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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
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Office Phone: 215-453-7653
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Tom's Blog

Question of the Day

July 28, 2011 4:59 pm

Q: Should I lock in the mortgage rate?

A: Because the interest rate market fluctuates constantly and is subject to quick movements without notice, locking in a mortgage rate with a lender certainly protects you from the time your lock is confirmed to the day it expires.

Lock-ins make sense in a rapidly-rising rate environment or when borrowers expect rates to climb during the next 30 to 60 days, which is typically the amount of time a lock-in remains in effect.

A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks to prepare a loan application. These days, however, automated loan practices have cut the time quite a bit.

Lock-ins are not necessarily free. Some lenders require you to pay a lock-in fee to guarantee both the rate and the terms.

If your lock-in expires before you close on the loan, most lenders will base the loan rate on current market interest rates and points.
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Sharpen Up Good Health Habits

July 27, 2011 6:59 pm

As the kids head back to school this fall, pencils aren't the only things that families can take time to sharpen. While parents work to establish new routines for the school year, they can also help the younger members of the household sharpen up good health habits to last a lifetime. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, students' academic achievement and their health are directly correlated. As you head into this school year, use these tips to teach new healthy habits that can become a way of life for the whole family. 

Germ-Free Hands. One of the most significant—and simple—health habits to teach is washing hands. Kidshealth.org, a website filled with family-friendly health tips, calls hand washing the first line of defense to keep germs at bay. 

To help youngsters learn the habit, enforce rules for the entire family. Insist on washing hands before every meal, after using the bathroom, after handling pets, after cleaning chores, after playing outside, and, of course, after blowing noses, sneezing and coughing. Several brands have created kid-friendly soap dispensers that are both fun and functional to inspire little ones to participate. 

Food as Fuel. Mornings may be hectic, but avoid the temptation to take shortcuts on breakfast. Kids need fuel to power through the day. Making breakfast part of the daily routine is also important for weight management. A nutritious morning meal helps fire up the metabolism, and it helps prevent over-eating to compensate for a hungry tummy later in the day. 

The experts at kidshealth.org recommend selecting foods that contain whole grains, fiber and protein with little added sugar in order to improve kids' attention span, concentration and memory. 

Sound Slumber. Although naptimes gradually diminish as children grow older, adequate sleep is still critically important. Too little sleep translates into irritability and other behavior problems, as well as difficulty paying attention in school. While the specific needs of each child will vary to some degree, school-age children and preteens should get between 10 and 12 hours of sleep each night. Implementing a consistent bedtime, especially on school nights, can help ensure your child's sleep needs are consistently met. Be sure to build in time for children to unwind before bed to help keep that nightly target on track with less stress for all involved. 

Balanced Immune System. Believe it or not, 70 percent of your immune system is in your digestive tract. The immune cells in the digestive tract share their space with a community of over 500 species of naturally-occurring bacteria. Keeping these bacteria in balance is what's important to boosting digestive and immune health. Taking a daily probiotic helps boost your immune system by keeping these bacteria in balance.
Probiotics are "friendly" bacteria that help balance the digestive system. Yogurt is a common source of probiotics, but many varieties contain a significant amount of sugar that may be off-putting, especially if you are aiming for a daily dose. However, there are products available, such as Sustenex Probiotic Gummy Bears and Soft Chews, which offer a lower calorie alternative for a daily dose of probiotics while also appealing to picky eaters and lactose intolerant youngsters. 

To learn more, visit www.sustenex.com. 

Treat this back to school season as an opportunity to reinforce healthy habits and set the stage for a successful year in the classroom, on the playground and at home.

For more information, please visit www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

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Don't Let Heat Exhaustion Affect Your Wallet during the Heat Wave

July 27, 2011 6:59 pm

Temperatures are high across North America, and air conditioners are a major player in keeping cool, which also means higher energy consumption and ultimately higher cooling bills. 

"Recent temperatures have been through the roof, and with the kids home on summer vacation, overall energy consumption is typically much higher," says Dave Walton, Director of Home Ideas at Direct Energy. "But you don't have to break out into a sweat about your energy bills, by implementing a few easy tips, you can keep your summer energy costs in check without having to sacrifice comfort." 

