5 Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

gardenmistakesFor some people, gardening can seem intimidating—but don’t be scared away! People often make some common, easy-to-fix mistakes when they give it a go with their green thumb, and getting started down the right path is easier than you think. With some basic knowledge about these 5 gardening no-nos, you can quickly find yourself on your way to a successful, thriving garden.

Not Using Quality Soil

Good soil is the foundation for a successful garden. Before planting, put the effort into preparing the soil by removing weeds, turning the soil, and adding organic nutrients.

Over- or Underwatering

Consistent, appropriate watering is the key to successful gardening. Too much water can cause root rot and fungus, while underwatering deprives plants of a much-needed element. Most plants thrive best by allowing the soil to dry out totally prior to a thorough, deep watering—encouraging deep, healthy root growth. Having proper soil drainage for plants in containers is important if you tend to be an overwaterer.

Not Reading Tags

Be sure to read the information tags that come with each plant, and choose the most suitable plants for the area in which you will be planting. Before shopping for plants, pay attention to how much sun your planting area gets each day, and then choose wisely!

Not Mulching

Mulching your garden provides so many benefits, it’s a shame not to do it. Mulching keeps roots cooler in the heat, retains moisture, helps prevent weeds (and reduces the time spent pulling them!), protects your soil from wind and hard rain, and provides a habitat for all the good organisms that improve your soil quality.

Ignoring Pollinators

Did you know that many fruit and vegetables require pollinators in order to produce? Your harvest will improve greatly if you include some bee- and butterfly-attracting plants in your garden, such as butterfly bushes or goldenrods. Much like a garden, your seeds of self-confidence need to be planted and nurtured so they take root. Use this tips, give yourself a little time and be patient, and you’ll find your gardening skills blooming as much as your plants!

Why You Feel Healthier and Happier with Pets

petbenefits11There are a lot of great benefits of pets. One commonly experienced one is walking your dog, which can make you more physically fit by strengthening your muscles and bones; this can help not only your body, but also your self-esteem. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress, and anxiety; from a health perspective, it can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. Read on to discover more of the incredible benefits that you can experience by owning a pet!

They Can Decrease Stress and Blood Pressure

Research has found that hypertensive or high-risk patients’ blood pressures are lower when their pets are around. Another study found that people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a spouse, family member, or close friend was nearby. When a person connects with a pet by petting it, oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief, is released.

They Can Help You Socialize

petfriends-300x225Multiple studies have found that pet owners are more social than non–pet owners. There is typically more social interaction in neighborhoods with pets, which also makes these neighborhoods seem friendlier to observers. Even if you live alone, having a dog or cat has the same emotional benefit as that of a human friendship.

They Can Build Immunities in Children

This one may sound counterintuitive, since many people might think cats and dogs cause allergies rather than prevent them. However, many studies have shown that having multiple pets actually decreases a child’s risk of developing certain allergies. Families that had children who were exposed to two or more dogs or cats as babies were less than half as likely to develop common allergies as children who had no pets in the home.

They Can Boost Your Mood

Pets create endless entertainment, whether you have a comedian or a scaredy-cat on your hands. Pets offer unconditional love, but they also give their owners a sense of purpose. Smiling at your pet can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, which are neurotransmitters associated with joy and happiness.

They Can Help Your Heart Health

happycoupleMany pet owners would agree that a pet can fill your heart with love, but did you know that they can also do a lot more for that organ? Research has shown that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels—all of which can ultimately minimize a person’s risk for having a heart attack.

They Can Help You Detect Medical Conditions

Research has found that one-third of the pets—such as dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits—who live with people who have diabetes would change their behavior when their owner’s blood sugar level dropped. Other reports have indicated that canine friends have sniffed or licked a mole or lump on their owner’s body because they may have the ability to smell cancer.

A Seasonal Schedule for Home Maintenance

Male arm and hand replacing disposable air filter in residential air furnace.

Just like your car, your home needs a regular tune-up to keep it running at its best. Use this checklist to organize your chores so you can minimize stress and enjoy what each season brings.


As the winter weather fades away, spring is the perfect time to tackle outdoor maintenance. Be sure to check outdoor vents 
for debris, and clear gutters and downspouts. Also look for overgrown tree roots that could damage foundations, driveways, 
and walkways.

Other items in your spring to-do list should include:

  • Check the attic and basement for cracks that could have allowed water to seep in. (This is especially important after a wet winter.)
  • Remove furniture, and deep clean carpets and floors.
  • Clean ceiling fans, and give all rooms a thorough dusting.
  • Have the HVAC system serviced.


There may be no better time for outdoor maintenance than summer due to the consistently warmer weather and increased daylight. Take advantage of it to repair and re-stain decks; power wash the driveway, siding, decks, and windows; replace any loose or damaged shingles; trim tree branches and shrubs; and repair cracks in sidewalks, driveways, or steps.

You should also do these summer maintenance tasks:

  • Prepare the rain storage system to water the lawn in dry months.
  • Change the air filter in the HVAC system.
  • Test smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers.


The fall season is an important time for maintenance tasks. You want to get ready for the winter before it gets too cold, including storing patio or lawn furniture, and organizing your garage or storage shed. Get your chimney inspected and cleaned in preparation for the cold weather. And don’t forget to check for cracks around external doors and windows, and repair where necessary.

