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Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed Juices: Handle Them Safely!

July 11, 2013 12:26 am

Whether from a supermarket, farm stand, or your very own garden, fresh fruits and vegetables are highlights of summertime. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reminds us that safe handling of produce and fresh-squeezed juice is especially important because these foods are often consumed raw. What's more, foodborne bacteria multiply faster in warm weather – making food safety even more important as temperatures rise.

Follow these tips to prevent food poisoning from produce and fresh-squeezed juices:

Buy right
. Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. When selecting pre-cut produce, choose only those that are refrigerated or on ice. Bag fresh fruits and vegetables and keep them separate from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your grocery cart and shopping bags.
Store properly. Keep perishable fresh fruits and vegetables refrigerated at 40°F or below, including all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.

Wash thoroughly. Wash all produce under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. For pre-packaged produce, look on the package – if it says pre-washed and ready-to-eat, you can use it without further washing. And remember: even if you plan to peel produce, it's important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren't transferred from the outside to the inside when you cut into it.

Prepare safely. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. And if it looks rotten, discard it.

Prevent cross contamination
. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood and preparing produce that will not be cooked. Consider using separate cutting boards – one for meat, poultry, and seafood and a separate one for fruits and vegetables. If you use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after each use. And always wash hands before and after preparing food!

Check your juice. Children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems risk serious illnesses or even death from drinking juices that have not been pasteurized or otherwise treated to control harmful bacteria. Look for pasteurized or otherwise treated products in your grocers' refrigerated sections, frozen food cases, or in non-refrigerated containers, such as juice boxes, bottles or cans. Untreated juices sold in refrigerated cases of grocery or health food stores, cider mills, and farmers' markets must contain a warning label indicating that the product has not been pasteurized. However, warning labels are not required for juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass. If you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized – be sure to ask!

Keep all foods safe this summer by practicing the Four Steps to Food Safety: clean hands and surfaces often; separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods, particularly ready-to-eat foods; cook to safe temperatures; and chill foods promptly.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Paying Your Kitchen & Bath Contractor

July 10, 2013 12:26 am

With the market gradually recovering, more homeowners are spending money on remodeling projects. If they are not careful, homeowners can end up paying more than they ever expected. Here are some valuable tips on how to avoid three of the most common pitfalls.

Pitfall #1: A homeowner makes a large deposit, then gets no work done.

This is one of the most common scams among unscrupulous contractors. They ask for a big deposit or to pay for all of the materials upfront, then the homeowner never hears from them again. To avoid this pitfall, homeowners should not pay for work or materials upfront and should avoid any large deposits.

In some states, it is against the law for contractors to ask for more than 10 percent or $1,000 (whichever is less) for a downpayment. They cannot legally ask for upfront payment for materials or work. The one exception is if the contractor is ordering customer-requested custom materials.

Pitfall #2: Suppliers or subcontractors come after the homeowner for payment.

Homeowners are responsible for suppliers and subcontractors who do not get paid on their job. They can even put a lien against the home where they did the work. To avoid this pitfall, there are several strategies a homeowner can use:

• Pay the supplier or subcontractor directly.
• Issue joint checks to the contractor and supplier/subcontractor.
• Get an unconditional lien release from suppliers/subcontractors.

Pitfall #3: Homeowner is liable for an injury on the job, including lost wages.

If the general contractor does not have valid insurance, the homeowner is liable for any injuries on the job. This includes paying lost wages, if someone gets hurt and cannot work for a period of time. To avoid this pitfall, check that the general contractor has valid liability and workman’s comp insurance.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid these and other potential pitfalls is to work with a reputable contractor who has a history of paying suppliers and subcontractors on time.

Source: Cornerstone Design & Remodel

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Questions to Ask When Buying a House

July 10, 2013 12:26 am

Americans continue to have home-buying fever thanks to continued low mortgage interest rates. However, in order to help eager homebuyers avoid costly surprises down the road, GoBankingRates has put together a list of the most important – but often overlooked – questions home shoppers need to ask before committing to a home purchase and long-term mortgage debt.

1. Is renting vs. buying a better option?

Before you spend too much time looking for your dream home, you need to weigh all your options. David Bakke from the website Moneycrashers.com suggests you ask yourself the question, “Is renting vs. home buying a better option?” Depending on your situation, you may not be ready to buy, may need some time to save for a down payment, or may live in a more expensive housing market.

“If you have a lot of debt, a low credit score, or don’t have much money saved up, renting may be a better option,” advises Bakke. Someone with these factors may have to wait a few more years to be in a better financial situation before they are able to obtain a mortgage loan.

