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Prepare Your Home for the Holidays

December 17, 2012 6:38 pm

The holidays are upon us, and with Christmas merely a few days away, many are struggling to prep their homes for guests. Here are some tips on preparing your home for the coming festivities. From making sure your tree stays fresh to getting that extra sparkle from your silverware, take a look at these seasonal tips and make sure you stay sane this Christmas.

The secret to a long lasting Christmas tree
The secret to keeping your Christmas tree looking fresh for weeks is simply good, basic care. When you buy your tree, make sure the seller makes a fresh cut straight across the base of the trunk, removing about an inch from the bottom to aid water absorption. As soon as you get home, place the tree in a stand or sturdy bucket that holds at least two liters of water. Check the water level daily to make sure the end of the trunk is covered and position the tree away from direct sunlight, fireplaces, wood stoves and other heat sources.

How to defrost your freezer

Tons of holiday leftovers require ample room in the freezer. To make sure food stays fresh, defrost your freezer and give it a good clean. First, empty all of the food from the freezer and wrap it in newspaper (alternatively place in the coldest part of your home). Next unplug the freezer, lay towels around the bottom to mop-up any spills and place bowls of very hot water in the bottom of the freezer. Using gloves, pull away chunks of ice and pour warm water onto any stubborn blocks of ice. Once your freezer's defrosted, give it a good clean to remove any stains and odors. If your freezer regularly builds up a layer of ice, it may not be working properly.

Keep your fridge smelling fresh

Fridges often gather strong odors over time. To avoid this, start by completely emptying your fridge, then give it a wipe to remove any spilled residue. Thoroughly clean the entire interior with a cloth and a baking soda and water solution (2 cups of water / 2 tablespoons baking soda). Then cut an onion in half and place in the fridge - this will absorb any bad odors.

Clean your silverware
With Christmas around the corner, the family silver will take pride of place at the festive table. To ensure your cutlery looks as good as new, line a plastic basin with aluminum foil (shiny side up). Place the silver inside so that it's touching the foil and sprinkle in a quarter of a cup of baking soda and 1 gallon of boiling water. Leave to soak for 10 - 15 minutes. Wearing gloves, take the cutlery out of the water and polish with a soft cloth. For items that are still dirty, repeat the process. This will remove all stains and ensure clean sparkling knives and forks to compliment your Christmas roast.


Word of the Day

December 17, 2012 6:38 pm

Convey. To transfer property from one person to another.

Q: What Should I Consider Once I Decide to Add on?

December 17, 2012 6:38 pm

A: If you must construct new space, ask yourself the following questions:

Can I finance the home improvement with my own cash or will I need a loan?
How much equity is in the property? A fair amount will make it that much easier to get a loan for home improvements.

Is it feasible to expand the current space for an addition?
What is permissible under local zoning and building laws? Despite your deep yearning for a new sunroom or garage, you will need to know if your town or city will allow such improvements.
Should I make the improvement myself or hire a contractor?

Is College Necessary?

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

SWParents—Your high school senior might be doing some soul-searching right now, wondering if going to college in the fall is what he or she really wants to do. You might be getting some pressure to permit (or even bankroll) some sort of break. Let’s think about this, with the understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma. If your child is wants to delay college – for a year or permanently – here are some questions to consider.

