Got an Evacuation Plan for Your Pets? What to Do Now Before It’s Too Late

The largest of the wildfires tearing through Southern California are now bigger than New York City and Boston combined, forcing thousands to evacuate the area—but what about their pets?

TV host Ellen DeGeneres brought this question front and center on Sunday, tweeting, “Our house is under threat of being burned. We just had to evacuate our pets.” DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, have a home in Carpinteria, CA, near Santa Barbara.

She’s hardly the only animal lover who’s concerned about the plight of their four-legged friends in the event of a disaster. One study by the University of California at Davis and the International Animal Welfare Training Institute found that 16.2% of people polled wouldn’t evacuate their home without their pets. Some owners will even put their own lives at risk in an attempt to rescue their furry family members. In one extreme example during a 2009 bush fire in Australia, a dog owner jumped out of a rescue helicopter rather than leave her beloved pooch behind. Both were saved, but in some other cases, owners have been killed in the attempt to save their pets.

All of which just goes to prove that pets are indeed important members of the family who should have an escape plan in place in the event of a fire, flood, or other disaster. So just how is pet evacuation done, and what can pet owners do to prepare for the possibility?

Pet evacuation steps to take

Pete Duncanson, a disaster recovery expert with ServiceMaster Restore, says Step 1 is to just have a plan.

“It’s important to develop an evacuation plan, keep a map of it in plain sight, and practice an evacuation drill with your entire family—that includes your pets,” Duncanson tells®. “You should assign one person—an adult or parent—to keep track of the cat or dog, so that everyone, especially the kids, aren’t focused on looking for them during an emergency.” 

If your pet fits in a carrier, it’s also important to keep it easily accessible.

“Most cat and dog owners leave their travel crates in a back corner of a garage,” points out Los Angeles real estate expert and developer Tyler Drew. “Only, wildfires move very quickly. What looks like a fire over a few hills from your house can be on your doorstep within minutes if the winds are strong enough. So, make sure carriers are accessible and ready to go.”

Separated from your pets? What to do

In case you and your pets get separated—say, you must evacuate while you’re at work and are unable to get home—there are things you can do. For one, the ASPCA offers a free Rescue Alert Sticker that you should place prominently on a front door or window where you can indicate the types and number of pets in your home, as well as a place where you can write “EVACUATED” if you were able to—that way, rescue specialists who venture into dangerous areas will know whether your pets still need help or not.

Pet owners should also keep their animals’ paperwork in order.

“Keep electronic copies of your pet’s medical records, including insurance cards, vaccinations, and chip finders, ” Duncanson says. “Their medications should also be in a place where you can easily grab them if you have to evacuate. Also make sure you have electronic copies of recent photos in case you’re separated from them.”

While microchips can help track down a pet, they’re expensive to implant and don’t offer real-time tracking of your pet’s whereabouts. So if you’re looking for other high-tech options, you might consider a digital ID tag like Pawscout ($20), which allows you to pinpoint your pet’s exact GPS coordinates by smartphone.

Article by Judy Dutton

5 Holiday Hosting Disasters and How to Avoid Them

Why does the oven go kaput on a holiday? No worries. Here’s how to go on the offense now.

Imagine you’re preparing to host your annual holiday party, and you’re past the point of no return. The veggies and meats have been bought. Guests are already braving busy airports and crowded highways to get to your home — and then your oven won’t turn on. Your home-cooked meal has quickly turned into a microwave dinner.

That’s just one of many hosting nightmares that can end your holiday party before it even begins. Thankfully, some of the most damaging mishaps easily can be avoided. We collected five of the most prevalent issues and give you preventative tips to keep your holiday party on track.

Problem: The Oven Doesn’t Heat

For any holiday occasion, the oven is the most important appliance in your house. If it fails to work, the centerpiece of your meal could go from roasted beef, ham, duck, or Tofurky to Peking Duck from the local Chinese takeout joint.

How to avoid:

  • There are any number of reasons a stove can break, but one common cause of disaster is easy to prevent. Don’t self-clean your oven until AFTER the holidays. You risk blowing a fuse or a thermostat, and tracking down an oven technician around the holidays can be tough.

Problem: The Kitchen Sink Clogs

The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for plumbers. The prime cause of this clog-a-thon is the mistreatment of drains when cooking holiday feasts. We hope your Thanksgiving went well, and that you avoid clog-a-thons for the rest of the holidays.

How to avoid:

  • Fats and cooking oils can solidify in your pipes, so never dispose of them in your kitchen sink.
  • If you have a garbage disposal, make sure it’s running before anything goes in it, and never feed it any stringy, fibrous, or starchy foods like poultry skins or potato peels.
  • To fix, don’t rely on chemical drain-clearing products that can harm your pipes. Use a snake instead, available for $15 at your local hardware store. Best to keep one on hand.

Problem: The Heat Goes Out

As the party’s host, you’re supposed to hang guests’ coats — not apologize to them for having to keep them on. A lack of heat can stop a holiday party dead in its tracks.

How to avoid:

  • The key to avoiding freezing your party to a standstill is regular maintenance of your HVAC. Every 90 days, a new one-inch pleated furnace filter should be installed. If you haven’t done it in a while, now’s a good time to replace it.
  • Also inspect insulation on refrigerant lines that are leading into your house. Replace them if they’re missing or damaged.

Problem: The Toilet Stops Up

Toilets have a way of clogging up at the worst times, such as during parties and when you have overnight guests. This is especially true if you have a low-flow toilet from the early 1990s.

How to avoid:

  • Don’t flush anything other than sewage and toilet paper down the toilet. And there’s nothing wrong with putting up a polite note to remind your guests to do the same.

Problem: The Fridge Doesn’t Cool

Without a properly functioning refrigerator, your meat could get contaminated, your dairy-based treats could go sour, and you may not be able to save your yummy leftovers. To avoid discovering a warm fridge after it’s too late, take these simple precautions.

How to avoid:

  • Get a thermometer for your refrigerator to make sure each shelf stays below 40 degrees and you can be aware of any temperature changes.
  • Also make sure the condenser coils located on the back of the unit or beneath it are free to breathe. Coils blocked from circulating air by cereal boxes atop the fridge, or dirtied by dust or pet hair can prevent a fridge from keeping cool.

Eggplant Ricotta Bites

Lightly breaded eggplant is sauteed instead of deep-fried, giving it crunch without excess oil. It’s then topped with ricotta and tomatoes for an eggplant Parmesan-inspired appetizer with much less fat.



Thinly slice the eggplant into rounds and season with salt. Pour some flour into a shallow dish. Beat the eggs in another dish. In a third dish, mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dredge the eggplant in the flour, then dip in the eggs and coat with the breadcrumb mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, cook the eggplant until golden, about 2 minutes per side, adding more oil between batches, if necessary. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

Toss the tomatoes with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil and the vinegar in a bowl. Spoon some ricotta onto each eggplant slice. Top with the tomato mixture and basil.

8 Credit Score Myths Even Shrewd Home Buyers Fall For

That small balance you keep on your credit card? Not helping at all.

Forty percent of us think our credit score will climb if we carry a small balance (nope), and 52% don’t realize bad credit can increase the amount needed for deposits on utilities (it does!), according to a NerdWallet survey.

