Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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Fuel for School

August 2, 2012 6:50 pm

For parents, school day mornings are typically rushed. Getting the kids out of bed and on the bus is one thing, but managing to whip up breakfast, pack lunches and get everyone out the door on time requires planning and preparation.

As the morning rushes by, there's little time to pack a unique lunch or make snacks for everyone, including mom and dad. In fact, according to a national survey commissioned by DOLE® and conducted by Wakefield Research, 73 percent of moms say they have eaten their child's snack in a pinch.
To help save time and energy each day, check out these simple lunch-packing tips to revamp your morning routine and help create a smooth and stress-free school year.

Leverage last night's leftovers. Don't stick to the same old sandwich, juice box and snack regimen. Try adding instant rice to leftover chicken, transforming leftover steak into a hearty chili, or boiling some pasta to add to leftover hamburger meat. These simple tricks to repurposing yesterday's meal will save the family time and money this school year.

Share a smile. Lunch doesn't have to be elaborate every day. But there are plenty of fun, creative ways to make a simple lunch exciting, especially for the kids. For instance, cut sandwiches into different shapes with cookie cutters (you can find animal shapes and even puzzle-shaped cookie cutters online). Make the kids smile with a simple note or googly eyes on their sandwich wrapper. Try putting contact paper inside the lid for games or dry-erase notes that the kids can leave for you, too.

Keep it cool. There are plenty of ways to preserve your lunch so it's still tasty in the afternoon. Think outside the thermos and try freezing a yogurt cup or a juice box to keep lunches cold throughout the day.
Snack attack. With an on-the-go lifestyle, it's important to keep snacks on hand should hunger strike. In fact, according to the DOLE survey, 77 percent of women say they can't get through a normal day without a snack. After you pack up the family's lunches in the morning, be sure to grab some healthy snacks for your desk drawer or your purse so you can have a quick bite when necessary. The kids always need a pick-me-up after their school sports and activities, so make sure to have some fun snacks in the car.

Source: www.DOLE.com.

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Word of the Day

August 2, 2012 6:50 pm

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


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Q: How Do I Respond to a Low-ball Offer?

August 2, 2012 6:50 pm

A: Let your agent know it is too low to warrant a counteroffer and that you are willing to negotiate but only once a more reasonable offer is made. Ask the agent if the buyer was shown comparable market values of similar homes that have recently sold in your area; and ask if the buyer was ever properly qualified. You do not have to settle for less if you are realistic about your chances of getting more.

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Where’s the Best (and Worst) Air Out There?

August 1, 2012 6:48 pm

Under yet another unhealthy air warning, I started thinking about places where the air is almost always clean, crisp and healthy. This brought me to the American Lung Association’s latest State of the Air Report (stateoftheair.org)

For 13 years, the American Lung Association has analyzed data from state air quality monitors to compile the State of the Air report. This year’s report details the trend that standards set under the Clean Air Act to cleanup major air pollution sources—including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs—are working to drastically cut ozone (smog) and particulate pollution (soot) from the air.

The current study found that over 127 million people live in counties that received an F for pollution – that’s four out of 10 of us! And More than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health.

The Lung Association’s annual air quality report grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. The 13th annual report uses the most recent, quality-controlled EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010

Major improvements were seen in 18 of the 25 cities most polluted by ozone, including Los Angeles, which had the lowest smog levels since the report was first published in 2000. Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were among 17 of the 25 cities most polluted by annual particle pollution that experienced their cleanest years yet.

Four cities — Pittsburgh, San Diego, Philadelphia and Visalia, Calif., had their lowest-ever, short-term particle pollution level. For the first time, Birmingham, Ala., Detroit, Mich., and York, Pa., dropped completely off the report’s 25 most-polluted cities lists.

But it was Santa Fe, N.M., which was ranked as the cleanest city in the nation.

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Tips to Ease Strain of Gas Price Surge

August 1, 2012 6:48 pm

Is your gas tank on empty? How about your wallet?

"Gas prices have surged by about 15 cents a gallon in the past month according to AAA," says Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan, "and the Alliance calculates that American households will spend some $3,325 to fuel their vehicles this year. So if you plan a road trip this summer, be sure to use our fuel-efficiency tips to maximize mileage and savings."

