Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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Spring Safety 101: Tree and Brush Clean-Ups

April 24, 2012 8:00 pm

I know I have 'tapped' the knowledge of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) in the past in order to bring you the best information about tree safety and care. However, I was recently contacted to help the organization promote a critical safety message for home and property owners requiring tree and brush clean-ups this spring.

Tchukki Andersen, a Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Tree Safety Professional and staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association wants property owners to appreciate that tree work, while appearing fairly straightforward and simple, is actually extremely complicated and technical.

Andersen says there is so much to understand about removing live or hanging tree branches, and it is not at all like cutting up firewood on the ground.

He always hopes anyone requiring tree work will consult with a qualified tree professional who is trained to look for and take special precautions against trees or branches with decay, cracks or unbalanced weight; working near overhead electrical wires; preventing falls; and removing portions of or entire trees without causing property damage, or bodily harm to themselves or others.

Andersen has seen too many cases where inexperienced and well-meaning do-it-yourselfers have been hurt trying to cut their own trees, and makes these recommendations to help keep you safe:

• Find a sturdy ladder that will reach at least 5 feet beyond the branch you lean it on. When a large branch is cut from a tree, the loss of the weight will cause the rest of the limb to suddenly lurch up. According to Andersen, many unaware homeowners have been severely injured, some fatally, when the ladder they are standing on falls out from under the branch they are cutting. The biggest danger is taking too big or too unwieldy of a piece at one time.
• Be sure tools are properly sharpened or maintained. Andersen says a dull chain forces you to use too much pressure, causing you to lose control. This can lead to numerous problems, many of them potentially resulting in a hospital visit.
• Be aware of where you are cutting. Andersen knows trees are mechanically complex organisms that need to be cut in a certain way to remove pieces safely. Cutting off a large section of limb to save time will usually cause the branch to fall before the cut is finished. The cut end will often tear into the branch all the way back to the trunk. This action can cause damage to the tree (and to the person cutting) as it swings out of control.

For more information, locate a local TCIA Member by calling 1-800-733-2622 or by doing a ZIP Code search on treecaretips.org.

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Hot Home Trends: Clay Brick

April 24, 2012 8:00 pm

Clay brick is currently percolating in the hot home trend circuit. In hopes of meeting high green building criteria, architects around the country are incorporating genuine clay brick throughout the house for sustainable design that also helps save on energy costs.

Consumers are learning that brick exteriors boost sustainability and performance over their main competitors, like vinyl. Plus, clay brick is free of volatile organic compounds. For an added green bonus, clay brick often uses recycled content, and if the brick is locally sourced, it reduces the use of fossil fuels for a double win. 

How else can clay brick help your home? Brick homes use 1 to 2 percent less energy than vinyl-clad homes, and the natural siding helps to regulate interior temperatures by soaking up the sun in the winter to keep heat inside. Offering a 100-year lifespan, as compared to vinyl siding with a 25- to 50-year life span, genuine clay brick exteriors also offer low- to no maintenance and moisture resistance—not to mention natural beauty. 

Sources: www.gobrick.com, www.greenbrick.com

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Get Stoked for Summer with Simple Pool Opening Tips

April 24, 2012 8:00 pm

The summer months are fast approaching, and if you are one of the over 8.5 million swimming pool owners in the U.S., you are looking forward to making many family memories in the backyard. Once overnight temperatures remain above freezing and daytime temperatures remain above 60 degrees, it is time to start opening the pool. 

Follow these simple steps to open your pool with ease:
1. Remove pool cover and drain any accumulated water away from pool.
2. Fill your pool to the middle of the skimmer opening to allow for proper circulation.
3. Check your pump, skimmer basket and filter.
4. Test sanitizer and pH routinely.
5. Routine maintenance is the best way to keep your pool sparkling. 

If you are still unsure, consider seeking a local pool retailer, who can offer products and systems that make caring for the pool a snap.

Source: http://www.bioguard.com.

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Life Makeover: Live True to Yourself

April 24, 2012 8:00 pm

What is the No. 1 regret of hospice patients in their dying days? 

“They wished they would have lived life the way they wanted to, not the way others wanted them to,” says Kathie Truitt, author of The Hillbilly Debutante Café, quoting an article by former palliative care worker Bronnie Ware. 

Truitt changed her life by necessity after a devastating series of events led to the loss of her home and career. Like many Americans who lost it all in the recent recession, Truitt decided to go about things differently the second time around. 

