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Tom's Blog

Your Free Range Turkey May Not be All that Free

November 17, 2011 6:30 pm

It's nearly that time of the year again. Family members from across the nation will soon be congregating at your dinner table, eager to get a slice of that free range turkey you purchased at your local grocery store.
Before you selected this year's bird, you probably read its packaging, including the poultry label touting it as "free range." 

But you might wonder what the truth is behind these labels. And what the USDA actually requires of producers. 

In your mind, the phrase "free range" conjures images of an idyllic farm in the countryside. The turkey that is now cooked and prepped for your diners to devour lived a great life in the outdoors, wandering the hillsides and eating only the freshest... whatever it is that turkeys eat. 

Here is what the USDA requires of producers claiming their turkey is free range or free roaming:
"Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside."
This might just mean that a bird has been labeled "free range" simply because whatever structure is used to house the animal has access to the outdoors in the form of a small yard. The standard doesn't mandate how long birds can spend outdoors, or how big the outdoors area should be. 

So it could also mean that the turkey did have the dreamy outdoors life that you envisioned it living before it made its way onto your dinner plate. The USDA labeling requirement sets a minimum standard for what's considered free-range. It doesn't set a maximum. 

Savvy shoppers and bird lovers might want to look beyond the "free range" turkey label at the store. Poultry labeling can help you pick the perfect protein course for your Thanksgiving meal, though the requirements may not be as strict as you might think. 

For more information, visit

Word of the Day

November 17, 2011 6:30 pm

Property tax. Assessment levied by city and county governments on real and personal property to generate the bulk of their operating revenues to pay for such public services as schools, libraries, and roads.

Question of the Day

November 17, 2011 6:30 pm

Q: What is a lease option?

A: It is an agreement between a renter and a landlord in which the renter signs a lease with an option to purchase the property. The option only binds the seller; the tenant has a choice to make a purchase or not.

Lease options are common among buyers who would like to own a home but do not have enough money for the down payment and closing costs. A lease option may also be attractive to tenants who are working to improve bad credit before approaching a lender for a home loan.

Starting Traditions That May Last Your Kids a Lifetime

November 16, 2011 6:26 pm

Holidays and children just naturally go together, and every family develops its own patterns and traditions, notes North Carolina family counselor Eleanor Gaines. But some families more than others, says Gaines, do a great job of instilling in children the real meaning of the holidays; giving to others.

“There are many ways families can work together to make the holiday season more rewarding for those who may lack the family or resources that make the season joyous,” Gaines said. “A few hours spent making someone else’s season merrier can make your own season that much more memorable.”

Gaines offers five suggestions for working with your kids to make it happen:

• Bake some cookies – Have the kids help bake some family favorites and set them out on wrapped trays. Deliver a day or two before the holiday as a thank-you to local police or fire stations.
• Do some caroling – Plan an hour or two of caroling at a local hospital or convalescent home. Call ahead to clear a time with administrators; then invite a few friends or neighbors to go caroling with your family and invite them home for hot chocolate and cookies afterward.
• Greet a serviceman or woman – Shop together for a few items a service person overseas can enjoy—like cosmetic or personal items, cookies or candy, magazines, crossword puzzles or books. Package them up with note of thanks for their service and go to for the name and address of a solider or Marine.
• Fill a backpack – Children in the juvenile system often go from home to foster home or social service facility with little but the clothes on their backs. Fill a backpack with socks, underwear, toys and books, and anything else your children might suggest, and take it to a police station or a juvenile facility to be available the next time an emergency causes a child to be removed from home.
• Empty the toy box – Before your kids are inundated with a new season of toys, ask them to gather together the gently used toys they have tired of or outgrown. Pack them up and deliver them to a hospital or a child’s home to be enjoyed by less fortunate kids.


