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Mary Mastroeni

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Word of the Day

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Maintenance fees. Paid by a condominium unit owner to the owners’ association for upkeep of the common areas.

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Question of the Day

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Q: Who are the professionals that do home improvements?

A: They vary depending on the size and scope of your job. General contractors are companies or individuals who contract with you to manage all aspects of the project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, and supplying materials and labor equipment needed to do the project. Specialty contractors, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with installing products, such as cabinets and fixtures. Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. And design/build contractors basically offer one-stop service, providing design and construction services and overseeing a project from start to finish.

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Maintaining the Authenticity of a Historic Building

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

In our last segment, I began exploring a valuable resource for those looking to own or renovate a historic property straight from the National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services—the nation's leading provider of information and guidance on the care of historic buildings.

In this segment, we’ll further explore the agency’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Building by focusing on some of the best practices for keeping a historic building looking authentic from inside and out.

When undertaking a historic restoration, the guide recommends:

• Using shutters, operable windows, porches, curtains, awnings, shade trees and other historically appropriate non-mechanical features of historic buildings to reduce the heating and cooling loads. Consider adding sensitively designed storm windows to existing historic windows.

• Retaining or upgrading existing mechanical systems whenever possible: for example, reuse radiator systems with new boilers, upgrade ventilation within the building, install proper thermostats or humidistats.

• Improving energy efficiency of existing buildings by installing insulation in attics and basements. Add insulation and vapor barriers to exterior walls only when it can be done without further damage to the resource.

• In major spaces, retain decorative elements of the historic system whenever possible. This includes switch-plates, grilles and radiators. Be creative in adapting these features to work within the new or upgraded system.

• Design climate control systems that are compatible with the architecture of the building: hidden system for formal spaces, more exposed systems possible in industrial or secondary spaces. In formal areas, avoid standard commercial registers and use custom slot registers or other less intrusive grilles.

• Size the system to work within the physical constraints of the building. Use multi-zoned smaller units in conjunction with existing vertical shafts, such as stacked closets, or consider locating equipment underground, if possible.

• Maintain appropriate temperature and humidity levels to meet requirements without accelerating the deterioration of any historic building materials. Set up regular monitoring schedules.

• Have a regular maintenance program to extend equipment life and to ensure proper performance.

To view the entire guide, visit Technical Preservation Services at www.nps.gov/hps/tps.

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How to Live the Good Life, Naturally

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Everyone has the power to make a positive impact on the world around them, whether it's choosing locally made products, making environmentally friendly home solutions or helping those in need. These actions can be beneficial to your family, your neighborhood and your local community. It's the simple things that make a difference. 

Eco-expert and author Sarah Copeland blogs about her everyday food and lifestyle experiences on EdibleLiving.com, a website that helps readers discover easy and innovative ways to live the good life, naturally. 

"For me, good, natural living starts with the little things," notes Copeland. "No matter how big or small the action, every one of us can take steps toward making the world a better place."
 
Copeland offers simple tips on how you can live well naturally, starting today. 

Be a Local
Copeland says, "Your neighborhood is full of inspiring people, places and things. Connect with and support those who surround you." This includes: 
o Eating locally sourced food. Buying food that is grown and produced nearby cuts down on the number of miles between the food and your plate. It also means supporting local farmers and agricultural businesses. There are several ways to find locally sourced food:
o Shopping at farmers markets. You can find fresh local produce, flowers, honey, breads and more.
o Eating at restaurants that source ingredients from local farms.
o Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). These are partnerships between community members and local growers. Through a CSA, you can buy what are essentially "shares" in the harvest each week. Pick up your goods from the farm or another pickup location, such as a grocery store, and enjoy fresh, seasonal ingredients.
o Hosting a community potluck. Ask neighbors to cook their favorite dishes with ingredients they've picked up from the farmers market. Good food creates good memories. 

