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Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Flavorful Green Treats

March 4, 2013 2:48 am

(Family Features) St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect occasion to have fun in the kitchen with the color and flavor of the holiday – vivid green and refreshing peppermint.

“Food color and extract can transform an ordinary cupcake or cookie into a festive delight, worthy of any St. Paddy’s party,” said Mary Beth Harrington of the McCormick Kitchens.

For a green twist on classic red velvet cupcakes, stir green food color into basic cake mix and add pure vanilla extract, sour cream and cocoa powder. Whip up minty green cream cheese frosting and decorate with green sprinkles or colored sugar to make them fun for kids of all ages.

Easy Green Velvet Cupcakes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Makes 24 servings

1 package (18 1/4 ounces) German chocolate cake mix with pudding
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 bottle (1 ounce) Green Food Color
3 eggs
2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
1 container (16 ounces) cream cheese frosting or Vanilla
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Green sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat cake mix, sour cream, water, cocoa powder, oil, food color, eggs and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed just until moistened, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes.

Pour batter into 24 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full.

Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire rack. Frost with cream cheese frosting. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.

Minty Green Cream Cheese Frosting:
Stir 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract and 1/2 teaspoon green food color into canned cream cheese frosting or Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
Beat 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened, 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened, 2 tablespoons sour cream and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in 1 box (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar until smooth. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Source: McCormick

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How-To: Consolidate Debt and Credit

March 4, 2013 2:48 am

No one likes to be in debt. But if you find yourself falling behind, don’t throw in your financial towel just yet. Through careful consolidation, you can get back on track. Read the following tips for help.

A smart first step is for you to define your goals. You need a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and how it will benefit you, in order to make the right debt consolidation choice.

Many different approaches exist to help you consolidate debt, so you need to do your homework. Only by weighing the pros and cons of each solution, can you know the best option for your situation. Think about which of the following goals is most important to you. Once you have chosen, you will know where to focus.

1. Improve Your Cash Flow: Reducing the size of your monthly payments frees up money you can use in a variety of ways.
2. Get Out of Debt as Fast as Possible: Becoming debt free allows you to focus on building wealth, establishing a rainy-day fund, or buying a home.
3. Protect Your Credit: You may need to weigh if it is worth harming your credit, in order to get out of debt faster.
4. Get Out of Debt at Lowest Total Cost: Reducing your overall costs to becoming debt free puts more money in your pocket to use for achieving other financial goals.
5. Reduce Your Debt Stress: Stress can come from fear of missing a monthly payment, repeated collection calls, or simply by the uncertainty of having no defined plan in place. Achieving greater peace of mind may be your primary goal.

Once you have a concrete goal in mind, get to work making it a reality. If need be, contact a professional for assistance.

Source: Bills.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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No More Sick Days: Beat that Stomach Bug

March 4, 2013 2:48 am

As seasonal flu trends begin to decrease, cases of a fast-spreading stomach bug known as 'Norovirus' continue to spread across the country, creating serious complications for patients, and continued demand on health care organizations.

Norovirus is a contagious virus that can infect anyone, and can be spread by an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to severe stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Unlike seasonal influenza, there is no vaccine to prevent the spread of the Norovirus.

"Following this year's strong influenza season, the Norovirus has the potential to create greater complications in infants and the elderly, leading to severe dehydration," says Bill Lewis, M.D, senior vice president of Medical Operations at Concentra. "The easiest way to reduce the risk of catching and spreading the virus is through thorough and frequent hand washing, and routine cleaning."

However there are some simple precautions each person can take to reduce the transmission of the virus, and stay healthy and safe:

• Wash your hands often – Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and before eating, preparing, or handling food.
• Rinse fruits and vegetables before eating – Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them.
• Cook foods thoroughly – Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Noroviruses are highly resistant, and can survive quick steaming processes and temperatures as high as 140 degrees F.
• Clean surfaces and wash laundry – Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution or other disinfectant. Machine wash contaminated clothes or linens in warm or hot water.
• Don't prepare food for others when sick – Do not prepare food or attend to the health needs of others while you are sick, and for at least two to three days after you recover.
Noroviruses are the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States, and contribute to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year. Many may know it as the "stomach flu" or "food poisoning," but it is not related to the influenza virus and there is no vaccine to protect against the spread of the virus.

Source: www.Concentra.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Simple Steps to Improve Your Fuel-Efficiency

March 1, 2013 2:47 am

Need to save on gas or increase your fuel efficiency? Drivers are encouraged to continue following these three simple steps to improve their fuel efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint.

