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Make the Most of Your Home Improvement Dollars

Home improvement projects provide homeowners with a chance to put their own stamp on their homes. In addition, many such projects make homes safer and, in some instances, more eco-friendly. The opportunity to make a home more comfortable, safer and/or more eco-friendly entices many homeowners to open their wallets. In fact, the Home Improvement Research Institute estimates that the home improvement products market will grow by more than 5 percent in 2018.

Homeowners might experience some sticker shock when researching home improvement projects or receiving estimates from contractors. But there are ways for budget-conscious homeowners to transform their homes and still make the most of their home improvement dollars.

• Do your homework. Each year, Remodeling magazine publishes its “Cost vs. Value Report,” a comprehensive study of 21 popular remodeling projects in 149 United States markets. The report notes the value each project retains at resale in 100 markets across the country. Homeowners who want to get the strongest return on investment can access the “Cost vs. Value Report” (www.remodeling.how.net) to see which home improvement projects are best suited for them.

• Do some of the labor yourself. Homeowners willing to swing a hammer also can stretch their home improvement dollars. For example, the home improvement resource This Old House® notes that homeowners willing to do their own demolition before the contractors arrive can save substantial amounts of money. A professional contractor may charge $1,000 to demo a 200-square-foot deck, but This Old House estimates that homeowners who demo their own decks may spend only $450 (for the dumpster rental and parking permit).

• Hire a consultant. The DIY movement is incredibly popular, no doubt thanks to television channels such as HGTV and the DIY Network. Homeowners with DIY experience may be able to complete projects on their own with little consultation from professional contractors. Some contractors may not offer consulting services, however. The consultation route, which typically requires paying licensed contractors hourly fees to offer guidance, should only be considered by homeowners with legitimate DIY skills, for whom this option can be a great way to save money.

• Schedule renovations during homeowner-friendly times of year. Summer and fall tend to be contractors’ busy seasons, and homeowners will likely pay more for projects during this time of year. If possible, delay starting projects until right after the new year, when contractors aren’t so busy and might be more flexible with pricing. Budget-conscious homeowners can employ various strategies to make the most of their home improvement dollars without sacrificing quality.

Design a More Functional Pantry

Many homeowners wish they had more storage space, and kitchens are one area where people seemingly can always use more storage. Despite a desire for more kitchen space, until recently, kitchen pantries fell out of favor. Builders and architects may have thought that close proximity to supermarkets as well as multi-use cabinets in kitchens would offset the need for pantries. But according to a recent survey from the National Association of Home Builders, a kitchen pantry is the most desirable kitchen feature for buyers in the market for a new home. According to a 2016 survey from ReportLinker, 98 percent of Americans say cooking at home is their preferred way to prepare a meal. And despite the wide array of restaurants, prepared meals and fast food options nearby, more than one-third of people cook at home daily, with nearly 50 percent cooking between three and six days a week. In order to accommodate for spending more time in the kitchen, homeowners are directing additional attention to kitchen preparation and storage features. In fact, one recent trend in kitchen renovations is creating custom-designed pantries.

Locate the Appropriate Space

Ideally, pantries should be in or adjacent to the kitchen. But not every home layout allows for this setup. Some homeowners need to move storage pantries into the garage, the basement or a mud/laundry room. Various factors should be considered before placing a pantry outside a kitchen. What is the climate? Will food spoil? Is there a possibility that vermin or insects can infiltrate the room and access food? These factors will dictate whether to have closed cabinets, air-tight bins or open shelves or if other modifications must be made to the room prior to building.

Choose the Type of Pantry

Accessibility is essential in a pantry. Everything should be easily reached and grabbed as needed without having to move too many things. Ideally, foods should be arranged in a single layer so that all items can be viewed at a glance. Shelves of various depths and heights can accommodate items of different sizes. Adjustable shelves are ideal because they can be modified as foods change. Sliding drawers can improve reach in cabinets. In smaller spaces, French door-style reach-in cabinets are convenient and flexible. In complete kitchen remodels or new constructions, walk-in pantries offer the most space and flexibility.