The Natural Way
"Natural foods and products are better for you—and Mother Earth. Take time to think about what you're putting into your body and into the ground," recommends Copeland. For instance:
o Eat greener. Go green—literally—by growing your own herbs and vegetables. There's no faster way to enhance your meal than by adding freshly chopped chives, parsley or mint to your plate. Plant a windowsill herb garden so you can snip and serve up a bit of green in every meal you create.
o Choose wisely. Products made with sustainable practices give Mother Nature a bit of a break. Select brands and products that are continually improving their operations to help minimize their impact on the environment. Products like The Naked Grape wines not only taste good, but they do good, naturally. Created using 100 percent sustainable winery practices, The Naked Grape uses the highest quality fruit to craft honest expressions of the grape's natural flavor. Not to mention, it pairs perfectly with fresh-picked fruits and veggies. Learn more at www.TheNakedGrapeWine.com.
o Do the most with compost. Help your garden grow by composting, nature's way of recycling. By biodegrading organic waste, such as food, grass trimmings, leaves and wood, you can create valuable organic fertilizer. Best of all -- it's free. You can compost your waste by simply discarding kitchen scraps and yard clippings in a bin. Once it biodegrades, you'll have a dark, rich soil perfect for your own harvest.
o Clean naturally/ Choose cleaning products that are effective but have less-harmful impacts on the environment. 

Do Good for Your 'Hood
"I support and create good in my community by volunteering my time and giving gently used items to others," says Copeland. Here are additional ways to live the good life. 

o Donate. Food banks need non-perishable items throughout the year. Find a local food bank and see what will best fill its shelves. Other organizations take unwanted furniture, clothes and household goods -- and many will come pick them up from your home. There's always a way to repurpose.
o Give your time. Volunteering is a great way to create good in your community, and you'll feel great doing it. Look for volunteer opportunities that fit your abilities, passions and schedule. Enjoy gardening? Get involved by planting and maintaining your local community garden. They always need help weeding and seeding.
o Show them the money. Support local charities and organizations with monetary donations. Financial support, big or small, helps them provide services to others and keeps organizations running.
"You can make a difference no matter where you live, for both yourself and your community," Copeland suggests. "Simple, thoughtful actions can help you live the good life, naturally." 

Rebuild, Reuse, Recycle
Make a positive impact on the environment and your lifestyle with these clever ways to keep things out of the landfill:
o Save your finished wine bottles to serve chilled tap water. Or, add a few tablespoons of elderflower syrup and a sprig of fresh thyme for an easy afternoon drink. It refreshes your kitchenware as well as your palate.
o Did you know you already have a wine cellar? Store wines in your basement or garage and cut back on the energy required to cool an overloaded fridge.
o Use reclaimed wood—it provides the perfect structure to grow vine plants like grapes or cucumbers.
o Up-cycle vintage plates from a yard sale. It uses 100 percent less energy than it takes to create a new set of plastic ware for your outdoor entertaining and adds charm to the table while conserving energy. 

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

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Simple Steps for Seniors—and All Internet Users—to Protect Themselves

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Older Americans, who grew up in the era of rotary-dial phones and black and white TV programming, may still be in the minority among Internet users. But they are a rapidly growing presence on the Web and are making their mark on social networking websites. As a result they are potential targets of cybercriminals—and need to learn how to best protect themselves online.

Like Internet users of all ages and levels of Web savvy, seniors can benefit from the national cyber security awareness campaign being conducted during October. The public-private initiative—Stop! Think! Connect! —spearheaded by the National Cyber Security Alliance, the Department of Homeland Security and companies like Verizon, is designed to get out the message that online safety is everyone's responsibility.

More and more, older Americans are using social networking to connect with far-flung family and friends, sharing photos, home videos and personal messages.

A Pew Research Center study report, for example, found that the number of Americans over the age of 74 using social networking sites quadrupled in less than two years—a much faster rate than reported for any other age group.

