5 Simple Springtime Fixes to Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal

Adding curb appeal to your home is one of the wisest – and easiest – ways to increase your home’s value, not to mention its looks. And that means whether you’re planning on selling or staying put, sprucing up your home’s appearance can be a pretty rewarding way to spend your spring weekends. Here are 5 of the smartest curb appeal upgrades to help you get the most bang for your buck:

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  1. Give your house a good bath. A long-handled soft brush and a bucket of warm, soapy water can do the trick for many areas, and renting a powerwasher for a day will take care of the high areas you just can’t reach with your brush. Be sure to read the powerwasher instructions thoroughly; a very strong spray could damage your paint, especially if your house is wooden.
  2. Touch up peeling paint, broken trim and other eyesores. Most of us have very busy schedules, and it’s easy to let little home improvement jobs slide. Chipped and peeling paint and broken trim do more than make your home look unattractive and uncared for; they also make your home more prone to water and insect damage. Repairing them means you not only make your house look better, but you also reduce the risks of costly future damage. Put these home improvement chores on the top of your list.
  3. Freshen up the entry. Grab a broom and knock down any cobwebs you find around your porch or other low-hanging entry areas. Give the porch and walkway a good scrubbing, and replace a worn mailbox or give your old one a new coat of paint. Upgrade your house numbers – a relatively inexpensive change that can add a surprising amount of style. And don’t forget a new welcome mat.
  4. Add some color. A few bursts of color can really brighten a home and breathe new life into it. Spring and summer annuals are a great way to add color inexpensively, and if you choose some really nice planters, you can swap out the annuals for mums when fall arrives. Bright colors offer the most value here.
  5. Paint your front door. Sounds simple, but studies show this one simple home improvement task can do wonders for adding to your home’s value. Choose a bold color or stick with the one you have and freshen it up with a new coat. Don’t forget to replace old, worn hardware and add a new kickplate.

Tacking home improvement chores may not seem like a fun way to spend your weekend, but with just a few hours of elbow grease, you can turn your home’s curb appeal from drab to beautiful, and then reap the rewards of your labor all year long.

How To Tackle Spring Cleaning Without Feeling Overwhelmed

spring-cleaningAs warmer weather finally arrives and spring rolls in, the temptation to clean every square inch of your house can make it hard to relax with ease after a long day. Removing all the clutter, dust, and other debris that accumulates over the winter can feel overwhelming when you plan it as a single long marathon. Develop a schedule that breaks key tasks into manageable chunks to handle spring cleaning with less stress.

Consider the Weather

First, block out one to two weeks in the near future for accomplishing your cleaning goals. Aim to tackle goals that require open windows and doors, like using strong chemicals, for the warmest and clearest days. Wash your windows on cloudy days so you can clearly see dirt, and plan a specific day just for decluttering and taking the items away immediately so they don’t just end up in the garage again.

List Your Tasks

Walk through your home with a notepad and a pen to take notes on everything you’d like to clean or declutter. Keep the room lists separated so you can group tasks by both the type of cleaning, such as vacuuming, and by the room. Include all the routine tasks you’ll need to do to prepare for bigger tasks, such as sweeping before mopping or scrubbing.

Plan By Hour

Next, try to break tasks into groups of one hour in total each. Estimate the time you need to spend on tasks based on your personal speeds, not what it takes others to do them. Overestimate so if you discover a bigger mess you don’t end up sucked into the job all day. Only commit to two or three hours of cleaning in a single day, and preferably only spend a single hour a day on cleaning. This prevents you from wearing yourself out and quitting after just a day or two of exhausting work. If it’s a particularly hard task, such as scrubbing grout by hand in the bathroom or kitchen, consider making it the only chore of the day even when it takes less than an hour.

Take Some Time Off

Finally, don’t rush to get through all of your spring cleaning at once. Give yourself permission to skip a day here and there on your weekly plan, just avoid taking two days off in a row or you’re unlikely to get started on cleaning again. Reward yourself at the end of the spring cleaning schedule and you’re sure to repeat your success again next year.

It’s the Height of Flu Season! Keep Illness at Bay With These Prevention Tips

Each year, the influenza virus makes millions of people sick, resulting in missed days from work and school and even resulting in serious illness in some people. In fact, according to the CDC, about 200,000 people are hospitalized each year during flu season as a result of complications from the flu, including heart and respiratory problems.

