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Create a Holiday Wreath that Reflects Your Style

December 8, 2011 4:58 pm

Winter White
Get a first-frost look with a simple paint treatment.

Step 1: Choose an artificial wreath with no attached lighting, or update a wreath that you have on hand from past holidays.

Step 2: Spray the wreath with one coat of white paint; let dry. To create the flocked look shown here, spray the wreath with one to two coats of orange-peel ceiling texture paint. Allow to dry.

Step 3: Lightly spray a pinecone decorative pick with gold spray paint. Let dry.

Step 4: Tie white ribbon into a bow, and secure with 22-gauge wire. Attach a gold bow to the white ribbon using wire. Secure the bow to the wreath’s metal frame using wire. Separate the pinecones from the pick, and attach to the bow.

Squared Away
Mix live greenery and silver ornaments for a tailored twist.

Step 1: Select a square live wreath. Choose an assortment of shiny silver ornaments and matte-finish ornaments.

Step 2: Cut an 8-inch length of 22-gauge wire for each ornament. Loop the wire pieces through the ornament hangers.

Step 3: To secure each ornament, pull the wire through the wreath and wrap it around the metal frame. When tying the ends of the wire on the back of the wreath, follow the same grid to help align the ornaments. Bend and adjust the wire to straighten your pattern after all the ornaments are attached.

Fresh-Cut Snowflake
Turn Christmas tree trimmings into a one-of-a-kind wreath.

Step 1: Gather six pieces of trimmings from your live Christmas tree. Use shears to cut the pieces to the desired lengths (ours measure approximately 13 inches).

Step 2: On a workspace, place two sprigs face down and end to end. Cut a length of 9-gauge wire that measures two inches longer than the span of the two sprigs. The wire will serve as a spine for the wreath. Using pliers, create a loop at one end of the wire.

Step 3: Lay the wire on top of the sprigs with the loop flush with one end. Use 22-gauge wire to secure the sprigs to the 9-gauge wire at various points.

Step 4: Use the 22-gauge wire to secure the remaining four sprigs to the 9-gauge wire in an X pattern.

Step 5: Add evergreen sprigs, such as boxwood and pine clippings, to the front of the wreath near the center using 22-gauge wire.

Step 6: If desired, use jute twine to add a clear glass finial ornament near the center of the wreath.

Good to Know
Place extra trimmings in vases to carry the fresh-cut scent of the season throughout your home.

This article is excerpted from Lowe’s Creative Ideas magazine. For more information, please visit www.lowes.com.

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Top 5 Tax Moves to Make by December 31

December 7, 2011 7:56 pm

As December begins and the holiday season and spirit of giving move into full swing, why not make a few tax moves now that could give you added savings when you file your 2011 tax return?

"There is still time for a final push to claim several tax benefits before 2011 winds to a close," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. "In fact, many taxpayers will be doing things like giving to charities and pre-paying January tuition, but the key is knowing how these and other common expenses may count as tax deductions if you qualify."

Steber notes the five key considerations taxpayers should be thinking of before December 31 to reduce taxable income and increase deductions or credits to claim:

1. Save more for retirement – By increasing retirement plan contributions, you can reduce your income for tax purposes. Taxpayers can contribute up to $16,500 to a 401(k), 403(b) or Federal Government Thrift Savings Plan; those over age 50 can contribute an additional $5,500.
2. Prepay January payments in December – Taking care of your January mortgage payment, 4th quarter state tax estimate, or winter semester tuition now lets you claim these payments on your 2011 tax return.
3. Get to the doctor! – If you are holding off on a major medical procedure until after the holidays, stop procrastinating and make an appointment now to increase your 2011 medical expense deductions.
4. Give to charity – Giving cash and non-cash donations to charity can give back on your taxes. And volunteering time counts too, which means the more than 80,000 volunteers who lent a helping hand to the Joplin, Mo. tornado victims may be able to deduct their out-of-pocket expenses on a tax return.
5. Save energy, save $500 on your taxes – If you are planning to buy an energy saving hot water heater or install energy efficient windows or insulation to your home, do it now. Up to $500 in credit may be available for making energy-related home improvements.

Source: www.jacksonhewittonline.com.

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Homeowners: Prevent Ice Dam Damage This Winter

December 7, 2011 7:56 pm

Ice dams can cause serious trouble for homeowners, wreaking havoc on roofs, ceilings and basements. By preparing before the winter storm onslaught, homeowner’s can save their time, money, and sanity. 

"Icicles hanging from the edge of a roof are often the result of an ice dam," notes Paul Quinn, Farmers Insurance Assistant Vice President of Claims Communications. "These ice dams form when water from melting snow runs down the roof and re-freezes as the air temperature dips, or when warm air from inside your home leaks into your attic, and that can cause significant damage to your home." 

Quinn says the meltwater that refreezes on the roof's edge, creates a band of ice along an eve and before long it acts as a dam, holding back a pool of water that can eventually back up under the shingles, seep inside, and soak into the walls and ceilings—"and the homeowner realizes the beautiful snowfall has turned into an ugly mess. 