It’s also recommended that you:

  • Check dryer hoses, and change out filters and lint traps.
  • Flush your hot water heater by draining water completely to remove sediment.
  • Check outdoor vents for debris.
  • Have the HVAC system serviced.


The cold, dark winter months are the time to focus on important indoor maintenance. Caulk the sink, toilet, and bathtub, and reseal tile grout. Organize closets and drawers, and donate used or unwanted items. Also wipe down baseboards and doors, and touch up peeling paint where necessary.

In addition, winter is the time to:

  • Clean windows, and wipe down windowsills.
  • Change the air filter in the HVAC system.
  • Test smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers.
  • Activate the sump pump by dumping a bucket of water into the basin.

Be sure to bookmark this page, so you can refer back to this checklist at the start of each new season.

Cauliflower with Ginger and Cumin


This dish is a great intro to Indian cooking—it’s flavorful and slightly spicy. The cauliflower should be browned in a sauté pan before transferring to the slow cooker so that the sugar caramelizes and the natural flavors are released. It has such a rich flavor that it can make a weeknight meat-and-side-dish dinner exciting.


  • 1 head of cauliflower (about 3 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 serrano chiles, cut into 3 pieces each
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in thin julienne
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • ½ to ¾ teaspoon ground Indian red chile
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish

Step 1: Prep the cauliflower as the slow cooker heats up.


First, turn on your slow cooker on to high and let it warm up for 15 minutes before beginning. Then, chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Don’t disregard the core and small young leaves attached to it. Dice these up as well and add them to the slow cooker along with the florets.

Step 2: Gather the rest of the ingredients.


Gather the remaining ingredients.

Step 3: Sauté the cumin seeds.


In a sauté pan, heat the canola oil over high heat. When the oil gets hot enough to sputter when drops of water are added, tilt the pan so that the oil pools at the bottom. Add the cumin seeds, and cover immediately.

Step 4: Add the oil and seeds to the slow cooker.


When the seeds stop sputtering, remove from the heat and pour the oil over the cauliflower in the slow cooker.

Step 5: Chop the chiles.


Roughly chop the serrano chiles into three pieces per chile and add them to the cauliflower and oil mixture in the slow cooker.

Step 6: Add the tomato and ginger.


Dice the tomato and add it to the slow cooker along with the julienned ginger.

Step 7: Add the spices.


Add the coriander, ground red chile, turmeric, and salt to the slow cooker. Mix well so that the spices get incorporated. Cook on low for three hours.

Step 8: Remove from heat.


After three hours, the cauliflower should still be firm to the touch. Transfer the cauliflower, along with any liquid, from the slow cooker insert to a sauté pan.

Step 9: Sauté.


Stir fry the cauliflower until all of the moisture has been completely absorbed or evaporated. This should take about three to four minutes.

Step 10: Serve, and enjoy!


Remove from the heat, garnish with a little chopped cilantro, and serve warm.



financial literacyBy The Home Story Staff

National Financial Literacy Month in April celebrates the importance of financial literacy in the U.S. Fannie Mae is proud to support this effort with our “Spring Into Financial Literacy” series targeting the educational needs of renters and homebuyers. More information can be found on our Know Your OptionsTM website.

MYTH: “It’s too hard to qualify these days for a home loan. I’ll have to put 20 percent down.”

There are lots of misconceptions when it comes to mortgages — from how hard it may be to qualify to how much you’ll need to put down. Despite what you may have heard, getting a loan doesn’t require a perfect credit score or a huge down payment. (However, it’s safe to say that it’s helpful to get your finances in order before you start house hunting or talking to lenders.)

MYTH: “Homeownership is completely out of my reach.”

Whatever you believe now, don’t count yourself out without knowing you may qualify for one of many mortgage options, down payment assistance, or affordability programs available. Ready to put yourself to the test?

Have a little fun with our quiz to see how prepared you are to sort mortgage fact from myth: http://www.thehomestory.com/mortgage-myth-fact-can-tell-difference/


Color Your World Like a Designer

colorguideAn infusion of color can transform a space or even an entire home. Experimenting can show off your personal style, but can be a little risky, as it’s not always easy to pick the perfect palette. Use these tips to get inspired, and begin thinking like a designer!

Understand the Basics

The best color for a space depends on light, textures, things you already own, and the way one room flows into the next.

When choosing a color, consider the lighting and how it shifts throughout the day. Even the type of light bulb you choose will change the look.

Navigate the Color Wheel

The color wheel is the best (and easiest) way to choose color schemes that work, for both beginners and experts.

The classic color wheel is made up of 12 different hues. These hues are classified into 3 categories:

  1. Primary colors (3) are the root of all colors and are the only hues that can’t be created by mixing any colors together (yellow, red, and blue).
  2. Secondary colors (3) are created by combining two primary colors to get either purple, green, or orange.
  3. Tertiary colors (6) come from mixing a primary color with its secondary color neighbors.

These 12 basic colors allow you to mix endless combinations of hues. Every combination can then be broken down for even more variety by adding to that color, like white (to tint), black (to shade), or grey (to create tones).

