731 W Skippack Pike
April 10, 2012 7:04 pm
Q: What are the best home improvement projects to maximize ROI, or Return on Investment?
A: Experts agree that any remodeling project that brings your home up to the level of your neighbors’ is a worthy investment. However, some improvements offer a greater return than others. It depends on the type of work you have done. Remodeling magazine publishes an annual “Cost vs. Value Report.” The most recent report, based on the top 16 home improvements for a mid-range home, says the highest remodeling paybacks have come from vinyl siding replacement (with 87.2 percent of the cost recouped), wood window replacement (85.3 percent), minor kitchen remodeling (85.2 percent), bathroom remodeling (84.9 percent), and vinyl window replacement (83.7 percent).
April 9, 2012 7:04 pm
Founded by a group of lawn care professionals, LawnCare.net is a credible site that allows readers to post comments, ask questions and offer feedback. I became a fan of one of their columnists, Katie, who writes a weekly lawn care column.
A recent column even covered questions you should ask if interviewing or hiring lawn care service providers:
Do you have commercial pesticide license?
Katie says it might seem like jumping the gun to charge right out of the gate with this question, but the answer will tell you much more than whether they are legally allowed to treat your lawn. It will also tell you if the provider has had some formal training with lawn and garden care beyond mowing his or her parents' back yard.
The license signifies that the provider has been instructed about how to safely apply fertilizers, weed and insect controls-whether organic or synthetic.
Also, if they don't have a commercial pesticide license, they cannot legally apply any chemicals to your lawn. Period.
Do you have insurance-business, liability and worker's comp?
Katie says if the lawn care provider does not have insurance, if they damage something on your property, you may or may not be able to get the damages repaired. Additionally, if the business owner or injure themselves on your property, you want to make sure that they have the proper insurance so that you cannot be held liable.
May I see your portfolio?
Now, this one is more important for landscapers that will be doing more work than just lawn care, but it never hurts to see pictures, regardless. Look for clean edging, no mower marks, healthy plants, etc.
Do you give notice before spraying chemicals?
According to Katie, this is especially important if you have children or pets, as you will want to make sure that they are out of harm's way, and stay off the grass for the specified time. Additionally, you don't want them to come do a massive weed treatment one week before your big garden party or cookout. Burned weeds everywhere? Not pretty!
What is included in each weekly visit—and what treatments are included in my yearly service plan?
That might seem like a no-brainer, but it is always good to get in writing what you are paying for.
Katie says a list of included services will also help you plan any events you have at home. (You don't want your lawn care provider to aerate three days before a party, either.)
Can the service provider do any seasonal garden maintenance, or just lawn maintenance?
A little bit of extra landscaping goes a long way toward increasing your home value. It also makes a home more inviting. However, many people don't add extra landscaping because they don't want to take care of it. Hiring a lawn care service provider that can help with landscaping maintenance makes caring for your garden much easier.
April 9, 2012 7:04 pm
The flowers are blooming and the sun is shining. Perhaps you have already spend some quality time in your garden or sprucing up your lawn. But what are you doing to welcome spring inside your home this year?
"It's easy to usher in the warm weather and bring new life inside, no matter what style you prefer," says Kris Woodcock, VP of Merchandising for Ashley Home Furniture. "From facing furniture toward the light, to placing a favorite armchair near a pretty outdoor view, to opening curtains wide—it's relatively simple to make nature's biggest spectacle part of the décor."
The following spring decorating tips can help you greet the season in style:
Whiten Up. White is fresh; it simulates natural daylight and offers an easy transition between indoors and out. Welcome in spring by adding this simple hue to your home:
• Paint your kitchen cabinets white. White kitchens aren't just white-hot; they're cool and coastal-feeling. Choose cool whites for a modern feel; warmer antique whites for a classic, vintage or rustic feel.
• Place white tulips or Easter lilies in a glass vase or pitcher.