Direct Energy offers ten simple tips under ten dollars to help lower your energy bill this summer, without having to resort to wearing a swimsuit indoors. 

• Increase your thermostat by two degrees. Save up to $253 on your annual energy bill(1) by increasing the thermostat from 22 degrees to 24 degrees during the summer months
Cost: Free
• Close curtains or blinds on windows that are receiving direct sunlight to keep the heat out of the house
Cost: Free
• Replace the light bulbs in your home to compact fluorescents. Use energy-saving light bulbs that can last up to ten times longer than a normal bulb and use significantly less energy. A single 20- to 25-watt energy-saving bulb provides as much light as a 100-watt ordinary bulb
Cost: $2 - $8/bulb
• Seal your doors, windows and air ducts with weather stripping or caulk. Up to 30% of cooling can be lost through holes and cracks throughout your home. This can save you up to $150 a year on your energy bills
Cost: $5.00 – 10.00 for Weather Stripping, $3.00 – 5.00 for Caulk
• Unplug vampire electronics when not in use – items like cell phones, iPod, and computer chargers tend to suck energy even when they are not being used 
Cost: Free
• Defrost your freezer regularly. When ice builds up, your freezer uses more electricity
Cost: Free
• Microwaves use substantially less energy than ovens. Use one when cooking and reheating items. Even better, use the outdoor grill and have yourself a summer barbeque
Cost: Free
• If you're going to be away from home for a long time, say, on summer vacation, turn the temperature up. Better yet, turn the air conditioning unit off
Cost: Free
• Clean or replace your air conditioner's filter every month. Not only will it prevent wear-and-tear on your system, it can save up to 5% on your energy bills. Some filters cost more, make sure to follow the manufacturer specs for your equipment Cost: $3.00 - $10/per filter
• Close doors to less used rooms so your air conditioner doesn't have to work harder to cool unused spaces Cost: Free

For more information, please visit www.directenergy.com.
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Think Like a Plant during Drought: Gardening Techniques for Hot Weather

July 27, 2011 6:59 pm

When gardening in a drought it can be very difficult to make sure the plants in our gardens and landscape get the water they require to survive, much less thrive. With severe drought in most of the U.S. and water bans in effect in many areas, gardeners have no choice but to minimize the amount of water given to plants.
Understanding when to water and how plants function also helps gardeners understand the three premises of smart watering: focusing water delivery, increasing water retention and minimizing water loss. 

"It's possible to dramatically reduce your water consumption, lower your water bill and still have a beautiful, productive garden, just follow our Seven Tips to Save Water," said Maree Gaetani, gardening relations, Gardener's Supply. 

1. Deliver water directly to the roots.
Drip irrigation and soaker hoses ensure that up to 90 percent of the water you apply to your garden is actually available to your plants. Sprinklers can claim only a 40 to 50 percent efficiency. Drip irrigation minimizes evaporation loss and keeps the areas between plants dry, which also helps limit weed growth. Patented Aqua Cones are an economical and effective way to get water directly to the roots of individual plants. Water timers combined with soaker hoses are key to ensuring plants get the correct amount of water. 

2. Use mulch to retain water and reduce evaporation.
A six to eight-inch layer of organic mulch can cut water needs in half by smothering thirsty weeds and reducing evaporation. Organic mulches retain some water themselves and increase the humidity level around plants. 

Organic mulches include chopped or shredded leaves, straw, compost, salt hay, shredded newspaper, grass clippings and rotted hay. You can also use inorganic mulches such as Weed Matting, and to help save trees during a drought, use Coco Fiber Tree Rings or Recycled Rubber Tree Rings. 

3. Enhance Your Soil with Organic Matter and Other Soil Helpers.
Adding organic matter to your soil helps all types of soil, from sand to clay. Organic matter, in the form of compost, chopped up leaves or composted manure will improve the texture and water-holding capacity of your soil. Add at least an inch of compost each year. 

Terra-Sorb water-absorbing crystals can be mixed into the soil in your planters or even in a garden bed. As the soil around them dries, the crystals shrink, releasing their water to the soil. 

4. Reduce your lawn.
Turfgrass is one of the most water and labor-intensive types of "gardens" you can have. Consider planting groundcovers or low-maintenance perennials instead. 

