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Mary Mastroeni

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Container Veggie Gardening: 7 Steps to Growing Great Vegetables

March 30, 2012 6:38 pm

Yes, vegetable gardens can be a chore to maintain, and yes, the price of tomatoes does go down in summer anyway—but most people agree there is nothing better than the taste of home-grown veggies.

To minimize care and make best use of small spaces, the garden editors at Sunset Magazine suggest growing vegetables in pots. Here’s how:
• Begin by choosing a few generous size pots, some good potting soil, and a space on the deck, patio or back yard that gets at least six hours of sun daily.
• Fill the pots with a high-quality potting soil containing peat moss and perlite. Blend in a complete fertilizer, either a dry organic product―such as one containing alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, or other natural nutrients― or a controlled-release type that supplies nutrients over a three- to six-month period. If you plan to water pots by hand, add soil polymers such as Broadleaf P4 (available at most garden centers.
• Plant seeds or seedling plants of favorite summer veggies such as tomatoes, peppers or eggplants. Cucumbers and squash require space for trailing vines.
• Water frequently enough to keep the soil moist. Drip irrigation is a preferred method, but if you water by hand, do so often enough to keep the soil moist at all times.
• Feed regularly. If you use an organic fertilizer at planting time, supplement it with weekly applications of fish emulsion or reapply dry organic fertilizer according to package directions. If you use controlled-release fertilizer, give vegetables a boost by applying fish emulsion every two to three weeks.
• Control pests, such as aphids, mites, or whiteflies, by spraying them with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Handpick and destroy tomato worms.
• Harvest when crops are ripe, tomatoes when fully colored, peppers when fully grown and green, eggplants when skin is shiny, cucumbers and squash before they get too big and seedy.

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How to Avoid a Kitchen Extension Disaster

March 29, 2012 6:34 pm

An open kitchen is a hot home feature right now, and homeowners all across the country are extending their kitchens to include a living space. Unfortunately, many are seeing disastrous results due to poor planning and other complications.

Kutchen Haus offers the following tips to help you avoid a kitchen extension disaster:

1. Look for inspiration
This may sound simple, but look in magazines, on the TV and in kitchen showrooms, ideally with lifestyle room-sets for different kitchens that you like. You may see something you like, that you haven't seen before which is just perfect for you. 

2. Meet your kitchen designer before you start
All too often we meet customers who have decided to extend their property and want a new kitchen. Great! However, rather than speaking with a skilled kitchen designer prior to starting the building work, they plough ahead and in some cases, actually finish the build. This is not the best way to undertake a kitchen extension as the kitchen plays such a pivotal role in the whole scheme, so you must talk to a designer first. They will see things the builder won't, plus they will also be able to tell you what is possible with your room dimensions. 

3. Make a kitchen wish list
It may sound simple enough, however customers struggle time and again, to understand that they can no longer have an island in their kitchen, as their dimensions or budget will not allow it. By making a list of your 'must haves' and 'would like to haves' you can avoid making compromises on key areas. Also think about worktops, appliances, flooring and lighting here. If you need to cut costs down later on, this list will help so much though a process of elimination. You may want the granite worktops for example, but the wine fridge can go. 

4. Agree your kitchen design before the building plans
As previously mentioned, your kitchen should be as important as the building work so ensure you have everything thought through. It is so much easier to move windows and doors on a design that it is during the build itself. 

5. Avoid building work changes
Changes made during the building work also eat into your kitchen budget. Try and avoid this happening so that you don't have to cut costs down on the kitchen later on. After all, your dream kitchen is the main reason for the extension. 

Above all, take the time to think, research and speak to professionals.

Source: http://www.kutchenhaus.co.uk

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Spring Tornado Safety Tips

March 29, 2012 6:34 pm

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide, resulting in 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.

Once a tornado in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, carried a motel sign 30 miles and dropped it in Arkansas! While you may think tornadoes are reserved for summer, the recent outbreak of tornados in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois and other states demonstrate the immense power of these type of severe weather during any season.

A tornado can be identified when clouds move in a rotating fashion and form a funnel shape that extends from the sky to the ground. Strong and damaging winds will be present and may reach upwards to 300 miles per hour. Tornadoes could be classified as natures most violent storms and can form so quickly that in some instances communities may receive a late warning or no warning at all.

Terminology referring to an impending tornado includes a "Tornado Watch," which is issued when a tornado is possible and is a warning to remain alert for approaching storms. At this point skies are under observation and updates can be expected via local TV and radio emergency weather warnings. A "Tornado Warning" is issued when a tornado has been sighted or identified by weather radar this is the point at which shelter must be sought with extreme haste.