With these endless possibilities, how do you choose even one color, let alone a palette for your home? Try one of these:

Classic Color Combinations

Monochromatic Color Combination:  Love a color—own it
One-color rooms are peaceful, allowing the eye to move easily without interruption by other colors. Contrast is created by using tints, shades, or tones of the same hue. In the examples, one hue is muted to a neutral, and then brightened up as an accent to keep it all in the family.

Analogous Color Combinations: The friendliest neighbors
Analogous colors lead to soft, transitioning palettes that blend and change seamlessly. Often resembling nature’s palettes—think of sunsets or ocean waves—an analogous color scheme is made up of two or more neighboring colors.

Complementary Color Combinations: Opposites attract
Choose two colors that are directly opposite each other on the wheel for a complementary color combination. The contrast creates interest and energy but remains sensible and pleasing to the eye.

Triadic Color Combinations: Equally balanced trios for the bold and vibrant
When strong contrast exists, balance is key. Choose three equally spaced colors on the wheel for a triadic color scheme, being careful to select one of the three as your main color and using the other two as accents.

Split Complementary Color Combinations: Almost opposites attract
This combination is pulled together from two (almost complementary) colors. Choose a base color, find its complement, and then choose the hue to the right or left of the base color’s complement. You’re left with more subtle contrast by not choosing a color’s exact opposite.

Practical Tips for Your Home

Blend Rather Than Match.
Every element in a chosen color shouldn’t match exactly. Use the entire family of tones, tints, and shades throughout the room (for example, a vase that’s a tint of the wall color). Variations keep rooms from looking overdesigned.

Neutralize for Balance.
Lots of brights? Add a neutral color to balance it out. Or start with a neutral scheme, and add pops of colorful accents.

Find a Pattern.
What about a favorite photo, piece of artwork, or sweater? Is there a pattern in the colors you are naturally drawn to? This will help you establish where you want to begin.

Brighten Dark Rooms.
In low-light rooms, shadows become distinct, making a space feel even darker. Choose a color that absorbs shadows to brighten it up. Contrary to what you may think, light colors won’t work; try a saturated, rich hue, like a jewel tone. Dark rooms allow you to experiment—even if the color looks too bright, super-saturated colors mellow in shadows.

Create Color Illusion.
Paint two adjacent rooms the same color to give the appearance of an open floor plan. Use the same colors and patterns in the master bedroom and bath to create an en suite feel.

Remember Existing Considerations.
Don’t forget to factor in woodwork, furniture, flooring, or countertops. Choose colors that will work with those elements already in place. The same advice can be said when choosing home accents and new furniture. Use our printable Color Guide as an on-the-go resource for your home’s color palette when you spot that perfect shade of fabric or other home accent.

Here’s What’s #Trending.
Choose a palette with Pantone’s Color of the Year, Rose Quartz and Serenity. Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue.

Dial Down.
Tone down color schemes by adding white to create tints of bold colors. Even a primary palette can be muted enough to look elegant and not elementary.

Not Ready to Commit?
If you are worried about being overwhelmed by color, use it in smaller doses to accent rather than dominate. Accent with colorful accessories and artwork to see how much you enjoy living with a certain hue.

Organization 101: How to Make It a Habit

Org101So you’ve spent some time on Pinterest or other social media networks, and suddenly feel that you need to overhaul your life and become more organized. Every time you discover an aspect of your life that needs organization, you find yourself rushing out to buy something new to help yourself with the project. Then, after a few weeks, the inspiration fades away, and you end up back where you started. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s okay; it happens to the best of us.

The good thing is that being organized is not a personality trait; it’s a skill set. You just need to have the will to accomplish your goals and a few tips from someone who has been there. If you’re ready to be organized for the long term, here is what you’ll need to know:

Know yourself. Be honest when identifying your biggest problem areas, and know what your goals are before getting started. Most importantly, prioritize your goals based on which ones will have the most positive impact on your home, office, or life.

Being organized is not the goal. Don’t try to become organized for the sake of being organized or because your partner or colleague tells you that you should. Identify your own personal problems and priorities. Brainstorm (or write down) why each project is important to you and the benefits you’ll enjoy once the project is complete.

Expect hurdles and failures. The process of organizing a space has a tendency to uncover some hidden uses or storage needs that you weren’t aware of. This realization can force you to make some big adjustments or even start over. Organized people understand that their system of organization is not a commitment; they know that when it’s not working, and it’s okay to just start over.

Free your mind. Organized people don’t try to remember every item on their tasks list. Instead, they get their to-dos out of their heads and onto a list or calendar, so they never have to worry about dropping the ball. When you have a system and schedule in place, your mind is free to think about important problems, brainstorm a great idea, or even daydream.

Routines are the backbone of organization. Create a routine, and stick to it. This might take weeks, months, or even years—there is conflicting research on how long it actually takes to develop a habit. So to find the routine that works best, think of it as a work in progress. Start by identifying the repetitive or undesirable tasks, and incorporate them into a checklist with milestones. These small actions will eventually become more and more familiar; they’ll save you time by adding efficiency and eventually become habit.

Minimize. Have trouble letting things go? First, identify which of these common reasons is making you hold on to stuff—it’s sentimental, it was a gift, you think might need it some day, or it’s still in perfect condition. Ask yourself one simple question: would I choose to go out and buy this thing again right now today if I didn’t have it? If the answer is no, then you should let it go. Remember that having less means less to clean, less to organize, and less mess—less really does mean more.

