17 Simple Tips for a Successful Move

Shot of a young man and woman sealing boxes in their apartment

From planning to unpacking, there are a lot of moving parts when relocating yourself or your family. Even if you’re moving on up, the process can still lead to some stressful situations. Minimize the hassle—and save time and money in the process—with these moving tips.

Planning for Your Move
• Collect free boxes. Call your local grocery stores for extra boxes, and ask wine/package stores for wine cases, which are great for packing glassware.
• Invest in custom boxes. Wardrobe boxes and custom containers are worth the money for keeping items like artwork and flatscreens safe.
• Calculate moving costs. Include supplies (boxes, tape, etc.), on-the-road expenses, storage, and moving trucks or movers. Check out unpackt.com for a comprehensive guide on calculating moving costs.
• Keep, sell, donate, or toss. Having trouble letting go? Keep in mind that sold items make you money, donated items equal tax deductions, and tossed items lessen the amount you have to move.
• Organize a moving folder. Include moving quotes, contracts, and all receipts (as many moving expenses are tax deductible).
• Organize and draft a floor plan. Start planning the layout of your new home, and assign functions to rooms in advance.
• Color code. Assign a color to every key area of your home. Print colored labels to tape onto boxes with clear tape, and add a splash of the color to all sides with colored duct tape or markers.
• Create a number system for boxes. This will help you prioritize boxes you should unpack first and ones that can wait.
• Create a moving key to follow. Include your color code and number system, and then print multiple copies to place in every room.

Smart Packing Solutions
• Take photos of cords. A quick snapshot of the cords on the back of complex electronics is a small action that you’ll be thankful for later.
• Keep hardware organized. Tape screws, bolts, and nuts directly to furniture, appliances, and picture frames. Use a ziplock bag for larger hardware, label it, and attach the bag to the item.
• Pack heavy items in rolling luggage. Books, for example, are nice to store together, but their weight adds up quickly. Avoid heavy lifting by wheeling them in your luggage.
• Contain with plastic wrap. Use plastic wrap around drawers and other storage items, like a silverware tray. It’s cheap, doesn’t leave sticky residue, and saves time by allowing you to avoid emptying every container.
• Protect mattresses. Put your extra fitted sheets to good use by doubling them up around mattresses to keep them clean.
• Pack small kitchen items in larger ones. Try putting spices in the Crock-Pot and measuring cups in a mixing bowl. Get creative!
• Use towels for cushioning. Wrap delicate items in towels for an extra layer of protection that costs nothing.
• Clean as you go. As you pack, quickly clean off items to avoid carrying excess dirt into your new digs.

To help make the process as organized as possible, plan out your big event with this moving time-frame worksheet. And don’t forget to let your cable company know. Use this change of address checklist to make sure all of your accounts are notified of your change in residence.

 

Tomato Pie

tomato-pie-headerThe colorful palette of tomatoes makes this dish a double threat of being both delectable to taste and dazzling to the eye.It’s bursting with creative flair and can be presented as an amped-up BLT wrapped up in the charm of a pie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-size tomatoes in various colors
  • ½ teaspoon fine kosher salt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 (9-inch) piecrust, store-bought or homemade
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 to 6 slices thick-cut bacon, fried crisp and broken into small pieces
  • 10 basil leaves
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes in various colors
  • 4 thyme sprigs

Step 1:

Slice the large tomatoes into rounds ¼-inch thick, and place them on paper towels. Let them sit for about 10 minutes, then flip them over onto fresh paper towels, and sprinkle them with the salt. Let them sit about 10 minutes more. You don’t want them to be too juicy before baking, because that could make your pie soupy.

Step 2:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Step 3:

Prepare the filling by combining the mayonnaise, cheddar, and Parmesan. Arrange a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the piecrust. Sprinkle on the pepper and half of the bacon, then layer on five of the basil leaves, and spread half of the mayonnaise mixture over the basil. Repeat, ending with a final layer of sliced tomatoes, placed so that you can fit the cherry tomatoes on top as well.

Step 4:

Scatter the thyme sprigs across the top of the pie. Bake the pie for about 30 minutes, then fold strips of aluminum foil around the rim of the pie to keep the edges from turning too brown, and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Allow the pie to cool before serving.

 

5 Secrets Your Contractor Doesn’t Want You to Know

general-contractor-secrets-standard_3x2_93627b61fadf1f7e5fa73ebbf5228184_540x360_q85You think of your contractor as an ally and partner — but he’s a primarily a businessman who may not reveal all. Here’s how to level the playing field.

You’ve asked friends to recommend great contractors, picked your favorite, checked references — and maybe even conducted an online background check on his business. So you know you’ve found a top-notch guy for your home improvement project.

But remember that his bottom line is getting you to sign a contract, and he’s not going to mention anything that might get in the way. Before you make a commitment, here’s what you need to know in order to protect your own bottom line.

1. He’s Not the Only Game in Town

Even if you believe you found the best contractor in the area, don’t hire him unless you’re sure he’s right for your project.

Homeowners should solicit at least three bids from three different contractors before awarding a home improvement project. This way you can make an educated hiring decision by comparing costs, methods, and materials.

What you should do: Make sure you have a basis for comparison when asking for bids. Provide each contractor with the same project details. This may include materials you wish to use and floor plans. Although cost should be one of your deciding factors, other points to consider include scheduling and communication style.

TIP: Once you picked the best contractor for the job, keep your project on track with an ironclad contract.

2. He’s Going to Farm Out the Work

General contractors often don’t do the physical work themselves. They might have been carpenters or plumbers, but now that they run their own businesses, they’ve retired their tool belts.

Instead, their role is to sign clients, manage budgets, and schedule a cast of subcontractors. When he’s trying to win your business, a contractor can be pretty vague about how involved he’s going to be — and who will be running the job day-to-day.

What you should do: Inquire who will be in charge of the job site. Ask to meet the job foreman, preferably while he’s at work on a current job site. “Maybe he’s a chain smoker or doesn’t speak English or who knows what?” says Stockbridge, Mass., contractor Jay Rhind. “You want to make sure you feel comfortable with him.”

TIP: Don’t underestimate the power of being nice. It can help keep your contractor and crew on track while improving the quality of their work.

3. A Big Deposit is Unnecessary — and Possibly Illegal

When you sign a contract, you’re usually expected to pay a deposit. But that’s not for covering the contractor’s initial materials or set-up costs.

If his business is financially sound and he’s in good standing with his suppliers, he shouldn’t need to pay for anything up front. In fact, many states limit a contractor’s advance. California maxes out deposits at 10% of the job cost, or $1,000 — whichever is smaller. To find out what the law is in your area, check with your local or state consumer agency.

What you should do: A small deposit is reasonable to kick off a project. But your payment plan should be based on a defined amount of work being completed. This way, if the work isn’t proceeding according to schedule, the payments will be delayed.

TIP: When possible, charge it. The Federal Trade Commission suggests when paying for home improvement work, use a credit card. Doing so may protect homeowners if a project goes south. After making a good faith effort to workout any problems with your contractor, consumers have the right to withhold payment up to the amount of credit outstanding for the purchase. This includes any finance or related charges.

4. He’s Not Only Marking Up Labor, But Materials Too

No contractor wants to talk about it, but he’s going to mark up everything he pays out to make your job happen. That’s fair; it’s how he pays his own overhead and salary. Keep it in mind that the 50% or more mark-up may apply not just to materials but labor costs, too.

What you should do: If you can handle buying items such as plumbing fixtures, cabinetscountertops, and flooring, ask your contractor to take them out of his bid price. Be sure to agree on specific numbers and amounts of what you’ll be buying, and that you’ll have the items to the job site when they’re needed. You could save 10% to 20% or more on the overall cost of the project.

TIP: Salvage materials are one way to save on building costs. Just make sure you use upcycled stuff wisely so you don’t harm your home’s value.

5. He’s Not the Design Whiz He Claims to Be

Sure, there are contractors who have strong design abilities. Chances are, however, they’re spending a lot more time running their businesses than honing their design chops.

What you should do: Depending upon the complexity of your project, you may need a number of skilled pros to get the job done. So don’t count on a contractor to design your space and add clever details, unless he clearly demonstrates his abilities and has a portfolio of his own work.

Ask his references specifically about his design skills. Keep in mind, in some instances you might be better off hiring an architect for overall planning, and a kitchen and bath designer for the details.

Pet Projects That Repurpose Unwanted Stuff

pet-projects-repurpose-pet-bed_3x2_b63f82af5b95fed5f8630abcbd927959_540x360_q85These 5 repurposing tricks turn unwanted stuff into cool pet things.

Today is America Recycles Day, so we turned to some of our favorite online sites for penny-pinching repurposing ideas that will benefit cats and canines.

