Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tips to spruce up your home for the holidays

This is one of the reasons that autumn is a popular time for home improvements. Fifty-two percent of homeowners plan to make home improvements this fall, according to the leading real estate website Zillow. It is also a great time of year for deals as retailers unload inventory to make room for new styles.

Creating a warm and inviting atmosphere includes much more than just poinsettias and Santa Claus centerpieces. There are a number of affordable steps homeowners can take to add a real "wow factor" to their holiday entertaining.

Kitchen updates

The kitchen is commonly one of the busiest rooms during the holidays. Since guests often gather there, it makes sense to make the space the focus for a few improvements before the holidays. Simple and inexpensive updates, such as adding new knobs and handles to cabinets or installing a new backsplash, will make a big difference. Stylish new light fixtures can also give your kitchen a quick facelift that will impress your guests.

Install hardwood floors

The warmth and beauty of hardwood floors can transform the look and feel of your home to create a space that will stun your guests. And unlike carpet, hardwood floors do not stain or wear as easily from inevitable spills and foot traffic that the holidays bring.-Moreover, carpet traps dust, pollen and other particles that can cause allergies and respiratory issues.

Visually unique flooring options such as Lumber Liquidators' Bellawood Bamboo bring together both the aesthetic and practical advantages of hardwood flooring. This flooring carries a 100-year transferable warranty that assures these benefits will be sustained for a lifetime of holiday gatherings.


It's important to create inviting open space for guests to enjoy. De-cluttering bookshelves and removing miscellaneous furniture can help make a room feel larger and more open, and will allow room for festive seasonal decor. Spending time to organize the refrigerator will make space for any holiday dishes a guest brings.

Improve the entry

The front entry provides the first impression of a home, so it's important to create a stylish, cared-for and welcoming look. Homeowners can complete small projects outside, such as updating house numbers, painting the front door and creating holiday-themed arrangements. Simple decor updates just inside the door - such as adding family photos and new rugs - will add a warm and personal feel.

Education leads to empowerment for children in need

In the United States, educational opportunities for children abound, with many beginning their school journeys with preschool programs as early as age 3. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, record numbers of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students are entering the nation's public school systems, and 49.4 million students attended public and secondary schools. More than 19 million students advanced to two-year and four-year colleges and universities, another attendance record.

"U.S. children are so incredibly fortunate to live in a prosperous nation where education is taken for granted, and high school, college and post-college expectations are on par with eating a hot dinner every night," says Sharon Saxelby, president and CEO of Friends of the Orphans, a Chicago-based charitable organization that transforms the lives of orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Contrast that with access to education and lack of opportunities for children in need in less prosperous countries and the glaring inadequacies are startling. World Bank estimates that 75 million children of primary school age around the world are not in school, often because they need to work so their families can survive. For instance, in Peru, 34 percent of children 14 and under are involved in labor activities, which often render school impossible.

Elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean, children's access to education is equally dire. In Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, just more than half of primary school-aged children are enrolled and fewer than 2 percent of children finish secondary school. And in El Salvador, according to Unicef, 70 percent of children aged 16 and 17 do not have access to secondary education.

Unicef attributes these low numbers to a variety of factors, including inadequate teacher competencies, scarcity of teaching materials, poor physical learning environments, limited interaction between schools and communities, the need for children to work instead of attend school, and overall poverty rates, which dictate that limited resources will be directed to things other than education.

Organizations such as Friends of the Orphans, which supports the network of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH, Spanish for "Our Little Brothers and Sisters") homes and takes a holistic approach to transforming children's lives, recognizes the power of education and makes it a mandatory component.

"Becoming educated is the most valuable thing a young person can do for himself and his community, especially in developing countries," Saxelby explains. "Our philosophy of raising children in the countries we serve is to provide unconditional love, shared responsibility and education. Well-rounded children are able to transcend poverty and ultimately become productive members of their communities."

One of many examples of how education leads to a more prosperous life is Yadira, a young woman from Mexico who has embraced education despite many challenges. She came to NPH at age 13 following the death of her mother, unable to read or write, and was placed in third grade. She quickly thrived, and advanced to NPH's technical middle and high school, which provides vocational certification and university preparation. While there, she focused her studies on mechanics and computers.

Ready to move on, she began her university studies, setting her sights on law. Her studies enlightened her on her own rights as a Mexican citizen, taught her how to write legal documents and navigate the legal system. She even wrote a final thesis about social inequality with respect to legal rights in Mexico. She is continuing her studies and will make law her permanent profession.

