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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Phone: 215-453-7883
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
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email: tom@tomskiffington.com
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Tom's Blog

Turn Your Balcony into an Edible Garden

June 10, 2013 11:14 pm

Improvements in container gardening equipment and techniques have cleared the way for even the most “brown thumb” city dwellers, and anyone without a yard, to grow their own groceries.

“There’s nothing to stop anyone who wants a garden from having one,” says Roy Joulus, CEO of Greenbo, a company that designs innovative products for urban gardening.

“Plants add a great deal to our quality of life – from cleaning the air we breathe to keeping us in touch with nature. Fresh, home-grown herbs and vegetables not only taste so much better than supermarket produce, they’re convenient, and you know exactly where they came from and what was used, or not used, on them.”

While hydroponic and vertical gardening systems have been developed to maximize the yield in small spaces, Joulus says starting a balcony garden needn’t cost much. Start with the right materials and choose plants that are right for your conditions, and you’ll soon be eating from the pots on your porch.

He offers the following tips, especially helpful for balcony gardeners.

Plant the right plants for the amount of sunlight you have:

Most herbs and vegetables require six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. So what do you do if you have just one balcony and it doesn’t get that much sun?

• Choose edibles that can take partial sun/shade (three to six hours of sun in the morning or early afternoon) or light shade (two to three hours of direct sun or lightly shaded all day.)

Some partial shade herbs: cilantro and parsley (both prefer cooler weather); dill, bee balm, spearmint chamomile.

Some light shade herbs: garlic chives, peppermint, rosemary.

Some partial or light shade veggies: lettuce, broccoli, green onion, collards, cabbage, peas, carrots, strawberries, beans, sweet potatoes.

• Remember, pale-colored surfaces increase the light your plants receive. Plants in regions with short growing seasons usually need the full six to eight hours of light per day. 

Choose the right pots:

Bigger pots require less water and are less likely to blow over on high-rise balconies where the winds can be fierce. Terra cotta allows moisture to escape fairly quickly, which is helpful for people who like to water a lot. Non-porous plastic or glazed pots hold water longer and are better for windy balconies, where soil dries out quickly. Use brightly colored containers to add style and visual interest to your garden.

• Most vegetable plants require even watering – don’t let them dry out completely and don’t keep them soggy. Apply water directly to the soil.

• Make sure your containers have drainage holes or a drainage system. If they have an attached tray to catch excess water, don’t allow the plants’ roots to sit in the water, which promotes rot and fungus. Either empty the tray regularly, or use a design that holds the water away from the roots.

Use the right dirt:

• It’s important to use dirt that allows for good drainage. Most edible plants don’t like to sit in wet dirt, and soil without good drainage tends to become compacted – a difficult medium for plants that like to stretch their roots out. You can buy a sterile soilless potting mix, a soil-based potting mix, or mix up your own batch using 1 part compost, 1 part perlite and 1 part potting soil.

• Don’t use garden soil or top soil, which won’t allow adequate drainage.

• On windy balconies, top-dress your container with small rocks to keep the soil from drying out so quickly.

Joulus offers one more tip for high-rise dwellers: Rely on self-pollinating plants, or plants that don’t need pollination by insects, unless you’re willing to hand-pollinate.

“You likely won’t see many bees buzzing around the 40th story,” he says.

Don’t worry about pollination for root vegetables, like carrots and potatoes. Some self-pollinators include beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers.

Source: Greenbo

 

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The Summer Save Up: 10 Ways to Save $20 a Week

June 10, 2013 11:14 pm

With all of the summertime fun to be had, for many families, living within their means goes right out the window by the time June rolls around. But if you want to reach financial independence, you must find ways to keep boosting your savings, says John J. Vento, author of the new book Financial Independence (Getting to Point X). He offers several great tips on how to save up this summer.

Stay cool without breaking the bank. Hot summer days mean your AC is practically running non-stop, which means your summer power bills can sometimes break the bank. But you can allay some of these costs by using a programmable thermostat to minimize your utility use and cost or by installing ceiling fans to allow you to use less air conditioning. “You should also make sure your home—especially your attic—is sufficiently insulated,” notes Vento. “If the insulation in your attic is less than 6 inches thick, you are under-insulated. Insulation of 12 inches thick can lower your heating and cooling costs by 25 percent in a year.”

