Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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6 Ways to Be Happier in the Workplace

November 4, 2011 3:38 pm

Employers go to varying lengths to keep their workers happy, providing perks ranging from free coffee or bagels every Friday to company picnics or annual cash bonuses. But happiness in the workplace, suggests career coach Marty Nemko, may be more a matter of job satisfaction than of any material rewards.

“While the following ideas may not turn your workplace into a barrel of laughs, they may help you find a way to reap more satisfaction from what you do all day,” said Nemko, author of, “Cool Careers for Dummies” and a columnist at kiplinger.com.

• Telecommute – It may not yet be an option in your workplace, but it may become one if you suggest it. Offer to try it one or two days a week at first to show you can meet deadlines and stay in close communication with superiors.
• Propose a project – Suggest a special project that ties in to your interests: a feasibility study on opening a foreign branch?…a procedures manual based on interviews with top employees?…a marketing tie-in with a local campaign or event?
• Tweak your job description – If there are aspects of your job you like more than others, suggest teaming with a colleague. For example, on a particular project, you can offer to do all the research while your colleague does all the writing.
• Make your workspace homier – Seek your employer’s buy-in to bring more than family photos into your workspace: a vase of fresh flowers…a favorite painting…an oriental rug under your chair.
• Use stress-busters – Just a regular minute or two of slow, deep breathing, or a five-minute at-your-desk yoga session can do wonders for relieving boredom or improving your outlook during the day.
• Make a close friend – Having someone you can share life’s ups and downs with during lunch or breaks can go a long way toward making your work day more pleasant. If you haven’t already, pick someone instinct tells you could be a good friend and ask him or her to lunch.

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Keeping Your Home Healthy

November 4, 2011 3:38 pm

It’s easy to overlook a small leak or slight draft. But these problems have the potential to get worse very quickly. To prevent a big problem from arising, energystar.gov recommends having a contractor perform annual check-ups—on the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.
Here are some things you should expect a contractor to handle:

• Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.

• Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.

• Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increases the amount of electricity you use.

• Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.

• Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.

Cooling Specific

• Clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system's ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.

• Check your central air conditioner's refrigerant level and adjust if necessary. Too much or too little refrigerant will make your system less efficient increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.

• Clean and adjust blower components to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system's efficiency by up to 15 percent.

Heating Specific

• Check all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

Actions You Can Do Yourself

• Inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. Your contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

Source: energystar.gov

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Know Your Monthly Wireless Bill

November 4, 2011 3:38 pm

Americans love their wireless devices. For the first time, there are more devices (327.6 million) than Americans (315.5 million), according to CTIA-The Wireless Association's survey. People continue to use more voice minutes, text messages and data than ever before, too. As with any bill, but especially since wireless devices are used more than ever, consumers should always review their monthly wireless statement to ensure the charges are correct. 

To help wireless consumers better manage their usage and prevent unexpected overage charges, CTIA and many of its provider members, along with the Federal Communications Commission, announced free alerts. More than 300 million U.S. wireless customers will be protected against potential billing surprises due to the industry's efforts. As part of CTIA's "Consumer Code for Wireless Service," wireless providers will send postpaid customers alerts on voice, data, messaging and international roaming. Two out of the four alerts will be available by October 17, 2012 and all of the alerts will be available by April 17, 2013. 

Currently, many wireless providers already offer a number of free tools for customers to check on their usage. Here are some tips from CTIA and its members to help you stay in control of your monthly wireless bill. 

Monitor Your Usage
All of the major wireless providers offer tools so you can keep track of your usage and know exactly how many minutes, data or text messages you've used. In addition to contacting your carrier via phone or websites, many offer shortcuts on your wireless device. 

Check International Rates Before You Leave the Country
Many carriers will alert you to local rates or prompt you to call customer service when you arrive in a foreign country. The "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" require participating CTIA providers to inform consumers of international roaming charges when traveling abroad. 

Regardless, it's a good idea to understand your plan when it comes to calls, texts and data/Internet usage. Most providers offer:
• Information on where to get the best international voice and data rates and tips and tutorials for what you can expect when using your mobile devices while traveling.
• Temporarily shut-off of your data services to prevent international data roaming.
• Mobile apps to track international use in real-time.
To see rates and availability, contact your wireless provider via phone or website. 

