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For Your Student: 5 Winning Study Tips

January 25, 2012 6:30 pm

Enforcing study-time is an important part of helping your child achieve great grades.

"Kids need a set of core learning strategies in order to help them achieve their goals and get more done in far less time," says Susan Kruger, founder of http://www.StudySkills.com and author of SOAR® Study Skills: A Simple and Effective System for Earning Better Grades in Less Time.

Here are Kruger's recommendations to improve study time and improve grades:

1. Visual networking:
Turn the print in textbooks and on paper into pictures and visual images when reading. This is a simple, yet specific pattern to improve reading speed, memory and comprehension.
2. Manage papers and notes all in one binder: "One binder is shown to be 60 percent more efficient for storing and managing papers than traditional systems that require students to maintain a separate folder and notebook for each class," states Kruger. "The system and supplies are much less cumbersome and require far fewer steps to transfer across multiple locations such as home, school and classes."
3. Take Ten: In just 10 minutes you can maximize your brain and get rid of clutter while reducing study time. This is a 10-minute daily routine, organizing papers for two minutes and reviewing notes for eight minutes.
4. Power Down: Texting, surfing the Internet, watching TV and electronics are great, but they sabotage student efforts. Have your child Power Down all electronics and see how much faster homework can go.
5. Question Quest:  Asking questions is a great way to maximize brain power. Create Jeopardy-type questions along with potential test questions using reading materials and notes.

Source: http://www.StudySkills.com.

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Top 10 Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebrations

January 25, 2012 6:30 pm

Whether you call it Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent's 40 days of repentance (between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday) brings out a wild side in populations around the world.

Cheapflights joins in the revelry with its list of Top 5 Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebrations. While Mardi Gras this year falls on February 21st, many countries celebrate the festivities for over a month with locals taking to the streets to parade, masquerade and promenade in this festive season also known as Carnival. As the party nears its month-plus-long end, events heat up. Mardi Gras festivities rally locals and visitors alike to the streets of cities like New Orleans, Rio, Venice, where they rack up extra reasons to repent during the somber season of Lent.
Top 5 Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebrations

Mardi Gras - New Orleans, Louisiana, United States - Thousands of tourists flood The Big Easy annually for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, deemed "the biggest free party on earth." The entire city loosens its (already loose) reins, and douses itself with endless strings of beads, colorful floats and costumes to celebrate the naughtiest time of year. Floats of all sizes roll through the streets in spectacular parades for two weeks prior to Mardi Gras. Endymion (Saturday), Bacchus (Sunday), Orpheus (Monday), Zulu (Tuesday morning) and Rex (Tuesday night) are the most famous of the parades, drawing rowdy attendees to partake in song and dance free of inhibition.

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival - Trinidad and Tobago - Its vibrant history and French roots set the tone for Trinidad and Tobago's most significant celebration each year: Carnival. The Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday draw the Caribbean destination's population to the streets to show off elaborate costumes that groups take months to create. Bands compete against one another for the title of Band of the Year as individuals vie to become Calypso Monarch, one of the greatest honors in the country

Carnival of Brazil - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - There's really no comparison when it comes to Carnival celebrations when Rio is thrown in the mix. Brazilians take their weeks before Lent very seriously, putting on large-scale parades and festivities that in 2011 drew nearly 5 million people. The most famous holiday in Brazil features samba schools, or large groups of dancers and performers, who build spectacular floats and compete in one of seven divisions based on music, costumes and theme. Individual neighborhoods more and more are seeing smaller-scale parades, blocos, which feature drum parades, samba and other high-octane sights and sounds.

Quebec Winter Carnival - Quebec City, Quebec, Canada - Quebec City comes to life every February for the Quebec Winter Festival. Outdoor sports like snowboarding and dog sledding, snow sculpture contests and masquerade balls are all on the schedule each year as Canadians celebrate a winterized version of Carnival. Visitors bundle up during the coldest time of year for a reason: zip lines, concerts and ice skating make for tons of fun for kids and adults alike. Like with most pre-Lent celebrations, the parades—both during the day and at night—are the highlight of Quebec's ode to Carnival.

Mardi Gras - Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida, U.S. - Though Orlando may not be the first town that comes to mind when you think of Mardi Gras, Universal Studios puts on a celebration of beads and live music that the whole family can enjoy. For nearly two months on Saturdays and certain nights, the park entertains with headliners like Kelly Clarkson, and dishes up Cajun treats like jambalaya and shrimp gumbo—a wonderful homage to New Orleans' French Quarter..

