How to Make Patriotic Red, White, and Blue Cupcakes

patrioticcupcakes2Show your support with sweets for those who serve our country! This recipe for red, white, and blue cupcakes is a delicious and colorful way to let your patriotism shine through. Make them for an Independence Day celebration (or any holiday honoring our American heroes) or just to show your appreciation for our selfless veterans.

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes


Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1⅔ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 egg whites
  • blue and red food coloring

Frosting:

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • blue and red food coloring

Instructions

Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the milk, butter, and vanilla, beating on medium for 2 minutes. Add the egg whites, and beat 2 more minutes.
  3. Divide the batter evenly into three bowls. Add blue food coloring to one bowl, red into another, and leave one bowl without food coloring. Fill cupcake liners ⅔ of the way full, alternating between a few spoonfuls of each color to make the camouflage pattern.
  4. Bake for 17-19 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from baking pan, and let cool on a cooling rack.

Frosting:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except for the food coloring, mixing well.
  2. Divide the frosting evenly into three bowls, coloring one blue and one red, and keeping one with no color.
  3. Use a knife to alternate putting the colors on each cupcake, or, if using a piping bag, scrape each color onto the sides of your piping bag and squeeze out to get a marbled look.

 

7 Steps to Take Before You Buy a Home by GM Filisko

house in cartBy doing your homework before you buy, you’ll feel more content about your new home.

Most potential home buyers are a smidge daunted by the fact that they’re about to agree to a hefty mortgage that they’ll be paying for the next few decades. The best way to relieve that anxiety is to be confident you’re purchasing the best home at a price you can afford with the most favorable financing. These seven steps will help you make smart decisions about your biggest purchase.

1.  Decide how much home you can afford.

Generally, you can afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. Remember to consider costs every homeowner must cover: property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable, as well as costs specific to your family, such as day care if you plan to have children.

2.  Develop your home wish list.

Be honest about which features you must have and which you’d like to have. Handicap accessibility for an aging parent or special needs child is a must. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are in the bonus category. Come up with your top five must-haves and top five wants to help you focus your search and make a logical, rather than emotional, choice when home shopping.

3.  Select where you want to live.

Make a list of your top five community priorities, such as commute time, schools, and recreational facilities. Ask a REALTOR® to help you identify three to four target neighborhoods based on your priorities.

4.  Start saving.

Have you saved enough money to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 20% of the purchase price set aside for a down payment, but some lenders allow as little as 5% down. A small down payment preserves your savings for emergencies.

However, the lower your down payment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for, and if you still qualify, the higher your monthly payment. Your down payment size can also influence your interest rate and the type of loan you can get.

Finally, if your down payment is less than 20%, you’ll be required to purchase private mortgage insurance. Depending on the size of your loan, PMI can add hundreds to your monthly payment. Check with your state and local government for mortgage and down payment assistance programs for first-time buyers.

5.  Ask about all the costs before you sign.

A down payment is just one home buying cost. A REALTOR® can tell you what other costs buyers commonly pay in your area — including home inspections, attorneys’ fees, and transfer fees of 2% to 7% of the home price. Tally up the extras you’ll also want to buy after you move-in, such as window coverings and patio furniture for your new yard.

6.  Get your credit in order.

A credit report details your borrowing history, including any late payments and bad debts, and typically includes a credit score. Lenders lean heavily on your credit report and credit score in determining whether, how much, and at what interest rate to lend for a home. The minimum credit score you can have to qualify for a loan depends on many factors, including the size of your down payment. Talk to a REALTOR® or lender about your particular circumstance.

You’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports annually from the major credit bureaus: EquifaxExperian, and TransUnion. Order and then pore over them to ensure the information is accurate, and try to correct any errors before you buy. If your credit score isn’t up to snuff, the easiest ways to improve it are to pay every bill on time and pay down high credit card debt.

7.  Get prequalified.

Meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter that says how much house you’re qualified to buy. Start gathering the paperwork your lender says it needs. Most want to see W-2 forms verifying your employment and income, copies of pay stubs, and two to four months of banking statements.

If you’re self-employed, you’ll need your current profit and loss statement, a current balance sheet, and personal and business income tax returns for the previous two years.

Consider your financing options. The longer the loan, the smaller your monthly payment. Fixed-rate mortgages offer payment certainty; an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) offers a lower monthly payment. However, an adjustable-rate mortgage may adjust dramatically. Be sure to calculate your affordability at both the lowest and highest possible ARM rate.

Ready to start the process? Click here.

8 Tips for Adding Curb Appeal and Value to Your Home by Pat Curry

Curb AppealHere are eight ways to help your home put its best face forward.

Homes with high curb appeal command higher prices and take less time to sell. We’re not talking about replacing vinyl siding with redwood siding; we’re talking about maintenance and beautifying tasks you’d like to live with anyway.

The way your house looks from the street — attractively landscaped and well-maintained — can add thousands to its value and cut the time it takes to sell. But which projects pump up curb appeal most? Some spit and polish goes a long way, and so does a dose of color.

Tip #1: Wash Your House’s Face

Before you scrape any paint or plant more azaleas, wash the dirt, mildew, and general grunge off the outside of your house. REALTORS® say washing a house can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the sale prices of some houses.

A bucket of soapy water and a long-handled, soft-bristled brush can remove the dust and dirt that have splashed onto your wood, vinyl, metal, stucco, brick, and fiber cement siding. Power washers (rental: $75 per day) can reveal the true color of your flagstone walkways.

Wash your windows inside and out, swipe cobwebs from eaves, and hose down downspouts. Don’t forget your garage door, which was once bright white. If you can’t spray off the dirt, scrub it off with a solution of 1/2 cup trisodium phosphate — TSP, available at grocery stores, hardware stores, and home improvement centers — dissolved in 1 gallon of water.

