PALEO SHRIMP, WATERMELON AND TOMATO SALAD

This easy to put together Paleo salad recipe combines tender shrimp with sweet watermelon and cherry tomatoes. It’s best made in the height of summer when the sweet fruits are in season. Tossed with a little lime juice, olive oil and fresh herbs, this amazing Paleo salad will be a big hit at your next barbecue.

Our Shrimp, Watermelon and Tomato Salad recipe makes a light meal, but you can leave the shrimp out for a nice vegan-friendly side dishthat goes great with your favorite grilled dishes.

Ingredients

1 pound(s) shrimp, cooked
2 cup(s) watermelon, diced
1 cup(s) tomatoes, cherry or grape, halved
1/4 cup(s) olive oil
1 medium lime(s), juiced
1 tablespoon(s) mint, fresh, chopped
1 tablespoon(s) parsley, fresh, chopped
1/8 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine the shrimp, watermelon, and tomatoes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a jar with a lid, combine the olive oil, lime juice, and herbs. Season liberally with fresh ground pepper.
  3. Toss the salad with the dressing and chill until ready to serve. This salad is best served at room temperature.

5 Strategies to Build Wealth After You Buy Your First Home

Be good to your future home-owning self — starting now.

Thinking about buying a home? You’re not the only one. With interest rates at opportune levels, many people are anxious to get into the real estate market. However, even if you feel like you’re missing out on a hot opportunity, ensure you have the boxes checked in these five money areas first:

1. Max Out Your Emergency Fund

Are you sitting on $10,000 in cash and considering using that for your down payment? Congrats on the savings! Just consider whether you’ll have funds left if you use that for a down payment.

Having had countless conversations with consumers around the country, I can tell you that using all your saved cash cushion as a down-payment fund wipes out any money you might need in case of emergency home repairs or job loss. And that leaves you reliant on credit cards and debt.

Set aside a minimum of three months of expenses (ideally six) in addition to building your home down-payment fund.

2. Keep Saving for Retirement

Home ownership is a key part of the American dream, but getting to your retirement years in a solvent position is also important.

If you’re looking to purchase a home, make sure the mortgage payment you’re taking on allows you to continue saving for retirement. As your income grows over time and your mortgage payment takes up a reduced percentage of your expenses, you’ll have room to increase your retirement funding.

3. Build a “New Home” Budget

Budgeting may not be very sexy, but it’s smart. Knowing where your money is going before purchasing a home helps you to target areas for adjustment. In addition, knowing your monthly cash flow ins and outs allows you to consider how much home you can truly afford.

Remember, it’s not just about factoring in a mortgage payment. You should also consider:

  • Property taxes
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Homeowners association (HOA) dues
  • Landscaping
  • Increased utility costs
  • Added cost-of-living increases, such as more expensive groceries or gas, depending on where you buy
  • Commuting expenses
  • General maintenance

A general rule of thumb is that your monthly housing payment (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) shouldn’t take up more than 28% of your income before taxes. This debt-to-income ratio is called your “housing ratio.”

4. Keep Your Debt Under Control

Before even considering purchasing a home, pull a free copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com and grab your free credit score (with account sign up) from Credit Karma. You’ll want a good credit score in order to get approved for a low interest rate on your mortgage (which translates into dollars back in your pocket).

Take stock of any outstanding debt you have from credit cards and car loans, etc. This will affect your debt-to-income ratio, which is the total of all your monthly debt obligations plus your housing expenses versus the amount you earn.

Ideally, you want this number to be as low as possible (with a target of 36% or below), although 43% is the highest ratio a borrower can have and still obtain a qualified mortgage. The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the more manageable your payments and the better off your financial picture is.

5. Take Stock of Your Life Plans

If you’re one of the 35% of home buyers age 35 or under, you’re likely going through a significant amount of life change.

  • Do you plan to start a family and need more space in the next few years?
  • Is your job stable?
  • Are you open and willing to move to a new area if given the opportunity?
  • Are you thinking about getting married or starting a business?

Review your overarching goals and desires to ensure that the home you’re buying and its location align with your long-term objectives. For instance, is there a chance you may turn the home into a rental property? That’s a big case for keeping your mortgage payment low enough that a monthly rent payment could cover your costs.

Purchasing a home can be one of the most exciting times in your life. With a little advance planning, preparation, and thought, it’s an event you can enjoy instead of stress over.

Article by MARY BETH STORJOHANN

6 Materials to Never Use in Your Kitchen

Don’t get distracted by flash or price. Here’s what to avoid (and choose) for your kitchen remodel.

