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Holiday Traditions to Start This Year

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

Most families create annual traditions that turn into life-long memories – backyard Easter egg hunts, July Fourth beach picnics, festive birthday dinners. But the end-of-year holidays can be so rushed and hectic that we fail to generate the togetherness events our children will always remember.

Marriage and family counselor Marianne Denton suggests six cozy and meaningful traditions you can start with your kids this year:

  • Holiday book nights – Gather up some age-appropriate favorites like The Polar Express and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – and a book or two about holiday traditions in other lands. In the seven nights before Christmas, gather as a family to read these holiday treats together.
  • Personal advent calendars – Create your own advent calendar using homemade markers, like cloth or paper bags tied with ribbon. While most advent calendars are filled with sweet treats, try filling yours with coupons offering family or personal activities.
  • Cooking around the world – Set aside a night to cook a meal together featuring holiday treats from various ethnicities: Swedish stollen, tamales, German spaetzel, marzipan candy, or potato latkes.
  • Giving traditions – Deliver homemade cookies together to a local nursing home along with an hour of caroling - or “adopt” a family through a local church or synagogue and fulfill their holiday wish list. Shopping, wrapping, and delivering gifts together can start a lifelong appreciation for giving.
  • Pajama light party – Get the kids into pajamas, and surprise them. Load them into the car along with some popcorn and a thermos of hot chocolate – and drive around town looking for neighborhoods with the best holiday light displays.
  • Open House get-togethers – Keep it simple, but invite the neighbors in one evening between Christmas and New Year’s Eve for a bowl of chili, a cookie buffet, and some non-alcoholic sparkling beverages for family toasting.



Staying Safe: Holiday Home Safety Tips

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

The holidays can create greater risk at home when cooking meals, displaying decorations, and using unsafe heating sources. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires including 67 percent starting with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. To keep your family safe, review the following tips.

  • Cooking: Keep children away from cooking areas. Turn pot handles facing in to prevent scalds and burns. Avoid wearing loose clothing which can be ignited by hot burners. Don't store items on top of the stove. Turkey fryers should be used outdoors and away from buildings and flammable materials.
  • Portable space heaters: Place space heaters at least three feet away from anything combustible and operate only when you are in the room. Don’t leave a space heater on overnight or near children and pets.
  • Holiday Decorations: The use of holiday decorations such as Christmas trees, garlands, electric lights, and candles can increase the possibility of holiday fires. Use non-combustible, flame-resistant materials. Never use lighted candles on a tree, evergreens or other flammable materials.
  • Lights: Connect no more than 3 strands of mini light sets and no more than 50 bulbs for screw-in light sets on your tree. Fasten lights to the tree and prevent bulbs from coming in contact with the needles or branches. Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that burns. Check for loose connections, broken or cracked sockets or frayed wires. Use UL approved lighting. Turn off all holiday lights when leaving home or retiring for the evening.
  • Trees: A natural tree should be fresh and will be less likely to become a fire hazard. Cut two inches off the trunk and place in a sturdy water stand, water daily. Keep the tree away from fireplaces, wall furnaces and other heat sources. Consider using a ‘fire resistant’ artificial tree.
  • Fire Escape Plan: Know your escape routes. Have a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen, laundry room, and garage. Never burn greens, papers, or other decorations in the fireplace. Working smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, test them monthly, replace batteries every six months.
  • Know who to call in case of an emergency: Keep contact numbers handy for police and fire departments, doctors and poison help line. In case of emergency property damage, contact a licensed, professional fire damage clean up and restoration company.

Source: Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling 


Word of the Day

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

Capital gain. Profit earned from the sale of an asset.


Q: What Basic Services Can I Expect an Architect to Provide?

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

A: Most projects require a set of basic services. They are as follows: preliminary, or schematic, design; design development; preparation of construction documents (drawings and specifications); assistance in the bidding or negotiation process, and the administration of the agreement between you and your builder or contractor, if needed. Some projects will require other services, such as pre-design work, which includes budgeting and financing packages, as well as planning and zoning applications. Projects may also include special cost or energy analyses, models and tenant-related design.


3 Ways to Develop More Meaningful Friendships

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

Most Americans (75 percent!) are not satisfied with their friendships; 63 percent lack confidence in even their closest friends; and almost half of us would choose to have deeper friendships rather than more friends.

Those are the findings of a new study, The State of Friendship in America 2013, by Lifeboat Friends at Their Best and Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research.

“Strong, trusting friendships are crucial to our sense of peace, happiness and well-being,” says Dawna Hetzler, a speaker, women’s mentor (and mentoree), and author of the new book, “Walls of a Warrior: Conquering the Fears of Our Hearts.”

