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Tom's Blog

Converting Your Kitchen to a Great Room? Consider This First

December 3, 2013 11:18 pm

In our last segment, I began exploring the idea of expanding your kitchen space into a "great room" configuration. In a search for top resources on the subject, we hit upon the Virginia and DC firm CASE Design Remodeling (casedesign.com) .

CASE offers a wealth of information for those considering a great room conversion in their own home, or having one built into a new home. According to its design team, the first things to consider when opening up a floor plan, are the advantages closed floor plans offer:

More privacy - Many households have people contending with different ages and schedules, from babies to teenagers and grandparents or nannies that all live in the same home. Enclosed spaces may work better in a house where everyone needs their space.

More walls for artwork - If you are an art enthusiast and need ample space to display your favorite works you will need wall space. Also, depending upon the delicacy of the work, direct sunlight may damage the art. In this case, walls are a good thing! Easier to clean/contain messes. You may prefer an enclosed playroom for kids or rooms with doors that can keep messes out of the main rooms, making you look and feel like a better housekeeper.

Noise doesn’t travel as far - Open floor plan designs have more acoustics and cause noise to travel further, while extra walls can help contain and limit noise. Specialty rooms. More rooms means more separate spaces dedicated to individual uses, such as home offices, art studios, craft rooms, workout rooms, and guest rooms.

The designers at CASE suggest you start planning for your great room conversion by making a prioritized list of the changes you’d like to make:

  • Visit each room in your home individually, making notes about the room’s location, adjacent rooms, natural light, and current uses.
  • Ask yourself, how can the room you’re standing in become a better room by combining it with the one next door?
  • Remember, a lot of bathroom expansions begin with the realization that a current, cramped bathroom is right next to a small, seldomly used room or linen closet.
  • Also, two adjacent bedrooms can be combined to create one larger bedroom or office.
  • And a garage can be finished and turned into a master bedroom, family room, or entertainment room.
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4 Tips for Enjoying Life to the Fullest

December 3, 2013 11:18 pm

Have you ever felt like you need an upgrade on your life? Most of us have – and there’s a way to get it, says veteran physician Sanjay Jain.

“First, I tell people, ‘Don’t be afraid of making your life clearer.’ Many argue that life is not simple and, therefore, there are no easy answers, but as we have paraphrased from Chinese philosopher Laozi, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,’ ” says Jain, whose specialties include integrative medicine. He’s also an international speaker and author of Optimal Living 360 – available February 2014 (www.sanjayjainmd.com).

“Lives are built from many small components which, when viewed as an assembled whole, can appear overwhelmingly complex,” Jain says. “But when we break them down and consider the pieces as we make decisions in our lives, it’s much easier to see how small adjustments can result in a better return on all of the investments we make – not only in health, but in relationships, finances, and all the other essential aspects of our lives.”

Jain offers four points to keep in mind as you start the journey.

• Life is short, so live it to its fullest potential. Live it optimally. This is your life, so don’t waste its most precious resource – time. No matter one’s spiritual leanings, economic and education status, health, intelligence level, etc. – one thing is true for all: Our time on Earth is finite. There will be a time for most of us when, perhaps after a frightening diagnosis from a doctor, we reflect deeply upon our time and consider the most important moments, and all the time that may have been squandered.

• Balance is key. Too much or too little of something, no matter how good, is actually not good. Balance is one of the easiest tenets to understand, but arguably the most difficult to maintain. Obviously, too much alcohol is bad; then again, there are some health benefits to moderately imbibing red wine. What about too much of a good thing; can a mother love her children too much? Yes, if she is an overprotective “helicopter parent.” The best antidote to overkill of anything is awareness; try to be aware of all measures in your life.

