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Mary Mastroeni

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Carving Out a Home-Office Space

August 24, 2011 2:03 pm

At a time when more and more people are telecommuting, or increasing income with a home-based business, carving out a little office space at home is more important than ever.

“Not a problem,” says Philadelphia decorator Linda Rooney. “Whether you are living in a studio apartment, a single-family home, or in your mom’s basement, it may be easier than you think to turn a small area into a functional office space.”

Rooney suggests ‘thinking small’ when choosing office furniture—like a low-profile desk chair or a two drawer file cabinet on wheels that can be rolled under the desk when not in use. She also offers the following solutions for creating a work-at-home space:
• Closet space – Repurpose a coat closet into a ‘pocket office’ by replacing the door with a bi-fold door or a curtain panel hung from a spring-tension rod. Form a storage-savvy desk by placing a cut-to-measure piece of stained or painted plywood across a pair of two-drawer file cabinets with enough knee space between them. A couple of shelves installed over the desk can hold office supplies and/or a printer, and a wheeled chair can be rolled into place to complete your new office space.
• Living room space – The key here is to arrange your ”office” so you don’t see it when not in use. A computer armoire that looks like a piece of furniture when closed up is one way to do it. Otherwise, place the sofa and chairs in one direction (such as facing the fireplace) or arrange ”conversation area” style. The office set-up may be arranged in a corner or against a window wall facing the outdoors—or position the sofa in the middle of the room and use a slim console table behind it to double as a desk when you need it.
• Double-duty guest room – Switch the double bed in your guest room to a fold-out couch or daybed to accommodate guests, leaving room to turn guest-room space into a functioning office space. Your cozy work space can still provide a comfy place for guests whenever needed.

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Keep Your Flora Healthy

August 24, 2011 2:03 pm


Whether your home has a huge rolling lawn, a scrubby garden of natural brush, or just a tiny dooryard, I am always on the lookout for good advice on keeping your local flora as healthy as possible. So employing even a few of the following ideas from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can go far toward making your yard or garden healthier and more beautiful. 

For a waste-free lawn and garden, the EPA suggests:
â—Using food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic waste to create a compost pile. Compost is a rich soil amendment that can help increase water retention, decrease erosion, and replace chemical fertilizers.
â—Don't over-fertilize. A slow-release organic fertilizer applied once in the fall is sufficient for most lawns. Consult your cooperative extension agent for other tips appropriate to your locality.
â—Many plants and insects can serve as non-toxic, natural deterrents to weeds and garden pests. Introduce ladybugs to eat aphids, plant marigolds to ward off beetles, and look for quick-sprouting plants to block weed growth.
â—Cut the bottoms off plastic milk jugs or use small paper bags to protect young seedlings from frost, wind, heavy rain, and roving animals. Remember to recycle the bags and jugs when the seedlings have grown.
â—Reduce your use of fertilizers and pesticides by planting grass and other vegetation that is native to your area.
â—Keep your lawn mower and other equipment in efficient operating condition by performing regular maintenance according to the owner's manual. And use manual tools when appropriate to save fuel and protect air quality.
â—Raise the cutting height of your lawn mower during the hot summer months to keep grass roots shaded and cooler, reducing weed growth, browning, and the need for watering. When you mow, "grasscycle" by leaving grass clippings on your lawn instead of bagging them or use a mulching mower. The clippings will return nutrients to the soil instead of taking up space in landfills.
â—Shred untreated wood and leaf wastes into chips and use them as mulch on garden beds to prevent weed growth, retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and add nutrients back to the soil.
â—Conserve water. Use barrels to collect rain water and use it to water plants. Check hoses for leaks before watering plants, and position sprinklers so they water only plants, not the sidewalk, street, or house. Also remember to water during the cooler parts of the day (early morning is best) to avoid evaporation.