“But many of us, women in particular, build so many walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, we can never open ourselves to all the possible relationships we could have. Or, we do allow some people in, but we keep them at arm’s length.”

Strong friendships do make us happier, according to the new study. Forty-nine percent of people with seven or more close friends strongly agreed that they feel happy most of the time, while only 24 percent of people with just one good friend and 19 percent with no friends, could say the same.

“You have to know and trust a person before you allow them into your heart, because when you open yourself up, you become vulnerable,” says Hetzler. “We all build walls to protect ourselves from hurt, fear, rejection, disapproval and other painful emotions, and that’s natural. Some walls are healthy. But the invisible walls we’re often not even aware of prevent us from experiencing the honest, real relationships that can benefit us in so many ways.”

Hetzler shares some of what she learned working with Jericho’s Girls, the women’s group she founded that focuses on dismantling unhealthy walls:

• First, identify the walls you have.  We build walls in response to many things – real and perceived threats, fears, conditioning, rejection, Hetzler says. Many of us put up walls to hide our weaknesses; if you have trouble asking for help, this may be you! Jericho’s Girls members learned that acknowledging and being honest about their weaknesses allowed them to grow stronger. And that asking for help from friends offers those friends the gratification of giving. Making a list of your walls and understanding why they’re there is a good place to start the process.

• If the wall is unhealthy, identify the steps necessary to dismantle it. Sometimes we erect walls to protect ourselves from ourselves, Hetzler notes. “One of my walls revolved around being needed too much,” she says. “I tend to take on a lot, and then exhaust myself getting it all done.” She realized she built a wall to prevent people from seeing that she really cannot do it all, and she pushed away those she feared might demand too much of her time and energy. She dealt with that wall by setting limits with herself and others. “I say no when I need to, which allows me to build friendships instead of pushing people away.”

• Arm yourself with words of inspiration.  Powerful words help when we need positive reinforcement or reassurance when the way ahead looks scary. Hetzler has found that calling upon a quotation that she believes in provides both. “Write down the quotes, Bible verses or other inspiration that have great meaning for you,” she says. Each day, read one, reflect upon the meaning, pray or meditate, and contemplate the message it holds for you. “These words will stick with you, and you’ll have them to call upon when you need them,” she says.

Creating deeper, honest friendships begins with opening our hearts to others, Hetzler says.

“When you begin taking down the walls, you’ll find you’re more at peace with yourself,” she says. “And that allows you to develop the wonderful relationships that come from trust and sharing.”


Geothermal Systems Provide Energy Independence for More Homeowners

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

(BPT)—For years Dwight Nadig and his wife suffered through the cold winters in their York, Pa., ranch-style home, originally built in 1979.

"We have no access to natural gas in our neighborhood, so we had oil heat," says Nadig. "The price of oil has gotten extremely high and we found ourselves keeping the thermostat fairly low."

Nadig started to investigate geothermal (or ground-source) heat pump systems to help them stay warm in the winter - without paying a lot of money on their oil bill. Quickly realizing the energy saving benefits, as well as the environmentally friendly aspects, he opted to install a geothermal system.

"The geothermal saves us money and we can keep the house at a nearly constant temperature," says Nadig, whose system went live about a year ago.

Nadig is just one of the many Americans who are replacing conventional oil, natural gas and electricity-based heating and cooling with geothermal heat pump systems, and the demand for these systems is only expected to grow, on a global scale, over the next decade.

"There are more than 1 million of these units in U.S. homes today, which means an increasing number of homeowners are recognizing the benefits of this system in controlling their energy bills for life, and essentially declaring their energy independence," says Raj Hiremath, marketing director at ClimateMaster.

Geothermal, or "geoexchange," systems work on the simple principle of regulating indoor heating or cooling by using the consistently moderate temperatures just below the earth's surface. While outside air temperatures may vary wildly depending on where you live, the ground temperature just a few feet down stays relatively stable. Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of this by moving heat through water in underground pipes to make it either warmer (in the winter) or cooler (in the summer) inside the home. The result is comfortable year-round indoor temperatures.

Custom home builder Mike Gilles of Oklahoma City-based Savannah Builders believes that geothermal "just makes sense" when it comes to reducing energy bills. In fact, his company has incorporated geothermal in all of its home designs since 1993 - long before the green building movement or any tax incentives were in place.

"With our customers, dollar value ratio is definitely important," says Gilles. "We find it's easier to make a sell for the 'low-hanging fruit' when it comes to energy savings - good insulation, good windows and doors, and a quick-return renewable energy source like geothermal. Homeowners see their investment in an undoubtedly meaningful way when they realize how these elements translate to such low energy bills, right off the bat."