• Use the one-color-plus-white rule for toss pillows, table linens and bedding. Just choose patterns that pair white with another color for a light-and-airy effect.
Go Green. Spring greens are uniquely cool and warm, on the border between warm yellow and cool blue. Even a hint of this breezy hue makes our rooms more open and airy, blurring boundaries between indoors and out. Welcome in spring by adding this fresh hue to your home:
• Place limes in a sleek glass bowl or hurricane for the perfect centerpiece.
• Invest in a set of spring green napkins or placemats. Green is one of nature's neutrals and works with almost any color.
• Choose a leafy green toss pillow or lime-colored table linens.
Make Hay. Sisal, straw, raffia, jute, coir, and seagrasses feel casual and coastal, recalling gardening hats and picnic baskets. As much a natural color as a natural texture, they put us in a pared-back, warm state of mind. Welcome in spring by adding nature's favorite texture to your home:
• Place a sisal rug or jute rug under a table, seating group or bed. Or place a woven welcome mat at the front door, indoors and out.
• Add square or rectangular-shaped woven baskets on shelves or under the coffee table. Fill them with anything and everything to reduce clutter elsewhere.
• Add a wicker or rattan accent chair (or a pair of chairs) in the living room, next to a window in the bedroom.
• Use jute or straw placemats. They add an outdoorsy texture to plate settings.
April 9, 2012 7:04 pm
Just in time to make a difference before swimsuit season kicks in, Reader’s Digest has released a new book, “The Digest Diet,” with some interesting if little-known healthful diet tips that may help you to drop a few pounds.
Among them are 10 suggestions for reducing unwanted belly fat:
1. Eat fat to lose fat – Healthful fats, such as olive oil, nuts, and avocado, are known to stimulate weight loss. They also help you feel full. Use olive oil in dressings and other foods, and reach for a handful of nuts or a celery stick with a bit of peanut butter if you get the afternoon hungries.
2. The right chocolate – Cocoa has natural antioxidants. Eaten in moderation, and without much sugar, it can aid in weight loss. Try adding unsweetened cocoa to fruit shakes, coffee, and other foods.
3. The dairy myth – It is a misperception that dairy foods sabotage diets. Yogurt and non-fat milk or cheeses actually encourage weight loss.
4. Exercise alone is not enough – Too much hard exercising can make you hungry enough to eat more than you should. Exercise in moderation while reducing caloric intake.
5. Keep busy – Little movements, even fidgeting, burns a few calories. Light chores like ironing, dishwashing or light aerobics can burn up to 350 calories a day.
6. Beat junk food cravings – prolonged desk work can play havoc with your glucose levels and make you crave carbs and/or sugar. Resist by keeping better snacks handy, like Greek yogurt, a handful of almonds, or carrot sticks with a teaspoon of peanut butter.
7. A little vino – Studies show that a glass of red wine a day is not only good for your health, but may also help release fat cells.
8. Hey, honey – As you cut back on sugar, consider using a little honey in your coffee and/or cereal. It may help to boost blood sugar control and boost certain immunities.
9. Don’t skimp on sleep – Studies show people who get at least eight hours of sleep a night have an easier time losing weight than those who sleep six hours or less.
10. Breathe better air – Research suggests certain toxins, chemicals and compounds we breathe may be contributing to the nation’s fat creep. Try a HEPA air filter in your home to breathe healthier air.
April 9, 2012 7:04 pm
Still planning your summer vacation? A recent AAA travel agent survey showed that, despite rising fuel costs, many vacation loyalists are still traveling this summer. Additionally, AAA Travel's lists of top summer vacation destinations include choices popular with American families for generations within the United States and around the world. While many Americans head to their computers when planning a summer getaway, planning a vacation can be overwhelming.
"Many Americans consider travel a mainstay to our way of life and are loyal vacationers," says Bill Sutherland, vice president, AAA Travel Services. "While some Americans may modify their travel due to rising fuel costs, those who can are still choosing to travel and they are traversing the world."