2. What is the neighborhood’s crime rate?

The second thing regarding what questions to ask when buying a house is the safety of your neighborhood and town. David Bakke sums it up great, “What is the crime rate in the area?”

3. What are my home ‘needs’ and ‘wants’?

According to Steve Aaron, a Beverly Hills REALTOR® featured on HGTV’s “Selling LA,” “No property is perfect. What are your ‘deal breakers’ vs. your wants. Where are you willing and able to compromise?” The point here is to have a shorter check-list of “must-haves” when looking at potential homes.

4. Where is the seller’s disclosure?

Even if you fall head-over-heels for a house, don’t be punch-drunk in love with it. Unlike a person, a home is just four walls — and there are plenty out there with many more being built. Aaron recommends to, “Ask the listing agent if there are any seller disclosures (known defects of material facts that can affect desirability or value) before you write an offer.” Just like a relationship, you need to take time to know your future partner, or in this case, your future home.

5. Can I make the needed home renovations or additions?

If you are looking to add on to your home or do renovations, it is wise to check the house’s zoning or area disclosure. Steven Aaron told me, “Know if the property is located in any type of historic or preservation area or area disclosure. There may be limits on adding on, aesthetics etc.”

Based on my personal experience from litigation and headaches caused by neighbors, homeowners’ associations and local, state and federal government regulations, a little homework goes a long way.”

Source: www.gobankingrates.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Your Guide to Coping on a Long Haul Flight

July 10, 2013 12:26 am

With cheaper and more regular flights around, an increasing amount of people are jet setting to the other side of the world, however, for people who are not used to flying or flying long haul then it can be quite daunting as well as tiresome. Here is a short guide on how to cope with the going long distance.

Firstly, if you're flying to somewhere like Sydney or Beijing, rather than opting for a straight flight thinking that you will get there quicker, it may be a good idea to search for flights with transfers or layovers so that you can get off the plane, stand up, have a walk around to get some fresh air.

Keep yourself entertained. Most airlines that operate long distance flights do have in-flight entertainment such as a TV at the back of the seat behind you. However, if you are on a seven- or 14-hour flight then you may want something more than a film to prevent you from getting bored. Most people pack away their books or magazines in their suitcase. Make sure that you pack these in your carry-on - you never know when you might fancy a read!

Throughout the flight, be sure to drink plenty of water. The temptation during long haul flights, when drinks are free, is to opt for hot, fizzy or alcoholic beverages, but you need to make sure that you keep hydrated, as dehydration is one of the worst aspects of flying.

Although most major airlines do offer a blanket or an eye mask, always be prepared. If you find it difficult to sleep on planes then ear plugs and eye masks may be something that you want to pack with you. It is also a good idea to ensure that you are wearing layers so you can adjust accordingly to the air conditioning and have a comfortable flight.

Finally, if you can, try and find a flight that sets off at night, that way you may find that for half of the journey you are sleeping and by the time you wake up you will nearly have reached your destination.

Source: SportsDirect.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Look for Signs of Early Aging to Combat Mid-life Crisis in Cats

July 9, 2013 4:56 am

While humans age visibly throughout their lives, cats typically do not begin to show visible signs of aging until well into maturity. By the age of seven though, a cat enters its mid-life stage — a critical timeframe for preventing diseases to help a cat age gracefully.

"Different aged adult cats may essentially look the same on the outside, but around seven years old a lot of changes start happening that may not be noticeable," says Dr. Sara Ritzie, Veterinarian and Manager of Scientific Communications at Royal Canin Canada. "The differences between a young kitten and a one-year-old cat are obvious, but the invisible and subtle differences that occur as cats progress through adulthood are just as important. The mid-life stage starts much earlier than many people may expect."

Cats exhibit three very distinct levels of aging as they mature. Invisible symptoms of the slow aging process in cats actually begin as early as seven years old, as cells age and energy needs decrease. Accelerated visible symptoms begin to take shape during the mid-life stage and can include joint sensitivities and fur changes, such as dandruff, decreased grooming and greasy coat.

At the second stage of aging, kidney disease becomes more prevalent, affecting nearly 33 per cent of cats over 12 years old. At this stage other diseases start to manifest but may not be visible until much later in life, including cognitive disorders in 28 to 50 per cent of cats, and joint sensitivities that affect nearly 90 per cent of the cat population.

"It is critical to look at preventative options at the mid-life stage for cats to prevent these diseases and typical signs of aging from taking hold early," says Dr. Ritzie. "Like for humans, nutrition plays a key role in helping cats maintain a healthy lifestyle as they mature with the right combination of nutrients for each stage of life."