Practicing EcoDriving produces the highest mileage from every single vehicle—regardless of size or age--and can reduce gas use and carbon emissions significantly by as much as 15 percent or more. Here are three easy EcoDriving tips that can help many consumers start driving green:

1. Turn the engine off when waiting at a curb to save more than half a gallon of fuel for every hour that would have been spent idling.

2. Tire pressure changes an average of one PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit change in temperature, so maintaining proper tire pressure can improve gas mileage by about three percent. This can earn drivers a free tank of gas every year.

3. Avoid rapid starts and stops. This is not only safe, but it can save more than $1 per gallon, according to the U.S. EPA, while improving fuel economy by up to 33 percent.

Even when gas prices rise, green driving can always lessen the impact.

Source: EcoDrivingUSA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Bacon - The Next Health Craze?

March 1, 2013 2:47 am

Bacon has always been popular, but now it’s the standard by which many express affection with the ubiquitous online meme: I love you more than bacon.

It’s considered by many to be the ultimate food indulgence, but according to Dr. John Salerno, a protégé of “Atkins Diet” creator Dr. Robert Atkins, bacon is one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

“Many think of bacon as one of the guiltiest pleasures possible, but it has also been shown to alleviate the effects of diabetes, heart disease and strokes,” says Dr. Salerno, author of “The Silver Cloud Diet.” “Nitrate-free bacon is an excellent source of high protein, low-carbohydrate energy that helps to reset the metabolism, and it’s filled with amino acids delivered without the risk of dangerous levels of mercury, which can be found in many fish.”

Need more reasons to love bacon?

• It has a 4:1 ratio of protein to fat.
• It contains choline, which boosts memory and healthy brain function.
• It’s composed of monounsaturated fats, the kind that contains lots of healthy fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.
• It’s a potent source of oleic acid and saturated fats, which help reduce levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), lower triglycerides, and raise HDL – commonly referred to as the good form of cholesterol.
Dr. Salerno says there are other indulgent-yet-healthy foods out there, including:

Butter: Butter contains the highest amount of butyric acid found in a natural food source. Butyric acid is recognized for its roles in cellular health, antioxidant protection and metabolic properties; it also increases energy and may prevent cancer. Butter derived from natural, grass-fed animals is recommended.

Barbecue: Add sauces and condiments and this American favorite will have more starch and sugar than Salerno recommends. But the main ingredient – meat – speaks to the heart of a low-carb, high-protein diet. Grass-fed hamburger meat and organic, hormone-free chicken provides the nutrients your body needs. Stay away from the buns, sugary condiments, sauces and marinades, and you can enjoy a healthy barbecue.

• Omelets: Eggs contain lots of cholesterol and saturated fats, which have been demonized throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Fortunately, we know there is such a thing as good cholesterol and fat. Packed with vitamins, minerals and one of the best-absorbed proteins we can feed our body, any negatives associated with eggs are far outweighed by the benefits. Natural, unprocessed cheeses and cream add to the nutritional value of an omelet.

• Chocolate ice cream: Ice cream made with organic egg yolks, heavy cream and a small amount of stevia herb for taste, instead of sugar, is actually a healthy dessert. Fats are fine, with the exception of trans fats, so long as dieters control their carbohydrate intake. Humankind did not evolve with the vast amount of foods today that contain complex carbs and hidden sugar. Our bodies are used to high amounts of natural fat and a limited amount of unprocessed carbs.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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FHA Plays Vital Role for American Homeowners

March 1, 2013 2:47 am

Since the private mortgage market collapsed, the Federal Housing Administration has played a critical role by helping make mortgage insurance available to millions of qualified home buyers. That is exactly the way Congress designed the mortgage insurance fund to operate when it was established 80 years ago.

NAR President Gary Thomas testified before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that without the FHA, the housing downturn and economic recession would have been far worse for the nation.

"FHA helped fill the void over the past five years after private lending fled the market by providing safe, affordable access to mortgage credit to millions of Americans who wanted to purchase a home," said Thomas. "Had FHA not stepped in to fill the market gap, many families would have been unable to purchase homes, current homeowners would have experienced far greater drops in equity and their home's value, and our nation's economy would be much further from a recovery."

Thomas said FHA has always safely provided access to mortgage financing; it has never offered risky mortgage products, used predatory lending practices or engaged in exotic underwriting. However, like other holders of mortgage risk, FHA incurred great financial losses as a result of overall market conditions that led to increased foreclosures.