"The Internet has become a fast and easy way for people of all ages to access information and entertainment," says Verizon network security expert Marcus Sachs. "Unfortunately, it's also become an effective tool for crooks looking for easy access to personal information, such as social security numbers or bank account numbers and passwords.

"From kids to seniors, protecting yourself and your data online may be easier than most people realize. We want to make sure senior citizens are informed of some simple steps to protect themselves," Sachs says.

Some steps, which all Internet users should take, are:
o Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed on your computer, and make sure it is updated frequently.
o Make sure your computer's firewall is turned on. It is an effective way of blocking unauthorized access to your computer and sensitive information in your computer files.
o If you are using a wireless router for your home network, make sure it has adequate security.
o Don't get hooked by phishing schemes. Beware of links in emails to sites you don't recognize; don't ever provide personal information as a result of an email or pop-up; and remember that reputable businesses never ask for personal information via email or pop-ups.
o If online offers seem too good to be true, they probably are. Downloading software, music or videos offered as "free" may come at a high price—they might include malware or spyware that can infect your computer and steal personal information. Download files only from sites you know and trust.
o Beware of people you meet for the first time on social networking sites. Don't reveal personal information about yourself or your friends and family in a way that may compromise their safety or identity. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings on the social networking sites you use and chose the appropriate options for you.
o Passwords, passwords, passwords. As recommended by the National Cyber Security Alliance, make your passwords "long and strong" by combining capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols. Separate passwords for separate accounts will also make things more difficult for cybercriminals.

For more information, visit www.verizon.com.

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TOP 5 RC - Bringing Home a Puppy; Tips for a Successful Introduction to the Family

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

There's no doubt a new puppy brings joy to millions of families each year. However, while bringing home a new dog is exciting, it can also be quite an adjustment period for both the puppy and his new owners. 

According to veterinarian Dr. Brent Mayabb, manager of education and development at Royal Canin USA, pet parents can help ease the transition with some simple steps to ensure healthy growth and development for our four-legged family members. Here are some tips to help make your new puppy's transition easier for both pup and the family: 

Get social. Socializing your new puppy early is important to help them learn proper behavior when meeting a new person or animal. Try to introduce your dog to 10 to 20 new people and pets (of varying ages and in different locations) during your first week together. This will help them acclimate to different sizes and temperaments of dogs and cats, as well as a variety of humans. If your dog shows signs of aggression, take them out of the situation and try again with a smaller group or in a different setting.
Exercise before bedtime. As your puppy gets used to being away from its mother and pack, you may hear crying and whining at night. Try to be patient; this behavior is natural and shouldn't last longer than a few weeks. Additionally, try keeping your puppy busy with quick training sessions or playing with toys during the early evening hours. A worn out puppy is a quiet puppy.
Stick to a routine. Take your puppy out often and right before you put them in their pen or kennel before bed. Some veterinarians estimate that for every month your puppy is in your home that is one hour they can 'hold it.' Frequency in routine is very important for house training and rewarding victories during training can be key.
Visit the vet. Your pet's first visit to the vet is very important. The vet will help in scheduling vaccinations and explain the significance of preventative care for fleas, ticks, heartworm, and rabies among other diseases. Proper nutrition is also a means to preventing illness, so be sure to purchase high quality food. Remember to bring a list of questions with you to the appointment—from the beginning, your vet will be an important part of your pet's health. 

For more information, visit www.royalcanin.us.

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Word of the Day

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Market price. Actual selling price of a property.

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Question of the Day

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Q: If faced with foreclosure, what are my options?

A: Talk with your lender immediately. The lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan or the temporary reduction or suspension of your payment, particularly if your income has dropped substantially or expenses have shot up beyond your control. You also may be able to refinance the debt or extend the term of your mortgage loan. In almost every case, you will likely be able to work out some kind of deal that will avert foreclosure.

If you have mortgage insurance, the insurer may also be interested in helping you. The company can temporarily pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet and are able to repay their “loan.”

If your money problems are long term, the lender may suggest that you sell the property, which will allow you to avoid foreclosure and protect your credit record.