Save on gas. A great way to cut back on how much you’re spending on gas each week is to trade in your car for a bike. “If you live close enough to your work, enjoy the warm weather by biking or even walking to work,” says Vento. “If biking or walking isn’t an option, organize a summer carpool or start taking public transportation. Of course, if you’re able, these are great changes to carry over into the fall and winter.”

Wash your own wheels. It can be tempting to just zip into a local carwash and pay someone else to wash your car. But depending on the level of care you’re paying for, you can spend anywhere from $5 to $30. Get outside and enjoy the weather by washing your own car. You’ll save some money and will probably even do a better job on your own.

Shape up… Insurance companies take into account your physical health. Therefore, people who smoke, have high cholesterol levels, have high blood pressure, are overweight, and have other problems (including depression) will usually have higher insurance premiums than a person who is in good physical shape and health. “Use the summer to make healthy life choices,” says Vento. “Clean up your diet. Stop smoking and start exercising.”

…but forgo the gym membership. “Bathing suit season” as it’s often called will probably have you focusing a little more on your fitness. But rather than throw out a bunch of money on a membership to a gym you might not even end up using that often, think of all of the ways you can workout outside for free. Walk, run, or bike local trails. Use workout videos. Or attend donation-based classes that allow you to pay a much more reasonable amount for your workouts.

Have fun for free. Check out “free events” offered in your neighborhood. Many towns offer free concerts and movies in the park or at the beach during the summer. Or take the family to the park for a Saturday afternoon or evening picnic.

Don’t splurge on vacation. Of course, there’s always a lot of build up around the yearly summer vacation. “But if you don’t have the money to spend, you should absolutely look for more cost-effective options,” recommends Vento. “Instead of going on expensive vacations, traveling first class, eating at the most expensive restaurants, going on all the most expensive tours, and going to overpriced five-star hotels, fly coach, cook in the hotel if possible, and go to a safe, fun, cheaper hotel.”

Go green and save. Summer is a great time to make an effort to “go green” and start making more environmentally friendly choices. “A great way to do this is to refill your cleaning product spray bottles with less expensive refill bottles, instead of buying another more expensive spray bottle,” says Vento. “Or replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). These use more than 70 percent less energy and last much longer, which will save you money on the cost of light bulbs and on your electricity bill. And of course, you should always turn off the lights when you leave a room and take advantage of all the natural light you get during the summer.”

Hang it out to dry. Instead of running your dryer during the summer, hang clothes and other laundry outside to dry. This saves money on your utility bills as well as wear and tear on your clothing.

Become a thrifty foodie. First, give up junk foods completely: Not only are they expensive, they are unhealthy. Second, plan your meals. “Doing so can save you money and time,” says Vento. “When grocery shopping, you will know exactly what you need to buy so there is no excess food thrown out at the end of the week. Take advantage of readily available, in-season fruits and vegetables by cooking more at home. Then brownbag your leftovers for your lunch at work the next day. And finally, buy in bulk or use grocery store rewards cards.”

“Creating a summer of fun should not leave you worse off financially than when the season began,” says Vento. “Be sure to discuss and share your family financial goals with your entire family so that everyone can commit to taking these easy, responsible steps toward saving and building on your financial stability. When you make these smart choices, it makes reaching long-term financial goals all the more achievable.”

 

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Word of the Day

June 10, 2013 11:14 pm

Qualification.  Act of determining a potential buyer’s needs, abilities, and urgency to buy and matching these with available properties.

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Q: What Is an Unsecured Loan?

June 10, 2013 11:14 pm

A: The interest rates on these loans are often higher than on secured loans and you generally will not be able to get a tax deduction for the interest paid.  However, the costs to obtain an unsecured loan are usually lower. And the relative ease of getting this type of loan makes it popular for small projects costing $10,000 or less. The lender evaluates applications based on credit history and income.

 

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Are You Prepared for the ‘Specialist Economy’?