The following are AAA’s top summer vacation spots:
Land Vacation Destinations:
Leading the way in popularity for summer travel are vacations to the Orlando area, consistently holding the valedictorian spot in the top destination class year after year.
Cruise Vacation Destinations:
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forecasts that more than 17 million vacationers will cruise the world's waterways in 2012, one million more than last year. AAA Travel sales data shows significant increases in cruise bookings for the summer family vacation season and throughout 2012 and into 2013.
Exotic Vacation Destinations:
April 9, 2012 7:04 pm
Conventional loan. Real estate loan that is not insured by the FHA or guaranteed by the VA.
April 9, 2012 7:04 pm
Q: What can I do to minimize chaos, danger and stress once a home improvement project has begun?
A: Plan ahead. Since your home will become a worksite once the remodeling begins, inconveniences will arise that can be minimized with a little planning. Begin by having a frank discussion with the contractor to set guidelines and develop a clear understanding upfront about the various project stages and the processes involved. Talk, for example, about where building materials will be stored, how to best protect your belongings from dust and debris, areas of your home that will be off limits to workers and whether you will need to vacate the home for any reason over the duration of the work. If a kitchen or bath will be out of commission, plan accordingly. It’s okay to move the refrigerator, microwave and toaster oven to the basement or another designated area where you can prepare meals to avoid eating out. Equally important are the rules that dictate how workers can conduct themselves in your home. Will they be able to use your bathroom and the telephone? Will they be prohibited from smoking, playing their radios or using profanity? Finally, remember to preserve a safe haven in your home where you can flee the chaos and dust and attempt to maintain your sanity.
April 5, 2012 4:00 pm
Hike, drive, ride, fish, climb, sail, row, bob, fly or surf in locales from western France up to the Arctic Circle and over to Iceland with Crystal Cruises in Northern Europe from May to September. The ultra-luxe line has set more than 100 new boutique Crystal Adventures to take maximum advantage of the region's abundant outdoor opportunities and stunning natural beauty.
On new outings, outdoor enthusiasts can:
• River Raft Iceland's glacial Hvita River (outside Reyjkavik).
• Rock Climb Ireland's Mourne Mountains (CS Lewis's Narnia-inspiration) outside Belfast, or rappel down a Dalkey quarry after taking in the view of Dublin.
• Surf in Biarritz, with Quicksilver's world-class surf school instruction (from St.-Jean-de-Luz).
• Tank-Drive a vintage WWII battle tank for two miles near Portland.
• Helicopter over Paris and Versailles (from Honfleur), Bordeaux wine country, or Iceland's recently-erupted Eyjafjallajokull volcano (from Reykjavik).
• Olympic Wheelbob down Lillehammer's Olympic Bob & Luge Track outside Oslo.
• Horseback Ride through the "Garden of Ireland"/County Wicklow outside Dublin, Finnish countryside and forest near Helsinki, or mountains outside maiden call Akureyri, the latter on the back of Icelandic horses descended from the Viking Age.
• Kayak past colorful Copenhagen via its harbor and canals or the natural beauty of coastal northern Norway (from Tromso).
• Hike the chalky Dorset coastline in Portland, England or Norway's highest mountain, Mt. Ulriken (in Bergen).
• Fish the Finnish Archipelago, Geirangerfjord or near Reykjavik (sea angling).
• ATV or 4x4 Drive through North Cape's gateway, Mageroya Island (Honningsvag) or past glacial Icelandic landscape to either a lobster lunch or snowmobile adventure (Reykjavik).
• Boat past Helsinki's seaside villas and lighthouses by catamaran; discover caves and orkas in maiden call Heimaey, Iceland by RIB or motorboat; spot puffins on a RIB sea safari to Runde Island (near Alesund, Norway); or scout for sea eagles by Zodiac in Lofoten, Norway (maiden call).
• Soak weary, post-activity bones in a natural geothermic/volcanic lagoon en route to stunning Godafoss, a.k.a. "Waterfall of the Gods" (from Akureyri).
