Modern styling, technology help homeowners refresh their nests



First stop: the bathroom

Bathroom remodels are the most popular remodeling projects because they have a high return on investment, according to the National Association of Home Builders. When you’re ready to sell your house, renovating the bathroom typically has a return of 62 percent. A low-cost way to modernize the bathroom is installing new faucets. With signature styling featuring cylindrical, geometric shapes and distinct 90-degree angles, the new Moen Arris collection is an ideal choice for an iconic, modern update. Sleek, contemporary pieces like the new Arris faucet can add instant luxury.

Another idea for modernizing the bathroom is to add additional light sources. Bringing in more light will open up the space and make your bathroom come to life. The bathroom is often a place to unwind, and adding the right lighting can set the tone for a spa-like atmosphere. One way to do this, without breaking your budget, is by simply replacing the light fixtures. Add a modern touch to your bath with dramatic choices like chandeliers and sconces.

Second stop: the living room

Modern design doesn’t have to mean uncomfortable. Homeowners love modern interiors for the sleek and streamlined look, which leads to less clutter and visual stress. Expand the modern theme throughout the home by updating furniture with unfussy and relaxed pieces. You don’t need to buy everything new. Fabric covers, in an array of prints and colors, can instantly bring new life to old furniture. For pieces that need to be replaced, consider purchasing solid and neutral furniture. As trends change, you can switch out pillows and blankets to stay up-to-date.

Keep neutrals in mind when selecting paint colors, as well. White, black, brown and gray will go with just about anything. For a pop of color, paint an accent wall with a bold color, or add extra personality with drapery or area rugs. Use lamps, paintings and accessories to give a personal touch throughout the rest of your living space.

Final stop: the kitchen

Opening up shelving is a way to put a fresh, modern spin on your existing kitchen layout. You can order new cabinets with glass panels or simply remove the doors from your existing ones. Just make sure the exposed areas are not cluttered. Open shelving is a perfect place to display dishes. For a crisp look, try stacks of white plates and bowls. If you’re looking for an edgy feel, try patterned or bright-colored ones. Adding new hardware to cabinets is also an inexpensive way to improve the look of your kitchen.

Since faucets are the most-used item in the kitchen, a new model can make a big impression. Swap out your old one for the new Align suite from Moen. Align faucets feature high-arc spouts and a geometric handle, emphasizing the simplicity and elegance of the design. To complement your new faucet, look to update your counters as well. Granite remains a popular choice because of its high style and durability.

Integrating technology into home design

It’s not just about making your life easier, technology can also aesthetically enhance your living space with modern touches. Mirror technology allows homeowners to disguise the TV when it isn’t in use. Available for all TV models, it will look like a mirror is in the room until the unit is turned on. The iCon Bed from Hollandia features a headboard equipped with speakers, an amplifier and docking stations for two iPads. The NestLearning Thermostat shares the same designer as the iPod, and automatically creates a temperature-control schedule personalized around your lifestyle; while also saving energy.

For more information about Moen products, visit moen.com or call 800-BUY-MOEN (800-289-6636).

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America’s history etched in hardwood: Timeless material performs to rave reviews

The story of our architecture is literally written in wood – underfoot in planks polished by thousands of footsteps; on walls enriched with carved hardwood mouldings and paneling; even on ceilings, where load-bearing structural beams have assumed decorative roles, too.

 
“We are a country blessed from the beginning with an abundance and variety of hardwoods,” says Linda Jovanovich, executive vice president of the American Hardwood Information Center. “But there are other reasons so much hardwood has been used in the building of America.

 
“Hardwoods are versatile,” Jovanovich adds. “They come in many species, colors, and patterns of graining. They’re easy to work – hence all the exquisite carvings. And they last. Hardwoods are durable, which is why we still have wonderful old homes and public buildings that date back to the beginning of this country.” Or look as if they do.