"I have seen firsthand the difference people can make in each other's lives and hope to have the same impact on other people through my work in the legal profession," Yadira says. "I am thankful for all the opportunities I've been given and how my life has been transformed."

Saxelby explains that the relative cost of supporting these children as they pursue their educations is low compared to U.S. expenses, and their positive future outcomes and contributions are undeniable. For example, Yadira, who lives in NPH university housing, spends about $580 monthly on expenses. Of that, $267 is tuition and food is $205, with the remainder going toward materials, transportation and books.

"Investing in these children today is well worth it because of their transformations tomorrow," Saxelby says. "Education is power and all children deserve the chance to grow and learn."

For more information about Friends of the Orphans, please visit www.friendsoftheorphans.org.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Five smart steps to maximize bathroom space

In spite of its heavy use, bathrooms are often some of the smallest areas in a home. Cross tight square footage with limited storage, and it quickly becomes cluttered and cramped - far from a pleasant place to start and end each day. Adding function doesn't require changing your bathroom's footprint. To maximize your bathroom storage and make it work best for you, consider these design and organizational tips.

Tip 1: Install a floating vanity

A big trend in small bathroom design is the floating vanity; its wall-mount installation leaves floor space below open and uninterrupted, which tricks the human eye into reading the space as larger than it actually is. Floating vanities come in a variety of materials and designs that offer plenty of counter top space and storage solutions.

Tip 2: Make your mirror work harder

Is your bathroom sporting an old bulky medicine cabinet? Replace it with a smarter option designed with innovative storage that makes life easier. Robern, the industry leader in bathroom storage and grooming, recently introduced the R3 Series Mirrored Cabinets, a perfect solution for DIY-ers looking for a fast, affordable fix. The 1-inch flange around the cabinet's perimeter covers imperfections, eliminating the hassle of re-tiling or re-plastering, making it a project you can easily complete in a day.

Tip 3: Use hidden space to your advantage

In a small bathroom it might be hard to imagine where you might find even an inch of extra space, but there's one secret area you can access and use to your advantage. If you have a blank wall, the space between the studs offers a plethora of potential storage space. You can build shelves directly between the studs, which adds lots of extra space for items like washcloths and toiletries, all within the existing footprint.

Tip 4: Get wired for modern practicality

Your morning routine charges you for the day ahead, so make sure items like electric razors and toothbrushes are fully charged, too. Cabinets equipped with outletskeep personal care items fully juiced and concealed, leaving counter tops and sink surfaces clutter-free for a clean and organized space both you and guests to enjoy.

Tip 5: Revamp the storage drawer

Vanity drawers in disarray steal precious time from your morning and evening routine. First step to function: Purge. Toss old or unused cosmetics, personal supplies, grooming tools or other items you don't use. Next, reorganize with inserts that transform drawers into organizational powerhouses. Look for inserts that will streamline how you use your bathroom, such as options with different sized compartments or even one made specifically for your hair dryer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall into great tabletop decorating ideas

(BPT) - Saying goodbye to summer doesn't have to be a sentimental ending when you consider it's also a beginning - the kick off to autumn and the holiday season. The promise of fall is in the air. It's a great time to dress up your home for fall entertaining; whether that means friends gathered around the television rooting for your favorite team or the ultimate traditional Thanksgiving feast.

"Decorating trends for this fall are really fun and functional," says visual merchandiser John Griffith. "Colors that evoke a sense of nostalgia and family are a really big part of the visual design message for autumn. Reds, golds and oranges are trending this fall. These hues are not only warm and comforting; they're reflective of the season."

Griffith and teammate Julie Robbins add their own unique spin on the latest trends to create seasonal design vignettes for Replacements, Ltd., the world's largest retailer of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles. Whether you are planning a casual family gathering or an elegant dinner party, Robbins suggests easy ways to mix in great fall colors. This can be as simple as adding a charger plate or colorful serving pieces.

"Using colored glass is fantastic way of infusing autumn colors to create a seasonal feel," says Robbins. "Amber colored glass is really popular this fall because the rich, warm color goes with so many patterns and designs. I'm big on the pressed vintage patterns; depression glass, coin glass and sandwich glass are all very lovely and nostalgic. We're actually mixing and matching patterns from historic American glassmakers including Federal, Indiana Glass and Fostoria on our tables. It looks great to mix designs which share the same colors or combine an array of colors within a place setting."

Metal serveware is another popular trend this fall.