About to remodel that old kitchen? Unless you’re cool with treating the hardest working room in your house like a museum exhibit, resist the temptation to buy the cheapest or shiniest materials available and go for durable options that can stand up to regular abuse.

Trust us: Although it may be tough to leave that raised, tempered glass bar top (ooo!) in the showroom, repairing its first (and second, and third) chip will get old. Very fast.

Picking the right materials is easy if you do your homework. “There are amazing products out there,” says Jeffrey Holloway, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Holloway Home Improvement Center in Marmora, N.J. “You’re looking at price point, sanitation, how easy it is to clean the product, its durability and maintenance.”

Keeping those all-important features in mind, here are some materials to avoidduring your next kitchen project.

#1 Plastic Laminate Counters

First off, there’s plenty of great laminate out there. It’s the entry-level,plastic laminate to stay away from, Holloway says. These are the ones that look thin and dull, as opposed to richly textured. They scratch easily, and if the product underneath the laminate gets wet (say, from steam rising from your dishwasher), it can delaminate the countertop, which means the edges will chip pretty easily. Also, one misplaced hot pan on the plastic will result in a melted disaster zone you’ll remember forever.

But if you’re watching your budget, plastic laminate at the next level up is a good choice. “It’s got good color consistency, and there are a lot of retro and trendy patterns available,” says Dani Polidor, an interior designer and owner of Suite Artistry, and a REALTOR® in Pittsford, N.Y.

New laminate counter technology offers scratch resistance, textured surfaces, and patterns that mimic real wood and stone. “There are even self-repairing nano-technologies embedded in some laminates,” says Polidor, “and others have antimicrobial properties.”

For an average 10-by-20-foot kitchen, the next-level-up laminate will cost about $3,000, Polidor estimates, and those super cool technology options add another $200 to $300. For durability and longer life, the investment is well worth it.

You spend all day stepping on your floor, so quality really matters. At the lower price point, about $2.50 per square foot, the cheapest sheet vinyl floorings tend to be thin. “If your vinyl floor is glued down and the underlayment gets delaminated, say, by water seeping from your dishwasher or refrigerator, you’ll get bubbles in your floor,” Holloway warns.

Compare that with luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that costs about $5 per square foot. It’s still usually glued down, but it’s a little more forgiving than its less classy cousin — and it can come in tiles, which you can grout so they mimic the look of higher-end stone, Polidor says.

#3 Some Laminated Cabinet Fronts

Holloway suggests staying away from lower-end thermofoil cabinet fronts. What is thermofoil? Contrary to its name, there’s no foil or any metal-type material in it. It’s actually vinyl, which is heated and molded around fiberboard. If the cabinet is white and the price is waaaaay affordable compared with other cabinets, think twice. Cheaper thermofoil has three critical issues:

1. It’s not heat resistant. If near a dishwasher or oven, it could delaminate.

2. It can warp and yellow with age, revealing its cheapness.

3. The “wood” underneath the thermofoil is also poor quality and won’t hold up over time.

But just like with plastic laminate, science has made great strides, and now there are a host of new cabinets that are remaking thermofoil’s reputation. “New European laminates have become all the rage for the clean-lined, flat-panel look,” Polidor says. “It’s budget-friendly and can look like wood or high gloss. It’s not your grandmother’s thermofoil.”

And it doesn’t come at grandma’s prices, either. But still, the new thermofoil is much more affordable than custom cabinets, and still satisfies with its rich look and durability.

#4 High-Gloss Lacquered Cabinets

A nice shine can be eye-catching. And spendy. About 20 layers of lacquer go on a cabinet for the high-gloss look. Ding it or scratch it, and it’s costly to repair.

“It’s a multi-step process for repairing them,” Polidor says. A better option for the same look is high-end thermofoil (see? We said there were good thermofoil options!). Thermofoil has a finish that’s fused to the cabinet and baked on for a more durable exterior. And it’s way more budget-friendly, too. High-gloss can be in the thousands of dollars, whereas thermofoil can be in the hundreds or dollars.

#5 Flat Paint

Flat paint has that sophisticated, velvety, rich look we all love. But keep it in the bedroom. It’s not KF (kitchen-friendly). Flat paint, also known as matte paint, has durability issues. It’s unstable. Try to wipe off one splatter of chili sauce, and you’ve ruined the paint job. About the only place to use flat paint in your kitchen is on the ceiling (unless, of course, you have a reputation for blender or pressure-cooker accidents that reach to the ceiling, then we suggest takeout).