 
Built in 1908, The Hermitage Museum sits in 12 acres of gardens along the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Va. But it could have come from 17th century England, with its wide-planked oak floors and wealth of hand-carved oak mouldings, wall paneling and doors.

 
Originally built as a summer home by wealthy New Yorkers William and Florence Sloane, the Hermitage is a 40-room work of art, thanks to the remarkable skills of three master wood craftsmen, who for three years, lived and worked in a turreted wood shop on the property while the house was under construction.

 
Now the Hermitage’s heavy oak-and-iron doors are open to the public as a school of visual arts and a renowned museum with art and furnishings from the 17th to early 20th centuries. Learn more at the Hermitage Museum. 

 
Down in Galveston, Texas, the Bishop’s Palace (aka Gresham House) would stand out, even if its fairytale towers didn’t soar more than three stories above the landscape.

 
The spectacular mansion is a paean to beautiful hardwoods, from the oak-paneled entry hall, with its 14-foot ceilings, to the black walnut bookcases in the library. It also features an inlaid oak and cherry hall floor and a soaring oak staircase, which was carved and shipped from a famed woodcarving center in Cincinnati.

 
Originally built by Colonel Walter Gresham for his wife and their nine children and completed in 1892, the spectacular mansion later housed the local Bishop, becoming known as the Bishop’s “Palace” – though “fortress” might be more fitting. Through the Great Storm of 1900, this dazzling structure stood virtually unscathed, and remains Galveston’s grandest and best-known building. See more at www.galveston.com/bishopspalace.

 
Not all hardwood installations must be old to be noteworthy. Skip ahead to the 21st century and 2005, when the Music Center of Strathmore in Baltimore debuted its state-of-the-art acoustics.
Acousticians had suggested that the new hall be built using as much natural material as possible. The result: a rich combination of yellow and red birch wood that sweeps across the center’s vast floor and up its soaring walls. Their reasons were more than sound-deep.

 
“A hard surface is a hard surface,” explains Mark Grabowski, Strathmore executive vice president.  “We could have used cement – many of Europe’s Old Master concert halls were built of cement. But we are talking about ‘psycho-acoustics.’ People just feel that natural wood makes the sound warmer and richer.”

 
Critics agree: The Strathmore has been applauded by the Washington Post as “The best place in the Mid-Atlantic for listening to classical music.” Ditto for other kinds of music, from jazz and pop to country and rock! “Wood sets the envelope for the music,” Grabowski says. See what he means at www.strathmore.org.

 
In historic homes and modern cultural sites all across this country, the stage has been set by American Hardwoods. Warm to the touch, soothing to the ear, comforting to both eye and psyche, timeless hardwood will go on creating the environments Americans most want to be in. Visit www.HardwoodInfo.com and see why our love affair with hardwood has lasted so long.

 
IMAGE CAPTIONS:
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Caption 1: Victorian exuberance and extravagance abound in the Bishop”™s Palace, captured by Dan Canright for the Galveston Historical Foundation. Built in 1892, the hand-carved walls, floors and ceiling continue to astound visitors.
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Five questions to ask before hiring a real estate agent

(BPT) – Want to sell your property quickly? Looking for your dream house? Are you hoping to get the best deal possible during the complex process of buying or selling a home? With so much money – and often, emotion – at stake, going it alone is generally not the best way to reach your goals. The secret for getting exactly what you want: Work with a savvy real estate agent.

A qualified real estate agent will streamline the process, help you save money and serve as a liaison with your best interests in mind. But how do you find the right real estate agent? Hundreds or even thousands of real estate professionals may work in your area, but finding the best one for your unique situation doesn't have to be time-consuming.

Remember, you're hiring this individual for his or her expertise and services. Your agent will get a designated percentage of the sale of the house. Depending on negotiations, this cost may be covered by the seller, buyer or split by both. You want someone who will work hard for you, but also someone you are comfortable with because you may be spending a lot of time together.

