RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
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Mary's Blog

Toothpaste Matters: What’s in Your Tube?

February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Most parents are careful about learning what’s in the stuff their kids eat and drink. They avoid artificial dyes, preservatives, chemicals, and sweeteners. Yet ask just about any of those same folks if they have ever looked at what is in their toothpaste and you’ll likely get blank stares.

Considering the fact that children—and adults—ingest toothpaste twice a day every day, it’s probably the most frequent thing we put in our mouths other than water or other beverages. And still, most people have never looked at what is in their toothpaste.

Dentist and national oral health care expert Harold Katz, suggests that needs to change. Many ingredients in some commercial toothpastes are of questionable benefit and some are just plain bad for you.

Consumers have become increasingly aware of the hidden toxins in foods, beverages and eating and drinking utensils, he says. They avoid high fat and high sodium foods, sulfates in their personal care products, aerosol sprays, and toxic chemicals in their household cleaners.

“They’re taking no chances, and rightfully so. Remember the rush to replace plastic baby bottles with glass ones after the BPA scare in 2008?” he asked.

However there has been a surprising lack of attention to toothpaste, Katz says. The dentist suggests that all consumers – but especially parents – take the time to read their toothpaste tubes today. Effects of potentially unhealthy toothpaste ingredients are multiplied in the smaller bodies of children.

Here are a few ingredients to stay away from:
• FD&C blue dye No. 2: This commonly used toothpaste dye is one of several on the list of additives to avoid, maintained by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It’s said to be linked to learning, behavioral and health problems, severe allergic reactions, and headaches, among other problems.

• Sodium lauryl sulfate:
The American College of Toxicology reports this ingredient in cosmetics and industrial cleaning agents can cause skin corrosion and irritation. Doses of .8 to 110 grams/kilogram in lab rats caused depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and death in 4 out of 20 animals.

• Triclosan: An anti-microbial ingredient, the federal Environmental Protection Agency lists triclosan as a pesticide and regulates its use in over-the-counter toothpastes and hand soaps. According to the agency’s fact sheet, “Studies on the thyroid and estrogen effects led EPA to determine that more research on the potential health consequences of endocrine effects of triclosan is warranted. … Because of the amount of research being planned and currently in progress, it will undertake another comprehensive review of triclosan beginning in 2013.”

• Saccharin and aspartame: Both of these artificial sweeteners are on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of additives to avoid.

Toothpaste buyers should look for natural ingredients, such as aloe vera juice, which cleans and soothes teeth and gums and helps fight cavities, according to the May/June 2009 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's clinical, peer-reviewed journal. Aloe vera tooth gel is said to kill disease-causing bacteria in the mouth, Katz says.

Also, avoid all toothpastes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate, a harsh detergent that has been linked to canker sores. Toothpastes that are free of sulfates include Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste, TheraBreath and Tom’s of Maine.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day and get children into the habit from a young age, Katz says. You’ll have fresh breath, avoid painful dental problems, and be far more likely to have your teeth in your mouth when you go to sleep at night as you age.

Just be sure to check what’s in your family’s toothpaste and avoid buying anything with problematic ingredients. And when it comes to brushing kids teeth use a pea-sized drop of paste on the brush—no more—and oversee brushing to ensure young children don’t swallow their toothpaste, says Dr Katz.
Source: www.therabreath.com

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Buying Federal Real Estate

February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

If you are a citizen looking to purchase Federal real estate, the federal Government Services Administration (GSA) Office of Real Property Utilization and Disposal stands ready to handle your Federal real estate acquisition, utilization and disposal needs.

According to the GSA, there are three easy steps to finding and buying surplus Federal real estate through their Office of Real Property Disposal. As in any real estate transaction, bidders participate in an open, competitive market for the best purchase price.

PBS serves as the Federal Government’s builder, developer, lessor, and manager of government- owned and leased properties. And PBS is the largest and most diversified real estate organization in the world—responsible for managing the utilization and disposal of Federal excess and surplus real property government-wide.

There are three relatively easy steps to get started if you want to consider acquiring a PBS property:

Step 1 – Find Available Real Estate
Property Disposal Websites GSA publishes current and upcoming public sales information on its free website: www.propertydisposal.gsa.gov.The website features a U.S. map, which allows users to search for properties by state and type. Additional federal properties can also be found at www.govsales.gov, the official site to buy U.S. government property from various Federal agencies.

Step 2 – Obtain an Invitation for Bid
GSA provides all the information necessary to bid on a particular property in the Invitation for Bid (IFB) package. You can obtain an IFB for a specific property by clicking on: propertydisposal.gsa.gov - or by calling the applicable GSA regional office.