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Being in an enclosed area like an office or classroom can increase your chances of catching the flu, especially now at the height of flu season, but there are some pretty simple prevention strategies you use to reduce your risks of getting sick.

  • Get a flu shot. A flu shot can’t protect you 100% from catching the flu, but it can prevent you from catching the most common and prevalent strains.
  • Wash your hands well and often. Make sure to make plenty of suds and wash for about 20 seconds, getting between the fingers and around and under the nails. Always wash your hands before eating, even if you think you haven’t touched anything that might have been contaminated.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose, areas where the influenza virus can easily enter your body.
  • Use antiseptic wipes on your desk, keyboard and phone, and keep them handy to wipe down items that may have been touched by others.
  • Keep a small bottle of antibacterial hand gel in your desk, backpack, briefcase or purse for times when you can’t wash your hands.
  • Keep your immune system in top shape. That means getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of water and other healthy beverages, and eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Reducing stress is also important – regular exercises is a great way to reduce stress and improve your physical health at the same time.
  • Use a humidifier to prevent mucus membranes from drying out. Winter air is dry, and heating systems just make it drier. Mucus membranes need to stay moist to trap germs efficiently, and a humidifier may be just what your body needs to help it keep germs at bay.
  • If you’re sick, stay home. You may think it’s noble to go to work or school or attend a social event even though you’re sick, but you’re actually exposing lots of other people to flu germs. Staying home helps you recover more quickly and also prevents spreading the virus to others.

Basic disease prevention doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need to be careful. The good news: These tips aren’t just for flu season – start implementing them today, and they can help you avoid illness all year long.

6 Simple Marketing Tips for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is less than a week away, and that means NOW is the time to fine-tune your marketing to make sure your business attracts the most buyers possible. Here’s a quick rundown of some simple things you can do right now to increase your turnout and your sales:

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  • Know your audience. Some studies have suggested millennials comprise the largest share of Small Business Saturday shoppers, but of course, your customer base may be dramatically different. Just be sure to customize any special offers and the overall shopping experience to appeal to the customers you feel you’re most likely to attract.
  • Plan for Black Friday “hangover.” Plenty of shoppers are worn out after a day spent tracking down “doorbusters” and other Black Friday deals – so worn out, they may not feel up to the task of another day of shopping. But don’t get discouraged – you can play into this weariness by setting the shopping experience apart with free snacks and beverages, door prizes and individual shopping “consultations” to make the shopping experience much more appealing, personalized and, above all, relaxing.
  • Be mindful of social media. A surprising number of shoppers base their shopping decisions on what they find on social media networks. If you don’t have a Facebook page – and you should! – now is the time to start one and get posting! While you’re at it, update your presence and marketing efforts on Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter as well.
  • Go mobile. Shoppers of all ages but especially millennials rely on mobile to scout out deals, find coupons and read reviews. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly NOW, and consider offering “mobile-only” deals. While you’re at it, check your online presence at review sites like Yelp! and Google to make sure your hours and phone number are correct.
  • Emphasize what makes your store different from the big retailers. Most businesses have plenty of personality and unique items that clearly set them apart from the “big box” retailers. Make sure your marketing messages are tailored to show off those advantages.
  • Don’t forget to follow up. Sure, you want to make the sale on Small Business Saturday, but by offering an email sign-up sheet, you can capture potential leads that can help you score more sales throughout the year. Send a follow-up email to thank them for stopping in and invite them to visit you on social media. You can use those emails to send out special offers throughout the year – just be sure you don’t spam your contacts with too many emails or emails that aren’t relevant to their lives and needs.

Finally, don’t be shy about hanging a sign or banner letting customers know how vital they are to your business and to maintaining a thriving downtown. And once the day winds down, take stock of what worker=d and what didn’t, and start planning to make next year’s Small Business Saturday even better.

5 Tips to Help Your Pets Overcome Back-to-School Separation Anxiety

When it comes to back-to-school separation anxiety, most people think of the effects on the kids who are reluctant to leave their homes and their families. But pets can also experience separation anxiety when kids return to school, and the effects can take a serious toll on pets. Being aware of the stresses on pets and the changes it can cause in their behavior and even their health can help you take action to reduce anxiety and make the transition less stressful – for pets and their owners.