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Tips to Bring the Look and Feel of Vacation Home

August 24, 2011 2:03 pm

While it's sad to see summer vacations come to an end, there's no reason you can't bring the look and feel of the hotel home with you to enjoy all year long. To create a peaceful and relaxing retreat in your own bed and bath, we asked two top hospitality designers for their tips to create hotel-inspired spaces. Here's a look at what they're doing in their hotels that you too can achieve at home: 

• Make it clean, white and bright. "Replace existing bedding with a white duvet, along with a plush down insert. Add fun, colorful toss pillows that can be changed easily with your mood or seasonally," says Interior Designer Amy Gleghorn of hospitality design firm, Design Directions International in Atlanta, GA. "In an otherwise sedate space, adding some whimsy with an over-sized wingback chair in a bold, colorful pattern can liven and brighten up a room."

• Big, tall headboards make a big statement. "This does not have to match the other furniture pieces either," says Gleghorn. "A simple tufted upholstered headboard framed out with wood or a MirrorMate frame, and accented with nail head trim gives your room a focal point and mimics what a lot of designers are specifying for boutique hotel rooms today."

• Add recessed down lights. "Lamps or dimmers or simply changing out the light bulb's color are other easy fixes," says Gleghorn. "Lighting is one of the most important and overlooked changes."

• Paint is the cheapest and best way to add a quick change. "Calm, neutral colors help create a relaxing and soothing environment for rest and relaxation," says Brenda Wulff, director of product design and innovation for Choice Hotels International.

• Frame your bathroom's plate glass mirrors. "Instead of replacing the entire mirror, a MirrorMate frame can be added to the bathroom vanity mirror in a matter of minutes to finish the look of the bathroom and save money," says Wulff.

• Add fluffy white towels for a pampered, spa-like feel in the bath.

It's no surprise hotel and spa design is often the basis for residential design, as we find inspiration in the places and spaces we love, and love to visit. With these tips your home can become as much of an oasis as your favorite hotel suite.

For more information, visit MirrorMate at www.mirrormate.com or www.facebook.com/mirrormateframes.

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Window Board-Up Tips

August 24, 2011 2:03 pm

Hurricane Irene is projected to make landfall in North Carolina and the East Coast as a Category 4 storm Saturday, according to The Weather Channel. That means soon, homes and businesses could face sustained winds of 131-155 mph along the coastline. Now is the time to prepare your windows to protect the property during and after the storm. Stock up on plywood at your local home improvement store, and follow these tips for a proper window board-up.

How-To Prepare Secured Plywood Panels
If you don't have storm panel frames, you must secure plywood directly to the window frames.
1. Cut the plywood to fit at least six inches around the window frame.
2. Make sure there are at least two inches from the edge of the window pane to the outer edge of the exterior wall to prevent damaging the window when the plywood is installed.
3. Special clips that fasten to the window frame or brick veneer can be used to secure the plywood to the exterior wall.
4. Secure the plywood using clips or by drilling screws 18 inches apart around the plywood perimeter.

If you have time, further protect your home by cutting weak and dead branches so they are at least five feet away from the house. Also, remember to put lawn furniture and ornaments inside your home or garage.

For more information, visit www.glassdoctor.com.

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Word of the Day

August 24, 2011 2:03 pm

Equity build-up. Term used to refer to the increase of one’s equity in a property due to mortgage balance reduction and price appreciation.

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Question of the Day

August 24, 2011 2:03 pm

Q: What is private mortgage insurance?

A: Also referred to as PMI, it is insurance you pay to protect the lender in case you default on the home loan. It is required when borrowers put down less than 20 percent of the purchase price.

Usually, a small fee is paid at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan is added to the monthly payment.

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Understanding Your Garden; The Importance of Plant Location

August 23, 2011 2:03 pm

In our last report, I began focusing on the damage heat can do to lawns, plants and one’s investment in landscaping. Now I will examine the best locations for certain types of planting in hot climates, guided by advice from the Lebanon Seaboard Corporation —a manufacturer of lawn, garden, and professional turf products under the Preen label.

Besides the genetic makeup of plant species, the experts at Preen say another heat factor is plant location. Every yard has different microclimates.

It might be hot and brutal in the middle of the back yard, or on the west side of a brick wall, but 10 degrees cooler along the eastern foundation or under a shade tree.