Tips for Vehicle Maintenance
• Tune up. Fixing a car that's out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, saving about $77 a year. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor in an older car, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent, or more than $1,200!
• Keep tires properly inflated to improve mileage by up to 3.3 percent, or about $57 a year, as under-inflated tires can lower mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure in all four tires. Proper inflation also improves tire longevity – and driver and passenger safety. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) cautions not to rely on the pressure setting on the tire's sidewall, but to consult your owner's manual or look for a sticker on the driver's side door jamb or in the glove box.
• Use the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil or risk lowering your gas mileage by 1-2 percent, wasting up to $40 annually. DOE also advises looking for the phrase "Energy Conserving" on the American Petroleum Institute performance symbol to ensure that the oil contains friction-reducing additives.
• Get the junk out of the trunk! Remove unnecessary items in your vehicle's trunk – an extra 100 pounds could reduce your mileage by up to 2 percent, wasting about $38 a year.
• Also nix a loaded roof rack, which can cut fuel economy by 5 percent, or about $93 per year.

Tips for Smart Driving
• Avoid aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration and rapid braking can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds, wasting more than $925/year, and 5 percent around town, wasting about $93/year.
• Avoid speeding. Mileage usually decreases rapidly above 50 miles per hour. Each five mph over that speed is like paying another 24 cents per gallon.
• Avoid idling, which gets 0 miles per gallon, wasting a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner use – yet it takes only a few seconds' worth of fuel to restart your engine.
• Use cruise control. Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, save gas and money.
• And don't forget to engage the overdrive gear to reduce engine speed, which saves gas and reduces engine wear.
• Plan your trips. Combining errands into one trip saves not only time but money, too. Taking several short trips from a cold start each time can use twice as much fuel as one multipurpose trip covering the same distance with a warm engine.
• Beat the traffic. When possible, drive and/or commute during off-peak hours to avoid stop-and-go traffic. You'll reduce stress as well as gas costs!

Tips for Smart Commuting
• Use a more fuel-efficient vehicle, if you have a choice, whenever possible.
• Consider alternatives to driving solo. Take advantage of carpools and ride-share programs to cut your weekly fuel costs by as much as half – and save wear on your car. Many urban areas allow vehicles with multiple passengers to use High Occupancy Vehicle, or HOV, lanes which are typically less congested, further improving your fuel economy. Carpooling twice a week with two others can save each of you about $144/year.
• Also consider telecommuting from home, if your employer permits it. Doing that just twice a week can save you more than $430/year.
• Look into public transit options, too. The American Public Transportation Association has links to information about public transportation in each state.

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov.

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DIY: Air Conditioning & Heating

August 1, 2012 6:48 pm

While it’s always smart to call in the professionals for large problems, there are many things consumers can tackle themselves when it comes to air conditioning and heating.

Cleaning. It pays to always check the simple things first. Often all it takes to get an AC system blowing cool air again is a simple cleaning, a job that requires very little technical skill. Cleaning the inside of an outdoor AC unit may take the better part of an afternoon, but for many that will be better than having to pay for a professional to do such a simple job.

Thermostats. Another effective DIY solution involves AC systems that don't want to turn on. Again, it pays to check for the simple problems before calling a service tech. First, check the thermostat to ensure the settings are correct, then take a look at several power switches - most systems will have a switch on the home's main electrical panel and one set near the outside unit. Many times a system won't start because of a simple tripped breaker.

Water.
Water pooling near the outdoor AC unit is another common problem. In many cases, this is another easy fix. First, check to make sure none of the pipes are leaking, and replace any that are.
Source: http://www.comptonhvac.com.

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Tips to Stay Fit during Vacation

August 1, 2012 6:48 pm

With fall just around the corner, vacationers are in a frenzy to pack in last-minute summer vacations. Before hitting the beach, cruise ship, resort or another vacation destination, be prepared to reject the many indulgences that go hand-in-hand with a bit of relaxation!

Food
When we’re traveling, it’s easy to overindulge in local flavor, bursting buffets and cheap eats, but weeks of hard work can be undone in just a couple of weeks. Cruise ships are particularly notorious for their 24/7 buffet services, making it challenging to stick to a plan when tasty food is in constant rotation.

However, the following tips can help you overcome the craving for more:
1. Before dining, plan out your portions. Arriving to a meal with your mind set on the appropriate food size is helpful for controlling a potential binge. Consider ordering an appetizer as a meal, and pair it with a salad. Or, ask your server to box half of your entree to-go before it arrives at the table.
3. Stay hydrated. Often, lack of hydration is mixed up with feeling hungry, so keep drinking water to make sure your body is hydrated and free from any muddled hunger signals!
4. Snack, snack, snack. Instead of a few large meals throughout the day when you’re extremely hungry, pack different healthy snacks such as vegetables, fruit or nuts. When you’re ready for a main meal, you’ll likely make better choices as you won’t be ravenous.