Must-Have Features

Pantries serve different functions in different homes. For the bulk shopper, a pantry with plenty of room for large items will be needed. Lighting can be beneficial in all pantries. Lights can improve visibility when trying to locate items. Others prefer an outlet for charging hand-held vacuums or other small appliances. Counter space in the pantry enables homeowners to unload groceries directly onto pantry shelves.

For pantries located outside of the kitchen, built-in freezers can maximize storage possibilities, especially for those who freeze-and-eat after bulk shopping ventures. Pantries are popular features that homeowners can customize depending on their storage needs and the amount of time they spend in their kitchens.

Tips for Grandparents Helping to Raise Children

As retirement age approaches, many older adults envision themselves downsizing and moving to a quaint community to enjoy their golden years in as relaxing a fashion as possible. However, for a growing number of seniors, their retirement years are being spent helping to raise grandchildren. United States Census data from 2010 indicates 4.9 million American children are being raised solely by their grandparents.

CanGrads, a National Kinship Support organization, says approximately 62,500 children are being raised by grandparents and other family in Canada. Many grandparents provide part-time care when their older children have to move back home with their families, as roughly 13 million children are now living in homes with their grandparents. Although being raised by grandparents may not be the ideal situation for all parties involved, such situations are a necessity for many families. Seniors who are once again thrown into the caregiver arena may need a crash course in childcare or a few pointers on parenting in the modern age.

Get the Right Equipment

Children certainly require a lot of gear, more than grandparents likely used when raising their own children. Certain safety requirements are in place to safeguard young children, and that often means investing in new cribs, car seats, high chairs, and other items. Grandparents should resist the temptation to use old items they may have kept in storage, as such items may no longer be safe and could put grandchildren at risk for injury.

Gather Important Documents

Grandparents should keep pertinent documents in one easily accessible place in their homes should an emergency arise. These include birth certificates, health immunization records, death certificates (if the child’s parents are deceased), dental records, school papers, citizenship papers, and proof of income and assets.

Speak With an Attorney

Lawyers can help grandparents wade through legal arrangements, such as filing for custody, guardianship or adoption. Options vary depending on where petitioners live, but lawyers can provide peace of mind to grandparents concerned about their grandkids’ futures. • Investigate financial assistance. Seniors may not earn the income they once did and may be on assistance programs or living off of retirement savings. Grandparents who find themselves caring for a child may be eligible for financial assistance. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is a joint federal and state program that can provide need-based financial assistance. The AARP or the organization GrandFamilies may be able to put grandparents in touch with financial advisors in their areas.

Contact Schools and Daycare Centers

School-aged children will need to be enrolled in school. Grandparents should contact the department of education where they live to learn about local school systems, especially when grandkids are moving in with their grandparents. Some grandparents can qualify for free or low-cost daycare, and such programs can be discussed with local Social Services offices. Enrollment in school or daycare can provide grandparents with much-needed free time during the day.

Find Emotional Support

Taking care of grandchildren is a full-time job. At times, grandparents may feel stressed or out of sorts. Having a strong support system available can help grandparents work through the peaks and valleys of this new and unexpected stage in life. Church- or community center-based counseling services may be available. Grandparents also can check with their healthcare providers to determine if counseling or therapy sessions are covered under their plans. Caring for grandchildren is a life-changing event. Although it can be fulfilling, it also requires a lot of energy and commitment. But grandparents needn’t go it alone, as there are numerous resources available to seniors who suddenly find themselves caring for their grandchildren.

NASCAR and Its Fan History

Millions of racing enthusiasts tune in to watch their favorite NASCAR drivers every weekend. Whether filling the stands in person or watching on television, NASCAR fans are drawn to the action and the sport’s storied history. It is believed that what would ultimately evolve into car racing began during Prohibition times when “runners,” or those who delivered moonshine, souped up their cars to evade federal tax agents. These runners took pride in evading the law and would hold informal races to determine who had the fastest car and greatest racing chops. Eventually the need for smuggling booze waned, and car racing became a more respectable sport. On February 21, 1948, the National Association for Stock Car racing was officially incorporated, although the first official NASCAR race took place six days earlier. The sport would go on to be one of the most popular spectator activities in North America and is now a multibillion dollar industry.