5. Use free water.
Rainwater is the best choice for your plants and it's easy to harvest rainwater with rain barrels. It's clear, unchlorinated and free. Use rain barrels or a cistern to collect water from your downspouts. A 1,000 square foot roof will yield 625 gallons of water from one inch of rain. To figure out how much you can collect from your roof, use the Rainfall Harvest Calculator. 

6. Don't get Discouraged - Next Year Plan Before You Plant
By planning your garden before you plant, you can take advantage of the characteristics of your site, such as sun, shade, wind and soil. Group plants with similar water needs. Also consider how your plants will get the water they need. Planning will save you time and energy down the road. 

7. Take good care of your plants.
Healthy plants need less water, fertilizer and pest controls than stressed plants. By keeping on top of tasks, such as weeding, thinning, pruning and monitoring pests, a homeowner will be able to ease off on watering.

For more information, visit www.gardeners.com.
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8 Tips for Protecting Kids from Cyberbullies

July 27, 2011 6:59 pm

Cyber Safety month is now behind us and the hype of internet safety will quickly die down. To keep internet safety top of mind for parents, TrueCare announced 8 easy best practices for monitoring kids' social media sites and internet usage. 

TrueCare, a social media monitoring service for parents, allows parents to monitor their child's online social networking activity without invading their child's privacy. More importantly, TrueCare helps parents identify potential online dangers and offers tools and resources to help them navigate parenting in the super social age. 

"It's never too early to start talking to your kids about internet dangers, it's important to keep an open dialogue and these conversations need to happen often," says TrueCare advisor and national family safety expert Alison Rhodes, "The Safety Mom." "Bullying, specifically cyberbullying, is an issue that's growing at epidemic proportions." 

Back to Basics; Eight common sense tips for maintaining a safe internet environment in your home. 

1. Discussion. Discussion. Discussion.
Parents must have a good sense about what's going on in their kids' online worlds. Since Facebooking has become a daily routine for kids, it needs to be part of the daily conversation. The more open you are with your kids and facilitate a safe and non-judgmental environment for conversation, the more likely they are to tell you if they come across an issue. While the idea of openness and parenting sometimes seem like they shouldn't go together, imagine this: do you want to talk about things at the dining room table in a calm atmosphere or after something forces the issue? 

2. Keep the Computer in a Common Area
Laptops, smart phones, and tablets have allowed us to overlook the cardinal rule of kids on the internet—keep the communication vehicles in a common area where parents can monitor websites and time allocated to internet activity. Making them mobile makes it even more difficult to monitor and manage. We all grew up without access to the internet on our phones and still managed to survive. Your kids can too. 

3. Manners for Texting, E-Mailing or Chatting Online
As you do in other aspects of your child's life, set the expectations for manners and appropriate behavior in their digital world. Coach them to be respectful and to think carefully before they put their thoughts into written words. Remember, typed communications are not the same as verbal communications. Typed communications can easily be forwarded along to others and can last forever. 

4. Understand the Privacy Settings of Social Media Sites
While privacy settings can sometimes be difficult to find and hard to navigate, understanding the privacy settings can save you time and heartache down the road. They control what information people can and can't see and what information is sent out upon posting. Be certain that any settings are set to your preferences. Also remember that Facebook prohibits children under the age of 13 from even having a Facebook account. 

5. Posting Pictures -- Interpretation is in the Mind of the Beholder
A picture posted online is not private. A photo sent between cell phones is not private. Make sure that your children are aware that mistakes do happen and so-called private messages go public, or that sometimes people you trust make mistakes in judgment. Once a photo hits Facebook it can be downloaded and reposted across the entire web within hours. Explain that on the internet, nothing is really ever gone, and the consequences of an immature decision will be viewable for years to come. 

6. Kids and Adults Should Not be Friends
You and your kids should be connected in social media so you can monitor their behavior. However, you may need to be careful with their connections to other adults because of the adult content that person and their friends can bring to your kids' social networks. 

7. Teach Children What to do If They Get an Offensive or Threatening IM, e-mail, or Chat Room Post
According to the National Crime Prevention Center, in 2010 over 40% of children were the victim of an online bully. Of that number, 90% never discussed the situation with their parents. The more conversations you have with your kids about what occurs online, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what's going on. Take every opportunity to teach them how to manage themselves in confusing situations. 

