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Tips on Buying a Samurai Sword

August 16, 2012 2:54 am

Choosing a samurai sword, or “katana,” can be a complicated process for a first-time buyer, given the wide selection of types and vendors on the online market today. Here are few factors to consider while seeking out the ideal sword:

The primary question to ask is: How will the sword be used?

A display sword is primarily about aesthetic appeal. While this decorative sword isn’t necessarily of lesser quality, it should not be used for practice. These swords are usually crafted with more attention to engravings and other details, rather than blade strength. Always use the manufacturer’s hardware to mount a display sword. A falling sword is one of the most dangerous things that could happen to a sword owner.

A functional sword – to be used for cutting practice, for example – needs to be more durable. Novice sword-buyers are often best off with a “beater” sword, termed that for the fact that it’s made to be used. Beaters favor function over style – they have thicker, heaver blades to make them less breakable and more able to take on a wide range of cutting targets. These swords are modeled after historical or famous swords, but are often not very accurate in their details. They also tend to be much more affordable than higher quality swords.

A high-quality sword, intended for long-term or frequent use, should have these features:

-The sword should be made of high carbon steel. Non-carbon steel swords can shatter on impact. Cheaper swords are made of stainless steel, which tends to be brittle.

-The sword should be heat-treated and tempered to ensure that the blade is not too brittle or too soft, for user safety.

-The sword should have a full tang. The tang is the insert that attaches the blade to the handle. If the sword does not have a full tang, it’s more likely that the sword will break during use.

-The sword should weigh less than three pounds to ensure it’s properly balanced for optimal cutting speed.

It is possible to find stylish and fully functional swords anywhere from $150 - $300. Though a high-quality sword will be pricier than a beater or some display swords, it will also last longer under duress and is a worthwhile investment for an authentic collection.

Source: Valiant Swords

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Simple Tips for Choosing the Right Home Insurance

August 16, 2012 2:54 am

When buying a home, choosing insurance can seem like a peripheral consideration. But even with everything else to think about during the process, taking the time to choose the right policy will pay off should a claim ever become necessary. Home insurance comes in three main types: basic, broad, and comprehensive. Each of these levels adds more coverage and provides for a wider range of perils. The one that is selected depends upon a few factors; some homes may only qualify for the lower levels, and of course budget is a consideration.

Basic Home Insurance
A basic home insurance policy will cover the house, contents, and homeowner’s liability for specific perils. This means that it will only provide coverage in the event of a claim stemming from the perils that are named in the policy. These include basics like fire and theft. Anything not listed will not be covered.

Basic home insurance is a good choice when looking to save money, as it is the least expensive option. It’s often selected for second homes such as a cottage. It may also be a good choice on a home that needs a lot of work as such homes might not yet qualify for comprehensive coverage under the insurance company’s rules.

Broad Form Home Insurance
A broad form policy offers a little more than a basic policy and usually will cost a little more. It’s a middle ground between the two and is a good choice to those who need to save money but want more than the most basic coverage. In a broad policy, coverage for the structure will be raised to an all perils level, meaning unless it is specifically excluded on the policy, it will be covered. However, contents coverage remains at a named perils level.

This allows better coverage for the home itself against more possible risks. Since the cost to rebuild a home is much higher than the cost to replace the contents in most cases, this type of policy protects homeowners a little better from a major financial loss.

Comprehensive Home Insurance
The top level of home insurance coverage offers all perils coverage for both the structures and the contents, giving the best possible protection from a wide range of risks. Homeowners may want to select a comprehensive policy to provide as much peace of mind as possible. While no policy can protect from every possible risk, this will give the most coverage available.

Although this type of policy is the most expensive, it is the most common choice for the average homeowner. Of course, not every home will qualify, but most well-kept or newer homes should have no problem. The investment in a higher premium will pay off in the event of a claim.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Creating Escapes at Home

August 15, 2012 2:54 am

While traveling to a remote island to get away for peace and relaxation would be a wonderful retreat, you can easily avoid the hustle and bustle of your daily routine by creating peaceful escapes throughout your own home.

