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Mary Mastroeni

Mary's Blog

Do-It Yourself: Deck Staining

July 16, 2012 5:38 pm

(ARA) - Most deck owners know that one of the keys to keeping their decks looking good is staining it every few years. However, while deck staining is a process that most homeowners are capable of doing themselves, finding the time to do it can be difficult. With the right approach and the right products, you can get everything done in just one day and spend the rest of the year enjoying your newly stained deck.

By perfecting your process, you can take staining from something that you dread to a simple one-day process. Here's a step-by-step guide to getting your deck looking good in a day:

First, choose the look you want to project on your deck. Do you want a clear, semi-transparent or solid finish? Do some research to see which type of wood stain would look best on your deck. Clear finish generally looks better on newer wood, while a solid finish might be used on older decks to hide imperfections. If you are looking for the solution that will allow you to accomplish your project in one day, you'll need to choose a product which can be applied within a few hours of cleaning the surface.

Always know your deck's square footage before heading to the store to buy stain. Don't estimate, because nothing is more frustrating than having to stop your project because you ran out of stain. Make sure you also have all the necessary supplies before leaving the store.

Before the day you stain, examine your deck to see if there are any necessary repairs that should be done. If your deck is squeaky, it's likely due to loose nails. Replace loose or missing nails with deck screws, as hammering a nail into the same spot won't fix the problem.

Once you have all the supplies, check the weather report and pick a day that's good for staining. Temperatures should range between 50 and 90 F, and there should be at least 48 hours without a threat of rain.

Remove everything from your deck and use a wood cleaner to clean and prepare your surface. Decks that are in good condition can simply be cleaned before staining. But if your deck is peeling, has mildew growth or experiencing other surface irregularities, it's best to strip it before staining.

If you're using a one coat waterproofing finish, you can begin staining a few hours after you prepped the surface. Quick tip: If you're using multiple cans of stain, mix them together for color consistency and continue to stir throughout the process.

Work the entire length of each board and make sure you are applying evenly throughout. If you are working on a vertical surface, start at the bottom and work up to avoid streaking.

Take your time to do a thorough job, but make sure you use only as much stain as the directions call for. Especially when working with oil products, using too much can ruin the look of your deck.

It's important to note that for larger decks, or decks that pose unique challenges such as numerous hard-to-reach areas, the process could take longer than a day. But by following these steps, you'll ensure that your deck will be looking great in less time and with less hassle.

Once you've finished staining, dispose of any extra stain or cleaner as directed by the instructions on the can and let the deck dry for the prescribed amount of time before walking or placing items on it. In no time, you'll be enjoying your deck for the seasons to come.



Word of the Day

July 16, 2012 5:38 pm

Mortgage company or mortgage banker. Financial intermediary that offers mortgages to borrowers, and then resells them to various lending institutions, government agencies, or private investors.


Q: What Are Some Costs Associated with Buying a New Home?

July 16, 2012 5:38 pm

A: Basically, the costs are no different from when you purchased your existing home. They include moving expenses, loan costs, the down payment, a home inspection, title work and policy, and paying for a new hazard insurance policy. Your lender can give you a disclosure of estimated costs when you apply to be pre-approved for a home loan.


History Lesson in Hammocks

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

Recently I wrote about the idea of adding a hammock to the porch, deck, or anywhere on your property where it might be appropriate to occasionally lean back and enjoy an old-fashioned siesta.

So when we went looking for some fine detail about these little hanging beauties, I found a goldmine of information at According to KW's hammock historians, some people believe that the hammock was first invented in Athens by the statesman Alcibiades (c.450-404 BC), a student of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates.

However, KW says the use of hammocks for sleeping in was not widely adopted by the ancient Greek culture. In fact it was the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean Islands and Central America that were the first to incorporate the Hammock as essential item in their day to day life over 1,000 years ago.

Although the folks at KW are unsure of exactly which tribe or cultural group did invent the hammock history reveals that the device was rapidly adopted by every culture from Southern Mexico all the way down to Northern Brazil and has been an integral part of their life style ever since.