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First, recognize the signs of pet stress. Pets that are anxious about separating from their child companions or simply about the changes in routines and schedules that occur when the school season rolls around typically exhibit signs like:

  • continual barking
  • howling or whining
  • chewing on furniture, pillows or other “forbidden” items
  • pacing or other signs of agitation
  • going to the bathroom indoors
  • acting out in other ways

The next step is to learn how to manage anxiety so these aberrant behaviors and be reduced and your pet can be happier, less anxious and more relaxed and secure.

  • If possible, try leaving your pet at home alone for short periods of time, gradually increasing the time so your pet can adjust without feeling fearful.
  • Spend extra quality time with your pet while you’re home. Make sure your pet gets the love and attention he or she needs to reinforce the pet’s importance and role in your family.
  • Try to make the departure as calm and hassle-free as possible, prepare school bags ahead of time and make sure kids get up early enough so there’s no rushing or stressful behavior on their part or yours.
  • Purchase some chewable toys or other activity-related items to keep your pet busy while you’re gone. Toys that have hidden but accessible treats can keep pets distracted while also sharpening their logic skills.
  • If you have a very good and reputable doggie daycare in your area, consider visiting it to decide if it could be a good option for your pet. Or hire a trustworthy and loving petsitter or dogwalker to come in for an hour or so each day to provide your pet with a distraction as well as activity.

Of course, even if you suspect your pet is acting out as a result of separation anxiety associated with the back-to-school season, it’s still very important to schedule a vet visit to ensure a more serious physiological or neurological problem isn’t causing symptoms. Your vet can also help you develop a strategy for relieving anxiety so your pets – and the rest of your family – can lead happier lives.

Hitting the Trails This Summer? Include These Essential items in Your Hiking Gear

Warm, sunny weather makes summer an ideal time for outdoor enthusiasts, and what better way to enjoy the great outdoors than to indulge in a little hiking? To get the most form any hiking expedition, it’s important to have a few essential items on hand. Here’s a quick list of some important items to include in your hiking gear this season:

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  • Water: Hiking puts a lot of demands on muscles, joints and the rest of your body, and that means it needs more fluids to function properly. The signs of dehydration can be very subtle, so be sure to take along plenty of water and to drink frequently.
  • Food: Hiking burns lots of calories and you need something to ensure your body gets the energy it needs to keep going. Lightweight snacks like nuts, granola and trail mix provide plenty of protein and other nutrients for quick snacking and a boost of energy.
  • Trail maps and a compass: Pack maps in a clear plastic bag in case of rain and don’t forget a magnifying glass. Practice using your compass before heading out.
  • Sunscreen: This one needs no explanation. Having a lightweight jacket or shirt and wearing lightweight pants can provide additional protection from the sun as well as insects. And don’t forget sunglasses to shield your eyes.
  • First aid supplies: No hiking gear list is complete without a few first aid items. Buy a prepacked kit or gather the items to make your own. A basic kit might include bandages, antiseptic, blister preparations and medicine for insect bites. Include personal medications you take as well as other items specific to the area where you’re hiking.
  • Emergency blanket: A lightweight, reflective emergency blanket packs easily and can protect you from the cold, heat and rain. If you’re hiking in cooler temperatures or there’s a chance you could get wet, be sure to dress in layers and bring some extra socks. Clothes that wick away moisture are a great option.
  • Lighting: A flashlight or a headlamp as well as some extra batteries (and a solar charger if your batteries are rechargeable) are important for illuminating trails and other areas.
  • Basic tools: A fire starter and pocketknife or multi-use tool have lots of uses on the trails. Hiking poles can also come in handy, and it doesn’t hurt to have some rope, fishing line and a couple of hooks, just in case.

Finally, make sure your backpack and shoes – two essential elements of hiking gear – fit properly and comfortably. Breaking in shoes ahead of time is essential. And before heading out on any hike – even a day hike – make sure to tell someone where you’ll be going and when to expect you back. It’s a simple step that can ensure you and your fellow hikers stay safe and sound no matter what adventures you have in mind.

