September in the garden

It’s been a long, hot summer, and, we don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for fall. The cooler weather makes it more enjoyable to do the things we like to do, such as gardening.

The only problem is that the days are starting to get shorter. But, hey, that’s a small price to pay to be rid of the heat.

September ushers in a host of gardening chores, so let’s get to them.

September lawn care

Treat your lawn to a spa day by aerating and dethatching it. In fact, September is the ideal time for this task because “lawns are less susceptible to weeds and crabgrass,” at this time, according to Andrew LeVahn with Levahn Brothers in Maple Grove, MN.

A core aerator can be rented at the big home improvement stores. A core aerator will provide more oxygen to the lawn’s roots.

Not all lawns require dethatching. You’ll know if yours does by checking the thatch layer. “Poke around the grass until you find the brown layer near the bottom of the grass blade,” suggests Robert Pavlis, author of “Garden Myths.”

“With your finger or a stick, poke a hole through the brown layer to the top of the soil. Measure the thickness of the thatch,” he concludes. The ideal thickness of a thatch layer is ½ inch.

Remove excess thatch with a vertical mower or power rake. Then, give the grass a good soaking (with at least ½ inch of water) after dethatching and aerating.

If the lawn is looking a bit thin, consider spreading fresh seed. A thick lawn helps deter weed growth. Then, at the end of September or early October you can throw some 3-1-2 fertilizer down. Wait six to eight weeks and then apply more fertilizer, according to LeVahn.

Clean up the planting beds

Get rid of dying or dead annuals and replace them with fall-hardy varieties, such as pansies, snapdragons and ornamental kale.

Perennials, such as canna, can be divided now unless you plan on storing them. If so, wait until after the first frost to dig them up.

In the vegetable bed, clear any debris from the soil. This includes fallen fruit and vegetables, leaves, and other items under or in which pests and disease organisms can overwinter.

Add compost to the soil if you’ll be planting late-season vegetables. Otherwise, this is a good time to apply a weed-control product.

“ … weeds are storing up nutrients in their roots and quickly absorb the herbicide where it counts,” according to Julie Day at todayshomeowner.com. The site offers a helpful video on targeting weeds with weed killer so that you don’t damage nearby plants.

Shrubs and Trees

Fall is an excellent time to plant many types of trees and shrubs. Anything you’ll be growing in a container can be planted now as well.

Then, turn your attention to the existing trees and shrubs in your yard. Get rid of any that are dead or dying. Avoid pruning and fertilizing now as you want to avoid new growth that may be damaged when the weather turns frosty.

Clean up the beds under the trees, removing twigs, branches, fruit and flowers.

Tips to help you paint like a pro

Paint is the miracle cure for a home that needs freshening. It not only adds color, but, if the color is chosen strategically, it can make rooms appear larger, smaller and even cleaner.

The best part of painting as a home improvement project is that you can control costs by doing it yourself. The worst part is how much preparation is involved before you can put roller to wall. But, it’s critical that you prepare properly – it’s what sets you up for success.

Don’t head out to the paint store just yet. First, take a look at our list of what you’ll need.

What you’ll need:

Depending on the condition of your walls, you may not need to purchase this entire list.

  • Measuring tape
  • Plastic tarps
  • Canvas drop cloth or rosin paper
  • Painter’s tape or liquid masking tape (for windows and trim)
  • Spackling compound and spatula
  • Fine grit sanding paper
  • Sanding pole (optional)
  • Bucket of soapy water
  • Paint primer (optional)
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes and roller or paint sprayer
  • 5-gallon bucket with roller grid or a paint tray
  • 4- or 8-foot painter’s pole (for ceiling work)
  • Paint brushes

Preparation is key

You’ll need to know how much paint to purchase, so measure the area carefully. Start with the longest wall first, and “square that number for the ceiling,” recommends James Glave, of This Old House.

How to measure

Then, take that longest wall’s measurement and multiply it by its height, then multiply the result by four. Glave suggests that you double the number if you’ll be applying two coats. Or, you can wing it and use the rule of thumb (one gallon for each 400 square feet) or use a paint calculator, like the one at glidden.com or lowes.com.

Then, figure out whether you’ll use a roller or sprayer. To help you decide, read the results of Popular Mechanic’s “Brush & Roller vs. Paint Sprayer” tests.

Now you’re ready to go shopping for all the supplies you’ll need (see the list, above).

Pre-painting prep

On painting day, push any furniture that you won’t be removing to the middle of the room and throw the tarp over the top, ensuring that everything is covered. For extra protection, tape the bottom of the tarp to the floor.