The bathroom, for example, is the only place where you can shut the door and have complete "you time" with little to no interruptions. "As people's lives get busier, multitasking is the norm - and our time in the shower is no exception," says Jack Suvak, senior director of market research and insights for Moen. A shower means a bit of precious alone time, and people take full advantage of the peace to think about the day, their lives and more. To add a bit of bliss in the bath, add a spa-like shower with multiple spray settings to meet every mood.

Your den area might be a go-to hangout place, but it's still easy to create peace among the chaos. De-cluttering is one of the simplest things you can do to create order and a sense of calm. Remove items that haven't been used in months and get rid of furniture that serves little to no function. The less clutter your den has, the better you'll feel. It's also important to open the windows whenever possible. Less mess and fresh air can easily change the outlook of a room. 

Don't let that drab patio furniture or lackluster backyard get you down. A few pieces of bright colors can really change your outlook. Start off by planting flowers to spruce up the look of your space - no matter how small. Even if you don't have a yard to put them in, flowers can be housed in pots, on balcony railings and even hung from the ceiling. They are the perfect addition of color and soothing smells.

Another great idea is to update your seating areas on your patio. A comfortable rocker, glider or lounge chair could be the perfect addition to create an inviting area for you to escape in a book or relax and unwind socializing with friends. If you already have seating, create an attractive and comfortable update with seat cushions, which can be found for reasonable prices at local retail stores and even outlets - giving your wallet a break.

Follow these tricks, and you'll be on your way to feeling great, inside and out.

Source: Moen

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Safety Starts in Your Yard

August 15, 2012 2:54 am

The garden is a place of fun and relaxation, but is also highly vulnerable to damage and theft. By taking a little time to make sure things are secure, you can save your home from thieves who may use your garden or yard to enter your house.

A shed is vital for storing expensive garden equipment, but could also attract opportunistic thieves. Check that the structure of your shed is sturdy, with two padlocked bolts fitted to the door. All windows should be also fitted with locks, while placing mesh across the inside will shield your tools and equipment from view. Larger items such as mowers and power tools can be further protected by a wall or floor anchor, but do remember that these will only be as secure as the surface they are attached to. Specialized shed alarms use either a door contact system or an infrared motion detector to warn you against intruders. If these are not an option, your home burglar alarm system could be extended to cover your yard and shed.

The rear boundary of your yard is the most vulnerable part of your entire house; 22 percent of burglars enter through the back door, according to uniform crime reporting program crime clock. Tall fences may deter them, and sharp plants are a natural alternative to unsightly barbed wire and can add extra height to your boundaries. A thorny trellis of roses, pyracantha or chaenomeles should help to stop a potential burglar in his tracks.

Garden lights are one of the best tools for night time security. Halogen floodlights can provide an attractive and subtle glow to your garden, or a passive infrared sensor can be used to trip brighter lights when motion is detected. Take care to angle the lights away from the road and neighboring houses, focusing on the entry points to your home. Sensors can also be used to switch garden lights on with sunset and off with sunrise.

Gravel can be used as a cheap warning sign of approaching thieves, while also making it difficult for them to make a quiet exit. Gravel is now available in a wide range of colors and sizes, with many types suitable for mixing with slabs and bricks.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Protect Your Floors from Water Damage

August 15, 2012 2:54 am

Hardwood floors are a terrific investment for your home. However, should your floors experience water damage, there are alternatives to removal and replacement. Restoring hardwood is now a popular option for homeowners, allowing them to forego the expensive alternative to completely replacing their hardwood floors. Matching existing flooring can be very difficult, and replacement is not only extremely time consuming but costly, compared with restorative drying methods.

Drying Hardwoods Floors
When assessing the amount of water damage and the level of repair required, there are two key elements that must be considered: the length of time that water saturated the wood and the quantity of moisture within the floor.