Source: www.cheapflights.com

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Word of the Day

January 25, 2012 6:30 pm

Trustee. One who as agent for others handles money or holds title to their land.

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Question of the Day

January 25, 2012 6:30 pm

Q: What guidelines are useful for finding an architect?
A: Start by finding out who designed the projects that you like in your community. Get referrals from people you know, or the local American Institute of Architects (AIA). Interview three to five firms to get a range of possibilities for your project. But only select firms that specialize in residential designs, preferably remodeling, and review their portfolios and talk with past clients. Insist on meeting the key people who will work on your project and ask questions until you’re comfortable and confident about your decision. Ultimately, select a firm based on its design ability, technical competence, professional service, and cost. Then, enter into detailed negotiations about service and compensation. The AIA offers standard-form owner-architect agreements that can help you begin this process.

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6 Ways to Increase Your Home’s Value

January 24, 2012 6:28 pm

Homeowners nationwide have seen their home values dip over the past few years, more in some areas than others. But homes are still selling, noted California REALTOR® Ellen Parker, who recently sold a $1 million property in an Orange County neighborhood where sales have been relatively slow.

“People have to sell their homes for a variety of reasons,” Parker said, “and buyers are out there for a home that has good curb appeal, is fairly priced, and is well-maintained inside and out.”

Parker shares six ways homeowners can be assured their homes will continue to gain value, even in a slow market:

• Make repairs – It’s hard to spend money when budgets are tight, but don’t procrastinate on needed repairs such as roof work, painting, or landscaping. Making repairs are a necessary component of homeownership, and staying on top of them is a sure way to safeguard your home’s value.
• Update the kitchen – Kitchens are a major selling point, and little turns a buyer off more than outdated cabinets, counters, and appliances. On the other hand, don’t go overboard with expensive amenities without researching neighborhood comparables.
• Update bathrooms – Handsome low profile toilets can cost under $100, and stained or damaged tubs or showers are inexpensive to repair or replace. Attractive lighting fixtures and/or updated sinks also appeal to today’s buyers.
• Energy savings - Buyers want homes that are energy efficient. Low-flush toilets, solar panels, water filtration systems, and insulated windows are all inexpensive but worthwhile fixes.
• Keep the neighborhood desirable – Get involved in local organizations, such as the PTA or service clubs, which have a stake in school and community improvement. Involvement is a good way to keep track of what’s going on in your schools and neighborhoods, and can increase the odds that yours is the neighborhood most desired by new and move-up buyers.

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Tips on Saving Big on Monthly Expenses

January 24, 2012 6:28 pm

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to resolve to save money. With just a few basic lifestyle changes, renters can save up to $368 per month, or $4,416 per year!

Finding the perfect balance between pinching pennies and enjoying your home and life can be difficult, but easy money-saving techniques can help your readers stay on budget in 2012. By making eight simple changes in your home, renters can save up to $368 per month.

1. Ditch Cable - Renters pay, on average, $100 per month for cable television. Busy lifestyles mean that many rarely get to watch shows when they air, and rely on services like DVR to watch their favorite programs later. Why not consider a service like Hulu Plus or Netflix? It’s simple to connect your computer to your television and watch TV when it’s convenient for you.
• Average Savings per Month: $92

2. Space-by-space Heat – Energy bills run, on average, $183 per month. By using a space heater in the rooms where you need it and setting the thermostat to 62 degrees, you can save approximately $200 each year.
• Average Savings per Month: $17

3. Cut the Phone Cord – With all of the functionality of smart phones, a landline may be unnecessary. By eliminating a monthly telephone bill, renters can save, on average, $35 per month.
• Average Savings per Month: $35

4. Illuminate Your Savings - While not a large savings monthly, replacing light bulbs with an Energy Star qualified light bulb can save $6 per year, and nearly $40 over its lifetime—and it will last six times longer. For example, if you have six lamps in your apartment, you can save $3 per month. It may not seem like a lot, but the savings will add up over time.
• Average Savings per Month: $3

5. Skip the Hot Water – By doing your laundry in cold water rather than hot, you reduce energy usage by 90 percent and can save $72 per year! Plus, your clothes will be just as clean.
• Average Savings per Month: $6