Then, use the canvas drop cloths to cover the floor. The pros recommend canvas over plastic for several reasons:

  • They remain in place better
  • Paint spills dry quicker
  • They aren’t as slippery as plastic drop cloths

Canvas can be slippery, however on vinyl, hardwood and tile floors, so the pros at familyhandyman.com recommend rosin paper (available at home centers) to cover hard floors.

Next, you’ll want to protect any areas of the wall that you won’t be painting. This is where the painter’s tape comes in. Use it to cover electrical outlets and baseboards. The pros recommend that after you apply the tape “… over the wood, then run a putty knife over the top to press down the tape for a good seal,” according to Brett Martin at popularmechanics.com.

Discover the different uses for painter’s tape and how to use it with Ace Hardware’s handy video.

Liquid masking tape is ideal for protecting the glass in windows from spattered paint. Watch Mauro Henrique, painter for This Old House, apply it in this video.

Fill in holes and indentations in the wall with spackling compound. True Value Hardware offers a spackling walkthrough on its website.

Now it’s time to use that sanding paper to even out the spackle and other rough surfaces on the wall. Sanding also helps the new paint to adhere better. Attach the sanding paper to a sanding pole to make the job easier. Although these tools can be pricey, there are inexpensive ones available at the large home improvement stores.

The pros recommend that you sand the wall from the baseboards up to the ceiling and then horizontally at the baseboard and the ceiling.

“Don’t put a lot of pressure on the sanding pole or the head can flip over and damage the wall, Martin cautions.

Finally, use that bucket of soapy water to wash down the walls, ridding them of dust and any grime left after sanding. Allow the walls to dry completely before painting.

If you’ll be using primer, which is recommended if you need to cover crazy colors, stains or block odors (KILZ is one brand that is popular for odors), now is the time to apply it. By the way, Consumer Reports claims that their highest-rated paints include primer, so priming the wall before painting has become an unnecessary step.

Let’s get painting

What type of paint will you need?  Choosing the color is just the first step. You’ll also need to determine the best sheen for your situation. Consumer Reports offers a tutorial on the various paint sheens and the best projects for each.

Then you’ll be faced with a choice between oil-based and latex paint. Learn the differences at hgtv.com.

Most painting pros recommend that you start your painting project with the ceiling. From there, you’ll find varying recommendations ranging from saving the trim for last to doing it before the walls, right after or just before the ceiling is painted.

The pros at familyhandyman.com are among the paint-the trim-first gang, claiming it’s much easier to paint the trim before the walls. Since you will be covering anything you slop on the walls with wall paint later on, “you don’t have to be neat” when painting the trim, they say.

Know which types and sizes of brushes are appropriate for your situation. Once you get to the paint department the selection will boggle your brain. Sherwin-Williams offers a paint brush selection guide that will help you choose.

Tip: Pour paint from the can into a bucket or other container. This avoids transferring dust and dirt from the brush to the fresh can of paint.

“Once the trim is completely painted and dry (at least 24 hours), tape it off (using an ‘easy release’ painter’s tape),” they conclude.

If you’ve opted for using a roller rather than a paint sprayer on the walls, you’ll need either a 5-gallon bucket with a roller grid or a paint tray to hold the paint. Pros recommend the former and you can learn why at thisoldhouse.com.

Learn how to choose a roller at purdy.com.

If you need additional DIY painting tips, check out this brilliant video produced by This Old House.

Your baby nursery is beyond cute — but is it safe?

The reality that you’re bringing a new life into the world is never more evident than when the nurse rolls the bassinet into the delivery room, right?

It’s at that moment that you realize (between contractions, most likely), that without a doubt, you’ll soon be a parent.

It may also be when you begin to question whether you’re ready. In all the excitement of choosing paint colors for the nursery and shopping for baby paraphernalia, did you miss something important?

Bringing baby home, at least for first-time parents, is joyous, but it can also be stressful. After all, books can only tell us so much about caring for infants. Reality is the real teacher.

So, let’s get rid of some of that stress by ensuring your home is a safe and welcoming place for the new addition to your family.

The best nursery is a safe nursery

Did you know that babies cry more in yellow rooms? The color apparently “activates the anxiety center of the brain,” Carlton Wagner, director of Wagner Institute for Color Research, tells Ava Van de Water, Cox News Service.

“In infants, it results in crying. In adults, it results in shortness of temper. We notice a lot of fighting,” in yellow rooms, he said.

You may want to keep that in mind when choosing the color scheme for the infant’s nursery. And, maybe the master bedroom as well.

More important than color, however, is the paint’s chemistry. It could be one of several sources of air pollution in the home. To be safe, choose a water-based paint that has no VOCs, which is short for “volatile organic compounds.” Then, skip the primer as a base coat.