4 Simple Ways to Add Some Sunshine to Your Summer Fitness Routine

About two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight or obese, and that means all those people are at a significantly increased risk of serious medical issues, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even dementia. All it takes to stay in shape, maintain a healthy weight and avoid these risks is a little exercise – surprisingly little, in fact. According to the American Heart Association, just 30 minutes of exercise a day, five times a week will help keep your heart and circulatory system in good shape, and over time, a regular workout routine can also help you shed pounds so you can avoid diabetes and other weight-related medical risks.

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Starting and maintaining a fitness routine isn’t always easy, especially if you’ve been leading a relatively sedentary lifestyle. But now that the warm months of summer are finally chasing away the clouds and chilly weather of spring, it’s a great time to get outdoors and ramp up your activity level. Here are a few fitness tips to help you get healthier while enjoying the great outdoors this summer:

  • Choose a workout activity that’s fun. If you enjoy a fitness activity, you’re more likely to stick with it. Summer is a great time for swimming, kayaking, hiking (Discovery Park is especially beautiful this time of year) and even gardening. Pick an activity that makes you happy and it’s less likely to seem like a workout.
  • Make it convenient. Going to the gym is great for fitness die-hards, but most of us are more likely to stick with a fitness routine that’s more convenient. Taking a walk after dinner or during your lunch break is a good way to work some activity into your routine, or join a community garden and devote an hour a few times a week to tending your crops.
  • Set realistic goals. It’s always tempting to think in terms of major victories when beginning any type of fitness routine, but instead of setting your sights on a major weight loss, establish smaller goals so you can enjoy your successes more often and stay motivated to keep moving forward. Keep track of your progress on a chart or calendar.
  • Reward yourself. It’s just human nature: The prospect of a reward – just a small one – can work wonders for keeping you motivated. Setting small goals lets you reward yourself often with small tokens that help you feel successful and accomplished.

Being active outdoors isn’t just good for your physical health – it’s good for your mental health as well. Studies have shown exposure to sunlight can elevate mood and help prevent depression, so take advantage of the sunny months of summer and start an outdoor fitness regimen today.

6 Tips to Stay Productive at Work When Summer Fun Starts to Beckon

June brings lots of sunshine to Redmond – or at least, more sunshine than what we typically have in the earlier spring months. Once that summer sun starts to shine, the thoughts of playing hooky from work begin to flood in, and before you know it, you’ve slipped into daydream mode and your productivity has plummeted. In fact, a study from Captivate Network found both productivity work attendance drop by an average of 20 percent during the summer months, and it takes about 13 percent longer to complete projects. If you’re one of the many workers who struggle with remaining productive and focused during the summer, these tips can help.

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Six Tips for Avoiding Summer Doldrums at Work

  • Plan for breaks. While it may be tempting to reserve the bulk of your vacation days for the colder, rainier months when a quick trip to warmer climes can be especially appealing, be sure to build in some days off during the summer so you can get out and recharge. Even a single day off can help you feel refreshed and motivated when you return to work. If possible, plan a few long weekends from now through August. No time for vacations? Try to get out and walk during your lunch break to avoid feeling cooped up.
  • Make sure your kids have things to do. When kids are off from school, it’s easy to become distracted worrying about what they’re doing with all their free time. You can solve that problem by scheduling summer camp or enrichment activities to keep them occupied during the hours when they’d normally be at school.
  • Get organized. A little organization goes a long way, especially if you’re concerned about your productivity foundering. Now could be a great time to invest in some office supplies to improve your organization at work, and at home as well.
  • Tweak the temperature. Research shows most people are most productive when the ambient temperature is between 70°F and 72°F, so adjust your thermostat accordingly.
  • Organize your time. Most people have hours when they’re most productive, like first thing in the morning, right after lunch or late in the afternoon. Reserve that time for your most labor-intensive tasks. Try out these other time management tips from Entrepreneur
  • Stay busy. Many businesses have natural lags during the summer months. To avoid getting stuck in a rut of lowered productivity, use your spare time to tackle new projects. You’ll stay energized and it’ll look good to the boss at the same time.

There you go – six simple steps to better productivity this summer. One more tip: Don’t get so hung up on being productive that you neglect to take any R&R. After all, summer only comes around once a year.