Instead, you want to use high-gloss or semi-gloss paint on your walls. They can stand up to multiple scrubbings before breaking down.

#6 Trendy Backsplash Materials

Tastes change. So avoid super trendy colors and materials when it comes to permanently adhering something to your kitchen walls. Backsplashes come in glass, metal, iridescent, and high-relief decor tiles, which are undoubtedly fun and tempting. They can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to $220 a square foot, and difficult to install. And after all that work and expense, if (er … when) your tastes change in a few years, it’ll be mighty tough to justify a re-do.

Stick with a classic subway tile at $2 to $3 square foot. Or, even more budget friendly, choose an integrated backsplash that matches your countertop material. “If you want pops of color, do it with accessories,” Polidor suggests.

Article by  STACEY FREED

How to Stop a Dog From Barking (and Driving You Bonkers)

Love ’em or hate ’em, dogs can certainly be noisy—and even if you love your own pooch, your neighbor’s yappy Pomeranian or territorial Rottweiler is another matter. Given that 36% of U.S. households own a dog, you’re quite likely to find yourself in a situation where you need to know how to stop a dog from barking. If it’s your dog, the power is in your hands; if it’s your neighbor’s, things can get a bit tricky. Try following these steps to resolve the situation and restore serenity to your life.

Have a chat with your dog-owning neighbor

Your first line of defense should be to try to resolve the issue directly with the dog’s owner—that means without getting anyone else involved.

“Calling the cops first is a huge betrayal of trust and will destroy the relationship,” says John Bialk, a former rental property manager and founder of Quietyme, a noise monitoring and management solution company.

When expressing your concern, focus on collaboration (“I’ve noticed your dog has been barking a lot, and it’s been disruptive for me. Do you think there’s a way to fix this?”). For instance, dogs often bark if they’re lonely or cooped up too much, so you could suggest getting the pooch more exercise or a companion animal to see if that might help.

Contact your landlord or homeowners association

If you rent a house or apartment, you’re in luck because you can pass the buck: It’s your landlord’s responsibility to help you handle any noise issues. You’ll want to present your landlord with evidence, such as a time-stamped audio recording of the dog barking, advises Bialk, adding that such software can be downloaded on a smartphone or computer.

If you own a condominium or townhome that’s part of a homeowners association, you can notify the condo board or HOA of the problem; most have rules against noise disturbances like barking dogs.

Get backup from your neighbors

If your neighbor ignores your request for quiet, you might want to talk to other people who live nearby to see if they also hear the dog’s barking. Odds are, you’re probably not the only one who’s suffering. Once you’ve enlisted help, you can then talk to your neighbor as a group; hopefully, the person will be more responsive to requests from multiple people. But make sure to approach your neighbor respectfully. (Read: Don’t assemble an angry mob.)

Research your city or state’s anti-barking laws

Many municipalities have a code against dogs barking, especially at night. You can look up your city or state’s ordinances online; if you have trouble finding the information, contact your town council or governor’s office. For instance, in New Jersey, a dog’s yapping enters illegal territory if the sound is continuous for more than five minutes or is intermittent for more than 20 minutes. These specifics will be helpful if you involve law enforcement like the police or the courts. Again, it would help your case to have a time-stamped audio recording.

Contact the police

If there are anti-barking laws in your area, file a noise complaint with local police. In most cases, an officer will speak to the dog’s owner and get the issue resolved. (FYI: Some jurisdictions will act on anonymous complaints, while others require your name and address.) If nothing changes, don’t hesitate to follow up and let the authorities know that there’s still an issue.

Last resort: Go to small-claims court or mediation

If you’ve tried all of the above to no avail, you can sue for nuisance in small-claims court. You’ll need to convince the judge that the dog’s barking is disruptive enough to prevent you from enjoying your own home. If you win, the dog owner will need to pay you a sum of money; once the person has been penalized financially, hopefully the loud barking will stop.

Alternatively, you can try mediation, where a neutral third party will listen to both sides and help you resolve the issue. Many cities have volunteer mediators who are trained to handle disputes between neighbors. You can ask your local district attorney’s office for a referral.

Forget about using a dog silencer

Maybe you’re tempted to get one of those devices that claim to use sound frequencies unpleasant to dogs to deter them from barking. These might work for a bit, but some dogs learn to ignore them and keep on barking. You will also need to be within range, with many working only up to 75 feet. So unless you live really close to your neighbors, you might be barking up the wrong tree with one of those gadgets. When in doubt, a good old-fashioned conversation with your neighbor is probably the best way to go.