To make it even more complicated, the Federal Trade Commission cautions that you also choose a zero-VOC colorant.

“And while the base paint may be low-VOC or VOC-free, the colorant may be anything but. In fact, tinting can significantly increase the VOC level of a paint, depending on the color choice,” they warn.

“The bottom line: if you want low-VOC paint, look for low-VOC base paint and low-VOC colorant.”

But wait — there’s more. According to an Underwriter Laboratories study, “paint VOC content should not be used as a proxy for paint VOC emissions into indoor air, as there is no correlation between the two measures.”

If this is of particular concern to you, consider choosing paint from companies that specialize in baby-safe formulations, such as Bioshield, Lullaby Paints, Colorhouse Paints, Green Planet Paints and Ecos Paints.

Read the labels carefully and compare the ingredients to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) database at msdsonline.com, msdsprovider.com and the Environmental Health and Safety Department at the University of California.

Airborne chemicals affect the smallest among us far quicker and easier than they do older children and adults. Sadly, they’re emitted not only by paint, but furnishings, household cleaning products and floorcoverings as well.

Most of the gasses are released from carpet within the first 72 hours after installation, but it will continue emitting gasses at lower levels for up to five years, according to the EPA. Suggested replacements include tile and hardwood, although there are newer versions of vinyl that boast low emissions.

Even the furnishings you choose for baby can be a source of toxic emissions. ABC News furnished a nursery for an expectant Mom and Dad and then brought in an indoor air quality technician to test the air.

The result? The lab results of the air in the nursery tested positive for a whopping 300 chemical compounds.

For comparison, they also tested the air right outside the home and found only two chemical compounds. Watch the video here.

From the crib mattress to the rocking chair, keep an eye out for non-toxic products when shopping for nursery furnishings. Avoid buying used cribs, look for GREENGUARD Gold Certification and avoid products made overseas. In 2015, for instance, nearly 5,000 cribs and other furniture manufactured in Chile were recalled when it was found they were painted with lead-based paint.

Learn more about making your nursery baby-safe at consumerreports.org and the U.S. Product Safety Commission.

5 Blogs for new homeowners

Although homeowners have been DIYing home improvement projects for more than a century, the growing popularity of HGTV has resulted in a surge of its popularity and an explosion of America’s home renovation and décor market.

Last year, Americans spent $314 billion to upgrade their homes and that number is expected to grow by 7.5 percent in 2018, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

While home improvement TV shows get a lot of the credit for the rise in DIY project popularity, don’t discount the contributions of the many expert bloggers who help us get the jobs done.

We’ve rounded up five of our favorites (posted in no particular order) that we feel every new homeowner should be following.

Vintage Revivals

One of the first things you’ll notice about Mandi Gubler of Vintage Revivals is that she is fearless. Take a look at the “home” she fell in love with and what it would take to get it where she wanted it and you’ll agree.

When she began blogging, she admits she knew nothing about decorating, and understands that her average follower may not either. She’s sure come a long way.

Redoing a 1973 Bell camper is impressive, but as far as we’re concerned, taking on “The Merc” (the home she bought) gives her serious DIY cred.

The next thing you’ll notice is that she’s brutally honest. The “DIY Gone Wrong” section of her site attests to that.

Finally, it’s her brilliant sense of humor that keeps us coming back. For instance, she decided that she wanted to compete with other bloggers so thought about transforming Vintage Revivals into more of a lifestyle blog. So, she started with fashion. See her hilarious post here.

Keep up with Mandi on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and on her YouTube channel.

Get Busy Gardening

Oh, how we love, love, love this blog! With so many DIY blogs dedicated to interior projects, and our love of the exteriors of our homes, this one sounded a note with us.

Although Minneapolis resident Amy Andrychowicz, creator and head honcho of Get Busy Gardening focuses on “DIY gardening for the beginner on a budget,” you’ll find lots of interesting tips for even the most experienced green thumber.

One of the things we like most about Amy’s blog is that it’s not only easy on the eyes, it’s a snap to navigate.

At Get Busy Gardening, the beginner can learn how to figure out your garden’s sun exposure, how to transplant and she offers garden plans to help you get started. And, if you crave yet more newbie information, check out her books on everything from propagation to pest control.

Follow Amy and Get Busy Gardening on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and on her YouTube channel.

Poppytalk

Earl Einarson and Jan Halvarson, the talent and brains behind Poppytalk, hail from north of the border (Vancouver, to be more specific). With more than 9 million followers and features in Wired, House and Home, InStyle and others, they must be doing something right.

