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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

April 19, 2012 7:52 pm

Q: What is a second mortgage?

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance on your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance and processing fees.

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Top Deck Trends for Summer 2012

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

(ARA) - It's that time of year when homeowners are lured outside by the warm, sunny weather. Is your outdoor space ready to be enjoyed to the fullest? If your deck or patio needs updating, catching up on the top design innovations and trends will help you create an inviting area that will add value to your home investment.

This year's leading trends focus on blending functionality with beauty to construct a stylish and usable space that requires little maintenance. To create the best outdoor space on the block, consider these popular ideas for your home.

Post caps
A big trend in decking is beautification - taking your functional space and adding stylish elements that produce visual appeal. One easy way to incorporate this trend is by installing post caps. Mounted at the highest point on the railing, post caps are one of the most prominent features of any deck or patio. Deck and fence post caps give a polished, upscale look for your outdoor space.

Fascia corners
Corner joints can separate over time, creating unsightly gaps. If you're looking for an easy way to spruce up your current deck, consider adding decorative fascia corners. Simple and unique, decorative fascia corners are an elegant way to adorn deck skirting and cover corner joint connections. Deckorators offers two black powder-coated fascia corner designs—ridge and leaf—that install easily with screws. Fascia corners are an easy way to capture your own personal style while complementing your home's architecture.

Lighting
Incorporating lighting into your deck area is a big trend because it extends the time you are able to spend in your outdoor space. It also adds an element of safety in a visually pleasing manner. Look for solar powered lights to continue to be popular - you'll find this sun-powered option on numerous outdoor items such as string lights and fountains. Recessed deck lights are another popular lighting option—perfect for stairs because they softly illuminate steps once the sun has gone down.

Multifunctional furniture
Furnishing outdoor space is essential for creating a relaxing, comfortable environment, but it is also a big investment. That's why more people are looking for multifunctional options that provide a variety of benefits. For example an outdoor sectional can serve as a large couch or be separated for multiple sitting areas. A small table serves double duty when it opens for hidden storage. An outdoor umbrella with solar lights provides shade during the day and soft light at night for easy all-day entertaining.

Composite decking
If it's time to replace your whole deck, you might want to consider using composite lumber decking in your new design. Composite decking continues to grow in popularity due to its low maintenance and durability. Today's composite decking is much different than past options because the designs closely mimic the natural look of wood. Latitudes composite decking, for example, features a more natural-looking surface with a realistic grain pattern available in a variety of colors. Plus it's backed by a 25-year stain and fade warranty, so it's guaranteed to look great on your home for a long time, making it a wise investment.

By incorporating these top trends not only will you have a great outdoor space this year, but for many years to come.

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Automation: How Your Smartphone Can Improve Your Home

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

As of January 2012, 46 percent of cell phone users in the U.S. have smartphones, according to the latest research from Nielsen. 

Growing smartphone and tablet usage has helped people simplify many aspects of their daily lives. Applications available to these devices can help organize your calendar, provide directions, offer information on local restaurants, and even update you with breaking news. These devices can help streamline interactions, why not use them to automate your home? From the temperature of an individual room to the amount of shade you want, modern technology has opened the doors to integrating home automation with mobility, safety and convenience. Keep in mind that not all home automation applications are made equal. Be sure to consider which mobile devices are supported by the app, and how these devices—such as an iPhone or iPad—interact with your home. Oftentimes these solutions also require additional hardware or software to install to make home automation possible. 

Home Entertainment Made Easy: In the past, controlling your music in one room, while recording a show in another room, has been a chore. Using a smartphone or tablet application to automate these systems makes the process of recording on your DVR or adjusting the volume much easier. The benefits of merging these controls to one simple location are numerous. For example, instead of spending your time searching for remotes, you can now spend it by conveniently dimming the lights for relaxation, turning up the volume on your favorite song or starting your favorite show, all with the same device! 

Beacon: Beacon turns an iOS or smartphone device into a handy, easy-to-use remote for home entertainment systems by converting Bluetooth signals from your device to the infrared commands your components are expecting. Beacon pairs your iOS device or smartphone with a Universal Remote App, putting complete control of your home entertainment center in the palm of your hand. 