Look for a food formulation that provides specific nutrients for each stage of maturity:

• Vitamins E and C - Adult cats require antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C to protect against cell damage that occurs naturally due to environmental factors, injuries and illness, and day-to-day activities.

• Antioxidants - When a cat reaches age seven, antioxidant needs increase. Adding lutein and taurine provides a broader spectrum of protection against free-radical damage that can cause disease.

• Lycopene - Cats aged 12 and over exhibit the highest amount of free-radical production and benefit from potent antioxidant protection from super-nutrients like lycopene. Because kidney disease is so common in aging cats, a decreased phosphorous level is also important to help support renal function in older felines.

"These nutrients are important building blocks to help your cat age gracefully," says Dr. Ritzie.

Source: Royal Canin

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Consumer Mortgage Rate Expectations Spike

July 9, 2013 4:56 am

Potential homebuyers may enter the purchase market sooner rather than later as more Americans expect mortgage rates and home prices to climb, according to results from Fannie Mae’s June 2013 National Housing Survey. The share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up during the next 12 months jumped 11 percentage points to 57 percent, the highest level in the survey’s three-year history. Meanwhile, consumers’ home price expectations have stayed strong in the face of rising mortgage rates. The share of respondents who believe home prices will go up in the next year also hit a survey high of 57 percent, while those who say prices will go down stayed steady at 7 percent.

Although sentiment toward both the current home buying and selling environments retreated slightly, it remains near the survey highs of last month, with 72 percent saying it is a good time to buy and 36 percent saying it is a good time to sell.

“The spike in mortgage rate expectations this month seems to have had an impact on a number of the survey’s indicators and may increase housing activity in the near term by driving urgency to buy,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “Consumers may recognize that today’s still favorable mortgage rates and homeownership affordability levels will recede over time. Given rising home and rental price expectations and improving personal financial attitudes, more prospective homebuyers may be deciding that now is the time to get off the fence.”

Among those surveyed, 56 percent say rental prices will go up during the next year – an 8 percentage point increase and the highest level since the survey’s inception – and the average 12-month rental price change expectation jumped 1.2 percent to 4.6 percent. Americans’ outlook on their personal finances also increased significantly in June. The share who expect their personal financial situation to improve during the next year climbed to 46 percent, the highest level since June 2010. The share who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago jumped 6 percentage points to a survey high 26 percent.

Homeownership and Renting

• At 3.8 percent, the average 12-month home price change expectation fell slightly from last month’s survey high.
• The share of people who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months hit a survey high 57 percent, while those who say home prices will go down held steady at the survey low 7 percent.
• The share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up increased 11 percentage points to 57 percent, the highest level since the survey’s inception.
• At 72 percent and 36 percent, respectively, the shares who say it is a good time to buy a house and who say it is a good time to sell a house both fell 4 percentage points from May’s survey highs.
• The average 12-month rental price expectation jumped to 4.6 percent, a 1.2 percent increase over last month.
• Increasing 8 percentage points from May and reaching a survey high, 56 percent of those surveyed say home rental prices will go up in the next 12 months.
• Forty-seven percent of respondents think it would be easy for them to get a home mortgage today, a slight increase over last month.
• The share of respondents who said they would buy if they were going to move decreased slightly to 65 percent.

The Economy and Household Finances

• At 38 percent, the share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track decreased 2 percentage points from May.
• The percentage of people who expect their personal financial situation to get better over the next 12 months jumped to 46 percent, the highest level since June 2010.
• The share of respondents who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago rose 6 percentage points to a survey high 26 percent.
• The percentage of respondents who say their household expenses are significantly higher than they were 12 months ago rose to 36 percent.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Poll Reveals Consumers Confused Over Purpose of a Budget

July 9, 2013 4:56 am

A recent poll on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website revealed that 57 percent of respondents misunderstand the purpose of a budget, viewing it as a restriction on their spending, when in fact, just the opposite is true.

“A budget actually provides the structure through which a person can be in charge of his or her spending, directing the dollars to their best use,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “Spending should be a reflection of a person’s priorities, but without a plan, the priorities often get pushed aside in favor of the tyranny of the urgent.”

The reluctance to construct a budget suggests that people may be afraid to face the financial facts, choosing instead to allow the most pressing need or want of the moment to make the decision for them. Instead, the NFCC reminds consumers that a spending plan includes the following benefits:

• Creates a thoughtful awareness of spending
• Relieves financial stress
• Increases financial security
• Helps structure a plan for the future
• Allows planning for large purchases
• Assists in meeting financial goals
• Frees up money to designate for savings
• Uncovers money available to invest
• Allows preparation for emergencies
• Avoids late payments through scheduling timely payments
• Finds hidden money for debt repayment
• Potentially raises the credit score

Instead of being restrictive, a budget often creates more money due to smart spending choices. If financial freedom is the goal, a spending plan is the tool that starts the process.