Keep your cool

On the long-running sitcom “Seinfeld,” Elaine Benes tried to make her neighbor’s dog pipe down by shouting back. (Spoiler: It didn’t work.) The point we’re making is, whichever option you choose, just make sure to keep your cool.

“Never act when you are mad,” says Bialk. “Angry people are seen by all as irrational and harder to believe.”

Article by By

8 Things Even Normal People Hoard: How Many Are Hiding in Your Home?

As much as we might enjoy gawking at shows like “Hoarders,” marveling at the messes lurking behind homeowners’ front doors, let’s be frank: We all hoard something, at least a little bit. You may call it clutter, but it’s a slippery slope from clutter to mounds of junk, right? So here’s how to identify your inner hoarder, target your secret stash (or three)—and finally let go.

1. Magazines

People often stockpile magazines for years and years, thinking they’ll eventually read that article on Belize or try a certain squash recipe.

“I had a client who was a dentist with a collection of 20-year-old magazines that he insisted he’d get around to reading,” says Alison Kero, decluttering expert and speaker. “He’s retired now, and I doubt he ever read any of them.”

To let go: “A general rule of thumb is to get rid of a magazine when the next one arrives,” says Kero. Remember, most information in those magazines can also be found online now. And if you get months behind on your reading, perhaps it’s time to cancel your subscription.

2. Your child’s schoolwork and art

Early drawings and even loose sheets of paper that your child scribbled on can quickly stack up, filling box after box. These same boxes then usually get moved from place to place without anyone ever looking through them.

To let go: “Pick one container, per kid, and fill it with your favorite pieces from school,” says organizing expert Amy Trager. And that’s one box for all years, not just this year. Whatever fits, you can keep; everything else goes. “If a paper conjures memories you’re not going to look back on fondly—like a math worksheet—or display in your home, there’s no reason to keep it.”

If you’re on the fence about tossing something, scan it or snap a digital pic to preserve it forever; numerous phone apps such as Keepy make this process easy-peasy and regret-free.

3. Holiday decorations

Some of Kero’s clients have so many decorations, “it looks like the holiday threw up all over their home.” Other people are sentimentally attached to their older decorations and keep them even though half of the lights burned out years ago and Santa looks more like a scary clown than a jolly old elf.

To let go: Keep what looks good, and pitch items that are torn, missing parts, or just plain broken.

“It’s OK to make new holiday memories by finding just the right replacement,” says Kero. Plus, newer decorations pose less of a fire hazard.

4. Boxes of photos

From black-and-white snaps to Kodachrome prints, the average household has thousands of photos from before the digital era. Most of us are guilty of hanging onto boxes of battered snapshots because it’s a huge pain to organize them.

As a result, “we keep them all,” says Kero. “I myself have kept photos for ages, even ones that were nearly completely black, gave everyone the red eye, or that made me angry or sad, even years later.”

To let go: To avoid getting overwhelmed, approach this task in segments: Do an hour of photo sorting a week until the job is done.

“It’s important to only keep your favorites—the ones where everyone looks great and remind you of the good times,” says Kero. “The rest you can just let go of, both physically and emotionally.”

5. Old tech

CNET estimates there could be up to 1 billion unused smartphones alone in the U.S. That means we each have four to eight out-of-date tech gadgets languishing in our junk drawers.

To let go: Old tech has value. Per household, your unused smartphones could collectively fetch anywhere from $500 to $1,000. You can sell your old gadgets to trade-in companies like Flipsy. Or donate your various electronics and take advantage of tax deductions.

6. Kitchen utensils and appliances

Do you have a bread maker you’ve never plugged in? Or, god forbid, a pickle fork? Anything that sits and collects dust in a cluttered mess on countertops or in various kitchen cabinets is just pointless, period.

To let go: Keep only what you regularly use and have space for.

“Gadgets are great, but if you aren’t using them they’re kind of useless,” says Kero.

7. Clothing you never wear

Kero has clients with clothing they’ve owned for more than 20 years that they know they will never wear again, but keep anyway. For one woman that included a pair of ribbed, acid-washed jeans from 1980.

To let go: “If you haven’t worn it in over two years, or clothes don’t fit or hurt to wear, let it go,” says Kero.

8. Heirlooms

An heirloom can be anything that someone who has died once owned. Some we may treasure, but others we may be dying to get rid of, if only we didn’t feel so guilty about tossing it in the trash.

To let go: Just because one person loved something doesn’t mean you have to as well.