Thomas said that NAR is confident that FHA has already taken many of the necessary steps to help stabilize the fund as well as numerous administrative changes to mitigate risk. Those changes include five increases to mortgage insurance premiums since 2009, hiring a credit risk officer, implementing credit score floors, requiring higher down payments for borrowers with lower credit scores, and adopting a series of measures to increase lender responsibility and enforcement, he said.

"FHA currently has one of the strongest books on record and the quality of borrowers has skyrocketed; continued market improvements and rising home prices will also help improve the fund's future financial condition," said Thomas.

Thomas said NAR welcomes a time when FHA's market share is reduced to its more traditional levels of 10 to 15 percent of the market, and the private lending market is once again robust, but we are not there yet. Uncertainty about pending financial regulations and the future of the secondary mortgage market are keeping private lenders from returning to mortgage markets.

"Once the rules for mortgage finance are resolved and housing prices stabilize nationwide, we anticipate that private investors will return to the market and FHA's market share will return to more traditional levels," he said.

Thomas cautioned about making arbitrary changes to FHA, such as further increasing costs to consumers or limiting the use of the program to certain types of buyers, only for the sake of luring back private markets. While NAR supports changes that are vital to the solvency and strength of the FHA fund, actions to deliberately lower FHA's market share could disrupt the availability and affordability of mortgage credit and undermine the fragile real estate recovery.

"FHA continues to play a significant role in the housing market and recovery. We applaud them for their leadership and strength during the housing crisis, and for continuing to serve the needs of hardworking American families who wish to purchase a home," said Thomas.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Good Broadband a Factor for Nearly a Third When Choosing a Home

February 28, 2013 2:46 am

Access to a good broadband signal is an important factor when choosing to buy a home. Nearly one third (30 percent) of people surveyed said it is likely to affect their thinking on whether to buy a home in a particular area. And one fifth (20 percent) say they would be prepared to pay more for the same home if it had good broadband.

Paying a premium for broadband

Of those who would consider paying more for good broadband, 67 percent would pay up to 3 percent more for a property with a good broadband signal and 22 percent would pay between 4-10 percent more.
Younger people are more likely to say that a good broadband signal may affect their decision, with 40 percent of 18-24 year olds compared to 24 percent of those aged 65 and over. And there is also a clear split along gender lines, with men (34 percent) more likely to say it is likely to affect their decision than women (26 percent).

A strong broadband connection is an increasingly important factor when choosing where to live. We are living in the digital age and, as such, more people are choosing to work from home. As a result we find people are increasingly prepared to pay a premium for homes with a good broadband signal, and this is likely to remain a factor when choosing where to live.

Source: Halifax

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Spring Break Just Got Cheaper

February 28, 2013 2:46 am

As students across the United States pack their bags for a week away from their books, new research from Fly.com has identified an average airfare savings opportunity of $242 (or 48 percent) for top spring break destinations.

But you don't have to be a college student to take part in these savings. This year, travelers departing from major college towns are overwhelmingly choosing Florida for their mid-term getaway; with Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Fort Myers proving to be the most popular destinations for flights between Feb. 23 and March 30, 2013. Las Vegas and two Mexican beach towns, Cabo and Cancun, are also favorite getaway options.

While the cost of airfare to these destinations is up an average of 4.2 percent, compared with the 2012 spring break travel period, savvy travelers can still save money on each of this year's most popular flight routes. Data analysis reveals that travelers can save more than 50 percent on airfare if they change their travel dates by a day or two. For instance, travelers from D.C. can score a roundtrip flight from Washington, D.C., to Fort Lauderdale on March 2-6 for only $171; a 52 percent savings compared to March 2-10 itineraries.

"Moving your preferred travel dates by one or two days is key to securing low-cost fares," said Warren Chang, vice president and general manager, Fly.com. "Airfares can change from one day to the next, but we have found that consumers can save hundreds of dollars when they pick the right day to travel."

Other popular spring break destinations include Honolulu and San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Francisco and Los Angeles also rank highly with those flying from the East Coast. New Orleans is a favorite with travelers flying from Philadelphia, Detroit and New York.

Source: Fly.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Crack Down on Windshield Repairs

February 28, 2013 2:46 am

You’re driving down the road, abiding by the speed limit, avoiding distractions and following the rules of the road. The radio is softly humming your favorite tune and it’s a beautiful day for a drive. Then, TINK! Out of nowhere, a pebble smacks your windshield, leaving a jagged “bulls-eye,” “bee’s-wing,” or “star break” right in your line of vision. Windshield damage is the most frequently reported insurance claim. The biggest cause—debris kicked up from the road.