• Learn to tap your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses. Engaging your strengths at work and in your personal life is important. When we do what we’re good at and what comes easily, we feel self-confident and satisfied. Some people, however, are not in jobs that utilize their strengths, or they don’t put their talents to work at home because they’re mired in the prosaic work of living. It’s important to identify your strengths and find ways to engage them. It’s equally important to recognize our weaknesses and work on improving them (because we can!) This is essential for achieving balance.

• Life is about making the right choices. Integrative decision-making makes this easier. There are many different types of decision-making, including systematic, hierarchal, impulsive, decisive and flexible. Integrative decision-making can be used for problems large and small, and includes the following process:

1. Define the problem. 2. Frame the problem. 3. Develop all your options. 4. Analyze your options. 5. Make the decision. 6. Execute your decision. 7. Debrief yourself.

While experts may be the best consultants for compartmentalized areas of your life, only you know the other aspects that affect your well-being and can determine how a decision in one area will affect another area. 

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Create Inviting Entrances to Welcome Holiday Guests

December 3, 2013 11:18 pm

BPT—Holiday season guests will soon come knocking at your front door. What's the first impression your home's entryway creates? Is it a warm, friendly welcome, or is the cold hard truth that your home's entryway could use some improvement?

If the latter is true, try these handy holiday entryway-decorating tips from Pella Windows and Doors to create an inviting entryway and make everyone feel right at home.

Tips for creating a positive first impression with an inviting entry into your home:

  • Clean fingerprints or pet nose prints from doors, sidelights and visible window glass surfaces.
  • Appeal to the senses by placing fragrant arrangements nearby or light a candle just before guests arrive. For safety purposes, never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Make sure your entryway is well lit. Place groupings of festive battery-operated lanterns on tables or in corners to illuminate darker areas.
  • Designate space for guests to put coats, boots, bags and gifts when they first walk in.
  • Before guests arrive, do a walk-through to eliminate potential tripping or fall hazards, especially if you're hosting elderly guests or those with limited vision or mobility.
  • Immediately wipe up any spills or melting ice or snow from shoes to help prevent slips or falls.

Tips for festive outdoor decor to accent your front door:

  • Hang small wreaths, bells or seasonal signs from doorknobs or door hardware.
  • When hanging larger wreaths on the door exterior, use removable, temporary outdoor hooks to help prevent door damage. Magnetic hooks work well on steel doors.
  • Add ribbon for a more dramatic look and add an extra pop of color. Try burlap ribbon for a rustic touch, or smooth satin and modern metallic textures for additional holiday sparkle.
  • Frame your doorway with a natural or artificial pine garland, accented with pine cones and shatterproof ornaments. Use temporary outdoor hooks to hang garland around the doorway. Avoid placing nails into windows or doors, which could hamper the product's performance, or even void the manufacturer's warranty.
  • Fill planters with festive arrangements of evergreens, silk poinsettias, branches, ornaments and outdoor lights.
  • Hang wreaths, ribbons and baubles from outdoor arbors, fences or sconces.
  • Consider colored spotlights or solar-powered lights to illuminate your home's exterior doorways and walkways.

Source: www.pella.com/news.

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Word of the Day

December 3, 2013 11:18 pm

Cancellation clause. Stipulation in a contract that allows a buyer or seller to cancel the contract in the event of a certain specified occurrence.

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Q: What Is a Second Mortgage?

December 3, 2013 11:18 pm

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance of your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance, and processing fees.

Home improvement loans are often written as second mortgages. And sometimes you can get a college tuition loan by using a second mortgage.

In case of default, the loan is paid off from the proceeds of the sale of the property, after the first mortgage has been paid off first. 

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Why Settle for a Kitchen When You Can Have a Great Room?

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

Earlier this month, we talked about downsizing kitchens—this isn't a move everyone wants or needs to make. So in our next two reports, we'll give equal time to those looking at morphing their kitchen from a practical utility space for food preparation, to a center of attention and functionality.