“Unless you really treasure an heirloom, sell it or get rid of it because it’s not doing you any good—emotionally or spiritually—to have it taking up your physical space,” says Kero. Or hey, fob it off on another family member!

Article by By

PALEO GRILLED CHICKEN WITH ROSEMARY AND BACON

My husband loves anything with bacon…so this is what we are having for dinner.

Ingredients

4 teaspoon(s) garlic powder
1 pound(s) chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1/2 teaspoon(s) sea salt
1/4 teaspoon(s) black pepper, freshly ground
4 tablespoon(s) rosemary, fresh
4 slice(s) bacon (thick)

Instructions

  1. Preheat outdoor grill for medium-high and oil grates (or use a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat on the stove or oven).
  2. Season chicken breasts with garlic powder, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Lay one rosemary sprig on top of each chicken breast and wrap a slice of bacon around to hold the rosemary in place. Secure each piece of bacon with a toothpick or another rosemary sprig.
  4. Cook the breasts about 8 minutes per side on the grill, or until juices run clear and there is no pink in the middle. Note: If you are cooking chicken in a pan on the stove, more time is needed per side. Cook until internal temperature reaches 165 F. If you are roasting chicken in the oven, place chicken on baking tray at 350 F for 40 minutes, or until fully cooked.

Have an Underwater Mortgage? These Solutions Can Help You Come Up for Air

If you’ve found yourself unable to afford your mortgage payments, you’re not alone. In fact, 3.2 million households find themselves in that position, according to Black Knight Financial Services. In the real estate world, many people refer to this as an underwater mortgage. So what does that all-too-common euphemism actually mean and what are your options?

Simply put, being underwater on your mortgage means the balance of your mortgage loan is greater than the fair market value of your home. This can happen when there’s a housing market downturn or an outright crash (as there was in 2008) that causes property values to plummet.

For example, say you bought a home in 2007 for $250,000. Maybe by now you still owe $200,000 on your loan, but if you tried to sell your home in the current market you might get only $170,000. That would leave you still owing $30,000 on your mortgage with no down payment for your next home. Often, the best thing to do is sit tight and wait it out. But what if you can’t? What if your family is outgrowing your current home and you really do need to move on sooner than later?

Underwater mortgage options

To give it to you straight, a lot of the options for getting out of an underwater mortgage hurt one way or another, even if you have great credit. But get ready to bite the bullet: There are a number of paths you can take to get back on the road to financial stability.

  1. Short sale: You could try a short sale, but that will show up in your credit history, says senior mortgage banker Elise Leve of Citizens Bank. “If you wanted to buy another property, most lenders will not provide you a mortgage if you have had a short sale within the last two to four years. Therefore you would need to wait to buy again until after the waiting period has passed.” Clearly that would defeat the purpose if you’re trying to find a new home as soon as possible.
  2. Dip into your savings: You could cash out retirement funds or use your other savings to make up the difference, but that could leave you with nothing (or close to nothing) for a down payment on your next home. Still, in that case, Leve suggests finding a loan from the Federal Housing Administration. “Fannie Mae options up to 97% as well as up to 105% financing on some of their community home buyer programs,” she says. She recommends working with an experienced loan officer who can help you compare loan products.
  3. Rent out your home: Perhaps the best option is renting out your home while you buy or lease another one that meets the needs of your family. “This allows disposing of your current home without tapping retirement funds or damaging your credit,” says Realtor® and attorney Bruce Ailion, of Re/Max Town & Country in Atlanta. In fact, Supreme Lending loan officer Jason Skinrood of Salt Lake City says, “By renting the underwater home, the homeowner can use the lease income (75%) or income claimed on their Schedule E to offset the mortgage payment on the underwater home when applying for financing on a new larger home. The timing relative to the tax year will determine whether the homeowner can use the lease or Schedule E income.”
  4. Renovate your home: You could also try renovating your home to expand its size and value. “The good news is that lending guidelines have allowed for the use of lower equity financing,” says Peak Finance Company sales manager Tamir Lahav. “There are certain circumstances where a renovation loan can be utilized with as little as 5% equity on a property while utilizing the ‘future value’ (after renovations) of the home.”

If you have found yourself wondering about any of these topics and need a confidential review of your situation, please reach out to us by using the “contact us” form to the right of this page or call 630-570-9740. We are here to help.

9 Feelings That Are Totally Normal When You Sell Your House

Selling a home has its moments of joy and frustration.

Here’s what most people experience.