NASCAR owes its beginnings to mechanic and auto-repair shop owner William “Bill” France, Sr. of Washington, D.C. France became interested in racing after relocating to Daytona Beach, Fla., which he discovered was a hotbed for racing enthusiasts. France involved himself in racing cars and promotion. France felt there should be a sanctioning body to govern the sport, so in 1947, he organized a meeting in Florida to discuss the future of stock car racing and conceived the notion of NASCAR with other members of the racing community.

As NASCAR amassed its legions of fans, it also helped solidify the star status of many drivers. Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr. (and later Junior), Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon are just a few of the notable drivers who have torn up tracks. In 1998, amid 50th anniversary celebrations, NASCAR put together a list of the organization’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Living members of the group were honored during pre-race festivities for the 1998 Daytona 500.

NASCAR has built its reputation not only on quality races, but also through sponsorship. In the history of NASCAR, there have been only three naming rights partners: RJ Reynolds, Sprint/Nextel and Monster Energy, which took the reins in 2017.

Those unfamiliar with NASCAR may think that the NASCAR season never ends. However, there is a defined season. The race season, comprising 38 races, starts in February and ends in November. Races are conducted on privately owned race tracks, all of which are asphalt or concrete. Although NASCAR has southern roots, tracks were built in California and Las Vegas to tap into newer audiences. NASCAR has been around for decades, and new stars and fans are made each year.

How to Safeguard Your Vehicle from the Elements

In a perfect world, all vehicle owners would be able to park their cars and trucks in garages. In such a world, automobiles would not be vulnerable to sun, storms and other natural elements that, over time, can contribute to wear and tear. But many drivers cannot or choose not to park their cars in garages.

Some are content to let their vehicles brave the elements, while others look for ways to protect their cars and trucks as much as possible. Drivers who count themselves among the latter group can take these simple steps to protect their cars and trucks from whatever Mother Nature has in store for them.

Park in the Shade

Parking in the shade can protect both the interior and exterior of a vehicle. Shaded areas protect upholstery and dashboards inside the car from sun-induced fading, while also limiting the damage sun can cause to exterior paint. Faded paint may hurt the resale value of a vehicle, prompting prospective buyers to walk away or at least wonder if a vehicle with a faded exterior was well maintained.

Wash and Wax

Washing and waxing a vehicle helps to minimize damage that’s inevitable regardless of where drivers park their cars. Dirt and debris litter roadways, and over time cars can collect a large amount of these unwanted stowaways. If dirt and debris are not removed, they can cause long-term damage to vehicle exteriors. Washing and waxing a car can ensure its exterior looks good and reduce the likelihood of rust and other corrosion from occurring.

Don’t Write Off Bird Droppings

Some drivers, especially those who do not park their cars and trucks in garages, may write off bird droppings as an annoying yet harmless side effect of vehicle ownership. However, bird droppings are acidic and, if left to their unsightly devices, can cause permanent damage to vehicle paint. Tree sap is an equally formidable foe, potentially causing scratching because it can be very difficult to remove without spreading. Specially formulated sprays can help drivers remove bird droppings and sap from their vehicles.

Employ a Car Cover

Drivers who have garages but use them to store things other than their vehicles can use car covers when parking their cars in their driveways. Covers protect cars from the elements and can be quickly and easily removed. Nature can be harsh on vehicles. Protecting automobiles from the elements should be a priority for drivers, especially those who do not park their cars and trucks in garages

Countdown to Valentine’s Day with Week-Long Fun

Millions of people eagerly await the arrival of the shortest month of the year for the opportunity to show their spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, companions, and many other special people in their lives how much they are loved.

Even though Valentine’s Day is just one day a year, that doesn’t mean it should be the only time one expresses his or her love for a special someone. With this in mind, individuals can count down the days to Valentine’s Day with these daily events that precede the day of love.

February 7:

Rose Day Celebrate love with a vase filled with roses. Red symbolizes love, and many other colors represent heartfelt emotions. The flowers will add to home decor and ambiance.

February 8: Proposal Day

Couples ready to tie the knot can use this day as an opportunity to propose. Those already engaged or married can spend Proposal Day celebrating the events that led up to their own engagement or betrothal, and toast how their relationships have evolved.

February 9: Chocolate Day

Lavish a loved one with all the decadent treats they enjoy. These can include store-purchased chocolates, chocolate fudge sundaes or warm brownies fresh out of the oven.