Savant: Savant's latest Automation App, TrueControl, transforms the iPad®, iPod touch® or iPhone® into the ultimate remote for your SmartSystem, providing a truly comfortable and innovative experience. It can be used for a complete two-way control for your audio and video, in addition to your lighting, security and climate control. 

Automate Your Comfort: Applications can help save time, energy, and money. You will know if you left lights on, what the room temperatures are or if the garage is open. Some applications can even set alarm clocks so you can be sure your children are out of bed in time for school. Turn your home off and on all from one central location in the palm of your hand. 

TaHomA: TaHomA is an innovative solution that allows consumers to control, schedule and supervise their lighting, window covering and climate control devices using Z-Wave and RTS wireless technology. This can be done automatically or remotely from anywhere in the world. TaHomA is popular with many people who have Somfy motorized blinds. If you have motorized blinds by Somfy it is easy to add a complete home integration system that will give you remote control over your lights, air conditioning and security. 

iRule: iRule turns your iOS or Android enabled device into a universal touch-screen remote control. It has the power to control your home entertainment system as well as all lights, fireplaces, thermostats, and remote-controlled electronics. This is a popular App because it has the power to control all of your automated systems from one location. If you have the notion to control your home from the comfort of your phone, iRule is a great way to help you do this. 

Stay Secure from Anywhere: The benefits of having a remote alarm system are numerous. With a remote system you will worry less about your home's security and your family will stay safe even when you can't be with them. You can set your alarms from the comfort of your bed before sleep or on your way to work if you forgot to do it before you left your home. Home security apps have options that allow you to check whether or not your alarms are on or off. You can also check your security cameras and some programs can even turn off the oven for you! 

Mobiscope: Mobiscope is a great app because it allows video surveillance without the purchase of expensive equipment and cameras. All you need is a webcam or network camera to record everything that goes on while you are away. After you have paired the camera with your smartphone you can see live streams instantly! 

Convenience at Your Fingers:
All of the app examples provide you and your home with a convenient option for controlling your systems, but they do not necessarily help with your home design. One area often over-looked is the automation and remote control of window coverings. Apps like Somfy's TaHomA, offered by Budget Blinds, can be programmed to cater to your specific needs.. 

The benefits of having an automated home control system go beyond convenience. A remote system can save energy, which saves you money on your utility bills. Using your remote home systems allow you to use your appliances only when you need them.

Source: Budget Blinds

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Your Yard: Tips to Help Battle Drought Conditions

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

The combination of a mild winter and dry spring has created challenging conditions for homeowners looking to maintain the health and appearance of their landscapes. 

If drought conditions persist across the country, homeowners can expect to see smaller leaf size, wilted or drooping foliage and scorching (browning) of leaves. In the case of turf grass, sustained drought conditions may lead to early dormancy which, if left unchecked, could result in insect damage, disease and potentially death of the lawn. 

For trees and shrubs, try watering under the "drip line" area where roots are most heavily concentrated. The addition of a biostimulant such as an Arborkelp® treatment will also help to stimulate fibrous root development and increase the root cells' ability to absorb water. For lawns, it's essential to get irrigation systems up and running. If possible, water infrequently for longer periods of time to achieve the best results. 

Here are some more tips to help your greenery look a bit greener in the seasons to come: 

Lawns
1. Water your lawn or garden longer and less frequently, preferably during the coolest part of the day.
2. Have your soil tested for nutrient content. Water absorption and retention increases with soil quality.
3. Utilize a slow-release fertilizer containing Nitrogen and Potassium that is activated by moisture. Apply it during drought so that nutrients are present when your lawn does receive water. 

Trees & Shrubs
1. Use a slow flowing hose at the base, allowing water to seep into soil gradually and saturate the roots. 2. Apply 2-4 inches of mulch around trees and shrubs to retain moisture and reduce weed growth.
3. Irrigate your trees within the "drip line" to heighten stress tolerance.
4. Have a professional inspect your trees and shrubs for signs of insect and disease activity. 

Source: www.savatree.com.

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5 Ways to Trim Insurance Expenses

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

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

Ease the pain by looking for other places to offset that extra expense. Car insurance is a good place to start. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Rodgers says you can reduce that:
• Shop around regularly. Your insurance agent doesn't have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums, so shop around yourself on the internet or 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. Combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company can be rewarded with discounts on premiums. Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings.
• Ask for discounts. Ask whether discounts are 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. Discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer.
• Take a defensive driving class. You can learn a lot and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course. Most offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years. AARP offers a driver safety program online for those over age 50.
• 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. 

