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6 Landscape Design Trends to Bloom in 2016

February 3, 2016 1:34 am

Landscape design has reversed course over the seasons, as the indoors further move outward and the outdoors become an extension of household living. The trend, ever evolving, shows no signs of slowing down this year, either.

“The latest trends reflect the desire to bring the indoors out—to create comfortable landscapes that are both functional and beautiful,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), which recently released its annual forecast. “At the same time, we’re seeing a shift toward sustainable landscapes that reflect a renewed sense of mindfulness for the Earth and its ecosystems.”

The NALP forecast predicts the following trends will take root in landscapes in 2016.

1. Edible Landscapes – Fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables will add texture and color variety to landscapes in 2016, while also providing an endless supply of delicious ingredients.

2. Freshwater Features – Rain barrels, rain gardens and stone retaining walls will add dimension to lush landscapes this year, serving an important purpose of collecting, cleaning or stopping water. Other non-plant features, including sculptures or pottery, will also become focal points.

3. Fully-Customized Outdoor Living Spaces – Beyond the deck or patio, hardscapes will transform into full-service kitchens (think brick ovens and grills), living and dining rooms featuring fireplaces and fire pits, and canopy bedrooms. Themed spaces, such as yoga gardens or bocce fields, will help personalize these outdoor retreats.

4. Lighted, Tech-ed Out Landscapes – Naturally derivative of outdoor living, landscapes this year will see dramatic, boldly-colored lighting, twinkling accent lighting, backyard Wi-Fi and television installations.

5. Native Gardens – Landscapes this year will adopt the concept of “naturescaping”— selecting and growing native plants to attract birds, insects and wildlife. Naturescaping encourages the use of low-maintenance perennial native plants and innately manages water runoff.

6. Soothing Hues – Expect soft, nature-inspired pink and blue hues to bloom in gardens this year with heritage rose bushes, Catherine Woodbury daylilies, Angelique tulips, blue lace delphinium, French hydrangea and others.

Source: NALP

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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20 Ways to Spring Clean the Natural Way

February 2, 2016 1:34 am

(Family Features)—Spring cleaning on the agenda? Don’t break out the bleach—reach for vinegar, a non-toxic cleaning solution, instead. It’s less expensive than commercial products, and has much more use value.

“Cleaning with vinegar has always been an effective way to banish dirt and grime in kitchens, bathrooms, the garage and the outdoors,” says Mike Smith, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Mizkan Americas.

Vinegar is so versatile, in fact, that it can be used for virtually every job around the home. For example:

1. Clean off the blades of a well-worn can opener with an old toothbrush soaked with vinegar to help remove dirt and grease.
 
2. Clean your refrigerator’s ice and water dispenser by running vinegar through the system. Flush the vinegar out by running water through the system for 30-60 seconds.
 
3. Rid your dishwasher of mineral buildup by pouring half a cup of vinegar into the reservoir and running an empty cycle. You can also use vinegar in the dishwasher instead of glass cleaner to keep your glassware sparkling.
 
4. Renew sponges and dishrags by placing them in just enough water to cover them, then adding one-fourth cup of vinegar and letting them soak overnight.
 
5. Remove dark stains on an aluminum pot by boiling two cups of vinegar. For stained and smelly plastic food containers and lunchboxes, wipe them with a cloth dampened with vinegar.
 
6. To clean a grease-splattered oven door window, saturate it with vinegar. Keep the door open for 10-15 minutes before wiping with a sponge.
 
7. Deodorize the garbage disposal by pouring in half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of vinegar. Let sit for five minutes, and run hot water down the disposal.
 
8. Avoid using toxic chemicals where you store food. Wipe up spills in the fridge with vinegar.
 
9. Rid faucets of lime deposits by tying a plastic bag containing one-third to one-half cup of vinegar around it and leaving it there for two to three hours. Wipe down with a sponge and scrub any remaining deposits with an old toothbrush. The same approach can be used to remove buildup on a showerhead.
 
10. The fizzing combo of vinegar and baking soda can unclog and remove odor from a tub drain. Pour half a cup of baking soda in the drain, followed with two cups of hot vinegar. Immediately plug the drain with a rag to keep the bubbles contained for 10 minutes. Rinse by pouring a kettle of boiling hot water down the drain.
 
11. Spray shower doors with vinegar after you’ve squee-geed the glass—or before you turn on the water—to help release hard water deposits.
 