“There are quite a few myths and misinformation about credit scores,” says Ryan Greeley, author of the “Better Credit Blog.” “This stuff isn’t taught anywhere, so it’s something you have to dig into yourself.” The worst time to find out you’ve got a going-nowhere credit score is when you’re trying to buy a home.

Unless you have us to dig for you, that is. Here are seven top credit score myths, and the reality behind them.

Myth #1: Always carry a small balance on your credit card.

Reality: The credit score gods want to know two main things: that you pay your bills on time, and that you don’t constantly max out the credit you have.

And yes, one of the items they like to see you pay is your credit card bill — all of it. The only thing a running balance increases is the interest you owe. That’s why Erin Lowry, who writes the “Broke Millennial” blog, believes banks and credit card companies probably perpetuated this myth to boost their profits.

Myth #2: It’s OK to pay credit cards a day late if you pay them off in full.

Reality: ”Missing a payment is the biggest way to hit your credit score,” Lowry says. “If you pay a student loan a day late, your score can go down as much as 100 points.” So much for that degree making you smarter.

To maximize your score, always pay your installment loans (like car loans and mortgages) on time and in full. You know, like you’re supposed to. But also note that actual humans work for financial companies; if you need to pay late for a legit reason, call your lender — before the due date — and have a frank conversation. They’ll often help out.

Myth #3: Closing old cards will erase any negative history.

Reality: If it was that easy, we’d all be driving Teslas. Credit-reporting companies keep information on your file for seven years, no matter what.

And actually, the longer you’ve responsibly used a particular credit card, the better effect it has on your credit score. Remember, you’re judged by how much of your credit you’re using. Closing a credit card makes that percentage change for the worse.

Myth #4: If you’ve never had credit, you have a perfect credit score.

Reality: There’s no reason to save your credit virginity for that special something. If you’ve never used credit, it’s anyone’s guess how well you’ll handle it once you do. Credit reporting agencies call it a “thin file,” meaning there’s not enough information on you to create a credit score. So if you’re a newbie, get an itty-bitty card or loan, and starting fattening up that file.

Myth #5: Checking your credit score frequently will hurt your score.

Reality: How else are you supposed to keep track of the darn thing? It’s true that several “hard” checks by companies can ding your score a few points. Hard checks generally happen when you are actually seeking a loan or line of credit, such as a mortgage or credit card.

If you check your own, it’s called a “soft” check, and it doesn’t hurt your score.

So for Pete’s sake, check your score and credit report at least annually. It’s super easy these days, especially with websites like, or use a banking app that lets you easily monitor your score. A sudden, unexplained dip could be a sign that identity theft or mistakes are hurting your credit (and keep hard checks to one or two a year).

Myth #6: Paying off a student loan or car loan early will hurt your credit.

Reality: Ah, no. Credit report companies definitely do not punish you for paying off loans early. They might even throw you a parade. (Not really. Put away your princess wave.) While responsibly paying installment loans may be good, paying off those loans is way better.

Myth #7: Your age, sex, and other non-money issues affect your credit score.

Reality: What century is it again? Federal law protects you from credit discrimination based on non-credit issues, like race, color, national origin, or sex. Sure, credit card companies or lenders can ask, but they can’t deny you credit based on your answers. Income, expenses, debts, and credit history are what matters.

Myth #8: My credit score can hurt/help my chances of landing a job.

Reality: Actually, this one is partially true, depending on how fancy your job is. If it requires a security clearance or using a company credit card, an employer will want to know how you use credit, or if you’re in a financial mess that may make you bribe-able, Lowry says. But don’t worry, the employer will ask your permission before pulling your credit report, which is considered a soft pull and won’t hurt your score.


11 Easy-Up, Easy-Down Decor Hacks for Stress-Free Holidays

Start saving those egg cartons!

Give or take a Scrooge or two, everybody loves the holidays: Decorating the tree, hanging lights, hanging holly … all those things! But you know what nobody loves? Taking all those things down.

Because, wow, what an unorganized mess.

Before you go all Scrooge, get your jolly back with these simple holiday decorating hacks.

#1 Protect Ornaments With Holiday Recyclables

Trimming the tree should feel like the happy ending of a Lifetime holiday movie, not a game show guessing which box will contain broken memories.

Keep ornaments safe for next year by stowing them in leftover party cups, hot-glued onto a piece of foam board cut to fit inside a storage bin, recommends Lisa Woodruff, a Cincinnati-based professional organizer.

Or pack ornaments away using bubble wrap from holiday packages, or egg cartons from those countless cookies you made.

All of these options make for shock-absorbent padding that’s more durable than paper towels or tissue paper.

#2 Create a Year-Round Focal Point

You dream of decking every hall, every year, but when the holidays roll around, you’ve got a brisket to bake and cocktails to clink.

So focus your festive energy on just one iconic focal point — a wreath on the front door or greenery on the mantel — something that easily changes with the seasons.

Or, create a display that makes you feel merry year-round. (Try repurposing storefront letters to spell out “LOVE” or “JOY” — sentiments that never go out of season.)

#3 Create a Decorating Toolbox

Before you can hang a single strand of lights or sprig of mistletoe, you have to find the gosh-darn zip ties, track down the floral wire, and repurpose a few extension cords.

Just thinking about the prep work makes you ready for a long winter’s nap. But this year’s gonna be your prep for next year, and the years to follow.

As you put everything up, keep a running checklist of what you need. Then stock a toolbox that gets replenished every year.

#4 Leave Your Light Hooks and Nails in Place for Next Year

If you like to trim your home’s roof and siding with holiday lights, you know what a hassle it is to find last year’s nail holes while balancing on a ladder with your extremities slowly freezing.

So, this year, use hooks that match your siding (not nails because they fall out easier) or paint them so they are indistinguishable from your siding or trim before you put them up.

Then leave them up when you take down your lights.

Come next year, just rehang your lights and bask in your twinkling success.

#5 Wrap Lights Around Gift Boxes

There’s nothing like a multicolored knot of lights to put a damper on your bright holiday spirit.

So as you take down this year’s lights, wrap them around empty gift boxes or cardboard. Make a small notch on each side to keep the ends snugly in place.

Next year you’ll spend less time untangling your lights and more time basking in them.

#6 Hang Wreaths in the Rafters

All year you look forward to hanging that wreath you got for a steal at an after-Christmas sale.

Rather than tossing it in a trash bag, where it can too easily get seriously mushed or even forgotten, hang it from 4-inch nails hammered into the attic rafters or garage walls, Woodruff recommends.

It will be easy to find, and will be in pristine shape for next year.

#7 Store Your Tree With the Decorations on It

No, seriously.

If strategizing the placement of skiing Garfield and his 107 dangly friends is your least favorite part of holiday decorating, skip it after this year.

Ask someone to help you tightly wrap this year’s decorated (artificial) tree — yep, ornaments and all — with heavy-duty stretch plastic wrap (the type that professional movers use, which you can find at home improvement stores).

Next year, just cut the wrap and reshape the branches.

Happy holidays indeed.

#8 Or Give in and Buy a Tree Bag

Every December 26, you begin to dread awkwardly wrestling your artificial tree back into its original packaging.