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, "The Retirement Specialists," in Lancaster, Pa.

For more information, visit www.rodgersspeaks.com.

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Word of the Day

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

Deed restrictions. Provisions placed in deeds to control how future landowners may or may not use the property. Also called deed covenants.

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Question of the Day

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

Q: What if my contracting job is botched?
A:
If you are displeased with the results for obvious reasons, keep after the contractor to make the needed repairs. When that fails, contact your local consumer protection agency. Make sure you have a copy of the contract, receipts showing payments, and photographs of the work.

Although it has no legal authority, you also may want to contact the Better Business Bureau, as well as your state’s Contractor License Board. And you can take the contractor to Small Claims Court to recover amounts usually under $2,000.


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How to Stop Birds from ‘Attacking’ Windows

April 17, 2012 7:48 pm

Spring is here and once again; the air is fresh, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are flying head first into windows. Wait, what? Many homeowners have experienced this strange, but very common phenomenon--birds repeatedly flying into windows, car mirrors or any other reflective surface. What is going on and how can it be stopped? 

The bird experts over at Duncraft shed a little light on this situation. According to the company, although female birds have been known to do this, it's mostly male birds that repeatedly fly into windows. The reason is simple. In spring all birds are staking out territories. Birds seldom allow other birds of the same species to share territories because too many of one species in an area depletes food sources and nesting locations. 

A bird may tolerate a bird of a different species nesting nearby because the birds are after different nesting locations and different foods, but it won't tolerate another one of its own. When a male bird spots another male, a chasing fight will ensue. The dominate male gets the mate, the nesting location, the territory and the food in that area. A lot is at stake! When a bird happens to see its reflection in your window, or car mirror, it's seeing a bird of the same species in its territory--and that's not allowed. The bird will continuously attack until the other bird goes away. In nature, the other bird will indeed go away, but that reflection just stays there! Being persistent, the bird just continues to attack its own reflection. 

So, how can this irritating behavior be stopped? Duncraft advises that homeowners block the reflection. The easiest way to do this is to put a piece of cardboard on the outside of the window where the bird is attacking. It may not look pretty, but it doesn't have to be done for long--only until the bird thinks the other bird has departed. As soon as the bird has mated and is busy with nest building and feeding nestlings, he'll calm down and won't be worried about intruders. Others of its species will be busy too, in territories of their own. 

So, what initially seemed like a mystery turns out to be a simple, springtime response to a challenger bird--and it's easily remedied! 

Source: www.duncraft.com.

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Keys to Peace: Teaching Your Kids Integrity and Social Responsibility

April 17, 2012 7:48 pm

Parents and educators are always trying to spark student participation whether it’s in the classroom, in the local community, or throughout the world. 

When middle-school students at Allison Academy in North Miami Beach were asked what they could do to improve their country, they focused on what they understood – bullying, violence and racism.
Those problems are all rooted in the same issues, says Rachel Albert, author of “Quest to Telos,” (www.QuestToTelos.com), a young adult novel where fantasy meets reality and even world peace is possible. 

“They stem from a lack of personal integrity and absence of social responsibility,” she says.

“Children who choose to put those values into practice are actively working toward peace. But they can only put into practice what they’ve learned; instilling those values may seem simple, but many parents miss the mark and actually model the opposite.” 

Throwing money at social problems like racism or violence doesn’t resolve them, Albert says. But children can. 

“The energy from kids’ excitement can make a real difference and we need their energy focused right here at home,” says the mother of four. “They see problems; it’s up to us to give them the tools to address them.” 

The following tips can help parents teach their children personal integrity and social responsibility, giving them the keys to world peace. 

• Never lie in front of your kids. It may seem obvious, but many parents lie in front of their children or encourage them to lie; misstating a child’s age to save money on movie tickets or allowing them to take credit for school projects completed by the parent. These seemingly inconsequential lies suggest it’s alright, even good, to distort the truth. This causes long-term damage a million times more costly than whatever was gained in the short term. 

• Give your kids a reason why. Author Mark Twain once said that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. If you fail to tell your kids why we are here, you have missed the opportunity to figure out what motivates them and gets them excited. This is the most important key to getting kids’ cooperation and empowering them to help the world. 