8. If Your Child Has a Social Media Account, They Are at Risk.
No one can hide on the internet. A social media account means that a child's personal information is available in a search engine. Be certain that content is managed appropriately. Performing a Google search every once in a while may be a good idea to make sure that you're aware of your kids' online presence. 

For more information, please visit www.truecare.com. 


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Word of the Day

July 27, 2011 6:59 pm

Convey. To transfer property from one person to another.
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Question of the Day

July 27, 2011 6:59 pm

Q: Are condos good investments?

A: They are a good way to enter into homeownership. The high price of single-family homes and the influx into the housing market of more single homebuyers have made condos relatively hot national investments. They have held their value as an investment despite economic downturns and problems with some associations.

Condominium associations have also worked hard in recent years to clean up their image. Disputes and lawsuits were once rampant. But now associations have become savvier about property management and have taken steps to prevent legal problems and disputes.

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6 Tips for Free Vacation Perks

July 26, 2011 4:59 pm

So you think you can’t afford a vacation. “Well, maybe you can’t this year,” says Laguna Beach travel consultant Ricardo Gomez. “But if you play your cards right, you can plan ahead for a 2012 vacation at a bargain basement price.”

Gomez offers six tips for getting flights, room accommodations and even some food that may cost you less than you think:

• Frequent flier miles – You may not be a frequent flier, but you can take advantage of credit cards that let you pile up miles for your everyday purchases, including groceries and gasoline. Examples: Delta Skymiles and Citibank AAdvantage. Just remember, once you’ve earned enough miles for a free flight, to make your reservations well in advance of travel.
• Wheels at destination. Many hotels offer free shuttles to and from the airport – and/or to nearby tourist attractions, such as a Disney site. Check these options out before locking in your room reservations – and remember that frequent flier miles may also be redeemed for rental cars.
• Free (or cheap) lodging – Yes, your frequent flier miles can be redeemed for free hotel rooms. But there are other options as well. Exchange homes with another traveler through sites like homestay.com, or use VRBO.com to find inexpensive rentals by owner or couchsurfing.com to find a place to crash for free.
• Free food – Many hotel chains offer free breakfast with your room stay. Many bed and breakfast accommodations often provide daily snacks—like fruit or cookies—all day long. And once you reach your destination, check local newspapers for 2-for-1 dinner specials or other restaurant discounts.
• Free tourist attractions – Museums are inexpensive at best. But check websites in advance for free admission offers on certain days or times. More than 100 national parks also offer free admission days. And you can get a great view of the skyline without spending much on the Staten Island ferry in New York or the Algiers ferry in New Orleans.
• Free entertainment – Check the calendar listings in local papers for free live music, festivals and other events. You may also find free walking tours—and check the student center at local colleges or universities for free or inexpensive entertainment events on campus.
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The Heat is On – But Energy Efficiency Can Curb Summer Energy Bills

July 26, 2011 4:59 pm

While the “Dog Days” of summer may have you down while your energy bills are up, the Alliance to Save Energy advises consumers to take energy efficiency steps around the home that will keep you cooler and more comfortable, while cutting your energy bills.

“Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to reduce energy costs and extend our nation’s energy supplies,” says Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “Consumers can use smart energy practices and energy-efficient technologies to save significantly on their energy bills—and be more comfortable in their homes.”

The Alliance has projected the average U.S. household will spend around $2,200 on home energy this year, so using these “no sweat” tips can help you beat the heat:

Keeping Your Cool
• Make sure your AC equipment is in top running order, since cooling puts the greatest stress on your summer energy bills. A professional “tune-up” could save you the cost and misery of a breakdown on the hottest days.
• A programmable thermostat automatically coordinates temperatures in your home with your daily and weekend patterns. This can reduce your bills by up to10% by raising the temperature while your house is empty. And the device “remembers” to turn the air conditioning down when you won’t be home and back up, so you return to a cool, comfortable house.
• Using ceiling fans to circulate air will make you feel cooler and can allow you to raise the temperature setting on your AC thermostat by a few degrees. But be sure to turn the fan off when you leave the room, because fans cool people, not rooms. Replacing your 12+-year-old central air conditioning system (CAC) with an ENERGY STAR-qualified model could cut your cooling costs by 30%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And while these products can have a higher purchase price, the cost difference will be paid back over time through lower energy bills, EPA adds.
• Having properly sized CAC systems or window units will ensure optimum performance. EPA says a system that’s too large will not keep your home comfortable due to frequent “on/off” cycling.
• Purchase an AC unit with the highest Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) that you can afford—the higher the SEER level, the more energy efficient the equipment. Current federal appliance standards require a SEER rating of at least 13 on CAC systems.
• Clean or replace CAC system filters monthly —and do the same for window unit filters even more frequently.