If you don't have access to the Internet, the regional GSA office responsible for available property in your state can provide additional information. IFB packages generally include the following information:

• location of the property
• property description
• maps
• pictures
• zoning and land use regulations
• environmental conditions
• general terms of the sale
• directions to the property
• Inspection guidelines

The final part of the process—acquiring your government-owned property—will be covered in a future segment.

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Warm Weather Heats Up Termite Activity

February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

According to Atlanta-based pest control leader Orkin, the above-average temperatures much of the U.S. has seen recently could mean earlier termite activity. Subterranean termite swarms have already been seen in south-central Florida and will move west into the Gulf states, north into the Carolinas and then spread throughout the country.

When the temperature rises above 60 degrees, termites often swarm inside homes before moving outdoors to search for food and water. Jim Warneke, Orkin's Southeast division technical services manager, noted homeowners should not assume termite swarms are flying ants, a common misperception based on appearance. Termites are found in every state except Alaska and thrive in warm and damp, humid climates.

"Termites get moisture from the ground or use moisture found in a home or building from leaks or condensation," says Warneke. "Moisture combined with increasing temperatures make springtime conditions in the South ideal for termite activity."

Even though termites are most visible in the spring, they can damage property year-round. According to the National Pest Management Association, termites cause about $5 billion in damage per year in the U.S. Warneke suggests homeowners contact a pest management professional if they suspect any termite activity, because the warning signs can be subtle and often go unnoticed until structural damage has already occurred.

"Signs of an infestation can include termite swarms, mud tubes and piles of discarded wings," says Warneke. "After the termites swarm—usually during warm spring days—they can shed their wings and leave piles of them behind."

Termites are attracted to light, so swarms are typically found around lighting fixtures and windowsills. Mud tubes act as a protective tunnel and provide moisture for the termites. The mud tubes are about the size of a pencil and usually run vertically on the inside or outside of a building's foundation.

Warneke recommends the following tips to help prevent termites from entering your home:
• Keep gutters clear, and direct water from downspouts away from your home.
• Do not pile mulch or allow soil to accumulate against your home's siding. This could provide access for termites to enter your home.
• Pay close attention to dirt-filled porches and crawlspaces. Termites could have easy access to wood through cracks in foundation walls or if wood is in contact with the soil.

Source: http://orkin.com.

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Finance for Two: Money Tips for Smart Couples

February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Love is in the air on Valentine's Day as tokens are exchanged between couples for the sake of St. Valentine. This year instead of the traditional cards, candy and flowers, opt for a present that could leave a lasting, positive effect on your relationship: money management. It's one topic frequently ignored and can cause turmoil in any relationship.

Fighting about finances is a problem in many relationships. According to a study conducted by Money Magazine, 13 percent of couples say they fight about money several times a month. "Worrying about individual finances is a strain by itself, and throwing another person's financial habits into the mix can sometimes be overwhelming," says Steve Johnson, Regional President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "I'm no Cupid, but agreeing on certain points financially can establish guidelines, direct actions and hopefully prevent future disagreements."

Johnson suggests four financial topics that every couple should discuss:
Budget: Establishing a budget for certain monthly items like dining out, entertainment purchases, and grocery spending can help make future arguments disappear. At least once a month, there should be a regular "budget night" where you and your partner get together to discuss your joint financial status. You can review spending and savings activities, and then make financial adjustments and decisions together.
Prior Debt: Coming into a relationship, you or your partner may have student loans, a car loan, credit cards, overdraft lines of credit, etc. Cash flow can be greatly affected by previously accumulated debt. Additionally, a big influence on your financial health as a couple is the way you each handle your debt obligations. Knowing your partner's credit history can offer a glimpse into the future. If either or both of you have had problems making payments in the past, that can have a negative impact on your ability to rent an apartment, get a joint loan, and will result in higher rates charged by utility and insurance companies. Developing a plan to improve upon past mistakes can remove a lot of strain from your relationship.
Savings Goals: Whether you want to save for a trip around the world or want to put money in your 401(k), financial goals need to be established up front. For most, the top three financial goals include buying a home, saving for retirement and building up an education savings account. Making your wishes known to your partner can help the two of you establish a financial plan that incorporates what is important to both of you.
Major Purchases: Be open and honest about major purchases. Simply discussing a purchase beforehand can save you from a potential fight.

Financials do not have to become a stress point within a relationship, so this Valentine's Day say "I love you" with a thoughtful conversation about finances. By discussing financial topics and handling resources as a team, managing money as a couple can be a little easier.

Source: BMO Harris Bank N.A.

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Word of the Day

February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Acceleration clause. Stipulation in a mortgage agreement that allows the lender to demand immediate payment of the entire loan balance if any scheduled payment is missed.

