Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tips for staying safe on social networks


Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can be a great way to stay in touch, share photos and broadcast what’s on your mind. Unfortunately they’re also a great way for cyber criminals to find out information about you.

The federal government has provided some tips for safer social networking.

• Check out the privacy and security settings and use them to control who sees what. If someone you don’t know tries to “friend” you, ignore it. There’s no way to be sure they are who they say they are.

• Before you post pictures, think about whether they give away too much information about you. For example, does that shot show your street name or license plate in the background? Avoid geo-tagging photos. Most smartphones and many digital cameras automatically attach the exact location where a photo was taken, which can give away your address or let criminals know that you’re on vacation, making your home a target for break-in.

• Don’t mention things like going away on vacation, big purchases or events that include your address in your status updates.

• Never include banking information – not even the name of your bank.

 Remember, taking simple precautions online can protect you from major headaches down the road.

Courtesy of Newscanada

Easy exterior projects that add lasting beauty to your home


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Homeowners want to improve their home’s exterior while saving time, labor and money. You can enhance your lifestyle by choosing options that extend product performance and add beauty and enjoyment to outdoor living.

The easy patio fix that’s eco-friendly

Adding pavers to any outdoor area can transform cracked slabs or troubled grass areas into virtually instantaneous living space. But most do-it-yourselfers shy away from working with heavy concrete or brick. Andy Vander Woude of AZEK VAST Pavers says you can install a new patio, walkway or driveway with new pavers that install three times faster on a unique grid system over a traditional sub-base. At less than half the weight of concrete, they contain up to 95 percent recycled scrap tires and plastics. “There is no need for wet saws or heavy equipment,” Vander Woude said. “You can also resurface an old patio, deck or flat roof without the sub-base preparation – just assemble the grid and lay the pavers in like a big puzzle.” He added, “It’s a way to create instant living space that respects the planet.” 

 
Add curb appeal for lasting first impressions 

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You can increase curb appeal with stylish and functional, quality amenities that dress up an entryway, yard, patio, porch or deck. According to the experts at Walpole Woodworkers, known for outdoor furnishings handcrafted in Maine since 1933, consider classic accents such as lantern and mailbox posts, pergolas, arbors, window boxes, deck planters and birdhouses handcrafted from new advanced materials, with long-lasting benefits and low-maintenance. Walpole offers these and many other products handcrafted in modern cellular PVC. This advanced material looks just like natural wood, but won’t rot, split, or warp and will maintain its good looks for years, virtually maintenance free. Call 1-800-343-6948 for a free catalog. 

 
Light up the night

 

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With the emergence of inspired outdoor living spaces and new trends in materials, it only makes sense that homeowners search for a way to enjoy their deck parties well into the night. Deck rail lighting has become extremely popular, with LEDs the preferred way to create ambient lighting. Michael Gori, Director of Product Management at AZEK Building Products, makers of AZEK Deck, said lighted post caps and light strips concealed under the hand rail are in high demand. “The lighted post caps add an elegant touch, while the hand rail lighting casts a downward glow, reducing hot spots and attraction to insects,” he said. “The combination of the two light sources adds a dramatic effect for nighttime entertaining.” Gori adds, “With warm, ambient lighting, there’s no longer a need to head indoors when the sun goes down.”
Know when to paint caulk 

 

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Did you ever poke your finger at a caulk bead to see if it’s dry and ruin your nice work? “Caulk needs to dry for about one to two hours, before it can be painted-whether you’re working indoors or out,” says Jason Ringling, marketing director at Red Devil, a company with a 140-year old history in the industry. “Painting too soon can cause sagging and cracking and then the entire job has to be re-done.” He says that there is a new technology called ColorCure sealant that turns from pink to white when it’s ready to paint, so there’s no guesswork. And if the job gets interrupted, you know exactly where you left off. “Formulations are getting smarter to help you work more efficiently,” he adds.

 
When fixing up or adding beautifying elements to your home exterior, be sure to investigate all the options–from new formulations in caulks and sealants to alternatives to traditional materials that offer easy installation and better performance over time.