“It’s a shame that budgeting has a negative connotation. Everyone needs a spending plan, but when times are tough, a budget is even more critical,” continued Cunningham. “When every penny counts, it’s important to count every penny.”

The first step to being in charge of your money is to track spending for at least one month. To get started, the NFCC offers a free budget worksheet which is available at http://www.nfcc.org/FinancialEducation/monthlyincome.cfm.

For professional help creating a customized budget, reach out to a trained and certified counselor at an NFCC Member Agency. To find the agency closest to you, call (800) 388-2227, or go online to www.DebtAdvice.org. For assistance in Español call (800) 682-9832.

The actual poll question and answer results are below:
I consider a monthly budget to be…
A. A restriction on how I choose to spend my money = 57%
B. A freedom allowing me to spend my money as I have chosen = 43%

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Top 10 Termite Mistakes

July 8, 2013 4:56 am

Termites. They're hungry. And to them, your house is food. Is there anything you can do to stop them? Can you make your home less appetizing? More than 100 termite experts say these are the top 10 mistakes homeowners make when it comes to termites:

Number 10: Repairing utilities on the property; disrupting the termite soil treatment. If your lawn gets dug up for plumbing, gas or electrical work, chances are good you've compromised your termite treatment if your home has been treated with a liquid termiticide.

Number 9: Piling excessive mulch around the home. Termites love mulch. Too much up against your home holds soil moisture and can be an easy food source for hungry termites.

"The mulch typically used around homes is often a soft wood-like pine, which is a great food source for termites," says Jonathan Schoppe of Dial Pest Control in Roseland, N.J. "I've personally seen termites foraging in and around the mulch just one inch deep. If the mulch is piled very high up on the foundation of a structure, it makes a natural bridge the termites can use to enter the structure."

Number 8: Digging around the home's foundation; disrupting a termite treatment. Liquid termite treatments around your foundation are effective only if left undisturbed. So if you dig around your house to plant a new rosebush, you might have opened a hole for termites to crawl through. If your home is protected by a baiting product such as the Sentricon® System, digging around your foundation isn't a concern as long as the stations stay in place.

Number 7: Leaving old tree stumps in the yard. Dead trees are desirable to termites ─ almost as desirable as your house. Stumps in your yard can serve as a launch pad for an attack on your home.

Number 6: Stacking firewood near the home. If you put firewood up against your house, you might as well also leave out a welcome mat for the termites. They can burrow into the woodpile and then right into your house.

Number 5: Using Do-it-Yourself (DIY) products to try to control termites themselves. Termite control is not like fixing a leaky faucet. Fail to do it right and you and your home will most likely pay the price. This is one time you should leave it to the professionals.

Number 4: Having untreated wooden materials next to the home. Yes, that new fence will keep Fido in your yard, but that untreated wood up against your house also may let termites in. It is best to use treated wood or vinyl fencing, or at least leave a gap between the fence and your home.

Number 3: Constructing additions to the home without expanding termite protection. If you've added a sunroom, expanded your kitchen or poured a new patio, that addition needs to be protected from termites, too. Don't offer up that beautiful new addition as a termite's next meal.

Number 2: Not fixing earth-to-ground structural contact. If a portion of your porch is touching soil, you're asking for termites. Soil + wood contact = termites.

And the No. 1 mistake homeowners make when it comes to termites is: Not getting a professional termite inspection. Termites are not easy to detect, and failing to do so can cause thousands of dollars in damage. Trained professional termite inspectors know termite behavior ─ where they like to hide, what their damage looks like, what they leave behind as evidence. You don't. Leave this one up to the professionals.

Source: Dow AgroSciences

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Secrets to a Foolproof Vacation

July 8, 2013 4:56 am

(Family Features)--Vacations should be filled with worry-free days and endless fun, whether you're zip-lining through the jungle or sunbathing on the beach. Navigating unknown territories, however, can cause unwarranted stress if you're not prepared. As you embark on your perfect getaway, consider these quick tips to ensure that it's a trip to remember, for the right reasons.

Stay Energized. Don't let the journey to your destination dampen the experience and start your dream trip on the wrong foot. Avoid fatigue caused by early flights and long drives by getting at least eight hours of sleep the night before your departure and don't succumb to stress-ridden packing procrastination. While traveling, easy access to sensible snacks, such as string cheese and nuts can keep your energy levels up. For long flights and hotel stays, consider sticking ear plugs and a sleep mask in your bag to help combat distracting noises and bright lights that may detract from a restful sleep.