June 8, 2013 9:08 pm

Jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none, beware: Companies increasingly require specialized talent, and professionals with niche skills in fast-growing fields are often receiving multiple job offers.

“Firms have a critical need for laser-focused professionals who can help them grow their most lucrative service areas and maximize efficiencies,” says Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of Human Resources Kit For Dummies®, 3rd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). “Full-time and temporary workers with education and concentrated knowledge can help a company operate more efficiently and competitively — top priorities in today’s business environment.”

Messmer adds, “Some professionals have specialized skills but fall short when it comes to marketing themselves. Emphasizing specialty areas in application materials and during interviews can help job candidates stand out from their peers.”

Robert Half, author of The Specialist Economy: How Businesses and Professionals Can Prepare for the Trend Toward Specialization, offers six tips to help job seekers succeed in the specialist economy:

Create a specialist resume. Your resume should highlight your unique specialty areas and interests. For example, if you’re an accountant who has worked in the healthcare industry, emphasize not only your accounting skills but also your healthcare expertise. Add a “Summary” section that describes your specific attributes and experience.

Build a name for yourself online. Brand yourself as a specialist through professional networking and social media sites. Add keywords to your profile that reflect your specialization, and participate in groups in your areas of interest.

Know yourself. If you’re just beginning your career, choose a niche that strongly interests you, and acquire additional skills and training in that area. A career focus that you are passionate about is more likely to lead to long-term success.

Acquire more education. The unemployment rate for professionals 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher is roughly half that of the general unemployment rate. Depending on where you are in your career trajectory, consider completing a degree or certification in your field that you never finished — or never pursued.

Fish where the fish are. If you’re in a competitive field, specialization is even more important to your career success. For example, if you’re a marketing professional, specializing in a hot area such as cloud computing, mobile marketing or natural search can help you become more attractive to potential employers.

Work with a specialized staffing firm. A staffing company that specializes in your field can help you accurately highlight your strengths and specialty areas.

Source: www.roberthalf.com

 

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Cool It: Tips to Avoid AC Repair

June 8, 2013 9:08 pm

Continuously running an air conditioning unit during the summer can send homeowners calling for AC repair. Take the following advice to prevent your unit from getting overworked:

  • One of the most common problems is a poor refrigerant charge. A home that has a unit that is constantly running, but isn't getting cool may have a refrigerant problem.
  • The power source should always be checked first if a unit stops working. Check to be sure the thermostat is on the correct setting and the unit is properly plugged in. If those are correct, check the fuse box to be sure a switch has not been flipped.
  • Lack of maintenance on the homeowner's part can also lead to repair. Homeowners should properly change air filters, clean the system and maintain regular check-ups to maintain a unit's efficiency. Yearly maintenance appointments should also be scheduled with a licensed technician.

    "Homeowners should clean air conditioner periodically, as well," says Phil Montgomery, owner of Atlanta Heating and Air Conditioning. "Using a garden hose, a homeowner can spray down the coils, and then use an air conditioning cleaner on them. Homeowners should be sure to follow all directions on the cleaning solution and thoroughly rinse the coils after cleaning them. The unit should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being used."
     
  • Locate the unit's drain outside and use a wet/dry vacuum to clean the drain of any debris. Be sure the drain has a cap that covers it to keep debris out of it. Remove any twigs, grass, or other debris that might have entered the outside unit. Homeowners should periodically clean the outside unit to maintain maximum efficiency.

Source: Atlanta Heating and Air Conditioning

 

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Fish and Shellfish – Be Sure They’re Safe

June 8, 2013 9:08 pm

With their high quality protein and other essential nutrients, fish and shellfish can be a part  parts of a healthful diet. But, as with any food, safe handling is essential to reducing the risk of foodborne illness, often called “food poisoning.” Follow these basic food safety tips for buying, storing, and preparing fish and shellfish.

Buy Right: Fresh -- When buying fresh fish or shellfish, be sure that it is refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting. Preferably, it should be displayed in a case or under some type of cover. Watch for these signs of freshness:

Fish:

  • Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like.
  • A fish’s eyes should be clear and bulge a little.
  • Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime.
  • The flesh should spring back when pressed.
  • Fish fillets should display no discoloration nor darkening or drying around the edges.