Follow these steps when your windshield is damaged:

-Don’t hold off. The longer you wait to repair your windshield, the more likely it won’t turn out as well cosmetically or structurally. See if your insurance carrier has preferred repair shops to work with and call a glass or windshield repair company right away. Many insurance companies will even waive your comprehensive deductible and pay the entire cost for a stone chip repair.

-Use a temporary fix. Until you can get the crack repaired by a professional, temporarily seal the break with tape at the point of impact. This will help prevent moisture from seeping into the break, but won’t prevent the crack from expanding.

-Keep it clean and dry. Moisture can make a windshield crack expand, so it’s important to keep the damaged area as clean and dry as possible.

Repair or replace?
Temperature change and stress can make a small break become larger, which could mean the difference between windshield repair or windshield replacement. Technically, most cracks can be filled, but depending on the size and location of the crack, the repair option may not be the best choice.

For damage larger than a 50 cent piece, repairing the windshield may make the crack less visible, but it may not be as structurally sound after the repair. The repair process isn’t usually recommended for damage that is located in your line of vision because even after it’s repaired, the crack may not disappear completely.

When thinking about repairing or replacing a windshield, most people don’t take into consideration the effect it may have on the structural integrity of their vehicle. An improper glass repair or replacement could put the safety of you and your family in jeopardy. In the event of an accident, a windshield should:

-Support the roof of the vehicle - A windshield provides support to the roof in a rollover accident if properly bonded to the frame with urethane sealant.

-Act as a back-stop for the passenger side airbag – The passenger-side airbag deploys off the windshield first and then expands to the passenger.

-Keep you safe inside the vehicle - If a passenger is thrown up against the glass, the lamination acts like an elastic band and snaps the person back into the vehicle rather than being thrown through it.

In any of these situations, the windshield will not properly perform as the manufacturer intended if the structure is weakened by improper repair or replacement. Look for an experienced glass repair company that will work with your insurance carrier to get you back on the road safely. Ask about safe drive-away time and the experience level of the technician.

Source: Foremost.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Most Baby Boomers Have No Intention of Downsizing

February 27, 2013 2:46 am

Despite the perception that aging baby boomers may create an oversupply of traditional single-family homes as they downsize into smaller residences, a new survey shows that demand for suburban detached homes remains strong among baby boomers and Generation Y.

The poll by Leger Marketing found that of the 40.6 percent of baby boomers (born between 1947 and 1966), who do have plans to move to another primary residence, almost half (43.5 percent) are looking to purchase another primary residence that is a similar size or larger than their current property. Of the total responses from baby boomers who intend to purchase their next primary residence, 66.8 percent said they will do so in the next five years.

Male baby boomers, who are planning to move, are more keen on upsizing their residence than women, with 23.0 percent reporting that they plan on moving to a larger residence compared to 12.1 percent of women. Baby boomers looking to purchase a condominium prefer less amenities and low maintenance fees (54.5 percent) over properties that have many amenities (39.1 percent). Seventy-eight percent of baby boomers currently own their own homes.

Contributing to the desire of baby boomers to continue to invest in large, suburban homes is the reality of housing children well into adulthood. According to the survey, a quarter of Generation Y lives rent free because of arrangements with family or friends.

The adult children of baby boomers aren't going anywhere fast. Good jobs have proven more difficult for them to find, they're extending their studies and they're living at home. It is no wonder the concept of swapping a family-sized home for a small retreat has lost its luster.

Meanwhile, members of Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 1994), who plan to purchase their next residence, are most interested in single-family multi-storey homes (50.6 percent) and bungalows (19.0 percent). Only 15.7 percent of Generation Y said they plan to buy a condominium or an apartment. In comparison, 22.9 percent of Baby Boomers looking to purchase their next residence desire condominiums or apartments.

The survey found that more than half of Generation Y planning to purchase their next residence, intend to purchase in the suburbs (55.7 percent) compared to the downtown core of a city (21.7 percent).

Forty-three percent of current non-owners who plan to purchase in the next five years say it is because they are planning to start a family in the near future. Among this younger demographic planning to purchase their next residence, the safety of a neighborhood and proximity to their work, family and friends are the most important attributes when selecting a new home. Keeping in mind that nearly half of Generation Y listed their near-term plans to have children of their own (42.0 percent) as a motivating factor to purchase; the least important factors are proximity to the downtown city core and restaurants or entertainment.

Among baby boomers who plan to downsize when they purchase their next residence, the most popular reasons are to reduce maintenance (73.7 percent), free up money for retirement (48.1 percent) and for travel (30.9 percent).

Source: Royal LePage

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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