This year, go ahead and spend the 50 bucks on a tree bag or box, Woodruff says. It will seal out dirt, dust, and bugs, won’t smash the branches, and some styles even allow you to store your tree fully or partially assembled.

Plus, just knowing you can skip the reassembly next time makes for an extra happy New Year.

#9 Trim Those Trimmings

Getting out decorations should be a welcome walk down memory lane — not a guilt trip through items you “should” display but … ugh.

So when you take down this year’s decor, follow the old rule for paring down your wardrobe and get rid of anything you didn’t use — you know, that carol-singing mounted fish from your dad or Nana’s crocheted coaster set — and donate them.

“If it’s a sentimental item, take a picture of it,” Woodruff says.

You won’t waste storage space and, come next year, you’ll be greeted only by items you love and use.

#10 Organize By Room

If you’ve got snowmen in every bathroom and a jingle bell on every drawer, you may end up with mountains of half-empty boxes piled everywhere for longer than you spend enjoying the decor.

Get your halls decked more efficiently by sorting your boxes of trimmings by room, Woodruff suggests.

Then, label each light strand by location — mantel, doorway, tree, etc. Decorating is merrier when you can grab a bin and make an evening of it, one room at a time.

#11 Create a “Must-Have” Bin

Put all your favorite decorations in one “first-up, last-down” bin.

Next year, you’ll spend more time enjoying your cherished menorah or manger and less time rummaging to find it.



15 Things You Should Know About Dogs Playing Poker

Thanks to Dogs Playing Poker, painter Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (a.k.a. C.M. Coolidge) has earned the dubious distinction of being called “the most famous American artist you’ve never heard of.” But while critics might sniff at his contribution to the art world, the history of his greatest works is rich.

1. Dogs Playing Poker is not one painting, but a series.

Coolidge’s earliest explorations of dog paintings were made for cigar boxes. Then, in 1903, the 59-year-old artist started working for the “remembrance advertising” company Brown & Bigelow. From there, he began churning out works like A Bold Bluff, Poker Sympathy, and Pinched With Four Aces, which were reproduced as posters, calendars, and prints, sometimes as parts of promotional giveaways.

2. The most popular of these paintings is of dogs cheating at poker. 

A Friend in Need pits a pair of bulldogs against five huge hounds. Who could blame them for slipping helpful cards under the table with their toes? As the most beloved of this series, A Friend In Need is also the one most often misnamed “Dogs Playing Poker.”

3. These PAINTINGS gave Coolidge some fame in his 60s.

Coolidge already had a quirky artistic claim to fame—he’s credited as the father of Comic Foregrounds, those carnival attractions where tourists can stick their heads atop a cartoon figure as a photo op. But with Dogs Playing Poker catching on through calendar and poster sales, Coolidge was able to sell some of the original paintings for $2000 to $10,000.

4. Dogs Playing Poker has never received much critical praise.

Commissioned for commercial use, these paintings are regarded most often as kitsch, art that is basically bad to the bone. Recounting the highbrow opinion of these pieces, Poker News‘s Martin Harrisexplained, “For some the paintings represent the epitome of kitsch or lowbrow culture, a poor-taste parody of ‘genuine’ art.”

5. THEY became a staple in working class home décor ANYWAY.

n the 1970s, kitsch was king, and demand for Dogs Playing Poker hit its peak—which made the pooches readily available in various affordable forms. Or, as art critic Annette Ferrara put it, “These signature works, for better or worse, are indelibly burned into the subconscious slide library of even the most un-art historically inclined person through their incessant reproduction on all manner of pop ephemera: calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, the occasional advertisement.”

6. They could be seen as a sort of self-portrait.

Coolidge went by the nickname “Cash” and has been described as a hustler whose résumé showed quite a few career changes. Before he was painting for calendars, he worked painting street signs and houses and also tried his hand at being a druggist, an art teacher, and cartoonist. He also started his own bank and his own newspaper. So perhaps the pooches who are always looking for the angles represented Coolidge’s own ambitions.

7. kITSCH OR NOT, Dogs Playing Poker paintings sell for big bucks.

A 1998 auction saw a Coolidge original sell for $74,000 at Sotheby’s. Then in 2005, A Bold Bluff and Waterloo: Two were put up for auction in Doyle New York’s Dogs in Art Auction. Before they hit the block, predictions were made that the pair of rare paintings would fetch $30,000 to $50,000. But an anonymous bidder ultimately paid a whopping $590,400 for them, setting a record for the sale of Coolidge works.

8. This pricey pair shares a storyline.

Auction notes from the Doyle event explain, “The (paintings’) sequential narrative follows the same ‘players’ in the course of a hand of poker. In the first (A Bold Bluff), our main character, the St. Bernard, holds a weak hand as the rest of the crew maintains their best poker faces. In the following scene (Waterloo: Two), we see the St. Bernard raking in the large pot, much to the very obvious dismay of his fellow players.”

9. Not all of the Dogs Playing Poker series fit the name.

Coolidge painted 16 pieces within this collection, but only nine of them actually show dogs playing poker. Higher Education displayed helmeted pups playing football. New Year’s Eve in Dogsville imagines a romantic soiree with dinner and dancing dogs. And Breach of Promise Suit showed a canine court.

10. Dogs Playing Poker has a small place of honor in Philadelphia, N.Y.

Coolidge was raised in Philadelphia, but the small town was largely unaware of the fame of their former resident until 1991. That’s when his then 80-year-old daughter Gertrude Marcella Coolidge took it upon herself to travel to Philadelphia and give a print from his collection to the town. Today, this piece is framed and hangs within the one-room museum at the back of the local library. Visitors can also ask to see a thin folder of related Coolidge materials.

11. Coolidge’s wife and daughter were unimpressed by Dogs Playing Poker.

In 2002, 92-year-old Gertrude told The New York Times that she and her mother were more cat people than dog lovers, but she admitted, “You can’t imagine a cat playing poker. It doesn’t seem to go.”

12. Dogs Playing Poker have been compared to Tennessee Williams’ plays.

Maybe that sounds silly. What do plays like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Streetcar Named Desire have in common with these kitsch masterpieces? According to New York Times contributor James McManus, these works share similar views on sexual politics: “Men drink, bellow, smoke and play poker. The women who serve them … their game is to tame the bad boys.”

For Williams, this means Maggie the Cat, Stella Kowalski, or her frail sister Blanche DuBois. For Coolidge, it means a cocktail-serving poodle, or a pair of terriers breaking up the game.

13. Coolidge pulled inspiration from great artists who came before.

The works of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, and Paul Cézanne are often cited as influences on how Coolidge posed his canine card players.

14. The art elite still give Dogs Playing Poker no respect.

Popularity and prestige do not always come hand in hand. Art critics have long sneered at the commissioned works Coolidge undertook. Even his 1934 obituary described his greatest artistic accomplishment as “painted many pictures of dogs.” But a low blow was delivered on April Fool’s Day when the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., posted a prank in the form of a press release proclaiming the institution wanted to exhibit Dogs Playing Poker.