“I got rid of the socialite sweater sets, the business suits and pumps, which were not me, and went to what is me – vintage dresses and cowboy boots,” she says. “I live in the Washington, D.C., area because I have too. But I don’t have to conform to how other people look, dress and behave here. I surround myself with the things I like; I have a country-style house, I drive a pickup, and, once a month, I take a ride out to one of the places featured in Southern Living magazine.” 

You don’t have to have a lot of money to live a life truer to your spirit. Truitt offers some suggestions: 

• Make location a state of mind. Does your heart yearn to be somewhere else? You’re in Kansas, but you long to live on the beach, or you’re in the city but you’re a country person, like Truitt. If you can’t follow your heart, bring that place to you. If you love all things Paris, for instance, decorate a room or your whole home Parisian style. Instead of going to the grocery store once a week, find a market and stop in every day for fresh food, the way the French do. Ride a bicycle; put a picture of the Eiffel Tower on your desk at work; eat lunch al fresco. Take a French class and maybe you’ll meet some like-minded friends. 

• Turn your passion into a career. You don’t have to give up your day job to pursue a career doing what gratifies and satisfies you. If you love playing music, set aside time to practice and write songs. Pursue opportunities to play at local events; create video recordings and upload them to YouTube (it worked for Justin Bieber!); offer to perform at your place of worship. Whether you dream of writing a novel, designing jewelry or being a race car driver, working at it even part-time will help you feel fulfilled. 

• Take the plunge and start your own business. In 2011, entrepreneurs started 543,000 new businesses each month, on average, among the highest startup rates in 16 years, according to the most recent Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. With all the tax breaks and incentives being offered to small businesses now, it’s a good time to open that restaurant you always wanted, or launch that graphics design studio. You’ll never know until you try! 

As for Truitt, she would love to be back home in El Dorado Springs, Mo. Since she can’t be there, she wrote a novel set in the small, southern town, which is struggling financially. She hopes to fan interest in tourists visiting the town to meet the business owners described in her book, and see the sights. 

“There are many ways to live your dreams,” Truitt says. “You’re limited only by your imagination. I don’t want to be that person looking back on my life and regretting that I lived it by someone else’s rules.” 

Kathie Truitt is a former radio personality and speaker in the South, where she was crowned Mrs. Missouri America. She’s the author of False Victim, a memoir about the nightmare of events that forced her from her home.

For more information, visit www.hillbillydebutante.blogspot.com.

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Word of the Day

April 24, 2012 8:00 pm

Discount broker. Full-service broker who charges less than the prevailing commission rates in his or her community.

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Question of the Day

April 24, 2012 8:00 pm

Q: If faced with foreclosure, what are my options?
A:
Talk with your lender immediately. The lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan or the temporary reduction or suspension of your payment, particularly if your income has dropped substantially or expenses have shot up beyond your control. 

You also may be able to refinance the debt or extend the term of your mortgage loan. In almost every case, you will likely be able to work out some kind of deal that will avert foreclosure.

If you have mortgage insurance, the insurer may also be interested in helping you. The company can temporarily pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet and are able to repay their “loan.”

If your money problems are long term, the lender may suggest that you sell the property, which will allow you to avoid foreclosure and protect your credit record. 

As a last resort, you could consider a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. This is where you voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender. While this will not save your house, it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure.

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Spring Necessities: Flood Insurance

April 23, 2012 7:56 pm

Although this winter was the mildest one I can remember, spring can deliver frequent rain, making floods probable. With few exceptions, a household or business needs to get flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Plan, according to a recent report from Professional Insurance Agents of Connecticut State Inc. (PIACT). 

PIACT is a trade association representing professional, independent insurance agencies, brokerages and their employees throughout the state. 

As many local residents will remember from this past fall, heavy rains and water backup from overloaded drainage systems can cause thousands of dollars in damages to homes and businesses, the report states. Unfortunately, too many people find out too late that their business, homeowners or renter’s insurance policy does not cover flooding. 

“Many people still don’t realize they are not covered for flood damage on their homeowners policy,” says PIACT President Timothy Russell, CPCU. “They need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. 

The National Flood Insurance Program offers flood insurance at generally affordable rates, which is available through your independent insurance agent.” 

Russell urges all home and business owners to contact their professional, independent insurance agent to help determine if they need flood insurance immediately. 

A 30-day waiting period exists between the time the flood insurance is purchased and the time the coverage goes into effect, although that waiting period may be waived for lender-required flood insurance,” continues Russell, who stresses that waiting for the next storm warning to purchase flood insurance is dangerous, since coverage probably will not begin in time. 