"If you have an ice dam, you can hire an ice dam removal service, but if you try it yourself, please be careful and do not climb up on the roof to remove the snow or ice dams. That should be done by professionals," Quinn adds. 

"Be prepared this winter. Don't find yourself worrying all winter that your home is going to be damaged from the snow when it can be prevented," Quinn concludes. 

Source: www.farmers.com

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End Your Wallet Woes: Holiday Personal Finance Tips

December 7, 2011 7:56 pm

Holiday season can be stressful for consumers, especially if the prospect of buying gifts will add to an already burdensome debt load.

ACA International offers the following personal finance tips for consumers this holiday season. "Careful planning and active communication are important tools to effectively managing personal finances, particularly if a consumer is struggling to make payments on their current debt obligations or being contacted by a debt collector," said ACA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Morris.

• Plan and Budget: Holiday gift giving doesn't need to break the bank; after all, it's the thought that counts. Determine what you can reasonably afford, create a budget and plan for gifts, and stick to it. Keep in mind that purchases on credit will need to be repaid at some point in the future.
• Track your Spending: Keep tabs on how much you spend to help stay within the guidelines of your "holiday budget."
• Protect your Identity: Be careful about giving personal information including a credit or debit card number over the phone and online. Monitor your accounts and immediately report any suspicious or unauthorized purchases to your bank or credit card company. Consumers should monitor their credit and are entitled to a free credit report each year at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you believe your identity has been stolen, contact your local police department.
• Communicate with Creditors: Having trouble making payments on an existing debt? Contact the creditor to discuss alternative payment arrangements. It won't eliminate your debt but it can make things more manageable. Communication is particularly important if you are behind in payments to a creditor (e.g., credit card, loan, mortgage, medical) to avoid having the debt appear on credit reports.
• Communicate with the Debt Collector: In the event you hear from a debt collector, avoiding a letter or call won't make the debt disappear. The reason for the contact cannot be resolved without the ability to communicate; whether it's to pay an owed debt, verify an alleged debt or confirm that the debt collector has reached the wrong person.

Consumers have Rights: Consumers deserve to be treated respectfully and have rights under federal and state law. For more information about consumer rights in debt collection or to ask questions, visit www.askdoctordebt.org.

Source: www.acainternational.org.

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Save Your Pearly Whites; Celebrate Good Oral Health

December 7, 2011 7:56 pm

'Tis the season for giving, but remember to give yourself the most important gift of all this holiday season: a healthy smile! Maintaining good oral hygiene during the holiday season is more important than ever, advises the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

"Holiday get-togethers tend to lead people to consume sugary treats and drink alcoholic beverages more than usual," says AGD spokesperson George Shepley, DDS, MAGD. "Additionally, with their busy schedules and increased stress levels, I've noticed that my patients' oral hygiene suffers. They forget the most basic of oral hygiene tasks that can counteract the effects of sugary snacks and drinks."

If all you want this holiday season is to keep your two front teeth, or all of your teeth for that matter, then check out Shepley's tips on how to save your smile.

Wine
Whether red or white, the high acidity levels in wine can eat away at a tooth's enamel. Tooth enamel is critical in the protection against decay and cavities. To avoid damage, refrain from swishing the wine around in your mouth, and drink water in between beverages to rinse the teeth of the acid. Cheers!

Sugary Treats
Bacteria in the mouth thrive on the sugars found in candy canes, chocolate, and gingerbread cookies, increasing the likelihood of developing cavities. If you are not able to brush and floss after munching on sweet treats, drink water or chew a piece of sugarless gum. This will boost saliva flow in the mouth and help wash away bacteria.

Stress
Holiday anxiety can cause people to grind or clench their teeth, causing jaw pain, headaches, and chipping. "Finding ways to alleviate your anxiety can help, but it's also important to see your dentist, who can recommend solutions like a custom night guard," advises Shepley. "Wearing one at night will prevent you from taking out the holiday stress on your teeth while you sleep."

Shepley encourages his patients to remember that the gift of oral health is one that keeps on giving all year long!

"A healthy smile should always be at the top of your wish list," says Shepley. "Brush and floss your teeth twice daily and schedule an appointment to see your general dentist at least twice a year."

For more information about oral health, visit www.KnowYourTeeth.com.

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Word of the Day

December 7, 2011 7:56 pm

Rent control. Government-imposed restrictions on the amount of rent a property owner can charge.

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Question of the Day

December 7, 2011 7:56 pm

Q: What is condo and co-op insurance?

A: This insurance protects your investment and personal belongings from most disasters. As an owner, you will need two insurance policies – your own to cover liability, living expenses, your belongings and structural improvements, and a master policy provided by the condo or co-op board. The master policy covers the common areas that you share with others in the building. It is paid for using the monthly condo fee that you and other owners pay.