You and a friend can make your house sparkle in a few weekends. A professional cleaning crew will cost hundreds — depending on the size of the house and number of windows — but will finish in a couple of days.

Tip #2: Freshen the Paint Job

The most commonly offered curb appeal advice from real estate pros and appraisers is to give the exterior of your home a good paint job. Buyers will instantly notice it, and appraisers will value it.
 
Of course, painting is an expensive and time-consuming facelift. To paint a 3,000-square-foot home, figure on spending $375 to $600 on paint; $1,500 to $3,000 on labor.

Your best bet is to match the paint you already have: Scrape off a little and ask your local paint store to match it. Resist the urge to make a statement with color. An appraiser will mark down the value of a house that’s painted a wildly different color from its competition.

Tip #3: Regard the Roof

The condition of your roof is one of the first things buyers notice and appraisers assess. Missing, curled, or faded shingles add nothing to the look or value of your house. If your neighbors have maintained or replaced their roofs, yours will look especially shabby.

You can pay for roof repairs now, or pay for them later in a lower appraisal; appraisers will mark down the value by the cost of the repair. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, the national median cost of a new asphalt shingle roof is about $7,600.

Some tired roofs look a lot better after you remove 25 years of dirt, moss, lichens, and algae. Don’t try cleaning your roof yourself: call a professional with the right tools and technique to clean it without damaging it. A 2,000-square-foot roof will take a day and $400 to $600 to clean professionally.

Tip #4: Neaten the Yard

A well-manicured lawn, fresh mulch, and pruned shrubs boost the curb appeal of any home.

Replace overgrown bushes with leafy plants and colorful annuals. Surround bushes and trees with dark or reddish-brown bark mulch, which gives a rich feel to the yard. Put a crisp edge on garden beds, pull weeds and invasive vines, and plant a few geraniums in pots.

Green up your grass with lawn food and water. Cover bare spots with seeds and sod, get rid of crab grass, and mow regularly.

Tip #5: Add a Color Splash

Even a little color attracts and pleases the eye of would-be buyers.

Plant a tulip border in the fall that will bloom in the spring. Dig a flowerbed by the mailbox and plant some pansies. Place a brightly colored bench or Adirondack chair on the front porch. Get a little daring, and paint the front door red or blue.

These colorful touches won’t add to the value of our house: Appraisers don’t give you extra points for a blue bench. But beautiful colors enhance curb appeal and help your house to sell faster.

Tip #6: Glam Your Mailbox

An upscale mailbox, architectural house numbers, or address plaques can make your house stand out.

High-style die cast aluminum mailboxes range from $100 to $350. You can pick up a handsome, hand-painted mailbox for about $50. If you don’t buy new, at least give your old mailbox a facelift with paint and new house numbers.

These days, your local home improvement center or hardware stores has an impressive selection of decorative numbers. Architectural address plaques, which you tack to the house or plant in the yard, typically range from $80 to $200. Brass house numbers range from $3 to $11 each, depending on size and style.

Tip #7: Fence Yourself In

A picket fence with a garden gate to frame the yard is an asset. Not only does it add visual punch to your property, appraisers will give extra value to a fence in good condition, although it has more impact in a family-oriented neighborhood than an upscale retirement community.

Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,500 for a professionally installed gated picket fence 3 feet high and 100 feet long.

If you already have a fence, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. Replace broken gates and tighten loose latches.

Tip #8: Maintenance is a Must

Nothing looks worse from the curb — and sets off subconscious alarms — like hanging gutters, missing bricks from the front steps, or peeling paint. Not only can these deferred maintenance items damage your home, but they can decrease the value of your house by 10%.

Here are some maintenance chores that will dramatically help the look of your house:

  • Refasten sagging gutters.
  • Repoint bricks that have lost their mortar.
  • Reseal cracked asphalt.
  • Straighten shutters.
  • Replace cracked windows.

Considering buying or selling a home, click here now!

Deadly Dozen: 12 Foods That Can Be Toxic to Pets

tablefoodfeatureWe all love our pets. And one of the ways we show it, much like we do with friends and family, is by treating them to food. Sure, giving a pet treat can make us (and our pets) happy, but we also occasionally sneak in some people food as an added treat.

You might want to think twice about that, though, because there are certain foods and drinks that can be very harmful to your dog or cat. Here is a list of everyday grocery items that can be hazardous to your pet’s health.

Alcohol—Alcohol in any form can cause problems for your pet. Much like it does with people, alcohol can cause liver damage and brain damage; however, because pets are much smaller than us, the damage happens much more rapidly. The smaller the pet, the quicker the damage car occur.

Avocado—This fatty fruit contains a substance, persin, that can be harmful to dogs, causing digestive and breathing problems. Whole avocados are doubly dangerous because of the pits, which are choking and digestive hazards.

Chocolate—Even a small amount of this sweet treat, especially dark chocolate and baking chocolate, can make your pet seriously sick because it contains theobromine, a substance that’s toxic for dogs.

Caffeine—Keep caffeine far away from your pet, as it can be a very poisonous for him. Like chocolate, caffeine contains methylxanthines, which can cause heart palpitations, rapid breathing, and even death.

Citrus—Fruits such as oranges and lemons are simply too acidic for your pet to handle in large doses. The more citrus eaten, the more it can affect your pet’s digestive system.

Garlic and Onions—These vegetables can affect your pet’s red blood cell production and cause anemia, causing your pet to be listless and weak. Cats are particularly affected.

Grapes and Raisins—These bite-sized fruits may seem harmless, but for reasons not yet known by the scientific community, grapes and raisins can quickly cause vomiting and even kidney failure in pets.

Milk and Other Dairy—This may seem odd concerning cats, but dairy products like milk cause digestive problems for pets because they don’t have enough enzymes to break down the lactose in dairy.

Nuts—Overall, nuts are too oily and fatty for your pet to handle. Certain varieties, such as macadamias, can be poisonous to dogs and cause serious health problems, including paralysis and death.