But before we dive in, keep the following in mind: When it comes to buying or making repurposed stuff for pets, make sure all materials are non-toxic and don’t pose a hazard to Spot or Kitty.

(If pets aren’t your thing, then check out yesterday’s post about repurposing burnt-out light bulbs, or come back tomorrow, when we’ll tell you how to repurpose leftover chopsticks and plastic containers from your takeout dinners).

One-of-a-kind pet beds

Most store-bought pet beds are eyesores. But something repurposed from old furniture or even an outdated consumer electronic makes a great conversation piece — in addition to a cool pet nook.

1. Dresser drawer pet bed: StephanieJane Upcycle, an Etsy seller, turned a drawer from a broken dresser into an eco-friendly pet bed. They kept animal and human wellness in mind while adding the final touches. The drawer was stripped and refinished using biodegradable and non-toxic products.

Recycling tip: There are organizations that specifically recycle broken furniture. To find a local solution for your broken stuff, visit Earth911.com.

pet-projects-repurpose-toaster-bed_a2edb1cf69ddf9d813bf9c9f92f655412. A toaster oven pet bed: The Etsy shop Recycled Arts gave an outmoded kitchen appliance new life as a pet crash pad (albeit for pint-sized pets). A fleece blanket was added for comfort. And just for fun, they left the timer intact.

Recycling tip: Have a bunch of old blankets and linens that you want to get rid of? Donate them to your local animal shelter. By doing so, you’ll keep rescued dogs and cats warm this winter.

Fun pet toys 

You know how you can keep small kids entertained for hours with a big cardboard box? Well, you can do the same for cats with a toilet paper tube.

pet-projects-repurpose-cat-toy_f016611fabcbf08efdb37fda21a0cd763. Toilet paper tube cat toy: Holly Tse is the blogger behind the eco-friendly site Green Little Cat. She keeps her feline friend entertained with balls of rings made from cardboard toilet paper tubes. All you need to do is flatten one crosswise and then, using a pair of scissors, cut into 1/3” rings.

Afterwards, pop the flattened rings back into a circle and form them into a ball. When you’re finished, grab the kitty’s attention and toss the new toy in the air. Your cat will have a ball chasing the rings that fall across the floor.

Recycling tip: The Humane Society also has a few ideas for repurposed cat toys: round plastic shower curtain rings make great toys for cats to bat around; plus large paper bags (never plastic) with the handles removed are perfect for a game of kitty hide and seek.

Give doggie dining a leg up

Large dogs, especially those in their senior years, can experience joint stress and other painful issues from repeatedly crouching down to reach their meals. Here’s an idea that alleviates discomfort by raising food and water bowls off the ground.

pet-projects-repurpose-dog-feeder_05f7967fe3e1136d8eb7534862f00a804. Eco-friendly canine feeding station: This clever food and water bowl set by For Love of a Doggives canine meals a lift using small vintage school chairs. A foam gasket was added to stabilize the dog bowls; plus, the seats were water-sealed to protect the wood from spills.

Recycling tip: In addition to blankets and linens, many pet shelters will accept non-breakable dishes that can function as dog and cat bowls.

Give plastic bags a new leash on life

Here’s a green idea worthy of man’s best friend that turns pesky plastic bags into a dog leash.

5. Grocery bag dog lead: You’ll need a clasp for the dog’s collar to compete this project, plus a plastic clothesline clip, glue, and scissors. Keep in mind: While this leash does look sturdy, it is not suited for large dogs and aggressive leash-pullers.

Home Remodeling: 6 Improvements to Increase Home Value

low-maintenance-house-composite-decking-standard_1x1_23ba87f585e215b70278f34fe2fb002e_165x165_q85Not all home improvements are created equal. These will reward you the most when it comes time to sell.

Dreaming of stainless this and marble that, with a dash of hip color? Sloooow down. See what your wallet has to say first. Some projects will protect your dollars more than others, especially if you’re planning to sell in a few years.

How do we know? Since 2002, a trade magazine for contractors and builders called “Remodeling” has been tracking common home improvement projects and how much of the cost of each project is recouped when the home sells.

We sifted through years of past results and aggregated the numbers to get an idea of what projects made the most of your dollars year after year. Then we overlayed that background with the data from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ “Remodeling Impact Report” to determine current project costs and the cost recovery percentage, and to get some other fun facts, such as how satisfied homeowners are with the projects when finished.

They also have a few things in common. The projects are:

  • Low-maintenance
  • Good — but not necessarily the highest — quality
  • Energy-efficient
  • Not too costly

These projects are the best long-term remodeling investments you can make:

1. Replacing Your Front Door

Your faithful front door works tirelessly — day in and day out — to usher in you and your guests, and to seal your house up tight. But when Old Faithful gets tired and worn out, don’t hesitate to call in a replacement. Year in and year out, replacing your old front door with a new steel door is a project that kicks up curb appeal and yields the best payback.

“It gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of transforming the look and feel of your home,” says Brandon Erdmann, president of the remodeling firm HomeSealed Exteriors in Milwaukee. “Plus, old exterior doors can be a huge source of energy loss. So you’re improving the look of your house, improving energy efficiency, and you’re able to do it without breaking the bank.”

It’s also a relatively low-cost project. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report,” a new steel front entry door has a national median cost of $2,000 installed, and can recover 75% of that cost at resale.

2. New Siding

Old, worn siding, along with generally sad curb appeal, can contribute to a loss of up to 10% of your home’s value, according to some appraisers. New siding, on the other hand, practically screams “my owner takes care of me.”

What to choose? Both vinyl and fiber-cement siding are good replacement options.

Vinyl siding is low-cost, durable, and easy to install, and it hits all the right notes when it comes to getting a return on your home improvement dollars. Best of all: It’s a low-maintenance feature that frees up your time.

Today’s vinyl siding includes fade-resistant finishes and transferrable lifetime warranties that are much better than the 10-year guarantees of just two decades ago. There’s good payback, too. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report,” the $12,000 national median cost of a vinyl siding replacement job returns a solid 83% if you should decide to sell your home.

Fiber-cement siding also shows a strong payback of 79% in the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report.” Although its national median cost of $19,100 makes it the pricier option, it has one thing vinyl still lacks — the perception of quality.

And quality matters. In a survey from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), “quality” was the one of the most important traits that home buyers focused on when shopping for a house. A final word: 100% of homeowners responding to the “Report” said they were happy or satisfied with the result of their fiber-cement siding replacement project.

3. Kitchen Upgrade

We’re not talking about the dream kitchen remodels that are plastered on Pinterest and Houzz. But a minor kitchen remodel — one that keeps a lid on costs by refacing instead of replacing cabinets, and includes new flooring, countertops, and modestly priced appliances — is an ever-popular project.

“People are always willing to update their kitchens,” says Dale Contant, 2016 president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and owner of Atlanta Build and Design. “It’s the hub of the home.”

Although the ROI on a kitchen update is relatively modest — the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” says you can expect a return of 67% on the $30,000 national median cost of a kitchen upgrade — you’ll get lasting satisfaction. Eighty-two percent of homeowners said their updated kitchen gave them a greater desire to be at home, and 95% were happy or satisfied with the result.

4. Deck and Patio Additions

Like alfresco living? You’re in good company. According to a 2014 Home Trends Survey from the American Institute of Architects, our love of outdoor living spaces — especially decks and patios — is on the rise.

One big reason is that decks and patios are a sweet way to expand living space at a low cost of $8 to $35 per square foot — a bargain compared to the $150-and-up per-square-foot cost of a new addition.

5. Turning an Attic into a Bedroom

When it comes to romantic rooms, a bedroom retreat is hard to beat. But a treetop boudoir is much more than a daydream — it’s a good investment. You’ll gain living space without having to add on to your home’s footprint — the walls, floor, and ceiling already exist. That helps keep remodeling costs under control.

There are code restrictions you’ll have to navigate when converting an attic to a bedroom, but if your house qualifies and you can cover the cost (about $65,000 says the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report”), chances are you won’t regret your decision. Some 94% of homeowners responding to the “Report” said they were happy or satisfied with their new attic space.

6. New Garage Door

No surprise that a garage door replacement project made it onto our list of all-time winners — a new garage door provides a big boost for your home’s curb appeal at a relatively modest cost. That’s especially good news if you’re thinking about selling your house.

A project that replaces an older, two-car, embossed steel door has a current cost of about $2,300, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report.” If you sell, you can expect a healthy ROI of 87% on your investment.

There are options galore, too. A host of factory-finish colors, wood-look embossed steel, and glass window insets are just some of the possibilities that’ll give your doors bankable personality.

Looking to buy or sell your home? Click here.