12. Clean shower door tracks by filling them with vinegar and letting it sit for a few hours. Pour hot water into the tracks and scrub away any remaining film with a toothbrush.
 
13. To make the toilet bowl sparkle, pour in a cup or more of vinegar and let it sit for several hours or overnight. Scrub well with the toilet brush and flush.
 
14. Remove old bathtub decals with vinegar heated in the microwave.
 
15. Remove coffee and tea stains on clothing by flushing the area with vinegar, rinsing and repeating. For wine stains, saturate the spot with vinegar and allow it to stand for several minutes. Wash as normal.
 
16. Restore yellowed clothing by soaking garments overnight in a solution of 12 parts warm water and one part vinegar. Wash them the following morning.
 
17. Soak new garments in a few cups of vinegar for 10-15 minutes before washing to stop dyes from running in the wash.
 
18. If frequent ironing has left your iron plate dirty, make a paste from one part vinegar and one part salt to scrub it clean.
 
19. Forgot you left wet laundry in the machine? Pour a few cups of vinegar in the machine and wash the clothes in hot water. Run a normal cycle with detergent to rinse the clothes.
 
20. Prevent lint from clinging to clothes by adding half a cup of vinegar to the wash cycle.

Source: Mizkan Americas

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Report: Tax Season Happens at Home

February 2, 2016 1:34 am

Home is where the heart is—and where the majority of Americans file their taxes, according to a recent report by GOBankingRates.com. Individuals cited in the report plan to file taxes from the comfort of home this year, many with the help of a digital preparation tool.

“Americans still use a wide variety of options to file, from mailing in self-prepared tax returns to paying an accountant to handle the task for them,” says Elyssa Kirkham, the GOBankingRates finance writer on the study.

Breaking down the filing habits based on findings from the report:

• 34.5 percent of taxpayers file with a digital preparation tool
• 28.5 percent of taxpayers file through an accountant
• 10.9 percent of taxpayers file with the help of a family member or friend
• 8.5 percent of taxpayers file with IRS forms
• 8.3 percent of taxpayers file through a brick and mortar company

“Taxpayers have plenty to consider when choosing a tax-filing method, from filing costs and time investments to the complexity of their returns and how quickly they hoping to get a refund,” Kirkham adds. “Each method has its pros and cons, and being aware of your needs as a taxpayer can help you decide which is most beneficial for your tax situation.”

Interestingly, a generational pattern emerged in the report findings. The older the tax filer, the more likely he or she is to have an accountant file his or her taxes—filers age 65 and older are twice as likely to file through an accountant compared to filers age 25 to 34.

Source: GOBankingRates.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Living in Paradise: Hawaii Ranks Highest for Well-Being

February 2, 2016 1:34 am

Hawaii was once again named the state with the highest level of well-being in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, a definitive measure and empiric database of real-time changes in well-being throughout the world. The Index examines perceptions related to financial security, relationship to the community, sense of purpose and social relationships, all of which directly influence quality of life, healthcare costs and workplace productivity.

Not surprisingly, Hawaii has ranked in the top 10 each year of the Index. Second to Hawaii in this year’s rankings was Alaska, followed by Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Utah, Arizona and California.

Alabama and Florida have also experienced positive shifts in well-being, with Alabama seeing a significant rise to the 28th state and Florida moving to 12th.

“We are seeing many significant positive developments in well-being nationally, including a decline in the uninsured rate, a decline in smoking and an uptick in financial well-being, but there is still much to be done on the national front and at the state and organizational level,” explains Dan Witters, principal and research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. “One specific area of concern continues to be the obesity rate, which continued its relentless upward climb in 2015 and reached another new high, breaking the 28 percent barrier for the first time.”

In the U.S., higher well-being has been shown to correlate with lower healthcare costs and increased worker productivity, in turn enhancing organizational and community competitiveness.

Globally, higher well-being has been associated with outcomes indicative of stability and resilience—for example, intent to migrate, trust in elections and local institutions, daily stress, food and shelter security, volunteerism and willingness to help others.

Sources: Gallup, Healthways

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Houseplants That Can Actually Improve Your Health

February 1, 2016 1:34 am

Adding a houseplant or two always seems to improve the look of a room. But as it turns out, certain houseplants can also improve your health. According to recent studies by NASA, some houseplants filter out dangerous compounds that are commonly found in most homes – the kind of compounds that are often associated with respiratory illnesses, cancer, and other conditions.