Other new boutique excursions that focus on the arts and off-beat experiences (and require less adrenalin!):
• Blown Glassmaking near Saint-Malo: Fashion your own blown glasswork at a local studio.
• Venturing Off-the-Beaten-Path in Berlin: Explore living as the locals do, with shopping at the fruit and vegetable market, riding the Underground, and going inside a typical local apartment.
• Painting in St. Petersburg: Take a painting master class at Russia's largest private modern art gallery.
• Evening Walking with a Night Watchman in Copenhagen: Take a different type of walking tour, at night, with a traditional uniformed, and informed, local "night watchman."
• "Titanic Experience" in Belfast: Visit the new Titanic museum on the centennial anniversary of the ship's sinking.
• Gourmet Dining and Wine Tasting in Bordeaux: From slow food to Medoc wine, join local experts in exploring the region's legendary estates, including a gala dinner at Chateau Haut-Bailly.
Many Crystal Adventures offer new private options for couples. For even more intimate time ashore, guests can also custom-craft a Crystal Private Adventure or take an Overland Adventure, such as a two-day trip to Moscow from St. Petersburg.
For more information and Crystal reservations, contact a travel agent, call 888-799-4625, or visit www.crystalcruises.com
April 5, 2012 4:00 pm
In Florida, a man serving 12 years in prison for DUI manslaughter is suing his victims’ survivors for his pain, suffering, medical bills and “loss of capacity for enjoying life.”
In Illinois last year, siblings aged 20 and 23 sought more than $50,000 in damages from their mom for “bad mothering,” including setting a curfew for her then-teenage daughter, "haggling" over clothing prices, and failing to send college care packages.
Lawsuits like these are, unfortunately, more the rule than the exception, says Hillel L. Presser, a lawyer specializing in domestic and international asset protection planning and author of “Financial Self-Defense” (www.assetprotectionattorneys.com
“Litigation is America’s fastest growing business, and why not? Plaintiffs have everything to gain and nothing but a few hours’ time to lose,” Presser says. “Even if a case seems utterly ridiculous, like the guy in prison suing his victims’ family, defendants are encouraged to settle just to avoid potentially astronomical legal fees.”
So where does a person begin? You’ll likely need the expertise of an asset protection planner, Presser says, but here are some steps you can take on your own.
• Take stock of your wealth. Inventory your assets – you probably own more than you think. Besides savings and retirement accounts, consider any money owed to you, anticipated inheritances and future assets. Property includes homes, vehicles, jewelry, and land. Don’t forget to consider intangible assets, those non-physical but valuable brands, trademarks, patents and intellectual property. Visit www.assetprotectionattorneys.com for an inventory worksheet.
• Put only assets that are exempt from seizure in your name. Federal and state laws protect some personal assets from lawsuits and creditors. Those assets typically include your primary residence; personal items such as furniture and clothing; pensions and retirement funds; and life insurance. State exemption laws vary; federal laws govern exemptions in bankruptcy.
• Protectively title non-exempt assets. Putting the title to valuable assets in the names of corporations, limited partnerships, domestic trusts and other entities offers some protection. You still get to use and enjoy the asset but legal ownership is with an entity that’s not subject to your personal creditors’ claims. Which entities best shield which assets depends on the asset, your state laws, taxation and your estate plan, to name a few considerations. You can also combine protective entities, for instance, giving ownership of your limited liability company to a limited partnership. It’s best to get professional advice when choosing the entity that will best protect an asset.
Whether you’re worth millions or a few hundred thousand, it’s important to not get caught with your assets showing, Presser says. The more you have exposed, the more enticing a target you become. And the less you have, the more catastrophic the outcome can be.
“If the average person with $200,000 is sued for $1 million, he’s wiped out,” Presser says. “It’s not so horrific for the person with $25 million who gets sued for $5 million.”