  1. Does your child have a plan? Maybe your child wants to travel across country or volunteer or start a business. Does your child have a plan for how this will happen (where she will go and how she will get there, which organization she wants to help, what market her business will reach)? The more well-thought the plan the more reasonable it is to endorse it. If your child’s ideas of what to do instead of college are vague and poorly-formed, then the structure a year of college provides might still be a good idea.
  2. Is your child running away from something? Escape for escape’s sake is not a positive foundation for the future. So if your child rejects college because he just doesn’t want to do what his friends are doing or because his girlfriend ditched him or because he can’t make up his mind about a major, then not-going is a way of avoiding things instead of a way of embracing something. Ask him to come up with a plan that’s so exciting he wants to run towards it, not just a plan for running away.
  3. Does your child know what happens next once the plan is in place? If “what happens next” is “I win American Idol and land a six-figure recording contract and go on a twenty-city tour” then a dose of reality (and not a dose of reality TV) is in order. Continue the conversation with “yes, and… if that doesn’t work out what next?” Having a back-up plan and a realistic appraisal of Plan A’s chances keeps both of you from chasing after moonbeams again in another six months.
  4. Where does your child see herself in five years? If she goes to college, in five years she will have her degree and probably be situated in a job that pays the rent. If she doesn’t go to college, but instead gets a job right out of high school, will that job pay enough to support an apartment and a car and a cat? If she doesn’t go to college but instead gets married right out of high school, will she (and her husband) someday feel trapped by her lack of work experience and lack of college degree? Most young people envision themselves living large in five years or less. Will the path your child has chosen lead to that?
  5. Is your child running away from you? If you have made going to college such a personal expectation – maybe even choosing the college your child will attend or dictating his major – then rejecting college altogether may be the only way your child can assert his independence. If you think this might be happening, now is the time to back off. Make it clear that you don’t care what college your child might attend and that you’ll support whatever major he selects. See if his attitude towards college improves.

College is not perfect for everyone and not every successful person went to college. But many eighteen-year-olds need a few more years of structure before they’re ready to stand on their own. Talk with your child and help him to honestly evaluate his options. Make clear how much or how little you can support him financially if he goes to college or if launches a different trajectory.

Support your child emotionally no matter what.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Three Easy Ways to Combat Rising Home Heating Costs

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

With natural gas and oil prices on the rise, U.S. homeowners are expected to more to heat their homes this winter. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, homes that use natural gas will see a 15 percent increase in heating bills this winter -- adding an estimated $89 more to gas bills each month. Homes that rely on heating oil will see an 11 percent increase -- adding an estimated $407 more to the monthly bill. To help counteract rising heating costs, suggests the following three things every homeowner can do to slash heating bills this winter.

"We can't control factors like fuel costs or the weather, but we can be smart about how we prepare our homes for winter," says's DIY Specialist, Sean Murphy. "A few basic repairs and one or two simple changes can add up to big savings in your December and January heating bills."

To reduce winter heating bills, homeowners can consider the following money-saving suggestions:
1. Winter-proof the windows: Windows can be a home's most attractive feature. They provide views, lighting, ventilation -- and most importantly, a natural source of heat during the frigid winter months.
Unfortunately, they can also account for 10 to 25 percent of a home's total heating bill by allowing heat to escape. This winter, make sure all windows are properly sealed. Replace weather stripping, and re-caulk windows to ensure even the smallest leaks are plugged. When the project is done, be sure to seal the caulking tube properly so it can be reused for future projects.

Think of window coverings as a home's blanket. Close curtains, shades and blinds to keep the warm air in. When the sun does decide to come out, keep coverings open to allow it to naturally heat the room. In addition to cutting energy costs, some window coverings qualify for energy-efficiency tax credits. Though tax credits vary by state, the average homeowner can save up to $1,000 with qualifying rebates.

2. Keep tabs on the thermostat: Dialing back the thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees will save 10 percent a year on heating and cooling costs. As a general rule of thumb, a home should be kept at, or below, 68 degrees for maximum cost efficiency.

Homes with programmable thermostats should set the heater to turn on 30 minutes before someone arrives, and turn off 30 minutes before everyone heads to bed. Programmable thermostats are a great winter investment, saving the average homeowner about $180 in energy costs every year when using pre-programmed settings, and can be easily installed by the homeowner.

3. Give the water heater a boost: A hot shower is an even hotter commodity during the dreary winter months, so make sure the hot water heater is bundled up this winter. Water heater blankets help insulate the tank and allow the water to stay warmer longer. This cuts down on energy costs and makes the water tank system more efficient, saving homeowners $30 a year on their bill.