Because they are enclosed spaces, our homes are vulnerable to gaseous toxins that build up over time. These include:

Benzene – caused by paints, detergents, and furniture wax,
Formaldehyde – caused by disinfectants or preservatives in consumer products
Toluene and Xylene – caused by a variety of household and consumer products
Ammonia – caused by commonly used aerosols and sprays

But 10 NASA-approved houseplants are said to be effective in removing air pollutants:

English Ivy – A trailing ivy plant that requires partial shade and light weekly watering

Florist’s Chrysanthemum – A lovely floral that needs direct light and frequent change of water

Peace Lily – Produces small, white flowers. Needs weekly watering. But consider carefully before buying, because this plant can be poisonous to house pets

Variegated Snake Plant – Has tall, broad, green and white leaves. Requires partial shade and weekly watering

Red-Edged Dracaena – Almost cactus-like in appearance, this plant needs direct sunlight and weekly watering

Cornstalk Dracaena – Produces cornstalk-type leaves. Wants partial shade and weekly watering

Broadleaf Lady Palm – Fern-like plant that likes partial shade and weekly watering

Flamingo Lily – Also known as anthurium, this plant produces shiny red flowers and requires partial shade and weekly watering

Devil’s Ivy – Produces luxurious ivy leaves, likes partial shade, and needs only monthly watering

Lilyturf – Produces purple flowers. Requires partial shade and weekly watering.

*Take note: Water lightly in most cases, as over-watering can cause root rot and kill the plant.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Money-Wasting Habits You Can Ditch

February 1, 2016 1:34 am

Whether it’s a latte you could have done without, or a cute pair of shoes you didn’t need, even the most frugal folks among us waste a little money now and then. But penny-pinchers seem to make it a habit not to make it a habit.

Smart Money blogger Emily Co talked to a group of determined savers. Here are the top money-wasters they identified. How many of them can you cut out?

Paying Bank Fees – Do you even know about, much less track, the fees your bank may be charging you? From checking fees to overdraft fees to third-party ATM fees, you should do what you must to avoid them.

Tossing Leftovers – Whether at home or at a restaurant, throwing away leftovers instead of eating them the next day is a huge and avoidable waste of money.

Buying Stuff at Convenience Stores – How much do you want that soda or candy bar when filling up at the gas station? Convenience store prices are very high. Think twice before you buy.

Heating and Cooling Costs – Properly insulating your home and caulking up cracks and crevices under doors can save a bundle in the long run.

Unclaimed Rebates and Returns – You’re throwing away cash if you’re not redeeming rebates or neglecting to return the little things you purchased but do not want.

Bottled Water – Get a filter and start carrying your own bottled water from home instead of paying for and clogging the ecosystem with plastic bottles.

Not Buying Generics – There may some generics that don’t meet your standards, but try as many generic drugs, cosmetics and other products before deciding they are not for you.

Buying Everything New – Browse through a second-hand store now and then to prove to yourself that not everything needs to be purchased new.

Ignoring Discount Stores – Bargains abound at the dollar store as well for those who want to be more frugal.

Paying for Services You Can Do Yourself – Why pay for lawn mowing or changing the oil in your car when you can save by doing it yourself? A little online instruction may be all you need to start hanging on to more of your money.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Ready to Decorate? Give Your Leftover Latex Paint New Life

February 1, 2016 1:34 am

Are you sitting on a stash of leftover latex paint? Did you realize you've got yourself a gold mine when it comes to home decorating?

With a little imagination and creative flair, you can use paint leftovers to give your home extra appeal, and have lots of fun in the process. To get you started, here's a few great ideas, courtesy of the Paint Quality Institute on how forgotten paint can infuse new life into your home interior:

Make kitchen items kitschy. Dab a little leftover paint on canisters, coasters, or the handles of wooden spoons and spatulas with bright, fun color that can make cooking more joyful.

Colorize some flowerpots—the more, the merrier. Paint them one solid color, or embellish them with pattern for more panache!

Have an old dresser that’s tired-looking? Use different colors on different parts for added visual interest.  Do the same with an old stool, table, or cabinet.

Add pizzazz to painted walls with a handcrafted patterned border. Fashion a “stamp” out of an old sponge in the pattern of your choice, then dip it in the leftover paint and dab new color onto the walls.  Voila!  Custom design.

Express your home’s individuality by adding accent color to a door, doorway, or an entire wall.  The unexpected color will make your interior something special.

