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Fall Project File: Creating an Indoor Playroom

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A recent national survey about home improvement projects indicates that more people will be renovating or establishing home working spaces and play rooms this fall and winter. So I will pick up on the trend by tapping a couple of experts about creating a fun and welcoming playroom.

Dan Fritschen at says homeowners should not be afraid to consult with interior designers, architects and design showrooms, which he says are a great resource for both finding playroom ideas as well as getting assistance with the design.

Fritschen  says the best way to get help from experts is to set an appointment. Bring photos of the room you want to remodel, along with dimensions for your room ideas about design themes and your budget.

Don’t forget to ask for samples that you can borrow because seeing that tile or light fixture in your home makes a big difference in making smart decision decisions for your garage playroom remodel.

John Powell ( at Powell Custom Homes and Renovations of Des Moines, Washington provides these tips:

Choose a theme - Plan the entire room around a single thematic element based on a child's favorite subject, game or character. Or use the theme to create variety, such as a “story time” theme with your child’s favorite storybook characters incorporated into the décor. A themed, “special” room will give your child more incentive to spend time there, and will even help him or her to keep it clean.

Go crazy with colors - Neon paint colors are just fine here; don’t worry about matching or clashing.  Think about the fantasy worlds your children are seeing on television - the more outlandish, the more tempting the space will be for them.

Think small - Kids love spaces that are sized for them. Plan the space for smaller people, but think ahead so your kids don’t outgrow the space within the year.

Kids play rough - No matter how bombproof you make the space, someone is bound to knock his head against the side of any piece of furniture or anything built into the space. Try to find things with rounded edges. If you buy a piece of furniture with hard corners, ask your contractor to sand it down.


Home Renovation for Baby Boomers: Preparing for the Next Stage in Life

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

(BPT) - Lived in your home for years? Love your neighborhood? The thought of moving away from your home's comfort, warmth and memories can be unsettling. Instead of moving out, consider updating and remodeling your home to accommodate your future needs.

Eight-nine percent of Americans 55 and older have embraced this aging-in-place trend, and hope to remain in their own homes for the long-term, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

"As Americans strive to maintain their independence and stay in their own homes longer, many take on home improvements projects to reduce maintenance while improving accessibility and energy efficiency," says Pella Windows & Doors spokesperson Kathy Krafka Harkema. "As they stretch budgets and prepare for retirement, today's savvy homeowners plan home renovation projects with comfort, convenience and ease of maintenance in mind."

Consider remodeling projects to help enjoy your home longer, more safely and efficiently as you age.

Home improvement for the long-term

Most homeowners realize the importance of upkeep and maintenance. A leaky window or drafty door wastes energy and can drive up utility costs.

To help save energy and money year-round, conduct a home improvement checkup by looking for signs that it's time for potential repairs.

  • Check major systems that help protect the outside of your home - the roof, gutters, siding and exterior finish.
  • Inspect interior components like heating, cooling, chimney and electrical systems.
  • Make sure enough attic insulation is in place to help prevent ice dams.
  • Look for signs of deterioration, damage or potential problems. Replace or repair worn or broken items before they can lead to more extensive or expensive repairs.
  • Check your home's windows and doors. Are there drafts, chips or breaks in the finish, condensation or fogging between panes of glass, or are they hard to open? Any of these signs can mean it's time for replacement.
  • Position storage areas, like shelves, for easy access.
  • Raise appliances, like washers, dryers, dishwashers and stoves, to minimize bending and lifting.
  • Replace old appliances and fixtures with more energy-efficient options, like ENERGY STAR-qualified Pella 350 Series vinyl windows and patio doors, to help save on future utility bills.
  • Determine whether your home will be ready for your next stage in life by reviewing the AARP home livability checklist.

Window replacement adds light, convenience

As we become older, our eyes require more light to see. Choose ENERGY STAR-qualified lighting for energy-efficient options. Adding additional windows, or increasing the size of existing window openings can also increase the amount of natural light in a home.

Replacing heavy curtains and drapes with more sheer options will also allow privacy, without sacrificing natural light.

Cut the dust

Pella Designer Series windows and doors offer convenient, custom made, between-the-glass options like blinds and shades. Between-the-glass window fashions don't collect dust like traditional room side window treatments, making them a low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for option. Plus, since they're between glass, they're a perfect fit and a safer option for homes with children or pets, since there are no room-side cords.

Replacing old, hard-to-open windows with new windows and screens makes it easier to open windows to enjoy fresh air.




3 Tips for Choosing the Best College

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

"Choosing a college can be overwhelming and stressful — we know that after 18 years of talking to students," says David Mammano, CEO/Founder of Next Step Education Group. "To get started, go online. Narrow down some choices based on where you hope to be at the end of your journey. You should also ask your school counselor for materials and resources that could be helpful."