Rice, Zucchini, and Feta Frittata with Fennel Pollen Yogurt

frittata-feature

Ingredients for the frittata
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 baby zucchini, sliced lengthwise
4 scallions, sliced
1 cup cooked white rice
½ cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese

Ingredients for the yogurt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 pinches fennel pollen
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground
black pepper to taste


Step 1: 
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Step 2: 
Heat the butter and oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and scallions, and sauté until soft. Mix in the rice, mint, and dill, and season with half of the salt and pepper.

Step 3: 
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, and remaining salt and pepper. Pour over the rice mixture, and cook without stirring for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the crumbled feta on top.

Step 4: 
Transfer the skillet to the oven, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden.

Step 5: 
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, fennel pollen, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the fennel pollen to release its flavor and aroma. Yogurt will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.

Step 6: 
Serve frittata with fennel pollen yogurt.

Who’s Got Your Back When Your Credit Report is Wrong?

credit scoreWith some credit report errors not getting fixed by either the credit reporting bureau or credit card companies, at least you have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in your corner.

When you find an error in your credit report and send the credit bureau proof that your creditor was wrong when it said you paid late, didn’t pay at all, or, worse yet, are deceased, you expect the bureau and your creditor to do the right thing.

Like acknowledge the error and correct your credit report to show you paid on time, paid off your debts, or are still alive.

And yet, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently had to tell the credit bureaus (and the companies that report your payment record to the bureaus) to pay attention to your complaints and take more care investigating your disputes.

It’s like the Department of Transportation having to order school bus drivers to use the brakes to stop their buses.

How Errors Get Perpetuated

Keeping track of your payment history is the credit bureau’s job. Nevertheless, a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report found 20% of consumers had errors in their credit report. And about 5% of consumers had errors in their credit report that could affect the likelihood of receiving credit or the terms of credit received.

To do their job right, the credit bureaus have to get accurate information each month from the companies that report data to them — parties like credit card issuers, mortgage lenders, auto loan companies, and student loan lenders.

When you tell a credit reporting bureau there’s an error in your report, the bureau contacts the company that furnished the information about you. You’d think the bureau would pass along whatever documents and proof you have to show you paid on time.

Not so much. In the past, they’ve simply boiled down your issue into a data code and sent that, not your proof (a letter explaining the issue, supporting documents) to the data furnisher. Evidence is important in establishing that the data furnisher made an error.

That’s why the CFPB stepped in and told the credit bureaus they need to pass along the evidence that supports your dispute.

Regardless of whether they see your proof, credit furnishers sometimes respond to an error report by simply deleting the disputed account, the CFPB said.

That’s not good for you because the furnisher isn’t:

  • Correcting your information, or
  • Telling the other two credit reporting companies (there are three big ones) that it made a mistake in the information it provided about you.

Here’s an example of how this might work:

Suppose you have an auto loan that you paid on time every month for 60 months. But the auto loan company says once you paid 90 days late. You dispute, and the auto lender removes your account from the data it reports to the credit bureaus.

Now, you don’t have the late payment report on your record, but you also don’t have the 60 months of on-time payments either. A mortgage lender pulling your credit report, for instance, won’t see that positive payment history, so your credit rating might decline just when you’re trying to get a home loan or refi.

Catch Credit Report Errors Early

In a related move, the CFPB also suggested credit card companies follow the example set by Discover, Barclaycard, and First Bankcard and start showing consumers the credit scores they use to set the rates their customers pay.

Discover shows credit scores on customers’ monthly statements. Barclaycard and First Bankcard give customers free access to their scores via a website.

The CFPB is asking for credit score disclosure because it wants you to pay closer attention to your credit standing.

“Consumers often learn the importance of their credit standing when it is too late — after a credit application is denied or identity theft has occurred,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a letter to credit card companies. “Sometimes they fail to see the importance of their credit standing even if it has affected them in material ways, such as being rejected for a job or charged a higher price for a loan.”

How Do I Get Errors Fixed? 

It’s up to you to guard your credit. The first step is checking to see what’s in your credit report. You can get one free credit report from each of the three bureaus once a year. Then, if you find mistakes, get to work trying to correct them.

If the credit bureau doesn’t fix the error, complain to the CFPB. You can:

  • Call the toll-free phone number at 855/411-CFPB (2372) or TTY/TDD phone number at 855/729-CFPB (2372)
  • Fax the CFPB at 855/237-2392
  • Mail a letter to: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa 52244

The CFPB will give you a confirmation number immediately, email updates along the way, and you’ll be able to check the progress of your case online.

If you need to fix an error, you’ve got a lot of company. Between Oct. 22, 2012, and Feb. 1, 2014, roughly 31,000 consumers complained to the CFPB about credit report problems, the agency says. About three-quarters of those complaints came from consumers who had trouble fixing a credit report mistake.

Think you can’t buy a home because of your credit??? Click here.

7 Things You Should Paint Instead of Replace to Save Money

painting-ideas-save-money-standard_074f4a971417f69ffec0fadba3191df2_QDaDNH7_1x1_165x165_q85Paint isn’t just for walls. Here’s how to breathe new life into old stuff.

You know a fresh coat of paint can give any room a quick and inexpensive facelift. But did you know that a little paint can also perk up carpets, appliances, and even vinyl floors?

Basically, if it doesn’t move, you can paint it. But only after you’ve paid special attention to prep — cleaning, patching, and sanding (generally) the area.

Painting isn’t brain surgery, but it’s not a breeze, either. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Prime before painting. Primer will allow the paint to adhere better.
  • Most hard surfaces will take primer better if they’re roughed up a little with fine-grade sandpaper.
  • When using spray paint, multiple, thin layers are better than one, thick coat. Ease up on your trigger finger, and spray in short bursts.
  • Wait for the previous coat of paint or primer to dry completely before adding another coat.

With proper prep, you can paint just about anything. Here are seven of our favorite ideas:

1. Door, Drawer, and Cabinet Hardware

Spray paint can turn builder-grade brass locks and hinges into fashion-forward hardware with an oil-rubbed bronze, pewter, or stainless look.

Prep:

  1. Clean hardware with a fine steel wool to remove grease and grime.
  2. Rough up the surface with fine-grain sandpaper.
  3. Before you paint, insert a tiny strip of painter’s tape into the keyhole to make sure paint doesn’t gunk it up.
  4. Prime with a metallic primer, then paint with metallic spray paint.

Tip:

  • Insert the door lock’s spindle into a square of Styrofoam, which will hold it upright while you spray around the knob.

2. Brick Fireplace

When you paint your red brick fireplace, you transform the entire room. But beware! Once you paint brick, it’s nearly impossible to return it to the original brick color.

You can paint brick a single color, or achieve some variation — like the variations in real brick — by sponging on slightly lighter and darker hues.

Prep:

  1. Lightly sand away any loose bits of brick or mortar with 120-grit sandpaper.
  2. Clean dirt and soot with a wire brush and heavy-duty cleanser.
  3. Allow to dry completely before applying an oil-based, stain-blocking primer.
  4. Paint with a semigloss latex.

Tips:

  • Never paint the firebox.
  • Brick is porous and drinks paint, so buy twice what you think you’ll need.
  • Wear safety glasses and gloves when cleaning anything with a metal brush.

3. Ceramic Tile

Imagine how sweet it is to update ceramic tile without having to bust up and cart away tons of old tile.

Play it safe and avoid painting tiles in high-traffic and high-moisture areas. Some good places are laundry room floors, backsplashes under cabinets (but not above ranges where pasta sauce splatters), and walls around tubs you rarely use.

Prep:

  1. Repair cracked or chipped tile with caulk or grout before painting.
  2. Give patching material ample time to dry, then lightly sand before applying an epoxy or urethane bonding primer.
  3. Sand after priming and between each coat of quality latex paint.
  4. Wait several days for the paint to cure completely, then seal with two or three coats of clear, water-based polyurethane.

Tips:

  • To get a smooth look, apply paint in zigzags, then roll down in one, smooth motion.
  • Use 240-grit wet/dry sandpaper for prep and between coats.
  • Don’t forget safety goggles and masks when sanding tiles.

4. Wood Floors

When wood floors are beyond another refinishing, painting can give them a second life — and give you a chance to add a personal touch to your home.

Prep:

  1. Slightly sand the surface so your primer will adhere better. No need to sand down to the wood; even roughing up the seal coat will help the primer adhere better.
  2. Vacuum and mop with a damp cloth to remove all the dust — nothing ruins a paint job faster than dust.
  3. Tint your primer to reduce the number of coats you’ll need of latex enamel floor paint.

Tips:

  • Before you commit to a paint color, paint a large piece of foam board with a sample of your desired color and put it on the floor to give you a good idea what the finished floor will look like.
  • It takes each coat about 24 hours to dry completely. So don’t jump the gun when applying the next, thin coat.
  • Your painted floor won’t completely cure for almost a month, so hold off on moving back heavy things like pianos and chests of drawers.
  • Protect your painted floor by putting mats down at the sink (wood and paint hate water) and high-traffic entryways.