5 Tips to Get Your Finances in Order and Save Money in Your New Home

November 16, 2011 6:26 pm

Buying a new home can be an exciting adventure, especially for first-time buyers. But the process isn’t all fun and excitement—owning a home comes with increased responsibilities and challenges that many new buyers haven’t previously faced. Before you get into the routine of day-to-day life in your new home, there are certain things that can be done to help you save a little money.
According to The Simple Dollar blog, the following tips will help homeowners save money while still living comfortably in their home.

1. Check the insulation. If your new home has an attic, make sure you take a peek around before you begin using the room for storage. It is especially important if you have an unfinished attic to check and be sure there is at least six inches of insulation around the entire room. Take the time to thoroughly inspect the insulation and replace any areas as needed.

2. Lower the temperature on your water heater. If you’re looking to save some money on your energy bill, turn your hot water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If your water heater is a few years old, you may want to think about adding an extra layer of insulation to keep the heat where it’s needed.

3. Create a home maintenance checklist. Even though you have just moved into a new home, home maintenance can’t be forgotten. Create a home maintenance checklist now and be sure to go through the list at least once a month. Include any maintenance projects you can think of—including tasks that may only need to be completed every few months. This way nothing will get overlooked and you can take preventive action which will help extend the life of your appliances.

4. Hang your clothes up to dry. While drying your clothes in the dryer is a huge convenience for many homeowners, it also eats up a lot of energy. If you’re looking to save both energy and money, invest in a clothes rack where you can hang your clothes to dry.

5. Install energy-efficient appliances. Energy-efficient appliances may cost more upfront, but in the end, they will save you plenty of money. Do your homework before heading to your local Lowe’s and be sure to go for appliances that are reliable and energy efficient.


Tips for Single Parent Success

November 16, 2011 6:26 pm

More than one-third of American children live in single-parent households right now. And 59% of American kids will live in a single-parent household sometime before they turn 18. Patricia Nan Anderson, an expert in child development and author of the book Parenting: A Field Guide, offers the following tips on single parenting. 

1. Enjoy your independence. Parenting alone means never having to ask for a second opinion. So rather than wishing things were different or feeling weak and lonely, revel in your independence. You are master of your fate. Rise to the challenge!
2. Create a support system. Just because you’re independent, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Link up with other single parents. Line up friends and family you can call on in a pinch. Find someone whose judgment you trust to use as a sounding board. You’re the CEO of your family but you need an advisory group.
3. Avoid unwise entanglements. It will seem that things would be better if there were another adult in the house, another income, companionship. And, yes, probably, all this is so. But rushing into a relationship that won’t last hurts you and hurts your kids. Remember that your children are watching your every move; show them how a sensible adult handles romantic interests.
4. Let your kids be kids. Your support system is not your own children. If you’re a mother, your son is not “the man of the family” and your daughter is not your best friend. If you’re a father, your son is not your best buddy and your daughter is not your “little mama” or the family housekeeper. Children shouldn’t worry along with you about finances or relationships or your job. Let your kids be kids.
5. Remember what’s important. Single parents are busy, doing the work of two adults. But make certain that each day with your kids includes a meal together, some conversation, some reading, games, walks, whatever. This goes double if you see your kids only on the weekends. Quality time is key. Nothing is more important than that.
6. Keep it real. Pay attention to what’s going on for your kids and don’t ignore warning signs. If your children are struggling in school, having trouble with friends, seem withdrawn, depressed, or angry, get help. Talk to someone at your child’s school and get a referral to free or low-cost services. Help is out there. Take action.
7. Speak well of your child’s biological parent. No matter what your relationship is or was with your child’s other parent, your child is still related to this person and needs to know that this person has good qualities. Your child will adopt as his own the traits you describe his other parent having, so emphasize the good stuff. Keep your anger and disappointment to yourself.
8. Stretch your dollars. Raising kids is expensive. Most single parents are poor. Those are the realities. So get creative and uncouple yourself from a consumer mindset. You and your kids can have as rich and satisfying a life as every other family but do it, not by buying stuff, but by doing stuff. Doing is often free and doing is how great memories are made.
9. Make time for yourself. Being all things to all your children is exhausting. You need to recharge. Set a reasonable bedtime for your kids and stick to it. Make certain you have an hour or more to yourself before bed to read, think, and breathe. Slow down. Keep your life on a human scale.
10. Look to your future. Unlike in two-parent families, when your child goes off to college or moves into a place of her own, you will be left all alone. Every parent realizes eventually that children grow up and move on but not every parent is ready. Be different. Be ready to grow along with your kids in new directions. Be ready to move ahead too. 