Have a place for everything, and everything in its place. When deciding where to keep things, always consider where and how often you use each item. Store things where you use them, and don’t allow once-a-year items to eat up real estate that’s within arms reach.

Success is in the follow-through. Procrastination is the enemy of organization. Once you have a plan for an organization project, or even a small clean-up task, schedule it. If something is scheduled, make every effort to complete it on time.

Remember, being organized is a skill, and it takes practice. Sure, organization comes more easily to some people, but that doesn’t mean an organized life is impossible to achieve if it takes you a little while to get your feet wet.

7 Eco-Friendly Updates That Will Make Your Home More Marketable


Whether you’re preparing to sell your home or just looking to lower your carbon footprint, you may be surprised to know these green updates have a low up-front cost and can increase your return on investment.

  1.  Seal any cracks around door and window frames with caulk. | Cost: $5  This is a no-brainer. Eliminating cracks will take only a few hours and could pay you dividends. About 30 percent of a home’s energy loss happens at an entryway. If you’re looking to go green, this should be your first step.
  2. Install low-emissivity storm windows. | Cost: about $60 to $200 each  Low-emissivity storm windows reflect light back into the home, helping you save on heating costs. Make sure to choose the right fit for your home, as the types vary greatly depending on the materials and coatings. The US Department of Energy reports that storm windows could be as effective at lowering your energy costs as installing new windows.
  3. Install a programmable thermostat. | Cost: $250 with installation  You could save as much as $180 a year by choosing a thermostat that has the ability to automatically adjust the temperature when you are not at home. Doing so could save about 15 percent on your heating bill annually. Some thermostats also have other energy-saving features, like filter-change reminders. Just make sure you choose a system that is easy to use.
  4. Install ceiling fans. | Cost: $200  Installation cost varies based on existing electrical work. A single fan on high speed generally uses about 50 to 100 watts of power, resulting in about 800 kilowatts per year for a home with four ceiling fans—far less than a central air conditioning system. While fans are not able to actually cool the air, they can relieve you of feeling hot, and using them in lieu of A/C saves a large amount of energy. Just make sure to switch them off when you leave the room.
  5. Plant trees. | Cost: $30 to $50 per tree, varies by type of tree  This tip is especially good for the environment. If you want to save on your energy costs, particularly in the summer, plant trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of your home. This will prevent the sun from coming through your windows and making your A/C work harder. Plant a tree to shade your central air unit, and you may save up to 35 percent on your home’s cooling costs.
  6. Lower the temperature of your water heater to 120°F. | Cost: $0  An average of 15 to 25 percent of a home’s annual heating costs are related to heating the home’s water. This adjustment will take little time, and you will hardly notice a difference—until you look at the heating bill! When implemented, you’ll save up to $400 a year.
  7. Insulate your hot water heater with a blanket |Cost: $30  Especially if you have an older system, this small act could save up to 25 to 45 percent on your annual heating costs. To be most effective, add insulation underneath your water heater to prevent heat loss through the floor. Water heater blankets are inexpensive and effective. Look for one made specifically for your electric water heater.

Looking to give your home even more selling power? Download this energy audit worksheet to determine if you need a quick fix or a more permanent solution.

HomeReady® Mortgage – Find the Right Financing

Fannie MaeFor many homebuyers, finding their perfect house is the easy part – finding the right financing for their circumstances can be harder.

Fannie Mae’s HomeReady® mortgage helps address the financing challenges of multigenerational households, such as parents, adult children, and others sharing a home,  and low- and moderate-income households.*

1604a03v3HomeReady allows accessible financing and supports sustainable homeownership. Key features include:

  • Low Down Payment and Flexible Sources of Funds. Allows down payments as low as 3%, with no minimum contribution required from the buyer’s own funds (on 1-unit properties).
  • Conventional home financing with private mortgage insurance (PMI) that, unlike many government-insured loans, may be eligible for cancellation when home equity reaches 20%.
  • Homeownership education helps buyers get ready to buy a home and be prepared for the responsibilities of homeownership. The required training offers an easy-to-use, online course provided by Framework.
  • Underwriting Flexibilities. Through an innovative new feature that supports extended households, income from a non-borrower family member or other adult living in the household may be considered to allow for higher debt-to-income ratios.

* There are other requirements for getting approved for a HomeReady mortgage. Speak with your lender to learn more.

Paws for a Cause: How to Help Your Local Animal Shelter

sheltertipsIf you’re a pet lover, you have likely spent some time in a local animal shelter. Many of us would love to help dogs, cats, and other rescued animals living at these shelters, but let’s face it—it can be challenging. There often aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with our busy schedules, let alone to volunteer for the variety of tasks a shelter needs help with. Luckily, there are lots of ways to help local animal shelters without investing a ton of time, money, or energy. See below for 3 of the easiest ways to do so.

Spread the Word

Hang fliers of adoptable animals or for upcoming adoption events in pet stores, vet offices, parks, and other places where potential adopters frequent. In addition, sharing the profiles of adoptable animals with your followers on social media is simple and could play a part in creating the perfect match for an animal in need of a loving home.