FEMA has published these safety tips for tornado preparation and safety:

• Being prepared is essential. Family plans for both the emergency and after the emergency are crucial, as is having on hand an emergency kit that includes first aid supplies, water, flashlight, food, battery operated radio and any other needs for a period of at least 72 hours.

• Listening to up to date weather reports and following any emergency instructions is recommended.

• Evacuation instructions are issued by emergency management professionals and should be followed also continued alertness to changing weather conditions and approaching storms is imperative.

• Signs of an approaching tornado include dark and sometimes greenish stormy sky, large hail, large rotating low-lying clouds, and loud roar that has been described as being similar to a freight train.

• When a storm as described happens, shelter should be sought immediately. Low places such as basements, storm cellars, or a central room on the lowest floor are options. It’s possible to find safe places to shelter if outside such under bridges or in ditches (but flooding could be an issue).

• Trying to outrun a tornado is dangerous and not recommended as there is additional danger of flying debris.

Source: www.AllHandsFire.com

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This Spring, Clean Your Finances

March 29, 2012 6:34 pm

Your closet isn’t the only thing that can use cleaning this season. April marks National Financial Literacy Month cleaning out the clutter from your personal finances can help you take control of their financial future and re-evaluate their spending practices.

Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Founder of Consolidated Credit reminds consumers that 'budget' is not a dirty word. "Take a look at what your spending money on. Be honest, if you're wasting money spending frivolously now is the perfect time to buckle down and take control. Set up a realistic budget, one you'll be able to stick to."

"Budgeting is not easy and it doesn't happen overnight. It takes practice but it can be mastered--you just need to stay goal-oriented," says Dvorkin. "When you think of budgeting, picture yourself paying cash for a vacation, helping your kids through college, and enjoying a nice retirement."

Financial spring cleaning tips:

• Clear out the junk. It is much easier to be organized when there is less clutter. Put all receipts together and print out bank and credit card statements. Make a list of all debts including the account number, interest rate, outstanding balance, payment due date, credit limit and the minimum payment. This keeps things organized and prevents bills from being late. 

• Review credit reports. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to request a free credit report from the three primary credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Each bureau is obligated to provide a free credit report every 12 months. Verify that all information is accurate and if mistakes are found, contact the credit-reporting agency immediately. Rather than dispute the mistake via an online form, send a letter that includes complete name and address, a description of each item being disputed, an explanation of why it is getting disputed along with a request for deletion or correction of the information.

• Wipe out debt. Pay off high interest rate debts first. Once the high-interest debt is paid down, tackle the next highest, and so on. Continue paying the minimum due on all other debts. 

• Don't hesitate to ask for help. There are reputable debt-counseling agencies that consolidate debt and teach individuals to manage their finances better.

Source: ConsolidatedCredit.org.

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Workout Smart: Most Common Exercise Mistakes

March 29, 2012 6:34 pm

The countdown to summer has begun, and many are flocking to the gym to get back into bathing suit shape. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has released its list of the top three most common mistakes, and how to avoid them.

"While these three training modalities are highly effective when done properly, using incorrect form can increase risk of injury. For the most effective and safe workout, we recommend enlisting the aid of a certified personal trainer, who can provide guidance on how to be safe while getting the most out of a workout," says ACE exercise physiologist, Jessica Matthews.

The following are the top three errors most commonly made with popular workout trends, and tips from Matthews on how to correct these mistakes:

1. Plyometrics: Quick, powerful movements, known as plyometrics, include exercises such as depth jumps, multidirectional drills, and cone jumps, and are designed to increase muscular power and explosiveness. Appropriate strength, flexibility and postural mechanics are necessary in order to avoid injury. Incorrectly landing on the heel or the ball of the foot, however, can increase impacting forces and make participants prone to injury.

How to correct: Master the art of landing correctly, before moving into more advanced moves like full jumps and hops. Focus on landing softly on the mid-foot and then roll forward to push off the ball of the foot—avoiding excessive side-to-side motion at the knee in the process. To further reduce the risk of injury, it is important to complete a dynamic warm-up before performing plyometric exercises.

2. Kettlebells: Research confirms that kettlebell workouts are an extremely effective form of training that can be performed in a relatively short period of time. The problem lies in that many people who use kettlebells do not understand the proper mechanics for the exercises. For example, many incorrectly perceive the kettlebell single arm swing as a shoulder exercise when, it should be working the core.