Stay On Top of Your Family Plan

Keeping track of your family's wireless use can help prevent accidental overages. Many wireless carriers provide plan monitoring tools that let subscribers:
• Set limits on allotted minutes, messages and downloads each month.
• Set voice and messaging allowances.
• Receive free text alerts when a family member nears or reaches their limits.
• Create a list of blocked numbers to prevent unwanted calls and messages.
• Set specific times of day when a family member can't call, message or use data on their mobile devices (but calls to other account/family members and Emergency 911 are always allowed).
Spending a little time reviewing your service provider's website and using their tools, tips and plans can save you and your family money on your monthly wireless bill. 

For more information visit www.blog.ctia.org.

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Word of the Day

November 4, 2011 3:38 pm

Option. The exclusive right to purchase or lease a property at a predetermined price or rent at some future time.

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Question of the Day

November 4, 2011 3:38 pm

Q: How do you decide whether to add on to an existing home or purchase a new one?

A: There are a few things to consider, including cost, individual needs, and what will add value down the road. Also important: your emotional attachment to the existing home.

As designer and builder Philip S. Wenz, the author of Adding to a House: Planning, Design & Construction, notes, an addition is much cheaper than building a new home and can offer a “new” home without the heartache of moving.

Other considerations:
• Can you finance the home improvement with your own cash or will you need a loan?
• How much equity is in the property? A fair amount will make it that much easier to get a loan for home improvements.
• Is it feasible to expand the current space for an addition?
• What is permissible under local zoning and building laws? Despite your deep yearning for a new sunroom or garage, you will need to know if your town or city will allow such improvements.
• Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy your changing housing needs?

Explore your options. Make sure your decision is one you can live with – either under the same roof or under a different one.

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Product Alert: What You Should Know about Solar Panels

November 3, 2011 6:36 pm

With eco-friendly options becoming the norm, solar panels are a great way to decrease your carbon footprint while also saving on your utility bills. Solar panels, which generate electricity from the energy of the sun, can be used to power numerous household appliances, from lighting to your stove and refrigerator.

If you are thinking about installing solar panels, here is a list of things you should know:
• Solar energy is a renewable source of energy, meaning it is a “clean” energy.

• For best results, solar panels should be placed on roofs or walls that face, unobstructed, up to 90 degrees of south.

• The ideal roof for solar power installation is south facing, with a tilt of 30 degrees.

• If the panels are not in full sun for the length of the day, they will still generate electricity, but not at their full capacity.

• Solar panel systems are more expensive than normal water-heating systems, but accumulate more savings over time.

• If well maintained, your solar power system can last up to 30 years.

Shop around before you purchase your solar panels, compare prices—some companies offer free installation—and get referrals.

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Nutrition Tools for Your Kids

November 3, 2011 6:36 pm

Healthy habits start young, and this is true for both adapting an active lifestyle and nutritious eating. Since you, the parent, are the largest influence on your child’s life when they’re young, exposing them early to healthy food will promote a lifetime of healthy lifestyles. The following guidelines have been adapted from Evergreen Children’s Clinic: 

1. Healthy Buying Behavior. Take your kids to the farm, market or grocery store and buy healthy, fresh goods. Show them where their food comes from, so they can create a deeper connection to the product.
2. Lead By Example. It is important to be a good role model, as children learn by observing behavior around them. If you enjoy and speak highly of healthy food, then your kids will understand this as the encouraged behavior.
3. Hydrate. Drink more water than juice or other beverages, as water helps promote healthier bodies, aid digestion, allow nutrients to dissolve, and cleanse toxins.

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3 Lessons for a Better Holiday Buffet

November 3, 2011 6:36 pm

The countdown to the holidays is on, bringing with it the challenge of how to serve a large gathering fast and easy. Fear not! There's a simple solution. Forego the traditional, full-service, sit-down meal and opt instead for a buffet-style serving. Follow these three steps and yours will be a gathering remembered with fondness by both your guests and you.

1. Divide and Conquer: No more waiting in lines. "Set up multiple food stations. This idea will save your sanity," says Chef Jeff Gillis, www.CelebratingHome.com. "A few days before your gathering, clear most items off your kitchen countertops, table, island and dining room buffet and move contents to the laundry room or garage. Convert each area into a serving station where foods will be grouped by category. Label each area with a sticky note so that when the big day arrives, the stations can be quickly assembled."

