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Mary Mastroeni

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Be the Best Summer Party Host of Your Neighborhood

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

I know there’s still plenty of summer left for parties. And it was great to come across a summer party blog from Design Consultant Vanessa Pereira of Vanessa Pereira Interior (midatlanticbuilders.com).

Pereira says that whether you are planning a small and intimate barbecue among friends or a large potluck, you will be regarded as the consummate host by executing the perfect combination of planning, and making guests feel at home.

Here are a few of her ideas to help you achieve summer party uber-host status:

• Mix up the seating Create several seating areas throughout your yard/deck so your guests can form smaller conversation groups.

• Account for anything that might prevent entertaining outside: If you think bugs, rain, heat, or cold might get in the way of your party; make sure you have a backup plan to bring the guests indoors.

• Buy two of the same tablecloth if your table is too large for one to cover. Simply fold each in half and drape over the ends of the table leaving the middle of the table uncovered for your decorations and extra silverware.

• Carve holes into apples, pears, or other firm produce to make unique garden-theme candleholders. Produce can make attractive serving pieces as well — serve fruit salads in melon halves.

• Use candles on the table if you’ll be dining outdoors after dark. To create magical overhead lighting, Pereira says make wire cradles for jars and suspend them from trees.

• Keep unwanted pests away from individual dishes using wire domes, sometimes called flywalks, which are available at kitchenware stores.

• Buy extra bags of ice, have mosquito repellant available for your guest, be prepared for spills and make sure to have extra trashcans on the corners. Your guests will be impressed with the details.

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Greening Your Home: Start at the Tap

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

(ARA) - In today's environmentally conscious times, it seems we're surrounded by the need to shop, act and live "green." Some of our choices are easy and small, while others can be big and costly. But one thing is for sure - each choice can make a significant difference.

Some of the most important green choices we can make are right within our own home, according to Kevin McJoynt at Danze, Inc.

"Installing items like Energy Star appliances and energy-efficient windows is a great step in moving your home to be more green," says McJoynt. "But changing your in-home water usage can have the most impact."

According to McJoynt, water shortages, energy demands and the cost of transporting water continue to rise. "Finding ways to simply reduce our usage without dramatically altering our lifestyle could save billions of gallons of water each year in the United States."

McJoynt offers up these tips on how you can immediately start conserving water (and save money) in your home:

* Replace older toilets (1992 or earlier) with newer, high efficiency toilets (HETs). They operate at 1.28 gallons per flush and could save 11 gallons of water per toilet per day.

* Be sure to turn off the tap when brushing your teeth - it could save nearly 3,000 gallons of water per year.

* Update your bathrooms with newer WaterSense certified lavatory faucets. According to the Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense program, if every household in the U.S. installed these water-saving lavatory faucets, more than $350 million in water utility bills and more than 60 billion gallons of water annually would be saved, plus $600 million in energy costs for heating the water.

* Always turn the water off between tasks. Letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours.

* Make sure to wash only full loads of laundry. Using a high-efficiency washing machine is ideal, as they use about 28 gallons of water per load, versus an average machine that uses 41 gallons.

* Take a shower rather than a bath. A full bath tub requires up to 70 gallons of water, while taking a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons. Want to be even more efficient? Switch your showerhead to a water-saving option.

"We realize showers are a tricky one when it comes to saving water. Homeowners want to make sure they have a well-performing shower experience," says McJoynt.
"However, the EPA WaterSense program recently published standards for showerheads that consider both conservation and performance to build support of these water-saving units. Be sure to look for the WaterSense certification mark."

* Fix those leaks. Most leaky faucets can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year.

"Better design and engineering of many new bathroom products actually gives the user improved performance as well as efficiency," adds McJoynt. "Faucets, toilets and showerheads are great examples. They're just like other appliances that use less energy, but still work very well."

Source: www.danze.com.