Design experts are seeing high demand for creating "great rooms," combining kitchen, dining, family and open, high-ceiling entertaining space. According to the Better Decorating Bible (betterdecoratingbible.com), there are several basic concepts to consider when "spacing out" into a great room:

Choose wall colors carefully – Different colors can help define separate areas, so select hues in the same tone family to create a seamless flow from one space to another.

Furniture – If you have a country-style oak dining table try to choose the same style furniture in your living room. Avoid anything that is super opposite like ultra-modern minimalism in the living room and a country theme in the kitchen.  Try choosing the same wood, material, and style for each section of your open concept room.

Window treatments – Use the same theme throughout and all of your windows look identical. Different shades, blinds, and curtains can create a big, big decorating mess.

Accessorize – Tie in the accessories from your kitchen to your living room. If you have brown hued granite counter tops, pop a fuzzy throw in the same color family onto your couch. If you have a set of red hot kitchen aid appliances on your counters, use the same red pillows on your couches. You can even connect your guest bath decor with a red towel or rug, or even a bouquet of red flowers to tie the look together. Throw in some wooden photo frames with photos of the family to personalize your space!

Lighting – The correct lighting can define each space of your open concept layout and help visually separate them. Floor lamps in the living room work well while a pendant lamp in the kitchen blends in effortlessly.

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8 Ways to Keep Work from Spilling into Your Season of (So-Called) Joy

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

Picture it: Three days before Christmas and you’ve still got to bake your great-grandma’s famous cookies, do your eleventh-hour shopping, scrub the house, pick up relatives from the airport, and—oh yes—finish up that year-end marketing report and field a couple of client calls. You know the holidays aren’t going to be Norman Rockwell perfect. You’ve accepted that. Still, it sure would be great if you could at least leave work behind this year and just enjoy (endure?) your family—old sibling rivalries, critical comments from Mom, tipsy Uncle Fred and all!

Actually, says Brian P. Moran, you don’t have to show up late to your child’s holiday play because you’re tying up a work project, or run off to check your email while the turkey gets cold. You just need to muster up some discipline and think about time in a different way.

“Successful people work with great focus and intention, and they play the same way,” says Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months (www.12weekyear.com). “When they’re working they’re really working, and when they take time off, they make the absolute most of that time. Rest and rejuvenation are the other side of the success coin.

“You must be purposeful about how you spend the time leading up to the holiday breaks,” he adds. “The reason most people end up working during their holiday time off isn’t that they just have so much to do that they can never take a break. It’s that they aren’t working with intention when they have the opportunity—and thus, they aren’t executing effectively.”

Being intentional about how you spend your time is the heart of the authors’ message. Our ability to do this impacts not only business profit sheets but also the quality of our personal lives.

Below are a few essential tips for what you can do right now to make sure your days off are free of work worries (not to mention shopping-cooking-decorating worries) so that you can spend true quality time with family and friends.

Picture the perfect holiday. Pigging out on grandma’s apple pie. Singing carols with your kids. Cheering on your favorite football team. These are the makings of a great holiday season, and they should serve as the vision that will drive you through the hard work you’ll have to get done before the office shuts down for the holidays.

“Vision is the starting point of all high performance,” says Moran. “It is the first place where you engage your thinking about what is possible for you. The more personally compelling your vision is, the more likely it is that you will act upon it. It is your personal vision that creates an emotional connection to the daily actions that need to take place in your business. Once you understand the link between your vision (including that perfect holiday season) and your work, you can define exactly what you need to do to make the most of your time off.”

Create a pre-holiday season plan.

“Leading up to the holidays, it is a good idea to create a plan for each work week you have left,” notes Moran. “Your weekly plan captures just the keystone actions that drive your most important results. It defines your short-term and long-term commitments in the context of what you have to do this week. Be sure to include in your plan the non-work related tasks the holidays add to your plate, such as present shopping, tree decorating, gift wrapping, and so on. You will need to be sure to factor in time for these activities as well.”