Matching a plant to its heat and sunlight tolerance can mean the difference between survival and a fried plant. Don’t be afraid to move a plant that’s struggling—just wait until spring or fall to do it.

A third anti-heat maneuver is keeping plants healthy with good soil and adequate water. Plants lovingly rooted in rich, loose, compost-enriched soil put out better roots than ones jammed into lousy clay or packed shale.

That makes them better able to deal with any stress, including heat and drought.

And be careful not to overdo it with water. Even in hot, dry conditions, it’s possible to kill a plant by rotting its roots.

Use your finger or a watering gauge to make sure the soil really is dry a few inches down where the roots are. If it’s already damp or wet, more water isn’t the answer.

Hydrangeas are a perfect example of a plant that wilts from excessive heat. The large leaves often wilt in daytime heat but recover at night when the temperatures cool.

If a hydrangea is still wilted first thing in the morning, then it most likely is dry soil —or it’s in the process of dying from previous over watering. Dead roots can’t deliver moisture, so the result looks like drying.

A 2- to 3-inch covering of mulch is a good way to both keep moisture in the soil and prevent sunlight from baking plant roots. Bare soil in the sun can be 20 or more degrees hotter than the air temperature, and on 95-degree days, that’s bad news for plant roots.

Shade trees and vine-covered arbors are other ways to spot-protect those heat-baked parts of the yard. And using a mulch product like Preen Mulch Plus is a great way to maintain moisture and help to prevent weeds from growing.

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ABCs of Back-to-School Savings

August 23, 2011 2:03 pm

An estimated 56 million students will be enrolled in elementary, junior high and high schools across the nation this fall. While retailers eagerly embrace the back-to-school season, many parents cringe as the costs add up for school supplies, sporting equipment, electronics and new clothes.
Today's tough economy makes it challenging to invest in our children's education and future, and purchasing school supplies can be especially expensive. Stretch your family's back-to-school budget with these smart saving tips: 

Assess Wants vs. Needs. Before you leave the house, make a list of items you'll need and be realistic about prioritizing needs and wants. Do a complete inventory of what supplies you already have at home. Sure, it's fun to buy all new, but if you just bought a new set of markers or a package of folders last spring, you can probably hold off a few months before restocking. 

Remember, too, that prime shopping season is before school starts. Delaying non-essential purchases on items such as clothing until after school is in session (such as during or after the Labor Day holiday, when items are marked down) can net big savings. 

Budget, Budget, Budget. Once your prioritized list is complete, determine what you can afford to spend on each category—school supplies, electronics, clothing and other. Use free online budgeting tools to help you stick to that budget. Comparison shop, check out online deals and watch store circulars for sales. Subscribe to receive emails, text or Twitter alerts from your favorite stores for special sales. Some stores even reward shoppers who "check-in" through social sites with more discounts. 

In addition, some states also offer a tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping. Buying in bulk can save money, too. Look for multi-packs of items like scissors, pencils and markers. 

Don't forget that the annual back-to-school shopping excursion can be a great money management learning exercise for older kids. Share your budget with them, and help them make selections to keep your checkbook on target. 

Check for Student Discounts. By having a student living in your home, you may be eligible for savings and not even know it. Many manufacturers, especially software publishers, offer education eligibility discounts, and some stores offer price breaks for students, too. 

For example, check out Academic Superstore (www.academicsuperstore.com), an online store that works with leading brands to sell deeply discounted products. The website's catalog of more than 20,000 education-focused products includes school supplies, full-version software titles and consumer electronics at prices up to 80 percent off retail value. Some items are at such deep discounts that you will be asked to provide proof of academic eligibility—which for some products is as simple as providing an.edu domain email address or school ID. 

Surf the Net for Deals
The Internet is a great place to find bargains. And many office supply and retail websites offer free shipping. Use online tools that let you compare prices of multiple websites to find the best deals. Don't forget to search for online coupon codes that can help stretch your dollar. 

You can also save money by checking out the many online auction and trade sites. Bid on larger bundles that include several items on your list. You can further save money by trading gently used clothing and supplies with other area families. Look through the online forums of local freecycle and swap sites to find "new to you" items. 