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5 Ways to Use Your HRA

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

The list of ways employers can use Health Reimbursement Arrangements (also known as HRAs or Medical Reimbursement Accounts) to improve benefits and lower health plan costs grows every day. HRAs are the future of employer-sponsored health insurance; they are one of the only employee-benefits vehicles allowed to reimburse premiums on individual health insurance and are therefore a critical part of any defined contribution health plan. Below, we examine five uses of HRAs and then summarize how HRAs.

Defined Contribution HRA. The HRA becomes the entire employer health benefits plan. Employees purchase their own individual health insurance, and seek reimbursement for the premium from the HRA 100 percent tax-free.

New-employee HRA. Provides health insurance coverage from first day of hire until employees become eligible for regular health benefits.

Retiree HRA. Provides an extended and less expensive alternative to COBRA health insurance, and can help older employees with early retirement.

High-deductible HRA. Encourages employees to choose high-deductible health insurance and incentivizes smart shopping (i.e., buying generics, medical shopping).

Supplemental HRA. Fills the gaps that some group and individual plans do not cover (e.g., accidents, maternity).

TIP: Whether your company has a traditional employer-sponsored (defined benefit) group health plan or a defined contribution health plan, HRA programs can save companies and their employees thousands each year—from the day they are first hired until years after they are retired. The new-employee HRA program alone may save employers with a group health plan—$2,500 per single and $7,500 per family—on every new person they hire.

Source: Zane Benefits

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Word of the Day

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Qualification. Act of determining a potential buyer’s needs, abilities, and urgency to buy and matching these with available properties.

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Q: What questions should be asked of an architect?

August 10, 2012 7:06 pm

A: Ask questions that will give you a sense of the architect’s style, approach to design, and methods of work. For example: What is your design philosophy? What important issues or challenges do you see in my project? How will you approach my project? What will you show me along the way (models, drawings, or sketches) to explain the project? How do you establish fees? What would be the expected fee for my project? What is your experience/track record with cost estimating? If the scope of the project changes later, will there be additional fees? How will these be justified? The Washington Chapter of the AIA offers an excellent consumer brochure that provides additional questions and useful information.

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DIY Projects Refresh Your Space in a Weekend

August 9, 2012 7:04 pm

(ARA) - Home and style magazines, social media and interior designers on TV are inspiring more homeowners to transform their spaces into places they love. Projects range from renewing your bathtub to refreshing your backyard deck, and can be completed in just one weekend.

"With only a few hours and the right materials, you can dramatically update a room and create a beautiful space that reflects your style," says Ann Gearty, senior brand manager for Rust-Oleum, a more than 90-year-old coatings company.

Gearty recommends four guidelines before starting any DIY project:

* Imagine. Picture your room finished and determine what improvements will create the greatest visual impact.

* Prioritize. Starting with one project at a time will help you see results more quickly. Once your first project is complete, it will provide motivation for other items on your to-do list. Flooring is a great starting point for many homeowners as it sets the tone for a space.

* Identify. Stretch your remodeling dollars by identifying areas in your home that can be improved using limited resources. For example, bathrooms are smaller spaces that allow you to maximize your budget and enjoy the results every day.

* Schedule. Time-intensive projects can create disorder and take over your entire living space for weeks. All-inclusive kits save you time at the home improvement store and help you accomplish projects, from start to finish, in one weekend or less.

Indoors or outdoors, home improvement project kits can help you fix common household problems and extend the life of your favorite features. Many projects can be completed for less than $100, providing budget-friendly options to refresh your home from floor to ceiling.

Source: www.rustoleum.com.

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Healthy Living across the Ages

August 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Age is just a number, according to the old adage. Whether you are turning 20 or 60, it is your inner age and how young you feel that really counts. This is even more true when you create everyday healthy habits that help you feel younger.

"Living a healthy life starts from the inside," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian and national CocoaVia supplement spokesperson. "We don't often think about it, but the health of your circulatory system is essential for a healthy life -- it should be important to everyone and taken care of as you would any other part of your body. This is key to healthy aging."