Until recently, two construction factors have interfered with a contractor's ability to dry hardwood flooring. First, the flooring is nearly always nailed to the sub-flooring, preventing adequate access to the subsurface side. Second, the attractive finishes applied to the surface of the wood have low permeance, acting as effective moisture barriers. These two characteristics trap unwanted moisture in the wood.


Although wood decay is the most important issue in long-term water damage to wood products, physical damage emerges as the primary concern when dealing with hardwood. As the hardwood absorbs water, swelling occurs, resulting in warping and staining.

If nails are present in flooring that has excess moisture for a long period of time, oxidation can develop and stain the wood around the nails. In some cases, the nails are already oxidized, and water damage simply accelerates the existing flood damage. 

If the floor is water stained, re-finishing may be necessary.

Cupping, Crowning and Buckling

Tremendous pressures build as hardwood absorbs water, which can cause saturated hardwood to become permanently stressed and damaged if left unattended. When exposed to water, hardwood floors can buckle, cup or crown. Buckling is separation from the subfloor, while cupping and crowning are warps that bend away from the moist sections of the wood. With immediate attention, a professional experienced in restoring hardwood can often prevent permanent water damage to wood flooring.

Source: ServiceMaster Restore

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Safe Play, Proper Training Key to Back-to-School Sports Safety

August 14, 2012 2:50 am

Many student athletes begin preparing for sports season long before it's time to start hitting the books. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 7.3 million teenagers participate in high school sports. Sports participation is an excellent way for young adults and teenagers to stay healthy and active, but as more young athletes get in the game, physicians across the country are observing an upswing in sports-related injuries. High school athletes suffer an estimated two million injuries annually resulting in 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations. Injury has potential to not only ruin an athlete's season, but in some cases cause long lasting problems. While not every injury can be avoided, Northwestern Medicine® sports medicine expert Michael Terry, MD, encourages student athletes and their parents to focus on safe play and proper training for a healthy, successful sports season.

Preparation for the fall sports season should begin even before the start of the school year. Young athletes should ease into training, starting with cardiovascular workouts to build stamina then progressing to strength training that targets the specific muscles needed for their sport.

When in training, young athletes should focus on three major factors that affect sport performance: hydration, nutrition, and rest. With practice for many fall sports beginning in the summer, hydration takes on even greater importance. When practicing or competing in the heat, drink water before, during and after activity to decrease the risk of heat-related illness. Unhealthy food choices and too little rest also make student athletes more prone to injury.

Sports safety should be observed during both competition and practice as injuries can occur at anytime. Generally, two types of sports-related injuries occur: acute and overuse. Acute injuries occur from a single traumatic event, such as a collision with another athlete or a misstep that strains a ligament or muscle. Examples of acute injuries are fractures, concussions, sprains and strains, dislocations or tears. While acute injuries are often harder to avoid, particularly in contact sports, teaching proper technique and emphasizing safe play can limit the risk of injury. Properly caring for equipment and assuring it works and fits correctly can also help avoid injury.

Unlike acute injuries, overuse injuries develop slowly overtime because of repetitive stress on tendons, muscles, bones or joints. Examples of overuse injuries are Little League elbow, runner's knee, shin splints and tendinitis. Often hard to recognize because athletes dismiss the early signs as minor aches and pains, when not treated properly overuse injuries run the risk of benching young athletes as well as causing long-term damage and diminished quality of life. Overuse injuries are commonly caused by improper training and not allowing the body time to properly rest and recover. Trying a different, less intense sport once a season ends, will help overused muscles recover.

Even when conscious of proper conditioning and safe training, most competitive athletes will experience an injury at some point. Recognizing the signs of an injury and listening to one's body will help limit damage and hasten recover. Pain is the body's way of signaling that something is wrong, but many athletes ignore their pain attributing it as a normal part of sports participation. When athletes dismiss injuries, not only does it threaten ending their season but also future ones.