As a last resort, you could consider a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. This is where you voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender. While this will not save your house, it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure. Exhaust all other viable options before making a decision.

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Making Energy-Efficient Changes in Historic Buildings

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

I recently ran across some extremely valuable information from Sharon C. Park, AIA of the National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services (www.nps.gov/hps/tps)--a provider of information and guidance on the care of historic buildings.

Technical Preservation Services provides the tools and information necessary to take effective measures to protect and preserve historic buildings, ranging from historic masonry and window repairs to lead paint abatement to accessibility for people with disabilities.

She recently wrote about The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation &Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings—the first set of official guidelines on how to make changes to improve energy efficiency and preserve the character of historic buildings.

In this first of two segments, we’ll cover some of the most frequent pitfalls to avoid when renovating a heating or HVAC system in a historic home or building:

• Don't install a new HVAC system if you don't need it.

• Don't switch to a new type of system (e.g. forced air) unless there is sufficient space for the new system or an appropriate place to put it.

• Don't over-design a new system. Don't add air conditioning or climate control if they are not absolutely necessary.

• Don't cut exterior historic building walls to add through-wall heating and air conditioning units. These are visually disfiguring, they destroy historic fabric, and condensation runoff from such units can further damage historic materials.

• Don't damage historic finishes, mask historic features, or alter historic spaces when installing new systems.

• Don't drop ceilings or bulkheads across window openings.

In addition, the guide warns about making aesthetic mistakes like installing new mechanical duct work that is visible from the exterior or adversely impacts the historic character of the interior space; leaving interior duct work exposed in highly-finished spaces where it would negatively impact the historic character of the space; leaving exposed duct work unpainted in finished interior spaces, such as those with a pressed metal ceiling; or placing HVAC equipment in highly-visible locations on the roof or on the site where it will negatively impact the historic character of the building or its site.

In our next segment, we’ll go through another punch-list of things to do when renovating a historic property.

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Are You Prepared for the Unexpected?

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison website, announced a new infographic educating consumers about common disasters Americans face everyday, including which disasters are most common in each geographic region. 

“Our hope in publishing this infographic is to help educate individuals and families so they can be better prepared for the possibility of disaster,” says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.

As shown by the infographic, the disasters that Americans face are costly. And when individuals are unprepared, these expenses are often charged to credit cards. While credit cards are often a good solution for minor emergencies, if the costs keep adding up and the disaster results in lost wages, individuals can be left facing hefty interest charges and fees if the credit card balances aren’t handled properly. 

To help individuals avoid the fees, CreditDonkey has included some practical tips individuals can employ now to help alleviate some of the financial stress that these disasters can place on a household. 

“No matter how prepared you are, there will always be stress when a disaster strikes,” says Tran. “But when consumers take the time to disaster proof their finances, that small time investment will pay off when they find themselves in an unfortunate situation. Without the financial pressure weighing them down, they’re able to focus on what matters most—their family.” 

Here are some of the tips that are included in the infographic:
• Review insurance coverage with a trusted insurance agent. They will be able to advise families on what is and isn’t covered by their current insurance plans and recommend any additional coverage.
• When looking to cut expenses, hang on to your medical insurance. The monthly cost of insurance is well worth the investment should an individual have to go to the hospital.
• Review health insurance coverage and become familiar with the medical providers and hospitals in your area. Some plans will only cover certain medical groups, so the hospital closest to home might not be the best option financially.
• Prepare for potential job loss with an emergency savings fund. Most financial experts recommend setting aside at least 6 months worth of expenses; some even recommend saving up to an entire year’s worth of bills. If that amount is a stretch, at least get into the habit of setting aside some of each paycheck to start growing your savings. Every little bit can help.
• Set up direct deposit for all types of income checks. This will eliminate the stress of having to locate and deposit checks should your home get affected by natural disaster and you need to relocate. 

For more information, go to http://www.creditdonkey.com

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