Category: Seasonal

Outdoor Improvements That Boost Home Value

Whether home improvement projects are designed to improve the interior or exterior of a house, focusing on renovations that make the most financial sense can benefit homeowners in the long run. The right renovations can be assets if and when homeowners decide to sell their homes.

So how does one get started? First and foremost, speak to a local real estate agent who is knowledgeable about trends in the community. While a swimming pool may be something coveted in one area, it may impede sales in another. It also helps to study generalized trends and data from various home improvement industry analysts to guide upcoming projects.

The following outdoor projects are just a few renovations that tend to add value.

Firepit

A fire pit is a great place to gather most months of the year. Bob Vila and CBS news report that a fire pit realizes a 78 percent return on investment or ROI.

Outdoor kitchen

Many buyers are looking to utilize their yards as an extension of interior living areas. Cooking, dining, and even watching TV outdoors are increasingly popular. Outdoor living areas can be custom designed and built. In addition, prefabricated modular units that require a much smaller commitment of time and money are available.

Patio

Homeowners who do not already have a patio will find that adding one can increase a home’s value. Patios help a home look neat, add useable space, and may help a home to sell quickly. The experts at Space Wise, a division of Extra Space Storage, say that refinishing, repairing, and building a new patio offers strong ROI.

Deck

Decks can be as valuable as patios. A deck is another outdoor space that can be used for entertaining, dining, and more. Remodeling magazine’s 2018 “Cost vs. Value” report indicates that an $11,000 deck can add about $9,000 in resale value to the home, recouping around 82 percent of the project’s costs.

Door update

Improve curb appeal with a new, high-end front door and garage doors. If that’s too expensive, a good cleaning and new coat of paint can make an old door look brand new. These easy fixes can improve a home’s look instantly.

New landscaping

The National Association of Realtors says an outdoor makeover that includes well-thought-out landscaping can net 105 percent ROI. Installing a walkway, adding stone planters, mulching, and planting shrubs are ideas to consider.

Many different outdoor projects can add value to a home.

How to Plan a Special Mother’s Day as Pandemic Restrictions Are Lifted

Mother’s Day has felt a little less than normal over the last couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of many Mother’s Day gatherings in 2020, and while things felt more familiar in 2021, this year may mark the most normal Mother’s Day celebrations since 2019.

Pandemic-related restrictions have now been lifted in many towns and cities. Though it’s best to confirm if any rules and restrictions are still in place before making any plans, individuals who want to make sure Mom has a special day can consider these planning pointers.

Revisit old traditions

There’s many ways to let Mom know she’s special, but after two years of living under the specter of a pandemic, few things might be as meaningful to Mom as a return to pre-pandemic traditions. Book a trip to a destination you’ve visited on Mother’s Day in the past. If possible, visit a locale where Mom spent her first Mother’s Day as a parent, ideally staying in the same hotel or rental home that hosted you back then. If it was once tradition to spend Mother’s Day in a big city, return there and enjoy a day that recalls pre-pandemic life.

Book a special trip

Millions of people canceled or postponed travel plans during the pandemic. Now that many places, including foreign countries, have lifted travel restrictions, families can feel safe taking off for parts unknown. Such a trip can be even more special if it’s a surprise for Mom on Mother’s Day weekend.

Make it a family affair

Even Mother’s Day celebrations in 2021 were likely smaller affairs than some moms might have preferred. If Mom spent some time wishing more family could be around on Mother’s Day over the last two years, make a concerted effort to include as many family members as possible this year. Encourage grown children to travel home for the holiday and invite Mom’s parents and siblings over to celebrate as well.

Get out of the house

A homecooked meal might have warmed Mom’s heart in recent years, but a day out of the house might be especially welcomed this Mother’s Day. Book a reservation at Mom’s favorite local restaurant so no one has any cooking or cleaning to do this year. Just be sure to book a reservation early, as the competition for a table figures to be especially stiff this year.

Start the day off with a spa visit

Moms might have put pampering on hold during the pandemic. Now that public health agencies have given the go-ahead to lift restrictions, a good pampering is undoubtedly in order. A Mother’s Day morning spa trip can start the day off right.