For an even bigger savings, consider upgrading to a tankless water heater. They offer convenience without the high cost of keeping water hot -- saving the average homeowner more than $100 a year.
For optimal savings, set the water heater to 120 degrees. It's estimated that setting a water heater too high -- 140 degrees or above -- wastes anywhere from $36 - $61 annually in standby heat losses.
"Heating and cooling account for more than half of the average utility bill. These three changes may seem small, but together they'll make a huge dent in your winter bills," states Murphy.


How to ‘Own’ Your Dream

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

SWParents--It is a peculiar truth of life that we often do not appropriately value the things we don’t directly pay for. One of the problems with credit is that it enables us to have something that we “want” now even though we might not really need it. And had we been forced to earn the money for it first then we might have decided later that it’s not worth the money because it’s not worth the work we had to put in to get it.

Unfortunately many of us approach our dreams with the same buying-on-credit philosophy that we use to buy our stuff. We want to find a way to get them without having to pay for them upfront. In other words we want the accolades, the raises, the notoriety, the freedom and the status but we would rather not have to put the work in for it up front in order to get it. But even though we think that is what we want, it ultimately doesn’t satisfy.

A dream that is handed to you wouldn’t be worth as much as one you had to pay to own. It wouldn’t have the same significance, the same meaning, and it wouldn’t represent the same success. Even though we may not realize it, the satisfaction of reaching the dream comes from having paid the price in order to get it.

So if you have a dream – any dream – you don’t want it on “credit”. That is, you don’t want it “given” to you and you don’t need it to “come easy”. You want to work for it, you want to earn it, you want to pay the price for it. You want to own it! My friend and author, Randy Gage, often says “you should be the number one investor into your own dream.”

There are 3 currencies you can use to invest in owning your dream: time, money, and energy. If you have a dream that you want then you can own it by investing any one of those 3 things into it at any moment.
And as the “Buy-In Principle” of the Take the Stairs methodology reminds us, “the more we have invested into something the less likely we are to let it fail.” So don’t wait for your dream to be given to you. Don’t expect an easier way for it to show up. Don’t think it’d be better if it just happened. Instead, start investing! Start paying the price and you’ll be amazed at the power you have once you truly “own” your own dream.
See you in the “stairwell.”

Rory Vaden, MBA is Cofounder of Southwestern Consulting, Self-Discipline Strategist and Speaker, and New York Times bestselling author of "Take the Stairs.”


Word of the Day

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

Contract. A legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties. To be valid, a real estate contract must be dated, in writing, include a consideration, have a description of the property, the place and date of delivery of the deed, and spell out all terms and conditions that were mutually agreed upon. It also must be executed (signed) by the buyer and seller.

Q: What Are the Main Reasons Why Homeowners Remodel?

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

A: There are many reasons. Home remodeling can improve the appearance of your home, enhance its value, add to your quality of life, and appeal to future home buyers. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders, the top four reasons homeowners remodel is to obtain more space, avoid buying a new home, enjoy more amenities, and adjust to lifestyle changes.

Clean Closets Make a Happy Home

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

(Family Features)—When it comes to getting the house clean and tidy, closets often get left off the to-do list. From hall closets and linen closets to bedroom closets, “out of sight, out of mind” thinking quickly leads to clutter – and then frustration when you can’t find what you need when you need it.

But a little planning and a few simple tips can help you get your closets in user-friendly shape in no time.

Put your closets on your calendar. Take stock of your schedule and commit some time to tackle your closets. Set realistic expectations – you don’t have to conquer all your closets at once. It may make sense for your family to forego TV one evening a week and focus on one closet at a time, for example.

Start by sorting.