Salty Foods—Too much salt isn’t good for humans, so it certainly is more problematic for pets. Excess salt can lead to dehydration or, worse, sodium ion poisoning.

Xylitol—This artificial sweetener, found in gum and candy, can create elevated insulin levels and blood sugar issues for your pet, which can quickly lead to liver failure.

Yeast Dough—If eaten uncooked, the yeast in dough will expand in your pet’s stomach and wreak havoc on his digestive system; plus, when it rises it can cause ethanol, an alcohol, which, for reasons explained above, can double down on the danger.

Now that you’re aware of the dangers of these foods, you shouldn’t give any of them to your pet. As an added precaution, make sure that when you eat, prepare, or use these foods or drinks, you carefully dispose of them to keep your pet safe. You love having a healthy pet, so keep him that way!

HOBS BUYING GUIDE-Who Knew???

Introduction

The hob in your kitchen has become just as important and every bit a style feature as your kitchen doors. They come in many different shapes and sizes, makes and models. You can choose between induction, ceramic, solid plate and gas.

Kitchen_Type_InductionHobs_BannerInduction hobs

Want to combine cool, contemporary design with great cooking performance? An induction hob could be for you. At first sight, it might look a bit like a ceramic hob, with a stylish surface featuring an LED display and touch controls. But because it uses magnetic induction technology, it heats up more rapidly (instantly, in fact.)

Induction hobs are very safe to use. That’s because only the pan and its contents get hot, while most of the hob’s surface stays cool – so you can touch it without burning yourself. Also, the cooking zone only works when a pan is resting on it. And as induction hobs are very energy-efficient, they’re cheaper to run and more environmentally-friendly too.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that you can only use iron pans with an induction hob (or stainless steel pans if they have a magnetic base). So you may have to add these to your shopping list if your present set doesn’t fit the bill.

Ceramic hobs

If you’re a fan of the minimalist look, we think you’ll love ceramic hobs. It’s the combination of smooth glass surfaces, touch controls built into the surface and sophisticated LED displays that give them their sleek, ultra-modern style.

A ceramic hob’s cooking zones heat up more quickly than solid plate hobs (but not as fast as the ones on induction models). They’re hot on hygiene, too, as their glass cooking surface is quick and easy to wipe clean. And to make sure no-one burns their fingers, many come with a “hob hot” indicator that lets you know when the ceramic is still too hot to touch.

Kitchen_Type_GasHobs_BannerGas hobs

Are you a keen cook or fervent foodie? Chances are you’ll want to go for a gas hob. Easy to control, energy-efficient and quick to heat up, they’re the choice of many professional cooks. You can get them with up to six burners – and some have wok burners too.

You can control the heat instantly on a gas hob. That’s because the flame warms the pan directly and distributes the heat efficiently. So whether you’re creating a chilli or rustling up a risotto, you’ll enjoy top-notch cooking performance. They also score highly on safety – after all, you can see the flame and hear the gas supply. Many people reckon that gas is the most energy-efficient fuel for hobs, too.

Unlike ceramic models, you can use any type of pan on a gas hob. But if you do go for one, remember you must have it connected to your gas supply by a qualified installer.

Solid plate hobs

Using traditional solid electric plates to heat your pans, these hobs are generally the cheapest around. That makes them a great-value buy if you’re on a limited budget or need to fit out a rental property.

Their low price makes solid plate hobs cheaper to buy than other types of hob. But they do take longer to heat up.

 

10 Foods to Eat Every Day

iStock_000057203904_XXXLarge-e1443637873207With all of the different healthy eating habits that are trending these days, it is hard to keep track of them all. To keep up, you need to know which foods are healthy, which to substitute, and what superfoods you should eat regularly for optimal health.

Get back-to-basics with this list of foods you should eat every day—and the benefits of doing so.

1. Berries

Berries are a good source of fiber, which is needed for a healthy digestive system and helps to promote weight loss. Raspberries have the most at 8 grams of fiber per cup.

2. Nuts

Nuts contain sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. To be more specific, walnuts have high levels of alpha-linolenic acid, which may help with improved mood and heart health.

3. Spinach

Spinach contains vitamins A, C, E, and K, fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. It also is a healthy source of folate, which can form healthy new cells and produce DNA.

4. Oranges

Oranges are a good source of fiber, folate, and vitamin C. One orange contains a day’s dose of vitamin C, and helps to create white blood cells and antibodies to fight off infections.

5. Eggs

Eggs are a good source of protein, which can keep your appetite satisfied for a longer period of time. Egg yolks have two antioxidants that can help keep your eyes healthy and shield your skin from damaging UV rays.

6. Broccoli

Broccoli contains vitamins C, A, and K, which are good for keeping your bones healthy. It also has a healthy amount of sulforaphane, which is thought to help prevent cancer.

7. Yogurt

Yogurt contains good bacteria that can help decrease the risk of intestinal illness. It is rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and protein.

8. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a good source of alpha- and beta carotene, which convert into vitamin A and help with your eyes, bones, and immune system.

9. Beans

Beans are a good source of iron, and contain the kind of fiber that benefits blood cholesterol levels. A 1/2 cup of cooked navy beans provide 7 grams of fiber.

10. Tea

Tea contains flavonoids that can lead to healthier teeth and gums as well as stronger bones. You can boost the power of the flavonoids by drinking your tea freshly brewed.

Already eating these foods as part of your everyday diet? Download our guide to superfoods additional healthy ideas and the impact they have on your health.

Choosing the Right Loan

loansChoosing the right lender is a very important component to buying a home. Lending products and services vary from organization to organization, company to company and bank to bank. Most importantly, learn about your options and find the best solution for your needs. Then, interview various lending institutions to find out what they have to offer. Below, please find descriptions for various lending products currently available from First Centennial Mortgage.

