in residential neighborhoods. Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully—and be alert to kids on curbs and at intersections.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Tips for Fireplace Safety

October 31, 2016 3:51 am

For much of the country, winter means cold nights, and what better way to warm up than to curl up next to the fireplace. As fireplace use rises, so does the need for fireplace safety. Below are five tips to keep your family and home safe all season long.

Abide by the three feet rule. Clear a three foot radius around your fireplace, making sure  the area is clear of furniture, books, newspapers, and other potentially flammable materials.

Inspect annually. Have the chimney inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a professional to ensure it’s clear of obstructions and creosote to prevent a fire.

Install a safety screen. Make family members and guests aware that the glass panel of a gas fireplace, stove, or insert can be very hot. Installing a safety screen or safety barrier is recommended to reduce the risk of serious burns by preventing direct contact with hot glass.

Check the gas. Have a technician check the gas lines, clean the burner and control compartment as well as check for condensation annually.

Crack a window. If burning vent-free logs for more than an hour, crack a window open. If using vented logs, clamp your fireplace damper into the open position so it never closes while burning.

Source: The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Get Organized for Entertaining

October 31, 2016 3:51 am

(Family Features)--Hosting a holiday gathering is no small feat, but you can get organized ahead of the big day with these entertaining tips.

Set the guest list early: Send out invites in advance. Longer notice allows for you to better gauge who will be attending and how much food you'll need to make. Rather than waiting to see who shows up and who doesn't, send out RSVPs via mail or email so that you have a precise idea of how many people to plan for.

Plan the menu ahead of time: From drinks to side dishes to dessert, with special storage spots and industry-first infinity slide shelves, Whirlpool's French Door Refrigerator allows you to store 30 percent more so you can buy all your groceries in advance. This way you won't have to worry about running to the store just moments before guests arrive.

Set the table the day before: Organizing where you can, such as setting out plates and silverware in advance, allows you to focus on preparing food and drinks on the day of the party. Unless you'll be using fresh cut flowers, go ahead and complete the centerpieces and any other decorative touches the night before, as well.

Make a party-night cheat sheet: Keep a checklist nearby so you don't forget about any of your delicious courses or what tasks need completed throughout the evening. Remember to include items like refreshing the ice bucket and swapping out buffet dishes or appetizer platters periodically.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Nashville Voted Most Expensive Urban Destination to Visit

October 28, 2016 3:48 am

Ever wondered where the priciest city spot in the U.S. is? Surprisingly, the answer isn't New York or Los Angeles, but Nashville. A recent CheapHotels.org survey found the southern city to be the most expensive in the country, based on the cost of its lodging.  

The survey compared hotel rates of the 30 most populous U.S. destinations during the month of October. That month reflects the timeframe during which most U.S. cities reach their highest average hotel rates.

At an average price tag of $261 for its most affordable room, the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee leads the rankings. It has to be noted that only hotels rated at least 3 stars and centrally located have been considered by the survey.

Only slightly less expensive is Boston, Massachusetts. At an average rate of $257 per night, it ranks second most expensive on the survey. Washington, D.C. completes the Top 3 podium at an average overnight cost of $192. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, another Tennessee city, Memphis, ranks among the rather affordable destinations at an average rate of $142 per night for its least expensive double room. By far the cheapest destination is Las Vegas, Nevada, where an overnight visitor can find a room for around $60 per night.

Below are the 10 most expensive urban destinations in the United States. The prices shown reflect the average rate for each city's cheapest available double room (minimum 3-star hotel) for the period spanning October 1 through October 31, 2016.

1. Nashville - $261 
2. Boston - $257
3. Washington, D.C. - $192
4. San Francisco - $187
5. Portland - $185
6. New York City - $184
7. Phoenix - $182
7. Austin - $182
9. Chicago - $178
10. Houston - $176

Source: http://www.cheaphotels.org/press/cities16.html

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Plan for Disaster with Backup Power

October 28, 2016 3:48 am

As winter moves in, it's time to prep your home for a safe and secure snowy season. With weather changes upon us, arranging backup power should be an essential component of winter preparations, as it keeps critical home systems up and running in the event of power loss.

"Many people overlook the importance of backup power in emergency situations and fail to plan or prepare for a power outage," says Ed Del Grande, a home improvement TV host, author and syndicated columnist. "For those with small children, elderly relatives or family members with disabilities, backup power is especially crucial. Without power, you lose access to clean water, communication, fuel and often medical equipment, making the living environment not only uncomfortable but potentially dangerous."

The best thing homeowners can do to protect their families during a power outage is install a standby generator, which turns on automatically when the power shuts off. Similar to a central air conditioning unit, a standby generator is permanently installed outside the home, and runs on natural gas or propane through existing fuel lines in the house, which means there's no refueling.

Depending on the size of the unit, an automatic standby generator, like those from Kohler, can power all the major systems and appliances in a home, such as lights, furnace, refrigerator, computers, home security systems and medical equipment. And since it delivers high-quality power, there's no worry about it ever harming electronics.

Severe weather is the single leading cause of power outages in the United States. Don't wait until it's too late to protect your own home and family. Leading generator manufacturers offer a variety of automatic standby generator models, as well as portable and industrial options depending on your needs.

Source:  www.kohlergenerators.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Keep Rodents Out Of Your Home

October 28, 2016 3:48 am

Your family is not the only group spending more time indoors as the temperature drops. Fall is also prime time for rodents to make moves into your home as they seek food and shelter. It only takes a hole the size of a quarter for a rat to squeeze inside, and a hole the size of a dime for mice. Rodents are also known to chew around holes to make them larger, after which they can slip into homes.   

"Commensal rodents depend on humans and their resources to survive, so unless residents and city officials take proactive steps to prevent rodents, infestations can easily get out of hand,” says entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director Ron Harrison, Ph.D.

According to a 2013 Orkin survey, one-third of Americans saw a rodent in their home in the last year. Rodents eat between 15 and 20 times a day, so nearly 40 percent of homeowners saw rodents for the first time in kitchens. While rodents are commonly found eating human or pet food, they are also found chewing and gnawing other materials, causing damage to furniture, clothing, wiring, insulation and piping.

Orkin recommends the following tips to help prevent rodents around the home:

Regularly inspect the home – inside and outside – for rodent droppings, rub marks or burrows.

Seal all cracks and gaps around utility penetrations larger than 1/4 of an inch, as well as install weather stripping at the bottom of exterior doors.

Trim overgrown branches, plants and bushes near the home, and consider keeping a 2-foot barrier between any landscaping and the home.

Store all food (including pet food) and garbage properly in sealed containers both indoors and outdoors.

Remove all pet bowls after animals are finished eating, and remove pet waste from the lawn promptly.

Contact a pest professional for assistance managing rodents, as these pests can be dangerous and difficult to control.

Source: Orkin.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How-to Reduce Your Home's Fire Risk

October 27, 2016 3:48 am

Regardless of where in the country you live, fire is always a potential danger to your home, property and loved ones. According to the American Red Cross, 60 percent of house fire deaths occur in homes with no working smoke alarms. On average, 39 people die each year in fires in this country.

"Fire is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a family and a home," says Eric Corbett, president and owner of Larry & Sons. "If a fire starts in your home, you may have just two minutes to escape. The most effective way to protect yourself and your home from fire is to identify and remove potential fire hazards."

Corbett offers tips to help keep your family and your home safe:

Develop a fire escape plan with your family. Make sure everyone knows how to get out and where to meet. Practice the plan at least twice a year. If a fire occurs in your home, get out and stay out. Teach everyone to stop, drop and roll if their clothes catch fire.

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test them once a month, and if they're not working, change the batteries. Replace them every 10 years.

Keep flammable items at least three feet clear of anything that produces heat, such as a space heater or a fireplace.

Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home. If it sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or near an open window or door.

Cook safely, and teach your kids to do the same. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling. If you leave the kitchen, even for a moment, turn off the stove. Stay home while simmering, baking, roasting or boiling. Check on it regularly and use a timer to remind you. And keep anything that can catch fire, such as pot holders or towels, away from the stove.

Use caution with portable fire extinguishers. Keep one in the kitchen, but use it only if you have been trained by the fire department and if the fire is confined to a small area, the room is not filled with smoke, everyone has exited the building, and the fire department has been called.

Source: www.larryandsons.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Save Money on Travel Insurance

October 27, 2016 3:48 am

While traveling is exciting, it can also be stressful, especially if you are forced to make changes last minute, which can cost you time, energy, and your hard earned cash. This is where travel insurance can come in handy. But insurance itself can be pricey. Below are four tips on how to avoid overspending the next time you buy a travel insurance policy, courtesy of Squaremouth.

DON'T: Insure More Than Necessary
Travel insurance is intended to cover the money you will lose if you cancel your trip. Generally, you only need to insure your prepaid and non-refundable expenses. If that amount increases after you buy a policy, you can call your provider and increase your insured trip cost.

"If you can cancel all your hotels for just a small penalty, insure the cost of the penalty rather than the full amount of the hotels," says Squaremouth Product Manager Adam Rusin. "A lower trip cost generally means a lower premium, and you're still covered for the amount you would lose if you canceled."

DO: Compare Your Options
Travel insurance policies are not "one size fits all." Take a few minutes to research your choices using a travel insurance comparison site and determine what coverage you need. Call and speak to an agent if you aren't sure.

