Tag: tips

18 Ideas for Making Holiday Memories

Counting down to Christmas Day means many different things to people across the globe. Although families likely have several different traditions they anticipate each year, it can be fun to incorporate some new merrymakers into the festivities.

Here are some festive ideas to include in the days leading up to Christmas — a special family calendar of fun finds.

1. Annual memento

Have the kids or adults make one new handmade ornament each year. This way the tree is always evolving, and everyone can track milestones.

2. Cookie day

Devote one day to making Christmas cookies. Invite friends or family members over. Distribute some cookies to elderly neighbors.

3. Holiday classic

Spend a night in and watch a classic Christmas flick you’ve never seen before. Streaming movie services often put classics and obscure titles into rotation during the holiday season.

4. Christmas concert

Host a gathering of children where they can sing or perform their favorite tunes for an audience. Take it on the road to a nearby nursing home.

5. Dine out

Take a break from cooking, shopping and hosting and stop into a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. Keep it local to support nearby businesses.

6. Adopt a child/family

Volunteer with a charitable organization that provides for less fortunate families. Answer the Christmas desires of a needy child or family by purchasing an item on their wish lists.

7. See the sights

Pack the children into the family car to tour nearby areas and look at Christmas lights displays. Bring along cookies and hot chocolate.

8. Trim a tree

Get together with adult friends at a tree-trimming party. Rotate the hosting house each year.

9. Play dress-up

A gentleman can dress up as the man in red and pop into a friend’s holiday gathering.

10. Wilderness walk

Enjoy the crisp air and snow and see a local park from a winter perspective.

11. Acts of kindness

Choose any act of kindness and make it happen this Christmas. It can include feeding the hungry or helping a disabled person shop for the season.

12. Kids’ Secret Santa

Spread the joy of giving by having the kids choose a sibling or friend’s name from a hat and purchasing or making a gift for that person.

13. Hand out hot chocolate

Make a big thermos of hot chocolate and give it out to shoppers or workers who have been out in the cold.

14. Read religious stories

Understand the true meaning of the season by reading Biblical passages.

15. Camp-in

The first night the tree is decorated, allow the kids to sleep beside it under the glow of Christmas lights.

16. Scavenger hunt

Plan holiday-themed trivia questions and hide small trinkets for children to find.

17. Surprise box

Put a gender and age nonspecific gift into a box. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the person who finds a hidden gift tag under their chair at dinner gets to open the box.

18. Family portrait

Wear your holiday finery and pose for a portrait that actually will be printed and framed.

Fall Lawn Care Tips

Spring and summer may be the seasons most often associated with landscaping and lawn care, but tending to lawns and gardens is a year-round job.

If lawn and garden responsibilities dip considerably in winter, then fall is the last significant chance before the new year that homeowners will have to address the landscaping around their homes. Fall lawn care differs from spring and summer lawn care, even if the warm temperatures of summer linger into autumn.

Homeowners who want their lawns to thrive year-round can take advantage of the welcoming weather of fall to address any existing or potential issues.

Keep mowing

BUT adjust how you mow. It’s important that homeowners continue to mow their lawns so long as grass is growing. But as fall transitions into winter, lower the blades so the grass is cut shorter while remaining mindful that no blade of grass should ever be trimmed by more than one-third. Lowering the blades will allow more sunlight to reach the grass in the months ahead.

Remove leaves as they fall

Much like apple-picking and foliage, raking leaves is synonymous with fall. Some homeowners may wait to pick up a rake until all of the trees on their properties are bare.

However, allowing fallen leaves to sit on the ground for extended periods of time can have an adverse effect on grass. Leaves left to sit on the lawn may ultimately suffocate the grass by forming an impenetrable wall that deprives the lawn of sunlight and oxygen.

The result is dead grass and possibly even fungal disease. Leaves may not need to be raked every day, but homeowners should periodically rake and remove leaves from their grass, even if there are plenty left to fall still hanging on the trees.

Repair bald spots

Summer exacts a toll on lawns in various ways, and even homeowners with green thumbs may end up with a lawn filled with bald spots come September. Autumn is a great time to repair these bald spots. Lawn repair mixes like Scotts® PatchMaster contain mulch, seed and fertilizer to repair bald spots, which can begin to recover in as little as seven days.

Before applying such products, remove dead grass and loosen the top few inches of soil. Follow any additional manufacturer instructions as well.