 

If you want to make sure your rate and payment remain the same throughout the life of the loan and you can afford a stronger down-payment (typically 20%), a Fixed Rate mortgage is the option for you. Fixed Rate mortgages are the most classic form of home loans in the United States. The most common terms are 15-year and 30-year mortgages. Lower down-payment options are available with Private Mortgage Insurance.

If you don’t expect to be in the home for a longer period of time, an Adjustable Rate Mortgage or ARM may be the right fit for you. The interest rate remains fixed for a certain period of time and then can adjust thereafter. ARMs generally carry a low initial interest rate. While it may be attractive to have a lower initial interest rate, since the rate can adjust, ARMs are not recommended for every borrower.

If you are unable to afford a traditional 20% down-payment or have less-than-perfect credit, an FHA loan is generally your best option. An FHA loan is a mortgage loan that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). With a down payment amount of 3.5%, FHA loans are a very popular option for first-time buyer.

If you have served or are presently serving in the U.S. military, we thank you for your service and would love to help you own a home with a VA loan. A fantastic benefit to a VA loan is that 100% financing is available without the need for mortgage insurance. You will need a Certificate of Eligibility from the VA to prove you are eligible for a VA loan. We can assist in getting the certificate on your behalf.

If you want to buy or currently own a home that needs repairs, we offer the FHA 203K Renovation Loan and the HomeStyle® Renovation Mortgage from Fannie Mae. There are two types of the FHA 203K loan, one is intended for more extensive improvements and the other less complicated projects. HomeStyle® allows you to make renovations, repairs, or improvements totaling up to 50 percent of the as-completed appraised value of the property with a first mortgage.

If you are in the market for a home where your loan amount will exceed $417K, our Jumbo (non-conforming) loan programs are what you need. Jumbo loans are ideal for high income borrowers with a credit score of at least 650. The interest rate for a Jumbo loan is generally slightly higher than a conforming loan with similar terms.

If you plan to live in a more rural area, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a variety of loans to help low- or moderate-income individuals buy, repair or renovate a home. USDA loans often carry low effective interest rates and do not require a cash down payment. Not all properties qualify for these loans, so be sure to check with your Mortgage Loan Officer to ensure you meet the proper requirements before considering a USDA loan.

If you are a first time buyer, First Centennial Mortgage is proud to offer state specific programs that are designed to assist you with down payment and closing cost assistance. Restrictions and other requirements do apply so be sure to speak with your First Centennial Mortgage Loan Officer for details. May not be available in all states.

If you are over 62 years old and have either paid off your home loan or have a very small balance, which must be paid off upon closing of the reverse mortgage, you may be eligible for a reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows qualified homeowners to take part of their home’s equity as cash.

Jim Francis will work with you one-on-one to tailor a financial solution that is specifically suited to meet your financing needs. Whether you are purchasing your dream home, refinancing an outstanding loan, or consolidating debt, our highly experienced team can help you find the right loan program. Be sure to consult with your Mortgage Loan Officer for specifics regarding each program. http://www.jimfrancisloans.com

Get your home ready for the market place

20150905_133940Often the first step in selling your home is making sure it’s ready for the market in the first place. Some sellers rush a home onto the market without properly preparing it for the public. By considering early on improvements that you may need to make, you can save yourself future headaches.

The amount and kind of work that you should do depends largely on the price you intend to ask, the time you have to sell, and the current condition of the house. If your house is in good condition and you’re pressed for time, do the small things that can make a big cosmetic difference. New paint, re-grouted tile in the bathroom and kitchen, new carpet in the major traffic areas-these are the kinds of things that can be relatively inexpensive for you yet important to potential buyers.

As far as major projects are concerned, avoid making improvements that may come down to a matter of taste. For instance, most buyers will appreciate newly tiled bathroom floors or brand new professional roofing, but not all buyers will be swayed by an expensive swimming pool in the back yard. Make sure that the investment in time and money you make for any project will be recouped in the sale of your house.

I’d be more than happy to help you with any questions you have as you move towards the sale of your home. Please also tour around my website, it is a great information resource for real estate. When you are ready to put your property on the market, I can see to it that it is marketed effectively. Social Media plays a key role in getting your home infant of the right buyers! Please feel free to call me with any of your real estate needs.

Wags 4 Hope

wag4hopeAt just sixteen years old, Annie has founded her very own nonprofit organization that is committed to educating others about heartworm disease and raising money for animal shelters around the country. By meshing her artistic skills and passion for painting with her innate love of animals, Annie sells and donates original dog paintings in order to spread the Wags 4 Hope mission, and the results speak for themselves: the inspiring teen has already raised over $30,000 in just two years!

Annie’s Inspiration

wag4hope2-300x225Wags 4 Hope was started after Annie’s family began looking for a dog of their own. Their search ended when they found Teddy, a two-year-old shaggy dog at a high-kill shelter in Houston, Texas. Teddy was a rescue dog, and after an antigen test during his check-up, the veterinarian discovered that he tested positive for heartworm disease, the treatment for which is very expensive, very painful, and can cause serious life-threatening complications. Teddy received two injections of arsenic and had to remain inactive while being carefully monitored for a couple months.

Annie was heartbroken upon learning that Teddy had to go through so much pain in order to get better, and she wanted to know more about the disease that was afflicting her new friend. Through research, she soon learned how serious and grave of a condition heartworm can be for dogs, and vowed to make an impact in the canine community by raising awareness for preventative measures.

“Having learned the devastating effects of heartworm disease from my loving companion, I seek to educate pet owners across the country about heartworm disease. I know I can make a difference and help save other innocent dogs that are at high risk.”

The Wags 4 Hope Mission

10429414_711011518994504_8078566871543963132_n-266x300Confident that she could make a difference and help save other dogs at risk, Annie began Wags 4 Hope as a way to educate pet owners across the country about heartworm disease. The teen uses the nonprofit as a means to remind people of the importance of preventing the disease before it can infect a pet—she shares that the best solution to ensuring the pet does not become infected is through preventatives that are FDA-approved and require a veterinarian’s prescription.