How to correct: When performing the kettlebell single arm swing, avoid lifting with the back or the shoulders. Like in many kettlebell exercises, the hips should always drive the movement. To execute this movement correctly, contract the abdominal muscles and hinge at the hips. While exhaling, initiate an explosive upward movement to swing the kettlebell upward coming to a standing position. The momentum generated through the lower body should allow the arm to become parallel with the floor with neutral alignment maintained through the wrists. If it is too difficult to achieve the desired arm position, attempt to generate more power from the lower body by thrusting harder with the gluteal muscles from the lowered position.

3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT is being used by exercise enthusiasts to add new challenges and variety to workouts. It is a cardio respiratory training technique that increases the intensity of a workout by alternating between brief speed and recovery intervals to maximize training sessions in a short amount of time. Carelessly overlooking the active recovery intervals that are integral to HIIT is what can make fitness fans more prone to injury.

How to correct: While there isn't one single best way to structure sessions, when getting started with HIIT after completing a five minute warm-up, begin with a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of speed intervals to active recovery intervals. This means one minute of speed work to every two or three minutes of active recovery. Avoid the temptation to shorten the recovery intervals, or to let the recovery periods be less than active. These recovery intervals are when the body produces more energy for the next bout of high-intensity exercise and also removes metabolic waste from the muscles. Remember, active recovery periods should always be as long—if not longer—than the high-intensity intervals. In terms of perceived exertion, high-intensity intervals should be about a seven or higher (on a scale of 0-10) while active recovery intervals should be at about a four or five.

Source: www.acefitness.org

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Word of the Day

March 29, 2012 6:34 pm

Comparables. Properties similar to a specific piece of property that are used to help estimate the value of that property.

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Question of the Day

March 29, 2012 6:34 pm

Q: Why buy a condo?
A: They are an appealing way to enter the housing market if the cost of a single-family home is out of your reach. Condos are especially popular among single homebuyers, empty nesters, and first-time buyers in high-priced housing markets. 

Unlike a house, condos offer a lifestyle that is free of yard work and exterior maintenance and repairs. Many condominium communities also offer amenities such as exercise rooms, tennis courts, and swimming pools that you might otherwise be unable to afford if you purchased a single-family home.

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Sudden Money: 8 Ways to Handle an Unexpected Windfall

March 27, 2012 6:30 pm

Whether you’ve inherited a large sum, sold an asset for cash, or won a lottery prize, coming into money is exhilarating. But the thrill of the windfall may not last long unless you plan ahead to make the most of it.

Before you go on a spending spree, say financial consultants at Consumer Reports, take a deep breath and consider these eight steps to maximize your sudden wealth:

1. Park the cash – Do nothing immediately but put it into an FDIC-insured money market account. (If over $250,000, divide into two accounts.) Or put it in a three-month CD with a penalty for early withdrawal. 2. Consult a financial advisor – Find a fee-only financial planner who makes no commission from your investments. A certified planner can help you devise a plan to help you meet your financial goals and pay you an allowance if that is what you want.
3. Cut debt – High interest loans like credit card debt should be paid off first. Then build a safety net of cash, enough to cover six to 12 months of living expenses. Then consider paying off some or all of your mortgage, depending upon the return you might expect to get by putting the money elsewhere.
4. Boost your savings – If you are not already contributing the maximum to your retirement account, start doing so now.
5. Keep your job – A windfall will propel you into a different standard of living only if it's a vast sum of money, say several million dollars. In most cases, you shouldn't quit or retire early or you may blow through your bequest.
6. Learn to say no – Think twice before giving money to friends or family members—and especially to the salespeople who will almost certainly find you.
7. Allow for fees and taxes - If you inherit assets other than cash, the amount you receive may be less than you expect. For example, if you inherit a house or stocks, you'll likely pay a real-estate or brokerage commission when you sell.
8. Indulge yourself a bit – Once you’ve accomplished the first seven steps, use no more than 10 percent of the windfall to take a vacation or buy yourself something nice.

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Smart Snoozing: Sleep for a Safer, Healthier Rest

March 27, 2012 6:30 pm

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, peace of mind plays an important role. Knowing the people that you love are resting comfortably and—more importantly, resting safely—is the key to achieving a great night's sleep for everyone in the family.

"As parents, we go to great lengths making sure our family is protected; but sometimes, it's what you don't see that can cause problems," says Ben Thorud, senior vice president of Ashley Sleep. "Creating a cozy, safe sleeping environment for your family allows everyone to rest easier and wake up ready to experience their best day ever."