• Don’t criticize your children. Criticism is toxic, so why do almost all parents criticize their kids? When we focus on what they aren’t, they believe they can’t. This creates angry children who express their pain by bullying others. It’s better to tell them how you feel rather than what you think of them, e.g., “I feel frustrated that you didn’t listen to me,” or “Can you say that in a more loving way?” 

• Don’t speak badly about other people. This is probably one of the hardest things to do, considering we’re a generation that pays for gossip. Speaking badly about others teaches kids to look for what they view as the negative in others and take joy in sharing it. 

• Model charity. Actions speak louder than any words. When you teach kindness to children, they tend to feel empathy and have more successful lives, a crucial step toward achieving world peace. 

Once we tackle the issues plaguing America, then as a model nation, we will be ready to tackle world peace, Albert says. Kids are hungry to form an identity and make their mark on the world. It’s easier to try to bring peace to another country, but that never works. We need to start at home. 

Rachel Albert is a certified court reporter and business owner. “Quest to Telos” is her debut novel; it’s being used by a private school to develop an inspirational, critical-thinking curriculum for middle-school students ready by the summer.

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Take a Bite Out of Sleepless Nights with 10 Bedtime Snacks

April 17, 2012 7:48 pm

Most of us have an idea about which foods we should avoid right before bedtime. From sugary snacks to caffeine-laden drinks, making the wrong choices can leave you tossing and turning all night long. But what many people don't know is that there are healthy snacks that may help you take a bite out of sleepless nights, so you can get a better night's rest and seize your day. 

"What we put into our bodies prior to going to bed can really affect the level of sleep we get every night," says Ben Thorud, Senior Vice President of Ashley Sleep. "If you've tried everything and you're still experiencing sleeplessness, it may be time to explore other possibilities, including your diet." 

Experts have believed for a long time that eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, with a little bit of protein—about an hour or two before bedtime—may boost your serotonin levels and help you relax. In addition, foods high in calcium and tryptophan, like some dairy products, may help to produce melatonin, which can also help regulate sleep. 

So which foods will give you that sleep-boosting power you crave? Check out the following list.
1. Turkey. Ever wonder why you feel so sleepy after those big holiday meals? Turkey may be the culprit. It's high in tryptophan, which can make you feel drowsy. While turkey may be the best-known food in the battle of sleepless nights, almost any type of poultry will do the job. 

2. Milk/Dairy. Warm milk has been a bedtime tradition for centuries -- and now we know why. It not only contains tryptophan (as do yogurt and cheese), it is rich in calcium, which experts believe may help reduce stress. 

3. Bananas. These self-contained sleep inducers are loaded with tryptophan, melatonin and serotonin, not to mention magnesium, which may actually help relax your muscles. 

4. Cherries. In terms of sleep-friendly foods, these guys are the new kids on the block. But recent studies have shown that a glass of tart cherry juice or a serving of fresh, frozen or dried cherries may boost your melatonin levels and reduce insomnia. 

5. Chamomile Tea. This drink has long been touted for its relaxing qualities. One small cup of decaffeinated chamomile tea before bedtime contains theanine, which may have relaxing and tranquillizing properties that can help you put an end to sleepless nights.
 
6. Hummus. Forget the fake cheese dip. A couple of all-natural pita chips dipped in hummus makes for a snack that's a great mix of carbs and protein. 

7. Almonds. A handful of these crunchy treats is loaded with tryptophan and magnesium, making it a quick and easy snack to enjoy before bedtime. 

8. Warm Oatmeal. Rich in sleep-promoting nutrients, this popular breakfast food may also be a great nighttime snack. Just don't choose the kind loaded with sugar. Top it with bananas, walnuts or cherries and you have a sleep-inducing powerhouse. 

9. Peanut Butter Sandwich. Peanut butter is high in tryptophan, but many brands add sugar. Choose a natural peanut butter (with no added sugar) and spread it on a piece of whole-grain bread or a half a bagel. 

10. Hard-boiled Egg. If you've already loaded up on high-sugar, high-carb snacks for dinner, consider eating an egg or other food that's high in protein. It can help counterbalance the negative effects that those simple carbs may have on your sleep. 

Source: Ashley Sleep

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