Besides educating others, Annie uses her artwork to raise money for the cause. Whether she is painting candid portraits of dear Teddy or taking on commissioned pieces based off of other people’s beloved pets, all proceeds from her sold paintings and fundraising events go to animal shelters and rescue groups to help cover the cost of an animal’s medical supplies until they find a home. Annie donates to different animals shelters across the United States (the list can be found on her website), and when people request specific shelters, she remains very flexible with where the proceeds go.

To check out more of Annie’s paintings, or to purchase your own custom pet portrait, check out her Wags 4 Hope website. Annie currently takes commission requests via e-mail inquiries.

Balancing High School with Nonprofit Leadership

10671365_678487975580192_2595392419308147344_n-234x300Wags 4 Hope has grown in many ways since its start in 2012. Annie’s painting orders have increased—she has already painted over 225 pieces!—and she has reached several impressive media outlets to help spread the mission of the organization, including special features in Dog FancyCesar’s Way Magazine, and the NY Daily News.

Although thrilled about this success, Annie makes sure to maintain a healthy focus on her school work and limits her painting to two to three hours a week. Annie has also established a Wags 4 Hope club at her high school, with over fifty current members, as a way to continue her work and incorporate it into her high school experience. She plans to study business and law in college, and hopes to find a job related to dogs. Her future plans for her organization include establishing a Wags 4 Hope Club in college in order to continue her advocacy and inform others about the dangers of heartworm disease.

To aid in Annie’s mission, follow and share the young philanthropist’s journey on Facebook.

“If people can click Like and share my page with others, we all can help educate and protect our furry friends!”

 

How to Design a Water-Efficient Garden

waterefficientWater is a precious resource, and the cost is rising all the time. By evaluating your garden designs and watering habits, it’s easy to eliminate inefficient practices that waste water. Follow these tips to dramatically reduce your water consumption and lower your water bill, while still nurturing a beautiful and productive garden.

Choose plants carefully.
A plant that’s satisfied by getting most of the water it needs from natural rainfall will require a lot less work from you. Native plants have had a long time to adjust to the area’s normal rainfall, soil, and climate. Once established, they require little or no watering. Natives and succulents may make better choices than some of the more common landscape plants.

Some plants are considered drought tolerant, but are high water users when water is accessible. Drought-tolerant plants become dormant when soil water is unavailable and then become active when water is available again. These plants also make for water-wise choices.


Add organic matter to your soil.
Healthy soil is the foundation of any successful garden, but it’s imperative in ones that tolerate drought. Soil is a collection of mineral particles of different sizes. If most of the particles are large like sand, water passes through rapidly; if most of the particles are small like clay, water will penetrate the soil much slower. The easiest solution to these problems is to add organic matter.

Organic matter, in the form of compost, chopped up leaves, or composted manure, will improve the texture and water-holding capacity of your soil. It will help trap moisture and encourage deep root formation in plants. Add at least one inch of compost each year.


Use mulch to retain water.
You can also add a layer of mulch on top of your soil. Mulch can cut water needs in half by blocking thirsty weeds and reducing evaporation; in addition, organic mulch retains water and increases the humidity level around plants.


Deliver water to the root zone.
In order for young plants to thrive, it’s critical they receive a healthy, steady irrigation flow. Drip irrigation minimizes evaporation loss and keeps the area between plants dry, which also helps limit weed growth. Water drips slowly to the roots of plants, either onto the soil surface or directly onto the root zone, through narrow tubes that deliver water directly to the base of the plant.


Use free water.
Rainwater is the best choice for your plants. It’s clear, unchlorinated, and free. You can use rain barrels to collect water from your downspouts. In addition, slimline tank and water-harvesting systems are available for even the tiniest of spaces.

You can also save your cooking water you use to steam or boil vegetables—it is full of nutrients and, when cooled, makes a free fertilizer for watering your plants. Have a fish tank? When you clean your fish tank, use the nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich water on your plants.


Making these smart water choices not only helps you create the garden you’ve always wanted, but also preserves our most precious resource—so you’ll be adding both beauty and vitality to Mother Earth.

Watermelon Salad with Lemon and Coriander Seed Dressing

watermellon-salad-feature

Ingredients for the dressing

½ teaspoon coriander seeds
Juice of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Ingredients for the salad
1 Asian pear, cubed
Juice of ½ lemon
3 cups watermelon, cubed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup mixed radishes and turnips, cubed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
5 cups mixed salad greens


Step 1: 
Combine the pear cubes with the lemon juice in a small bowl, and set aside.

Step 2: 
Make the dressing: Toast the coriander seeds in a skillet set over medium heat until lightly golden. Then grind the seeds fine with a mortar and pestle. Combine the ground coriander, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl, and whisk to dissolve the sugar. Slowly whisk in the oil.

Step 3: 
Drain the pear, and place the cubes in a salad bowl. Add the watermelon, cherry tomatoes, radishes and turnips, parsley, and basil. Toss to combine. Add the salad greens, toss again, and drizzle with the dressing. Serve immediately.

Low Down Payment Mortgage

DCU

 


Why is a Low Down Payment Mortgage Better Than an FHA Loan?

Simple! DuPage Credit Union:

  • Does not charge upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) Fees.
  • Does not require endless home inspections that take time and money — your money!
  • Only requires PMI until you have 20% invested in your home. FHA requires you to pay Mortgage Insurance every month for the entire life of your loan.

Learn how you can save thousands over the life of your loan with a DuPage Credit Union Low Down Payment Mortgage.