For anyone who has visited this region it quickly became apparent why the hammock is an excellent choice for sleeping during the night and relaxing away the day, being suspended off the ground provides better air circulation keeping the body cool and dry in a hot tropical environment - and it has the added benefit of protection from insects, scorpions, spiders and snakes.

These traditional style hammocks were first introduced to Europeans when Christopher Columbus returned to Spain from a Caribbean voyage in the 1400s. And it did not take long for those early seafaring explorers to discover the benefits of using hammocks on board ships.

Even today it is not unusual to see hammocks hung between the mast and the forestay on recreational sailboats. Most recently the trend in hammocks has been a retreat from hard ropes and a return to the uncompromised comfort of the Caribbean, Mayan, Brazilian, Columbian or Nicaraguan hammocks.

If you have limited space, or just one small shade tree to suspend your new relaxation station, consider a Caribbean hammock chair. These beauties are hand-woven from miles of weather resistant polyester cord that has been soft-spun to provide a softer than cotton feel.

The models at even offer a wider 47-inch hardwood spreader bar for more shoulder room. So what are you waiting for? Get swinging!


Money Saving Laundry Tips

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

Laundry may have been one of the first things you learned to do when you moved out of your parent’s place. But even seasoned launderers can still learn a few new tricks in savvy sudsing.

“Laundry detergent can be expensive and it’s a product just about everyone values,” says Anderson, president of Country Save Corp, maker of all-natural laundry and dish detergents.

Almost every brand of detergent has a declaration of loads per box on its packaging, he says. And for almost every brand, the number on the box does not match the scooper size provided in the box.
Anderson, whose environmentally safe Country Save laundry detergent is also distributed by the Department of Defense to all soldiers in the field, offers these facts about using your detergent prudently and economically.

• Don’t just fill up the scoop and dump it in the washer.
“You definitely won’t get the maximum number of loads from the box,” Anderson says. “For instance, if you use Ultra Tide’s 40-load box and fill the scoop for every load, you’ll get just 15 scoops per box.” Instead, he says, put on your glasses, if necessary, and look at the lines on the side of the scoop. The top line, for a full load, is usually well below the lip of the scoop. Highlight the lines with a dark-colored marker to help you avoid the problem in the future. If you have soft water, using half the recommended amount is sufficient.

• Too much soap causes clothes to fade faster.
Over-use of detergent is actually the leading cause of fading. Clothing may also acquire a thin, filmy layer of soap because your washer can’t thoroughly rinse the fabric. Do you tend to be itchy? It could be you’re wearing your detergent!

• Too much soap’s not good for your washing machine, either. Excess soap can gum up the works as soap deposits and lint form in your washing machine. These can contribute to mold – and its accompanying stench; they can plug up filters and other openings; and they can lead to mechanical breakdowns. In some machines, you may also end up wasting (and spending more for) water as the machine spins into extended cycles in an effort to remove the soap.

• Run a test load to see if you’re over-soaping. Run a load with clothes only – no detergent. Do you see suds? That’s an indication of how much detergent you are wearing.

• Reduce pollutants by using an all-natural detergent. While Country Save had the first phosphate-free detergent on the market back in 1977, many companies have now removed the additive because of its harmful effects on rivers, lakes and other fresh water. However, most companies continue to use other additives, such as optic brighteners, fragrances and dyes, Anderson says. “The more often consumers choose the most natural products, the better off our environment will be – even if some people still use too much!



Ways to Prep for a Hurricane

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

Most people take fire safety seriously and have fire extinguishers handy and escape routes pre-planned should a blaze threaten their home. Yet while tornadoes and the violent storms surrounding them are far more common than homeowners realize, many homeowners don't take the necessary steps to prepare for these destructive storms. On average, some 1200 tornadoes appear each year in the U.S.
With the possibility that the 2012 storm season will be a long and challenging one, The Hanover Insurance Group today provided tips to help home and business owners in tornado-prone states to prepare and minimize damages.

While tornadoes can occur in the United States during any month, weather conditions produce a peak season that runs through October. In areas of the country subject to the harshest storms, winds can far exceed those of even the strongest hurricanes, averaging between 110-205 mph.