6. Work Out in Comfort - Skip the gym membership and save, on average, $775 per year. In many cities, you will find the savings to be even more. You can still get in your workouts—consider running, or many exercises that can be done with little or no equipment in the comfort of your own home.
• Average Savings per Month: $65

7. Use Your Kitchen – You are paying rent for your kitchen, whether you use it or not. The average American eats out 6 times per month, spending an average of $172. Eat out just once a month and cook at home instead.
• Average Savings per Month: $144

8. Pull the Plug – By unplugging appliances and electronics when you are not using them, you can save a bundle on energy. Unplugging one fax machine, one computer monitor, and one television can save $70 per year. Just turning it off is not enough.
• Average Savings per Month: $6

If you are renting in one of the top 10 most expensive cities, you may find your savings to be even more. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following metropolitan areas have the highest cost of living, as determined by the consumer price index as of August 2011.

1. New York/Northern New Jersey/Long Island, N.Y./N.J./Conn./Pa.
2. Philadelphia/Wilmington/Atlantic City, Pa./N.J./Del./M.D.
3. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, Calif.
4. Seattle/Tacoma/Bremerton, Wash.
5. Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
6. Los Angeles/Riverside/Orange County, Calif.
7. Chicago/Gary/Kenosha, Ill./Ind./Wis.
8. Detroit/Ann Arbor/Flint, Mich.
9. Atlanta, Ga.
10. Houston/Galveston/Brazoria, TX

For more information, visit www.rent.com

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How to Make Your Home ‘Pop’ on the MLS

January 24, 2012 6:28 pm

New housing reports out this month indicate that 2012 might be the year that the housing market begins to turn around and the combination of low interest rates, improved unemployment rates and current low home prices should bring some relief. In addition, according to Freddie Mac's U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook survey, home sales are expected to increase between 2 and 5 percent year over year. However sellers trying to sell their home right now know that properties are not moving quickly and often those that do are selling for much less than anticipated.

There are a few ways that sellers can increase their chance of selling their home and for a decent price—but it might take a little work. Here are the top recommendations from HomeInsurance.com on ways to make your home really stand out in the current real estate market:

Stage it -
When it comes time to show your home, really take time beforehand to clean up the design elements and make the home as inviting as possible. We aren't suggesting a full re-design, just a refresher. Consider how your furniture is setup and move a few things around if you can make it seem more comfortable and practical. If you tend to a favor one dominant design style, consider toning it down to something more "neutral" until the home sells. Add some last minute touches that can really add essence such as a fresh bouquet of flowers on the dining room table.

Curb Appeal - Most potential buyers will do an initial drive by before they take the time to schedule a showing and they will surely always judge a book by its cover. Make sure your home has true curb appeal by cleaning up the exterior of your home to make it inviting. Have a landscaper do a yard cleanup and make sure the grass is always freshly mowed. Don't allow any overgrowth to clutter garden beds and make sure trees and bushes are well-pruned. Also, if there are any repairs that need to be done to the outside of the house (i.e. missing roof shingles, broken windows) now is the time to get them fixed.

De-clutter - Aside from the intensely neat and organized folks, most people will let some clutter build up in and around their home. Most common problem areas? Counter tops, closets and family rooms. Now is the time to get organized and to de-clutter. When a potential buyer enters your home you want it to be clean, airy and free of junk piles. This helps people feel welcome in your home and more able to envision it as their own- and not like they just stopped into a stranger's house unannounced.

Share savings perks - There are many more financial aspects to consider with a home than just asking price and property taxes. If you want your home to stand out amongst other homes in your price range be sure to point out savings perks such as low utilities and affordable homeowners insurance premiums in the area. For example, if the house has a monitored security alarm, new homeowners can typically save up to 15 percent on their home insurance. These types of savings might just be enough to make your home more desirable than a less expensive home with higher costs of living.

Throw in a home warranty - If your major appliances aren't brand new it can be a major bonus for a buyer if you offer a one-year home warranty. A home warranty covers the appliances and systems in your home that break down due to normal wear and tear. Typically you can purchase a home warranty on behalf of your buyer for $300-$600 and it gives them the peace of mind that if anything breaks within the first year, they won't be stuck with costly repairs.