Chrysler Director William Hennessey was quoted as saying, “There’s long been a spirited debate in scholarly circles about the position of canine art within the canon. I believe it is now time for these iconic images to assume their rightful place on the walls of our institutions where homo-centric art has too long been unjustly privileged.”

This praise was followed by an addendum: “EDITOR’S NOTE: April Fool! Every word printed above is true with the single exception of the suggestion that the Chrysler is actually trying to obtain these paintings.”

15. Critics might be missing the point.

Many critics have dismissed Coolidge’s works as trivial because of their commercial origins. But in the 2004 book Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America, Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger proposed that Dogs Playing Poker was a satirical series intended to mock the upper class in their excesses and attitudes. Basically, Coolidge’s critics might not be in on the true joke here.



4 Ways to Erase Ugly Scratches From Wood Floors

Get your crayons out for the coolest solution of all.

Dogs chase kids, pans drop, chairs scrape, and soon you must repair wood floors and erase scratches that make a mess of your red oak or Brazilian cherry.

A professional floor refinisher will charge $1 to $4 per square foot to apply a new coat of finish. No worries. We’ve got inexpensive ways to remove wood scratches and repair deep gouges in a few easy steps.

#1 Use Crayons and Sharpie Pens to Hide Small Scratches

Take some artistic license to hide minor scratches in wood floors by rubbing on stain-matching crayons and Sharpie pens. Wax sticks, such as Minwax Stain Markers, are great scratch busters because they include stain and urethane, which protects the floor’s finish.

Don’t be afraid to mix a couple of colors together to get a good match. And don’t sweat if the color is a little off. Real hardwoods mix several hues and tones. So long as you cover the contrasting “white” scratches, color imperfections will match perfectly.

#2 Use Homemade Polish to Camouflage Scratches

Mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar, which work together to remove dirt, moisturize, and shine wood. Pour a little directly onto the scratch. Let the polish soak in for 24 hours, then wipe off. Repeat until the scratch disappears.

#3 Spot-Sand Deep Scratches

It takes time to repair wood gouges: Sand, fill, sand again, stain, and seal. Here are some tips to make the job go faster.

  • Sand with fine-gauge steel wool or lightweight sandpaper.
  • Always sand with the grain.
  • Use wood filler, which takes stain better than wood putty.
  • Use a plastic putty knife to avoid more scratches.
  • Seal the area with polyurethane, or whatever product was used on the floor originally.
  • Apply the polyurethane coat with a lambs wool applicator, which avoids air bubbles in the finish.

#4 Use Wood Putty to Fill Gaps

Old floorboards can separate over time. Fill the gaps with colored wood putty. Or, if you have some leftover planks, rip a narrow band and glue it into the gap.

Article by JANE HOBACK

Almost-Famous Spinach-Artichoke Dip



Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the spinach and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water; squeeze out the excess moisture, then finely chop.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the onion is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan and sour cream.

Return the pot to medium heat. Add the spinach, cheddar and artichokes and stir until the cheese melts and the dip is heated through. Serve warm with tortilla chips, salsa and sour cream.

Photograph by Andrew Mccaul

Don’t Get Burned by a Credit Freeze

Baby, it’s cold outside.

With Equifax and other companies reporting massive data breaches this year, more consumers are putting a freeze on their credit reports. And while a credit freeze won’t affect a borrower’s ability to qualify for a mortgage, it does require the borrower to take additional steps during the application process.

A credit freeze blocks anyone—including lenders and employers—from accessing your credit report. Requests for a credit freeze must be submitted by mail, online or over the phone to the three major credit bureaus individually (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). You’ll need to provide your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number. The fees vary by state but run from free to $10 each time you place or lift the freeze, and payments can be made using a personal check, money order or credit card. (Fees may be waived for victims of identity theft.)

Once placed, a credit freeze stays on your credit report until you lift or remove it. But remember: It can affect your ability to get a new cellphone, apply for a store credit card or even get a job. And existing creditors or debt collectors acting on their behalf will still have access.

“Freezing your credit can prevent others from opening new lines of credit in your name, but it also prevents you from opening an account yourself,” says Sam Mischner, chief sales officer and head of mortgage at Charlotte, N.C.-based LendingTree. “If you’ve instituted a freeze on your credit but now want to apply for a loan, you will need to take the extra step of allowing the lender access to your credit. You will have to contact each credit bureau to temporarily lift the freeze.”

For borrowers applying for a mortgage, that freeze will probably only have to be lifted once, because the credit report would be good for the typical 30- to 45-day period from contract to closing, says Josh Moffitt, founder and president of Silverton Mortgage Specialists, a direct-mortgage lender in Atlanta. But there are certain situations where another report needs to be pulled by the lender nearer to the closing. In that case, the borrower may have to lift the freeze—and pay for it—multiple times.

In addition, borrowers might run into problems in competitive housing markets where they need to close quickly. In those instances, it might be tricky to unfreeze the credit in time for the lender to pull credit reports and complete the underwriting and pre-closing process.

Here are a few considerations if you’re applying for a mortgage with frozen credit.

Watch yourself

While freezing your credit protects you from the time the freeze becomes effective, it does nothing to correct existing credit issues. Get a copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies, check them carefully and correct any errors before you apply for a mortgage.

Get alerts

While a credit freeze “locks down” your credit, a fraud alert still allows creditors to pull your credit report as long as they verify your identity first, according to the Federal Trade Commission. For example, a business may call you to verify that you are the person requesting new credit. However, while fraud alerts may make it more difficult for others to open new credit accounts in your name, they may not prevent misuse of your existing accounts. Placing a fraud alert is easier than with a freeze. You need only to contact one of the reporting agencies, which in turn is required to notify the others. A fraud alert is free.

Know how the freeze works

Understand the logistics of lifting the freeze—and make sure you allow enough time for the lender to pull credit reports. Consumers who deal directly with the three credit-reporting agencies are given a personal identification number to provide, either by phone, online or mail, every time they want to lift or remove the freeze, according to David M. Blumberg, a spokesman for TransUnion. Alternatively, consumers can lock or unlock their credit using a third-party service like TransUnion’s TrueIdentity, which is available online or in an app.

Contact information

Here is contact information for fraud and identity-theft issues.

Equifax: 888-349-9960,

Experian: 888-397-3742,

TransUnion: 888-909-8872

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‘Our Home Was Renovated on a Reality Show’: What It’s Really Like, Warts and All

If you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper,” “Flip or Flop,” or “Property Brothers,” you’ve probably wondered what it’s like to have your home renovated on a reality TV show. Alex Shaw, a casting producer in Los Angeles, had pondered that same question. So when she heard that TLC’s “Nate and Jeremiah by Design” was looking for applicants last November, she applied—and was picked!

At first, Shaw was beyond excited, knowing that Nate Berkus had gained fame designing Oprah‘s home and served as an expert on her talk show before branching off to star in his own home makeover show with husband Jeremiah Brent. Plus, Shaw’s house with her fiancé, Tom Schultz, was run-down and in dire need of renovating (as you can see below in the before pic).

Nonetheless, Shaw would soon learn that having your home made over on a reality TV show is a bit of a roller coaster ride. As Shaw admits, “There’s really no way you can anticipate all the crazy things that will happen.”