“People in high-risk flood areas are not the only people who need flood insurance, Russell points out. “In fact, approximately 25 percent of all flood insurance claims come from areas that are not considered high risk. Keep in mind, flooding can occur any place at any time.” 

He strongly urges homeowners where ever they may be to contact their professional insurance agent to review the coverage required to protect property in the event of flooding.

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Cool New Concepts for Gardening

April 23, 2012 7:56 pm

(ARA) - One of the driving forces in gardening is many American's pursuit of healthier eating and greener living. This means that the new face of gardening has begun to change considerably in recent years. Today's gardeners are younger and more urban than traditional gardeners, therefore, making unique impressions on the green world.

So, what's cool about gardening?

From growing vegetables in the front yard to creating an edible wall of green on the balcony, gardening is not limited to just a half-acre plot in the country anymore. Now, gardeners use any space available for a garden, no matter how urban or small. The key is adding individuality or personality to the garden in the form of handmade sculptures, water features, bird feeders or even the variety of unique heirloom plants that are used. Sustainability is also very important. Plants that serve a dual purpose— like low-growing thyme used as a ground cover in a small area or a cucumber plant that has been trained to grow up a trellis as a green screen—are excellent examples of how many gardeners have transformed traditional ideas of gardening. Looking at gardening and plants in new ways can lead to some great discoveries —and may even increase the productivity of a green space.

How can you join in the gardening movement? Here are some helpful tips to get started.

Maximize space:
Even if you only have a window, and no outdoor space, you can have a garden. An herb garden, like the Miracle-Gro Culinary Herb Kit, can be grown on a window ledge in the kitchen. No ledge? No problem. Just hang a hook from the ceiling and grow your plants in a hanging basket. For those with little outdoor space, try container gardening on the patio or use an outside fence or railing to grow a vertical garden. Simply hang pots on hooks or create your own "living wall" using chicken wire, coconut fiber lining and a quality potting mix. Then, plant trailing produce or flowers and watch your wall grow. If you have a sunny space in the yard, create a small garden using the new Miracle-Gro Ultimate Raised Garden Bed. This easy-to-use kit snaps together and can easily be customized to fit in nearly any space. Simply add nutrient-enriched soil, like Miracle-Gro Expand N Gro or Potting Mix, and plant the garden on a patio, deck, rooftop or balcony.

Redefine terms:
Produce plants are for vegetable gardens and landscaping plants are for the front yard ... right? Not necessarily. The great thing about gardening is that the only necessary rules are the ones Mother Nature created: plants need sunlight, water, food and soil with good drainage. Other than that, do not be afraid to mix it up. Plant vegetables in the front yard, use strawberries in a hanging basket or plant an herb for groundcover along a path. Tomatoes will grow beautifully next to marigolds and sage will add a nice contrast when grown in a container alongside yellow daisies. Grow what you like that will thrive in your climate, even if it is not what your neighbors are growing.

Stay true to yourself:
If your favorite color is blue, then plant blue flowers. If you love salsa, then plant a "salsa garden" with tomatoes, cilantro, onions and jalapenos. Add your own touch and make it personal. The materials used can represent your style and add interest in the garden as effectively as what is planted. With adequate drainage, even an old toolbox can come to life with some potting soil and impatiens. Collect stones and small objects with kids to make garden sculptures or bird feeders that the whole family can enjoy. Green plastic bottle caps can be turned into ornamental "trees" and grandma's cracked tea cup could become a bird feeder with a little imagination. If you have extra produce, make sure to share it. Friends, neighbors, family and even many local food pantries will take donations of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Experiment:
Although gardening can be seen as a science, it should also be looked as an art. Gardeners should feel free to experiment and express themselves through their gardens. Let your green space reflect your home, your interests and your individuality. Make it a tradition to try at least one new thing every year and you may be surprised how much you learn along the way.

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Car Troubles? How the New Car Lemon Law Can Help You

April 23, 2012 7:56 pm

Car troubles are always a pain. While it may be a financial burden when your old vehicle starts acting up, when it’s a brand new car that’s malfunctioning, it can be a major source of stress and aggravation as you deal with the dealer who sold you a lemon. According to Findlaw.com, just because you personally believe the car to be a lemon doesn't mean the law necessarily agrees with you.

Each state has enacted its own set of "lemon laws" to deal with the problem of irretrievably malfunctioning new cars. Some states also protect the purchase of used cars. Findlaw.com put together the following general guidelines for determining whether your car qualifies as a "lemon," and therefore whether you are afforded protection under consumer protection laws. 