February 10: Teddy Day

This day can be interpreted in different ways. Couples adding spice to their relationships can celebrate Teddy Day with the lingerie of the same name. Those looking for a more G-rated experience can gift each other with an adorable stuffed bear. Make-your-own stuffed animal retailers at nearby malls are a place to turn for customizable teddy bears.

February 11: Promise Day

Promise Day provides an opportunity to make promises to each other that are specific to couples’ relationships. These can include being more patient, traveling more or spending more time together.

February 12: Hug Day

On this day the world celebrates the uplifting and comforting power of hugs, which can be powerful expressions of love. February 13: Kiss Day Couples can pucker up and spend a few extra moments showing their affection with some kisses. The lips are quite sensitive to touch, and kissing is one of the more renowned expressions of intimacy.

Show love all week long leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Screen Time Tied to Health Issues

Do you feel panicked if you leave home without mobile phone in hand? Do you find it difficult to sit in the house without browsing the internet on your devices? Are your children spending much of their classroom hours on tablets? Screen time has taken over most people’s daily lives, but at what cost? A 2014 report from Nielsen found that adults log a total of 11 hours of screen time per day.

Delaney Ruston, a physician and creator of the documentary “Screenagers,” which explores young people’s use of digital devices, discovered kids spend an average of 6.5 to eight hours per day looking at screens. All of this time glued to digital devices has profound effects on physical and mental health, and many experts are advising people to cut back on the time they spend on their devices.

Brain Damage

Multiple studies indicate that spending considerable time on screens can produce atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas of the brain, according to reports in Psychology Today. These are regions of the brain where processing occurs. One of the most affected areas includes the frontal lobe, which governs executive functions like planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control. Another vulnerable area is the insula, which is tied to a person’s capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others. Research also shows that white matter can be compromised, which translates into loss of communication between cognitive and emotional centers within the brain.

Vision Problems

Staring into screens for extended periods of time can damage areas of the eyes and result in computer vision syndrome, which is characterized by trained eyes, blurred vision and headaches. The Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study, conducted by researchers and clinicians from the USC Eye Institute at Keck Medicine in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, has found that exaggerated screen time and insufficient sunlight exposure has more than doubled incidences of myopia (nearsightedness) among American children in recent years.

Sleep Disturbances

University of Gothenburg psychologist Sara Thomée, a lead researcher into the effects of screen time on the body, says the blue light from digital devices suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, keeping people from having restful sleeps.

Overstimulation

Screen time can cause hyperarousal, which may be more notable in children than adults, according to research published in Psychology Today. Regular amounts of screen time can cause the brain to be in a state of chronic stress, which can short circuit the frontal lobe. This may lead to addictive behaviors, rage, inability to recover from minor frustrations, and hyperactivity.

Screen time is profound and may be hurting minds and bodies. Many people have set goals to reduce the time they spend on electronics to improve their personal health.

Simple Ways to Make More Time for Family

For the majority of working professionals, finding quality time to spend with loved ones can be a delicate balancing act. But working parents do not have to wait until retirement to enjoy being in the company of their families. With some fine tuning, anyone can find ways to spend more time with their children, spouse, extended families, and friends.

• Eat dinner together every night. Eating dinner as a family enables everyone to be a part of one another’s day and discuss important issues facing the family. According to The Family Dinner Project, eating as a family can boost kids’ academic performance, lower their risk of substance abuse and provide an opportunity for parents to gauge the emotional and physical well-being of their children. Avoid activities that cut into dinner time and rearrange work schedules to accommodate nightly meals with the family.

• Switch work hours. Many employers understand the benefits of flex time. If possible, leave the office at 4 p.m. to make it home for family time, and then log back on remotely at 7 p.m. to finish the day’s work. Working from home also reduces commute time, which can free up more time to spend with loved ones.

• Put it on the calendar. Many families have to abide by a calendar to stay organized. Family time may fall by the wayside unless it is scheduled. Treat it as any important event so it becomes a priority.

• Work together. Family time need not be limited to recreation or leisure. Get the entire family involved in a chore or project so you can work together toward a common goal. Landscaping, painting a room in the house or even grocery shopping are some examples of chores that can be turned into family time.