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7 Fun Ideas for Frugal Holiday Parties

December 6, 2011 7:54 pm

It’s the time of year when many people think of hosting a holiday party. But with budgets tight, it may not be the right time to deck the halls with expensive décor or spring for elegant foods and drinks.

“If that’s your dilemma,” suggests Los Angeles party planner Eloise Gunn, “remember that successful parties are less about your cooking skills or fancy dinnerware than about getting friends together for a warm and inviting afternoon or evening.”

Gunn offers seven ideas for planning and putting on a great gathering without breaking the budget:

• Make it a potluck – Supply the main course but ask your guests to bring a favorite side dish or dessert. Nobody minds bringing a dish to share, and it keeps expenses down for all.
• Make it a wine tasting – Provide plenty of nibbles and finger foods, but ask each guest to bring a bottle or two of wine for tasting. You might provide a prize—perhaps a bottle of good champagne or a fancy corkscrew—and have all guests vote for the winner.
Make it a game day – Set up game tables and provide – or borrow – a selection of board, dice, and/or card games. Provide self-serve sandwich fixings, a selection of soft drinks, and holiday cookies for dessert. It’s a great way to include kids for a family afternoon party.
• Keep the décor simple – Pile colorful Christmas ornaments in glass bowls or baskets. String some holly and lights along the mantel—or use your Hanukah menorah as a centerpiece.
• Make it musical – Start off with some classic holiday music to set the tone—then switch to the kind of music you and your friends most enjoy. But be sure to keep it in the background, so it doesn’t stifle conversation.
• Keep it playful – If things start to lag, try an impromptu round of charades or Pictionary—or ask each guest to bring an inexpensive novelty item for an old-fashioned, grab-bag gift swap.
• Send home simple party favors – Fill a bowl near the front door with candy canes or small, wrapped candies. Personalize some homemade cookies—or send everyone home with a store-bought or handmade ornament.

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10 Tips for Hiring a Heating and Cooling Contractor

December 6, 2011 7:54 pm

There’s already so much to worry about this time of year. From family get-togethers to gift giving and more, the last thing you need is for something to go wrong with your heating system and not know where to go first.
If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, be prepared and use these tips to help you find a contractor, according to EnergyStar.gov:

Study up — Find out about license and insurance requirements for contractors in your state. And before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your heating needs.

Ask for referrals — Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for contractor referrals. You can also contact local trade organizations for names of members in your area.

Call references — Ask contractors for customer references and call them. Ask about the contractor's installation or service performance, and if the job was completed on time and within budget.

Find special offers — A heating and cooling system is one of the largest purchases you'll make as a homeowner. Keep your costs down by checking around for available rebates on energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. Begin your search at www.energystar.gov.

Look for ENERGY STAR — ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offer significant long-term energy savings. Contractors should be able to show you calculations of savings for ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment.

Expect a home evaluation — The contractor should spend significant time inspecting your current system and home to assess your needs. A bigger system isn't always better; a contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows. A good contractor will inspect your duct system (if applicable) for air leaks and insulation and measure airflow to make sure it meets manufacturers’ specifications.

Get written, itemized estimates — When comparing contractors' proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. A lowest price may not be the best deal if it's not the most efficient because your energy costs will be higher.

Get it in ink — Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It'll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.

Pass it on — Tell friends and family about ENERGY STAR. Almost one-quarter of households knowingly purchased at least one qualified product last year, and 71% of those consumers say they would recommend ENERGY STAR to a friend. Spread the word, and we can all make a big difference.

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5 Concepts to Get Listings Sold in Today's Market

December 6, 2011 7:54 pm

Listings are the backbone of the real estate business. It’s important to build your inventory of listed properties, and service and market them well. But most agents don’t do enough with listings once they get them.

The following concepts will help you get your inventory sold, as well as help you service your sellers. What’s important is that you put a system in place that helps you achieve these important goals.

Concept 1: Sellers want communication. Most agents think the only thing homeowners want when they list with an agent is to sell their house. Of course this is important, but from the time they list with you to the time it sells, the No. 1 thing they want is communication. A frequent complaint about agents is that they list homes and are never heard from again. So keep in touch with the seller through various means, such as phone calls, e-mails, notes, and face-to-face meetings.

Concept 2: Commitment counts. Some sellers are totally committed to price, and less committed to moving. There’s nothing wrong with taking an overpriced listing as long as you communicate upfront that it’s overpriced. Make sure sellers know that by being more committed to price, they may not be able to sell.

Concept 3: Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your job is not to outpromise your competition in order to get the listing. Keep the few promises you make rather than make many promises and break them.

Concept 4: Sell the agents, not the buyers. To boost your chances of selling, you need to have more agents through the door, which means more showings. Get agents excited so that out of all the homes on the market in this particular price range, they remember your listing best. Have the mindset that your job as a marketing agent is to motivate the other agents in your market – not just to sell a home.

Concept 5: Price it right. If your inventory isn’t selling, either your price or the marketing is wrong.

For over 20 years, Darryl Davis has traveled around the country coaching agents and brokers on how to achieve their Next Level of success.

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