5. Carpet

We love the idea of covering stains and reviving a carpet with upholstery paint. It saves hundreds of dollars and the hassle of getting rid of an old carpet.

Kathie Smula of Spray It New upholstery paint says carpets with a short pile are the best candidates for painting; long-pile carpets become hard and matted when painted.

Prep:

  1. Thoroughly clean the carpet before painting. You don’t have to steam clean it, but scrub up the worst stains and vacuum so dust and dirt don’t mix with the paint.
  2. Skip priming and just spray paint two or three coats, depending on how deep you want the color. Make sure it’s dry to the touch before spraying another coat.

Tips:

  • Don’t confuse upholstery paint, good for carpets, with fabric paint, good for T-shirts.
  • If you get heavy handed and paint clumps, loosen the area with a bristle brush and dab up excess paint.
  • Six cans of spray paint will cover an 8-foot-by-10-foot carpet with at least two coats.

6. Vinyl Floors

Painting is an inexpensive way to get a few more years out of old vinyl floors in kitchens and laundry rooms.

Prep:

  1. Wash the floor with a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) solution to get rid of built-up dirt and grime.
  2. Rough up the shiny surface with 180-grit sandpaper. If some nooks and crannies remain glossy, apply a deglosser (paint stores sell it) to remove shine.
  3. Prime with a latex primer.
  4. Paint with a porch/floor paint.

Tips:

  • Save your back when sanding floors by using a sanding pole, like the ones drywall installers use.
  • Highly textured vinyl floor may require another sanding and a second coat of primer.

7. Appliances

Heat-resistant appliance paint will perk up your kitchen. Use an indoor appliance paint to change colors, or a liquid stainless steel application to give your appliance the stainless steel look.

Use a roller for small touchups; two or three thin coats of spray paint is better for total appliance coverage.

Prep:

  1. Clean appliance exteriors with a heavy-duty cleaning solution and, if needed, a scrubbing pad.
  2. Remove handles and hardware; place painters tape over trim and logos.
  3. Sand the exterior.

Tips:

  • Make sure the front of your appliance is metal, not plastic. Plastic exteriors will require priming, while appliance paint will stick more easily to metal exteriors.
  • If you’re spray-painting, haul the appliance outdoors to avoid getting paint on cabinets and floors. If you paint indoors, open windows to assure proper ventilation.
  • For the stainless look, Liquid Stainless Steel is the go-to product. It’s got real flakes of stainless steel. Apply with a brush.

5 Beloved Pets Who Tried to Burn Their Owners Alive

The top 5 pyro pets and the crimes that made them famous.

Almost 1,000 cases of pet arson are reported every year, according to the National Fire Protection Agency. Two years ago, the American Kennel Club decided to take action against these pyromaniac pets by launching National Pet Fire Safety Day (July 15) to warn unsuspecting owners of the potential danger. Here are the top-5 most notorious pet arsonists and the crimes that made them famous.

notorious-pet-arsonist-dog-istock_337c99ea67aeba061d9bf838f689c35c_3x2

5.  Lucy the dog denied cake; sets blaze

Just this February, Lucy nearly burned down her owner’s Jacksonville, Okla., house when she tried to eat a cake sitting on the stove. Lucy’s “big paws” turned on the gas burner, setting the kitchen on fire.

notorious-pet-arsonist-flameless-candle-istock_c283d9d00a070aa3d618c45047190089_3x24. Pyro cat waits for owner to fall asleep to burn down house

Also in February, a Lake Worth, Fla., family’s pet cat, Stewie, waited until his owners were asleep and then knocked over a candle to start a raging house fire, leaving them homeless.

notorious-pet-arsonist-rat-istock_3x2_f1bf2c3e2a1738450f052bc6378f6fd73. Rat’s flaming leash causes $30,000 in damage

In October 2008, a Florida teen tried to make a leash out of twine for their frisky pet rat, Amelia Earhart. Instead of using scissors to cut the twine, he used a lighter to burn it. A freaked out Amelia took off through the garage trailing the flaming “leash” behind her. The resulting inferno caused nearly $30,000 in damage.

notorious-pet-arsonist-squirrel-istock_ea1537db1acd073dbf41a92ff191016c_3x22. Gang of squirrels wanted for arson

In January 2009, a gang of hungry squirrels chewed through electrical cables in the Kent cottage of a former UK attorney general. The munching rodents set off an inferno that blazed through the property for hours.

1. Fish watch as apartment goes up in flames

Last May, comedian Tracy Morgan’s (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock) apartment caught fire, reportedly caused by a faulty aquarium light. Although the fish aren’t officially to blame for this one, they still watched it happen with cold, emotionless little fish eyes.

Kitchen Remodeling Decisions You’ll Never Regret

classic-kitchen-remodeling-white-cabinets_d313c2b197ce7b6e9c38338352ae8b0f_860x645_q85These 7 ideas will make your kitchen timelessly gorgeous and functional.

Chances are you’re only going to remodel your current kitchen once. After all, a complete kitchen renovation has a national median cost of $60,000, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. With that much on the line, you want to make all the right moves. If you do, you could recover about 67% of your investment if you sell.

So we’re here to future-proof you from angst by naming the seven definitive kitchen features that will retain their beauty, marketability, and value — all while giving you lasting enjoyment.

#1: White is the Dominant Color

Bottom line: White is the most marketable color. You’ll always find it atop the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s annual survey of most popular kitchen colors. It simply doesn’t go out of style.

  • Throughout history, it’s been associated with happiness, purity (think Snow White), and new beginnings.
  • It’s a bright color that reflects light and makes even small kitchens feel larger.
  • It’s a neatnik’s dream — dirt has no place to hide.

Even better, it’s uber-tolerant of both your budget and taste: A standard color for any manufacturer, you’ll find white cabinets, tile, counters, faucets, sinks, and appliances at any price point.

And with a white backdrop, you can be as conservative or expressive as you want. After all, it’s about your enjoyment, not just dollars and cents. For example:

  • Add your personal touch with colored glass knobs and pulls!
  • Show off antique Fiesta ware on open shelves or in upper cabinets with glass fronts.
  • Paint walls the color du jour — even off-white!

Heck, with a white palette, you can change your mind about paint color on a whim. Those all-white basics will make any hue you choose look fresh and contemporary.

classic-kitchen-remodeling-wood-floor-standard_524e855cd4c28ea487d1636ded871659_860x472_q85#2: Hardwood for Flooring

It’s been our foot fetish for years. That’s especially true ever since hardwood flooring was mass-produced during the Industrial Revolution, making beautiful flooring readily available at a reasonable cost.

Today, more than half of home buyers who purchased a home without hardwood floors say they would have paid an extra $2,080 for them, according to the “2013 Home Features Survey” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. And among buyers of any age, upwards of 80% say hardwood floors are “somewhat” or “very important.”

“It’s the one feature men and women agree on,” says Debe Robinson, NKBA treasurer and owner of Kitchen Expressions Inc. in Sheffield, Ala., who’s also worked in the flooring industry.

Why? The love of wood is in our genes. Our nesting instincts know that hardwood has warmth, personality, and makes our homes cozy and inviting. That’s why this clever chameleon pairs well with any kitchen style — from casual cottage and sleek contemporary to the most chi-chi Park Avenue traditional.

More reasons why wood flooring is the goof-proof option:

  • Perfect for open floor plans. It flows beautifully from the kitchen into adjoining rooms.
  • It’s tough. Hardwoods such as oak, ash, and maple will shrug off your kitchen’s high-traffic punishment for years. Solid hardwood flooring can be refinished 10 to 12 times during it’s typical 100-year lifespan.
  • It’s eco-friendly. Hardwood is considered a green building material when it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and comes from sustainably managed forests.

classic-kitchen-remodeling-shaker-cabinets-standard_fcc97e6e03907f7bc739caae4c3fabbf_860x404_q85#3: Shaker Style for Cabinets

Thank heaven for the Shakers. While they were busy reducing life to its essentials, they made cabinets with clean, simple lines that will forever be in style.

Shaker cabinets are an enduring legacy of American style and, like wood flooring, have the knack for looking good in any setting. Their simple frame-and-panel design helps reduce the amount of busyness in a kitchen, making it a soothing, friendly place to be.

“In a kitchen with a timeless look, you want the cabinets to be part of the backdrop,” says Alan Zielinski, a former president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “You don’t want to be overpowered. You’re looking for plain, simple, clean lines.”

Those plain, simple, clean lines are a perfect fit for transitional style — a beautiful combo of traditional and contemporary styles. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association says that after creeping up on traditional for years, transitional is now the most popular kitchen style.