Here are four sleeping tips for a healthier, safer night's rest:

1. Know what's in your mattress. While mattresses may look the similar on the outside, not all are created equally. Be sure to find out how your mattress was manufactured and which chemicals are used inside. Look for a latex mattress that uses state-of-the-art sleep technology like SynTex. Infused with natural seed oil, this process minimizes the use of petrol-based chemical oils—allowing them to meet or exceed the most rigorous flame-retardancy test. They're also a more eco-friendly option.

2. Find out if the foam is CertiPUR-US® approved. When you choose a mattress containing polyurethane foam, be sure that it's sealed with comfort and confidence. When the foam inside is CertiPUR-US approved, you know that it has been tested by an independent laboratory to meet environmental, health and safety guidelines. Consider it a health check-up for your foam mattress. CertiPUR-US certified foams are made without PBDEs, ozone-depleters, prohibited phthalates, lead, mercury and heavy metals and formaldehyde. They are also certified low-emissions for indoor air quality.

3. Make sure allergy sufferers are comfortable. Latex mattresses are an excellent choice for family members who have allergies. Latex is a naturally hypoallergenic, renewable and eco-friendly material made from the sap of plantation-grown rubber trees, that's bacteria, mold, mildew and dust-mite resistant. (Some people are allergic to latex and believe they cannot purchase a latex mattress for this reason. But true allergic reactions to latex are from direct contact. You will never be in direct contact with the latex in the mattress.) Don't forget about an allergy-friendly box spring.

4. Replace pillows often. No matter what kind of pillows you choose, it's important to replace them about every year or so. Older pillows may contain skin cells, mold, dust mites, mildew and fungus. And no matter how perfect those pillows were when you first purchased them, over time, they will begin to lose their shape and supportive qualities. 

Source: www.AshleySleep.com

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6 Ways to Cut Your Homeowner, Car Insurance Costs

March 27, 2012 6:30 pm

There is nothing that makes your wallet squeal louder today than pulling into the gas station and dropping $50. Gasoline prices have risen more than 12 percent over the past 12 months, and some experts are predicting they’ll reach $5 per gallon in the next six months. 

The average household now spends $50 per month more on gasoline than last year, notes financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning.

“But that’s not the whole picture,” Rodgers says. “Higher fuel prices affect a lot of other expenses in the family budget, from heating to food. The government estimates the average household is spending $150 per month more this year because of higher oil prices.” 

You can try to ease the pain at the pump by using your car less, but you should also look for other places to offset that extra $150. Car insurance is a good place to start. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Can you reduce that? Rodgers says you probably can. He offers six ways: 

• Shop around regularly. Your insurance agent doesn’t have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums. I recently met a consumer who told me he had been with the same agent for 15 years. After he shopped his insurance with another agent, he saved $1,600 on his premiums for all his coverage. The internet makes it easy compare costs for the same coverage, or you can get an independent insurance agent to shop for you. Contact the Independent Agents Association at (800) 221-7917. (Be sure the company you go with has a good credit rating and claims-paying history.) 

• Bundle your coverage. Bundling is combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company. The theory is that the company will discount the premiums if they have all of your business. The most common combination is packaging your auto insurance and homeowner’s policies together. Or, find companies that will bundle auto insurance with renter’s or tenant’s insurance. Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings. 

• Ask for discounts. You may qualify for discounts, but you won’t know until you ask. They’re commonly offered for good driving records, anti-theft devices, vehicle safety features (anti-lock brakes, air bags, automatic seatbelts), low annual mileage and insuring more than one car. The spunky Flo from Progressive claims discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer. 

• Take a defensive driving class. Even if you’ve been driving for years, you can learn a lot from driver education and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course, which can help you avoid accidents. The amount of discount varies by insurance company and from state to state, although most insurers offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years. AARP offers a driver safety program for those over age 50, and it’s available online. 

• Increase your deductible. Do your auto and homeowners policies have low deductibles? If so, you may be able to reduce your premiums 15 to 30 percent by raising the deductible on your collision and comprehensive coverage. Make sure you have an emergency fund set aside to cover the cost of repairs before you make the change. But your homeowners policy may be the first place to consider raising the deductible, since statistics show the average homeowner files a claim only once every nine years. Be sure to check with your mortgage holder first; some specify maximums. 

• Change Cars. This is probably the most difficult savings tip to implement but may have the largest impact on your premium. Used cars are cheaper to insure than new ones (excluding antiques); sports cars are more expensive to insure than minivans. Insurance companies like cars with safety features and low repair costs. Insure.com surveyed 900 vehicles in the 2012 model year and lists the rankings from the most expensive to least expensive on their website. Six of the 10 cheapest were minivans. 

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa. He’s a Certified Retirement Counselor and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers.

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