While it's taken some time for homeowners to truly understand the benefits of geothermal heat pump systems, this is now changing very quickly with the rise in energy costs.

"Upfront installation costs for geothermal systems can be more than those of traditional HVAC systems, but homeowners are realizing it's just like any other high-yield financial investment," ClimateMaster's Hiremath says. "Locking in your energy costs for life is an unbeatable deal, and that's exactly what a geothermal system does."

The government is also working hard to advance energy independence and reduce the use of conventional energy sources, which are in short supply and can tax and even harm already limited environmental resources. To support the adoption of more renewable energy alternatives like geothermal heat pump systems, the federal government has enacted a tax credit program that offsets 30 percent of the installation cost to make them more affordable. Many states and individual localities also have incentive programs. Nadig says he received an $800 rebate from his local electricity company. All in all, with the tax credits and incentives, Nadig expects he'll see a payback in just a few years. And the benefits are worth the cost and the effort to him.

"Another big advantage is knowing that 80 percent of my heat is from a totally green, non-polluting source," says Nadig. In these power-strapped times, he is able to have his cake and eat it, too - saving energy (and money) without sacrificing comfort.



Word of the Day

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

Collateral. Something of value given or pledged to a lender as security for the repayment of a loan.



Q: What Questions Should Be Asked of an Architect?

December 13, 2013 6:00 pm

A: Ask questions that will give you a sense of the architect’s style, approach to design, and methods of work. For example: What is your design philosophy? What important issues or challenges do you see in my project? How will you approach my project? What will you show me along the way (models, drawings, or sketches) to explain the project? How do you establish fees? What would be the expected fee for my project? What is your experience/track record with cost estimating? If the scope of the project changes later, will there be additional fees? How will these be justified? The Washington Chapter of the AIA offers an excellent consumer brochure that provides additional questions and useful information.


Streamlining Solar to Your Rooftop

December 13, 2013 12:00 am

The U.S. Energy Department recently announced eight teams to spur solar power deployment by cutting red tape for residential and small commercial rooftop solar systems. Below are some points to keep you up to date on this key alternative energy development.

As part of the DOE’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, these teams in Broward County; at the California Center for Sustainable Energy; the City University of New York; the Clean Energy States Alliance of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont; the Iowa Economic Development Authority; Mid-America Regional Council (MARC); and Washington State Department of Commerce will receive about $12 million – matched by over $4 million in outside funding – to streamline and standardize solar permitting, zoning, metering and connection processes for communities across the country.

The Energy Department’s Rooftop Solar Challenge is a part of a larger effort to make solar energy more accessible and affordable and position the U.S. as a leader in the rapidly-growing global solar market, according to a release.

The Challenge brings together city, county and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities and other regional stakeholders to address differing and expensive processes required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems.

During the Challenge’s first round, 22 regional teams worked to dramatically reduce the soft costs of solar, cutting permitting time by 40 percent and reducing fees by over 10 percent – making it faster and easier for more than 47 million Americans to install solar.

The eight new teams aim to further expand the reach of innovative strategies that are making it easier, faster and cheaper for more homeowners and businesses to finance and install solar systems.

The Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, which runs the Rooftop Solar Challenge, is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade.

For more information, visit


4 Travel Ideas for Seniors to Boost Their Social Circles

December 13, 2013 12:00 am

Today, individuals ages 67 and older represent 21 percent of all leisure travelers, according to the United States Travel Association. Whether strolling the streets of Venice or admiring the Grand Canyon, seniors are taking off on enriching and culturally eye-opening travel experiences.

Leisure travel is a great way for seniors to make new connections, from broadening their social circles to meeting other single seniors on solo travel. Below are four ways for seniors to make friends—and memories—during their next trip.

Sign up for a learning tour. Learning excursions offer seniors the chance to expand their worldview while interacting with other tour-goers. Educational travel providers, such as Road Scholar, cater to seniors and facilitate group tours throughout the world.

Take a cultural class. From language classes to cooking lessons, new cultural experiences encourage seniors to step outside their comfort zones and bond with others in the same situation.

Pursue a volunteer program. Volunteer travel offers the chance to make friends while making a difference. Consider a travel agency such as Hands Up Holidays, which offers luxury travel combined with volunteer activities—including teaching, assisting in bakeries or helping with gardening projects.

Match up with a buddy. Some websites can help seniors connect with other folks who will be traveling to the same destination. Mingle Trips, for example, will arrange for travelers to meet a new travel buddy close to home before stepping foot onto the plane.



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