Example Credit Union Low Down Payment Loan FHA Loan
Purchase Price $200,000.00 $200,000.00
Down Payment 3% Down = $6,000.00 3.5% Down= $7,000.00
Upfront MIP $0.00 1.75% Upfront MIP = $3,378
Loan Amount $194,000.00 $196,378.00
Estimated Rate 4.50% 4.25%
Principal/Interest Payment $983.00 $966.00
Monthly Mortgage Insurance $133.00 Until 20% Paid (80% LTV) $217.00 For Life of the Loan
Monthly Payment $1,116.00 $1,183.00
DuPage Credit Union Low Down Payment Monthly Savings:

  • $67 per month while paying MI
  • $200 per month after MI is no longer required (reach 20% equity)

That’s a savings of over $14,000 during the first nine-years of your loan and $60,000 over the life of the loan!

Benefits of a DuPage Credit Union Home Loan

Whether you’re financing your first home or your fifth, enjoy exceptional personal service, customized solutions and benefits that save you time and money, including:

  • Non-commissioned Residential Lending Specialists
  • No application fee until you lock your rate
  • The ability to conveniently and securely submit and receive documents online
  • Our Mortgage Care-N-Tee to meet your original closing date
  • Knowing you will always make your mortgage payments directly to DuPage Credit Union
  • And more!

10 Top Traits of Good Neighbors

neighborsWhether you rent a city apartment or own a family home in the countryside, live miles away from your nearest neighbor or are situated close enough to chat from your own back patio—you can make small changes in your community every day by quite simply just acting in a neighborly way.

The importance of being a good neighbor extends far beyond improving bonds with those you live closest to. In fact, Harvard professor and author Robert D. Putnam says, “Communities work better (students perform better, crime rates are lower, kids are safer, people live longer) when neighbors know one another better. Knowing your neighbors on a first-name basis, as National Neighborhood Day suggests, is a surprisingly effective first step toward a better America.”

So to help inspire the practice of neighborly ways in your own community, we’ve gathered a list of top things good neighbors do:

  1. Take the time to establish good terms and build relationships with all neighbors.
    Great neighbors make their communities friendlier and safer, while improving the overall quality of life for themselves and those who surround them.
  2. Pay it forward.
    Every time a neighbor does something nice, he or she pays it forward to at least two other neighbors. Even simple things—like clearing a neighbor’s driveway before he or she gets the chance to, offering up a piece of lawn equipment to save a neighbor valuable time, or bringing along an extra latte on your morning walk to work—can have a huge impact on a neighborly relationship.
  3. Do your part.
    Keeping the neighborhood looking beautiful is a community effort, and good neighbors keep all spaces that are visible by others clean and well maintained. They keep up with basic yard work, making sure that the lawn is mowed, hedges are trimmed, and weeds are kept at bay; they understand that these tasks not only impact the value of their house, but also the homes around it.
  4. Follow up with seasonal maintenance.
    This includes sweeping up leaves in the fall, shoveling sidewalks and driveways in the winter, and cleaning up lawn clippings during warmer months. The neighbors that brighten up their outdoor space with flowers and other landscaping set the precedent for the rest of the street.
  5. Be tidy.
    Good neighbors take care to put their trash out on the right night, and in proper receptacles, so that the whole street doesn’t see (or smell) what they’ve tossed.
  6. Be conscientious about outdoor decor.
    Decorating for the holidays is a great way to spruce up an outdoor space, but make it a house rule that your haunted houses and lights come down within a few weeks of the holiday passing.
  7. Don’t fight for the right to party.
    When having additional people over, the noise level can go up very quickly. The most courteous neighbors inform others of get-togethers, and ask to let them know if the gathering has gotten too loud. Better yet, they invite all the neighbors to the party!
  8. Take an active presence in change and community decisions.
    Caring neighbors stay informed on community issues and make it a point to vote. It’s likely that you and your neighbors have busy lives and schedules, but if the community comes together as a group, change can happen more efficiently, and issues can be resolved more quickly. Plus, just showing up at community meetings and offering input shows that they care about the community and the people who share it.
  9. Show respect.
    Good neighbors teach their kids what both literal and figurative boundaries mean by explaining where their property ends and the neighbor’s begins, and any rules that go along with that. They also reinforce the concept that being on one side of the property line doesn’t mean noise levels can be ignored.
  10. Know how to bring people together.
    If their community doesn’t already have a method of sharing news, good neighbors would start a neighborhood e-mail list as a means of staying in communication with all of the neighbors in one fell swoop; and the best part is, once it is started, they don’t have to be the only one who keeps the momentum going. Any participating neighbor can spread the word about news, events, crimes, special garbage pickups, special event parking restrictions, weather hazards, school closings, and even the awesome weekly deal at the local market.

Eventually, the positive energy that these good neighbors spread will create a ripple effect of random acts of kindness and make the community a happier place to live. The next time new neighbors move in, consider welcoming the newcomers with a friendly hello and some local insider tips to quickly become the favorite neighbor on the block. Or choose from our collection of bright and cheerful neighborly greetings for anytime-gratitude that really stands out.

DIY Chewable Sweet Potato Dog Toy

pettoys1One of the reasons that dogs are so loved is that they’re very playful and are seemingly fascinated by the simplest things, like sticks or toys. Add a little more joy and show your dog how much you care by creating your own dog toy! This canine craft is made out of simple household items and will provide hours of enjoyment for your favorite four-legged friend!

Materials:

  • Sweet potatoes (amount varies by dog size)
  • Sharp knife
  • Round 1-inch cookie cutter
  • Baking sheet
  • Parchment or foil
  • 3–6 (2-to 3-foot pieces) hemp rope

dogtoy-300x225Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 250°F.
  2. Wash your sweet potatoes, and slice each into ½-inch thick rounds. Remove the center of each round with a cookie cutter.
  3. Place the rounds on a cookie sheet, and bake for 2½ hours. Flip and bake another 2½ hours (baking until they are no longer soft), then let cool.
  4. Take all your pieces of rope and make a knot on one end. Using one-to-two pieces of rope per strand, braid them together to make a thicker rope braid. Once you have a long braid. string on four sweet potato rings, and make a knot above them. Add four more rings and then another knot to tie off the end of your rope.