Do You Need to Insure a Stay-at-Home Mom? The Answer Is Yes

Life insurance can provide critical protection for loved ones, and it can also be a good way to leave a legacy once you’re gone. Moms spend their lives caring for the ones they love, so it just makes sense to make sure moms have the coverage they need to help their children, grandchildren and others carry on when they’re no longer here. And with Mother’s Day just around the corner, now is a great time to make sure both spouses have the insurance they need to provide important protection in case of an unexpected loss.

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Interestingly, moms often have far less life insurance compared to dads. Why? Life insurance is often thought of as a way to replace income, and when a mom stays home, it’s often believed – incorrectly – that since there’s no income to insure, there’s no need for life insurance. Even when a mom works outside of the home, if her income is lower than her spouse’s income, many couples believe – again, incorrectly – they only need to worry about replacing the larger income with life insurance.

That type of thinking is problematic, and here’s why: Whether a mother is a stay-at-home spouse or works outside the home, the work she performs has a definite value. When you insure only one spouse, it can place a considerable financial strain on the surviving family members, making it much more difficult to cope. Life insurance helps replace that value in case of loss, and that can include hiring someone to care for children, clean a home or perform any of the other myriad tasks a stay-at-home and working mom performs, in addition to replacing the income she may earn at a job.

Plus, when a surviving spouse is suddenly left to shoulder the financial burden of the entire family in addition to handling all the myriad tasks his wife once performed, the level of anxiety and depression can be overwhelming, and that can take a real toll on the kids. Having life insurance in place can provide some financial breathing room to hire extra help that’s needed to help the family adjust, especially during the first several months following a loss.

Plus, pragmatically speaking, the costs of a funeral and other final costs can also be significant, and if the wife was also helping to pay down existing credit card debt, mortgage debt or other debts, having life insurance can help avoid a financial crisis when that income is suddenly lost.

Finally, when you insure both spouses, you also make sure the future needs of the children can be met, including covering the cost of tuition or even helping out with wedding costs. It’s a way for moms to leave a legacy so she can continue to provide help and support to her kids even after she’s gone.

This Mother’s Day, make a plan to review your family’s life insurance coverage so you can avoid financial upset in case of an unexpected loss and ensure your family’s assets and your children’s futures are well protected.

Choosing a Sunscreen With the Right SPF Is Just One of the Important Ways to Protect Your Skin This Summer

More than 3 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, including more than 70,000 cases of deadly melanoma. With summer weather just around the corner, here’s a quick list of some of the important things you should be doing to make sure your skin stays protected while you’re enjoying the warm, sunny days:shutterstock_104569289

  • Make sure to use the right sunscreen. Look for the SPF – the sun protection factor – and aim for an SPF of at least 15 when choosing a sunscreen. In addition to the SPF, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. In addition to preventing sunburn, broad-spectrum sunscreens with a high SPF can also help protect against sun spots and textural changes. Some types of skin cancer can also mimic the appearance of sun spots, so if you have any dark spots on your skin, you should have them checked to ensure they’re not cancerous.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a hat. Tightly woven clothing provides the best protection against the sun. Choose shirts with long sleeves and wear long, lightweight pants while in the sun, especially for long periods of time. You might also want to look for clothing that offers built-in SPF protection.
  • Be sure to protect your eyes too. Sunglasses can provide protection for the delicate skin around your eyes, and they may also help prevent cataracts and conditions that affect the retina, like age-related macular degeneration. Choose a pair that provides 99 percent to 100 percent protection for both UVA and UVB rays. For ultimate protection, select a wraparound style that keeps light from getting in from the sides of lenses.
  • Limit your time in the sun. Avoid being out in the sun during the midday hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Before going out, check the UV index on the Department of Environmental Protection website. The UV index is a measure of the risk of overexposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays for any given area in the country. A moderate index rating is about a five or six; anything higher is considered to be a high exposure. Ideally, avoid any exposure to the sun when the index is five or greater.
  • Skip the tan. Whether you lie out in the sun or use a booth, tanning is still dangerous for your skin. In fact, despite the hype about skin looking healthier when it’s “sun-bronzed,” a suntan is actually a sign your skin has already been damaged by the sun’s UV rays.

Just a little precaution can let you enjoy the sun without increasing your risk for skin caner. For more sun protection tips, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website.