"We're incorporating metal serveware into many of our displays because you can do so much with it from a design standpoint," says Griffith. "These are great accent pieces you can dress up or down, plus it is family- and football-season friendly. Metal serveware is also very functional. Once heated, the alloy retains warmth to keep food warmer longer or cooler if you chill these pieces. Plus it is easy to clean and doesn't have to be polished. We're using a lot of fun shapes, like leaf-shaped pieces and turkey platters."

Fall's bountiful harvest translates into the home this season. Robbins is using natural elements in her table designs that evoke a sense of the first Thanksgiving.

"I suggest filling vases, glasses or serving bowls with dried beans, acorns or even kernels of dried deer corn. Not only does this look pretty, you can also mix in candles or flowers and use these natural elements to hold those items in place."

Robbins adds apples, gourds, pumpkins and green pears are among fruits and vegetables you can use on your table or anywhere in your home to create a brilliant splash of color. She says you can find more decorating ideas at Replacements' YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Applying to college? Practical advice for finding your dream university

So what factors should college-bound teens consider when making their wish list? It's not the school with the best parties, weather or where their best friend or boyfriend is applying.

According to one of the nation's top college admissions consultants, Dr. Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise and LinkedIn Higher Ed Expert, it all comes down to academic, social and financial fit.

"Imagine you're starting college tomorrow," Dr. Cohen says. "Which courses would you take? Who would you be excited to study with? Are there research, internship and study abroad opportunities offered in your areas of interest? Which extracurricular activities would you take advantage of on and off campus? Have you had an open conversation with your parents about their expected financial contribution?"

If they do their research correctly, students should end up with a list of 12 to 15 good-fit schools, a balance of reach, target and likely schools, any of which they'd be happy to attend, says Dr. Cohen. For students who aren't sure exactly where to begin, she offers the following tips:

Get your computer, tablet or smartphone and get online

It's never too early for students to begin researching schools. Thanks to the Internet, students have a wealth of information readily available at their fingertips. They can visit college websites, page through online course catalogs and even take virtual campus tours. Students can also get a real student perspective and good sense of campus culture by reading the school newspaper and blog online.

LinkedIn, the world's largest professional network, provides aspiring students with the opportunity to make informed decisions on which universities, majors and skills will help them achieve professional success - making college matchmaking even easier. The company's newly launched LinkedIn University Pages allows higher education institutions to have dedicated pages so they can build their community and directly engage with prospective students, current students, parents and alumni. University Pages allows college-bound teens to access important information on colleges, such as the cost of tuition, notable alumni and more. They can also gain valuable insights on what it's really like on campus by connecting with current students and recent graduates, and trace the educational and professional paths of notable alumni by following the most influential business leaders and company pages.

Be a student on campus, even if for a day

Students will likely be spending four years of their lives at college, and nothing beats the gut check that comes with an in-person campus visit. Students should plan on visiting the schools that they are considering seriously while school is in session. It's important to attend both the official information session and the campus tour, as it shows demonstrated interest in the school. However, students should also make time to explore the campus and local community on their own.

Do's and don'ts of a campus visit: Do forgo the urge to stay in an expensive hotel and eat in a four-star restaurant. Don't miss the opportunity to have a meal with current students in the campus dining hall, audit a class in a topic of interest and spend a night in a campus dorm room. Do take lots of photos and copious notes. Don't let mom and dad ask all the questions. Do wear comfortable shoes.

Alumni networks, a secret weapon

Alumni networks are a great resource for college-bound students that often go untapped. Students should talk to their college guidance counselor and see if there are any alumni from their high school who currently attend or have recently attended the colleges that interest them. These alumni often come from a similar background and can talk about what the transition to the college was like for them. They may also be willing to host an overnight stay.

Not sure what to study or major in? Network in a field of choice or in a few that are of interest. Professional associations for undergraduates and LinkedIn can help students connect with people who can provide insight into a profession - and who may be potential employers in the future.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all college. If students take the time to do their research early on in the admissions process, they will be happily attending a good fit college come orientation.

Friday, October 3, 2014


New listing just posted: http://tour.circlepix.com/home/SSJAZT
The historic Berry-Mackall House. Originally built in 1853, this home has been an architectural gem at the gateway to Olney. Huge wrap around front porch invites visitors. Lots of great potential with a extra out buildings: 1 bedroom guest house with hardwood floors, 3 story brooder house (storage barn) has an attic area perfect for finishing, and smoke house. Situated on a 3.26 acre lot.
Home information
Bathrooms: 4.00
MLS #MC8458631