"We get a lot of calls from travelers looking for advice, or trying to understand and compare the coverage they're being offered by their cruise or tour operator," says Squaremouth Customer Service Director Jessica Harvey. "Customers are often surprised to see so many other options that offer the same or better benefits at a lower price."

DON'T: Upgrade to Cancel For Any Reason
While the Cancel For Any Reason upgrade offers greater flexibility to cancel your trip, it can increase the cost of a policy by as much as 40 percent, and it only reimburses a portion of your trip cost. There's no reason to pay more if your concerns are covered by standard travel insurance.

"The most common concerns we see are generally covered by standard cancellation policies, such as canceling due to an illness or a family member passing away," says Squaremouth Quality Assurance Manager Emily Phinney. "We don't recommend Cancel For Any Reason unless someone has a unique concern that isn't otherwise covered."

DO: Buy the Least Expensive Policy
A higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean better service or better benefits. Once you decide what coverage you need, choose the most affordable policy with that coverage.

Source: www.squaremouth.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Best Haunted Houses in the Nation

October 26, 2016 3:48 am

Each halloween, hundreds of haunted houses pop up across the country to the delight and terror of scream fans. In search of the spookiest spaces, Screams.com visited haunted attractions across the country to find the biggest, scariest and most unique attractions. Their findings are now available,  based on fear factor, technology, costume designs, overall uniqueness, size and quality. Go ahead and pick one to visit – we double dog dare you.  

1. 13th Gate, Baton Rouge, La.

2. Bennett's Curse, Baltimore, M.d.

3. Fear Farm, Phoenix, Ariz.

4. Nightmare on 13th, Salt Lake City, Utah

5. Erebus Haunted House, Pontiac, Mich.

6. 13th Floor, San Antonio, Texas

7. Spooky World, New England

8. The Dent Schoolhouse, Cincinnati, OH

9. Spookywoods, Archdale, N.C.

10. Nightmare on the Bayou, Houston, Texas

11. Headless Horseman, Ulster Park, N.Y.

12. The Bates Motel, Glen Mills, Pa.

12. Netherworld, Norcross (Atlanta), Ga.

Source: Screams.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Get the Most from Your Cookware

October 26, 2016 3:48 am

(Family Features)--For leading chefs and casual home cooks alike, a little skill and talent goes a long way toward creating each mouthwatering culinary masterpiece. But as many chefs will tell you, the end result is only as good as the tools you use in the kitchen. Pots and pans that have been treated with care are essential for quality cooking.

Not only are scratched and dinged pots and pans unsightly, these blemishes can actually adversely affect your food preparation. Learn how to keep your cookware in top performing condition with these three tips.

1. Cook with care. Keeping your pans in good condition starts with how you use them on the stove. While most high-quality pots and pans can withstand a range of temperatures, the threshold may vary for mid-range versions. If you're not sure, consult the manufacturer's instructions for specific guidance, but it's always a good idea to begin heating a pan at a medium heat for better cooking control and to avoid burning. Also give special care to the utensils you use for handling food within the pans. Opt for wooden or silicone kitchen tools rather than scratch-inducing metal and always avoid using knives.

2. Clean with care. Proper cleaning for your pots and pans depends upon the material. For example, cast iron and stainless steel should never be soaked, while soaking is perfectly acceptable, even preferable, for ceramic or other coated surfaces. Avoid harsh scrubbing on coated vessels and forgo soap with cast iron, which is porous enough to absorb it. You should always check if your cookware is dishwasher safe before loading it in for a wash, as sometimes detergents can ruin pots' finishes. Even if pots are dishwasher safe, best results will often be seen by handwashing first.

3. Store with care. Stacking pots and pans haphazardly in a drawer or cabinet is a surefire path to scratches and other damage. Look for storage solutions that let you neatly organize your vessels and their matching lids. A couple of handy options include Revere Copper Confidence Core Stainless Steel Cookware and Revere Clean Pan Hard Anodized Aluminum Non-Stick Cookware. Both of these recently released lines include an exclusive patent-pending Nest&Protect feature. By updating the functionality of the traditional hanging rings, these interlocking handles elevate your pots and pans above one another to protect the interior and exterior finishes, while storing conveniently and efficiently without scratching.

Source: RevereWare.com .

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Smart Thermostats Lower Bills, Improve Efficiency

October 26, 2016 3:48 am

More and more homeowners are slashing their bills and making their life a little easier by using smart thermostats. Ease of installation and usage are key contributors to overall satisfaction with these remotely controlled thermostats, a rapidly growing market, according to the inaugural J.D. Power 2016 Smart Thermostat Satisfaction Report.

The primary benefit of smart thermostats is convenience—63 percent of customers indicate they adjust their thermostat remotely—followed by 53 percent indicating automated temperatures when not home, and saving money on monthly heating/air conditioning costs, with 51 percent citing this as a benefit.


While nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of customers installed the unit themselves vs. 36 percent who used a contractor/professional installer, the levels of overall satisfaction vary slightly between installation methods (873 among do-it-yourselfers vs. 883 among those using a contractor, on a 1,000-point scale). More than half (51 percent) of those who installed the smart thermostat themselves say it was easier than expected, while only 4 percent say it was more difficult than expected.

“Smart thermostat customers are taking a hands-on approach to researching, buying and installing a product that allows them to have, in effect, a hands-off experience,” says Jeff Conklin, vice president of utilities & infrastructure practice at J.D. Power. “The resulting satisfaction levels are promising, but manufacturers would be wise to focus on their customers’ ease of connectivity and the benefits of smart thermostats.”

Connectivity issues, while minimal, affect overall satisfaction. Among the 15 percent of customers having difficulty connecting their system to the internet and the 9 percent of those having difficulty connecting from their mobile app, overall satisfaction is 843. Among customers who indicate not experiencing any connectivity problems, overall satisfaction is 899.

The report also finds a high level of customer engagement before making a purchase. Nearly half (45 percent) of customers looked at consumer review websites, and 46 percent indicate those positive reviews were a reason they selected their smart thermostat.

Source: www.jdpower.com/about-us/press-release-info

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Simple Steps to Maintain Natural Stone

October 25, 2016 3:45 am

(Family Features)--Natural stone adds elegance and style to any home. With a nearly endless array of colors, textures and designs, it's easy to create a one-of-a-kind look for your kitchen or bath. However, without proper care, that carefully selected natural stone may quickly start to show wear and tear.

Not only does natural stone lend a beautifully sophisticated aesthetic, it's generally regarded as a practical choice because it's more durable than many other materials. Its resistance to scratches also makes it a more sanitary choice.

However, granite, marble, travertine and other natural-stone and quartz surfaces do require proper care and attention to maintain that luxurious finish. Keep your natural stone in top condition with these tips from the experts at Granite Gold.

Clean often. Even if your surface appears clean, the safest bet is to clean it after every meal preparation. The most miniscule particle could have a detrimental effect on your natural stone. Avoid common cleaners and abrasives. They can break down the protective seal and you could be faced with costly repair or replacement. Also, give special attention to the scrubbing pad you use; many are too abrasive for expensive stone counters and leave unsightly scratches. Leave the sponges and pads you use for pots and pans in the sink and instead rely on scrubbing pads designed specifically for natural stone or look for "non-scratch" on the packaging.

Seal frequently. You cannot over-seal natural stone surfaces. Frequently sealing granite countertops and all other natural stone surfaces maintains maximum surface protection, penetrating stone surfaces to provide superior, long-lasting resistance to staining, etching and soil buildup. The protective seal is a critical component of natural stone because it prevents harmful substances such as acidic coffee, juice or wine from staining and etching the surface.

If you're not sure whether it's time to reseal, it's easy to test. Pour water (about 3 inches in diameter) on the surface and let it sit for 30 minutes. Be sure to do this in several locations, since the integrity of the seal could vary from one area to another. If the water beads, then the stone remains sealed. However, if the stone is penetrated – signified by a dark mark or ring created by the water – it is time to reseal. Be sure to check closely for etching and stains, as you'll want to fix these issues before the sealant is applied.

Polish regularly. Polishing stone provides two great benefits. First, polishing after cleaning will bring out the stone's natural beauty. Second, it will reinforce the protective seal and provide ongoing protection against water spots and fingerprints.

Source: GraniteGold.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Raising Caring Kids

October 25, 2016 3:45 am

Most parents start by encouraging children to share—and that’s a good start, agrees Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd. Weissbourd’s recent study, however, found that 80 percent of children believe their parents care more about their grades than whether they care about others.

If we want children to grow up caring and respectful, says Weissbourd, we need to raise them that way. He and his staff provide five strategies for raising kinder, more ethical children:

1. Make Kindness a Priority – Children need to balance their needs with the needs of others. Parents should encourage them to honor their commitments, try to work out disagreements, and address others respectively even when they are angry or tired.

2. Provide Opportunities to Practice – Pitching in around the house, helping a friend with homework, or sharing a favorite toy with a sibling are good ways to make caring second nature. You don’t need to reward them for doing routine chores, but do express pride and thanks when you see them doing something kind.

3. Expand Their Circle of Concern – Most children care about their own circle of family and friends. Encourage them to develop concern for people in the wider world. Encourage them to care for those who are needy or vulnerable. Use a TV or newspaper story to talk about the hardships faced by others.

4. Be a Role Model – Children learn by watching the actions of adults. Model caring by doing some community service. Involve your kids in donating gently used toys and clothing. Talk about an ethical dilemma, such as what would they do if they saw a classmate bullied or crying.