Get Moving

Have a car? Many shelters have a hard time arranging to get animals from the shelter to vet appointments. Donating a little of your time (and your driving skills) will help animals get the care they need, when they need it. You can also take an hour once a week (or more!) to drop by and take a dog for a walk or hang out with the cats. Playtime has huge psychological and physical benefits for waiting animals—and humans!

Utilize Your Talents

Shelters could use help with a ton of tasks. For example, if you’re crafty, you can create homemade toys and bedding using old clothes or blankets. Are you a carpenter or a DIY whiz? Then you can help with anything from renovating parts of a facility to building a new cat tree. If you’re a web-savvy person, you can help with designing a professional-looking website; and if you’re a photography fan, you can donate your skill by taking high-quality photos for adoption profiles.

The No. 1 Thing Most Likely to Damage Your Home

griffin-e1460127625529While we often jump through hoops to protect our home from burglary and fire, we may neglect to protect it from the thing most likely to damage it: Wind.

According to data released Wednesday by insurance company Travelers, wind damage is the most common cause of homeowner’s insurance claims, ahead of hail, water, theft, fire and more. And yet, it’s one of the things many of us are least likely to protect our homes against, says Scott Humphrey, the second vice president of risk control at Travelers: “People don’t think about wind that much.”

5 most common causes of homeowner’s insurance claims

Percentage of claims related to each cause

Exterior wind damage 25%
Non-weather-related water damage (i.e. plumbing and appliance issues) 19%
Hail 15%
Weather-related water damage 11%
Theft 6%

Source: Travelers

Instead, they tend to focus far more on things like fire (buying and maintaining smoke alarms, for example) and theft (getting good alarm systems and locks)—both worthy concerns, but still less likely than wind to damage your home.

Wind can damage your home in a number of ways. Among the most common, says Humphrey: Wind detaching tree branches and hitting the home, wind lifting up roof shingles or damaging windows and doors and wind throwing things like patio furniture and other detached items in your yard.

There are ways to protect you home from wind damage. If a storm is coming, secure your windows with plywood, bring in lawn furniture, secure your garage with vertical braces and remove dangling branches, says Crissinda Ponder, the real estate analyst for financial website Bankrate.com. Repair or replace loose or damaged shingles and ensure you have good door bolts so doors are less likely to fly off, she adds.

Make sure you have enough homeowners insurance, which is highly dependent on how much your home is worth, says Penny Gusner, the consumer analyst with insurance website Insure.com. Get enough coverage to pay for the cost to rebuild your home, she adds. Ideally, you also want enough personal property coverage to pay for the replacement value of your possessions and enough liability insurance to cover the value of your assets in case you’re sued, Gusner says. (If you need more than what your homeowners policy covers, add on an umbrella policy.)

The good news: Wind damage is covered under most standard home insurance policies, Gusner says that homeowners in coastal and hurricane-prone areas may have wind damage excluded from their policies. “If you find that it is excluded, buy a separate windstorm policy,” she says. Even if wind is covered, make sure you look into the deductible, Gusner adds: “If winds are hurricane-strength that harms your home, you may have a hurricane deductible kick in, which is higher than your normal deductible. Hurricane deductibles don’t tend to be flat amounts. For example, if your home is insured for $250,000, and your hurricane deductible is 5%, you’d have pay out $12,500 before the coverage started.

To find recommendations for local Insurance Agents, give me a call. I happen to know a few good ones!

From Seed to Sauce: A Guide to Tomatoes

tomatoHomegrown tomatoes contain so much more flavor than any store-bought ones and, in just a few easy steps, you can be growing them in your own garden. Although you might find yourself at the end of the season with more tomatoes than you can get rid of, there are still great ways to get the most out of your harvest. Here is your guide to everything tomato—from A to Z (or, in this case, from seed to sauce).


Growing your own tomatoes is as rewarding as it is delicious. For a (nearly) guaranteed harvest, purchase your tomato plants from a local nursery. If you are a more experienced gardener, or believe you have a green thumb, you can try germinating and growing your plants from seeds.

However you choose to start your tomato plants, it is important to plant them in an area that gets plenty of sunlight and in a place where the plants have enough room to grow. (The amount of space needed will differ among varieties.) Water the plants consistently, so that the soil is always moist, but not saturated.

As the plants grow tall, you may need to tie the stems to a tomato basket to help support their growth. In about 70–80 days, you will be ready to harvest the delicious tomatoes!


canned-300x225With a successful season, you will likely have more tomatoes than you can eat in a summer. Canning the extra harvest will allow you to enjoy them throughout the year.

Before preserving the tomatoes, you will need to peel them. Start by boiling a large pot of water.With a sharp knife, make an X at both the top and bottom of the tomatoes to allow for easy peeling.

Once the water comes to a rolling boil, blanch each of the tomatoes, leaving them in the water for only a minute. After you have transferred them to the cold water, you should be able to peel the skin away easily, starting at the X. Peel off all of the skin, remove the core, and dice the tomatoes into quarters.

Place the cut tomatoes into 32-ounce canning jars, and add water to fill the jars. Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar into each jar and securely tighten the lids.

Seal the jars by boiling another large pot of water. Submerge each of the jars and allow them to cook for 45 minutes. Cool for a full 24 hours. Check each jar to make sure the lid does not pop up. Press down on the metal lid; if it makes a popping sound as you release, it is not sealed properly. It is very important that you seal the jars properly, and that you do not store or eat tomatoes from a jar whose lid “pops up.”