For example, as part of the first week of your pre-holiday season plan, you might set up a meeting with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients to a) inform them of how much time you’ll be taking off for the holidays, and b) let them know what projects you’re going to prioritize. On the home front, you might also get together with your spouse to work out who will be handling what holiday responsibilities.

“All of this helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week in order to make that perfect holiday vision possible,” says Moran.

Resign yourself to being uncomfortable NOW so you can be comfortable LATER. Without a compelling reason to choose otherwise, most people will take comfortable actions over uncomfortable ones. This is just human nature. Problem is, the uncomfortable tasks you avoided prior to your holiday break are precisely the ones that will blow up, get out of control, or just keep you worrying while you’re trying to enjoy some time off.

“Important actions are often the uncomfortable ones,” says Moran. “In our experience, the number one thing you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans is your comfort. So, if your goal is to have a carefree holiday break, commit to sacrificing your short-term comfort today so that you can reach it. Take care of any tasks you’ve been avoiding now so that they can’t ruin your time off and so that they aren’t on your mind when you’re trying to have a good time.”

Know what to do when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do. Of course, upping the work ante prior to taking time off won’t be easy. There will be times when your level of execution is less than exceptional, and it’s very likely you won’t be able to ignore the nagging, guilty feeling that drop in execution brings on. But the good news is you can use that feeling—what the authors call productive tension—to get yourself back on track.

“Productive tension is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re not doing the things you know you need to do,” says Moran. “Our natural inclination when confronted with discomfort is to resolve it. Sometimes this leads people to simply bail on their plans. In your case, it might mean resolving that you simply can’t get everything done before your time off that you need to get done. So you throw in the towel and accept that you’ll have to do some work during your holiday break.

“But productive tension can also be used as a catalyst for change. Instead of responding to the discomfort by bailing, use the tension as an impetus to move forward. When you eliminate bailing out as an option, then the discomfort of productive tension will eventually compel you to take action on your tactics. If turning back is not an option, then the only way to resolve the discomfort is to move forward by executing your plan.”

Make the most of performance time and down time. As you work toward your time off, it will be very important that you not respond to the demands of the day reactively. In other words, you can’t satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving any thought to the relative value of the activity. You have to use your time wisely.

You can keep control of your day through time-blocking. Basically, you block your day into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks. A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block, you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day, while breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.

“Again, be sure to factor non-work related holiday tasks into your blocked out time,” advises Moran. “If you don’t, these will be precisely the tasks that you’re either squeezing in at the last minute or end up doing in lieu of finishing up that project or returning a client’s call.

“Also, I want to stress how important breakout blocks are,” he adds. “Even in the frantic rush leading up to the holidays, you should allow yourself some down time. Always working longer and harder kills your energy and enthusiasm. Even before your time off you need to schedule time to refresh and reinvigorate, so you can continue to engage with more focus and energy. And keep in mind, your breakout blocks are great for scheduling the fun activities we associate with the holidays, like taking the kids ice skating or watching your favorite holiday movie.”

Don’t go it alone. It’s likely that out of your network of colleagues and friends you aren’t the only one who is a) hoping to have a work-free holiday break, and b) currently working frantically to make that goal possible. And if that’s the case, team up with them. The peer support you receive will be invaluable in your pursuit of the perfect holiday season.

“Your chances of success are seven times greater if you employ peer support,” says Moran. “In working with thousands of clients over the past decade, we have found that when clients meet regularly with a group of peers, they perform better; when they don’t, performance suffers. It’s that simple.

“But there is a caveat,” he adds. “Who you associate with matters. Stay away from victims and excuse makers. Treat that mindset like a deadly, contagious disease.”

Isolate yourself from modern day distractions. In our modern world, technology can be a major distraction. When you’re focused on executing your pre-holiday season plan, don’t let smartphones, social media, and the Internet distract you from your higher-value activities.