5. Help Them Learn to Manage Anger – The ability to care for others can be overwhelmed by anger, shame or envy. Children should learn that feelings are okay, but they must cope with them in productive ways. When your child is upset, ask him or her to stop, take a deep breath, exhale, and count to five. If you practice when they are calm, they will eventually learn how to better control their emotions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Customer Service Crucial to Keeping Clients Happy

October 25, 2016 3:45 am

Nothing spooks your customers faster than poor customer service, according to the inaugural J.D. Power 2016 Home Security Satisfaction Report. While the recent study shows that 31 percent of customers have considered switching providers, those who indicate they will change providers in the next 12 months are doing so predominantly because of poor customer service.

“It’s such a basic principle—provide good customer service—but it requires a commitment throughout an organization,” says Greg Truex, senior director at J.D. Power. “Spending time and money on designing, building and selling a product is great, but if the execution of the customer experience is lacking, it can all be for naught.”

The customer service experience is significant because 40 percent of all customers contact their provider at some point with a question, problem or request. Satisfaction is significantly higher among customers who say the response was helpful (869 on a 1,000-point scale) than among those who didn’t find the response helpful (655). Satisfaction also is higher among customers who don’t contact their provider (867) than among those who do (850).

Following are additional findings of the report:

- Satisfaction is 62 points higher among customers who do not consider switching providers than among those who do consider switching (880 vs. 818, respectively).

- The three leading reasons customers select a system are brand reputation (54%), price (46%) and positive reviews/online rating (45%).

- Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) customers indicate they’re able to control their system outside of their home, while only 59% indicate they control it from their mobile device.

- Following are loyalty findings related to delighted customers:

- More than 9 in 10 (92%) delighted home security customers (overall satisfaction scores above 900) say they “definitely will” recommend the brand to others, compared with the report average of 72%.

- Nearly 9 in 10 (85%) delighted customers say they “definitely will” remain a customer of the brand, compared with the report average of 68%.

- Delighted customers make an average of 6.6 recommendations to family and friends, compared with the report average of 4.9.

Source: www.jdpower.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Americans Remain Concerned About Credit Card Debt

October 24, 2016 3:45 am

Americans are growing more concerned about their credit card balances, according to a recent National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) poll, which revealed that 69 percent of the respondents are most unsure or worried about paying down credit card debt.

“Credit cards are a useful and effective financial tool for those who keep their balances under control,” says Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the NFCC. “Balances sometimes grow beyond the point where they can easily be repaid, which is a sign that it’s time to reach out to a financial professional for guidance.”

Those polled are also worried about insufficient savings for emergencies and retirement, student loan debt and lack of affordable housing.

So what's the best way to work down your payment? Bump your monthly contributions. Paying only the minimum monthly payment is like treading water. It would take someone almost 26 years to pay off $7,800 at 15 percent interest. During that time, the amount of interest paid in addition to the principle balance would be $9,229. Paying extra each month will slash the interest you're shelling out.

If you are struggling to afford extra payments, consider consolidating balances if you have multiple accounts – but make sure to choose an account with a lower interest rate.

Source: www.NFCC.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Millennials See a Drop in Mortgage Rates

October 24, 2016 3:45 am

As the Fed considers bumping interest rates, the average rates on home loans offered to millennials dropped to 3.763 percent in August, according to the latest Ellie Mae Millennial Tracker™. While this is a nice dip, the average loan amount to millennial borrowers actually increased to $181,326, compared to July’s average of $180,413.

The Tracker also noted that, after increasing the past few months, the average FICO score for millennial borrowers remained stable at 725 in August. The percentage of millennial conventional loans in August continued to climb, resulting in 63 percent of total closed loans, up from 62 percent in July. Meanwhile, FHA loans continued to represent 35 percent of all closed loans in August, down from both June and May’s 37 percent share. The average debt-to-income ratio (DTI) rose to 24/36. Loan-to-value (LTV) increased to 88 in August.

“In August, millennial borrowers enjoyed the lowest average interest rates we have seen all year,” said Joe Tyrrell, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Ellie Mae. “And we are seeing average loan amounts creep up for conventional and FHA loans as millennials take advantage of these low rates.”

Women were listed as the primary borrower on 32 percent of closed loans. Consistent with July data, among women who were listed as the primary borrower, 39 percent were married and 61 percent were single. Comparatively, among male primary borrowers, 59 percent were listed as married and 41 percent were single, a significant difference from women. The average age for borrowers remained consistent in 29.0 for female primary borrowers and 29.3 for male primary borrowers.

In August, female primary borrowers had an average FICO score of 725 and male primary borrowers had a slightly higher average score of 727. FHA loans represented 40 percent of total loans to female primary borrowers, compared to just 33 percent of male primary borrowers.

Owensboro, Ky. remained the top Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) for millennial borrowers, with 60 percent of its mortgage loans closed in August going to members of this generation. Dickinson, N.D. Dakota, Terre Haute, Ind., and Hutchinson, Minn. each had 47 percent of mortgage loans closed by millennial borrowers. When sorted by population, top MSAs included St. Louis, Mo.-Ill. (34 percent) followed by Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md. (32 percent).

Source: http://elliemae.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Superheroes Reign This Halloween

October 24, 2016 3:45 am

This Halloween, expect to see a bevvy of pint-sized superheroes littering your 'hood. The beloved princess costume has been de-crowned after an 11-year reign, according to NRF’s 2016 Halloween Consumer Top Costumes Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. But perhaps the spookiest finding of all from this survey is that spending on Halloween costumes is expected to reach $3.1 billion.

Findings show that over three million children will dress as their favorite action or superhero, 2.9 million will dress as their favorite princess and 2.5 million plan to dress as a cat, dog, bunny or other animal. 

Top Kid's Costumes
  1. Action/Superhero
  2. Princess
  3. Animal (Cat, Dog, Lion, Monkey, etc.)
  4. Batman Character
  5. Star Wars Character
  6. Tie: Witch AND DC Superhero (excl. Batman)
  7. Frozen Character (Anna, Elsa, Olaf)
  8. Marvel Superhero (excl. Spiderman)
  9. Zombie
  10. Spiderman
So what will millennials rock on All Hallow's Eve? Nine percent will reach for a Batman costume, followed by 6.1 percent opting for witch hats and brooms and five percent planning to dress as an animal. 

Adults, 18 -34-Years-Old
1. Batman Character (Batman, Harley Quinn, The Joker, etc.)
2. Witch
3. Animal (Cat, Dog, Bunny, etc.)
4. Tie: Marvel Superhero (Deadpool, Spiderman, etc.) AND DC Superhero (Wonder Woman, Superman, excl. Batman)
5. Vampire
6. Video Game Character
7. Slasher Movie Villain (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc.)
8. Pirate
9. Star Wars Character
10. Zombie

For the mid-range adults, more will turn to witches, pirates and political figures for their costume inspiration.

Adults 35+

1. Witch
2. Pirate
3. Political (Trump, Clinton, etc.)
4. Vampire
5. Batman Character (Batman, Catwoman, etc.)
6. Animal (Cat, Dog, Bunny, etc.)
7. Tie: DC Superhero (Superman, Wonder Woman, excl. Batman) and Star Wars Character
8. Tie: Ghost and Zombie
9. Scary Costume/Mask
10. Marvel Superhero (Iron Man, Hulk, Spiderman, etc.) 

And what would a holiday be without dressed up pets? Sixteen percent of consumers plan to dress their pets in costume this year and 86.7 percent of those consumers already have a plan for their pet’s costumes. Pumpkin, hot dog and bumble bee are at the top of the list again this year.

Furry friends

1. Pumpkin
2. Hot Dog
3. Bumble Bee
4. Tie: Lion and Star Wars Character
5. Devil
6. Batman Character
7. Witch
8. Superman
9. Action/Superhero
10. Cat

Sources: www.ProsperDiscovery.com, www.nrf.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Not to Help Your Child Succeed in School

October 21, 2016 3:42 am


Children are under a lot of pressure to get good grades at an early age in order to pave the way for a successful academic future. Parents are often at a loss as to the best way to help their children do well in school, and their best intentions, unfortunately, can backfire.

While every child is different, the tactics that usually don’t work:

Nagging - Constantly reminding your children to do their homework and study will have little to no effect on their motivation. Most of the time, they know exactly what they need to do and are simply procrastinating. Have a conversation with your child to review what’s due the next day or within the coming week, jot it down, and then leave them to it.

Getting Angry - Worse than nagging, yelling at your children about homework and grades is a recipe for disaster. Not only is it ineffective, it disrupts the peace at home, which is counterproductive for everyone in the family.

Doing It for Them - It can be oh-so tempting to simply intervene and do that math sheet or English paper yourself, especially if your child is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Instead, show them how to organize their time, break a project into chunks, or encourage them to see their teacher for extra help. 

Blaming the Teacher - Keeping the lines of communication open with your child’s teacher is very important, so long as you remain as impartial as possible, and are open to constructive criticism about your son or daughter. Getting adversarial with the teacher just making things worse for your child.

Punishing - While threats may seem like a logical way to get your child to do well, negative reinforcement rarely works long-term. Instead, try positive reinforcement, such as a small reward (e.g., a trip to the ice cream parlor, an extra hour tacked onto Saturday night curfew) for handing in work on time or getting a good grade on a paper. This will encourage good work habits that will serve them well far into the future.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Not My House! A Before-the-Storm Checklist

October 21, 2016 3:42 am


Storms can cause all types of damage to a property, from loss of belongings to mold growth and beyond.