  • If you haven’t worn a piece of clothing in the past year – or you can’t remember the last time you wore something – then you don’t need it. Other items to purge from your closet: children’s clothes and shoes that are either too small or too worn out to pass down to a sibling or a friend.
  • Sort your remaining clothes by season and then into piles to keep or pass down. If you have limited closet space, keep only the current season’s wardrobe in your closet. Carefully pack and store the rest for later.
  • Linen closets stay more organized when you stack similar sized items together. Sort sheets by size, and group washcloths, hand towels and bath towels together.
  • For closets that hold everything from the vacuum cleaner to art supplies and anything in between, work one shelf at a time. Sort items by categories and dedicate one shelf or area of the closet to each group.
Eliminate excess – but don’t throw it away. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. There are easy ways to donate your unwanted items to benefit those in need. One example is, where you can request pre-paid UPS shipping bags that make it simple and free to send in unwanted clothes, shoes, accessories and household linens. Your donation benefits one of three national nonprofits of your choosing: AMVETS, Easter Seals, or The Purple Heart. It’s tax deductible, and it reduces waste. Americans throw away an average of 68 pounds of clothing each year – helps keep over 470,000 pounds of clothing out of landfills every week. .

Green up your storage. When it’s time to put things back into place, instead of buying new containers to hold things, look around the house for boxes and containers you already heave. Baskets, crates and even empty shoeboxes can be reused to keep your closets more organized.

Repeat often. You don’t have to wait until the next neighborhood yard sale before you sift through your closets again. As with most household chores, a little maintaince goes a long way to keep your closets looking neat and clean. You could even keep a bag in each of your kids’ closets and encourage them to set aside gently used and outgrown items on a regular basis.

You’ll be amazed at how much happier clean closets can make the whole house feel – especially when you turn the stuff you don’t need into a good deed.


Don’t Get Sick Before You Travel—Here’s How

December 14, 2012 4:26 pm

(BPT) - You research what museums and restaurants you want to visit, plan everything you're going to pack, and count down the days until you leave. Anticipating a vacation is exciting - unless you suddenly get sick. Falling ill before or during your trip can derail the fun quickly, and that's why it's so important to add a few steps to your pre-vacation checklist that can help you stay healthy.

Whether you're traveling to a neighboring state or across the globe, feeling your best is an important part of having a great trip. The experts at On Call International, an emergency medical, security and travel assistance organization, offer these tips for maintaining health before and during your travel adventures:

1. Consider your vaccination options

Although typically associated with international travel, vaccines are important for staying healthy before and during any type of travel. When was the last time you asked your doctor if you were up to date on your vaccinations? Before your next trip, schedule a physical and ask about vaccines, such as options for the flu, and any other travel-related health concerns. If you're traveling to a more exotic or remote location, you may want to see a travel medicine specialist who can advise you on which vaccinations and precautions Americans should take when going to that specific destination.

2. Always wash your hands
While it may sound simple, one of the best ways to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Especially during the flu season, washing your hands thoroughly is important to staying healthy. If you're traveling and you don't have access to clean water and soap, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the next best thing.

3. Carry sanitizing wipes
A handy travel tool to have in your bag is a pack of sanitizing wipes. While it's not necessary to sanitize every surface you encounter, using them for commonly touched areas can help keep you healthy by killing viruses and germs. For example, carry a travel-size pack of wipes to clean your airplane tray before eating, door knobs at your hotel, or the keyboard at the local Internet cafe. If you -don't have wipes, a dab of hand sanitizer on a tissue is a simple substitute.

4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Staying healthy is an ongoing effort, which means well before you take your trip, make sure you are eating right, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and getting adequate amounts of sleep each night. You'll also want to exercise regularly, and consider increasing your physical activity if you'll be particularly active on your trip to help prepare your body for long walks or hikes. These extra efforts will help keep your immune system strong so you don't get sick before you leave, and you'll be less vulnerable to fall ill or get injured while traveling.

5. Have a plan B

Of course anything can happen, even if you take the proper health steps, which is why a membership to a medical, security and travel assistance company like On Call International is a good backup plan. If you do get sick while on vacation, you'll get assistance locating a qualified physician, hospital or pharmacy. If you lose your prescription, there's replacement assistance too. In the event of a serious illness or injury, you'll receive emergency medical evacuation, which includes the planning and cost of transporting you home to your preferred doctor.


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