“Some spontaneity is healthy, but if you are not purposeful with your time, you’ll get thrown off course,” explains Moran. “Allow yourself to get distracted by emails, social media, or the latest viral video while you’re working your pre-holiday break plan, and before you know it, you’ll be working on the project you didn’t finish while the rest of your family is laughing and having fun in the kitchen while baking holiday treats. Learn to isolate yourself from distractions when there is important work to be done.”

Make a keystone commitment for your holiday break. As Moran and Lennington explain, many of their clients set a 12 week goal in a certain area—say, getting fit. Then they build a 12 week plan around it with a handful of tactics like “do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week,” “train with weights three times a week,” and so forth. But the other option is to again set a 12 week goal but, rather than building a tactical plan, identify a keystone or core action and commit to completing it every day for the next 12 weeks. It’s this second option that can help you make the most of your holiday time off.

“Your keystone commitment might be making breakfast for your family every morning—something you don’t get to do during a normal work week,” suggests Moran. “Or you might commit to doing a different holiday activity with your family each day—driving around to look at Christmas lights or going to a candlelight service or working in the local soup kitchen.

“Setting a keystone commitment helps you avoid wasting your time on meaningless activities,” he adds. “Remember, your pre-holiday break plan was all about spending your time with great intent and purpose so that you’d be able to truly enjoy your time off. Why should you stop being more purposeful with your time once you’re actually away from the office? Think about the difference these relatively simple commitments can make to you and your family!”

Source: www.12weekyear.com.

 

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A Holiday Open House in 8 Simple Steps

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

The holiday season is a perfect time to welcome friends and neighbors for a casual get-together that is warm and casual and relatively stress-free.

Party planners at Countryliving.com suggest eight easy steps to a successful soiree for hosts and guests alike:

Plan early – Send out invitations 3-4 weeks in advance, making it clear whether children are invited. If you plan a buffet, with guests coming and going during designated hours, check your stock of baskets, trays, and other serving supplies. Decide whether you will use real china, glassware, etc. or holiday paper or plastic – and purchase what you need early.

Plan the menu – Keep it simple, with a selection of appetizers, sandwich fixings, salads, and desserts that can be prepared days ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated until party time. Using recipes you have tried before is a good way to please your guests and stay calm and confident.

Make desserts special – Everyone loves cookies, so bake up dozens far in advance of the party. Consider pudding or mousse in pre-filled, refrigerated glasses. Add fresh fruit, and a favorite pie or two, and you’re done.

Foster the flow – People tend to follow the food, so set up stations throughout the living area. Place beverages on one table, main dishes together, and desserts on their own table. Stack plates and napkins, put utensils in a basket, and have waste baskets readily available.

Select the drinks – Offer your choice of red and white wine, beer, soda, tea and coffee. For kids, consider juice boxes.

Remember the kids – If children will be there, set up a game and puzzle table in one area of the living room. Have a selection of board games and jigsaw available, and perhaps a few coloring books and crayons.

Decorate early – Except for fresh flowers, which may be bought the day before, you can cover the tables, set out centerpieces and serve ware, and deck the halls with your favorite holiday décor days before the party.

Do a last minute check – Moments before the guests are due, take a last look around. Check the food tables, set out last-minute cheeses or condiments, and turn on some holiday music. Light a scented candle or two to fill the house with the welcome aromas of sugar and spice or forest greenery.

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Q: My Budget Won’t Allow for Expensive Add-Ons; Is There Another Way to Find And Make Space?

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

A: That space may be as close as the next room, particularly if there is unused or under-utilized areas in your home.  A garage, attic, side porch, large closet, or basement can all be converted to fit the use you have in mind.  Or, maybe, a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create, say, a powder room.  This concept of “stealing” space from a neighboring room is called space reconfiguration and it is much cheaper than a major remodeling job.

 

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Word of the Day

December 2, 2013 7:15 pm

Listing. Contract used for hiring a real estate agent to sell a piece of property.  Also a piece of property that is for sale.

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