First, Poppytalk isn’t a DIY blog, per se, but more of a curation of brilliant ideas. If you’re looking for inspiration, we suggest you start here. From Ikea hacks and how to create a jungle on your urban patio to where to buy summer-themed art, there is no shortage of ideas on how to decorate your new home.

Follow Poppytalk on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram.

Addicted 2 Decorating

If you’re addicted to room makeover before-and-after photos, you’ll love interior decorator Kristi Linauer’s blog.

Reupholstered wing-back chairs? See the brilliant before and afters here.

We love the variety of project walk-throughs Kristi offers, from how to clean an area rug and make your own stunning artwork, to a complete kitchen remodel.

She calls herself an interior-decorator-turned-blogger and Addicted 2 Decorating is dedicated to bringing you tips and tricks for low-cost decorating.

Follow Kristi’s DIY decorating escapades on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

Remodelaholic

Take one look at the “Projects” section at Remodelaholic and you’ll understand why we included this one on our list. Here, you can learn everything from edging your yard and painting a concrete patio to drywall installation.

The tutorial we like the best is DIY stains. Seriously – Cassity teaches us how to make stains from household items.

Cassity is a mom, a wife with a husband she describes as “a dream” and a brilliant DIY blogger. Follow her on Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

Prevent home repairs by breaking these 5 bad habits

“Deferred maintenance.” It’s a term that real estate professionals hear frequently. It describes a home that has been neglected and raises red flags concerning its condition.

Putting off routine home maintenance can not only lead to big, ugly, expensive problems down the line, it causes a significant loss of your home’s value when it comes time to sell.

Let’s take a look at five of the most common problems and all of them can be prevented by changing bad habits.

1. Kitchen drain abuse

Although it’s easy to assume that the garbage disposer can grind up just about anything you throw at it, use caution. Everything that you put down there will end up in the drain pipes. Some of it will exit with ease while other substances can sit, accumulate with others and cause a great-big headache of a clog.

Grease and oil are the most common culprits when it comes to clogged kitchen drains. Plumbers recommend pouring the grease into an old coffee can or something similar. Let it sit until it cools and congeals and then throw the container in the trash.

Garbage disposers don’t properly grind up certain fruit and vegetable peels, such as apples and potatoes. Peel them over a trash container instead.

Starchy foods, such as rice and pasta will swell with the addition of water and coffee grinds should never be poured down the drain.

In fact, according to the pros at atomicplumbing.com, “Nothing causes more blockages and clogged pipes than coffee grounds and grease. Even if you don’t put them down the drain at the same time, they’ll meet up and form a sludgy impenetrable nightmare.”

2. Neglecting the gutters

Whether it’s your fear of heights or because they’re easy to forget, the gutters around your home need your attention. When debris, such as leaves and twigs, builds up, it blocks the free flow of water. The water will back up and can damage both the exterior of your home and the roof’s eaves.

“If you let gutter cleaning go by the wayside, it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars,” Jeff Lambert with The Gutter Man in Houston tells angieslist.com.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to clean out the downspout as well. Lowe’s has produced a handy video that will walk you through the process.

Gutters should be cleaned out every three months, according to the experts.

3. Not replacing the AC filter

Allowing your HVAC filters to become clogged with fuzz can end up costing you a fortune.

“A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or ‘blow-out,’ resulting in no air infiltration at all,” according to Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko with the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

This causes the system to have to work harder and “any mechanical component that has to work harder to run efficiently puts undue stress on the whole system, which can lead to premature failure, resulting in repair or replacement,” they continue.

Here’s some incentive to help you remember to change the HVAC filter every month to three months: The average cost, nationwide, of a new air conditioning system is $5,369 (according to homeadvisor.com) and you can pick up a new filter for less than $1 at the big home improvement stores.

4. Taking the water heater for granted

We don’t know why, but one of the most common complaints of new homeowners is that the water heater broke down shortly after they moved into their home.

The purchase and installation of a new water heater averages to $1,048, nationwide. If the unit failed because of a burst pipe or leak, plan on paying an additional $4,000 (after the insurance deductible) or so to fix the damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

But, with a little maintenance you can extend the life of this oh-so-important appliance. Check out the video walk-through of water heater maintenance at thisoldhouse.com.

5. Ignoring plumbing leaks

Homeowners can save 10 percent on their water bills just by fixing leaks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But, that’s just the beginning of how much you’ll save.

Leaky plumbing allows moisture to seep into floors and walls and, if ignored long enough, can cause damage that may cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Some leaks are easy to diagnose (a dripping bathtub faucet for instance). Others may take a bit of sleuthing.

Plan on performing a routine inspection of the home’s plumbing system at least once a year. Check the toilets for worn flappers and check all under-the-sink valves for signs of moisture leakage.