To find the best real estate agent for you, ask these five critical questions:

1. How many buyers or sellers have you helped in the last year in the area?

An active agent is more likely to be up-to-date on the market, and local and state laws. Furthermore, active agents with experience in your neighborhood, or the neighborhood where you'd like to move, are better positioned to help you because they can provide unique insight that other less-knowledgeable agents cannot.

2. Do you have advanced training?

Any licensed real estate agent can help you buy or sell a home. But an agent who has advanced specialty training is better qualified to assist you. For example, an agent who is an Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR), has enhanced training focusing specifically on buyers. An agent who is a Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) has special training to deal with short sales and foreclosures. RE/MAX agents on average have more certifications and extra training to better serve buyers and sellers.

3. What services do you offer?

While the majority of people shop for homes online first, having someone on your side through the search and sale process can save time and money. A buyer's agent should help you schedule showings, assist with negotiating the price of the new home, guide you through the paperwork, be there at the closing table, and provide insight through any contingencies during the process.

For sellers, an agent should help set the price of the home, based on a competitive market analysis (CMA). Ask the agent how he or she will market your home (websites, videos, direct mail). Also inquire about assistance with staging and hosting open houses. Then, when the offers come in, the agent can help you with the decision on which one to accept.

4. Who else will be working with me?

The person you hire should do most of the work, but you may work with a support team, too. Additional team members may include mortgage brokers, home inspectors or contractors. If you'd like more information about what it's like to work with an agent, don't be shy about asking for references. You'll get real insight into what it's like to work with that particular professional.

5. How often will I hear from you?

No matter if you're selling or buying, ask how often you'll hear from the agent and make sure that this aligns with your expectations. For buyers: Do you just want to hear when there's a new home that may interest you? Do you want regular check-in calls too? For sellers: Do you want to hear from your agent only after a buyer has toured your home, or do you want to be kept in the loop on a weekly basis?

Buying or selling a home is a complex process most people do only a few times in their lives. Hiring the right real estate agent from a reputable company can give you an edge so you get the best deal possible while meeting all your goals.

You can learn more about the home buying and selling process and find an experienced agent by contacting us in the information on this email. We welcome all! 

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Autumn edibles: Tips for fall gardening and second plantings

(BPT) – People choose to garden for many reasons: Food is fresher and tastes better. It’s a healthy hobby that exercises the body. It saves money. Numerous reports show an increasing number of homeowners are growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.

As summer’s end nears, you may think gardening season is over. The good news is with a few strategic tips, you can keep your green thumb going and enjoy a plethora of autumn edibles for months to come.

Step 1: Select second plantings

Second plantings are the plants you use for the latter part of the gardening season. Late summer is typically the best time to plant these varieties. Call your local extension offices or access information online to find regionalized planting schedules and recommended plant varieties.

The length of the fall season and when the first frost will likely hit are important considerations when selecting second plantings. Keep in mind that fast-maturing vegetables are ideal for fall gardening and they should be planted early enough to reach maturity before the first frost arrives.

Popular second plantings that yield a delicious late fall/early winter harvest include broccoli, lettuce, turnips, collards, carrots, peas, radish, spinach, leeks and beets. Some people even claim root vegetables and cole crops like kale and turnips taste better after the first frost.

Step 2: Prepare your garden space

If you plan to use your current garden space for second plantings, remove the early-season plants that are done producing. Add those plants to your current compost bin or create a new compost pile with easy-to-use, stylish options from Outdoor Essentials. Wood-slate bins blend well with the outdoor aesthetic and the design allows oxygen to circulate and facilitate the composting process.

Next, prepare your garden space. Elevated garden beds are growing in popularity because they look great anywhere in your yard or on your patio, and are easy to move if necessary. Raised garden beds from Outdoor Essentials elevate the plants so gardeners don’t have to bend over and risk injury. They are ideal for fall because gardeners can regulate the temperature of raised beds with ease. On hot days, move or add a shade netting to protect plants from the heat; when frost is a threat, cover the entire bed for protection.