Source: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Update Your Home with a Vintage Look

August 14, 2012 2:50 am

Nothing amps up the style in a home quite like a vintage or antique look. Still, many people shy away from antique décor, associating it with hunting through flea markets and excessive spending on one-of-a-kind items.

Design duo Robert and Cortney Novogratz are the stars of HGTV's Home by Novogratz and parents to seven children. Known for using vintage and eclectic items to create fun and stylish interiors that are also family-friendly, they point out that with all of the resources available on the Internet, you do not need to be an avid "antiquer" to create an eclectic look and feel in your home.

The Novogratzs offer the following suggestions for creating unique and family-friendly spaces that fuse style with purpose:

- When shopping for vintage pieces, consider how they can be repurposed. You can use an antique chest as a coffee table that doubles as stylish storage for blankets and toys. You'll find new ways to incorporate pieces you're drawn to by keeping an open mind.

- Vintage items, from coffee table books to maps and globes, can be incorporated into lively gathering spaces - or even your kids' bedrooms. Parents with an eye for style shouldn't be concerned about adding unique items to their home. While you do not want to not put the most expensive pieces in your kids' bedrooms, collectables like classic books and vintage maps make perfect decorative learning tools.

- A mix-and-match approach can give a home an eclectic yet comfortable style, adding a touch of livability to ultramodern spaces and personality to more traditional decor. This works well for a dining room table. You can have mid-century candelabra as a centerpiece with bright-colored modern candles to balance the look. Also try using mismatched vintage plates when entertaining guests for dinner.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Why Now May be the Time to Build

August 14, 2012 2:50 am

With the housing market in recovery mode and new residential construction on the rise, a unique opportunity exists to take advantage of what are still comparatively low material and labor costs while enjoying accelerating appreciation. Whether it’s a new home, addition, vacation home, or a commercial property, analysts agree that those who build now will realize the highest return on their initial investment.

Along with this upward trend, material and labor costs are also expected to increase, making today the perfect time to take advantage of this economic opportunity. Not only will you save money short-term in construction costs, but by building now, you’ll make an investment that will yield a much higher return over time. Comparing the numbers, real estate continues to be a better choice in investing your money than the stock market, especially with recent market performance returns in mind.

There are many benefits to investing in real estate, including leveraging your mortgage to amplify your ROI, the consistency of real estate compared to the volatility of the stock market, and bigger breaks on your taxes. According to a recent article from CNN Money, “If you (or your mutual fund) hold a stock for more than a year before selling, then you owe only a capital-gains tax that tops out at just 15 percent. Second, you can offset any investment losses you realized against your gains on your income tax return.

Interest rates are lower than ever and material costs are remaining relatively steady for now. General contractors are available and hungry for any work they can get, coming off of a two year building slump. “(According to the National Association of REALTORS®) in April 2012, homes changed hands at a record pace of 7.2 million per year, at a median price of $206,000, up 15.1 percent from a year earlier. The last time home prices rose so fast in one year was in November 1980, when prices shot up 15.6 percent,” says Forbes Magazine.

Making the wise choice to invest in real estate this year remains one of the best ways to make sure you get the best possible return on your investment and building a home with a differential – something that sets it apart from other homes on the market – enhances the return. Unique homes are often sold for much more than comparable homes in the same area. Homes with one-of-a-kind features, energy efficiency, and brilliant architecture are providing the best return for home builders. Building your home with energy efficiency at the forefront is a great way to set your investment apart while keeping your heating and cooling costs low over time.

In addition to building “green,” adding an architectural novelty to your home will pack your investment with a high-quality differential, bringing your return even higher. Features such as outdoor kitchens and patios, or unique architectural styles such as post and beam, or timber framing, provide an aesthetic appeal that will lure in potential buyers while providing energy efficiency with the addition of SIPs to enclose the structure. Exposed timbers, quality materials and cathedral ceilings are features that bring your real estate investment the distinction it needs in order to thrive in a growing economy.