Don't underestimate aromatherapy - Last but not least, keep in mind that one of our strongest senses is our sense of smell. If your home is musty or smells like Fido, you may be used to it and not even notice it anymore. However, someone considering your home for purchase may see this as a huge turn off. Keep your home really clean while it is on the market and use cleaning products that don't leave a strong, headache-inducing odor. Instead, once odor-neutral, keep some light potpourri in a bowl or burn a clean scented candle to add some aromatherapy to the experience.

Source: HomeInsurance.com

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Top 10 Homeowner Financing Tips

January 24, 2012 6:28 pm

Here are 10 great tips to consider when getting a mortgage.

1. Don’t Stretch Your Loan Qualification Limits to Buy a Home Beyond Your Budget. A home should be a source of satisfaction and an investment not a financial albatross, especially for first-time buyers. Borrowing heavily from family members, selling assets, and living poor just to own a bigger or better home, makes for larger mortgage payments and risks difficulties in the future.

2. Always Shop for Competitive Rates, Points, and Fees.
Get at least three bids. The most competitive lender one week may not be next week so get (or reconfirm) quotes the same week you are ready to make the commitment.

3. Get An Immediate Written Confirmation of Your Locked-in Interest Rate and Interest Rate Terms. You might find some discrepancies with the figures used on the final loan documents.

4. Don’t Agree to Prepayment Penalties. You may want to refinance or partially prepay part of the mortgage. If there is no mention of prepayment penalties, make sure you have an addendum attached to the mortgage specifying that no fees will be imposed.

5. Understanding All the Conditions of Your Loan:
You or a professional that you trust should thoroughly scrutinize each document. Ask questions if you aren’t sure what something means.

6. Pick the Right Kind of Loan. Rates are higher on 30 year loans than on comparable 15 year loans. That's because there is a greater risk that rates will go up the longer the lender commits to a fixed rate. Lenders hate holding loans at below market rates. While there is an advantage to the predictability of fixed rates, if you expect to be transferred in 5 years, you’ll be paying more than you need for a 30 year fixed rate loan. If you want both the security of predictable payments and the lowest monthly payment consider "hybrid" loans - those with a fixed rate for the first five or seven years of their 30 year duration. If you are going to be there for a shorter period, or have confidence that rates will be dropping further, consider an adjustable rate mortgage.

7. If You Are Buying Rather Than Refinancing, Consider Getting a Pre-approved Mortgage or Contingent Loan Approval Letter.
The former is a binding commitment for a loan up to a certain amount. It can substantially strengthen your negotiating position with the seller, but it puts pressure on you to close a deal before the loan commitment expires. A contingent approval is a letter from a lender that states the largest loan you would qualify for, subject to confirmation of the financial information you’ve provided and formal approval. It will also give you additional negotiating leverage without binding you to the lender (or vice versa). Sometimes owner financing can work to both parties advantage. Ask the seller if it’s a possibility. If so explore further to see if there might be mutually agreeable terms before making an offer.

8. Save Everything. Lenders require and provide numerous documents. Some get misplaced, usually at the most critical time. Keep copies of everything you send the lender and everything the lender sends you.

9. Take Advantage of the Deduction. The mortgage interest deduction is one of the few remaining tax deductible interest payments, and it’s also the cheapest form of long term financing. Consider financing/refinancing as an alternative source of funds for home improvements or other constructive long term investments like education. Don’t get in over your head, and never use it to finance your summer vacation or other short term pleasures.

10. Study! A lot of money is at stake. You can’t learn too much, and you won’t have time to learn what you need, interview and select a lender in the five days allowed most buyers to apply for a loan. Read the real estate section of your local paper and books on the subject.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners

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Word of the Day

January 24, 2012 6:28 pm

Trust deed. A document used in place of a mortgage in certain states; a third-party trustee, not the lender, holds the title to the property until the loan is paid out or defaulted. Also called a deed of trust.

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Question of the Day

January 24, 2012 6:28 pm

Q: What is a variance?

A: It is a request made to your local jurisdiction to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, a variance will allow you to use your land in a way that is normally not permitted by the zoning ordinance.

However, do not view a variance as something that changes the zoning law because it does not. Rather it waives a certain requirement of the zoning ordinance. For example, it may allow the owner of an odd-shaped lot to reduce slightly the setback requirements in order to accommodate a building, or permit the building of a gazebo in the back yard.

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