As our families grow more diverse, transitional style will only get more popular. It lets us personalize and blend cultural influences — Latin, Asian, Mideastern — into our homes; it’s the perfect balance of old and new, just like Shaker-style cabinets.

classic-kitchen-remodeling-calcatta-marble-standard_892806527ad71431c41229412e392bb3_860x572_q85#4: Carrara Marble for Countertops

Carrara marble is a timeless classic that’s been used in homes for thousands of years. (Michelangelo’s “David” was carved from Carrara.) It’ll look as good in the next millennium as it does now.

Here’s why:

  • Carrara’s lacy graining and subtle white colors look terrific in a white kitchen (or any kitchen, for that matter).
  • It has a whiteness you won’t find in other natural stones.
  • It’s readily available, making it less expensive than other high-end choices, such as quartz.
  • It’ll last for generations.

If you Google it, you’ll find a lot of debate about it (and marble in general) because it stains easily. But if you want something truly timeless, Carrara is the answer. And with today’s sealants, the problem of staining is almost moot if you reseal once or twice a year.

Still not sold? Or don’t have the budget? Laminate countertops are relatively inexpensive and can be upgraded to stone when you do have the budget.

#5: Subway Tile for the Backsplash

Subway tile goes back to the early 1900s, when it was used to line New York’s first subway tunnels. Classic subway tiles are white, 3-inch-by-6-inch rectangles — a look that became popular in American kitchens and baths, and has stuck around ever since. Now it’s an iconic part of the American design vernacular, destined never to go out of style.

In the kitchen, ceramic tile excels as a backsplash, where it guards against moisture, is a snap to clean, lasts forever, and always looks classy.

Sure, a backsplash can be an opportunity for a blast of color and pattern, but neutrals will always be current and blend with any look. Plus, a subway tile backsplash and a marble countertop make a dashing couple that will stand the test of time.

To make it even more enduring, keep it achromatic and camouflage dirt with gray or beige grout.

#6: Ergonomic Design

Adaptability and universal design features mean easy living at any age. A recent survey on kitchens from the American Institute of Architects points to the growing popularity of smart ergonomic design, a sign that kitchen adaptability will stay in vogue.

Smart ergonomics simply mean convenience — for young or old, party people or homebodies — a key factor when remodeling a kitchen that will function well, retain its value, and always feel right.

No matter you or your buyer’s current or future needs, everyone wins with these approaches:

  • Create different countertop heights. Standard height is 36 inches, but you can raise or lower sections of cabinets by altering the height of the base. Add color-match shim strips to the bases of countertops that don’t include sinks or appliances. You (or a new owner) can easily remove them or add to them to adjust the height.
  • Swap a standard range for a wall oven and a cooktop. Ranges have fixed heights. There’s no getting around the fact you have to bend to access the oven. But a wall oven conveniently installs about waist-high.
  • Add pull-out shelves to base cabinets. Lower cabinets with doors mean having to twist like a pretzel to see what’s inside. Pull-out shelves put everything at your fingertips.
  • Keep wide clearances. Kitchens attract people, and with open floor plans, you’re apt to have folks hunting for snacks, helping you cook, or just hanging out while you prep meals. Keep traffic flowing with a minimum of 42 inches between counters and islands.

#7: Smart Storage

Today’s families store about 47% of their kitchen stuff outside the kitchen — in laundry rooms, basements, even sheds — according to data released at the 2013 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.

We blame it on the fact that kitchens have evolved from a tucked-away place at the back of the house into a multiple-chef, multi-tasking space that’s the hub of family life. Plus, our love of open kitchens and stocking up at warehouse stores means less wall space and more stuff, kitchen design expert Robinson says.

The solution: smart storage. Cabinet manufacturers have you covered with nearly unlimited storage options — shelves and compartments that unfold, turn, extend, and slide.

But it’s not just about having storage, it’s about designing it smartly. Follow these guidelines to make your storage timeless:

Create a primary storage zone. This is an area 30 to 60 inches high and within two feet on either side of your body. Store your most-used items here — your favorite work knives, measuring cups, salt and pepper for cooking, your trusty pots and pans. With one easy motion, you can grab what you use all the time.

Plan for the unknown. A truly timeless kitchen anticipates and adapts to future needs, such as:

  • A space that can easily convert to an office, wine storage, or a closet.
  • Lower cabinet spaces that can accommodate a wine cooler, under-counter refrigerator, a second dishwasher, or new must-have kitchen appliances on the horizon. (Remember when microwaves didn’t exist?)
  • An open space that fits a freestanding desk or favorite antique that can personalize the kitchen — no matter who owns the home.

Looking to buy or sell a home? Click here.

Ricotta Fritters with Grape Jam

Ricotta-Friters-Feature

Ingredients for the jam
2 pounds very ripe red-fleshed grapes
Pinch of granulated sugar, if needed

Ingredients for the fritters
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
2 cups ricotta
Confectioners’ sugar or granulated
sugar, for dusting


Step 1: 
In a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pull open the skins of the grapes to expose the flesh. Holding the skins, press the flesh against the strainer to extract the juice, and allow it to drain into the bowl. Discard the skins and seeds. Use as is, or season the juice with a tiny pinch of sugar if needed. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use, up to 1 day.

Step 2: 
In a wide medium stockpot, Dutch oven, or deep fryer, heat the oil until it registers 365°F on a deep fry thermometer.

Step 3: 
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, orange zest, vanilla seeds, and ricotta. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet just until incorporated. (The batter can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several hours or up to 1 day.)

Step 4: 
Working in batches of about 8, gently drop 1-tablespoon balls of the batter into the hot oil, and fry, turning them occasionally, until golden all over, about 3 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain. (Allow the oil to come back to temperature between batches.)

Step 5: 
Sprinkle the fritters with confectioners’ sugar, or coat them with granulated sugar. Serve warm with the grape jam.

– See more at: http://americanlifestylemag.com/ricotta-fritters-with-grape-jam/#sthash.Wj5knaUM.dpuf

How to Help Troops and Veterans: Operation Gratitude

operationgratitudeYou’ve served your country. Let us serve you.

A Veterans’ Administration loan is one small way we can repay you for your service to America.

No down payment, no monthly mortgage insurance, minimal out-of-pocket expenses and a low interest rate from Sierra Pacific Mortgage unlock the front door to home ownership for you.

Bob ArnoldVA Features

  • Provides a wide range of rate, term, and cost options.
  • Doesn’t require monthly mortgage insurance.
  • Provides the potential for minimal out-of-pocket expenses with possible contributions.
  • No down payment, no closing cost option.

Please allow me to introduce Bob Arnold. “As a Sierra Pacific Mortgage Retail Branch Manager, I am dedicated to helping my team assist clients in finding the perfect loan tailored to their unique financial needs.”

Below, please find additional ways to help our troops…

One of the obstacles people face when they want to help veterans is knowing how to start. The nonprofit organization Operation Gratitude makes it easy to help.

Operation Gratitude’s main focus is on gathering items and letters to send to our troops, veterans, new recruits, and wounded warriors, in addition to military children. They’ve been sending over 150,000 care packages a year since they first started in 2003, and veterans are the primary recipients of all the charitable efforts, with over 95% of donations being put toward program services.

How can you work with Operation Gratitude help veterans? There are many easy, wonderful ways to do so; here are just a few of them.

Write a letter to a soldier or a veteran. People who are defending or have defended our country say that getting encouraging words from fellow Americans often means more than just about anything, and knowing what to write about is easier than you think.

Send items to be included in care packages. There are so many much-needed items that you can provide for Operation Gratitude’s veteran care packages, from food to clothes to toiletries.

Recycle your old cell phone or other electronics for soldiers. There’s no need to trash your old devices, when they can be put to good use by an appreciative member of our military.

Organize a collection drive in your area. Taking the lead in gathering items for veterans not only shows you care, it also spreads the word to others about veterans’ needs.

Arrange a veterans fundraising event. Much like a collection drive, volunteering to raise much-needed money for veterans goes beyond the giving—it also increases awareness for our veterans.

Donate money to cover shipping costs of care packages. If you’re more the type to help behind the scenes, you can make a tax-deductible donation to cover shipping costs for sending an Operation Gratitude care package (which is $15 a box).

To get more great ideas for ways you can help veterans, visit the Operation Gratitude website.

Are you looking for additional information? Please click here.

Unexpected Planters

recycledplantersWith the large variety of plant options available, it makes sense that picking a plant is often the first step to incorporating nature into your space. But what if you start by making the right vessel to hold your plant? Your planter makes a huge impact on the look and feel of the overall display, so get creative! Whether you want to personalize your planter with your initials or want to incorporate your love of reading, we have an original idea for your plant’s new home.