Courtesy of BPT

Design Tips – Furniture layouts that work with your fireplace


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I love fireplaces! I was inspired to write about this topic today while incorporating a new fireplace design into a home renovation project I’ve been working on.

Nothing makes you feel more comfortable and cozy than a crackling roaring fire on a cold winter day. A fireplace instantly infuses character and charm into any room and gives the space its personality. A formal living room fireplace lets us know it’s a more mature space to relax or retire to on special occasions. The more rustic stacked stone fireplace in the family room calls for everyone to kick back, relax and nestle in for a casual family gathering. The dining room fireplace (my personal favorite) invites your friends and family to linger around the dining table for evenings filled with great food and even better conversation.

Whether it’s your living room, family room, dining room kitchen or bedroom, the fireplace is the focal point in the space and the proper furniture placement is imperative in order for you to make the most of your fireplace.

Symmetrical Layout.

If your fireplace is centrally located within a wall and is flanked by windows or bookcases that are the same dimensions on each side, then you’re dealing with a more traditional space and personality – which speaks to a more traditional furniture placement. Pairs are important here. Flank a pair of comfortable and inviting chairs (or similar in size, design and proportion) on either side of the fireplace. Place your sofa directly facing the fireplace and you now have a comfortable conversation area. Situate a cocktail table, ottoman or other surface in front of the sofa. Dress the mantle with a mirror, art, and other accessory pairs. Anchor the area with a beautiful area rug and make sure to relax the formality and potential stiffness with some colorful objects and textures.

Asymmetrical Layout.

In a more energetic space with the varied details, irregular nooks and crannies the fireplace that is off-center can create a more challenging space to layout. It’s also a more interesting space to design. You may still be able to place the sofa directly in front of the fireplace, but if that isn’t an option, consider positioning the furniture on a rug set on a slight diagonal turn. Make sure that the floating furniture situated on that rug are positioned at right angles with each other. It’s all about the relationship within the grouping itself. For a more informal atmosphere, a more casual accessory placement above the fireplace mantle is expected. Just make sure there is a balancing act between all elements within this asymmetrical space.

fireplaces%20and%20furniture%20layoutsOpen Floor Plan.


Many homes have great rooms or large family spaces that are open and undefined. If not designed properly they can feel unanchored as the furniture can feel unanchored in an opened multi functional space. Open floor plans tend to flow from one space to another so it’s more important than ever to have each space relate to each other. Create the furniture groupings in front and around the fireplace. Direct the traffic and flow around the furniture grouping rather than through the space – thereby defining the living space and accentuating the focal point. Keep everything clutter-free and avoid any sharp corners and obstacles. Incorporate durable and space defining flooring and area rugs to help designate zones to help define the space and enhance that beautiful fireplace.

Finally, remember to keep your seating casual and inviting, use forgiving fabrics which allow you to kick back and relax – and sprinkle high end comfort throughout with luxurious down pillows to sink into at the end of the day. Light the fire, grab your tea your favorite book and nestle in for the night!

by: Lori Gilder 

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_6309.shtml

Technology to keep families connected and protected this season

(BPT) – It’s the time of year when family schedules change and their daily routines reset. From coordinating calendars to handling additional demands such as homework and extracurricular activities, it can be a challenging, if not daunting, time for even the most organized family.

The good news is advancements in technology can help organize busy families’ schedules, streamline their routines and simplify their days – making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. Today’s technology tools can also help eliminate the stress and worry of whether or not someone remembered to lock the door or adjust the temperature while the house is vacant for the day. Here are a few tips to help families get organized this season.

1. Connecting via social media: Family members can stay connected throughout the day by using private groups on social media platforms, allowing everyone in the family to post quick messages, send photos or ask questions. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, more than 60 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 have signed up for a profile on one social networking site, and many report they spend more than two hours a day using social media. With teenagers’ high social activities, parents can often receive responses and information from their children in a more timely and effective manner.