To determine if your home has hidden leaks, the EPA recommends that you check your water usage “during a colder month, such as January or February. If a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, there are serious leaks.”

Another way of detecting hidden leaks is to jot down the reading on your water meter and then don’t use the water for two hours. Check the reading again. If there’s a change, you may have a leak.

Colorado’s Thornton Water Works offers a video to walk you through looking for hidden leaks.

3 ways to wreck your home’s value

As a homeowner you know that the best way to protect your home’s value is by maintaining it. And, when it comes time to sell it, you’ll find lots of ways to increase its value.

On the flip side, there are few folks willing to tell you how to wreck your home’s value. Until you met us, that is.

Use this list of tips as a cautionary tale – unless, of course, you really want a decrease in value.

 1. Convert your garage

More than half of homebuyers want a 2-car garage and 86 percent want a garage with storage, according to a survey conducted the National Association of Homebuilders.

So, although you may think of yours as wasted space or just an oversized junk drawer, carefully consider what a garage conversion can do to your home’s value.

A Sacramento appraiser found that homebuyers paid between 6 and 10 percent less on homes with no garage, regardless of what replaced it.

On a $200,000 home, that’s a loss of between $15,000 and $20,000.

Ouch

If you are thinking of selling the home, consider some garage upgrades that may increase its value and make it more attractive to homebuyers. These include:

  • A new garage door. According to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value” report, homeowners who installed a new garage door saw a 98.3 percent return on their investment.
  • Adding additional storage options, such as shelves and cabinets. Consider overhead storage, suspended from the ceiling, to utilize the wasted space above the cars. It’s quite popular and will catch a buyer’s eye.
  • Make the garage look brand new by power-washing the floor and applying an epoxy floor coating (This Old House offers a walk-through of the process). Then, paint the walls with a semi-gloss paint.

2. Don’t snitch to the HOA about bad neighbors

If your community is governed by a homeowners association, you pay dues. Even homeowners with low fees should expect their association to enforce its rules and regulations.

To not take advantage of their power when a neighbor is messing with your home’s value is just not smart. Consider becoming a “snitch” if any of the following occur in your neighborhood:

  • The hoarder: Nearby property that is cluttered with a homeowner’s junk can reduce your home’s value by 5 to 10 percent, according to the Appraisal Institute. If the exterior is extra-packed with debris, you may lose even more value.
  • The loud neighbor: Most associations have a noise ordinance in their rules, and for good reason. Not only are loud neighbors disruptive to other residents, but their (and their pets’) noise can reduce home values by another 5 to 10 percent.
  • Unsightly vehicles: Many HOAs prohibit residents from parking commercial vehicles, boats and large recreational vehicles on the property. If yours does, and a neighbor is violating the policy, contact your HOA and file a complaint.

3. Install a pool

In some parts of the country, such as Las Vegas and parts of Arizona, a pool adds value to a home. It may also add value if you live in a neighborhood where most of the other homes have pools.

In other regions and other neighborhoods it may or may not and in yet others, a pool is considered an expensive inconvenience and a liability and can drag down the value of your home.

Not only that, but a pool knocks some buyers out of contention. Unless it offers security features, the pool won’t be popular with families with young children.

Consider that the average cost for a complete pool installation will cost between $30,000 and $100,000 according to Jean Folger at Investopedia.com.

Then, in some states and municipalities, fences around the water feature are mandatory, so factor in that cost. Find out if yours is among them at signs.com.

Ongoing maintenance may cost a bundle as well. “The pump and heater, if you have one, could drive up your utility costs by $100 a month or so,” according to the folks at daveramsey.com.

“You’ll spend about $600 during the swimming season on chemicals if you maintain your pool yourself. If you live in a climate where you’ll use the pool year-round, budget $15–25 a week for DIY maintenance,” they continue.

If you must install a pool for your own enjoyment, keep in mind that it won’t pay for itself when you sell the home and you’ll likely take a hit on your home’s value.

No, these aren’t the only things that negatively impact a home’s value. Many of the others are out of your control. For those issues that are within your control, act on them.

Speak up and protect your investment when the airport decides to change flight paths, when something negative is about to impact the quality of your local school and when value-killing zoning changes are afoot.

Back-to-School: Are you Ready?

Back to pencils, back to books . . . we are getting closer to the day our students head back to class.

This means it’s time to start gearing up for the fall routine ― the back-to-school shopping for clothes and school supplies, getting used to a new sleeping schedule and trying to get a handle on those transportation issues.

Thankfully, we have some tips for you to help make the transition a bit easier.