Fitness
Want to exercise, but don’t want to be shackled to a hotel gym? Go outside! Take the opportunity to explore your new locale paired with your favorite exercise regimen. Pack your workout clothes and check these ideas:
1. Love to bike? Many destinations offer bicycle rentals for solo or private tours. Ideal for navigating longer stretches of land, biking offers opportunities to get active while sightseeing from the view of a local.
2. Morning jogs also enable tourists to view their destination while getting in a decent workout. If you’re in a beach city, consider a breezy coastal jaunt; if it’s a woodland area, take up a trail for added adventure.
3. Local sports, especially ones that are not familiar to you, can be an exciting way to learn about your destination’s culture while maintaining an active lifestyle.
4. Walk. Even if you’re not interesting in beach volleyball or a morning jog, walking to your destinations is a terrific way to tour the city and stay fit.

Source: http://www.LAWeightLoss.com.

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Q: Do I Have to Disclose Information about My Home?

August 1, 2012 6:48 pm

A: Disclosure could protect you from a lawsuit. Today, home sellers in most states must now fill out a form disclosing material facts about their homes. Material facts are details about the home’s condition or legal status, as well as the age of various components.
If your state does not require a written disclosure, the real estate laws probably require sellers to disclose any known problems with the home they are selling.

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Everything You Wanted to Know…About Vinegar

July 31, 2012 6:46 pm

Housekeeper Judith Martin has poured a quart of white vinegar through many a coffeemaker over the years to clean out the built-up oils and minerals. She mixes a bit of white vinegar into the mayo to add a little tang to potato salad.

“But,” says Martin,” even I was astonished to learn over the years what a great all-purpose cleaner and additive white vinegar really is.”

Martin, who has personally put it to the test in all the suggestions below, offers her 10 favorite tips for using natural and inexpensive white vinegar in place of more costly – and often less effective–chemical products:

• Remove lime build-up from the chrome fixtures on your sink or tub with a paste made of two tablespoons salt and one teaspoon of white vinegar.
• Clean the microwave by mixing ½ cup white vinegar and ½ cup water in a microwave-safe bowl. Bring it to a rolling boil inside the microwave to loosen baked-on food, then just wipe clean.
• To clean a grease-spattered oven door window, saturate it with full-strength vinegar. Leave oven door open for 15 minutes, then simply wipe clean with a sponge.
• Remove a label, decal or price tag by covering it overnight with a vinegar-soaked cloth. In the morning, it will easily slide off.
• Clean hardened paint brushes by soaking them for one hour in a pot of undiluted white vinegar. Then bring to a simmer for a few minutes, drain and wash clean.
• Clean and disinfect baby toys with a splash of white vinegar in a dishpan full of soapy water.
• Remove old wallpaper easily by wetting the surface thoroughly with a 50-50 solution of white vinegar and water. Use a paint roller to saturate, or use a spray bottle.
• Add shine to a no-wax vinyl floor by mopping with a solution of one cup vinegar to a gallon of water.
• Cut the grime on top of the fridge with a cloth or paper towel dipped in full-strength white vinegar.
• Clean most counter tops with a cloth soaked in undiluted white vinegar. DO NOT use on marble counter tops. The acid in vinegar may be harmful.

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Stay Cool Tips to Tackle the Heat

July 31, 2012 6:46 pm

Many are saying that the first half of 2012 are the hottest on record, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes that more than 40,000 daily heat records have been broken nationally so far.

The apparent increase in daily temperatures means that there is more exposure to heat in normal daily life, and that poses risks. An elderly or sick person’s body is not able to adjust to temperature changes like a younger healthy person does. So going from an air conditioned home to the extreme heat outside could have significant affects.

Chief Don Colarusso, a firefighter for more than 24 years says “Exposure to the heat can be very dangerous. A person can be seriously affected by the heat with little or no warning if the proper precautions are not followed - the most important thing is to keeping hydrated.”
Here are some safety tips to help with hot days.
• Staying hydrated by drinking more water than usual is of utmost importance. During activity and physical work outdoors staying in the shade is advisable also it’s very important to stay hydrated by drinking water both during heat exposure and afterwards.
• Avoiding caffeinated beverages such as soda, coffee, etc is recommended. Caffeine increases the body's need to urinate, which dehydrates the body.
• Sports drinks do help. Many sports drinks contain nutrients and help the body maintain the fluids that it needs.
• Being aware of the signs of heat exhaustion such as sweating, muscle cramping, dizzy, weakness, headache, fainting, tired, pale skin tone is also important.
• Being aware of the symptoms of heat stroke such as high body temperature, rapid pulse, headache, hot and dry skin with no sweat, and nausea can help recognize a very serious health hazard.

Source: CMC Rescue

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