Mother’s Day celebrations in 2022 should feel more normal than they have in years. Families can capitalize on that by planning a day Mom won’t soon forget.

The Origins of Easter Sunday

Easter takes place on a different Sunday each year. In western Christianity, Easter follows the Gregorian calendar and is thus considered a “movable feast” that is always celebrated between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Orthodox Christianity adheres to the Julian calendar, so Easter will fall on a Sunday between April 4 and May 8 each year. In 2022, the western Christian Easter celebration occurs on April 17 and the Eastern Orthodox Easter is observed on April 24.

Easter is the most important celebration on the Christian liturgical calendar. While commemorations of Jesus Christ’s resurrection likely occurred earlier, the earliest recorded observance of an Easter celebration was in the second century, according to Britannica.

Initial Easter celebrations weren’t known as “Easter,” which is a word that was borrowed from Pagan spring celebrations of Eostre, the goddess of spring and fertility. It only became associated with Christian usage later on – long after biblical scripture was written. In fact, the word “Easter” only appears in one Bible, the King James Version. But it is likely the word was used as a translation of pascha, or Passover, and not what has come to be known as Christian Easter.

The earliest Easter celebrations were a version of Passover. According to leading sabbath scholar Professor Samuele Bacchiocchi, Christians universally kept Passover on the biblical date of Nisan until 135 A.D. Early commemorations focused on the crucifixion, and the pain and suffering of Jesus. Bacchiocchi says that eventually the resurrection emerged as the dominant reason for the celebration that would be known as Easter, and also as the main message of weekly Christian Sunday masses. By the fourth century, the Easter Vigil and celebration were well-established and a symbol of joyful anticipation of the resurrection.

Easter is now celebrated annually by faithful Christians. While Easter is not mentioned in the Bible, scripture depictions helped shape the holiday that would become an integral component of the Christian faith.

Behind the Jokes of April Fools’ Day

Pranks, practical jokes and various goofs abound at the start of April, when celebrants around the world mark April Fools’ Day – a tradition that dates back several centuries.

Even though April Fools’ Day, also known as All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for centuries, no one is completely sure of its exact origins.

According to History.com, many historians speculate that April Fool’s Day traces its origins to the transition from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one in 1582. At this point, the start of the new year had been moved to January 1 from the last week of March. Those who were slow to get the news still celebrated the new year from late March into April and became the object of pranks as a result. One of the more notable pranks included having a paper fish placed on the backs of unsuspecting individuals and being referred to as poisson d’avril (April fish). This symbolized a young, easily fooled, or hooked fish.

During the 1700s, April Fools’ Day spread northward throughout areas of Britain. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event. One feature was sending people on phony errands called “hunting the gowk.” Gowk refers to the cuckoo bird, which often has been used as a symbol for fools. Tallie Day followed, which included pranks like pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on unsuspecting people.

The earliest mass April Fools’ Day hoax on record occurred in 1698, according to Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes.

“People in London were told to go see the annual ceremony of the washing of the lions at the Tower of London,” said Boese. “They showed up at the Tower of London, but there was no annual lion-washing ceremony.”

Mass media later became a prime vehicle for some April tomfoolery. In 1957, the BBC told viewers there was a great spaghetti crop in Switzerland that year due to the disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, and people of Britain, who were largely unfamiliar with spaghetti at the time, believed it. Faux advertisements, broadcasts and interviews eventually crop up as well. National Public Radio did a piece on how Richard Nixon was going to run for president in the 1992 race and used the voice of a man who sounded like Nixon. People were outraged, and thousands believed it.

Many companies have gotten in on the foolishness in recent years. The popular dating app Tinder once announced they put an end to men lying about their height on the app with a “height verification feature.” And Lego purportedly introduced a “Find My Brick” app to make building more efficient. Even National Geographic got in on the fun when, in 2016, the media company announced via Twitter that it would no longer be publishing photos of naked animals, stating “the media group will no longer degrade animals by showing photos of them without clothes.” Those who clicked through were greeted with “April Fools” and photos of adorably dressed puppies and kittens.