"Tornadoes can form in every state east of the Rockies," said Mark Desrochers, president of The Hanover's personal lines business. "Preparing for a tornado is a practical safety precaution that should be taken by all households in these states. With proper preparations, home and business owners can significantly reduce the risks of injury to their family and pets, as well as damage to their property. This also enables them to recover quicker."

To help prepare for a tornado and respond in the event one strikes, The Hanover suggests the following 10 tips:

1) Make an action plan. Prepare in advance so that when a tornado watch is issued, you already have an existing plan of action. Unlike hurricanes, which tend to be closely monitored for days, tornadoes can spring up quickly. In many cases, you will have to take shelter within minutes in your own home or a below-ground storm shelter. Experts advise never trying to outrun a tornado by car. Instead, move to the basement or to an inner windowless room or interior hall. Protect your head and neck with your arms and hands. Ensure everyone knows the action plan.

2) Create a survival kit. After a storm, it may be impossible to use roads for several days. You may be forced to live in your home for a while even if it is wrecked or you're without electricity and water. So, it's wise to assemble a survival kit containing a week's worth of non-perishable food, bottled water, paper plates and cups, eating utensils, medicines, first aid handbook and bandages, blanket, a radio, batteries, flashlight, soap and toiletries, bleach for disinfecting, and spare clothing. Store the kit in the basement or other safe area.

3) Have debris removal tools on-hand. There may be a significant amount of debris following a tornado that will have to be moved just to exit your structure. Some of this will be splintered wood and glass. With this in mind, store helpful items -- including heavy soled shoes, gloves, eye protection and a small shovel to safely move debris. This should be kept in the same area as your survival kit.

4) Create a home inventory. Tornadoes can destroy your home and its contents, making it difficult to document your property losses, which can impede your recovery. With a proper home inventory you will have an acceptable means of documenting ownership and value in the event of a claim. Photograph or shoot video of your entire home or business, including the contents of each room, and store these with a written inventory and serial numbers in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.

5) Ensure you have proper coverages in place. It is always a good idea to review your homeowner's policy with your independent insurance agent, ensuring you have enough coverage for your contents and the physical structure as well. Also ask about other coverages that may be of value to you in the event of a tornado loss, such as reimbursement for temporary living expenses.

6) Create and share contact info. All family members should have the personal and business contact information (phone/email) for quick communications. Also ensure you have your agent and insurer's claims office numbers stored in your mobile phone. After a storm, cell service may be more accessible than local land lines. Have important numbers on hand to help expedite your recovery after the storm. It's important to keep your cell phone charged in advance, as power may be out for days.

7) Wait for official notice before returning home. If there is an evacuation after a storm, wait for official notice that it is safe to return to your home. When returning to your home, be cautious when entering a damaged structure. Stay away from damaged or weakened walls.

8) Take photographs and/or video documenting claim damage. Should your home or business be damaged in a tornado, take pictures of the entire scene and document all damage -- provided it is safe. Try not to remove items until an insurance adjuster has had an opportunity to visit the property and assess the damage.

9) Keep an accurate record of any temporary repairs or expenses
. If you do need to make temporary repairs to help preserve the remains of your home or personal property, keep all records to ensure that they may be considered in your claim.

10) Engage with an Independent Agent. With careful preparation and planning -- and assistance from your insurance professional -- you can rest assured that you have the right coverages to meet your needs and a good plan of action in place. This will reduce the time and effort required to recover from a tornado and other major weather events.

While no one can tell you for sure whether a tornado or other weather event will strike your area, they are occurring with increasing frequency. So it is a good idea to consult with a local Independent Agent, have the right insurance carrier to meet your needs, and to be as prepared as you can in advance of such events.



Word of the Day

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

Mortgage. Legal document that creates a lien on property; it secures the repayment of a loan.


Q: How Can I Get a Quick Sale, Particularly in a Slow Market?

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

A: One of the most important things to consider is price. You may want to reduce the price of your home or, at the very beginning, set it at a low price that will generate more buyer interest.