 

  1. EXCITEMENT  Hooray! We’re selling our house and moving to our dream home.

  2. ANXIETY  Will anyone want our home? Is it worth our asking price?

  3. DELIGHT  This is our house? Who knew staging could make it look so great?

  4. DISAPPOINTMENT  Nooooo. This is all someone thinks our house is worth? Will a decent offer ever arrive?

  5. ELATION  Hoorah! We accepted an offer! We’re going to move.

  6. WORRY  What if the appraisal is too low? Or the inspection goes bad?

  7. RELEIF  Phew–it’s official! The selling process is finally behind us.

  8. SADNESS  Our time in this home is really over. We’re walking away from so many happy memories.

  9. JOY  It’s really done! On to our future!

Homemade Pet Treats in 4 Easy Steps

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

Fresh Breath Dog Treats

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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

Tuna & Cheddar Cat Bites

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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

Small Pet Snacks

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

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

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

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

Try these treats and let us know what your pets think!

 

How to Hang (Almost) Anything

Other than adding a fresh coat of paint, hanging pictures and decorations can be the easiest way to make your house feel like home. But knowing how to hang those items can be a different story. From plaster to drywall, there are different tools, methods, and best practices depending on the type of walls you’re working with.

 

 


Don’t worry! We’ve curated a list of the most common wall types and the materials and tips you’ll need to get started. Here’s to happy hanging!

Drywall
Materials for Light Items:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Level

Additional Materials for Heavy Items:

  • Stud finder
  • Drill bit
  • Drill
  • Wall anchor
  • Screwdriver
  • Screw

Best Practices: 
Before you start hammering or drilling, be sure to measure where you want the object to hang, and mark the area with a pencil. Once you’ve marked your spot, hammer the nail at a 45° angle, hang the item, and check that it is level. For heavier items, you’ll need to use a stud finder so you can hammer directly into a stud and an anchor for added support. Once you’ve marked your spot, using the drill bit, drill a guide hole in the wall slightly smaller than the anchor. Hammer in the wall anchor, and then use the screwdriver to insert the screw—then you’re all set to hang.

Tile
Materials:

  • Measuring tape
  • Painter’s tape
  • Pencil
  • Coolant such as mineral oil or water
  • Drill
  • Carbide- or diamond-tipped drill bit
  • Hammer wall anchor
  • Screw

Best Practices:
As with all wall types, measure where you want the object to hang, and then use a pencil to mark it on painter’s tape. The tape will help protect the tile later in the process. Next, dip the drill bit in the coolant for ten seconds, and then slowly begin drilling. Apply light pressure, and then gradually increase the drill speed until you have reached the desired depth. If the drill bit begins to overheat at any point, simply take it out and dip it in the coolant again. Finally, using a hammer, drive the wall anchor into the wall, then drill in the screw and you’re ready to hang.

Plaster
Materials for Light Items:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drill bit
  • Drill
    Hammer
  • Nail

Additional Materials for Heavy Items:

  • Wall anchor
  • Screw
  • Screwdriver

Best Practices:
Measure where you want the object to hang, and then mark with a pencil. With plaster walls, you’ll want to put a piece of tape under your hole on the wall, like a basket, to catch any discarded plaster. Use another piece of tape to mark the spot where you want to drill. Drill a pilot hole through the tape (to help prevent your plaster from cracking), and hammer in your nail. For heavier items, drill a larger hole for the wall anchor, and then drive in the screw. Finally, hang your item and check that it’s level.

Stone or Brick

Materials:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drill with masonry bit
  • Wall anchor
  • Screw
  • Hammer
  • Screw
  • Level

Best Practices: 
Before you get started, measure where you want the object to hang, and mark the spot with a pencil. Next, use painter’s tape to mark an inch from the tip of the drill bit so you don’t drill too far. Drill the spot you marked, making sure to stop once you reach the tape on the drill bit. Using a hammer, insert the wall anchor into the hole, and then drive in the screw. Hang the object and then make sure it is level.

Wood
Materials:

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Drill or hammer
  • Wall anchor
  • Screw or nail

Best Practices:
Before you start hammering away, measure where you want the object to hang, and then mark it with pencil. Using your drill, start a small pilot hole first to help minimize splitting. A nail will suffice for wooden walls, but a screw provides great holding power. Use your selected material, hammer or drill, and then hang your object—checking to ensure it’s level. For thinner wooden walls, such as paneling, follow this same process, but use a wall anchor that will spread out behind the wall.

PALEO GRILLED JUNEAU SHRIMP

This is a very flavorful dish using garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper to marinate shrimp for grilling. You can grill the shrimp with vegetables as well, including mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. You can also use the paprika variety of your choice, such as sweet or hot paprika.