“Preparing before a storm is critical in managing the aftermath damage,” said Peter Duncanson, director of System Development with ServiceMaster Restore, in a recent statement. “We know how devastating storm damage can be for people, and we want to help them mitigate it as much as possible and be prepared to respond quickly.”

Duncanson and his team at Service Master Restore suggest following this checklist:

• Obtain emergency supplies (or refresh reserves, if needed) of items such medication, non-perishable food and water.

• Organize important documentation, such as birth certificates, insurance policies and receipts, into accessible, waterproof storage.

• Take stock of possessions, preferably with photos, including the items’ make, model and/or serial number.

• Unplug all electronics.

• Raise furniture, as well as below-window treatments. Board up windows, if necessary.

• Determine points of contact for emergency communications, and share that information with all members of the household.

• Clear gutters.

• Store outdoor furniture or any other outdoor items, including toys and tools, that could become airborne.

Source: ServiceMaster Restore
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The 10 Paint Colors Designers Use Most

October 21, 2016 3:42 am


With hundreds of paint colors to choose from, selecting the shades just right for your home can be daunting. Good Housekeeping magazine recently rounded up the top 10 paint colors most often used by professional home designers. Get inspired by them:

1. Palladian Blue – By Benjamin Moore, this blue-green-grey shade can be used in any room, and is especially ideal for cooling down a sun-filled room or adding tranquility to a bedroom.

2. Garden Stone – By Clark+Kensington, this classic warm grey shade is a designer favorite projected to stand the test of time.

3. Manchester Tan – By Benjamin Moore, this shade is a go-to warm neutral favored because it changes with the light, going from rich to fresh.

4. Compatible Cream – By Sherwin Williams, this creamy yellow shade is warm and inviting, but not too sunny.

5. Intense White – By Benjamin Moore, this shade gives off a light grey-ish tone. Designers use it as a backdrop for rooms with brightly colored furniture.

6. Sprout 0.6 – By Colorhouse, this shade has a slightly pinkish hue, and is often chosen for ceilings because it reflects flatteringly on people in the room.

7. Revere Pewter – By Benjamin Moore, this fail-safe neutral shade is the perfect alternative to white, ideal for open floor plans with just a hint of color.

8. Decorator’s White – By Benjamin Moore, this shade has pure white undertones that provide a crisp, clean look on ceilings or trim, or in bathrooms. 

9. Essential Grey – By Sherwin Williams, this shade is best paired with white trim for a clean, sophisticated aesthetic.

10. Wool Skein – By Sherwin Williams, this neutral shade coordinates well with any color.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Study: The Value of a Consistent Retirement Saving Strategy

October 20, 2016 3:39 am


Reports about the retirement outlook for Americans have been less than encouraging since the recession. Recent data, however, show that the tide may be turning, this time favorably.

The average 401(k) balance, according to a study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and the Investment Company Institute (ICI), has grown in the last four years, through both workers’ and employers’ contributions, as well as gains. The average 401(k) balance among consistent contributors is now $130,493. “Consistent” contributors are defined as “those who remained active in the same 401(k) plan for the four-year period covering year-end 2010 through year-end 2014.” The median 401(k) balance among consistent contributors, comparatively, grew to $56,653. Approximately one in five consistent contributors have more than $200,000 in their current employer’s 401(k) plan.

These data are evidence that consistency is essential to wealth-building for retirement, says Sarah Holden, ICI’s senior director of Retirement and Investor Research.

“By studying the experience of workers who participate consistently across several years, this study shows more accurately the extent to which steady, paycheck-by-paycheck saving and compounding investment returns can help workers accumulate a sizable retirement nest egg,” Holden said in a statement.

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Did You Know Where You Live Can Affect How You Look?

October 20, 2016 3:39 am


You’d rarely think to move somewhere based on how it can change your appearance. A recent study, however, shows that where we choose to set down roots could actually impact how well we age.

The “2016 RoC Wrinkle Ranking,” compiled by Sperling’s Best Places, a research firm, and RoC® Skincare, offers a city-by-city look at premature aging and skin damage, revealing what you can expect to see when looking in the mirror decades down the road based on what city you call home. The analysis assessed factors commonly known to affect skin health: environmental, lifestyle and occupational influences.

The study predicts that in the year 2040, San Jose, Calif., will claim the least wrinkle-prone title as the city with residents who age the best. This is due to its shorter commute times, smaller population size and an anticipated shift toward a wetter climate. 

Philadelphia, on the other hand, will reign as the most wrinkle-prone city, thanks to airborne pollution, lengthy commute times and higher-than-average smoking rates.

The study highlights a number of key factors:

Large metropolitan areas, like Philly, Washington, D.C. and New York City, will likely remain the most wrinkle-prone due to extreme urban environments, more congested commuting and lower air quality.

Smoking rates will likely approach zero in 35 of the 50 cities ranked, which will decrease overall rates of premature wrinkles. However, Nashville, St. Louis and Kansas City are expected to retain smoking rates significantly higher than the rest of the country – leaving residents of these cities more at risk.

Higher temperatures, along with less precipitation, will increase the occurrence of wrinkles in certain areas, such as the Great Lakes and the Northeast. Texans in communities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio will see the greatest decrease in average annual precipitation.

How about it? Will the possibility of premature aging give you pause about your city?
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


At Home: 8 Energy-Saving Tips

October 20, 2016 3:39 am


Energy costs account for a considerable amount of every homeowner’s budget. According to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the average annual utility costs are $2,200. Trimming that expense, even by a few dollars, can save hundreds each year—and save the environment from the effects of excess consumption.

Start saving energy at home with these tips, shared recently by the CFA.

1. Air-dry dishes, instead of drying them in the dishwasher. Avoid turning on the dishwasher until it is absolutely full, as ell—cycling through a wash every night is a high energy-consuming task.

2. Buy ENERGY STAR® products. If it is time to replace an appliance, purchase a model with the ENERGY STAR label, which indicates the appliance meets energy efficiency standards. 

3. Install a programmable thermostat to control the temperature in the home at different times of day automatically—this can save $100 a year, making the expense well worth the cost.

4. Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, which, according to the CFA, use up to 25 percent less energy. Replace them only when the incandescents burn out, however—the goal is to avoid unnecessary consumption overall.

5. Seal drafts with caulk or weatherstripping to prevent air leakage—this is proven to save hundreds in cooling and heating costs. Spray foam insulation can be used on the exterior of the home to seal gaps around the chimney, foundation, pipes and windows.

6. Set up motion detectors, or set timers, to control lighting when not in use. Use power strips where appropriate to keep energy use to a minimum at night.

7. Turn down the water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Water heaters, the CFA reports, are the second-highest energy consumers in homes. Turning down the thermostat on them by a few degrees can significantly reduce their energy use.

8. Conduct an energy audit. Many utilities companies offer free energy audits, which is a type of inspection that reveals the most energy-consuming (and costly) aspects in the home.

Source: Consumer Federation of America (CFA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Dietician's Secrets for Healthier Eating

October 19, 2016 3:39 am


Whether you’re on your own or feeding a family, it can be tempting to skip healthy meal preparation in favor of quick carry-outs. Don’t give in!

Registered dietician Jae Berman recently shared her healthy eating secret with the Washington Post: batch cooking.

Batch cooking is preparing enough foods at one time to provide proteins, veggies and carbs for a week or more. Her example:

• Roast two or three pans of vegetables and store them in a container in the fridge. Cook off 10 chicken breasts, brown two pounds of ground beef, and hard-boil a dozen eggs. You can even steam a big helping of rice, quinoa or other grains, and store them in the fridge, as well.

• Use condiments and sauces for flavor—add salsa, cilantro and canned chilies to the ground beef to make tacos with prepared tortilla shells, warm up chicken with lemon juice and herbs, and add them to pasta sauce with a bit of parmesan, or, chop them with celery, egg and a little mayo for a salad.

Berman has a host of other tricks on hand, too:

Prep Fruits/Veggies – Cut up a variety and keep them in the fridge for snacking, packed lunches or dinner sides.

Use That Crockpot – Almost any combination of protein, veggies, herbs and a little broth or other liquid popped into the Crockpot in the morning will wind up as a savory soup or stew at the end of the day.

Make a Frittata – Combine eggs, veggies and spices and cook in a large skillet. Then, slice like pizza and freeze for later use—warm up a slice, add a salad and crusty bread, and you’re good to go.

Use Canned Fish – Prepare enough canned tuna or salmon for two meals: the first as a salad with fresh veggies, and the second for tuna melts or salmon patties.

Remember Smoothies – You can make them ahead of time with yogurt and fresh fruit, then freeze in separate containers and use for breakfast on the go.

Will you try batch cooking this weekend?
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How-To: Take the Shiver out of a Drafty House

October 19, 2016 3:39 am


(BPT)—A drafty house is not just cold—it’s downright expensive. The kicker? The sources of those drafts can be eliminated inexpensively.

Take the attic, for instance. There was a large hole cut into the ceiling to make way for stairs to it. All of that insulation is now gone, replaced with a thin, unsealed sheet of plywood.

Attics are vented directly outdoors, so they get cold in winter—really cold. What separates your heated home from your cold, un-heated attic? A thin, unsealed sheet of plywood!