April Fools’ Day is an opportunity to have some lighthearted fun, even if that fun comes at the expense of others.

Fun Ways to Celebrate the Arrival of Spring

Spring is a season of rebirth in more ways than one. Spring is when certain animals emerge from hibernation, while many species lay eggs or give birth this time of year. Flowers and trees also bloom in spring, providing spectacular foliage and awe-inspiring color.

People also may feel like they have a new lease on life as they shake away the doldrums of winter and embrace longer hours of sunlight and warmer temperatures. The arrival of spring is worthy of celebration, and these activities and ideas can be enjoyable ways to spend the first day of spring.

Spend time outdoors

One is never too old for a picnic in a park or a bike ride along the trails. Spending time outdoors is beneficial because it exposes people to sunlight, which is a precursor to the development of vitamin D. Vitamin D affects muscles, joints and tissues. It also can affect mood.

Plant a tree

Honor the first day of spring, and Earth Day shortly thereafter, by planting trees. Trees provide habitats for wildlife, create shade, reduce air pollution by filtering the air, and produce oxygen. A sapling is a mangeable tree to plant and something children can do as well.

Enjoy spring crafts

Grab an inexpensive canvas and paint a landscape that is in full bloom. Use quick-set plaster to create stepping stones embedded with mosaic glass pieces for color that can be added to the backyard.

Host a spring potluck

Put fresh spring vegetables and fruits on display. Options include artichokes, apricots, asparagus, carrots, dandelion greens, and radishes. Put together a pasta primavera, which essentially is a spring pasta dish laden with fresh vegetables.

Decorate with flowers

Bring fresh flowers indoors and put them on display in vases or table centerpieces. Cut stems on a 45-degree angle underwater to help flowers last longer. In addition, choose floral themed curtains and throw pillows to add some spring decor.

Create a water feature

The sound and sights of cascading water can be both relaxing and picturesque. A water feature can be something as simple as a small fountain or more elaborate like a koi pond.

Spring is a time of year when people can enjoy seasonal activities that make the most of the warmer weather and blooming landscape.

How to Contribute to the Red Cross

The American Red Cross and the Canadian Red Cross help communities in their own countries and across the globe every day. The Red Cross is perhaps most visible in the aftermath of natural disasters. However, the American Red Cross and the Canadian Red Cross are active year-round, and there are plenty of ways for individuals to contribute to both organizations throughout the year.

Receive training from the Red Cross

The Red Cross notes that many professions require individuals to master lifesaving skills such as CPR and first aid. But millions of people are not required to learn such skills, even though they’re useful for anyone. The Red Cross offers an array of courses, including lifeguarding, caregiving and babysitting, swimming and water safety, that train individuals about how to effectively prepare to respond to emergencies. Enrolling in these courses contributes to the mission of the Red Cross by building its potential base of qualified volunteers who can pitch in when natural disasters or other emergencies occur.

Donate blood

Blood donations are uniquely valuable to the Red Cross at any time, but the organization noted in early 2022 that it was experiencing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade. The Red Cross notes that the pandemic contributed to a 62 percent decline in college and high school blood drives. So while student donors made up roughly 25 percent of all donors in 2019, they now make up just 10 percent of the donor population. Eligible adults, including students, can contribute to the Red Cross by donating as often as possible. Students back on campus can work with school officials and local Red Cross chapters to organize blood drives in their school communities.

Pitch in with disaster relief

The American Red Cross notes that it responds to an emergency every eight minutes. Perhaps most remarkable is that 95 percent of the organization’s disaster relief workers are volunteers. The American Red Cross and the Canadian Red Cross rely on volunteers from all walks of life, and each organization has plenty of opportunities for individuals willing to give back. Learn more about volunteering at www.redcross.org and www.redcross.ca.

Contribute financially

The work of the Red Cross continues after the emergency phase of a response has ended. The Red Cross provides emergency financial assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but also offers such aid to households that need extra help in the long-term. The financial contributions of donors help make that assistance possible and both the American Red Cross and the Canadian Red Cross have made it easy to donate funds via their respective websites.

Individuals who want to assist the American Red Cross and Canadian Red Cross help those in need can do so in myriad ways.