2. Protecting the family: October is National Crime Prevention Month, a time when families should take into account the importance of home security. With approximately one in nine children coming home to an empty house after school, according to U.S. Census data, advancements in home automation and security technology can help parents remotely safeguard their homes and families. ADT Pulse (ADTPulse.com) allows parents to receive email and text alerts when the kids arrive home after school, check in during the day with real-time video monitoring, and even lock and unlock doors if the kids arrive home before they do.

This same technology is also making it easier for parents to keep their homes organized – even in the morning rush. For example, families can also use ADT Pulse to switch off appliances such as the coffee pot, adjust the thermostat and shut off the lights. This can be especially helpful when trying to get the family out the door in time for school.

3. Sharing lists online: Shopping trips can take a lot of time during the week, but the process can be simplified by sharing lists via online spreadsheets and smartphone apps. Organize the lists by categories such as grocery, pharmacy or pets to ensure both parents conveniently have access to the list the next time they make a trip to the store. Not only does this save parents time, it’s also a great way to earn brownie points with their spouse. The tip also works for organizing the family chores. Create a to-do list assigning each family member a job, and have them check off the task when completed.

With a secure and efficient home and by staying connected to each other, families can settle into a smooth routine and enjoy the exciting activities of the fall season.

Courtesy of BPT

Weeknight meals made easy with simple tips

(BPT) – What’s for dinner? It’s a question most of us ask every day. With evening routines packed full of extracurricular activities, chores and preparation for the following day, we don’t always have as much time as we’d like to make dinner. Fortunately, a quick, delicious and healthy meal can still be an option for your family, even when you’re short on time. All it takes is a little planning, some common ingredients and one trip to the grocery store.

Here are five dinners to take you through an entire work week:

Monday

Start the week by putting your slow cooker to work for you. Slice off the tops of four to six bell peppers, but don’t throw them out. Remove the seeds and stuff each pepper with a combination of lean ground turkey or chicken sausage, grated cauliflower, carrots, onion and garlic, plus fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Put the pepper tops back on, arrange the peppers securely in a slow cooker, pour a large can of low-sodium chopped tomatoes over them and cook on low for eight hours. Dinner will be ready when you walk in the door.

Tuesday

Soup can be a quick way to have dinner on the table in minutes – and it allows you to use up vegetables that may be near the end of their shelf life. Try a Broccoli Cheese Soup (recipe follows), a classic favorite that the whole family will enjoy. There’s minimal pre-cooking required – simply steam the broccoli, measure the remaining ingredients, put them in your Vitamix Professional Series 500 blender and start the Hot Soup program. When the program completes, pour into bowls and garnish with extra steamed broccoli florets and bit of grated cheese. For a heartier meal, chop and add grilled chicken chunks. Serve with crusty bread and a salad for a complete dinner.

Wednesday

Whole-wheat pasta with basil walnut pesto is a crowd pleaser. Take fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and walnuts and puree with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in your Vitamix for a quick and easy sauce. If there are stuffed pepper leftovers, chop and heat for a tasty pasta topping. Make a large batch of pesto and you can use the leftover portion later in the week.

Thursday-

Throw together a chicken stir-fry for another quick weeknight meal. Chop up your favorite vegetables, including extra cauliflower, onions and carrots from Monday’s stuffed peppers and broccoli from Tuesday’s soup. Saute the vegetables with cooked, cubed chicken and a mix of soy and teriyaki sauces. Serve over rice and offer a spicy chili sauce for those who like it hot.

Friday

You’ve made it through the week. Why not treat your family to pizza? Top a ready-made, whole-wheat pizza crust with your leftover pesto sauce, cheese and any toppings you’d like. Add peppers, mushrooms and vegetables you chopped for the soup and stir-fry to create a veggie delight. Follow the cooking instructions on the pizza crust package, and you’ll be ready to kick off your weekend in no time.

With a bit of planning, you can shop once and have your dinners set for the week. Buy canned or frozen fruits and vegetables in bulk and try to prepare at least two meals using the same ingredients. Even with hectic schedules, families can prepare and sit down to a satisfying meal every night of the week.