To help keep your circulatory system healthy, Taub-Dix has found a number of ways to help you be your inner best, including:

Start your day on a healthy note. When you wake in the morning, set a healthy tone for the rest of your day and begin with a wholesome breakfast, such as almond butter mixed in oatmeal with a fruit smoothie or a yogurt parfait to make sure you're nourishing your body with exactly what it needs.

Fit exercise into your day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, taking daily walks is a great way to get your blood flowing, but speak with your doctor about the level of activity best suited for you. When possible, avoid sitting for long periods of time. If you work in an office, make sure to fit in small walks throughout the day -- even if that means taking a short 15 to 20 minute walk during your lunch break. Try to get up and move around every half hour or so.

Stay hydrated. Hydration is important for many reasons, but if you're looking to stick to your goal of exercising daily, you want to make sure your body is properly hydrated. If you're a soda drinker, consider switching to flavorful options that offer health benefits. For example, add a 20-calorie fruit-flavored CocoaVia packet to your water bottle or iced tea.

Source: www.CocoaVia.com

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Word of the Day

August 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Qualification. Act of determining a potential buyer’s needs, abilities, and urgency to buy and matching these with available properties.

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Q: There seem to be no shortage of contractors; how do you identify one who is less than reputable?

August 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Q: There seem to be no shortage of contractors; how do you identify one who is less than reputable?

A: They often give themselves away. The telltale signs:
• Pressure is used to get you to sign a contract;
• Verifying the contractor’s name, address, phone number and credentials is impossible;
• Cash payments are only accepted, not checks made out to a company;
• Payment for the entire job is demanded up-front, whereas most remodelers typically require a down payment of 25-50% of the contract price for small jobs and 10-33% for large jobs.
• The contractor suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows, which could make you the target of a home improvement loan scam – a sure way to lose your home;
• The contractor offers information that is out-of-date or no longer valid;
• No references are available;
• An inability by the contractor to communicate the project well;
• Exceptionally long guarantees are offered;
• The contractor fails to listens and talks over you; and
• The contractor fails to notify you of your right to cancel the contract within three days; this “right of recision” is required by law and allows you to change your mind without penalty if the contract was provided at a place other than the contractor’s place of business or an appropriate trade premise.

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5 Things Your College Student Does Not Need

August 8, 2012 7:02 pm

If you are among the thousands of families who are sending a child off to an out-of-area college this year, you are probably shopping for study lamps, mini-microwaves and fridges, and a variety of extra-long dorm linens.

But before you break the bank with a lot of extra expenses, including a wide array of wish-list electronics, the frugal editors at Kiplinger Magazine suggest five things your student probably does NOT need to take to campus:
• A high-end computer - An inexpensive laptop or desktop should suffice. Netbooks are cheap, but their small keyboards and slow processing speed may not make the grade for a student's first year in college. One powerful, portable and affordable option is the Dell Inspiron 15R Intel Core i3 laptop. It has a 15.6-inch screen, weighs 5.9 pounds, has 4 gigs of memory and a 500GB hard drive. Its cost? About $530.
• A printer – It’s handy in your room, but most students can use a flash drive or send their stuff to print in a dorm or campus computer lab – avoiding costs for the printer, paper and ink. Many college or dorm fees include a technology fee anyway, so it makes sense to make use of what you are paying for.
• A pricey Smartphone plan - Contracts with data plans can run as high as $200 a month. But there are cheaper, no-contract alternatives, like Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk Plan, which uses Sprint's Nationwide Network. Plans start at $35 a month, for unlimited Web, data, messaging and e-mail and 300 Anytime minutes.
• A credit card – The average student who has a credit card carries about $700 in debt, according to a recent Sallie Mae study. Using a debit card is a great way to help your student stay in the black and avoid interest expenses. You may not want to consider a credit card until/unless he or she has a track record of fiscal responsibility.
• A big meal plan – Don’t load up your student’s meal plan account with more money than is needed. Start low and see how much your student is eating. Many kids opt to fend for themselves at the local grocery or pizza joint. You can generally replenish the meal plan account at will – and you can always supplement it with gift cards to local grocery chains or restaurants.

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