Advancements in Livestock Technology

Consumer demand drives changes in the industry, and the agricultural sector is no exception. Consumer demands for improved animal welfare have led to changes in the livestock sector, and various technologies have been developed and are in development to help this particular segment of the agricultural industry thrive.

According to the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit, various startups have developed technologies that can make the livestock industry more sustainable and efficient.

Treatment

The Israeli firm Armenta has developed a non-antibiotic treatment for bovine mastitis that utilizes acoustic pulse technology. The treatment has a 70 percent cure rate.

Another firm working to treat livestock is the United States-based General Probiotics. Animal AgTech reports that General Probiotics develops cellbots and antimicrobial probiotics that eliminate harmful pathogens in livestock. That can reduce dependency on antibiotics and make food production safer.

Welfare

Faromatics, a firm based in Spain, has combined robotics, artificial intelligence and big data to improve animal welfare and farm productivity. One Faromatics product utilizes a robot suspended from a ceiling to monitor certain variables, including equipment function and health and welfare, that affect broiler chickens.

The American firm Swinetech utilizes voice recognition and computer vision technology in its SmartGuard product to prevent piglet deaths from crushing and starvation. The product also makes it possible to track and facilitate obstetrical assistance.

Operations

Based in Uganda, Jaguza Tech has developed a livestock management system that utilizes sensors, data science and machine learning to improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of modern farm operations. Farmers can utilize Jaguza to perform a host of functions, including monitoring their animals’ health and identifying their livestock.

The Netherlands-based H2Oalert is a water control management system that checks the quality and quantity of cattle drinking water in real time. The management system also checks for pollution and malfunctions in the water supply.

Livestock technology continues to advance, and firms across the globe are developing new products and platforms to help livestock farmers make their operations more efficient, sustainable and productive.

Keep Groundhogs Out of the Garden

Groundhogs take center stage on February 2nd. Individuals across the country anxiously await the news of whether one of these furry fellows sees his shadow or not – the latter indicating that an early spring is on the horizon.

Once Groundhog Day has come and gone, the humble groundhog regains its status as unwanted intruder.

Groundhogs invade lawns and gardens in search of fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants. Groundhogs also can make extensive burrows under the soil ripping up the landscape and potentially threatening the foundation of a home. Keeping groundhogs at bay is a goal for many homeowners, and the following are some simple ways to do just that.

Make sure it’s a groundhog

Before taking any steps to repel groundhogs, first make sure it’s really these fuzzy critters who are wreaking havoc. Signs of a groundhog infestation include:

· Feathery tops of carrots have been removed.

· A large hole, around 10 to 12 inches wide, under or near a storage shed or other structure with mounds of dirt outside of it.

· Tomatoes with large bites taken out of them.

· Newly damaged plants noticed in the afternoon (deer eat garden plants at night).

· Wide teeth marks on plants and bark.

· Tracks in the dirt that show four-clawed toes on the front paws and five on the back.

Once you’ve determined it’s a groundhog that is causing damage, you can try these strategies to keep them away.

· Harvest your garden frequently to remove opportunities for groundhogs to prey on produce. They’re particularly attracted to cantaloupes, cabbage, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and corn. They also like the tender greens from lettuce. Consider using raised garden beds so groundhogs will not have easy access.

· Groundhogs prefer camouflage around their burrows. Mow the lawn, pull weeds and clean up brush piles to deter groundhogs.

· Keep groundhogs from burrowing under structures by burying chicken wire a foot underground and bending it at 90-degree angles away from structures or the garden.

· Apply safe repellents that use essential oils or flavors and scents that groundhogs do not like. Epsom salt is believed to repel groundhogs.

· Call animal control to have a groundhog relocated. Animal trapping professionals can live trap and release a groundhog elsewhere. Don’t try to trap a groundhog yourself, as they can be feisty and bite or scratch if scared.

Groundhogs may be heroes for a day in February, but they quickly take a heel turn when they start to damage yards. Getting groundhogs under control can help.

How to Plan a Safe New Year’s Eve Night Out

New Year’s Eve is a popular night to paint the town red. That popularity could skyrocket even further as the world says goodbye to 2021 and ushers in 2022.