Need more proof? Turn the light on in your attic tonight, keeping the stairway closed. See that light streaming through? It’s shining on the gap that is costing you buckets in utilities each winter. Imagine that!

Whole-house fans (which are also installed by way of large hole) can be just as problematic. In this case, a flimsy ceiling shutter is all that stands between you and the elements. Nice.

Fireplaces, ironically, are also drafty—an open damper, even in a well-insulated home, can raise energy consumption by up to 30 percent!

A shut damper isn’t airtight, either. The chimney is an opening to the outdoors—think of it as a window, swallowing up (and out!) all of that costly heated air.

Let’s not forget dryer vents, or exhaust ducts, which can be a source of drafts, too. Most dryer vents employ a sheet metal flapper to reduce drafts—primitive protection, by today’s technology.

The good news is, all of these problems have economical solutions.

• Insulated Attic Stair Cover
• Whole-House Fan Shutter Seal (with Flexible, Textured Insulation, plus Velcro)
• Fireplace Plug
• Dryer Vent Seal (Floating Shuttle)

Winter’s still a few weeks away—get these fixes in now to warm up with all those savings!

Source: Battic Door
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Why Fall Is Time to Buy—or Sell—a Home

October 19, 2016 3:39 am


The data have it: October is one of the better months to buy, or sell.

Homebuyers, according to RealtyTrac®, tend to get the best deals in October, based on an analysis of more than 30 million single-family home and condominium sales that happened over the last 15 years—of the 2.7 million sales closed in October over that period, the average sale price was 2.6 percent below average estimated full market value.

Why the downtrend? One of the main causes is lesser demand, which results in lower prices. Another cause could be the presence of “spring leftovers”—the homes that didn’t sell in the spring or summer placed back on the market, at a reduced price, in fall.

Historically, fall has been an ideal season for homebuyers—it lacks the pace of peak real estate season, which can be intimidating (especially to newcomers), and it offers time to buy between the frenetic start of the school year and the holidays. The beginning of school, as well, means that fewer homebuyers will be out searching for homes, lessening the competition for other buyers, and bidding wars, as a result.

Still, fall can be ideal for those on the other side of the closing table—sellers. Sellers in the fall generally attract more serious buyers than at other times of year, upping the chance they’ll get a well-intentioned offer. They also could be on a faster path to closing, as well, because fall is outside of peak season—some buyers, then, may have a pressing reason to buy.

October, specifically, is also ideal for both parties in that appliances go on sale—manufacturers deeply discount previous years’ models to make way for the next years’ hitting the shelves. How about that for incentive?

Whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, I’m prepared to help you with your real estate needs. Contact me today!
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


America's Spending: Booze, Coffee, and a Whole Lot of Extras

October 18, 2016 3:39 am


“What did I spend all that money on?!"

Most of us have had that reaction at one time or another—it usually comes when we see that sky-high credit card bill come in.

What do we really spend our money on? Online coupon collector RetailMeNot recently discovered the answer as part of its “WTF Did I Spend My Money On?” campaign.

Food – Each week, 85 percent of us stock up on groceries, averaging $115, and 74 percent of us treat ourselves to a meal out each week, averaging $58. All that eating out can add up— $3,016 a year!

Beer – Forty-eight percent of us aged 21 and over buy beer each month, racking up $50 in the process. That’s pouring out $600 a year!

Coffee – Forty-eight percent of us spring for a cup o’ Joe each week, averaging $18, or $936 a year. That’s almost a grand!

Wine – Forty-three percent of us aged 21 and over purchase wine each month, averaging $51—about the same as beer buyers.

Other common contributors to spending, according to RetailMeNot, are manicures and pedicures—averaging $1,471.08 a year!—and pet supplies, averaging $221 per month for dog owners and $192 per month for cat owners.

More of us are also spending on newer types of recurring expenses—rides from Lyft or Uber average $45 per week ($2,340 per year), and meal delivery services average $42.44 per week, or $2,206.88 per year, RetailMeNot found.

What are you spending your money on?

Source: RetailMeNot
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


When's the Last Time You Really Cleaned Your Kitchen?

October 18, 2016 3:39 am


Your appliances and counters are sparkling, and your cabinets and floors are polished to a shine—but how clean are some lesser-seen areas of your kitchen?

Joe Sevier of Epicurious.com consulted with kitchen experts to get the low-down on areas of the kitchen we may be overlooking when it comes to cleaning. Here’s a list of what needs to be cleaned—and how frequently, too—from Sevier’s blog. You may be surprised!

Cleaning Brush – Daily (Rinse in hot water after each use.)

Dish Drying Rack – Weekly

Garbage Bin – Monthly

Kitchen Cabinets – Monthly (Wipe down fronts and knobs, and vacuum the inside.)

In-Drawer Flatware Caddy – Monthly (If you have a wire or mesh caddy, remove and vacuum debris that filtered down to the drawer.)

Refrigerator Shelves – Monthly (Tip: Wiping the bottom of jars and cartons will keep shelves cleaner, longer.)

Stovetop Exhaust Fan – Monthly

Utensil Caddy – Monthly, to remove food splatters, dust and grease

Water Filterer – Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but generally, it should be cleaned every two months when you change the filter.

Ice Cube Trays – Once or twice a year if you use them regularly, but more often if you only use them once in a while

Source: Epicurious.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Staging for Millennial Appeal

October 18, 2016 3:39 am


Millennials—the generation born between 1980 and 1995 that now comprise the largest home-buying group—want made-up, modern, and move-in ready.

Real estate professionals are seeing it firsthand: most millennials don’t want their parents’ house, but older homes tend to look just like mom and dad’s—a harsh truth for homeowners needing to appeal to these types of buyers when they list their home for sale.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), millennials accounted for 35 percent of all home sales last year. Sellers unreceptive to staging could miss that opportunity entirely. Comparable homes staged for millennials, too, tend to fetch more than ones that aren’t—that means even if an older buyer places an offer, that offer will likely be on par with market value or higher.

The fact is, millennials don’t have the desire, money or time to fix up a home themselves. These days, bold colors, clean-lined furniture and light walls are not enough to pique their interest—one blogger called the aesthetic they’re after the “this-could-be-a-movie-set” look. Millennials want to project a lifestyle in the places they call home. Sellers should aim to meet them on those terms.

Stagers generally recommend starting by removing outdated décor—this can make a positive difference in the impression millennial buyers receive. Contemporary light fixtures, hardwood flooring and updated window treatments can dramatically change the appearance of the home, as well. Few, strategic fixes like these can sell a home for top dollar, and that much sooner.

Every house, however, is unique. A real estate professional well-versed in staging is worth consulting—most will walk the home and offer suggestions as to the improvements needed to make the home attractive to not only millennials, but all types of buyers. Contact one today!
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tax Filers: Educational Credits to Consider

October 17, 2016 3:36 am


For most taxpayers, this time of year marks the beginning of the return planning process—and with the school year in swing, there is no better time to explore eligibility for educational tax credits.

There are two educational credits available, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS): the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. Taxpayers can only claim one of these credits per student, per year, even if they are eligible for both.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is available for “qualified education expenses,” such as tuition, up to $2,500 per student. Only taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $80,000 or less (or $160,000 for married couples filing jointly) can claim the full credit.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is available for similar expenses, including tuition, up to $2,000 per return. Only taxpayers with a MAGI of $55,000 or less (or $111,000 for married couples filing jointly) can claim the full credit.

Both credits, which must be claimed through Form 8863, can be claimed by the taxpayer who pays qualifying expenses for an “eligible student,” which includes the taxpayer, spouse and dependents who are enrolled in an “eligible college, university or vocational school, according to the IRS.

Visit the Education Credits page on the IRS website, www.irs.gov/individuals/education-credits-aotc-llc, for more information, or to determine eligibility.

Source: U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Protecting Pets: 6 Disaster Safety Tips

October 17, 2016 3:36 am


Pets are family, and in times of distress, it’s important to treat them as such. Bookmark these safety tips for reference the next time a natural disaster occurs, courtesy of national humane organization American Humane.

1. Update Your Pet’s Information – Ensure your pet’s license information and microchip registration are up-to-date. Register your pet with mobiPET, a free AMBER-type alert system for missing pets.

2. Prepare a Kit for Your Pet – Assemble a kit with pet essentials: bowls, carrying cases, food, medication, water, etc. Keep it in an accessible area, preferably with your own emergency kit.

3. Note Your Pet’s Preferences – Be aware of the places your pet likes to hide—they may seek shelter there if they are separated from you during a disaster.

4. Secure Pet Exits – Make certain your pet cannot leave your home during a storm—bar access to cat doors, especially.

5. Keep Your Pet in Tow – If ordered to evacuate, take your pet with you—do not leave your pet behind. House your pet at a safe boarding facility, or stay at a pet-friendly hotel.

6. Understand Changes in Your Pet – Your pet’s outdoor (and indoor) environment may change after a storm. Your pet may exhibit notice by acting out or being self-protective—be sensitive to these changes, and comfort your pet in a quiet area, if possible.

Source: American Humane
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What Is a Home Service Contract, or "Warranty?"

October 17, 2016 3:36 am


The National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA) defines home service contracts, or “warranties,” as contracts offering repair, replacement or service for major appliances and systems that break down as a result of “normal” use. Home service contracts, according to the Association, are a significant means of savings for homeowners, with coverage ranging from disposals and ovens to HVAC systems.