Now tuck the jars away in a room-temperature area until you are ready to cook with them!


Making sauce is so simple when you have canned tomatoes on hand. The next time you are hosting dinner, impress your guests by making pasta sauce from scratch following this recipe:

• 2 32-ounce jars of tomatoes
• 1 small carrot
• 1 medium onion, quartered
• 1 celery stalk, quartered
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• ⅛ cup white cooking wine
• salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Roughly dice the canned tomatoes into smaller chunks.
  2. Using a food processor, roughly chop carrots, onions, and celery. Process according to your consistency preference.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium heat. Lower the heat, add the vegetable puree, and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic, and allow it to cook for another minute or until fragrant.
  4. Turn up the heat slightly, and add the white cooking wine. Allow it to a simmer for about four to five minutes.
  5. Finally, add the tomatoes into the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer over a low heat. Partially cover the pot with the lid to avoid splattering, and allow the sauce to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Season with salt and pepper according to your preference, and serve over spaghetti.

Once you master tomatoes from seed to sauce, why stop there? The possibilities are endless. I love tomatoes and love sharing recipes!

How to Manage Any Home Renovation Project Like a Pro

homerenovationIf you are making renovations to your home, whether they’re large or small, don’t think you have to leave during the project to avoid the mess and stress. You can maximize efficiency and minimize your family’s discomfort with these project management tips that will guide you through the process.

Before you begin, have your home appraised; this could change your renovation plans. And if you’re thinking of selling, having your real estate professional in on the appraisal may be worth the effort. The appraiser and the Realtor will be assessing your home for different qualities.

1. Define the Purpose.

Your reason for renovating could guide the entire project. For example, if you’re updating to put your home on the market, you’ll need to research comparable homes to make sure your project doesn’t exceed the return on investment. This might also mean you’ll be working with a smaller budget and firmer deadlines. Defining your purpose will set the tone for all decisions involved.

2. Budget.

Organize your budget, and determine what the project should cost. Compare this to what you actually have to spend. Price out the project with every desired update included, and then determine which features are realistic and which you are willing to forgo. It would be wise to have an emergency buffer to account for unexpected costs as well.

3. Determine the Decision Maker.

Decide who will be making all of the decisions and why. If you and your spouse choose to make the decisions jointly, add in deadlines for each decision to keep the project moving. If you have trouble making a decision, measure it against your goals, and the choice will become clear.

4. Define.

The most important part of the process may be defining the scope of the project. While the purpose aims to fix a problem, the scope defines the ideal results. Having a clear, defined scope (in writing!) will make decisions easier, budgets more accurate, and time frames more realistic.

5. Prioritize.

Make a list of all updates, with the highest priority item at the top and the lowest at the bottom. Ask yourself, “If this were the last step in the process, what would I be willing to give up to get this feature?”

6. Research.

Do a little research into which materials are readily available and how much they cost. For big-ticket purchases, you may want to know the life expectancy or durability of the material.

7. Outsource.

If you don’t already have a working relationship with a contractor, ask your real estate professional, friends, and family for referrals. Make sure you ask for credentials, like licenses, designations, and proof that they’re insured.

8. Define Deadlines.

At this point, you’ll be able to set a realistic deadline for the entire process, but also consider setting mid-project deadlines. Think of each component as a mini project.

9. Stick to the Schedule.

The role of the project manager is to oversee all of the work and enforce project deadlines. Make sure that whoever is doing the work understands that they should make the project manager aware of any issues that are not consistent with the agreed-upon timeline so you can adjust accordingly.

It is important to understand (and accept) that, no matter how much planning is involved, not all projects will run smoothly. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario, and choose wisely by using this list of questions to ask when choosing your contractor.

Save More Every Month with These Smart Strategies


Saving money can be difficult, even when you stick to a budget. It’s easy to feel like you’re not getting anywhere. You wish you could save more. But where do you start?

At home. Implement these simple strategies around your home to cut consumption and increase your funds every month.

Lower Utilities.

Utility bills are a monthly expense every homeowner or renter has to deal with. But the cost is not fixed. If you use less water and electricity, you spend less of your hard-earned money. Every little bit helps, and small things like closing closet doors so you don’t heat or cool unnecessary spaces can make a big difference over an extended time.

You could also challenge yourself to only use air conditioning for one month the summer,  use your fireplace during colder months so you can lower your heat, and set your hot water heater to a lower temperature. There’s no reason your water has to be hot enough to scald you.

Make Mini Upgrades.

Want to make the first tip a little easier? A few small home upgrades can do just that. For instance, installing ceiling fans can help cut air conditioning costs; in the winter, reversing the direction of your fan can help you use heat more efficiently. And adding dimmers on your light switches is another affordable upgrade that can help you save on your electric every month.

Get Healthy and Wealthy.

What packaged meals and snacks save you in time, you more than pay for in cash. Opt for homemade versions for more affordable options. And as if saving money weren’t reason enough, you’ll look and feel better, too. Buying whole foods is beneficial for both your waistline and your wallet.

Do Your Own Landscaping.