So in case you’re fantasizing about having your own place prettied up on camera, read this behind-the-curtain sneak peek about what it’s really like.

The audition process is extremely time-consuming

All told, “we spent about 60 hours on the audition process spread out over a two-month period,” Shaw estimates. First they submitted photos and a short video of their home, as well as a few paragraphs about who they were and what they needed. That was followed by numerous Skype interviews with producers, and requests for the couple to shoot more lengthy videos of their house and interactions with each other.

From there, they had to submit to background checks, put together Pinterest boards with examples of their favorite designs, and open their home to film crews several times—even when they weren’t there. All this, before they were even selected for the show!

They had to pay to play

Shaw and Schultz were told upfront that they would have to pay for most of their remodeling fees—a minimum of $40,000. Since there was a lot they wanted done, they tapped their savings account and refinanced the house to come up with $100,000 for the designers to spend. Sure, it was scary, but as Shaw explains, “This was our only shot at an opportunity like this. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

They had to move out—fast

Shaw and Schultz thought a camera crew had come to their house to shoot the last step of their audition when Berkus and Brent snuck in to let them know, on camera, that they’d been selected for the show. Then they revealed their grand plans for the remodel. Oh, and then they informed the couple that they had to move out of the house—in the next 48 hours!

“Moving was painful,” Shaw recalls. Although only a few rooms would be remodeled, the couple had to remove everything from every room. The producers promised them a large storage pod to contain everything, but it arrived just two hours before deadline.

No professional movers were sent in, either.

“We recruited our neighbors to come and help us stuff everything into plastic trash bags,” says Shaw. “And all this was during a terrible rainstorm, so it was almost impossible to keep everyone and everything from getting soaked. It was chaos.”

And they had to stay out for a whole month

Since Shaw and Schultz had to move out immediately, they didn’t have time to arrange to stay with friends or family. The good news is that the production company had booked and paid for Airbnb accommodations for them. The bad news? Since everything happened so last-minute, no single home could be booked for an entire month, so they ended up having to move five times.

This wreaked havoc on their jobs, since both work from home. “There was so much upheaval, we virtually couldn’t get any work done,” says Shaw, who had to forgo numerous projects. Schultz, an animation producer, had to pass on a number of lucrative opportunities as well.

They had no say about what would be renovated

Although the couple had made up a wish list of the rooms they most wanted renovated (which included the bathrooms, bedrooms, and exterior) and conveyed their tastes through Pinterest boards and numerous conversations with Berkus and Brent, they were also warned that they’d have no say on what the designers would decide to do. So after a month, when the couple were finally allowed to see their overhauled home for the first time, it was not exactly what they expected. For one, their living room had been repainted a color called “golden rust,” but Shaw wasn’t in love with it.

“The brown walls weren’t my favorite,” Shaw admits.

Shaw was also shocked to find that her dining room was painted “canary green,” although she now loves it.

But some renovations they loved

But Shaw says she did genuinely love many of the upgrades the designers had done.

“We loved what they did to the kitchen,” says Shaw. “The crew went above and beyond in some aspects, like putting in beautiful wood flooring throughout the entire house.” She added that they also fixed a dangerous vent in the hallway, even though something like that would never make it on camera.

The ‘free’ stuff isn’t exactly free

When all was said and done, Berkus and Brent used only $85,000 of the couple’s $100,000 budget. Plus, they also received $75,000 worth of freebies from sponsors of the show, including furniture, appliances, and accessories. The catch? Since those freebies are technically “gifts” in the eyes of the IRS, they’d have to pay taxes on them later.

“They told us in advance that I would have to pay taxes on everything that they gave to us, so we were prepared,” says Shaw. “And we were OK with it, because the taxes would be just a fraction of what the items cost. We would never spend, like, $4,000 on a sofa.” Schultz estimates their tax bill at the end of they year for the items they got for free will be about $4,000 to $5,000.

It might have been cheaper to just hire a designer on their own

While visitors have admired their revamped home, “people look around and they wonder was what was done here really worth $155,000, all totaled? ‘Where did the money go?'” says Shaw. That said, she understands that much of the expense went into construction issues like insulating some walls and knocking down others, repairing the roof and plumbing, putting in new subflooring—things you can’t see.

When asked if it might have been cheaper to just hire a designer on her own, Shaw admits that’s possible. But the process would have also dragged on for far longer, too.

“For all the hassle of moving in 48 hours and switching homes five times, the entire renovation process only lasted one month,” Shaw points out. “Permits alone would have taken months, and the crew was able to get them in 24 hours.”

In spite of the hassles, they still think it was worth it

All in all, the entire process—from sending in her application last November to the show airing this April—took nine months. Even though their lives went through major upheaval, they spent almost $100,000 of their own money, and they lost thousands of dollars worth of work, Shaw insists she and Schultz would “do it again in a heartbeat.”

For one, aside from a few color choices, they were genuinely thrilled with their new house.

“We had been living in the house for eight years, and hadn’t been able to accomplish a fraction of what was done,” Shaw says. “It took a huge load off us. The biggest plus was having someone else make the decisions. We’re both hard-headed and think we know better than the other. It took us two years to decide on a color to paint the front door.”

Plus, “the designers were a blast, and we had an adventure not many get to experience.”

“Nate and Jeremiah by Design” airs on TLC. See their episode, called “Happy Hour,” on demand or online here. And come back tomorrow for tips on getting your own home on a renovation reality TV show!

Article by Lisa Johnson Mandell

The Ultimate Stylish and Durable Home Decor for People With Pets

You undoubtedly love your pet, but cats and dogs can be rough ‘n’ tough on your home furnishings. But having animal companions doesn’t mean you have to live with torn couches, stained rugs, and claw-gouged floors. Really! You just have to shop carefully for beautiful things that can withstand being in the same house as your four-legged friends.

We’re here to help. We sought the advice of design experts Emily Henderson of Style by Emily Henderson and Debbie Gartner of The Flooring Girl to get their top decor picks for style-minded cat and dog owners.

Durable varieties of hardwood floor

Hardwood is having a moment—the wildly popular flooring is the go-to choice for many homeowners. But some dog owners avoid these types of floors because claws can leave permanent scratches and gouges.

5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes From Exploding this Winter

Even if you think they’ve already started to freeze.

New homeowners may have heard that winterization is important, but in the hubbub of your first year living in a home you own (finally!), it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare for the cold weather ahead. After all, it’s just not something renters deal with; prepping pipes for winter is often the landlord’s job.

Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.

Here are some easy techniques to save your pipes from bursting:

#1 Turn On Your Faucets

If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.

#2 Open Cabinet Doors

During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.

#3 Wrap Your Pipes

If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.

#4 Pull Out Your Hairdryer

A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.

#5 Shut Off The Water if Pipes Are Frozen

Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)

Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

Tortilla Turkey Soup

Forget the bland, day-after leftovers pulled begrudgingly from plastic Tupperware containers. Instead, with a few steps, you can create something everyone will love. This recipe will help you put a new spin on those turkey remnants. Try leftover turkey in soup for a tasty, flavorful change. This Mexican-inspired turkey soup has crunchy tortilla strips, creamy avocado, and fresh cilantro for a zesty day after Thanksgiving dish. And with those dropping temperatures, you’ll love to have a big bowl of steaming soup to warm you up. This Tortilla Turkey Soup is the fuzzy scarf of soups—comforting, lovely, and you’ll reach for it again and again, especially this season.