Stay Connected. Your smartphone, tablet and other portable devices keep you connected and make it easier to engage with the culture and exciting attractions that come with a new destination. Whether you're scouting the hottest restaurants, sourcing directions back to your hotel or keeping up with loved ones at home, being able to access your trusted devices is a must. Don't waste precious sightseeing time searching for outlets. Instead, recharge your devices on-the-go with a tool like the Motorola P4000 Universal Portable Power Pack. Such lightweight and slim devices fit easily into a pocket or purse. It provides up to two full phone charges, plus it's compatible with phones by all manufacturers.

Stay Organized. Avoid spending aimless time digging through your belongings looking for your favorite bathing suit, when you could be enjoying the waves and a beautiful sunset. To stay organized while living out of your luggage, consider investing in a suitcase or duffel bag with multiple zipped compartments designed to house small, hard-to-locate items. Clear toiletry bags are also convenient, and allow you to quickly find your everyday necessities while on the road.

Stay Focused on Fun. It's easy to run out of time when you're exploring a new place. Carve out time for your top priorities by making a pre-trip list of must-do activities. Utilize your hotel concierge, resort guide books and online trip planning websites to help create your perfect itinerary and ensure you get the chance to enjoy it all.

Regardless of your destination, with some planning and essential tools, your vacation will be everything you dreamed of and leave you yearning for your next journey.

Source: www.motorola.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Looking for a Greener Way to Clean your Pool?

July 8, 2013 4:56 am

(BPT) - There's no better way to enjoy the summer than by lounging by the pool. Unfortunately, this backyard family oasis requires regular maintenance throughout the summer that can include expensive and sometimes unhealthy chemicals. Have you ever wished there was an easier way you could clean your pool, that was also more eco-friendly?

Just as there are now "greener" choices for many consumer products, there are now some great alternatives for keeping your pool clean that are easier and actually help minimize chemicals and additives. Technology has come a long way, and consumers can now choose from a variety of affordable and more environmentally friendly ways to maintain their backyard pool.

But how do you choose the right one? Here are some of the best pool-cleaning options available today, along with their pluses and minuses:

Manual pole cleaning: For years this was the standard. Lots of sweat, a hose attached to the skimmer basket on one end, a long vacuum pole on the other and a lot of slow pushing as you try not to disturb the debris before you suck it up into the skimmer and filtration system. This method is cheap and "somewhat green" but involves a lot of effort, and it is not highly effective at reducing your chemical usage.

Suction side pool cleaning: The suction side method is similar to the mechanics of manual pole cleaning except that the cleaner is self-propelled in a random pattern by a suction hose attached to the skimmer system. A completely clean pool is not always achieved due to the random nature of the system.

The pluses: low cost and satisfactory results.
The minuses: the method lacks optimal pool floor and wall scrubbing and does minimal water mixing, leaving stagnant water areas that actually demand more chemicals to stay clean. Suction side cleaners also use more energy as they require your pool's filter pump to run during their cleaning cycle.

Pressure side pool cleaning: These units require an independent booster pump and water jet outlet found on some in-ground pools. Note: This is the only option not available for above-ground pools. Pressure cleaners are propelled by water and are often confused with robotic cleaners, but the differences are important. Pressure cleaners do a good job of cleaning but are costly to buy and run.

The pluses: cleaning capabilities and better water-mixing capabilities than suction side cleaners.
The minuses: pressure cleaners are costly to buy and operate and they use the most energy due to the added booster pump.

Robotic pool cleaning: Advances in robotic pool cleaners are transforming the pool-cleaning industry. Robotic technology has advanced, bringing the price in reach of almost all pool owners. Robotic units can scrub and vacuum pool floors, walls and the waterline and remove more and finer debris (down to two microns in size) to help keep your pool cleaner. Robotic units cost only about 5 cents per hour to run and they provide superior water mixing (up to 85 GPM), substantially reducing the amount of chemicals needed.

The pluses: Just plug the bot into the power supply, place the cleaner in the water and press a button.
The minuses: There are almost too many robotic cleaners to choose from and they are not all alike. One of the most innovative is Aquabot, made by the company that introduced the first robotic cleaner in 1982.

Keeping your pool sparkling clean doesn't have to mean long afternoons of work or extra unnecessary chemicals. Now that there are safer and easier cleaning methods, you'll be able to maintain and enjoy your backyard retreat, and take care of the environment at the same time.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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