Recipe makes 3 servings.
Approximate Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1/4 cup(s) olive oil, extra virgin, or melted coconut oil
3 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 medium lemon(s), juiced
1/8 teaspoon(s) paprika
1/4 teaspoon(s) cayenne pepper
2 pound(s) shrimp, large with tail
1 medium lime(s), wedges
1 tablespoon(s) parsley, fresh, chopped
1 package(s) wooden skewers

Instructions

  1. Soak wooden skewers in warm water.
  2. Mix olive or coconut oil, garlic, lemon and spices in a large, shallow bowl. Add shrimp and let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Prepare the grill just before meal time.
  4. Put marinated shrimp on skewers.
  5. Place on hot grill. Turn after a few minutes on each side and remove when bright pink and fully cooked (about 1-2 minutes per side).
  6. Serve with lime wedges and chopped parsley.

How to Get a Mortgage With Bad Credit: How Low Can You Go?

It’s one of those home-buying riddles that many think is all but unsolvable: How to get a mortgage with bad credit? After all, if your credit score is abysmal, you may as well kiss your home-buying dreams goodbye. Right?

Wrong. In spite of what you’ve heard, there is hope.

By “credit,” of course, we mean your credit score—that all-important numerical representation of your track record of paying off past debts, covering everything from your credit card to college loans. Mortgage lenders check your credit score to gauge how good you’ll be at paying them back, too, and a low credit score can definitely work against you.

According to a national survey by Experian, one-third of prospective home buyers are afraid that their poor credit score might hurt their ability to purchase a home. Meanwhile, 45% of people polled say they’ve decided to delay home buying until their credit score improves, with 1 in 5 believing they’ll have to shelve the idea for at least five years.

Is this true? Exactly how bad is bad, anyway? We’ll set you straight below, and offer some guidance on how to get a mortgage with poor credit.

How to check your credit score

Before you can explore your loan options, you need to assess what shape your credit is really in, says Todd Sheinin, a mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD. For starters, credit scores range from 300 to 850, and are calculated based on the following factors:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Debts owed: 30%
  • Length of credit history: 15%
  • Types of credit you have: 10%
  • Applications for credit: 10%

By law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

You can request the reports through AnnualCreditReport.com. However, your credit report only shows your credit history; to see your actual score, you’ll need to pay a small fee directly through the credit bureaus’ websites. (Alternatively, you can get a free estimate of your score through Credit.com, CreditKarma, or CreditSesame.)

If your credit score is 760 or above, you’re considered a low-risk borrower—meaning you’re likely to get the best interest rates and terms when you apply for a loan. Meanwhile, a good score is from 700 to 759, a fair score is from 650 to 699, and credit scores below 650 are deemed poor.

If your credit score is below 650, you may want to step back and take a few months to raise your score. But if you’re looking to buy a home right away, you do have options.

Option 1: FHA loan

If your credit is in rough shape, you might still be able to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan. Because FHA loans were created for low- and moderate-income households that would otherwise be locked out of the housing market due to subpar credit, qualifying credit scores start at 580 and up. Another bonus: FHA loans let you make a down payment as low as 3.5%.

The downside? Because FHA loans are government-insured, borrowers must pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium. Currently the fee is 1.75%—that’s $5,250 on a $300,000 home loan. Borrowers will also have to pay annual mortgage insurance, currently around 0.85% of the borrowed loan amount—or $2,550 more per year. Also, FHA loans are usually capped at $417,000. (In certain high-cost areas, the limit is $625,000.)

Option 2: VA loan

Active and retired military are eligible for the VA loan offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Not only do they accept credit scores of 620 and below, but they require no down payment and no mortgage insurance premium—all at decent interest rates.

“Because interest rates are fixed on VA loans, they’re not based on the borrower’s credit score,” Miller says. In other words, having crummy credit won’t prevent you from qualifying for a great rate.

Option 3: 15-year fixed loan

Good news: Most conventional loans only require a minimum credit score of 620, based on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines. However, “if you have a 620 credit score, you’re going to pay a higher interest rate,” says Heather McRae, a senior loan officer at Chicago Financial Services. But there is one interesting exception.

“If you get a 15-year fixed loan, the lender will essentially turn a blind eye toward your credit score with respect to what interest rate you get,” says McRae. In other words, for a 15-year fixed loan, you would qualify for the same interest rate whether you have a 620 or a 750 credit score.