Ease everyone into the fall routine

Think back to those first days of summer vacation. If you have teenagers, especially, you know that they went from waking to an alarm at the crack of dawn (at least to them) to snoozing half the day away without missing a beat.

Yanking them into the reality of fall isn’t easy. Ease them into it instead by starting the new schedule a week or two before school starts.

Set the alarm clock for the time they’ll need to rise to get to school on time and put them through the paces of a normal school morning with breakfast, making lunches and whatever else your family does to get ready for school in the morning.

Be extra attentive to the Kindergartener

I vividly recall my first day of Kindergarten. I remember feeling apprehensive, yet a little excited.

My father walked me to my classroom and then left. I followed him, screaming at the top of my lungs to him, begging him to not leave me there. I even recall reaching my pathetic little arms through a gate, coaxing him to come back for me.

For some kids, the very first day of school can be traumatic.

Easing them into what will become years of routine is important. A lot of their anxiety centers on the teacher and fellow students. So, meet this angst head-on by attending your school’s back-to-school night.

This way, your child can meet the teacher before classes start. And, there’s a good chance he or she will meet fellow students as well. When next they meet, during school hours, they’ll have a bit of recognition of one another, making it easier to break the ice.

Shopping Tips

Some shopping experts claim that parents should buy only enough clothes to last the first few weeks of the new school year. Why?

First, in around the middle of September, retailers hold sales. It’s the very best time to buy the bulk of your child’s school wardrobe.

Next, it will take your student a couple of weeks to determine the latest fashion and which items he or she wants to add to the wardrobe.

School supply shopping, on the other hand, has to be done before school starts. Many of our local schools post a supplies list on their websites which you can print off and take with you when you shop.

Take your child with you on the shopping trip. Not only will the trip result in buying what the child needs and wants, but it helps the little ones build excitement when you point out how each item will be used at school.

If you can’t afford the required supplies, contact the Kids in Need Foundation, a nationwide program that helps parents get what their kids need. Check the list of resources to find one near you.

If there isn’t a resource center in your area, contact the school’s or district’s social worker.

Getting back to school is a tough transition for both kids and parents but getting off to a strong start is critical to your child’s success. With your planning and support, your children will thrive during the school year.

Keep your home safe while on vacation

Planning for a vacation is distracting. Sitting at your desk at work, mentally going over what you’ll need to pack, visions of sandy beaches and cool water dancing in your brain – there’s not a lot of room to consider anything else.

But you need to make room

Crime rates increase about 10 percent during the months of June, July and August, according to the FBI and summer-on-the-brain and the distractions it causes most likely accounts for many of them.

So, before you pack another beach towel and bathing suit, take steps to protect your home from the burglars that may be lurking around your unoccupied home. 

Check all doors and windows

If you open your bathroom window to let the misty air out while bathing, don’t forget to lock it when you’re finished. Many Americans don’t remember, which is why most thieves check the bathroom window first, according to a convicted burglar, Jerome Gilgan.

“Bathroom windows have always been one of the best ways” to get into a home, he tells Kyle Iboshi, KGW News in Portland, Oregon.

Thirty-two percent of burglars gain entry to homes through an unlocked front door. But locking the door doesn’t guaranteed that you won’t become a victim.

If the door is locked, many burglars will check the most common places homeowners hide the key.

But, not finding the key doesn’t stop them. “If they know you’re not home, many thieves will simply kick in the door or remove it from its hinges,” according to the pros at Crime Prevention Security Systems.

Don’t let newspapers and mail pile up

Gilgan told KGW News that one of the things he looked for when casing which homes to burgle was overstuffed mailboxes. Hire a neighborhood kid to pick up your mail while you’re gone. Or, have the post office hold it for you.

Don’t forget to tell the newspaper delivery person to cease delivery for the period you’ll be out of town. A collection of newspapers in the driveway is a dead giveaway that nobody is home.

 

Mind your landscaping

Professional thief Michael Shayne Durden, who performed hundreds of burglaries in Texas over a period of 20 years says that one of the things he looked for when casing homes was overgrown lawns.

Durden focused on neighborhoods with well-maintained homes, so a home with an un-mowed lawn, is a “dead giveaway” the owner is on vacation, Durden admitted in a jailhouse interview by the Allen, TX police department.

Then there’s that privacy landscaping around the front of the house. Sure, it keeps out neighbors’ prying eyes, but it’s something that burglars are happy to see. Just like you, they don’t want neighbors watching them, so a home with lots of cover becomes a target.

Before leaving on vacation, have your gardener cut back anything that provides a screen between the street and your windows and doors. 

Leaving a light on isn’t enough

I “would drive through upper class neighborhoods looking for many things, like a porch light on with all window blinds closed,” one burglar inmate told KGW News.