With a little pre-planning and discipline, you can manage through the financial stress and focus instead on setting a positive tone to send your kids back into the classroom.

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Top Tips for Party Prep

August 23, 2011 2:03 pm

Holidays, graduations or barbeques—no matter what the occasion, the gathering place at any home party is the kitchen. It's where we cook, where guests congregate, and often where refreshments are served. Because of this, the kitchen also is a likely place for clutter, spills and the general chaos that results from party food preparation. Home entertaining expert Jeanne Benedict offers tips for preparing your kitchen for a celebration, including beautifying what she calls the centerpiece of the kitchen—your countertop.
According to Benedict, the kitchen is the room that will make the first—and most lasting—impression on guests. Keeping surfaces glistening is the easiest thing a host can do to make an immediate difference in its look and feel. 

"When properly cleaned and protected, there is nothing that surrounds a room in luxury and stands the test of time like natural stone," says Benedict, host of DIY Network's "Weekend Entertaining" and author of four books including "The Sophisticated Cookie" and "Celebrations." 

"And, just like leather and wood in your home, specialty products should be used to care for natural stone. You want products that are designed to protect and enhance your granite, marble and slate surfaces by protecting them and keeping them clean and pristine." 

Benedict’s Tip: To keep natural stone countertops looking new over time, use a protective sealer. For everyday cleaning, avoid the use of all-purpose cleaners that can degrade the sealer and dull the surface.
Benedict's next prep step is to de-clutter. Because kitchen counters and tables are magnets for stray take-out menus, phone books, crayons and gadgets, she recommends finding them a permanent home when possible—or at least a temporary spot in a toy chest, a home office, the junk drawer or even the recycling bin. Once the clutter is clear, it's time to get your room ready to rock. 

Benedict’s Tip: Decorative container options are easy to find—from stylish boxes to desktop organizers. In a pinch, she suggests storing items such as keys or cell phones in an empty cookie jar and slipping papers into cookbooks that may be displayed on the counter. 

Finish off the natural look of stone with fresh flowers or a plant to add some life to the atmosphere. "Flowers simply make people smile, which is exactly the mood you want for a party," says Benedict. 

Benedict’s Tip: Because you'll be busy making party preparations, call your local florist and have them deliver an arrangement based on the theme of your party. You can cross that chore off your list. 

Once the kitchen is tidy and looking terrific, hosts can focus on decorating the rest of the house—from the table to the front door. "Let your creativity and countertop shine through, and you'll have the most fun of all," says Benedict.

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Teens Offer Parenting Tips That Encourage Teen Driver Safety

August 23, 2011 2:03 pm

All too often, news headlines tell of another teen killed in a car crash. It is estimated that 35 percent of teen casualties are due to vehicular driving accidents, making it the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Through their participation in a high school program called Project Ignition, thousands of young people have stood up to this statistic and worked tirelessly to change the driving behaviors of their peers and broader communities. 

If you have a teen driver in your family who you want to help become safer on the road, here are some tips from students in Project Ignition: 

Open the lines of communication
• Talk with your teen about distracted driving. Make sure you both understand what things are dangerous distractions.
• Listen to your teen. Ask about what it's like being in the car with other teens, and what distractions there are to handle. 

Offer support
• Encourage your teen to use his or her voice. Role-play with your teen so that he can become comfortable saying things like, "We both want to live, so let me answer your phone or text while you drive."
• Help your teen get involved with programs at school like Project Ignition, so that he or she can be a positive example and make an impact. 

Set rules
• Set family ground rules for texting and calling while driving. Your teen needs to know you have high expectations, and what the consequences will be if the rules aren't followed.
• Know where your teen is going, who he or she will be with, and what time he or she is expected home. 

Be a positive example
• Model the behavior you want your teen to exhibit. If the phone rings while you're driving, don't answer it. Encourage your teen to answer your phone or text, allowing you to drive more safely.
• Speak up about distracted driving to your friends and peers in front of your teen driver. Help set an example, spread the word and save lives. 

For more information, visit www.sfprojectignition.com.


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