For those looking for a strong long-term investment, this is the time to choose new real estate. And if you’re choosing to build, there has never been a better opportunity to engage in a relationship with your architect, builder or home design/build company.

Source: Eric C Lindstrom, Woodhouse

Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Mobile App Provides Real-Time Stats on U.S. Economy

August 13, 2012 2:50 am

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its first-ever mobile application, "America's Economy," which will provide constantly updated statistics on the U.S. economy, including monthly economic indicators, trends, along with a schedule of upcoming announcements. The app, which is currently available for Android mobile device users, combines statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

America's Economy is the first mobile app from the Census Bureau that provides smartphone and tablet users with the real-time government statistics that drive business hiring, sales and production decisions and assist economists, researchers, planners and policymakers. The economic indicators track monthly and quarterly trends in industries, such as employment, housing construction, international trade, personal income, retail sales and manufacturing.

The America's Economy app has been developed as part of the Census Bureau's Web Transformation Project and fulfills a key goal of President Obama's recently announced Digital Strategy to provide federal employees and the general public with greater access to government information and services. The creation of this app is also consistent with the Census Bureau's longtime mission of providing accurate statistics about the nation's growth and changes using 21st century technology to make that information available more quickly and easily.

The following 16 key economic indicators will be available as part of the initial release of the app:
  • Advance Monthly Retail Sales
  • New Residential Construction
  • New Residential Sales
  • Construction Spending
  • International Trade
  • Advance Report Durable Goods
  • Business Inventories
  • Manufacturers' Goods
  • Monthly Wholesale
  • Homeownership Rate
  • Quarterly Services Survey
  • QFR – Retail Trade
  • QFR – Manufacturing
Bureau of Economic Analysis:
  • Gross Domestic Product
  • Personal Income and Outlays
Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Unemployment Rate
Users will be able to set alerts to receive notifications when economic indicators are updated. They can also add statistical release schedules to their personal calendars. When each indicator is released, users can also share the news on both Facebook and Twitter.

America's Economy is available now for Android users and is expected be available for Apple smartphone and tablet users in the Apple App Store in the coming weeks. America's Economy is the first of three planned apps from the Census Bureau that will be made available over the next several months. Each app will be available for Apple and Android smartphones.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Monitor: HARP Refinance Activity Up, Seriously Delinquent Rate Stable

August 13, 2012 2:50 am

The June Mortgage Monitor report released by Lender Processing Services shows that while overall mortgage prepayment activity remains stable, despite historically low rates, the federal government's Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has seen considerable activity since the beginning of 2012.

The June data also shows that the rate of new problem loans entering the delinquency pipeline remained stable at multi-year lows; late-stage delinquencies have also shown improvement over the last year, dropping more than 7 percent. On a month-over-month basis, the national delinquency rate for loans 90 or more days delinquent remained stable, but after months of tracking very closely, the rate in judicial foreclosure states is now higher than in non-judicial. The share of aged inventory is higher in judicial states as well, with nearly 50 percent of borrowers with loans 90 or more days delinquent not having made a payment in more than one year, as compared to just slightly more than 40 percent in non-judicial states. Further, nearly 60 percent of borrowers with loans in foreclosure in judicial states had not made a payment in at least two years, as of June.

As reported in LPS' First Look release, other key results from LPS' latest Mortgage Monitor report include:
  • Total U.S. loan delinquency rate: 7.14 %
  • Month-over-month change in delinquency rate: 3.4 %
  • Total U.S. foreclosure pre-sale inventory rate: 4.09 %
  • Month-over-month change in foreclosure pre-sale inventory rate: -2.0 %
  • States with highest percentage of non-current* loans: FL, MS, NV, NJ, IL
  • States with the lowest percentage of non-current* loans: MT, AK, WY, SD, ND
*Non-current totals combine foreclosures and delinquencies as a percent of active loans in that state.

Note: Totals are extrapolated based on LPS Applied Analytics' loan-level database of mortgage assets.

Source: Lender Processing Services

Published with permission from RISMedia.