Gilgan wholeheartedly agrees, saying that “keeping the blinds or drapes closed” while on vacation is one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make.

So, open the window coverings, and turn on some lights and the TV.

Other ways to deter burglaries

The best way to deter a burglary while you’re out of town is to make the home look occupied. One of the best ways to do that is by parking a car in the driveway. If you’ll be leaving your car at the airport, ask a neighbor to use your driveway while you’re away.

Install a wireless security system. “It’s a major deterrent,” according to Durden. When he sees signs for these systems implanted in front and backyards, he feels that “There’s no point in even going there.”

In fact, homes without security systems are three times more likely to be broken into, according to SecurAmerica, LLC.

Then, put a sign advertising the system (ensure that it says “wireless” on it) in both the front and back yards. 

Hide your valuables

The most commonly stolen items from a home include:

  • Cash
  • Prescription drugs
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics (TVs, gaming consoles, computers, iPads and smartphones
  • Firearms

Don’t hide any of these items in the master bedroom while you’re on vacation because it’s the first place a thief will look. “Put jewelry in your garage, and mix it in with your tools,” Durden suggests.

“Or, put it in the ceiling or in the attic.” Burglars are in a home for such a short period of time, these are places they typically don’t get to.

“People really need to pay attention to their offices,” Durden continued.

He’s found credit cards in home offices (which he then used at Walmart to buy popular electronics that he sold on the street) and financial records, including bank account numbers with routing numbers.

Before leaving on vacation, do a tour around the home, ensuring that doors and windows are locked and that valuables are hidden away.

Then, go and have some fun!

Do these 5 things as soon as you move into your new home

In all the excitement of moving and trying to get settled in the new home, the last thing you want is a honey-do list, right? Some things, however, shouldn’t be put off but need to be taken care of now.

So, push the boxes aside for a day or two and let’s get ‘er done!

1. Change the locks

Although this may seem like a no-brainer, changing the door locks on a new home is something many homebuyers neglect doing. Hey, when you consider all the little details that need attention, such as changing over the utilities, registering the kids in new schools and ensuring everyone has your new address, something is bound to fall through the cracks.

Since you don’t know exactly how many people have keys to the home and who they are, put this one at the top of your to-do list.

Unless you’re opting for a smart lock, changing the locks on a door is a common DIY project and costs very little.

2. Locate your home’s main water shutoff valve

Scrambling to figure out how to shut off the water in your new home wastes precious time in an emergency. Scout out the location of your main water shutoff valve now and share the location with other household members.

Unfortunately, there are a number of places that it could be located. In cold-climate areas you’ll typically find the water shutoff valve somewhere indoors, such as in the basement. In warmer weather regions it may be located outdoors or in the garage. If the home is on a slab foundation, check for the valve near the water heater.

3. Secure your home purchase paperwork

Before putting away all those documents you signed at closing, make copies of them and store them in a safe place, off-site. No, you may not need to refer to this paperwork, but then again, you may, so it’s a good idea to keep everything.

While you’re in the paperwork groove, consider purchasing an accordion file and use it to hold all the paperwork you’ll accumulate as a homeowner. This includes receipts for repairs and improvements, insurance information and warranties.

When it comes time to sell the home, you’ll be glad you have all of this important information in one place.

4. Open a new savings account

Yes, you paid a whole lot of money at the closing table, but that was just the beginning of what it costs to own a home. Routine maintenance and emergency repairs need to be factored in as well.

“No new homeowner, myself included, can ever feel fully prepared for the maintenance costs and renovation costs associated with homeownership,” Pamela Capalad, a Brooklyn NY financial planner tells NerdWallet.com.

But a savings account, dedicated specifically to pay for home maintenance and repairs can go a long way toward being prepared.

Most financial experts say to set aside 1 to 2 percent of the home’s value each year for both maintenance and repairs. For example, if your home is worth $250,000, you should dedicate from $2,500 to $5,000 a year.

Make it less painful by having a monthly amount (from about $210 to $420) automatically deducted from your pay and sent to the dedicated savings account.

Deferring routine maintenance may impact your home’s future value, by the way.

5. Replace your air filters

Changing an old HVAC filter just one time is enough to convince many of us to make changing them a routine. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Many homeowners neglect this inexpensive and easy home maintenance chore and end up breathing in that brown fuzz that clings to old filters.

Not only that, but they’re setting the entire system up for failure. “A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or ‘blow-out,’ resulting in no air infiltration at all,” according to Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko for the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).

Change the filter in a busy household with kids and pets once a month, otherwise you may be able to wait three months before installing a new one. Learn how to change the filter at thefamilyhandyman.com.