Broccoli cheese soup

Yields two cups.

Ingredients:
1 cup (240 ml) milk, skim or low fat
1⁄3 cup (40 g) shredded, low fat cheddar cheese|
1 cup (100 g) chopped fresh or frozen broccoli or cauliflower florets, steamed
1 teaspoon diced onion
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon chicken or vegetable bouillon or soup base

Directions:

Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid. Select Hot Soup program. Press Start. Allow machine to complete programmed cycle.

Courtesy of BPT

For richer or poorer: Don’t let newlywed bliss turn into financial nightmare

(BPT) – For better or worse, richer or poorer – that’s the promise most couples make when they face one-another at the altar. When it comes to finances and young love, it can be easy to fall into some common pitfalls that can haunt couples long after the wedding day.

“Communication is a key part of a strong marriage, and it’s also the basis for a strong financial partnership,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions. “Being proactive before and planning ahead of the wedding while sticking to a financial plan will help guard against common financial mistakes that can occur early in a couple’s life together.”

To start your new life together with a strong financial foundation, check off a few important money to-dos before you say “I do!”

1. Have the debt talk

All couples must have the debt talk. It may not be romantic, but it is necessary in order to plan a bright future together. Be open and honest about debt, savings and spending habits, even if they are less than perfect.

Financial turmoil is one of the top reasons cited for divorce, so understanding each other’s finances today and what goals you have for the future will help reduce stress on your partnership. With the average college student graduating with $26,600 in student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt, young couples need to create a plan for managing debt and saving for the future.

2. Control wedding spending

The “big day” is a defining moment in life, but it’s important for couples to remember it’s just one day of many that they will spend together. Weddings and related events cost a whopping $28,427 on average, according to theknot.com, and that doesn’t even include the honeymoon.

“When it comes to young couples planning a dream wedding, the plastic tends to be relied upon,” says Burns. “It’s important to be realistic about how much you can spend. Becoming over extended on credit cards is a common mistake, and this type of high-interest debt is not the wisest way to begin your lives together.”

The best course of action when it comes to wedding planning is to create a budget and stick to it. It’s not necessarily bad to use credit, especially if you can take advantage of a credit card rewards program, but Burns advises only charging or borrowing what you know you can pay back in a reasonable amount of time as keeping high balances and missing payments can have significantly negative impacts on your credit score, which in turn leads to stress.

3. Work together to build a positive credit profile

Married couples do not have joint credit files or credit scores. Each individual has their credit files with the credit reporting companies and their own credit scores, but in some cases like when joint accounts and co-signed loans are created, the actions of one can impact the other.

“It’s common for younger people who are just beginning their financial independence to not have much, if any, credit history. It’s important to be proactive and take steps to build a positive credit profile and score so you can demonstrate to lenders that you are a good manager of credit,” says Burns.

Get a copy of your credit report and resolve any issue you may have with the information presented in it. If you have a limited credit history, carefully consider the benefits of joint accounts, but keep in mind that the positive financial actions like paying bills on-time and keeping balances low, as well as actions that can have negative impacts like missing payments will influence the couples’ individual credit scores.

“The importance of paying bills on time cannot be understated,” says Burns. “A single missed payment can drop each person’s credit score 80 to 100 points. This can affect a couple’s ability to get the best interest rates and terms for a loan.”

Another important step in building credit after a marriage is to make sure that all financial lenders are aware of name changes. “If you choose to change your name after you are married, make sure all your accounts have your current information, otherwise positive actions may not get reported correctly or in a timely manner,” Burns says.

4. Shop around for rates

“Whether you’re taking out a personal loan or selecting a credit card, you absolutely must shop around for rates,” advises Burns. “Don’t just take the easiest or first option. You want to get the best deal available with low interest rates and reasonable terms.”

When shopping for rates, Burns notes to do so within a two week period of time. Credit inquiries from auto and mortgage lenders and credit cards issued from banks and credit unions are only counted once if done in a two week period causing just a slight decrease to credit scores.