SAVE on Your Home Remodel

UnknownBusting the budget is everyone’s biggest fear when it comes to renovation. And with good reason. Even if you follow the essential advice, build in a 20 percent cushion to cover the nasty surprises, get contractor references and check them, banish the words “while you’re at it” from your vocabulary—it’s hard not to end up shelling out more than you want to, even if you want to pen a check for a million bucks.

With some strategic thinking about design, materials, and timing, you can cut costs without cutting corners. But another universal truth about renovations is that every little thing adds up. So save a little here, save a little there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

1. Increase efficiency, not size.
If you can reorganize and equip your kitchen for maximum utility, you may not need to blow out the walls to gain square footage. Start by replacing space–hogging shelves with cabinet–height pullout drawers 8 inches wide, containing racks for canned goods and other items.

2. Bring in natural light without adding windows.
Before cutting a big hole in the side of your house and rearranging the framing, consider less invasive—and less expensive—ways of capturing light. To brighten up a windowless bath or hallway, for instance, you can install a “light tube,” which slips between roof rafters and funnels sunshine down into the living space.

3. Hit the recycling center.
Do–it–yourselfers can reap big savings with recycled or lightly used fixtures and building materials. Habitat for Humanity operates about 400 ReStores nationwide, which offer salvaged materials at half off home–center prices. One caveat: Many contractors won’t work with salvaged items, or homeowner–supplied materials in general, because they don’t want to assume the liability if something goes wrong. That said, if you’re doing your own work, you can find anything from prehung doors to acrylic skylights to partial bundles of insulation.

4. Donate your trash.
Before you begin a remodeling job, invite the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to remove materials and fixtures for later resale. “About 85 percent of a house is reusable,” says B.J. Perkins, Habitat’s ReUse program manager, in Austin, Texas. “We can do a total takedown, or do a cherry-pick job and take the cabinets, the tub, the sink, and so on.” You save space in the landfill, collect a charitable tax credit for the donation, and help a good cause.

5. Do your own demo.
Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. “If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that,” says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. “But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before.” The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load–bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing.

save6.  Make sweat equity count.
Unless you’ve got loads of time (and expertise) to spend on your project, the best way to add sweat equity is up front, by handling your own demolition, or at the back end, by doing some of the finish work yourself. “If you want to save money, dig in and start helping out,” says Tom Silva. “You can insulate, you can paint, you can sand.” Or better still, he says, help with cleanup every day. “Instead of paying someone to pick up sawdust off the floor, put your money into the time it takes to trim the window properly,” he advises.

7. Don’t move the kitchen sink.
Or the toilet, if you can avoid it. “That often becomes the biggest part of the plumbing–price increase,” says Richard Trethewey, This Old House plumbing and heating expert. If your new layout requires that you move the toilet, use the opportunity to upgrade the pipes at the same time. “That will save you money in the long run,” says Richard.

8. Make decisions early.
Start prowling the aisles at the hardware store or home center way before the wrecking crew shows up. Get a good feeling for what you want in fixtures and appliances and what they cost. If you aren’t absolutely specific up front about what you want, you’ll have to rely on your contractor’s estimate, called an allowance, and his notion of what is acceptable may be quite different from yours. “Ninety–eight percent of the time, allowances are too low,” says Tom Silva. For instance, you may have had a glass–tile backsplash in mind, but your contractor’s bid was for ceramic.

These are just a few cost saving ideas for remodeling. Please share your thoughts. Maybe I can help you the rest of the way…

How to Build a Healthy Smoothie + Three Healthy Smoothie Recipes

SmoothieFeatured

Smoothies are the simplest way to pack lots of fruits and veggies into a single meal or snack. But building a delicious smoothie can quickly turn from a healthy treat to a high-calorie drink.

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Ready to pack more nutrients into your day? Try out any one of these three smoothie recipes:

Tropical Smoothie

  • 1 cup raw spinach leaves
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced cucumbersyellowcloseup1-300x225
  • ½ cup peeled oranges
  • ½ cup mango chunks
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • handful of ice

Add contents into your blender beginning with the liquid and finishing with the ice. Blend until smooth. Recipe makes two servings.

Green Smoothie 

  • ½ cup raw spinach leaves
  • ½ cup chopped raw kale (ribs removed)
  • ½ avocadogreencloseup1-300x225
  • 1 whole banana
  • 1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1½ cups hazelnut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • handful of ice

Add contents into your blender beginning with the liquid and finishing with the ice. Blend until smooth. Recipe makes two servings.

Berry Blast

  • ½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 1 whole bananapurplecloseup1-300x225
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • 1 cup chopped kale (ribs removed)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¾ cup almond milk
  • handful of ice

Add contents into your blender beginning with the liquid and finishing with the ice. Blend until smooth. Recipe makes two servings.

Ready to make a commitment to your health? Download our guide to superfoods for more information on how to adopt a healthy diet.

Is your Home Value Missing the Mark?

house, money, calculatorMost homebuyers begin their search online, looking to sites such as Zillow, Trulia and Redfin for house-hunting intelligence, including all-important home values. But those online price estimates might be little more than an algorithm’s best guess, and perhaps not even a particularly good one, at that.

So before you rule out a house as well out of your budget — or put your current home on the market because of its better-than-ever value — you might want to rethink that price tag.

Today, many are faced with selling a condo while buying a home (upsizing), or downsizing, which means you will be working both sides of the property value equation. Zillow and similar sites don’t add much clarity to the situation. Some of the sites will have a house at almost $60,000 to $70,000 more than  it is selling for — and some may price it for almost $100,000 less.

If you have your home appraised, then you know what it is worth. However, many homeowners do not want to pay the out of pocket expense to find out (Estimated cost is $400-$500).