“The wholesale value of these contracts easily exceeds $1 billion in savings to consumers annually,” said Mike Bartosch, president of the NHSCA, in a recent statement.

Home service contracts are not the same as homeowners insurance. Said Bartosch, “Home service contracts and homeowners insurance policies are mutually exclusive products in all 50 states. NHSCA members are not insurers and do not sell an insurance product. Further, insurance products don’t cover service, repairs or replacement to home systems and appliances required as a result of normal wear and use.

“If a system or appliance stops working, contact your home service contract provider,” Bartosch added in the statement. “If a home system or appliance is damaged by a falling tree, catches fire, or is subject to vandalism, contact your insurance agent.”

Real estate professionals often offer home service contracts—in this case, “warranties”—to homebuyers and/or sellers. The term “warranty,” according to the NHSCA, refers to the seller’s action of purchasing a service contract for the buyer should issues arise during the first year of ownership. If you’re a buyer or seller, consult with your real estate agent or broker to learn more about the options available to you.

For more information, visit HomeServiceContract.org.
 
Source: National Home Service Contract Association (NHSCA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Car Care: 5 Things Drivers Should Stop Doing

October 14, 2016 3:33 am


A car only lasts as long as you care for it.

“Because auto care isn’t always a top priority for car owners, they might not realize they are doing things that adversely affect the performance, safety and value of their car,” says Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Routine maintenance can go a long way toward saving money, avoiding headaches and protecting your vehicle investment.”

The Car Care Council recently outlined five things drivers should stop doing if they want their car to last:

STOP: Driving Carelessly
Driving carelessly is not only dangerous to yourself and those around you—it can cause damage to your car, too. Always observe the speed limit, and avoid aggressive starting and stopping, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

STOP: Ignoring the Check Engine Light
We know, we know—you’ll schedule that vehicle service appointment eventually. Putting off service when the check engine light comes on could lead to costly repairs down the road. (Literally!)

STOP: Neglecting the Tires
Your car’s tires get you from Point A to Point B—don’t neglect them! Bald or underinflated tires can be detrimental to the gas mileage and performance of your car, as well as your overall safety.

STOP: Running on Empty
We don’t mean the gas tank (though that can be harmful, too!). Check the fluid levels of your car regularly, and refill, if needed, to keep your car functioning at optimal capacity.

STOP: Skipping Out on Service
Periodic inspections by a professional service technician, which include assessment of the car’s components and parts, can help you keep unexpected repair costs to a minimum, and extend the lifespan of your car.

Source: Car Care Council
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Big DIY Results on a Little Budget

October 14, 2016 3:33 am


(Family Features)—With an abundance of home improvement shows now on television, DIY has evolved from an intimidating trade for the pros to an easy-to-manage project for even the least handy.

Transforming a home from disaster to delightful through DIY projects is much easier than you think, and can save you a bundle in the process. If the thought of doing your own handiwork has you wiping your brow, think again with these easy improvements:

Stained Tubs – Grime and grit build-up in the tub is difficult to remove, making an already annoying mess even more of a headache. Depending on the type of material your tub is made of, you can opt for an abrasive powder, baking soda, or even a pumice stone to rub out those nasty spots.

Wall Dents and Holes – Wrestling matches among the kids, rambunctious pets and moving furniture all take a toll on your walls. Dings and scratches are easy to fix with a little spackle and paint, but with the right resources, so are bigger blemishes—even outright holes.

When you use a repair kit, there's no need to hire a pro or buy a bunch of tools. Such kits, for holes up to five inches in diameter, include everything you need to fix anything from a can-light hole in the ceiling to a door knob hole in the wall—no experience required.

Dripping Faucets – Plumbing can be especially intimidating, but one of the most common plumbing annoyances—a dripping faucet—can be fixed in a few minutes with just a few dollars.

Usually, the cause of a drippy faucet is a washer or O-ring that has gone bad—you can simply replace those parts. Turn off the water, then use a screwdriver or hex wrench to loosen and remove the faucet fitting. You should be able to easily see the washer and ring fittings. Just replace the old with the new and reassemble. (Note: If the drip is coming from a faucet with separate handles for hot and cold, you'll want to isolate which handle is the culprit before you get started.)

Source: Family Features Editorial Syndicate
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Mortgages Factor In to Debt Profiles

October 14, 2016 3:33 am


Most Americans identify a mortgage as the largest source of debt they carry—an unsurprising statistic, given that the majority of monthly budgets are spent on housing. A mortgage, however, is commonly referred to as a “good kind” of debt, one that leads to long-term wealth and security.

GOBankingRates (GOBankingRates.com) recently took a pulse on the debt profile of some 3,000 Americans, finding 39 percent of those surveyed carry mortgage loan debt—“good” debt. On par with that percentage are the 38 percent surveyed who carry credit card debt—not-so “good” debt. Thirty-one percent surveyed carry auto loan debt; 27 percent carry student loan debt; and 21 percent carry medical debt.

The results of the survey reveal the median mortgage debt is $59,500, though that median trends much higher among those with high incomes. To compare, the median credit card debt among those surveyed is $2,000; the median auto loan debt is $8,000; the median student loan debt is $9,100; and the median medical debt is $600.
Importantly, over half of those surveyed (51 percent) say they are “debt-free”—GOBankingRates attributes this belief to the fact that most of us overlook what we perceive to be minor debts, placing more importance on larger amounts, like mortgages.

Good, bad, major or minor, making payments consistently is key, says GOBankingRates Life + Money Columnist Cameron Huddleston.

“Our survey found that Americans are saddled with various types of debt, from mortgages and student loans to credit card and medical debt,” said Huddleston in a statement on the survey, “but it is a burden that can be overcome. The best way to dig yourself out of debt is to make paying off what you owe a priority.”

Source: GOBankingRates.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Scam Watch: Fake Election Pollsters on the Prowl

October 13, 2016 3:33 am


Scammers are out in full force under the guise of Presidential election pollsters, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recently warned.

The ruse? According to the BBB, a fraudster calls an unsuspecting consumer offering a reward in exchange for opinions about the election. The fraudster may ask seemingly valid questions in an attempt to gain the consumer’s trust. Once the consumer answers the questions, the fraudster asks for the consumer’s credit card number—this information, the fraudster says, is needed to pay for the shipping and taxes on the reward. The fraudster makes off with the credit card number, making the consumer vulnerable to unauthorized charges or—worse—identity theft.

Watchfulness is key to avoiding this and other campaign cons, according to the BBB. Polling organizations never offer rewards in exchange for opinions, nor ask for credit card information.

Those wishing to make a donation to a campaign should do so directly through the campaign office, not through an email or social media link, the BBB advises.

Source: Better Business Bureau (BBB)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Hurricane Damaged My Home—Now What?

October 13, 2016 3:33 am


Anyone whose home’s been damaged by a hurricane knows the days following the storm can be hazy.

The first and most important step to take after the storm is contacting your insurance provider to begin the claim filing process. It’s important to do this as soon as you’re able, according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), but to tread carefully when doing so.

“Families will have to dig deeper into their pockets, because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other policy limitations,” said J. Robert Hunter, director of Insurance for CFA, in a statement on Hurricane Matthew, the most recent storm. “This liability shift to consumers may take some by surprise, since disclosures are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read.”

It’s important, according to CFA, to keep records of each event in the claims process, especially when making a claim due to a major catastrophe. Keep your claim number handy, and hold on to receipts for repair work or temporary housing. Record brief notes, including dates and times, of all communications with your insurer. Take stock of your belongings as best you can—having a list will help expedite the claims process.

In the meantime, take steps to prepare for the insurance adjustment, CFA recommends. Be sure to get estimates from a few local, reputable contractors for reference before the adjuster arrives to assess the damage—and, remember, you’re not obligated to use a contractor recommended by your insurer. Clarify whether the adjuster is an independent professional or an employee of the insurer—if the former, confirm they’re authorized by the insurer to make decisions related to your claim.

Remain vigilant through the process, as well. Though flooding is not covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, some insurers employ an “anti-concurrent-causation” clause—this means that the insurer will not cover wind damage if flooding occurred concurrently, or at the same time, according to CFA. (Your claim may be denied because of this clause—if that’s the case, consult with an attorney, CFA advises.) Some insurers may also unfairly categorize losses as the result of flooding, rather than high winds.

“Because so many consumers experienced claims problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Matthew to be vigilant with their insurance companies to ensure that they receive a full and fair settlement,” Hunter said.

However, “not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind,” Hunter added.

Source: Consumer Federation of America (CFA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Do You Know How Often Smoke Alarms Should Be Replaced?

October 13, 2016 3:33 am


Most of us don’t.

You may already be aware you should test the smoke alarms in your house each month. Did you know you should also replace those alarms every 10 years?

Most homeowners, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), are unaware of this guideline—in fact, nine out of 10 in a recent survey by the organization did not know alarms expire. What’s more: one in five has an alarm in their home that is more than 10 years old, and an identical proportion does not know how old their alarms are at all.

“While the public generally knows that smoke alarms play an important role in home fire safety, some smoke alarm messages are not as well understood,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA, in a statement. “Not knowing how often smoke alarms need to be replaced—or that they even have an expiration date—are among them.”

Homeowners should inspect their smoke alarms for the “date of manufacture,” which is generally on the back or side of the device—this date indicates age, according to NFPA. The date of manufacture is not the same as the date of purchase or date of installation.