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Question of the Day

February 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Q: Should I consider a “B,” “C,” or “D” paper loan if I have bad credit?

A: B, C, and D paper loans are types of sub-prime loans. There was a time when they were hard to find. Then when the housing market took off, so did the number of lenders offering them. Not so today. High default rates on sub-prime mortgages made to high-risk borrowers with bad credit or those who had filed for bankruptcy or had a property in foreclosure, now have many lenders either shunning these loans or tightening credit requirements on them.

As a rule, these loans have not met the borrower credit requirements of “A” or “A-” category conforming loans. Because mortgage lending is divided into various credit grades, several factors influence whether you receive, say, a “B” or “D” designation, including past credit history, documentation, and your debt-to-income ratio. The more serious a borrower’s problems, the lower the grade of the loan and the higher the rates and fees associated with the loan.

At one time, the outrageously high rates on these loans had dropped as more lenders began to offer them. Since the credit crunch spurred by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, rates on these paper loans have shot back up, reflecting in more stark terms their heightened risks.

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Create Fun Family Traditions with Technology

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

When you hear the word "geek," visions of someone overly intellectual and socially awkward may come to mind. Add the title "dad" to that geek and the picture becomes a middle-aged man wearing black socks with sandals and a pocket protector. But a survey titled "Confessions of a Geek Dad," conducted by Answers Research on behalf of Cisco Home Networking Business, shows today's geeks are cooler, connected and more engaged fathers than you'd think.

According to the survey, 71 percent of geek dads say they spend more time doing activities with their kids than their fathers did with them. Also, 72 percent say they're more excited about teaching kids how to use tech tools than the traditional workbench tools their dads taught them. And it looks like this "tech tool school" is always in session in the home, with 93 percent of geek dads saying they assist their kids with their tech toys.

"These statistics help describe a new generation of dads who've grown up with an ongoing evolution of new technologies and now use tech to connect with their family," said Cat Schwartz, tech expert and blogger. "These dads aren't just tech-savvy; they know how to translate that knowledge and excitement into fun and memorable traditions with their kids."
Schwartz says creating new family traditions with tech in the home is easy and fun—regardless of whether you're a geek dad or not. She offers these tips to get started:

Begin with Opening the Box -
When a new device comes into the household, involve the entire family in the set-up process (or at least watch it). This helps everyone understand how to use the product, so they can hopefully fix it if it stops working. It also allows you to discuss guidelines when using the device, and talk about the features and controls that impact your kids.

Don't Suffer the Buffer
- It's frustrating when you're streaming video or music and it stops and starts due to buffering issues. You can't achieve maximum performance from tech devices without a strong wireless router.

Establish Tech Rites of Passage for Kids - In my home, we reward our kids with a phone at age 12 for their safety. We put rules into place as to how minutes will be earned and when they can carry and use it. Also, we sync all of our phones to our wireless network to connect from while at home, so we save minutes on our data plan.

Special Creative Keepsakes - Harness technology to introduce fun traditions. At least once a year, we take a family photo that we send to loved ones. With today's digital cameras and imagery editing tools, we can digitally add images of family members unable to be with us. It's a fun way of bringing everyone together when we're miles apart.

"One of the best things about technology is that there is a continual stream of new and exciting innovations," says Schwartz. "This gives parents so many options to create fun tech traditions that are unique to their family every year."

Source: www.Linksys.com.

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City Gardens: Tips to Create an Urban Paradise

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Spring is just around the corner, and many city dwellers are starting to turn their attention to their neglected yards, terraces, or rooftop spaces and beginning to make plans for spring gardens. To many people living in a city like New York, creating a garden is their primary means for creating a sanctuary away from the urban hustle and bustle that they have to deal with during the rest of the day.

Having an outdoor space is really like having additional rooms in your apartment. Space is a valuable commodity, so adding outdoor rooms for sitting, eating, relaxing, and entertaining is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a smart investment as well. A well-designed garden is built to engage the senses and transport visitors to a place of peace and beauty. In a land of concrete and steel, these gardens are some of the most treasured green spaces on the planet.

Urban gardening comes with its own unique set of challenges. Roof gardens have to deal with extremes in temperature and high winds that can quickly shred large-leaf plants not suitable to life atop a mountain-like rooftop. Most roof gardens are in somewhat remote locations, where you can sometimes work for an entire day on a garden without seeing another living soul, even though on the street below thousands of people may have walked by without a clue that a beautiful garden paradise exists several floors up. Roof gardens are like little secret jewels hidden out of reach in the clouds, nestled between skyscrapers and birds.

If planting a roof garden seems daunting, here are a few tips to help get you on your way to creating an urban paradise:

Check Building Codes
Before starting a garden, check with the building superintendent to see about building codes and weight limits for rooftops and terraces.