Here are 3 tips we recommend for any student looking to choose a college:

  • Take the rankings with a grain of salt. Use them as a guide for what the college offers, but in the end, it's what is best for you that will rank a school No. 1 on your list.
  • Visit the college with and without a guide. After you've done the formal college visit, go back unannounced and just enjoy the campus. It's the informal atmosphere that will let you know if you will be happy on campus.
  • Email professors in the program you plan to attend and ask a few questions. You can find their contact information on the college's website. Don't pester them, but making a quick connection might put you at ease about the quality of the program.

"When I planned the resources and content on, I tried to envision just how many options there could be for any one student," says Laura Sestito, Editorial/Production Coordinator for NextStepU. "Today's student can go anywhere! They shouldn't have to settle — they should dare to find that perfect match for who they are."




Word of the Day

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

Principal. The amount of money borrowed; the amount of money still owed.


Q: Why Do Lenders Require a Down Payment?

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A: It protects them should you default on the loan, especially if you fail to make payments in the early years of the loan when more is owed on it.  Foreclosure, property fix-up, and resale costs could result in a loss on the mortgage loan.

That is a bad situation the lender wants to avoid.  So they have historically required cash down payments of 20 percent of a home’s purchase price.

However, if you purchase private mortgage insurance, the down payment requirement can drop to 5 or 10 percent of the purchase price.

Few lenders will lend the full value of a home unless they have special guarantees, such as that offered by the Veterans Administration (VA) under its mortgage assistance program.


Word of the Day

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

Prepayment penalty. Fee charged by the lender when a borrower repays the loan early.


Fall Project File: Remodeling Your Home Working Space

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A recent national survey about home improvement projects indicates that more people will be renovating or establishing home working spaces and play rooms this fall and winter. So I tapped a couple of experts on the subject, who will convey some important tips and ideas in the next two columns.

The team at Lars Remodeling & Design ( in La Mesa, CA suggest homeowners begin their home work space installation or renovation by deciding on the main purpose of the space and who will be using it.

If there’s more than one person involved, the space can be divided by wall or enclosures. There should be plenty of room for a desk, seating for meetings and perhaps a lounge area.

Then decide what special items are important for a comfortable and functional workspace. You might need items such as a drafting table, separate computer workstations, countertop and table space, special machinery or a large screen for videoconferencing or webinars - and don’t forget space for storage and files.

According to the folks at Lars, one of the drawbacks of having a home office is the ever-present sound of home and family, which can sometimes overwhelm the background of a telephone conversation.

So soundproofing the office walls and doors can prevent screaming children and a loud TV from filtering into your businesses day while keeping your confidential discussions and financial conversations confidential.

When choosing your floor and ceiling materials, select those that absorb sound rather than make it echo.

Builder Scott Stonebreaker ( says homeowners should begin their project with a floor plan.  Get some graph paper and draw the setup you want.  

On paper, Stonebreaker  says you can move elements around a number of times until you find the fit that is right for you.  Remember to include the locations of electrical outlets, phone jacks and other hookups in this planning stage.  

There are also computer software programs available if you prefer a mouse to a pencil.

In our next segment, we'll tackle repurposing space for a children's play space.



Creating an App? Tap into These 5 Legal Tips

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

If you're creating an app, be sure to keep a few legal tips in mind when you strike e-gold.

According to ABI Research, smartphone and tablet users will download 70 billion apps this year. And the total global mobile app market is expected to be worth $25 billion by 2015, reports TechCrunch.

When it comes to creating an app, a flourishing app industry can spell legal liability. So before you start milking your FarmVille cash-cow, keep these five legal tips in mind:

Be upfront about your app's costs – yes, all of them. You are practically inviting legal issues when you shroud your app with hidden fees. Tacking on extra costs here and there is penny-pinching that could end up costing you big-time in court. Make sure the app clearly conveys all potential monetary charges -- both initial download and in-app options.

Ensure proper consents and disclosures regarding user data and privacy. First, identify what information from the user and the device will be collected and shared with others. Next, make sure that information is clearly disclosed and consented to before data is collected or shared. If there's a possibility that your app will be used by minors, disclosing your privacy policies is particularly important.

Follow applicable standards and regulations. Remember, if your app deals with kids' data, health data, or financial data, make sure that you're complying with relevant rules and regulations, which are more complex.

Understand the differences between mobile platforms. Each mobile operating system uses a different application programming interface (API), which includes different security features and permission handling, according to the Small Business Administration. So don't just assume one size fits all; adapt your code accordingly.

Run the above issues through the "Luddite" disclosure test. Whether it's about your app's costs or privacy policy, always apply the "Luddite" test. Channel that technophobic friend of yours or that family member who can't seem to "get it" when it comes to technology -- if they would notice and read (and understand!) your app's disclosures, you're golden. If not, continue to whittle away the legalese and make sure the disclosures aren't buried under a sea of black and white fine print.

Above all, your app shouldn't have any unpleasant surprises from a user experience standpoint. Good luck!



5 Recipes that Prove Healthy Is the New Delicious

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

With adventurous food tastes and concerns ranging from personal health to ethical agriculture and livestock practices, more people are exploring alternative diets.