Aerate the turf

Aerating reduces soil compacting, facilitating the delivery of fertilizer and water to a lawn’s roots. While many homeowners, and particularly those who take pride in tending to their own lawns, can successfully aerate their own turf, it’s best to first have soil tested so you know which amendments to add after the ground has been aerated. Gardening centers and home improvement stores sell soil testing kits that measure the pH of soil, but homeowners who want to test for nutrients or heavy metals in their soil may need to send their samples to a lab for further testing.

Fall lawn care provides a great reason to spend some time in the yard before the arrival of winter.

Tips for a Healthy School Year

Students are most likely to get sick when school starts because being at school put children’s immune systems to the test, offers The Mayo Clinic. Young children who are in close proximity to others in large groups tend to spread organisms like bacteria and viruses that cause illness. Breaking the cycle can take some work, but it’s possible to make this a healthy school year.

Encourage handwashing

Frequent handwashing is a great way to prevent illness. Handwashing habits are essential for school-aged children and should be taught as soon as possible. Children should wash their hands after they use the bathroom and before they eat. If they’ve been playing outside or have interacted with children who are sick, handwashing can help remove some of the germs lingering on their hands. Antibacterial wipes are another option, but they may not be as effective as washing hands with warm, soapy water.

Stop (some) sharing

Sharing develops good manners and can foster new friendships. But children should be discouraged from sharing food, drinks and other personal items. Once the item has been placed in a child’s mouth, it should not be shared.

Take a sick day

Rare is the student who will never come down with an illness. When kids get sick, keep them at home. Schools may have guidelines indicating when it is acceptable for children to return to school, and it’s important that parents adhere to those guidelines so illnesses cannot spread around the school.

Promote adequate sleep and nutrition

While adults may need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, children often require more. The National Sleep Foundation recommends eight to 13 hours of sleep a night for school-aged children. Begin adjusting sleep schedules during the latter part of summer vacation so that children can readjust to their regular sleep schedules. Parents also should feed kids nutritious diets consisting of a variety of foods. Avoid high-calorie junk foods, reserving such items only as special treats every so often.

Donate cleaning supplies

Some schools may be underfunded and may not have enough supplies to keep all of the classrooms and surfaces clean. Parents can help by donating cleaning wipes and sprays so that students and teachers can thrive in clean, healthy environments.

Get The Facts on Life Insurance Policies

Few people want to face their own mortality when they are in the prime of their lives. However, thinking ahead and making advanced plans can save family members considerable heartache. Life insurance policies can help men and women make things easier for their spouses, children or siblings. Life insurance provides financial security in the event of a person’s death. Such insurance is a key element of estate planning and something all adults must consider. It’s smart to purchase life insurance at a relatively young age because the cost can be lower. Some people put off the process because it can be overwhelming. But Forbes magazine advises that once a person does a little research and learns the terminology associated with life insurance, choosing a policy is not so difficult.

Determine the amount of insurance you will need.
Make a list of expected expenses after you pass away. These may include any residual mortgage payments, school tuitions, automotive payments, or funeral expenses. In addition, approximate how much your family will need to live comfortably in your absence. Online calculators can help determine life insurance coverage needs. The New York Life Insurance Company says a quick way to figure out how much coverage you may need is to take your annual salary and multiply it by eight.

Decide on the type of policy.
Life insurance policies come in two broad categories: term and whole life. Term life insurance may be less expensive upfront, as it only provides coverage for a set number of years. It will only pay out if the policy holder dies during this “term.” Whole life insurance, also called “cash value,” usually costs more, but accumulates a cash value that can be borrowed against, and it pays out whenever a person passes away.

Choose among reputable companies.
You want to ensure the life insurance company you pick will be around for years and has a strong reputation, so give ample consideration to each company you explore before making a final decision.

Know the waiting period.
Many policies establish a period of time on policies wherein there is very little cash-out value and the company will not pay out the full death benefit. This may be a year or two after opening the policy. Discuss this information with the insurance agent. Life insurance can be a smart financial choice, helping men and women rest easy that their families will want for nothing in the wake of their deaths.

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How to Stay Safe on Wintry Roads

Many people will remember the winter of 2013-14 for all the wrong reasons. Record low temperatures and heavy snowfall were the story last winter. With winter now on the horizon once again, many motorists are looking for ways to ensure their daily commutes or holiday trips to visit family and friends are as safe as possible.

When wintry conditions, including snowfall, compromise driving conditions, it’s best for motorists to stay home. But avoiding roadways altogether is not always an option, so motorists who simply must venture out onto the roadways this winter can employ the following strategies to ensure they safely arrive at their destinations.