  • 10 (6-inch) fajita-size corn tortillas, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (32-oz.) container chicken broth
  • 1 (10-oz.) can medium enchilada sauce
  • 2 cups chopped cooked turkey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Toppings: chopped avocado, shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped tomatoes

How to Make It

Step 1

Preheat oven to 450°. Place half of tortilla strips in a single layer on a baking sheet. Coat strips with cooking spray; bake 10 minutes or until browned and crisp, stirring once.

Step 2

Sauté onion and next 2 ingredients in hot olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 5 to 6 minutes or until browned.

Step 3

Add chicken broth and remaining unbaked tortilla strips to onion mixture. Cook broth mixture over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes or until tortilla strips soften and broth mixture thickens slightly.

Step 4

Stir in enchilada sauce and next 2 ingredients, and cook 6 to 8 minutes or until mixture is thoroughly heated. (Do not boil.) Serve with baked tortilla strips and desired toppings.

Why You Should Still Talk to a Lender Even If You’re Not Ready to Buy a Home

If you’re a first-time home buyer, you might think you’re not ready to purchase a house. Perhaps you’re concerned about your job situation, your previous credit history, or your high monthly expenses. Whatever the circumstances, every borrower and financial situation is unique.

Unless you’re a financial expert, it’s best not to self-diagnose your financial problems. You wouldn’t skip out on the dentist to fill your own cavities, so don’t try to solve your financial troubles yourself either. A loan officer can walk you through your options—and they won’t try to drill your teeth!

When you apply for home loans, mortgage loan officers look at your credit score, credit history, monthly liabilities, income, and assets. These officers see the entire financial picture, not just the investable funds. A reputable loan officer with experience can get you on the right track for buying a home.

Here are three common reasons people don’t want to apply for a mortgage and what you should do if you’re really serious about buying a home.

A less-than-ideal credit report

The reality is that mortgage companies are required to pull a copy of your credit report, which includes scores from all three credit reporting bureaus. Your credit report is the most accurate representation of your credit available. Don’t let your messy credit report keep you from talking to a lender. After looking at your credit report, the lender can actually tell you what debts are the biggest drain on your borrowing power so you can start making smart financial decisions to improve your score.

Not enough income

Let the mortgage company review your pay stubs, W-2s, and tax returns for the last two years. If you were self-employed, let the loan officer look at your tax returns and evaluate your credit to determine what down payment you can afford and what you can buy. The lender can give you an idea of what you need to do to qualify, including how much more money you need to make to offset a proposed mortgage payment. With an action plan and a strategy in place, it may just take you a matter of months to button up your financial picture to qualify.

Too much debt

Debt and liabilities definitely impact spending power. Every dollar of debt you have requires two dollars of income to offset it. So for example, if you have a car loan that’s $500 a month, you will need $1,000 a month of income to offset that monthly liability. If more than 15% of your income currently goes toward consumer debt, you’ll have to either pay off debt or get more income—perhaps via a cosigner—to qualify for mortgage financing. Again, let the lender look at your financial picture so they can tell you what it takes to make it work.

If you’re planning to buy a house in the future but aren’t financially ready, talk to a professional. Meet with them face-to-face, provide them with all of your financial documentation, let them run a copy of your credit report, and go through a pre-home buying consultation so they can either pre-approve you or tell you what to do to become pre-approved in the future.

Many times, potential buyers are not ready, but having a conversation with a professional—so you know where you stand and where you are going—can be tremendously beneficial. You can also take a look at your financial health with a free credit report from

Article by Scott Sheldon

7 Tips for Staging Your Home

Make your home warm and inviting to boost your home’s value and speed up the sale process.

The first step to getting buyers to make an offer on your home is to impress them with its appearance so they begin to envision themselves living there. Here are seven tips for making your home look bigger, brighter, and more desirable.

1.  Start with a Clean Slate

Before you can worry about where to place furniture and which wall hanging should go where, each room in your home must be spotless. Do a thorough cleaning right down to the nitpicky details like wiping down light switch covers. Deep clean and deodorize carpets and window coverings.

2.  Stow Away Your Clutter

It’s harder for buyers to picture themselves in your home when they’re looking at your family photos, collectibles, and knickknacks. Pack up all your personal decorations. However, don’t make spaces like mantles and coffee and end tables barren. Leave three items of varying heights on each surface, suggests Barb Schwarz of Staged Homes in Concord, Pa. For example, place a lamp, a small plant, and a book on an end table.

3.  Scale Back on Your Furniture

When a room is packed with furniture, it looks smaller, which will make buyers think your home is less valuable than it is. Make sure buyers appreciate the size of each room by removing one or two pieces of furniture. If you have an eat-in dining area, using a small table and chair set makes the area seem bigger.

4.  Rethink Your Furniture Placement

Highlight the flow of your rooms by arranging the furniture to guide buyers from one room to another. In each room, create a focal point on the farthest wall from the doorway and arrange the other pieces of furniture in a triangle around the focal point, advises Schwarz. In the bedroom, the bed should be the focal point. In the living room, it may be the fireplace, and your couch and sofa can form the triangle in front of it.

5.  Add Color to Brighten Your Rooms

Brush on a fresh coat of warm, neutral-color paint in each room. Ask your real estate agent for help choosing the right shade. Then accessorize. Adding a vibrant afghan, throw, or accent pillows for the couch will jazz up a muted living room, as will a healthy plant or a bright vase on your mantle. High-wattage bulbs in your light fixtures will also brighten up rooms and basements.

6.  Set the Scene

Lay logs in the fireplace, and set your dining room table with dishes and a centerpiece of fresh fruit or flowers. Create other vignettes throughout the home — such as a chess game in progress — to help buyers envision living there. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.

Make your bathrooms feel luxurious by adding a new shower curtain, towels, and fancy guest soaps (after you put all your personal toiletry items are out of sight). Judiciously add subtle potpourri, scented candles, or boil water with a bit of vanilla mixed in. If you have pets, clean bedding frequently and spray an odor remover before each showing.

7.  Make the Entrance Grand

Mow your lawn and trim your hedges, and turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before showings to make your lawn sparkle. If flowers or plants don’t surround your home’s entrance, add a pot of bright flowers. Top it all off by buying a new doormat and adding a seasonal wreath to your front door.

Article by G. M. FILISKO

Thanksgiving Pet Safety

Thanksgiving is a special holiday that brings together family and friends, but it also can carry some hazards for pets. Holiday food needs to be kept away from pets, and pet owners who travel need to either transport their pets safely or find safe accommodations for them at home. Follow these tips to keep your pets healthy and safe during the holiday.

Poison Risks

Overindulging in the family feast can be unhealthy for humans, but even worse for pets: Fatty foods are hard for animals to digest. Poultry bones can damage your pet’s digestive tract. And holiday sweets can contain ingredients that are poisonous to pets.