Rain Boot Flower Pots Brighten up your patio with the rain boots of past years. They make great planters because they are sturdy, waterproof, and deep enough for plants to take root. Best of all, this clever upcycle project is quick and easy to complete. Just drill some holes in the bottom of your boots, add some potting soil in the base, and place a colorful plant inside. With proper care, your flowers will be blooming in no time.

Book Lover’s Succulent Garden Show your appreciation for reading with this unique planter. Give an old book 
a fresh purpose by cutting out the middle section of the pages and making it into a garden by adding some interesting succulents and moss.

Ladle Garden Here’s a great way to make a big impression in a small space. Recycle retired soup ladles to create a kitchen wall plant display. You can paint the spoons to match your decor, and vary the layout to fit your available space. When you have your design, simply attached the ladles to the wall with hooks. Then place succulents into the bowl of each ladle for a low-maintenance, one-of-a-kind feature in your home.

Letter Centerpiece Personalize your table with vibrant flowers in the shape of a letter. All you have to do is buy a metal letter at your local craft store, and plant your flowers of choice. Your living centerpiece will be the talk of your next dinner party!

Petite Seashell Planter Hey beach lovers: even if paperwork is piling up, you will want to make room on your desk for this miniature planter. (Not that it takes up much room.) Just place an air plant into the base of your favorite small seashell to remind yourself of the sun, sand, and sounds of the waves gently lapping the shore, even when you’re at work and there’s rain falling outside. And there’s no need to worry about sunburn!

 

You Can’t Detect These 4 Stinky Smells, But Your Guests Can. Smell Better Fast

stinky smellYou’re noseblind to your home’s odors. Here’s how to find and eliminate the smelly culprits.

Stand in your kitchen and take a deep breath. Smell that? From last night’s fish to your son’s nasty lacrosse pads (why did he leave them on the table?), you probably can’t detect any of your home’s rankest odors. You’ve got nose blindness.

“You adapt to the smells around you,” says Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. On a sensory level, your processing mechanism becomes less sensitive to the continuous stimuli. Or, on a cognitive level, you can become habituated to the smells and basically learn to ignore them. Or you can do both.

But on a I-don’t-want-my-house-to-stink level, you don’t have to be resigned to living with odors — even if you can’t smell them yourself. Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to ban them from your home.

1. Love Your Pet. Destroy Their Smells.

There’s one easy way to tell if your home smells like pets: Do you have them? Then yeah, unless you’re an obsessive cleaner and groomer, your abode has at least some Fido funk. It could be pee, but more likely it’s just hair, gunky ears, and weeks-old slobber.

The first step to cleaning up pet smells is — sorry, pets — cleaning the pets themselves. Bathe and groom them regularly.

Then, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. If they have a favorite couch or cushion, cover it with a blanket and run it — and the cushion cover — through the wash weekly. Every time you vacuum, start with a hearty sprinkle of baking soda on the carpet. And use that crevice tool liberally; pet hair loves tight spaces like the border between the carpet and the wall, the edges of your steps and that little crack of space between the stove and your cabinets.

Hopefully urine isn’t the issue, but to be sure, you can use a black light to out any dried stains your pet was hoping you’d never notice. Use more of that baking soda followed by a half-water, half-vinegar solution to neutralize the odor. Lots of people also swear by store-bought neutralizers, like Nature’s Miracle.

2. Battle Basement Mustiness … With Onion?

Fortunately, nose blindness only affects one of your senses, and you don’t need your nose to verify a basement with a musty smell. Mustiness is caused by mildew and mold, which — for better or for worse — your eyeballs can easily detect. Do a careful inspection of your basement, from the darkest corner to the surface of every cardboard box or bookshelf. If you find gray or white splotches anywhere, it’s probably mildew. If it’s fuzzy, (oh no!) it’s mold.

First, you’ll want to bust up those existing odors. Then, you’ll want to make sure they never return. A solution of one-part bleach to four-parts water and some elbow grease will help you scrub away mildew. Although bleach can be used to clean mold too, it usually isn’t necessary. A regular household cleaner can do the trick.

To prevent mildew and mold from returning, consider running a dehumidifier or improving air circulation and sunlight exposure in the affected area if possible. For chronic mustiness, you can deodorize rooms by setting out bowls of vinegar, cat litter, baking soda, or — as crazy as this sounds — an onion also will do the trick. Cut one in half and let it sit in a bowl in the room. The onion smell goes away in a few hours, and so will the dankness.

3. Mind Mattress Smells

Similar to pet odors, knowing if your mattress could smell is easy: Do you have a human body with skin and oils? Do you sleep on it? Eventually, all the dead skin and body oils you shed while sleeping are going to build up, and stink they will, especially if your bedding is older.

You can’t exactly toss your mattress in the washing machine, so you’ll have to deal with it where it lies. But it’s an easy fix: Sprinkle baking soda on it, let it sit for an hour or more, and then vacuum up the soda. (This works for memory foam, too.) Add a couple drops of essential oil to the soda (drip directly into the box and shake it well to mix evenly) for a pleasant smell. Bonus: Lavender has been shown to help you sleep.

4. Fade Fridge and Freezer Funk 

It’s your fridge and freezer’s job to keep your food fresh, but they need a little help staying fresh themselves. Itty bitty food bits hang out long after you’ve tossed the item from which they came. Although you might not notice the odor creep, you may notice your ice starting to taste funny or see those food morsels start to accumulate in the corners of your fridge shelves. If you see or taste something icky, you can bet others can smell something icky.

To zap odors from from your freezer and fridge, unplug and empty them and do a thorough cleaning with a mix of hot water and baking soda. You can sanitize with a solution of one tablespoon bleach and one gallon of water. Let it air out for 15 minutes. Try wiping it down with vinegar for extra odor eliminating, or even leave the door open for a few days. What better excuse is there for a long weekend away, or to treat yourself to takeout?

Do you need assistance with any of these issues?  Let me know.

9 Things Every New Homeowner Should Own

tool boxThese new home essentials will make home ownership a lot easier in the first few weeks.

When Lauren Hunter and her husband moved into their first home in Hilliard, Ohio, the previous homeowner had left behind a ladder. “It turned out to be awesome,” Hunter says. “You don’t realize how many situations where ladders make things easier. Hanging pictures is one thing, but try hanging curtains in a two-story great room.”

Whether it’s the need to hang a clock just a few feet higher or the realization that you really can’t hold a flashlight and get that nut loosened under the sink, there’s always something catching you by surprise as a homeowner.

With the right items on hand, however, you can be prepared for every scenario — just like Hunter was, thanks to that ladder. When her family moved to a larger home, they paid it forward by leaving the ladder behind for the new owners.

Do yourself a favor by stocking your home with the following items, and you’ll be ready for every home ownership challenge.

1.  Wet-Dry Vacuum

You’re gonna be spilling stuff. Look for a wet-dry vacuum that can handle everything from paint to nails and small stones. “We inherited one of those with our first house, and it was an awesome thing to have for vacuuming the car and cleaning the garage,” Hunter says. Unlike the ladder, “we kept that Shop-Vac when we moved.”

2.  (The Right) Fire Extinguisher

“Whenever anyone I know moves, I give them a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift,” says Nina Patel, a Silver Spring, Md., homeowner who, years ago, accidentally set her apartment on fire with a homemade candle. “I was able to put out the fire with a pan of water, but it was a panicked moment. I’ve had my own fire extinguisher ever since.”

But before going out and buying the first extinguisher you see, check out the U.S. Fire Administration’s guide. There are five different types of fire extinguishers with different uses, from extinguishing cooking oils to wood and paper. Choose the best type or types for your home.

3.  Extension Cord Organizer

Home ownership seems to breed extension cords that grow into a tangled nest. Save yourself time and hassle, and splurge on one of several cord management devices. Or make your own with a pegboard, hooks, and velcro straps to keep each cord loop secure. Either way, your cords will be knot-free and easy to find. And be sure to include a heavy-duty extension cord in your organizer that’s outdoor-worthy. You don’t want to really have to use that fire extinguisher.

4.  Big-Kid Tools

Odds are you already own a bunch of the basics: drill, screwdriver, hammer, level, tape measure, wrench, pliers, staple gun, utility knife, etc. But home ownership may require a few new ones you might not have needed before, including a:

  • Stud finder. You can make as many holes in the walls as you want now. Use the stud finder to figure out where to hang those heavy shelves so they’re safely anchored.
  • Hand saw. Much easier (and cheaper!) than a power saw, you can get a good cross-cut saw for smooth edges on small DIY projects.
  • Ratchet set. Every bolt in your new house belongs to you, so you’d better be able to loosen and tighten them when needed. Crank that ratchet to get to spots where you can’t turn a wrench all the way around. Great for when you’re stuck in a corner.
  • Pry bar. Get one with a clawed end to pull nails and a flat end to separate drywall, remove trim or molding, and separate tile.