Keeping the Heat Outside
• Plug energy leaks with weather stripping and caulking, and be sure your house is properly insulated, to save up to 20% on energy bills.
• Consider investing in energy-efficient windows to save money and increase indoor comfort.
• Curtains and shades on the sunny sides of your home will provide additional relief.
• Chose energy-efficient lighting, since inefficient incandescent light bulbs emit 90% of their energy as heat instead of light. So instead of heating your home with bulbs, buy CFLs and LEDs, which are 75% more energy-efficient than traditional incandescents, saving you money and energy.

Clever in the Kitchen
• Keep the coils clean on your refrigerator to reduce energy bills and extend the life of the appliance. Your fridge runs 24/7 and accounts for almost 10% of your total home electricity bill, so checking the coils located behind or underneath the fridge can save you money.
• Replacing your old fridge from the 1980s with an ENERGY STAR model can save you more than $100 each year. Replacing a 1970s fridge with an ENERGY STAR model can save nearly $200 each year! Use the ENERGY STAR Savings Calculator to find out how much you can save by replacing an old refrigerator.
• Shift energy-intensive household chores to off-peak hours—nights, mornings and weekends—when there is less strain on the power grid. Plus, operating dishwashers and washing machines at these times with full loads will get you the most for your energy dollars.
• ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers and clothes washers will save water and energy. Choose clothes dryers with moisture sensors that reduce drying time. 

For more information, please visit www.ase.org.
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Stress-Relieving Tips for Families Living with a Serious Medical Condition

July 26, 2011 4:59 pm

A chronic or rare illness can harm more than a person's health—it can also affect the strongest of relationships. Because the ill partner isn't feeling well, he or she may be prone to significant mood swings. If the caregiver is not able to adjust to these shifts in demeanor, the relationship can be strained and both parties can find themselves in a state of depression. 

At the same time, keeping a strong relationship is critical for those facing a serious medical condition. According to an article published in the Journal PLoS Medicine, people with rich and fulfilling relationships have a 50 percent greater likelihood of achieving a positive outcome with their health than those who lack meaningful companionship. 

Here are three tips to help families facing a rare and serious medical condition handle stress: 

Tip 1: Keep Lines of Communication Open
A lack of communication in a relationship can lead to distance and a lack of intimacy, which could ultimately harm the sick partner's ability to get well. According to the American Psychological Association, discussing challenging issues related to a partner's illness allows families to work through difficulties more effectively than if the issues are ignored. 

Lynne Doebber is one person who has benefited from open lines of communication with family members. Lynne has common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), a type of primary immunodeficiency (PI) in which her immune system functions inadequately, leaving her with greater susceptibility to infection. 

"I am fortunate to have a strong support system in my family," Lynne says. “By keeping an open dialogue with them, I am able to navigate through difficult times associated with PI, a rare and serious medical condition." 

Tip 2: Schedule Your Treatment around Your Life
Treatment regimens and doctors appointments can disrupt a family's routine and take time from shared activities and interests. It is important for patients to speak with their doctors about available treatment options and the best therapy to fit their needs. 

Tip 3: Look Out for the Caregiver's Well-Being —It's a Two Way Street
While the ill partner is generally the center of attention, caregivers need to focus on their own physical and emotional health as well. The website Caring.com reports 1 in 4 caregivers say they experience depression, significantly higher than the national average documented in a study last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of this, it is essential for the well-being of the caregiver that his or her needs are also being met. 

Chronic illness can challenge the strongest of relationships, so it is essential that families support each other and work together to manage the disorder. 

For more information, visit www.cslbehring.com.
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