Online services, while great sources of information, often strive to offer quick and easy answers to complicated questions. And determining a home’s value is definitely a multilayered problem.

On its website, Zillow admits that its “Zestimate” is simply a “starting point” in determining a home’s value. Using proprietary algorithms that include recent sales and property tax assessments, the calculations are automatically updated three times per week based on “millions of public and user-submitted data points.” Translated, that means that the data can be manipulated by anyone.

So, other than paying for an appraisal, how do you find the accurate value? Your local Real Estate Agent has access to reliable sources that report factual data. For example, Realtors use comps or Comparative Market Analysis. They can calculate the cost per square foot and know when to add value for home improvements, i.e.; Kitchen upgrades, finished basement, additional bathrooms, as well as the overall condition of the home. Realtors have access to tools & algorithms that the mortgage lenders use to truly measure the value of your home. When interviewing a Realtor, ask them how they arrived at your home value.

Need more information? I am more than happy to provide a complete analysis of your home. Please feel free to call or complete the box on the right side of this page. Ready to get started?

 

Fact or Myth: Test Your Fitness Knowledge

factormythGoogle fitness, and you’ll get about 1,490,000,000 results. That’s a staggering amount of information. And it’s just one term. Think about how much information is out there when you add related terms. Keeping it all straight can be challenging, especially when you don’t know how accurate all of it is.

Can you separate the fact from myth? Try to decide for each statement before reading the answers.


Low-intensity exercise burns more fat.
MYTH – The more you exercise, the more carbs you burn. You may burn less fat, but you’ll burn more calories. Your body goes after the fat once it has burned off all the carbs.


Your weight doesn’t have much to do with your fitness level.
FACT – It’s common to see an increase in weight when performing lifting regimens because muscle weighs more than fat.


Spot reduction always works for tight abs and toned arms.
MYTH – The more reps you do, the more muscle memory you create. This reduces the effectiveness of your workout and makes your body burn less fat.


Cardio is not the only way to burn fat.
FACT – Cardio is good for your heart and increases endurance. After extended cardio regimens, your body begins to feed off of the energy within the muscle rather than the fat.


You do not have to exercise before breakfast in order to burn fat.
FACT – In the morning, your body’s metabolism is at its lowest because you haven’t eaten for eight hours or so. If you eat a well-balanced breakfast, you will be able to exercise longer and your body’s metabolism will already be working.


You can eat whatever you want as long as you exercise regularly.
MYTH – Losing pounds and burning fat occur when you consume fewer calories than what you burn off in a day. And muscles need to feed too. Your food intake should consist of a balance of fats, proteins and carbs.

How to Shampoo Your Dog or Cat without Water

dryshampooDo you have a pet that hates getting a bath? Why waste water? Try cleaning your pet with one of these recipes for a dry shampoo! Whether you have a dog or a cat, you’ll find these recipes to be great for freshening up your pet’s coat, they can save you and your pet a lot of frustration!


DRY SHAMPOO FOR DOGS

Dogs are known for getting into anything and everything, but a strong shake on their part just isn’t enough to get them adequately clean, so try this shampoo to make your pet dog-gone clean.

Materials:

  • 3 tablespoons baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 drops of a skin-safe fragrance oil
  • Bulk spice container

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, combine the baking soda, cornstarch, and fragrance oil, and pour mixture into the container. If your container’s lid does not already have holes in it, poke a few of your own holes.

To apply, take your dog outside, and brush him to remove any clumps of fur. Sprinkle a good amount of your dry shampoo on your dog’s coat, and rub it in thoroughly. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, which will give the mixture time to absorb any oils and odors from the fur, brush your dog again to get most of the shampoo out, and use an old towel to rub out the rest. (If you still see some shampoo after that, try blow drying your dog’s coat.)

Cat-300x225DRY SHAMPOO FOR CATS

Cats do a relatively good job of keeping themselves clean, but they are also notorious for disliking getting wet, so this dry shampoo will come in handy when it’s time to freshen up your feline’s fur.

Materials:

  • ⅓ cup unprocessed bran
  • ⅓ cup cornmeal
  • ⅓ cup rolled oats
  • Microwave-safe container

Instructions:

Pour the grains into a microwave-safe container, seal, shake to combine, and warm the mixture in a microwave set on low for 10-15 seconds. To apply, take your cat outside, rub the warm grains into your cat’s fur, let it sit for a few minutes, and brush it out.

How to Make a Patriotic Centerpiece

flagcraft2Centerpieces are designed to be focal points, centers of attention. And what better way to make use of this adornment than to show your pride in your country? Honor all those who have served in our military by creating a one-of-a-kind star-spangled centerpiece, which is certain to be an eye-catcher and conversation starter!

Materials:

  • 3 quart-size mason jars
  • White spray paint
  • Paintbrushes (large and fine tip recommended)
  • Red, white, and blue acrylic paint
  • Painter’s tape
  • Pencil
  • Foam star
  • Sandpaper (optional)
  • Clear acrylic sealer

Instructions:

  1. Spray paint two of the mason jars white. (You might have to apply two or three coats.) Make sure to let the jars dry completely in between coats.
  2. With the large paintbrush, paint the third jar blue. Allow to dry, and apply additional coats, if necessary.
  3. After the white jars are dry, create two painter’s tape stripes on each jar. Use the red paint to fill in the uncovered areas. Allow to dry, and apply additional coats, if necessary. Remove painter’s tape, and use paint to touch up where necessary.
  4. Create star shapes on the blue jar by tracing the foam star with the pencil. Using the fine tip paintbrush, fill in the star shapes with the white acrylic paint.
  5. For a more rustic look, gently rub sandpaper over the edges and embossed text on the jar once the paint has dried.
  6. Once your are happy with how the jars look, spray them outside with the clear sealant. After they have dried, fill them with fresh cut flowers to complete your centerpiece.