Cash is often an incentive, both for the buyer as well as the agent. You could offer the buyer a $1,000 to $2,000 decorating rebate upon closing the deal. It is also not uncommon to offer the selling agent a $500 bonus. However, some brokers – who supervise agents and run real estate offices – may prohibit such incentives, as do some Realtor boards. Check to find out.

Other common incentives: paying for the property inspection and warranty policy and getting your home preliminarily approved for FHA and VA loans, thereby making it more attractive to a larger number of buyers. Contact a lender who writes FHA-insured and VA-guaranteed loans.


Aging in Place: Tech Advancements

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

I haven’t touched on aging in place for a couple of months, and was reminded that as time marches on, so do technological advancements for those hoping to age in place. Thanks to Laurie Orlov who blogs at, I was reminded of several new developments.

If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, than Necessity may be the company to turn to for the latest high-tech invention for aging in place. The Florida company is touting its system of sensors linked with an artificial intelligence algorithm that is able to learn the senior’s habits and detect patterns that could indicate a fall or loss of consciousness, and initiate a personal response protocol if necessary.

Designed specifically for seniors who live alone, the Necessity system solves this problem in a non-intrusive yet effective way, according to a company release. The solution includes a series of infrared, pressure and magnetic sensors which are installed in the older person’s home and are connected wirelessly to a central processing unit.

Thanks to a patented artificial intelligence algorithm, the system silently learns the senior’s daily routines and compares their activity with patterns that could indicate a fall or loss of consciousness. Learn more

I also like the Mobile HERO 24-7. Mobile HERO 24-7 is an Android Mobile Phone App which converts an Android Phone into a Mobile Personal Emergency Response Device.
If a fall occurs, an automatic fall detection coded alert goes out to 24-7 emergency call center, along with the GPS location of the incident .

If a medical or police emergency happens, the subscriber touches either the medical or police icons and a coded alert also goes out to a 24-7 emergency call center, along with the GPS location of the incident. The call center operator then ascertains the type of emergency that has occurred and contacts the appropriate emergency response, if needed.

Learn more at


7 Tips for Choosing a Retirement Community

July 13, 2012 5:36 pm

There are many choices to consider when it comes to retirement living. Those contemplating a move to a retirement community will find more options available than ever before. Whether researching a retirement community for yourself or a loved one, it's important to ask the right questions, keeping in mind factors such as present and future needs, community location, and financial situation, among other considerations.

Following these tips will put you on the right path toward finding a retirement community that will best meet your needs now and for the long-term.

1. Check the background of the community: Find out who owns and manages the community, as well as the track record of management. Determine whether the community is accredited for meeting high standards in services, operations and finances. Visit for a list of accredited communities by state. Review the financial performance of the organization, including any credit ratings the company has received from agencies like Standard & Poor's or Fitch.

2. Consider future health needs: Retirement communities today offer many amenities and services but not all provide medical care, making another move a possibility should health needs change. Continuing care retirement communities are the only type of senior community that offers independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care on a single campus. Some CCRCs even offer specialized programs such as memory care, home health care, and adult day programs as part of their services.

3. Get detailed information about fees: Learn what all fees do and do not include, when fees are subject to increase and under what conditions. Ask about the average fee increase over the past five years. Consider the financial advantages and disadvantages of the contract options the community offers.

4. Meet with residents and tour the community:
Arrange an appointment to tour the community, meet with residents and staff, and to sample the food and the service. Notice if the community is clean, well maintained and secure.

5. Use a services and amenities checklist:
Get a complete information packet that includes application for admission, fee schedules, floor plans and the resident contract. Compare each community's pricing to amenities, programs and services that are important to you.

6. Ask about recreational and social activities:
Find out what kind of social, cultural, educational, spiritual and wellness activities are available. Is there an activities director on staff to plan entertainment, events, and trips? Is transportation available?

7. Consider location and find out if there is a waiting list:
Is the community located near family, friends, doctor's office, place of worship, and shopping? Find out if there is a waiting list to move into the community and how it works.