We know from recent history that children raised by single parents turn out well—two became Presidents, after all. Your kids can turn out well too. Make it happen! 


Word of the Day

November 16, 2011 6:26 pm

Property tax deductions. The Internal Revenue Service allows homeowners to claim as itemized personal deductions money paid for state and local realty taxes, as well as interest on debt secured by their homes. It also allows for the deduction of loan prepayment penalties, and the deduction of points on new loans.

Question of the Day

November 16, 2011 6:26 pm

Q: Are buyers protected against housing discrimination?

A: By law, real estate agents may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. They also cannot follow spoken or implied directives from the home seller to discriminate. If you suspect you have been discriminated against, a complaint may be filed with the local Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office nearest you. You may call HUD’s toll-free number, 1-800-669-9777, or visit its web site at

Prepare Your Home for Winter with New Windows and Doors

November 15, 2011 6:26 pm

As temperatures drop, it's time for homeowners to inspect their windows and doors to prepare for winter. Pella offers energy-efficient products to help homeowners reduce their energy costs, including the new Pella® 350 Series window and patio door line.

"This is an ideal time of year to really evaluate if your home is suffering from energy loss," said John Noel, general manager, Pella Windows and Doors of Omaha. "Before we experience the Midwest's extremely cold temperatures, replacing windows and doors is a cost-effective solution to helping instantly achieve greater energy-efficiency for a home."

Window, door inspection checklist
The first step in preparing your home for winter is by doing an inspection to check for potential maintenance issues. Tips for checking your windows and doors include:
• Inspect the interior and exterior finishes around windows and doors for signs of paint flaking and peeling.
• Look at the weather stripping around all doors and windows. Re-attach any loose portions and replace portions that are ripped or torn.
• Moisture and condensation between panes of insulating glass can occur when the seal between the panes of glass fails. This fogging may be a sign that a replacement is needed.
• Look for signs of air leakage. Improperly installed windows or doors which permit air leakage can decrease energy efficiency.

For more information visit

Money-Saving Tips for the Holidays

November 15, 2011 6:26 pm

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) wants to remind its customers there are ways to save during the holidays. The following tips were compiled by Kroger from a variety of sources, including its own associates, mom bloggers and frugal living experts.

• Pair coupons with sales: "Pairing coupons with sales is the best way to get the most for your money. Stockpile holiday cooking staples, using a coupon when they are on sale, so that you aren't running out to the store at the last minute and paying full price," says Marcy Robison, owner of couponing blog
• Look for "bundled" savings: Andrea Deckard, founder of the site, recommends watching for store discount offers on turkeys and hams that are bundled with other staples. "Many will offer great discounts when you purchase other items during your shopping trip. This is also a great time to stock up so you can have inexpensive protein options available throughout the year."
• Plan the menu: "Planning allows you to identify the shelf-stable items you can buy in advance and the fresh foods to purchase just prior to your holiday meal," explains Margaret McClure, vice president of Kroger's bakery and deli operations. "This will help maximize every shopping trip and avoid the stress of running out to the store at the last minute."
• Search High and Low: Name brand items are usually placed at eye level, so be sure to check the shelves above and below to compare prices. And remember to pay attention to the price per unit, which will often drop when items are purchased in bulk," says Shannon Jarvies, who owns the popular blog

For more information, visit

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