Many cities and millions of individuals toned down their New Year’s Eve shenanigans a year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic made it hard to celebrate safely. But the rollout of three effective vaccines has beckoned revelers out of their homes, and that could make for an especially rowdy New Year’s Eve.

Fun might be the top priority on New Year’s Eve, but safety must be in the mix as well. As individuals make plans for a night out this New Year’s Eve, it can help to keep these safety tips in mind.

Utilize a car service

Whether it’s a ridesharing service like Uber, a taxi cab or even a private limousine for large parties, leave the New Year’s Eve driving to the professionals. This ensures that no one will drive after having too much to drink. Even revelers who can control their alcohol consumption should avoid driving if they plan to drink. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a person need not be legally impaired to experience impairment. Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 are considered to be legally impaired. But the NHTSA reports that a BAC of .05 can reduce coordination, lead to a reduced ability to track moving objects, make it difficult to steer, and produce a slower-than-normal response to emergency driving situations.

Go out for dinner first

Experts at the University of Notre Dame’s McDonald Center for Student Well-Being note that having food, especially foods that are high in protein, in your stomach prior to consuming alcohol will help slow the processing of that alcohol. Someone who has not eaten will typically hit a peak BAC between 30 minutes and two hours of drinking. But someone who has eaten will typically peak between one and six hours of drinking depending on the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Make a plan

Overconsumption of alcohol is not the only potential danger lurking on New Year’s Eve. Large crowds can make it easier for friends to become separated, especially if they plan to visit more than one establishment before or after the clock strikes 12. When going out with a group on New Year’s Eve, create an itinerary, complete with meet-up spots, for the entire night. This ensures anyone who gets lost can easily find his or her way back to the group. Individuals who are wandering alone on New Year’s Eve may be vulnerable to criminals who are looking to prey on people whose inhibitions have been lowered by alcohol and/or the festive atmosphere of the night.

A rowdy New Year’s Eve may be on tap as the world ushers in 2022. That likelihood only underscores the importance of emphasizing safety when going out this December 31.

Last-minute Holiday Shopping Tips

Some people thrive by doing all of their tasks early. Others seem to do their best work when faced with a time crunch. The methods individuals use to manage their time at work and play may extend to the ways they approach holiday shopping as well.

There’s no right or wrong way to handle holiday shopping tasks, though Christmas Eve crowds at malls and throughout shopping districts suggest that there’s more late comers than there are early birds. The following tips can help those who typically wait until the last minute to check names off their lists.

Utilize free shipping services

Shoppers who shop for gifts online at the last minute run the risk of gifts not arriving on time. Many online retailers charge a premium for expedited shipping. Try to stick to shopping at online retailers that offer free shipping even in the eleventh hour.

Create a budget

When rushing around from store to store, it may be easy to spend more than you want to. Make a list of how much you want to spend on each person, and stick to that limit for each person. Move on to the next store if you didn’t find what you need in your price range.

Establish a time limit

Stores have strategies in place to keep shoppers in their establishments longer, hoping you’ll make impulse buys. These tricks include scenting the air with inviting aromas, putting necessities at the rear of the store, failing to display the time, and putting discounted items by the registers or door to attract shoppers. Set an alarm on your watch or phone for each store so you get what you need and get out on time.

Subdivide bulk gifts

Think about purchasing bulk gifts like gift baskets from wholesale clubs and then breaking them down into individual gifts. This way you can gift several people on one purchase and save time in the process.

Choose one-size-fits-all gifts

Think about a gift that can be purchased for multiple people so you can save time shopping for individualized gifts for everyone. For example, print a personalized photo calendar for several members of your family. You also can purchase multiple subscriptions or memberships to zoos or magazines for people on your list. Streamlining gifting in this way may save money as well as time.

Choose in-store pickup

Rather than scouring various aisles, you can shop a retailer’s website and then pick up items in the store. You’ll save on potential shipping fees but still benefit by avoiding crowds.

Some people wait until the last minute to do their holiday shopping. A few tricks of the procrastinator’s trade can make last-minute shopping go smoothly.