Curb appeal is important. But hiring people to keep your lawn and garden looking its best can get pricey. Doing it yourself doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little research, you can find plants for your climate that require little maintenance.

If you make smart decisions, DIY landscaping won’t just save you on labor, but on related expenses as well. For example, you can collect rainwater in a barrel, and use it to water your lawn. That will help you lower your water bill every month.

Create Visual Reminders.

It’s easy to get excited and start saving. Keeping with it can be more difficult. Seeing the amount of debt or the cost of something you’re saving for can help you commit. Create something to remind you of these numbers at a glance  on a regular basis. It could be something as simple as a sign you create or an ad from a catalog you pin up in a visible area. Or you could mark your savings goals on a calendar and chart your progress on a daily or monthly basis.

Use Shopping Lists.

Retailers have selling down to a science. Everything from the layout of the store, to the height at which the items are displayed, and even the sounds and smells are carefully chosen to get you to buy more. The best way to combat this is to go in with a list of specifically what you need.

Many people do this at the grocery store, so that’s probably what comes immediately to your mind. But it can work at other types of stores as well. For instance, if you make a list of the clothes you plan to purchase, you can ensure you come home with what you need, rather than what looks good in the store.

Go Paperless.

Paper towels, napkins, and plates aren’t major expenses, so you probably never give them a second thought. But did you ever stop to think about how much they cost you over the course of a year or more?  Compare that to the one-time expense of dish towels, cloth napkins, and washable plates, and your choice is a no-brainer.

These strategies are small, to be sure. But those small savings add up quickly. Best of all, you can implement them immediately for instant gratification.


HomePath Ready Buyer™ Program

3percent_closing_costBuying a home can be a daunting process, especially for First-Time Buyers. At HomePath, we support smart and sustainable homeownership as it advances Fannie Mae’s mission to stabilize neighborhoods. That’s why HomePath is proud to bring you this homebuyer education course. If you’re a First-Time Homebuyer, we encourage you to take this education course to prepare you for the responsibilities of homeownership. After completing the course, if you attach the course completion certificate to an initial offer and successfully negotiate a purchase of a HomePath property, you can request up to 3% closing cost assistance toward your purchase.

Plus, completion of the HomePath Ready Buyer™ course also meets the homeownership education requirement for the Fannie Mae HomeReady® mortgage loan*. Find out if the HomeReady mortgage is right for you. Visit MyHomeReady.com.

4 Foods That Fight Dog Breath

puppybreathThere are a few universal canine characteristics that every dog lover can appreciate, like that wagging tail that greets you with happiness when you walk in the door, or those big eyes that melt your heart when you ask your dog to sit for a treat. But if there is one trait that everyone could live without, it would be the less adorable dog breath! Since your pet can do little to help his halitosis, try these natural remedies to add a breath of fresh air to your pooch’s palate!


carrots-300x222Carrots Plaque buildup is a key cause of bad breath, so consider serving up some baby carrot sticks as a daily treat to combat plaque. The beta-carotene and vitamins will also play a major role in maintaining your pet’s overall good health.


parsley-300x217Parsley Rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acids, and antioxidants, parsley is another natural breath freshener. Chop up some fresh parsley leaves to sprinkle over your dog’s meal, or add it to your next batch of homemade bones.



coconutoil-300x188Coconut Oil This oil has antibacterial properties that make it great for not only dog breath, but also their skin and bones, and it even helps with digestion and the immune system. Pour a teaspoon of coconut oil over your dog’s food every night.


brownrice-300x179Brown Rice Since digestion plays an important role in a dog’s breath, use brown rice as the base for your homemade dog food. Not only is it high in fiber, which aids in digestion, but it’s also loaded with powerful antioxidants.

Pressed Flower Craft

pressed-flower-hoopThe problem with fresh flowers is that they eventually wither. The solution is to press them. Pressed flowers can be used in a wide variety of projects, including this easy craft that creates a beautiful stained glass effect.

  • flowers
  • wax paper
  • crayon shavings
  • iron
  • a frame of your choice (such as a floating frame, embroidery hoop, or homemade Popsicle frame)
  1. Press the flowers by placing them between two sheets of absorbent paper and topping them with heavy objects such as a stack of books for two to three weeks. Avoid paper towels with imprinted texture, because the pattern may imprint on the petals, and consider replacing paper after about a week.
  2. When the flowers are completely dried and pressed, cut out two sheets of wax paper to fit the size of the frame you are using.
  3. Arrange the pressed flowers on one sheet of wax paper. Sprinkle the crayon shavings on top of the flowers.
  4. Put the second sheet of wax paper on top. Iron the wax paper on a medium setting without steam until the crayons melt together.
  5. Once melted, allow the wax paper to cool before placing the craft into your frame. Place in a window where the sunlight can travel through your stained glass design.

Your new craft will give you years of enjoyment and bring back memories of the occasion when you first got the flowers. Not bad for such an easy project!


Your Shopping List for Hard-to-Kill Plants

hardtokillNot the green thumb type of gardener? Does your foliage tend to droop and die? Then these rugged plants are for you!

So what makes these plants hard to kill? They are considered to be low maintenance because they just need to be in the right light and given the right amount of water once the soil is dry to thrive. Reference the list below to find out how much light each plant requires, and then match them to the appropriate rooms in your house.