Win hearts at your next tailgate party: Margaritas for a crowd.

Sure, beer is the official beverage of the great American tailgate party. But it’s time to step out of the rut and add a little flair to this year’s festivities.

Every tailgate crew has that one person who has a signature tailgate dish. Well, this year it’s your turn to take the spotlight.

You’ll have people waiting all year for tailgating season just to wrap their lips around the salted rim of one of your frosty margaritas.

Whether your tailgate crowd is nibblin’ on sponge cake or somebody had the good sense to bring a huge platter of nachos, you, my friend will be toting the frozen concoction of everybody’s dreams.

History of the Margarita

It’s hard to believe, but there is nobody to thank for this classic Mexican cocktail. Yes, there are plenty of people that want the credit, but nobody is quite sure which one of them is the creator.

Back in the mid-1930s a bartender named Willie, from Matamoros, Mexico, was smitten with one of the bar’s regular customers. Her name was Marguerite Hemery. Legend has it that Willie concocted the first margarita in Hemery’s honor. But, if that’s so, why don’t we drink marguerites?

Then there was Danny Negrete, a bar owner who created the margarita as a wedding gift to his future sister-in-law. Another tale is that he made it for his girlfriend, who was fond of salt in her drinks.

Bastante Gutierrez is said to have created the margarita to honor his favorite actress: Margarita Cansino, whom we know as Rita Hayworth.

Finally, we have Francisco “Pancho” Morales, to whom the Mexican press gives credit for inventing the margarita. Seems a customer ordered a drink he’d never heard of. Rather than asking the lady what was in it, he created his own concoction. She loved it and it became the margarita.

Types of Tequila

At one time only wine and scotch and, more recently beer, had snooty aficionados. Today, tequila has joined those ranks. There are two main types of tequila: 100 percent agave and Mixto, which is a blend of at least 51 percent blue agave and other stuff – which varies according to manufacturer

These two types are further broken down into:

·        Silver, also known as blanco, white and platinum. This is pure blue agave; it’s clear but not aged.

·        Gold tequila is typically a mixto type of tequila, although there are exceptions. It’s also generally less expensive than the pure forms of tequila.

·        Reposado is a lightly aged agave – usually stored for between two and 11 months. Sometimes stored in wood barrels, the tequila may take on the flavor of the type of wood

·        Añejo is agave tequila that is aged for at least a year. Before pure agave tequila can bear the Añejo label it must be aged in barrels that hold a maximum of 600 liters. Añejo is a darker colored tequila.

·        If it’s aged more than three years it can be called Extra Añejo, for “ultra aged.” Barrel capacity requirements are the same as for añejo. After aging, the tequila is quite dark in color and extremely smooth. This is definitely a sippin’ tequila.

Concoct It, My Friend

The basic margarita mix, according to the drink masters at Jose Cuervo, contains tequila, Cointreau (a high-end brand of triple sec), and fresh lime juice.

You won’t, however, be famous for your tailgating margaritas if you stick with the basics, now will you? Here are two margarita mixes to get you started:

Sin City Top Shelf Margarita

Courtesy of an ace bartender at Las Vegas’ famed XS Nightclub. This recipe is for one cocktail so you’ll need to multiply the ingredients by the amount of margaritas you want to make.

  • 3 oz. sweet & sour
  • 1 oz. añejo tequila
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • Fresh limejuice from ½ lime

Shake all the ingredients except the limejuice in a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the lime over the top before serving.

Wastin’ Away Again Margaritas

Thanks to Portland’s Clyde Common bar manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler for this margarita mix for the masses. Although the recipe is his, the name is mine.

  • 6 cups of your favorite tequila
  • 2.5 cups triple sec
  • 2.5 cups fresh lime juice
  • 2.5 cups fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups simple syrup

Mix ingredients together in gallon container – such as a clean one-gallon milk or water container. Keep it refrigerated until the tailgate party. Makes 20 margaritas.

By the way, Jeffrey says that you’ll need two 750 ML bottles of tequila and you’ll have a bit left over after you measure out the 6 cups. You’ll need one 750 ML bottle of the triple sec.

If you don’t happen to have simple syrup in your pantry, whip some up.

Simple Syrup

Bring 2 cups of water to a full boil.

Slowly pour in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is clear. Allow the syrup to cool and then pour it into a bottle.

For the designated drivers in the group

Call it a virgin Margarita if you like but we prefer the term “mockarita” for this one.

  • 2 oz. simple syrup (see recipe above)
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • Ice
  • lime wedge

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously.

Pour into a mason jar for easy transport. Refrigerate until game day.

When serving, garnish with a lime wedge.