• Enjoy family media. Instead of retiring to separate corners of the house with tablets or mobile phones in tow, find a TV series everyone can enjoy together. Spend some binge-worthy hours seeing how stories unfold, taking time to discuss each episode when it ends.

Family time is something that takes work, but making it a priority can offer real benefits.

Enjoy More Time Outdoors (Even When It’s Cold)

The amount of time people spend outdoors has dramatically decreased, as the Environmental Protection Agency now reports the average American spends 87 percent of his or her time in a residence, school building or workplace. Being outside is linked to better moods, more physical activity and less exposure to contaminants (concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher indoors). Also, people who spend time outside may not come into contact with surface germs or develop various illnesses spread as often as those who spend a lot of time indoors. Cold weather can make the desire to be outside less appealing, but it is important for one’s mental and physical well-being to get outside. The following activities might coax people outside for some crisp air.

Create snow critters

Why do snowmen and women get all of the fanfare this time of year? Just about any living or fictional creature can be molded from snow and embellish landscapes. Use food-grade coloring in spray bottles to added even more creative flair to snow designs.

Go on a nature hike

While many plants and animals hibernate in winter, there is still plenty to see. Bring along a sketch book or camera and capture nature in winter. White-washed hills can be beautiful to behold, and many small animals and birds look even more vivid against the white backdrop of snow.

Make an obstacle course

Turn an area of the yard or park into a homemade obstacle course. It’s much more difficult, — and a great workout — to try to jump over snow mounds or run down paths when decked out in warm layers. Engage in lighthearted competitions with friends and family members.

Build a bonfire

Children can set off in different directions to gather up firewood to craft a bonfire with adults in a safe location. S’mores taste equally delicious whether it’s warm or cold outside, and in winter they can be accompanied by toasty mugs of cocoa.

Get sporty

Sledding, skating, snowshoeing, and ice hockey are just a few of the winter sports that can get the heart pumping and muscles working outside. These activities are entertaining and also great exercise.

When venturing outdoors in winter, dress in layers. This way clothing can be put on or taken off to reduce the likelihood of hypothermia.

How to Make Your Favorite Foods Healthier

After the whirlwind of the holiday season, the season of resolutions takes over. Many people to resolve to live healthier, and they may not have to give up their favorite foods to do so. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggests American adults between the ages of 18 and 49 gain an average of one to two pounds every year. Grazing and overeating tends to increase when the weather cools down. A 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in the fall, people tend to consume more calories, total fat and saturated fat. In the spring, people seem to prefer more carbohydrates. In addition, less powerful sunshine in winter coupled with people bundling up translates into less vitamin D being absorbed by the body. Some researchers believe there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and weight gain as well. To ensure that certain foods do not sabotage healthy eating plans, people can employ some easy modifications and make healthier versions of the foods they like to eat.

• Choose crunchy foods. Those who are prone to snacking can reach for noisy foods. These include crunchy items like apples, carrots and pretzels. Scientists say that when people listen to what they are chewing — called the “crunch effect” — they eat less of that item.

• Tone down the cream. Delicious dishes like fettuccine alfredo typically are made with lots of butter and cream. Replace cream sauces with a healthier base made of low-fat milk thickened with flour. Increase the flavor with favorite spices.

• Fry with care. Use healthy oils like olive or coconut sparingly. Many foods that are traditionally fried also can be lightly coated with cooking spray and baked for a crunchy texture.

• Choose sodium-free seasonings. The USCA recommends limiting sodium to less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Try options like fresh herbs or lemon juice to add some sodium-free flavor.

• Increase fiber content. Fiber helps one feel fuller longer and can also be helpful for digestion and heart health. Choose the “brown” varieties of rice, pasta and breads.

• Replace meat with leaner forms of protein. Lean chicken, turkey and pork can replace red meats in many recipes. Some traditional meat dishes, such as burgers, also can be modified using vegetables or seafood. Lean meats dry out quickly, so keep foods moist by watching cooking times.

• Stock up on yogurt. Greek and other varieties of yogurt can replace sour cream and mayonnaise in many dishes.

Resolving to eat healthier can be easy by making some simple swaps when preparing your favorite foods.