Finally, couples soon to be married or those that recently were married can also test their knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America, one of the largest consumer advocates in the country.

Courtesy of BPT

Four common photography mistakes to avoid


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If your photos seem too bright, cluttered or ordinary, you can take simple steps to avoid these and other common photography mistakes.

“Photographers know it takes a good eye, practice and patience to make the most out of every moment,” says Bill Robbins, an award-winning advertising photographer, commercial film director and current program chair of professional photography at Brooks Institute, a leading provider of higher education for film, graphic design, and photography. “Whether you’re a professional or amateur photographer, it’s also about trying new techniques and experimenting with everything from lighting to composition.”

 

Robbins offers these tips for overcoming four common photography errors and turning any good photo into a great photo:

 
* No focal point. Ask yourself this simple question before you snap a picture: What are you taking a photo of and why? Your answer will ensure you capture the right elements for the viewer to easily understand the photograph’s subject and purpose. Less is usually more when it comes to photo composition. For example, if you’re taking a photo of a beautiful landscape, what’s the main focal point – is it the rock formation, sunset or covered bridge? You may need to move in closer to fill the frame with your subject and eliminate any distractions in the background or foreground. In addition, consider turning around to see if there’s a more interesting image or focal point in that direction.

 
* Too much or too little light. Getting the right exposure – the amount of light that passes through your camera lens – is critical to capturing the sharpest photos. If you’re shooting in a dimly lit space or standing too far away from your subject, your photo may be underexposed or appear too dark. Quick fixes: Add extra light if you’re indoors, move closer to your subject, or manually adjust your camera’s shutter speed to be slower or the aperture to a wider lens opening, thus allowing in more light. When there’s too much natural or indoor light, your photos may look washed out or have unwanted shadows. Consider using a flash to even out the lighting, moving the subject (or yourself) out of the brighter light, or waiting for a time of day when the lighting is better. For outdoor pictures, overcast days work well. When you get in the habit of focusing on the light, you’ll find the best places and times to use light to your advantage.

 
* Centered subject. The best photos may not be perfectly centered in your frame. When eyeing any photo opportunity, consider the tried-and-true “rule of thirds.” As you’re framing your photo, imagine two vertical and two horizontal lines spaced evenly, creating a grid of nine rectangular boxes. Try placing the main subject near the points along these lines or where the lines intersect.  This creates more visual interest than centering the subject. In a landscape shot, for example, it prevents the horizon from appearing to divide the picture in half. Instead, the horizon might appear in the lower third of the photo. You can also consider framing the image from a different position rather than always shooting at eye level. With digital cameras, it’s easy to experiment and be creative with your composition.

 
* Red-eye. This is one of the most common – and annoying – issues with photos. Red-eye is caused by the flash reflecting off the person’s retina, in which blood vessels cause the red glow. The easiest solution is to turn off the flash. You can also activate the red-eye reduction feature on many digital cameras, or, if a flash is necessary, ask the subject to avoid looking directly into the camera lens.

Courtesy of BPT

For a greener backyard, take cues from leading-edge California

(BPT) – From implementing stricter standards for vehicle emissions to creating a state-level agency to administer stewardship of the environment, Californians have always been at the forefront of the green movement. That commitment to the environment even extends to local backyards, where California homeowners are turning to eco-friendly materials, building practices and landscaping to create “greener” outdoor living spaces.

You can bring such style into your own backyard with a few tips and tactics inspired by your California neighbors:

Choose eco-friendly materials that are locally produced in California.

A great place to start thinking about such issues is with a deck, which can be the showpiece of your outdoor environment. When you’re building one, be sure to choose materials that are sustainable, recyclable and of local origin. First, it’s key that the material can be grown and re-grown and positively impacts the environment. In addition, locally produced materials consume less fossil fuel and create fewer emissions being transported from their point of origin to your home. And, materials that can be recycled are much less likely to end up in a landfill someday.