Use Appropriate Containers
Containers should be lightweight and portable, resist cracking in freezing weather, and hold enough soil to minimize the drying effects of wind and sun.

Install an Irrigation System
In the heat of summer, plants exposed to a full day of sun and wind may need constant watering and can easily burn to a crisp if forgotten about for even a day.

Know Your Conditions
The intense sun, wind, and freezing temperatures on a rooftop or terrace can be a full zone or two different than that on the street down below. A temperature gauge can help to determine whether or not you're gardening in the arctic or the Sahara.

Choose the Right Plants
Buy smaller-leaved plants that won't get torn apart by the wind. Plants should also be able to tolerate a wide range of temperature extremes. Conical-shaped trees tend to do better and won't get blown over by wind.

Design for Seasonal Interest

If you can see the garden from indoors, it's a good idea to mix evergreens with annuals and perennials in the same planters so you will have colorful blooms in warmer months and something green to look at when the weather turns frosty.

Protect Plants from the Elements

Stabilize evaporation rates and freeze-thaw cycles by applying a 2-3" layer of mulch to your containers.

Spring Cleaning Essentials
Over time, the soil in your containers will start to decompose and lose its nutritional value. Remove the top 1-2" of soil from containers each spring and add fresh soil to reinvigorate plants.

Fertilize, Fertilize, Fertilize
Plants in containers eat up fertilizer much more quickly than plants in the ground. During periods of active growth, you should plan on fertilizing every two weeks for blooming and fruiting plants and once a month for all others.

Prune and Divide
Very large plants will need to be pruned or divided every year to keep them from outgrowing their containers. Prune spring-flowering plants after they bloom. Prune all others after the first frost.

Source: Amber Freda Home & Garden Design

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Winter Means Preparing Your Heating System

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

While Valentine’s day may be keeping hearts warm this month, your heat is still working overtime to keep your home comfortable. The following suggestions can help keep your home warm, and your finances in good shape.
• Begin by checking your equipment. When properly sized and installed, a heat pump or furnace can save as much as 20 percent on annual energy costs.
• Sealing gaps and cracks in your home can also save energy costs—up to 10 percent. And tightening ducts will further reduce energy bills.
• Clean or change your filter regularly, and if you use a heat pump, remove any debris around the outside unit.
• Run your system through a full heating cycle, and schedule an inspection with a service technician to ensure the most efficient operation of your heating equipment.
• Finally, consider replacing aging equipment with a more energy-efficient unit.

Source: All Seasons Comfort, http://ascheating.com/

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The Couples Conundrum: Equal Financial Responsibility

February 9, 2012 7:04 pm

Most couples share comfort, joy and faith, but how many share financial responsibility? One spouse usually takes the lead on financial matters and ignorance is not bliss for the financially inactive spouse. Life changing events, such as death, disability or divorce, can wreck havoc when the financially aware partner is gone.

"Having observed many couples through the years, it's inevitable that one spouse is more 'financially attuned' than the other," says Jim Waters, founder and president of PartnersInWealth in Houston. "But too often the one 'who does the finances' leaves the other in the dark."

Every February 14, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Waters suggests that you take care of the ones you love by following these seven steps for financial fitness.

1) Honesty – Be honest as to why one is the more involved, more interested or more knowledgeable when it comes to financial matters. A division of labor based on knowledge, time or passion is reasonable.
2) Respect – Acknowledge questions you have. Ask if there's anything on the Statement of Net Worth that you don't understand.
3) Patience – Set aside time to discuss finances. Make sure the less involved spouse could handle the finances for six months or longer. Make it easy for that individual to get involved by opening the mail and paying the bills together. Set aside time to answer any questions.
4) Communication – Share any fears or concerns about this process. Discuss and reinforce your common vision and values. Acknowledge the more involved spouse for their efforts and encourage the less involved spouse to take a more active role in finances. Active participation is the first step to a deeper understanding.
5) Follow through – Mark your calendars and discuss finances regularly. Tie the discussion to something fun.
6) Discretion – Know each other's tipping points and thresholds. Get to know each other's financial comfort zones when it comes to investments, income and estate tax reduction, insurance, estate and philanthropic planning, and asset protection.
7) Flexibility – Be open to change and be willing to learn. Throw judgment out the door and help find solutions that make sense to both of you. "You go to dinner together. You go on vacations together. Why don't you manage your personal finances together?" Waters says. "This will build money compatibility for you and your spouse. You can have a better relationship and understanding with each other."

Finances are the main cause of disagreements between couples. It pays to learn to spend wisely, establish security and align money with values.

Source: www.partnersinwealth.com

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