5.  Tool Kit

You’ll need something to carry all those tools around from project to project. Create a tool carrier using a tool bucket liner and an old 5-gallon bucket. Or invest in a handyman belt filled with the basics to keep on hand in the kitchen.

6.  Headlamp

Take that flashlight out of your mouth and work hands-free. From switching out a faucet to figuring out what’s making that clicking noise behind the washer, there are plenty of homeowner tasks that require both hands and a little artificial light.

7.  Emergency Preparedness Kit

FEMA has a great list of supplies you should have in your kit, including cash, food, water, infant formula and diapers, medications, a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, matches, sleeping bags, and a change of clothing. The agency recommends you stock enough for every member of your household, including pets, for at least 72 hours.

8.  Ladder(s!)

But not just any old ladder. Consider:

  • How high you need to go. If you use an extension ladder for a sky-high job, school yourself on safety tips, such as not standing above the support point.
  • Where you’ll use it. Make sure all four legs on a stepladder rest safely on a flat area. A straight ladder must be set up at a safe angle, so if a ceiling is too low, it might be too long for the room.
  • How heavy-duty it is. Check the ladder’s duty rating so you know how much weight (you, your tools, paint cans, etc.) it’ll support.

And don’t forget about the all-important escape ladder. The Red Cross recommends them for sleeping areas in multistory homes.

9.  Confidence

“Especially for first-time home buyers. You’re inheriting the responsibilities a landlord would have if you were renting,” says Hunter. “Mowing isn’t a big deal, but maybe fixing a shingle or changing a faucet is.” But with a little self-confidence — and some YouTube tutorials — there’s (almost) no DIY project you can’t master.

Ready to Buy or Sell your home? Click here.

Striped Buffalo Chicken Dip

buffalochickendip_headerWhen you’re hosting a summer party, you should aim to make everything as fun as possible—and this includes the food. Here is an idea for a dip that’s not only fun but also delicious! Try making this dip for an upcoming potluck or event to share with family and friends.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
  • ½ cup ranch dressing
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 1-2 cups buffalo sauce
  • 4 ounces blue cheese crumbles

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Arrange chicken breasts in a baking dish. Cover, and bake for 20-30 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Once cool, cut chicken into stripes, and shred into tiny pieces.
  4. Melt cream cheese and ranch dressing in a sauté pan over medium heat. Stirring continuously, add cheddar cheese, and melt to combine.
  5. Stir in buffalo sauce ¼ cup at a time to achieve the desired spice level. Mix until well combined, and lower heat.
  6. Add in shredded chicken. Stir in blue cheese chunks, and remove from heat.
  7. Transfer dip to a serving dish, spreading the top until smooth. Carefully finish the presentation by adding thin stripes of ranch dressing. Serve warm.

 

10 reasons you should never buy or sell without an agent

Don’t go into the buying and selling process blind, by Cara Ameer

 FSBO

  • As a layperson, you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to handling the single largest transaction you’ll likely make in your life.
  • A real estate agent serves as a ninja negotiator to achieve the best price and terms that the market will bear while protecting your interests.
  • Agents are connected to a plethora of industry professionals to help you get the deal done.

As with most important things in life, you wouldn’t try to handle a legal situation without an attorney, build your own house or take on the IRS solo to challenge a tax matter. Well, buying or selling a home is no different.

Here are 10 reasons you should never buy or sell a home without an agent.

1. Knowledge is not power

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing when it comes to real estate. At the click of a mouse or a tap on your phone, you can get an instant valuation of your property.

Is that value realistic? On which properties is it based? What did those properties have that yours does or does not? What were the dates and details of those sales?

That valuation could be significantly more or less than what your property is actually worth. Just like using the internet to self-diagnose a medical issue is not the best idea, the same applies to real estate.

2. What do you know about the market?

To the above point, as a seller, do you know what other options buyers are likely to consider when they are looking at your home? Do you know who the typical buyer audience is, where they are coming from and how to find them?

Do you know what agents likely work with this group? What is the average number of days on market for homes in your area, and what percentage of the asking price are they getting? Are there any particular terms of sale that are a trend in your area, such as sellers paying closing costs for buyers or other concessions?

As a buyer, what types of properties are most realistic for your price range and the kind of financing you will be doing?

A good agent educates you about “real estate reality” as far as what you can get for your money in your desired areas and criteria that are important to you.

Lastly, whether a buyer or seller, do you know why properties in one particular location sell faster than another? Are there challenges, perceived or real that could affect values?

A stellar agent can prevent you from making an expensive mistake when it comes to buying (such as a home near a soon-to-be-constructed highway or busy railroad tracks — no wonder it was priced so cheap). And alternatively, that same agent can help sellers position their property in the best way when taking into account external factors around it that can affect value.

3. Agents are expert problem-solvers

So what happens when the inspection reveals termites, a roof leak, a house that needs to be replumbed — or worse yet when an inspector paints a picture of a fairly minor repair issue in a far worse light than it is? What happens when an appraisal comes in at less than contract sales price?

These are run-of-the-mill issues that agents face every day. They don’t make our palms sweat and cause us to faint, but instead we stand tall in the face of the myriad challenges this business presents.

My first broker told me, “If you aren’t solving problems, you aren’t selling real estate.” How true this is.

If you are selling your home on your own and encounter these situations, can you prevent the buyer from running for the hills? Do you have a plethora of experts you can call upon, often at a moment’s notice, who can help?

As a buyer, do you really want to be addressing repair items with a seller directly? Sellers are so often in “repair denial,” particularly when they are trying to sell their home on their own — there are never any issues as far as they are concerned.

4. Overcoming objections is what agents excel at

You are selling your home on your own. Do you have a record of who has come through and when? If they had an agent, who it was and what the buyer thought of it? If they didn’t buy your home, what did they buy instead and why?

That’s what agents working with sellers manage. Are there any themes emerging? If there are concerns that are presenting as a challenge for buyers, do you know how to address them?

Are there ways to combat these objections by providing additional information or consulting with needed designers, contractors, landscapers, the homeowners’ association and so on?

Superstar agents can effectively address objections such as “didn’t like layout” or “needs too much work” and know how to position a property effectively, so buyers go from “just looking” to locking an offer up.

Solution5. Effective negotiation skills are key

As a seller, you received a low offer on the property. Do you make a counteroffer, outright reject it or not respond?

As a buyer, you want to make an offer that asks the seller for everything and the kitchen sink (well, because it’s attached, it conveys as part of the house anyway).

How do you formulate a strategy? Do you know your opponent and have you gathered much intelligence about them? How much should you offer or counteroffer?

Does your response risk alienating the other side? What about more than one offer? How do you facilitate, manage and negotiate effectively to keep all interested buyers in play?

The negotiation landscape can get complex, which is why a third party is always beneficial in acting as a buffer zone to separate emotion from facts and work to reach an objective outcome.

6. Preventive medicine equals more money in your pockets

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies when it comes to real estate because surprise is never a good thing when it comes to buying or selling.

A good agent walks you through the necessary steps before you start your property search or put your property on the market.

As a buyer, there are certain things you must do before starting your property search, such as getting prequalified — preferably preapproved — so you don’t waste time looking at properties that aren’t a match, and so that you don’t waste a seller’s time coming through a home that you cannot afford.

As a seller, are there items that should be addressed before putting your property on the market? Should you get a pre-listing inspection, and are there any repair items that need to be taken care of?

What about staging or editing your furnishings and decor? What items make the most sense for you to address to position your home for maximum exposure?

Do you need a floor plan created for your home? Is there any pertinent information you need to pull together that is critical for the sale?

In short, a top-notch agent guides you on critical steps you need to take before stepping into the market that will save you time, headaches and hassle when an offer comes through.

7. Marketing expertise is needed to sell your home

Image is everything when it comes to real estate, and a poorly presented property is like showing up at the Oscars without using a stylist.

Do you have access to the right photographers, video producers, stagers and interior designers to make your property shine?

Although you might think marketing your property on your own is easy, there is a difference between playing photographer and hiring someone with an objective, critical eye for what kind of marketing will attract the right buyers.

Are you able to find the money shot? What photos are going to best present the property? Should a drone be used, and for which shots?

Are you able to create a video to effectively tell your property’s story and how to best find that story and articulate it? What kind of marketing collateral can you prepare that’s going to communicate the features, benefits and advantages of your property over another effectively, and how is that collateral going to be distributed?

Do you have access to vendors that might be able to offer incentives or discounts for buyers who could benefit from their services with the new home?

internet home search8. Social network exposure is unmatched

Can you broadcast your property across numerous websites and various social media networks to pique buyer and agent interest — locally, nationally and possibly internationally?