Low Light:
Some plants thrive in little to no light, which means that they would be great for rooms with little natural lighting. Perhaps the most well-known of these plants are the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) and the tropical Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata). Others hard-to-kill plants in this category include the Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) and the Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum).

Medium Light:
The second group of plants to consider are ones that are a bit more light flexible, as they work well in a fair amount of natural lighting. One example is the tried and true Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum). The intricately patterned Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura) also fits the bill, as does the Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica).

High Light:
Do you have rooms in your house that just pour in the natural lighting? Then load up on these beauties! A great example of a hardy high-light plant is the Aloe Vera plant (Aloe barbadensis), which you can grow and then use the gel from its leaves to sooth burns. Another is the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla), which adds a touch of outdoor living into your indoor space. The Jade Plant (Crassula ovata), the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), and the Zebra Haworthia (Haworthia attenuata) also fall into this group of plants that soak up the sun.

Maintaining beautiful, vibrant plants in your home can be easier than you think, regardless of your gardening skill level. Simply matching the right type of plant with the amount of lighting in your house is a great first step.


5 Simple Ways to Add Instant Curb Appeal

curbappealDespite what we’ve all been taught, people do judge books by their covers. When you’re selling your house, your exterior is that cover.

If people see any flaws or unsightliness, you could lose potential buyers before they even walk in the door.

Conversely, if you can wow them with your curb appeal, they’ll enter your home in a positive frame of mind.

The best part is, you don’t have to spend a fortune or break your back to boost your home’s curb appeal. Use these easy and affordable tips to create an exterior that invites buyers into your home.

Apply a fresh coat of paint.

Exteriors can face some harsh conditions. Depending on your location, wind, rain, snow, intense sun, and extreme temperatures can take their toll. But a little paint is usually all it takes to have your house looking like new again.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to repaint the whole exterior. Adding a splash of color to the front door, shutters, or other areas can really make a house pop.

Swap out or revitalize front door fixtures.

The front door is a natural focal point of any house. And even seemingly small details can make a big difference. For example, a unique door knocker or gleaming, freshly polished hardware can be a simple way to make it stand out.

Hide unsightly features.

Even the most attractive homes have features that are better hidden. Lattice is a great way to keep trash cans and air conditioning units out of sight. Or, if you prefer not adding another structure, you could plant a row of shrubs or trees instead.

For electrical boxes, water meters, and other fixtures attached to the house, adjusting the color to match your walls can act as camouflage. It won’t be completely out of sight, but it won’t draw unnecessary attention, either. And you won’t obstruct access.

Pressure wash decks, patios, and walkways.

If you don’t own a pressure washer, you can usually rent one from your local home improvement store. In just a few minutes you can spray away years of muck and grime buildup from wood, stone, and brick surfaces. You may be surprised by just how much of a difference you’ll see.

Plant some flora and fauna.

This one is an obvious suggestion, but it’s still one of the most effective ways to add curb appeal. It’s also one of the most versatile. Plants and flowers can add color, create a focal point in the yard, direct the eyes to the front of the house, conceal unsightly features, and even make use of spaces that may otherwise be wasted.

These simple upgrades are among the best investments you can make when selling your home. For a few hundred dollars or less, boosting your curb appeal could result in more potential buyers and thousands of extra dollars on the final price.


Your Road Map to Home Ownership

roadmaptonewhomeHome ownership is one of the greatest opportunities for establishing a stable financial future. It’s also one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life.

If you prepare properly, you’ll be able to find a home that suits your needs and your budget. Follow this road map to make your first home buying experience a positive one.

Phase 1: Plan
  1. Check your credit score, and clean up any issues or inconsistencies. You’ll need your score to determine a realistic interest rate, so you can factor this in when looking at homes.
  2. Pay off your debts as best as possible. 
Know your DTI (debt-to-income ratio), as it will be a major factor in getting a mortgage.
  3. Understand and prepare for mortgage requirements. If your down payment is less than 20 percent, you may be required to purchase PMI (private mortgage insurance), which costs about 0.5 percent of your loan, though these rates vary.
  4. Practice making mortgage payments. If you’re renting, tack on the difference between your current rent and a realistic mortgage payment to your monthly living cost. Add this amount to your savings while you get accustomed to making larger monthly payments.
  5. Set your moving goal, and calculate how much you’ll need to save per month to make your down payment. Adjust to save more than 10 percent per month to help you in the long run, as you’ll need to anticipate the cost of repairs and maintenance on your home.
Phase 2: Attack
  1. Consult a professional. 
It may be tempting to go it alone, but an expert will be able to provide additional insight on the process and any hidden costs along the way.
  2. Choose a budget based on salary. Aim for a home that costs only about two-and-a-half times your gross annual salary.
  3. Only buy a home that you plan to live in for at least three to five years. You may face tax implications if you sell in less than two years.
  4. Compare monthly expenses to income. 
Your monthly home expenses should not exceed 36 percent of your gross monthly income.
  5. Add in details. Factor in closing costs, which often amount to 5 percent of the mortgage price.
  6. Mind the resale value. Consider the neighborhood and school district when purchasing, even if you don’t have children. Both affect resale opportunity.

Purchasing your first home can feel a little overwhelming. There are many factors to consider and a lot of preparation. But if you take each phase above one step at a time, your journey should be smooth.