At each serving station, stack plates so diners needn't traipse off to the table for one. Pre-fill glasses with ice and beverages for quick pick-up. Remember, it's hard to carry more than a plate and glass so preset the table with napkins and flatware.

2. Control the Crowd: "Don't think twice about placing tables in multiple rooms," adds Chef Gillis. "That's better than crowding everyone together or asking guests to balance plates on laps while sitting on your sofa." To seat people quickly (and without a fuss), use place cards.

3. Keep It Simple: Flowers in a vase are so last year. Instead, style up the buffet with an eye-catching "Gratitude Tree," a sculptural bronze metal tabletop tree festooned with ribboned tree tags. Guests write what they're thankful for on tags and after dinner's done, take turns reading. This is a unique way to remind guests about the true meaning of the day and, because the tree arrives ready for display, it's a real timesaver.

Remember—every minute saved adds up to extra time you can spending enjoying the day with your guests.

For more information, visit http://www.celebratinghome.com.

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Top 10 Travel Tips for the Elderly

November 3, 2011 6:36 pm

The holiday season is meant to be spent celebrating and relaxing with loved ones, yet often turns out to be one of the most stress-filled times of the year. 

Long lines, crowded airports, ever-changing TSA regulations, even unpredictable winter weather can all combine to make holiday travel an experience many would prefer to avoid. 

Just in time for the busiest travel season of the year, Preferred Travel Helpers present the Top 10 Holiday Travel Tips for the Elderly. 

10. Remember, walkers, crutches, canes and other devices that can fit through the X-ray machine must undergo X-ray screening (with the exception of white collapsible canes). Ask a security officer for assistance (arm, hand, shoulder to lean on) until you are reunited with your device. Security will perform a hand inspection of your equipment if it cannot fit through the X-ray machine.
9. The limit of one carry-on and one personal item (purse briefcase or computer case) does not apply to medical supplies, equipment, mobility aids, and/or assistive devices.
8. If you have medical documentation regarding your medical condition or disability, have it with you to present it to a security officer to help inform him of your situation. This documentation is not required and will not exempt you from the security screening process, but may make the process easier.
7. If you have personal supplemental oxygen, it will need to undergo screening. Check with your doctor prior to coming to the airport to ensure disconnection can be done safely. If you need an oxygen supplier to meet you at the arrival gate, check with your airline well in advance of your departure about their procedures for allowing suppliers to meet you, since these procedures vary from airline to airline.
6. If traveling internationally, apply for a passport at least three months prior to travel. Be sure to fill out the emergency contact page of your passport. Make a copy of your passport and store it separate from the original. Some foreign countries will also require that you have a Visa.
5. High altitude, air pollution, humidity and extreme temperatures may cause health issues. Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance. Medicare does not cover medical expenses outside of the U.S.
4. If you have a medical device (on the interior or exterior of your body) check with your doctor prior to traveling to determine if it is safe for you to go through the metal detector. If your doctor indicates that you should not go through the metal detector, or if you are concerned, ask the security officer for a pat-down inspection instead.
3. Pack your medications in a separate pouch/bag to facilitate the inspection process. Ensure that containers holding medications are not too densely filled, and that all medication is clearly identified. If possible keep your medication in its original, marked container. The TSA recommends that passengers do not pack medications that they do not want exposed to X-rays in their checked baggage. Instead, send larger quantities of medications to your destination by mail ahead of time. Travel delays due to weather and unforeseen circumstances can happen. Bring at least three extra days worth of prescriptions with you, just to be safe.
2. Do not wrap gifts you're taking on the plane. Security officers may have to unwrap gifts if they need to take a closer look. Plan to ship wrapped gifts ahead of time or wait until your destination to wrap them. You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but please be advised that they may require additional screening.
1. Consider hiring a travel assistant, who can focus on the traveler's comfort and safety as well as overseeing every detail of the trip. 

For more information, visit www.preferredtravelhelpers.com.

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Word of the Day

November 3, 2011 6:36 pm

Open listing. Listing that gives a broker a nonexclusive right to find a buyer; the owner can still find a buyer himself and avoid a commission.

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