  • Keep the feast on the table—not under it.  Eating turkey or turkey skin – sometimes even a small amount – can cause a life-threatening condition in pets known as pancreatitis. Fatty foods are hard for animals to digest, and many foods that are healthy for people are poisonous to pets – including onions, raisins and grapes. If you want to share a Thanksgiving treat with your pet, make or buy a treat that is made just for them.
  • No pie or other desserts for your pooch. Chocolate can be harmful for pets, even though many dogs find it tempting and will sniff it out and eat it. The artificial sweetener called xylitol – commonly used in gum and sugar-free baked goods – also can be deadly if consumed by dogs or cats.
  • Yeast dough can cause problems for pets, including painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating.
  • Put the trash away where your pets can’t find it.  A turkey carcass sitting out on the carving table, or left in a trash container that is open or easily opened, could be deadly to your family pet. Dispose of turkey carcasses and bones – and anything used to wrap or tie the meat, such as strings, bags and packaging – in a covered, tightly secured trash bag placed in a closed trash container outdoors (or behind a closed, locked door).
  • Be careful with decorative plants. Don’t forget that some flowers and festive plants can be toxic to pets. These include amaryllis, Baby’s Breath, Sweet William, some ferns, hydrangeas and more. The ASPCA offers lists of plants that are toxic to both dogs and cats, but the safest route is simply to keep your pets away from all plants and table decorations.
  • Quick action can save lives. If you believe your pet has been poisoned or eaten something it shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. You may also want to call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 888-426-4435. Signs of pet distress include: sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Contact your veterinarian immediately.

Precautions for Parties

If you’re hosting a party or overnight visitors, plan ahead to keep your pets safe and make the experience less stressful for everyone.

  • Visitors can upset your pets. Some pets are shy or excitable around new people or in crowds, and Thanksgiving often means many visitors at once and higher-than-usual noise and activity levels. If you know your dog or cat is nervous when people visit your home, put him/her in another room or a crate with a favorite toy. This will reduce the emotional stress on your pet and protect your guests from possible injury. If your pet is particularly upset by houseguests, talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions to this common problem.
    Learn about dog bite prevention.
    • If any of your guests have compromised immune systems (due to pregnancy, some diseases, or medications or treatments that suppress the immune system), make sure they’re aware of the pets (especially exotic pets) in your home so they can take extra precautions to protect themselves.
    • If you have exotic pets, remember that some people are uncomfortable around them and that these pets may be more easily stressed by the festivities. Keep exotic pets safely away from the hubbub of the holiday.
  • Watch the exits. Even if your pets are comfortable around guests, make sure you watch them closely, especially when people are entering or leaving your home. While you’re welcoming hungry guests and collecting coats, a four-legged family member may make a break for it out the door and become lost.
  • Identification tags and microchips reunite families. Make sure your pet has proper identification with your current contact information – particularly a microchip with up-to-date, registered information. That way, if they do sneak out, they’re more likely to be returned to you. If your pet isn’t already microchipped, talk to your veterinarian about the benefits of this simple procedure.
    Learn more about microchips.
  • Watch your pets around festive decorations. Special holiday displays or candles are attractive to pets as well as people. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle; it could result in a fire. And pine cones, needles and other decorations can cause intestinal blockages or even perforate an animal’s intestine if eaten.

Travel Concerns

Whether you take your pets with you or leave them behind, take these precautions to safeguard them when traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday or at any other time of the year.

Your pet needs a health certificate from your veterinarian if you’re traveling across state lines or international borders, whether by air or car. Learn the requirements for any states you will visit or pass through, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to get the needed certificate within the timeframes required by those states.
Learn more about health certificates.

Never leave pets alone in vehicles, even for a short time, regardless of the weather.

Pets should always be safely restrained in vehicles. This means using a secure harness or a carrier, placed in a location clear of airbags. This helps protect your pets if you brake or swerve suddenly, or get in an accident; keeps them away from potentially poisonous food or other items you are transporting; prevents them from causing dangerous distractions for the driver; and can prevent small animals from getting trapped in small spaces. Never transport your pet in the bed of a truck.
Learn more about properly restraining pets in vehicles.

Talk with your veterinarian if you’re traveling by air and considering bringing your pet with you. Air travel can put pets at risk, especially short-nosed dogs. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you regarding your own pet’s ability to travel.

Pack for your pet as well as yourself if you’re going to travel together. In addition to your pet’s food and medications, this includes bringing medical records, information to help identify your pet if it becomes lost, first aid supplies, and other items. Refer to our Traveling with Your Pet FAQ for a more complete list.

Are you considering boarding your dog while you travel? Talk with your veterinarian to find out how best to protect your pet from canine flu and other contagious diseases, and to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines.

Food Safety

Don’t forget to protect your family and loved ones from foodborne illnesses while cooking your Thanksgiving meal. Hand washing, and safe food handling and preparation, are important to make sure your holiday is a happy one. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tips for handling, thawing and cooking turkey, as well as saving your leftovers.

4 Hilarious Thanksgiving Mishaps

Exploding turkey fryers. Awkward dinner conversations. Relatives showing up unannounced. At some point, we’ve all had an unexpected Thanksgiving experience, right?

Sure, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to take a step back and think about the things we’re grateful for. It’s also a great time to enjoy family and create memories.

But sometimes, the holidays have a way of creating memories for a different reason.

We asked Dave’s Facebook fans about some of their hilarious Thanksgiving mishaps, and they responded in full force:

1. A Very Frozen Feast

My friend was renting a little house where only two of the stove burners worked and the oven door was permanently jammed shut. So we decided to order turkey, dressing and sweet potato casserole from the grocery store.

We went on Thanksgiving morning to pick the food up and discovered that all of it—including the 30-pound turkey—was precooked but frozen solid!

It was 9 a.m. and we had about 10 people coming at noon. We didn’t know what to do! Finally, one of us had the great idea to break up the turkey. So we took a hammer and a screwdriver and tore that frozen turkey apart. We wrapped it in foil and put it into the hot fireplace.

We put the sweet potatoes and dressing right up next to the fire and turned them every now and then. Everyone showed up and raved about the “smoked turkey,” and we never told them that we beat it with a hammer and a screwdriver to get it ready! — Genie

2. The Flame-Throwing Turkey

I wanted to do something different one year, so I baked a ham with a bourbon glaze. I accidentally used twice the amount [of bourbon] needed. After baking for about 45 minutes, the alcohol vapor built up in the oven and exploded, blowing the door completely open.

A huge blue flame shot across the kitchen as we all shrieked and ducked! Thankfully nothing and no one was injured in any way! — Jill

3. Roasted Rubber Stuffing

A newlywed cousin (not known for her cooking skills) was determined to take on hosting our whole extended family one Thanksgiving. We all joked about her skills on the big day, taking bets on whether or not she had remembered to thaw the turkey, remove the giblet bag, and so on.

As the turkey roasted, it began smelling . . . well, strange. During the carving of the bird, Grandpa suddenly shouted, “What the heck?” He flipped the carcass over, revealing a round, black blob stuck to the underside.

It was the sink stopper! It apparently got wedged in the turkey during the initial rinsing of the bird. Roasted rubber was what we had smelled! Needless to say, we gave thanks for and thoroughly enjoyed our vegetarian feast. — J.W.