“Working smoke alarms reduce the risk of dying in a home fire in half,” Carli added. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure they’re working properly."

Aside from testing alarms on a monthly basis, Carli and NFPA recommend replacing the batteries as soon as the warning chirp sounds.

Source: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 10 Leaf-Peeping Locales This Fall

October 12, 2016 3:33 am


On the road in search of color-changing foliage this fall? Take in awe-inspiring autumn vistas at these leaf-peeping locales, recently ranked by Booking.com.

1. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee)
Come for: 100-plus species of native trees
Stay for: Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn & Spa, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

2. Aspen (Colorado)
Come for: Aspen trees
Stay for: Limelight Hotel, Aspen, Colo.

3. Lake Superior (Minnesota)
Come for: North Woods, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Stay for: Grand Superior Lodge, Two Harbors, Minn.

4. Geneva Lake (Wisconsin)
Come for: 19th century shoreline properties
Stay for: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.

5. The Berkshires (Massachusetts)
Come for: Antique shops, art galleries
Stay for: Orchards Hotel, Williamstown, Mass.

6. June Lake (California)
Come for: Outdoor recreation, Sierra Nevada
Stay for: Double Eagle Resort & Spa, June Lake, Calif.

7. The Green Mountains (Vermont)
Come for: Long Trail
Stay for: Edson Hill, Stowe, Vt.

8. The Poconos (Pennsylvania)
Come for: Outdoor recreation, seasonal events
Stay for: Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pa.

9. The Ozarks (Missouri)
Come for: Orange sassafras, purple sweetgum and red maple trees
Stay for: The Lodge at Old Kinderhook, Camdentown, Mo.

10. Hudson River Valley (New York)
Come for: Adirondack Mountains
Stay for: Blue Pearl Woodstock, Woodstock, N.Y.

Source: Booking.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


I'm Buying New Construction—How Much Space Can I Expect in the Kitchen?

October 12, 2016 3:33 am


New homes are built with kitchens averaging 161 square feet, or just below 13 feet by 13 feet, according to “Size of Kitchens in New U.S. Single-Family Homes,” a report by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). The size of a kitchen, the report shows, generally varies based on the size of the home, and on the number of stories the home has and its location.

New homes under 1,500 square feet, for example, have kitchens averaging 103 square feet; new homes above 4,000 square feet have kitchens averaging 238 square feet—a 135-square-foot difference.

In single-story homes, the average size of the kitchen is 151 square feet, or 10 square feet less than the overall average, according to the report. Single-story homes in the Mountain region, which includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, average 158 square feet—the largest in the country. Single-story homes in New England, conversely (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont), average 130 square feet—the smallest in the country.

Kitchens in multistory homes are larger than those in single-story homes, as well, at an average 174 square feet, or 13 square feet more than the overall average. The West South Central region, which is comprised of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, has multistory homes with the largest kitchens, averaging 184 square feet; the West North Central region, or Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, has multistory homes with the smallest, at 156 square feet.

The layout of the home can also be a determining factor, according to the report—kitchens in homes with a great room average 164 square feet, compared to those without at 159 square feet.

Source: National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Assistance Available in Wake of Hurricane Matthew

October 12, 2016 3:33 am


Homeowners with mortgage loans owned or guaranteed through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac who have been impacted by Hurricane Matthew may be granted a forbearance period for their mortgage payments, the two enterprises recently announced.

“We understand that many families and communities are hurting as they deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew,” said Malloy Evans, vice president of Servicing at Fannie Mae, in a statement. “Fannie Mae and our servicers stand with homeowners who have been impacted by these extremely challenging conditions. We are working with our servicers to ensure assistance is offered to borrowers and communities in need. Our thoughts are with all of those who have been impacted.”

“We strongly encourage the many American families whose homes or businesses are being impacted by Hurricane Matthew to call their mortgage servicer once the Federal Emergency Management Agency's [FEMA] declaration is announced,” said Yvette Gilmore, vice president of Single-Family Servicer Performance Management at Freddie Mac, in a statement. “Relief—including forbearance on mortgage payments for up to one year—may be available if their mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac."

Fannie Mae’s guidelines permit mortgage servicers to grant forbearance “to any borrower they believe has been affected by this natural disaster,” according to the statement, or “to delay foreclosures sales and other legal proceedings in these areas.” The forbearance period is up to 90 days initially (if the homeowner is out of reach due to the disaster), and up to six months after contact has been made.

Similarly, Freddie Mac’s guidelines allow “suspending foreclosures by providing forbearance for up to 12 months, waiving assessments of penalties or late fees against borrowers with disaster-damaged homes, and not reporting forbearance or delinquencies caused by the disaster to the nation’s credit bureaus.”

Homeowners should contact their mortgage servicer as soon as possible to assess options.

Sources: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 No-Fail Tips to Save Money

October 11, 2016 3:33 am


If you want to build the emergency fund you know you need to have—but find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck without saving a dime—it’s time to put a no-fail savings plan in place. Here are three tips to get started, courtesy of The Motley Fool:

1. Strictly Track Spending – You may think you know where your money goes each month, but chances are you have no real idea about how much is slipping through the cracks. For at least one month, list every penny you spend, from rent and utilities to your morning coffee, those hard-to-get concert tickets and the pair of shoes you found at half-price. Take a hard look at your spending and figure out exactly where you can cut out or cut back—and do it!

2. Pay Yourself First – You can’t spend what you don’t have, so sign up for an automatic savings plan so that a set portion of every paycheck goes automatically into savings before you can spend it. Once you’ve saved enough to cover three to six months of living expenses, focus on starting to contribute—or contributing more to—your employer’s 401(k) plan, if offered.

3. Help Resist Temptation – Impulse purchases can derail anyone’s saving efforts. Avoid sales unless there is something you really need, or stay focused only on what you came to shop for. Take only enough cash for what you need to buy—leave your credit card at home. It’s discipline that counts!
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Study: Homeowners Save Most When Combining Insurance

October 11, 2016 3:33 am


Insurance providers often offer discounts to incentivize policyholders to bundle insurance. The savings depend on the type of insurance being combined, as well as the state the policyholder lives in, according to a recently released study by insuranceQuotes.

“Discounts for bundling auto and home, condo or renters insurance vary by state, and can help many consumers save more than $500 per year,” said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst for insuranceQuotes, in a statement on the study. “Combining policies with the same insurer is a simple and easy way to reduce premiums.”

Policyholders who bundle auto and homeowners insurance reap the most savings at an average $314 per year, according to the study. Homeowners policies are more expensive than those for condo owners or renters, so the savings are more substantial.

The states with the highest average savings are:

1. Louisiana ($584/year)
2. Oklahoma ($541)
3. Texas ($473)
4. Kansas ($444)
5. Mississippi ($430)
6. Arkansas ($421)
7. Minnesota ($418)
8. Alabama and Missouri ($414)
9. Nebraska ($395)
10. Illinois ($392)

In some cases, however, bundling does not maximize savings, Adams cautioned. It is important to shop around for policies, even if they are from different insurance providers.

“Combining policies usually saves money; however, there are scenarios when using separate providers could be a better option,” said Adams. “Always compare quotes both bundled and unbundled.”

Source: insuranceQuotes
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Rents to Keep Rising in 2017

October 11, 2016 3:33 am


Rents are expected to increase 1.7 percent in 2017, according to the latest Zillow® Rent Forecast, with the highest increases anticipated in markets in the West—Seattle, Portland and Denver. The projected increase, though slowing, could give reason for renters to make the transition to homeownership.

“We have more renters today than in the past, and most newly formed households are renter households,” says Dr. Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. “This taken together with a lack of new rental construction at less expensive price points has been a recipe for rising rents."

Zillow’s forecast predicts rents will rise most rapidly in:

1. Seattle, Wash. – 7.2 percent
Median Rent: $2,067

2. Portland, Ore. – 6.0 percent
Median Rent: $1,777

3. Denver, Colo. – 5.9 percent
Median Rent: $2,013

4. Cincinnati, Ohio – 5.2 percent
Median Rent: $1, 239

5. San Francisco, Calif. – 4.9 percent
Median Rent: $3,406

6. Los Angeles, Calif. – 4.8 percent
Median Rent: $2,593

7. Sacramento and San Diego, Calif. – 4.7 percent
Median Rent (Sacramento): $1,681
Median Rent (San Diego): $2,427

8. Phoenix, Ariz. – 4.6 percent
Median Rent: $1,297

9. San Jose, Calif. – 4.5 percent
Median Rent: $3,517

10. Boston, Mass. – 3.9 percent
Median Rent: $2,310

“There is good news for renters on the horizon, though,” Gudell adds. “Current renters in these markets can expect rents to slow down a bit over the next year. Instead of the 10 percent rental appreciation we’ve been seeing in some places, expect growth more along the lines of 4 to 7 percent. This is still high, but will hopefully give renters some relief.”

Source: Zillow®
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Retirement Playbook: Lessons from Investors of Every Age

October 10, 2016 3:33 am


A startling proportion of Generation X workers are worried about investing for retirement, according to a recently released survey—but most of their anxiety can be curtailed by examining lessons learned by others.

One such lesson, based on responses to the survey, conducted by Capital Group, is gleaned from both baby boomer and millennial investors: limit losses during downswings.