Shellfish:

  • Look for tags and labels on live shellfish (in the shell) and on containers or packages of shucked shellfish that include a certification number for the processor. That means that the shellfish were harvested and processed in accordance with FDA national shellfish safety controls.
  • Throw away any clams, oysters, and mussels with cracked or broken shells.
  • Live clams, oysters, and mussels will close up when the shell is tapped. If they don’t close, do not select them.
  • Live crabs and lobsters should show some leg movement. They spoil rapidly after death, so only live crabs and lobsters should be selected and prepared.

Buy Right: Frozen seafood can spoil if it thaws during transport and is left at warm temperatures for too long. Follow these tips when selecting frozen seafood.

  • Don’t buy frozen seafood if the package is open, torn or crushed on the edges.
  • Avoid packages that are positioned above the “frost line” or top of the freezer case.
  • Avoid packages with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time, or was thawed and refrozen.

Store Safely: 
Put seafood on ice or in the refrigerator (if it will be used within two days) or freezer soon after buying it. If freezing, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil to protect it from air leaks.

Cook It Safe
: Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145ºF and checked in more than one spot to help ensure doneness. If you don’t have a food thermometer, there are other ways to determine whether seafood is done.

Fish: Flesh should be opaque and separate easily with a fork

Shrimp and Lobster: Flesh becomes pearly and opaque

Scallops: Flesh turns milky white or opaque and firm

Clams, Mussels, and Oysters: Shells open during cooking (throw out any that don’t open)

Source: www.fda.gov

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Word of the Day

June 8, 2013 9:08 pm

Market price.  Actual selling price of a property.

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Q: What If My Contractor Bungles the Job?

June 8, 2013 9:08 pm

A:  If you have a legitimate complaint, keep after the contractor until the needed repairs or alterations are made.  If this fails, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency.  Keep a copy of the contract, receipts, and photographs of the work.  Although it has no legal authority, you also may want to contact the Better Business Bureau, as well as your state’s Contractor License Board.  And you can take the contractor to Small Claims Court, although the amount you would be able to recover varies from state to state.  California, for example, allows judgments up to $7,500. It’s $5,000 in Virginia and less in other jurisdictions.

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Tips for Connecting with Your Kids

June 7, 2013 7:00 pm

(Family Features)--Warm weather is characteristically associated with relaxing days by the pool and beach vacations to soak up the sun with family and friends.  

Waning work days, slews of sporting activities, camp carpools and a plethora of planned play dates demand daily, detailed to-do lists to successfully coordinate the madness.  With this hectic lifestyle now defined as “the new normal,” it is essential to pause and enjoy the simple, joyful everyday moments with our children.

Though week-long family vacations may not be part of the plan, Liz Pryor, life advice expert, offers simple tips for connecting with your kids.

Turn Off All Electronic Devices - For just 15 minutes a day when you’re shuffling your children to and from events, make a conscious effort to turn electronic devices off.  Being fully engaged with your kids for a few moments each day will connect you in a way that only seemed possible during a fun day at the beach.

Plan a “Staycation” – Even though a week-long getaway may not be possible, have each child plan a one-day family “staycation” to enjoy a local park, museum or adventure in the backyard. By allowing the kids to plan the day, they’ll be extra excited and involved in family time.

Pack a Picnic – Have the kids help pack a picnic of turkey sandwiches, baby carrots and an insulated bottle of ice cold lemonade.  For a sweet treat, dip a graham cracker in melted chocolate chips, lay on waxed paper and quickly sprinkle with chopped nuts, candy-coated chocolate or more chocolate chips. Allow to harden on the waxed paper before adding into the picnic basket and heading out for your next family adventure.

Assign Superhero Homework- Include the kids in family chores while incorporating a fun spin. Over the course of the summer, give each child a daily “mission” with an exciting title, such as Inspector of Doggy Dish or Kitchen Table King. Rotate missions regularly to mix it up.

Pryor stresses each family should mold these tips and make them their own to work in a unique way that is special just to them. Every family has its own way of communicating. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long you take time to find those moments to connect.

 

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Tom Skiffington - RE/MAX 440

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