Embellish built-in bookcases, cabinets, or a mantelpiece with leftover paint to create striking elements in your decor.

Using a homemade or commercial stencil, apply paint to just about anything—a piece of furniture, a wall, or even the floor.  It can render the ordinary, extraordinary.

Frame your artwork.  Repaint the frames on your prints, paintings, and drawings to give them a fresh appearance.  Or, paint a simulated “frame” right on the wall to draw attention to favorite objects or sculpture.

Most of these projects take just a small amount of paint, but they can make a big difference in your home decor.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Money-Wise Tips for Your Tax Refund

January 29, 2016 1:22 am

Tax refunds present an opportunity to better your financial health. Unfortunately, many refund recipients don’t take advantage of it.

“A tax refund often feels like ‘free’ money, and many people use the funds to splurge on expensive items they wouldn’t otherwise purchase,” says Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for Take Charge America, a national non-profit credit counseling agency. “However, a refund presents a unique opportunity to use the money to improve your family’s financial wellbeing now and in the long term.”

If you receive a refund this year, consider using it in one (or all!) of the following ways:

1. Pay Off Debt – When you receive your refund, resist the urge to spend it on a shopping spree, fancy dinner or pricey vacation. Instead, use your refund to pay down credit card balances, student loans, auto loans or other debt.

2. Pay Down Your Mortgage – Direct your refund toward your mortgage principal. Even one extra payment each year can shave noticeable interest off your mortgage.

3. Boost Your Savings – If you’re debt-free, put your money toward your emergency savings fund, retirement plan or college savings account.

4. Adjust Your Withholding – File a new W4 to increase your allowances and pay the appropriate amount of taxes throughout the year. Use the IRS withholding calculator and aim for the number of allowances that satisfies 100 to 110 percent of last year’s tax payment.

5. Use Direct Deposit – Set up an automatic deposit to direct the money you would have spent on excess taxes into an interest-bearing savings account. You won’t notice the difference in your paycheck— it’s money that would have been withheld for taxes—but your contributions will quickly add up.

“While it’s fun to receive a wind-fall of cash, it’s important for consumers to understand the IRS isn’t giving away money—they’re returning money they borrowed, interest-free, all year long,” adds Sullivan. “It’s a good idea to adjust your withholdings to break even and make your money work for you—not just the government—throughout the year.”

Source: Take Charge America

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Repainting a Room? The Lighter, the Better

January 29, 2016 1:22 am

A fresh coat of paint is an upgrade well worth the effort. Your best bet for color?

The lighter, the better, says Paint Quality Institute Paint and Color Expert Debbie Zimmer.

"Deep, saturated shades have been popular for years, but the palette that's in vogue right now is just the opposite," says Zimmer. "Interior designers and colorists are favoring lighter hues, including off-whites, that just tease the eye with traces of color."

Interestingly enough, there is a psychological benefit to a lighter indoor environment.  Brighter surroundings can lift our spirits, and soft tints derived from certain color families—green and blue, for example—can feel restorative after a stressful day.

Vaguely reminiscent of the "pastels" of yesteryear, the light colors that are gaining popularity today are more sophisticated ensembles, often marrying three or more different hues to create soft color that is often hard to put a name to.  Layering color in this way produces fascinating visual effects.

"Because the new tints are not pure whites, yellows or greens, many have a chameleon-like quality, shifting their appearance slightly when the light changes," says Zimmer. "During the daytime, a wall color might appear to be pale green, but at night, under artificial light, it may take on a yellow cast.  Likewise, a light bluish tint might gravitate toward pale gray in dimmer light."

Zimmer recommends applying sizable swatches of the paint color to several walls and live with them for a day or two before fully committing to the color.

Another way to incorporate lighter shades? Repaint ceilings and woodwork. This visual trick helps open up a space, making any room appear larger than it is.

Source: Paint Quality Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fed Inaction Keeps Mortgage Rates Low…For Now

January 29, 2016 1:22 am

Mortgage rates have fallen once again this week, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaging 3.79 percent with an average 0.6 point, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).

The 15-year FRM is averaging 3.07 percent with an average 0.5 point. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is averaging 2.90 percent, also with an average 0.5 point.

“The yield on the 10-year Treasury stabilized around 2 percent this week, and the 30-year mortgage rate dipped 2 basis points to 3.79 percent,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist of Freddie Mac. “The recent market turmoil has given the Fed pause; as was universally expected, the Fed stood pat this week but kept its options open for a rate increase in March.”

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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