For example, redwood is the material of choice for green-minded homeowners when building a deck. Natural and organic, redwood is sustainable, removes carbon from the atmosphere and is recyclable, whereas materials such as man-made plastic composites are not. Redwood grows in one of the world’s healthiest forest systems, and redwood lumber is carbon negative, which means that redwood removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it takes to produce. As a building material, it naturally resists decay, warping and shrinking, and is easy to work with. Unlike composite decking, redwood is a renewable resource. Because it’s local, it not only underscores the beauty of California’s natural environment, its transportation creates less environmental impact than imported hardwoods such as Ipe from the tropics or even cedar from Canada. To learn more about -redwood, visit redwoodstrong.com.

Landscape with an eye toward sustainability.

Sustainable landscaping practices can help you create a beautiful backyard that is kind to Mother Nature. A sustainably designed backyard allows homeowners to conserve water, create an environment that celebrates the beauty of local nature, and minimize the amount of chemicals needed for plants, bushes and trees to thrive.

With many parts of California experiencing warm, dry summers, it pays to incorporate drought-resistant, local flora into your landscaping. Native plants have evolved to thrive in the specific conditions of a given region, so they’re much more likely to do well – with less work, fertilizer and water – than imported species not habituated for conditions in your area. What’s more, choosing native plants means they will travel less distance from nursery to backyard.

Likewise, when seeding your lawn each year, be sure to choose grass seed specifically bred to thrive in local conditions. You’ll need less seed to fill in bare spots on the lawn, and less water to keep the lawn healthy and green throughout the summer.

Not sure what plants are native to your area of the state? You can find information online, either at your local college’s extension website or through resources like www.landscaperesource.com, where you can enter your ZIP code and get information on local plants, as well as green service providers in your area.

While the green trend has branched out across the country, its strong roots grow in the climatically diverse, beautiful landscape of California. Whether you’re planning to expand your outdoor living space with a deck or just want a beautiful, lower-maintenance landscape, choosing local, sustainable materials can help ensure your backyard is as green as possible, no matter where you live.

Courtesy of BPT

How to choose furniture for a light color themed home


Light colored walls offer you so many different options in furniture and home decor. But, they also give you several advantages over dark walls. When used in small rooms light walls can make your room appear to be much larger than it is. They are an ideal way to make any room feel more open and airy. When used in a room that doesn’t get very much natural light, light walls add brightness. To get the exact look that you want, you need to know how to buy furniture for a light color themed home.

Choose a Style for Your Home

Before you purchase furniture for a light colored room, decide what look you want for the room. Do you want a warm and inviting room? Do you want to create a bold contrast in the room? One of the best advantages of a light colored theme is that you can incorporate almost any color furniture and accessories into the room. But, a change in color will cause a dramatic effect on the rooms look.

Warm and Inviting

Light and neutral colors work well together and they are ideal for any size room. Using light colored furniture with light colored walls makes the room feel warm and inviting. It will also make the room seem cleaner and uncluttered. If you have white walls, choose furniture pieces in white, cream or light beige. You can add a little contrast with complimenting colors in a area rug, throw pillows or home decor.

Bold and Dramatic

You can create a really bold and dramatic feeling in a light colored room by choosing dark colored furniture. However, keep in mind that it’s best to use furniture that is just a few shades darker than your walls. If the difference is to dramatic the rooms decor can be to bold for the eye. To blend the colors together, balance them out by adding contrast to the rooms trim, baseboards and molding.

Modern

Using furniture colors such as black or red in a light color themed room not only adds a bold feeling to the theme, it also gives it a modern look. More and more homeowners are choosing to decorate their homes in a modern design. And, one of the most popular colors for modern furniture is black. Black furniture has a sleek feel and gives you the advantage of using numerous colors in your decor, pillows and area rugs.

Country

If you have a country style home, choose furniture that carries that look over into your rooms. Choose furniture in natural or pastel colors. Furniture with light colored floral designs are an excellent way to compliment a country decor. If you don’t want a floral design on the furniture, use light or pastel colors and add a floral touch on your curtains, pillows or other accessories.

by: Oleg Oyfe 

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_6999.shtml