But that’s not always easy – or palatable.

“You have paleo and primal diets, pescatarian and raw foods, vegetarian and vegan, and they all have wonderful merits, especially when compared with the processed foods many Americans continue to eat,” says Holistic Chef and Certified Healing Foods Specialist Shelley Alexander, author of “Deliciously Holistic,” (

“My focus is on easy-to-follow healing foods recipes that make delicious, completely nourishing meals. Some will appeal to those who adhere to a strict diet, such as vegan, and all will make people feel noticeably healthier without sacrificing any of the enjoyment we get from sitting down to eat.”   

Alexander offers five recipes that can be used for any meal of the day or night, including:

• Mango chia ginger granola (raw, vegan): 2 ripe mangos, peeled, cored and sliced in one-inch cubes; 2 cups Living Intentions chia ginger cereal; 2 cups nut or seed milk. Put ingredients in a bowl and enjoy! The cereal is gluten-free, nut-free, and raw- and vegan-diet friendly, and extremely nutritious. Preparation takes five minutes or less and is hearty enough to satisfy appetites the entire morning. The ingredients can be substituted for dietary needs or preferences.

• Portobello mushroom and grilled onion burgers (vegan): Marinade for the mushroom is essential – 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar; 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil; 1 tablespoon wheat-free Tamari or organic Nama Shoyu soy sauce; 1/8 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika; 1 peeled garlic clove (grated or minced); 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper; 2 teaspoons organic maple syrup – grade B. The burgers include 4 large Portobello mushrooms – cleaned and patted dry; 1 large white onion (peeled and cut into thick slices); olive or avocado oil to cook mushrooms and onions; 2 sprouted whole grain hamburger buns –toasted; Dijon mustard; ¼ cup baby romaine lettuce – washed and patted dry. Marinate mushrooms and onions for 30 minutes. Drizzle with oil and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, turning mushrooms halfway through. Serve immediately.

• Wild blueberry smoothie (raw, vegan): 3 cups vanilla Brazil nut milk (there is an additional recipe for this); 2 cups fresh or frozen wild or organic blueberries; 1 peeled banana – organic or fair trade; 2 to 3 cups organic baby spinach; 1 small avocado – peeled and pitted; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon; (optional) a preferred protein powder or superfood. Blend until creamy. Blueberries are an amazing fruit packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.

• Raw corn chowder (raw, vegan): 4 cups organic corn kernels (best during summer months); 2¼ cups unsweetened almond milk; 1 clove peeled garlic (remove inner stem); 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice; ½ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika; 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract; ½ avocado (peeled and seed removed); unrefined sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Blend ingredients and strain; top with corn kernels and diced organic red bell pepper. Among other nutrients, corn provides lutein – an important carotenoid that protects eyes from macular degeneration.

• Dijon honey chicken wings: 1/3 cup Dijon mustard; ½ medium peeled lemon – remove all the white pith; ¼ cup raw honey; 1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt; 2 large, peeled garlic cloves – grated; 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper; 12 whole chicken wings – rinsed and patted dry; ½ teaspoon paprika. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blend ingredients in a blender, except for wings and paprika, until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove tips of cleaned wings and store in freezer for future stock. Place wings on lightly greased baking dish, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, place in oven. After 30 minutes baste wings with juices from pan, then brush mustard sauce all over wings, sprinkle with paprika and continue baking for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. Wings should have internal temperature of 165 degrees when done. These are a healthy and tasty alternative to deep-fat-fried wings.

Shelley Alexander has enjoyed a lifelong love of delicious, locally grown, seasonal foods. She received her formal chef’s training at The Los Angeles Culinary Institute. Alexander is a certified healing foods specialist, holistic chef, blogger and owner of the holistic health company, A Harmony Healing, in Los Angeles.



Q: Where Can I Get a Mortgage?

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A: You can get a home loan from several different sources—a credit union, commercial bank, mortgage company, finance company, government agency, thrift (which includes savings banks and savings & loan associations), mortgage broker, and even the seller.

Note, however, that many lenders have tightened their credit standards in light of increasing foreclosures and higher delinquency rates.  Begin your search by calling at least half a dozen lenders to inquire about the types of financing available, current rates on each loan type, loan origination fees and number of points, other loan features and their credit requirements for borrowers.

Once you actually apply for a mortgage, the lender will pull a recent copy of your credit report. That inquiry and any and all others are recorded and become a part of your credit file. Normally, several inquiries during a short period are viewed negatively, as a sign you are trying to open several new accounts. Such a move lowers your credit scores; and lower credit scores mean you will be offered a higher mortgage interest rate.

However, there is a caveat. Credit scoring software generally detect that you are shopping for a single mortgage, if you shop within a short, 30-day window. So multiple inquires pulled roughly within this time frame will only count as one inquiry and should not affect your FICO, or credit, score.

Checking your own score also will not lower your credit score.


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