Are you able to reach hundreds, thousands or even more with the click of a mouse? Are you able to use predictive analytics and targeted digital marketing to put your property in front of the right prospects? A top agent is skilled in making your property go viral in just seconds.

9. Agents have mad connections

Real estate agents are connected to just about everyone and everything. The three degrees of separation rule applies here.

Agents are constantly in the know — it’s their job to be. They leverage their relationships with real estate related service providers, lenders — and, most importantly, other agents — to help bring the sale together.

Agents exchange and share advice and ideas that can help one another, and by networking and information-sharing, they help bridge the gap between for sale and sold.

They also have access to properties that are not officially on the market and often know deals not advertised that builders might be offering in terms of discounts or specials that can help save you money.

Need a handyman or a really good painter? Ask your agent about the contacts he or she has, and get hooked up with great providers.

10. Trusted advice and an available point person are a seller’s best friend

Who else can you go to with a question or concern almost any time of the day or night? Yes, as much as we don’t like to admit it, there is no such thing as office hours for real estate.

A good real estate agent is your trusted adviser every step of the way, and unlike your attorney or accountant, you won’t get charged for every phone call or email.

Who else can you unload your qualms, fears and worries upon regarding the buying and selling process? When your peanut gallery of friends, family and co-workers are giving you confusing advice, who can you trust for objective information to make the best possible decision?

Don’t go into the buying and selling process blind. Let a real estate professional be your guide so that you can celebrate this incredible milestone without worry, knowing that the heavy lifting and problem-solving was done for you.

Do you have real estate questions you need answered? Please click here for a confidential conversation.

Homemade Pet Treats in 4 Easy Steps

pettreatsWhat’s the best way to welcome new neighbors, celebrate an accomplishment, or say thank you? Food! And the most popular and tasty type is baked goods, which  have seemingly been a go-to treat forever. However, baked treats aren’t just for people; pets are often even more appreciative about getting them. So try your hand at one of these easy-to-make homemade treats, and show your pet how much you love him!

Fresh Breath Dog Treats

Freshen your pooch’s palate with these beef-flavored snacks that feature a touch of mint and parsley.dogtreats-300x225

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups coconut flour
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ cup mint, finely chopped 
(or 1 teaspoon mint extract)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together until the dough forms. (Note: It should be drier than typical dough.)
  3. Roll the dough out flat, about 1/2-inch thick, on a surface covered in flour. Cut the dough with a bone-shaped cookie cutter, and place it on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove the treats, and let them cool on a cooling rack.

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Tuna & Cheddar Cat Bites

These bite-sized morsels feature flavors that will tantalize your tabby—like tuna, cheddar, and even catnip!cattreats-300x225

Ingredients:

  • 2 (5-oz.) cans tuna in water, drained
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon catnip

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  2. Combine the tuna, egg, water, and oil in a food processor. Blend until mixture is smooth. Stir in the cheddar and parsley. Then add the flour and catnip, and mix until it is just blended.
  3. Roll into small balls, and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until they are slightly browned. Remove the treats, and let cool on a cooling rack.

 

Small Pet Snacks

Any smaller pet, such as a hamster, rabbit, or ferret, will love getting its tiny paws on these banana-and-peanut-butter-flavored treats!smallanimal-300x225

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • 1 small carrot, pureed
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • ¼ cup uncooked oats, ground

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.
  2. Mix peanut butter, carrot, banana, and honey in a medium bowl. Add flour and ground oats, mix until blended, and then knead for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Roll into small balls, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until treats are slightly browned. Remove the treats, and let them cool on a cooling rack.

Once you’ve made your snacks, store them in an airtight container. To add the finishing touch to your treats,  download these cute storage labels for your pet treats!

 

7 Smart Strategies for Kitchen Remodeling by John Riha

photoFollow these seven strategies to get the most financial gain on your kitchen remodel.

Homeowners spend more money on kitchen remodeling than on any other home improvement project. And with good reason: Kitchens are the hub of home life and a source of pride.

A significant portion of kitchen remodeling costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. A complete kitchen renovation with a national median cost of $60,000 recovers about 67% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

The project gets a big thumbs-up from homeowners, too. Those polled in the “Report” gave their new kitchen a Joy Score of 9.8 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

To maximize your return on investment, follow these seven strategies to keep you on budget and help you make smart choices.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning your kitchen remodel should take more time than the actual construction. If you plan well, the amount of time you’re inconvenienced by construction mayhem will be minimized. Plus, you’re more likely to stay on budget.

How much time should you spend planning? The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends at least six months. That way, you won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction and create change orders, which will inflate construction costs and hurt your return on investment.

Some tips on planning:

Study your existing kitchen: How wide is the doorway into your kitchen? It’s a common mistake many homeowners make: Buying the extra-large fridge only to find they can’t get it in the doorway. To avoid mistakes like this, create a drawing of your kitchen with measurements for doorways, walkways, counters, etc. And don’t forget height, too.

Think about traffic patterns: Work aisles should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.

Design with ergonomics in mind: Drawers or pull-out shelves in base cabinets; counter heights that can adjust up or down; a wall oven instead of a range: These are all features that make a kitchen accessible to everyone — and a pleasure to work in.

Related: Test Your Ergonomic Design Knowledge

Plan for the unforeseeable: Even if you’ve planned down to the number of nails you’ll need in your remodel, expect the unexpected. Build in a little leeway for completing the remodel. Want it done by Thanksgiving? Then plan to be done before Halloween.

Choose all your fixtures and materials before starting: Contractors will be able to make more accurate bids, and you’ll lessen the risk of delays because of back orders.

Don’t be afraid to seek help: A professional designer can simplify your kitchen remodel. Pros help make style decisions, foresee potential problems, and schedule contractors. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

2. Keep the Same Footprint

Nothing will drive up the cost of a remodel faster than changing the location of plumbing pipes and electrical outlets, and knocking down walls. This is usually where unforeseen problems occur.

So if possible, keep appliances, water fixtures, and walls in the same location. 

Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction costs, you’ll cut the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

3. Get Real About Appliances

It’s easy to get carried away when planning your new kitchen. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

Appliances are essentially tools used to cook and store food. Your kitchen remodel shouldn’t be about the tools, but the design and functionality of the entire kitchen.

So unless you’re an exceptional cook who cooks a lot, concentrate your dollars on long-term features that add value, such as cabinets and flooring.

Then choose appliances made by trusted brands that have high marks in online reviews and Consumer Reports.

4. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Lighting

Lighting can make a world of difference in a kitchen. It can make it look larger and brighter. And it will help you work safely and efficiently. You should have two different types of lighting in your kitchen:

Task Lighting: Under-cabinet lighting should be on your must-do list, since cabinets create such dark work areas. And since you’re remodeling, there won’t be a better time to hard-wire your lights. (Here’s more about under-cabinet lights.) Plan for at least two fixtures per task area to eliminate shadows. Pendant lights are good for islands and other counters without low cabinets. Recessed lights and track lights work well over sinks and general prep areas with no cabinets overhead.

Ambient lighting: Flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights create overall lighting in your kitchen. Include dimmer switches to control intensity and mood.

Related: How to Choose the Best Bulb for the Job

5. Be Quality-Conscious

Functionality and durability should be top priorities during kitchen remodeling. Resist low-quality bargains, and choose products that combine low maintenance with long warranty periods. Solid-surface countertops, for instance, may cost a little more, but with the proper care, they’ll look great for a long time.

And if you’re planning on moving soon, products with substantial warranties are a selling advantage.

Related:

  • Kitchen Remodeling Decisions You’ll Never Regret
  • White: The Savvy and Chic Kitchen Color Choice

6. Add Storage, Not Space

Storage will never go out of style, but if you’re sticking with the same footprint, here are a couple of ideas to add more:

Install cabinets that reach the ceiling: They may cost more — and you might need a stepladder — but you’ll gain valuable storage space for Christmas platters and other once-a-year items. In addition, you won’t have to dust cabinet tops.

Hang it up: Mount small shelving units on unused wall areas and inside cabinet doors; hang stock pots and large skillets on a ceiling-mounted rack; and add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

Related: Storage Options that Pack More Space in Your Kitchen

7. Communicate Clearly With Your Remodelers

Establishing a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. To keep the sweetness in your project:

Drop by the project during work hours: Your presence broadcasts your commitment to quality.

Establish a communication routine: Hang a message board on site where you and the project manager can leave daily communiqués. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.

Set house rules: Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, available bathrooms, and appropriate parking.

Be kind: Offer refreshments (a little hospitality can go a long way), give praise when warranted, and resist pestering them with conversation, jokes, and questions when they are working. They’ll work better when refreshed and allowed to concentrate on work.

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.