While you’re getting your hands dirty, fall is the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs. A little outdoor work now and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful flowers when spring arrives next year.

Step 3: Enjoy the harvest

Tend your garden daily for the best results – it may just need a quick check for pests and proper soil moisture. Typical benefits of late-season gardening include fewer bothersome bugs and the soil has better water retention.

As plants grow, pick the fruits and vegetables and enjoy Mother Nature’s bounty. If your plants become crowded, pluck a few out to help remaining plants grow roots and increase the harvest yield. You may be surprised just how many cool months your plants provide you with fresh, delicious produce.

Fall is a great opportunity to keep gardening momentum alive. So get started and decide what second plantings are best for your space. In as little as 30 days you could be eating the freshest, most flavorful vegetables you’ve ever had, all while under the gorgeous autumn sun.

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Tips for safer home medication storage and consumption

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“Many of us keep multiple medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, in the house,” says JeQuithia Sims, pharmacy technician program chair at Everest College in Arlington, Texas. “But when stored or consumed incorrectly, medication can cause unexpected consequences.”

Everest campuses across the country offer a pharmacy technician program that prepares students, through technical and practical training, for careers in aiding licensed pharmacists. Here Sims shares 10 pharmaceutical best practices to keep in mind when organizing the medicine cabinet.

Storing your medication

* Store in a cool, dry place – While it varies by manufacturer, this rule stands true for most medications. A few simple storage locations might be in a medicine cabinet, on top of a dresser or on a designated shelf. If you have children, be sure to keep medications up high and out of reach.

* Keep away from light – Light can degrade medication more quickly than intended, so it’s important you don’t store medication in light-filled places such as a windowsill or under powerful indoor lighting.

* Honor the expiration date – Whether it’s an over-the-counter or prescription medication, old pills degrade over time and can cause a bacteria imbalance when consumed. Most medication expires after one year, so use this as a rule of thumb when revisiting old pills. Before picking up that 500-count bottle of pain reliever because it’s a “better deal,” ask yourself if your household will consume all 500 pills that year. If not, it might be safer to grab the smaller bottle, and re-stock yearly.

* Do not flush – When disposing of expired, discolored, or unused prescription medications, be mindful of proper disposal practices by throwing medications away in the household trash or through your community’s medication disposal program. One of the easiest options is to take your unused or expired medications to your pharmacy and they will dispose of them properly. Flushing or pouring medication down the drain harms the environment, as sewage systems are not capable of removing medicines from the water released into lakes, rivers and oceans.

Using your medication

* Note the warning label – Even if you’ve taken the medication for years, it’s always a good idea to look at the warning label for consumption directions, as your doctor may have altered your dosage or the manufacturer slightly changed the consumption directions.

* Consuming liquids is not the same as consuming water – If the label instructs you to consume with water, be careful not to consume with other beverages. Juices and acidic drinks can cause the medication to break down faster than normal and hot drinks, such as coffee or tea, cause coated pills to melt too quickly in the stomach – not the intestine, where it’s intended to break down. This may produce side effects as harmful as stomach ulcers.

* Don’t lose the dropper – It might seem the same to use a household spoon with liquid medication, but the dropper or spoon provided by the pharmacy has been measured specifically for your intended dosage. Research shows that silverware teaspoons can vary between one to nine milliliters dependent upon design, making them an unreliable tool for medication.

* Your pharmacist is your friend – Don’t forget that your pharmacist is an expert. When in doubt about the safety of consuming a medication for any given reason, your pharmacist is there to answer your questions.

Tips for kids

* Children are not small adults – If a medication is intended for adult consumption only, keep in mind that it cannot simply be given to children in smaller doses. Instead, seek a medication specifically designed for children.

* Medicine is not candy – Although referring to medicine as “candy” around children might be a tempting tactic to entice them to take it, parents should be wary of what might happen when they are not around. Children can easily get ahold of medication, consume large amounts and overdose.

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



“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.

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