“Every generation is interested in achieving better investment outcomes over time and limiting losses in market downturns, combined with low fees,” says Heather Lord, senior vice president and head of Strategy and Innovation at Capital Group.

Lesson two? Don’t settle for average gains. The baby boomer and millennial investors surveyed understood that a diversified portfolio can reap above-average results; however, not all grasped how to develop one.

“Each generation has blind spots around index funds, which experience the full downside of market drops,” Lord says. “Baby boomers, especially, are unaware of those risks—and they're the ones with less time to rebuild their nest eggs from a market downturn.”

Only half of the investors surveyed were aware that passive index funds expose them to the full impact of market volatility, and even fewer recognized the heightened risk of index funds as an older investor. Two out of three of the investors surveyed were unaware that low fees are a factor in determining the viability of a fund, as well as “high manager ownership,” or the amount fund managers invest in the funds they manage.

Lesson three: take saving seriously. According to the results of the survey, more than half of millennials began saving for retirement before age 25. (Markedly, one-quarter of them also believed children born today should start saving for retirement before their eighteenth birthday.)

The takeaway overall? A long-term investment strategy—a “buy-and-hold mindset”—is best.

“After experiencing the dot-com bust, the global financial crisis and the housing collapse, as well as stagnant wage growth during their formative adult years, Gen Xers—or ‘Generation AnXious’—are wary about their financial future,” says Lord. “Perhaps because of these concerns, Gen Xers long to do better than the average market, and say actively managed funds can help them reach these goals.”

Source: Capital Group Companies
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Fit Is Your City?

October 10, 2016 3:33 am


There are many factors to take into consideration when sizing up the overall fitness level in your area, such as gyms, healthy dining establishments and parks. A recent study from Fitbit, makers of the wildly popular fitness tracker, has determined an area’s level of fitness based on stats from its more than 10 million users.

According to a recent blog by the company, researchers analyzed user data to determine which cities ranked the highest overall based on average number of steps, active minutes, resting heart rate and sleep duration—all tracked by the device. The top 10 fittest cities in America, according to the results:

1. Madison, Wis.
2. Minneapolis, Minn.
3. Spokane, Wash.
4. Boston, Mass.
5. Portland, Ore.
6. Grand Rapids, Mich.
7. Lincoln, Neb.
8. San Francisco, Calif.
9. Seattle, Wash.
10. Washington D.C.

Honorable mentions include: New York, N.Y., the city with the most steps and highest number of active minutes; Boston, Mass., the city with the lowest resting heart rate; and Spokane, Wash., the city that gets the most sleep.

Source: Fitbit
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Millennial Homebuyers: 10 Zip Codes to Consider

October 10, 2016 3:33 am


Like moths to a flame.

The hottest zip codes in the nation are drawing scores of millennials in search of employment opportunities, according to a recently released report by realtor.com®, making them magnets for other types of buyers, as well.

The report ranked the top 10 hottest zip codes based on viewings and days-on-market—the latter averaging 25 days.

1. Watauga, Texas (76148)
2. Pleasant Hill, Calif. (94523)
3. Northglenn, Colo. (80233)
4. Colorado Springs, Colo. (80916)
5. San Antonio, Texas (78247)
6. Petaluma, Calif. (94954)
7. Melrose, Mass. (02176)
8. Crestwood, Mo. (63126)
9. Milwaukie, Ore. (97222)
10. North Park, Calif. (92104)

“Homes for sale in this year's hottest zip codes are selling almost as quickly as they hit the market,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com®. “While millennials are usually a significant presence in most markets, their sheer size and buying power have made them a force to be reckoned with in these hot zip codes and given them the power to shift supply and demand dynamics.”

Collectively, these zip codes are experiencing an average employment growth rate of 2.3 percent, which is 35 percent higher than the current national rate. The ranking underscores the role millennials play in the “hotness” factor, according to realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com®
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Stop, Think, Connect: Cyber Security Tips

October 7, 2016 3:27 am


Every internet user agrees: cyber security is a must.

“As every one of us, our families and our communities become increasingly connected, it becomes even more critical to practice good cyber security habits,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). “A recent NCSA/Microsoft survey of 13- to 17-year-old teens, and parents of 13- to 17 year olds, revealed a strong interest in securing personal information.”

Kaiser and the NCSA have answered that call through the STOP. THINK. CONNECT.™ initiative, which has educated internet users on cyber security for over a decade. The campaign’s tips include:

Lock down your login. Enable the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, one-time codes or security keys—usernames and passwords are not enough to protect banking, email and social media accounts.

Keep a clean machine. Keep all software on internet-connected devices, including computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets, up to date.

Own your online presence. Set the privacy and security settings on websites and apps to a level you’re comfortable with. Remember: it's okay to limit how and with whom you share information.

Protect personal information. Information about you, such as purchase history or location, has value, just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it's collected by apps and websites.

Share with care. Think before posting about yourself or others online. Consider what a post reveals, who might see it and how it could be perceived now and in the future.

When it doubt, throw it out. Cybercriminals often use links in email, social posts and texts to try to obtain personal information. If something appears suspicious—even if you know the source—delete it.

Source: National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Deter Deer—and Disease—from Your Property

October 7, 2016 3:27 am


Deer are just about everywhere, and, unfortunately, they carry disease-causing insects. They’ll soon be encroaching on properties in search of food, so as a homeowner, it’s important to deter them.

Deer ticks, which can thrive even in a garden, can travel into a home simply by a passing person or pet—in fact, experts say most cases of tick-borne disease begin by exposure in a backyard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ticks transmit a number of diseases, including Lyme.

Erecting a tall fence around your property can prevent entry, but only somewhat—most deer can jump as high as 10 feet, and many communities enforce height restrictions that could make yours unlawful. You may have even planted species deer don’t like, only to find some are entering and eating, anyway.

One of the more effective methods, according to the experts at Bobbex, is deer repellant, specifically an all-natural, topical foliar spray with scent- and taste-aversion ingredients. Be sure to purchase a spray that is child- and pet-safe, and able to withstand elements like rain and snow, Bobbex’s experts recommend.

For more preventative measures, visit CDC.gov/ticks.

Source: Bobbex
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Looking to Invest in Real Estate? 10 Best Cities

October 7, 2016 3:27 am


Real estate is one of the best investments you can make, time and again named the most profitable avenue to accumulate wealth. Certain factors in your real estate venture, however—as with any investing strategy—can impact your bottom line.

The best locations currently to invest in real estate, based on indicators such as upward employment and home values, according to a recent survey by GOBankingRates.com, are:

1. Orlando, Fla.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Orlando in approximately 12 years and 4 months, as home values have increased 11 percent.

2. Tampa, Fla.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Tampa in approximately 9 years and 6 months, as home values have increased 11.6 percent.

3. Denver, Colo.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Denver in approximately 15 years and 1 month, as home values have increased 10.5 percent.

4. Seattle, Wash.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Seattle in approximately 19 years and 8 months, as home values have increased 16.7 percent.

5. Austin, Texas
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Austin in approximately 18 years and 8 months, as home values have increased 9.3 percent.

6. Reno, Nev.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Reno in approximately 17 years and 1 month, as home values have increased 13.9 percent.

7. Dallas, Texas
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Dallas in approximately 7 years and 9 months, as home values have increased 17.6 percent.

8. Portland, Ore.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Portland in approximately 18 years and 1 month, as home values have increased 20 percent.

9. Raleigh, N.C.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Raleigh in approximately 13 years and 3 months, as home values have increased 5.6 percent.

10. Miami, Fla.
Investors can expect to pay off a single-family home in Miami in approximately 9 years, as home values have increased 6.1 percent.

“Growing populations in the top 10 cities on our list are fueling the need for more housing,” said Cameron Huddleston, Life + Money columnist for GOBankingRates.com, in a statement on the survey. “That’s why these cities are such great places to own investment property now.”

Notably, three of the 10 best cities on GOBankingRates’ list are in Florida, and two are in Texas.

Source: GOBankingRates.com
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Bamboo: From Yard to Dinner Table

October 6, 2016 3:24 am


Bamboo is everywhere! From accents and flooring to landscapes and even meals, bamboo as a trend is growing—fast.

A recent casual search for bamboo housewares resulted in a trove of cool, unusual applications. One website, TotallyBamboo.com, offers a bamboo-crafted sink, durable and sealed with waterproof polyurethane, for $499.

Another online retailer, Bamboo-Innovations.com, offers a customizable arbor made of bamboo that can be used indoors or out. The DIY kit includes bamboo poles, dowels and rope.

There’s also the recent report at Inspiyr.com that touts the benefits of bamboo at the dinnertime. According to the report’s author, M.A. Caromano, the tender core inside bamboo can be boiled, offering 13 calories, two grams of protein and just a half a gram of fat per cup.

Bamboo shoots, Caromano states, provide 10 percent of the daily requirement of dietary fiber, which has been shown to aid digestion, enhance satiety and lower cholesterol. Bamboo also delivers 640 milligrams of potassium per serving, which studies suggest may help to lower blood pressure, according to Caromano.

Bamboo shoots contain lignans, as well, which could stave off bacteria, fungi and viruses, and phenolic acids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

From the yard to the dinner table…will you hop on the bamboo bandwagon?
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Weather Higher Hurricane Risk: 3 Steps

October 6, 2016 3:24 am


Hurricane season this year has developed more than expected, so much so that the National Oceanic and At