While you can handle the problem yourself using the guidelines below, if you find the process too difficult or the manufacturer is acting inappropriately, you can contact an attorney with experience dealing with lemons and manufacturers, who will fight for your rights. 

What Qualifies as a Lemon?
Under the law of most states, for a vehicle to be considered a lemon, the car must 1) have a "substantial defect," covered by warranty, that occurs within a certain time after purchase, and 2) continue to have the defect after a "reasonable number" of repair attempts. What exactly constitutes a substantial defect or a reasonable number of attempts varies by state, so it is incumbent upon you to determine the law in your state. 

Substantial Defect
A substantial defect is a problem—not caused by the owner's use of the car after purchase—that impairs the car's use, value or safety. In most states, the defect must be covered under express warranty and affect a serious function or expectation of the car. For example, faulty steering or brakes qualify as a substantial defect because they affect vehicle safety, while a loose glove compartment hinge does not qualify because it is a minor problem that doesn't affect a significant function or expectation of the car. 

But what about the wide range of problems that fall somewhere between faulty brakes and loose hinges or radio knobs? The legal line drawn between "substantial" and minor problems isn't always clear and varies from state to state. Problems like a poor paint job may not seem like a substantial problem to some people, but many states have found these conditions to constitute a substantial defect. 

No matter what state in which you reside, the defect must occur within a certain time period or certain number of miles. 

Reasonable Number of Repairs 

If your car has a substantial defect as outlined above, the dealer and/or manufacturer is then given a reasonable number of attempts to repair the problem before the car can be declared a lemon. 

Generally, four repair attempts is considered reasonable, although this number may be as low as one attempt if the problem is a serious safety defect. Most states also have provisions which state that if a vehicle is in the repair shop for a certain number of days per year to fix substantial defects, the car may be deemed a lemon. 

Federal Consumer Protection
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law that protects the buyer of any product that costs more than $25 and comes with a written warranty. The Act is designed to prevent manufacturers from creating grossly unfair warranties, and also allows a consumer bringing an action under the Act to recover any attorney's fees incurred during the lawsuit. If you feel that the terms of the warranty are grossly unfair, you should contact an attorney, who can advise you as to whether the terms rise to the level of grossly unfair.
Protection for Used Cars
While the above information covers new car sales and leases only, some states have a lemon law that covers used cars as well. Some states cover vehicles purchased that have logged a certain mileage, others cover only cars which have been sold once, and still others extend protection only if the used car would have been covered by the original warranty. You will have to investigate the laws of your state to determine whether your used car is protected your state's lemon law. 

Consumer Remedies—Refund or Replacement Vehicle
If your car meets the criteria for 1) a substantial defect, and 2) reasonable number of repair attempts, then you qualify for lemon law protection and have the right to get either a refund or a replacement car. You must first notify the manufacturer of the defect (though they should already have notice because of the attempted repairs), and if you are not offered a settlement to your satisfaction, you will likely be required to go to arbitration before you can sue the manufacturer in court. 

Arbitration Process
Lemon law arbitration is a free, non-judicial (out of court) process in which either a panel or a single arbitrator analyze both sides of the dispute and reach a decision about what remedy to award you. 

Depending on state law, either the manufacturer will choose or you may select a state consumer protection agency program (although this option is becoming rare). If you have the option of choosing, the state program is preferable because they are less likely to be influenced by the manufacturer.
 
Arbitration decisions in most states are binding upon the manufacturer but appealable in court by the consumer. In other words, if you don't like the arbitrator's decision, you can to sue the manufacturer in court if you wish. On the other hand, if you decide to accept the arbitrator's ruling, the manufacturer cannot appeal and that is the end of the case. 

While you can appeal the arbitration ruling, you should be as prepared as possible in order to come to a quick and inexpensive resolution (attorneys charge hundreds of dollars an hour, while lemon law arbitration is free). Consumers who bring substantial documentation of their claims tend to do better than those who appear at the arbitration with little evidence. You should bring receipts and service records demonstrating how often the car has been in the shop; documents such as phone records indicating how often you contacted the dealer about the problem; and any ads or brochures that the car manufacturer may have created touting its product (manufacturers will most likely be held to the standards they claim in advertising). 

For more information, visit www.findlaw.com.


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Word of the Day

April 23, 2012 7:56 pm

Depreciation. Gradual decline on paper in market value of real estate, especially because of age, obsolescence, wear and tear, or economic conditions.

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