  • Consider winter tires. Many drivers are unsure if they need winter tires. All-season tires may suffice for those drivers who live in regions where heavy snowfall is uncommon. But winter tires are designed to perform when the temperatures are especially cold and in driving conditions featuring ice, slush and snow. Drivers who live in regions where snowfall is significant or even expected to be significant may want to install winter tires just to be on the safe side. Some drivers mistakenly believe that vehicle features such as anti-lock braking systems and traction control make their tires more capable of handling wintry roads. But such features do not provide more traction. ABS and traction control only prevent drivers from over-braking or overpowering the traction of their tires. Only better tires will improve traction.
  • Drive slowly. Many drivers mistakenly believe they only need to drive slow when snow is falling. But winter weather can make roadways unsafe even in areas that have not witnessed a single snowflake fall from the sky. Wet winter roads can quickly turn into icy winter roads, and no ABS system or traction control device can prevent a car that’s traveling too fast from skidding out. Poor visibility is another reason to drive slowly in winter. Peripheral vision is often compromised when driving in winter, as dirt, salt or sand buildup on windshields and side windows and mirrors can make it hard for motorists to fully view their surroundings. Even if your vision is not compromised, a fellow motorist’s might be. So ease up on the gas pedal in winter so you have more time to react to potentially adverse conditions.
  • Don’t drive too closely to other motorists. In addition to driving slowly, motorists also should leave extra room between their vehicles and the vehicles in front of them. In such conditions, for every 10 miles per hour drive a minimum of four car lengths behind the motorist in front of you. So if you are driving 50 miles per hour, be sure to leave 20 car lengths between you and the car ahead of you. This gives you ample time to react and builds in some extra response time should your visibility be compromised.
  • Maintain your vehicle. A vehicle should be maintained regardless of the season, but it’s especially important that your vehicle perform at its peak in winter. A vehicle’s battery and windshield wipers are a winter driver’s best friend, but only if they are operating at optimal capacity. Being stranded on a roadside in winter is more dangerous than in any other time of year. That’s because driver visibility is more compromised in winter, and it can be hard for motorists to see or avoid vehicles on the side of the road. Maintain proper fluid levels and make sure your battery is charged and the gas tank is full before making any winter trips.

Wintry conditions often make driving especially hazardous. But drivers who adopt certain habits when driving in winter can greatly reduce their risk of accidents.

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Get a Head-Start on Tax Season

While the deadline to file returns may be several months away, getting a head-start allows men and women the chance to organize their tax documents so they aren’t racing against a deadline come April. The following are a handful of ways to start preparing for your returns now.

The dawn of a new calendar year often marks the end of the sometimes hectic holiday season. This time of year marks a return to normalcy for many families, as the kids go back to school and parents return to work.

The beginning of January also serves as a great time to start preparing for tax season. While the deadline to file returns may be several months away, getting a head-start allows men and women the chance to organize their tax documents so they aren’t racing against a deadline come April.

Ways to Start Preparing for your Returns Now

  • Find last year’s return. You will need information from last year’s return in order to file this year, so find last year’s return and print it out if you plan to hire a professional to work on your return.
  • Gather dependents’ information. While you might know your own Social Security number by heart, if you have dependents, you’re going to need their information as well. New parents or adults who started serving as their elderly parents’ primary caretakers over the last year will need their kids’ and their folks’ social security numbers. If you do not have these numbers upon filing, your return will likely be delayed and you might even be denied potentially substantial tax credits.
  • Gather your year-end financial statements. If you spent the last year investing, then you will have to pay taxes on any interest earned. Interest earned on the majority of savings accounts is also taxable, so gather all of your year-end financial statements from your assorted accounts in one place. Doing so will make filing your return, whether you do it yourself or work with a professional, go more quickly.
  • Speak with your mortgage lender. Homeowners should receive forms documenting their mortgage interest payments for the last year, as the money paid in interest on your home or homes is tax deductible. If these forms are not received in a timely manner, speak with your lender. You might even be able to download them from your lender’s secure website.
  • Make a list of your charitable contributions. Charitable contributions, no matter how small, are tax deductible. While it’s easiest to maintain a list of all charitable donations you make as the year goes on, if you have not done that, then you can make one now. Look for receipts of all contributions, contacting any charities you donated to if you misplaced any receipts.
  • Book an appointment with your tax preparation specialist now. As April 15 draws closer, tax preparers’ schedules get busier and busier. The earlier you book your appointment, the more likely you are to get a favorable time for that meeting. In addition, if you have gathered all of the information you need by early February, then booking your appointment early means you can file earlier and receive any return you might be eligible for that much quicker.

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