Hillel L. Presser’s firm, The Presser Law Firm, P.A., represents individuals and businesses in establishing comprehensive asset protection plans. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s School of Management and Nova Southeastern University’s law school, and serves on Nova’s President’s Advisory Council.
April 5, 2012 4:00 pm
Ever play the game Mouse Trap? The goal is to build a contraption that’s set into motion when a player turns a crank. The crank spins gears that push a lever that smacks a boot that kicks a bucket that spills a marble that rolls down a chute, hits a pole and…well, you get the idea.
In the end, it catches a mouse – if you’re lucky.
Seeing how media has evolved reminds me of Mouse Trap. Get a mention in a newspaper article and find an online link to share on Twitter. Your followers retweet it to their followers, who post it on Facebook, where someone finds it and mentions it on a talk-radio fan page and, before you know it, you’re a guest on a show!
Of course, that’s a simplified scenario with a dream outcome, but it gives you the picture.
Connecting these different platforms integrates your publicity with social media. At EMSI Public Relations, we have Jeni Hinojosa, our Social Media Campaign Manager, turning the crank. She writes and posts blogs and comments, and tweets updates, on behalf of clients to build a large, credible following for them. I asked her to share a couple of the ways she has spread our clients’ messages and to give you a few tips for handling your own social media.
Hinojosa, by the way, has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a specialty in social media. She studied the “socialsphere,” how it evolved into its own subculture and how we interact with it. In short, she knows how it works – and she knows how to work it.
Here’s what she wrote:
People who casually use social media may send a few Tweets, update their Facebook status and write a weekly blog post. They connect with people whose content they’re interested in: family and friends, co-workers, fellow hobbyists, groups with shared interests or causes.
If you have serious goals, however, such as building an audience for marketing purposes, you need to do all of that and more. One strategy I use for our clients is generating “third-party conversations.” Instead of simply posting on our clients’ own social networking sites, I visit blogs, websites and fan pages of people with similar interests. I comment on their content in hopes of engaging their audience in a conversation that ultimately brings new traffic to our clients’ websites.
Here’s an example: We have a client whose message involves maintaining healthy romantic relationships. I found a great article on this topic and shared it with a comment on other sites. The article prompted conversations and I stayed involved in the discussion. When it seemed appropriate, I shared a link to our client’s blog. In this case, she got new followers on Facebook and Twitter through that one action.
Another strategy I use is promoting our clients when they’re featured in traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and TV, which all seem to have an online presence. We recently had a client who was also on board for our talk radio campaign. I promoted her upcoming interviews to her friends and followers. Then I visited the stations’ websites for links to their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. I joined their networks, friended their friends, and plugged the upcoming interviews there, too, e.g. “I’m so excited to be chatting with host’s name here on Friday about topic here.”
As a result, this client made lots of new connections among the stations’ listeners.
These are all strategies anyone can use; all they require is time and imagination. To help ensure your success, here are some tips:
• Don’t over-promote yourself. That’s the No. 1 rule. People are turned off by those who seem interested only in selling a book or product. A good rule of thumb is to make sure 80 percent of your content is light, interesting, informative or fun.Marsha Friedman is a 22-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (www.emsincorporated.com), a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. She also co-hosts "The News and Experts Radio Show with Alex and Marsha" on Sirius/XM Channel 131 on Saturdays at 5:00 PM EST.
• Don’t bury your followers in an avalanche of content. Limit Facebook status updates and Tweets to three or four a day.
• People new to social media often regard those with similar content as rivals or competitors. Actually, these can be your new best friends. When you promote Chef Shane's cooking blog, he’ll likely tweet about the great chocolate cake recipe on your website. Become a partner in sharing with online personalities where messages are similar to yours and you’ll soon have a vast support network.
Integrating publicity and social media takes some thinking, some effort and, as Hinojosa says, some creativity. But isn’t that always true when you’re trying to build a better mousetrap? And this marketing costs nothing – not with free Wi-Fi available almost everywhere you turn.
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