4. The Jail Bird

When my husband and I were newly married, a friend brought us a wild turkey he had killed. We were thrilled! I set about preparing it. The house smelled fantastic.

It was time to take it from the oven, and I was wrapping up all the little stuff to complete our feast. It was about then that our doorbell rang. It was the guy who gave us the turkey—and the game warden.

Apparently he had taken the turkey out of season and was in big trouble. They asked me to remove the turkey and bag it for them. We said goodbye to our Thanksgiving turkey and ate veggies and stuffing. I am quite certain someone enjoyed that turkey that year, but it wasn’t my family. — Gina

Isn’t Thanksgiving awesome? Even when the turkey explodes or the law takes your bird, at least you’ll have some unforgettable memories!

Article by Dame Ramsey

How to Invest in Real Estate If You Have Bad Credit

It seems like every time you turn on the television, there’s a new home improvement show dedicated to flipping houses and making bank—a popular way to invest in real estate. Investing in real estate and turning it for a profit might be tempting. But if your credit score is below 601—the number the credit bureaus mark as the dividing line between “fair” and “bad” credit—you might have a tough time finding funding.

So is investing in real estate out of the question for someone in that bunch? Not necessarily.

Buying an investment property vs. buying your own home

No matter what you’ve seen on TV, purchasing real estate as an investor is a lot more complicated than doing so as a homeowner if you are turning to a lender to help finance the deal.

“Those looking to finance the purchase of real estate as an investment—as opposed to a primary residence—can expect a higher interest rate and more stringent lending criteria from lenders before getting a mortgage,” explains Bruce Elliott, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association and a broker associate with Regal R.E. Professionals in Orlando, FL.

Lenders typically require more money down and a better credit score for a real estate investment loan than for an owner-occupied home loan.

“They also look very carefully to ensure that investment home buyers are financially capable of sustaining the mortgage over an extended period of time in the event that the property doesn’t resell, and they even have formulas to calculate for shortages in expected rental income,” Elliott explains.

Can you invest in real estate with bad credit?

Unless you have spare cash or a loan from a friend or relative to finance your investment, obtaining a loan will likely be difficult.

That said, there are other options to help you one day become a real estate investor, Elliott says.

  • Improve your credit score. Resolve any collection-related issues uncovered by a credit check, and pay down existing balances. And be smart about other investments: Now is not the time to finance additional purchases such as a car or to open additional credit accounts of any type.
  • Find a hard money lender. No, this isn’t a back alley deal-maker. Hard money lenders are private individuals or groups who will put up cash for real estate ventures, and they are often more amenable to making a deal with someone who has poor credit. Of course, there will be some drawbacks: “Generally, these lenders will require anywhere from 40% to 60% down to purchase or close outright,” Elliott notes.
  • Skip putting money down. It might sound like a pipe dream, but Elliott says this is often the story behind those roadside “home for sale” signs that specify “cash only.” “The investor simply has purchased an option or received permission from a homeowner to try to sell the home,” he explains. “The investor makes money either from a back-to-back closing or from payment directly from the ultimate buyer.”

If you want to invest in real estate, bad credit can be a stumbling block, but it doesn’t have to derail the whole train.

Article by Jeanne Sager

5 Home Organization Ideas That Are Also Gorgeous (Bye-Bye, Storage Bins)

Home organization is essential to, well, being able to find stuff … but is it beautiful? Not so much. If you’re tired of being told to stash your possessions in clunky storage bins, then you’ll definitely want to check out a new book out this week, titled “Remodelista: The Organized Home.”

Remodelista, a home decor site launched 10 years ago by Julie Carlson(and now part of the corporate family) has attracted a devoted fan base with its minimalist, classic approach to remodeling and home design. This book (the third, in addition to “Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home” and “Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces“), hones in on organizing the home in an aesthetically pleasing way. Yes, it can be done!

“Amid all the advice about paring down to the essentials, no one was addressing how to arrange your things in a way that’s not only practical but beautiful,” Carlson says.

Best of all, these ideas are easy to put into practice—and they will come in particularly handy now that the holidays are right around the corner. In the interest of achieving serenity in your home before the madness of the holidays ensues, here are five organizational tips the team at Remodelista swears by.

1. Group kitchen sink essentials on a tray


The smartest organizational solutions are often the simplest, as evidenced by this genius tip: Corral stove-side essentials like a bottle of olive oil, wooden spoons, and spice dispensers on a tray, to make your counter look more pulled together. “We think trays are the basic building blocks for order in the house,” says Carlson, who uses them everywhere: whether on the kitchen counter or in the bedroom, bathroom, or entryway. Aside from their ability to bring “visual order” in any cluttered area, they’re also portable and easy to clean.

2. Keep pot lids in place with a tension rod from the hardware store


Tired of hearing the clang of metal cookware every time you’re trying to find a lid for your saucepan? Secure a tension rod at the front of your drawer to keep those lids from rolling around. “We love the idea of using spring-loaded tension curtain rods inside cabinets,” Carlson says. If you keep your pots and pans in a cabinet instead of a drawer, the book also recommends putting Japanese metal towel rods on the door for the same purpose.

3. Be ready to throw a cocktail party at a moment’s notice

When friends ask “Your place or mine?” you can now feel confident inviting them over for an impromptu cocktail party by having everything you’ll need (save for a good bottle of wine) in place, ready to go. Reserve one drawer in your kitchen or side table for entertaining essentials like flatware, pre-rolled cloth napkins, a corkscrew, candles, and matches. That way, the only challenge you’ll have to tackle with guests is “Red or white?”

4. Be smart when organizing your closet

Investing in matching nonwire hangers will pay off in the long run—we promise. According to the book, matching hangers will allow you to fit more items in and make your closet look much tidier. On that note, you should also resist the urge to cram the hangers together. Your clothes will hang better (aka wrinkle less) if you leave a gap of about three fingers between each garment.

The book also advises grouping clothes according to type, color, and length, so you can scan your wardrobe with ease. This will be especially handy when you’re running late because you hit the snooze button one too many times. Another time-saving trick? Make a section for empty hangers, so you’ll always know where to look when you have to hang something up.

5. Organize your fridge for maximum efficiency

Store like items together and keep them in designated areas. For example, keep meat and produce near the bottom (the coldest part of the fridge), beverages on the top shelf, condiments in the door shelves, and leftovers at eye height, so you’ll be less inclined to forget them.

Another smart solution is practicing the “Last in, first out” rule. It’s a tactic used at grocery stores that ensures that the items that need to be used up first—like milk or leftovers that tend to expire quickly—are easily accessible.

And if you can, try to commit to cleaning out your fridge once a week, which is bound to inspire a kitchen-sink meal or two, from a frittata to a big salad.

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4 Funky Odors In Your House Only Your Guests Can Smell

You could be noseblind. Here’s how to find and eliminate the funk you can’t smell.

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.

Here are some of the most common nose blindness culprits, and how to ban them from your home.

#1 Pet Funk

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 Mustiness

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. Some elbow grease with regular household cleaner will scrub away mildew. Bleach isn’t the cure-all for mold. If often can exacerbate the problem.

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 Smelly Bedding

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 Fridge and Freezer Grime

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?