Granted, you will still need to meet other requirements in terms of your income, down payment, and other factors. Essentially, you’ll need a solid salary and plenty of cash upfront. Still, it’s a great option if your past credit issues are haunting you, while your present circumstances are solid and scream “All systems go!”

Option 4: A bigger down payment

Some mortgage lenders might be willing to approve you for a home loan if you make a larger-than-usual down payment. Why? Because “the more you put down, the more you minimize the risk to the lender,” says Todd Sheinin, a mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD. So, by increasing your down payment to 25% or 30% on a conventional loan—instead of the standard 20%—you’ll strengthen your mortgage application. Just bear in mind your credit score can still negatively affect your loan’s interest rate.

Article by By

4 Kitchen & Bath Extras You Never Knew You Wanted

Take it from this first-time homeowner, you’ll want these brag-worthy problem-solvers once you buy.

Designing a kitchen or bathroom is one of those things I tend to geek out over — choosing the right tile, paint colors, and, of course, there’s my obsession with butcher block counters. But some features are the kinds of things I don’t realize I wish I had until I see them in action in a real home.

I’m not talking about guitar-shaped toilet seats or movie-themed showerheads. Rather it’s those modern and stylish additions that randomly pop up on my radar and scream “dream kitchen” or “the bathroom I probably would never leave.” (On second thought, that sounds more like a bad restaurant review.)

Even though I’ve gotten through most of my current home’s kitchen renovations, I never really intended on making my first home the one I’ll live in forever. So, if I ever find myself on a new house hunt (which, who knows, could be in just a few short years!), these are the top features that have now made it on my wish list that weren’t there before.

1. Soft-Closing Drawers Instead of Lower Cabinets

When I remodeled my kitchen, I knew it would be way beyond my budget to install new cabinets; painting the existing ones was pretty much my best option. But should I ever move into a house where I gut the cabinetry and install new, adding soft-closing drawers below the counter seems like the smart choice.

 

Not only does it nix the potential to injure myself on a half-closed drawer (I’ve already got enough mysterious leg bruises, thank you), but I prefer the accessibility of drawers for things like pots and pans instead of digging through a cabinet.

For the same reasons, I also like drawers for bathroom renovations. It’s a great use of hidden storage space, like if you can add one to a toe-kick near the floor.

2. Fingerprint- and Spot-Resistant Everything

Finishes like stainless steel, chrome, brass, and brushed gold have been extremely popular over the last 10 years. But when it comes to shopping for surfaces I use several times a day, I think it’s important to put more thought into its function too. So, for my next house or next home remodel, I know that I’ll be paying a lot more attention to finishes that are specifically labeled as “spot” or “fingerprint” resistant.

When I installed my faucet, one of the nifty features about the finish was that it was a new color called “slate” that was supposed to be resistant to fingerprints and water spots. While it seems to differ by manufacturer as to the name of this type of finish, the color appears to be not quite “stainless” but not quite “nickel,” either — it’s some kind of in-between style. Yet it still works with the other appliances I’ve already put in.

More and more companies seem to be offering similar “spotless” finishes on their newer appliances and faucets, so I hope it’s a long-term trend I can take advantage of when I need to decorate a new kitchen. I can see this finish being especially useful for things like bathroom faucet handles, too. They get splattered with soap, toothpaste, etc., the most.

3. Bluetooth-Enabled or Voice-Activated Devices

Bluetooth speakers aren’t exactly a novel concept, but they’re also (IMO) easily forgotten when designing. It absolutely makes sense to incorporate quality speakers into the rooms where you listen to music the most.

I installed a Bluetooth speaker/fan/ceiling light in my guest bathroom a while back, and while it’s awesome for singing (loudly) in the shower and provides great sound quality, I’d prefer it have one improvement: I’d love it if it used a voice system like Alexa (such as the Echo or Echo Dot) or Google Home instead of a remote.

The remote is useless when I’m all soaped up in the shower, and I’ve found that using a voice-activated speaker system is incredibly handy (pun intended?) when I’m cooking in the kitchen. I just added an Amazon Echo Dot to the kitchen (see picture below), and it has made cooking and doing dishes a far more enjoyable activity!

As time goes on, I imagine there’ll be more opportunities to mount or include such an item in a home’s design, rather than have it as a separate item on a counter surface (similar to how USB chargers are being added to outlets and wireless charging pads are being incorporated into furniture).

4. Deep, Single-Basin Sinks

I have this feature in my current kitchen, and when I daydream about a future kitchen, the sink stays the same! I spent a long time debating this when I picked out my sink, and I still LOVE that mine is really deep and has only one basin. It makes it really easy to fill pots and clean cookie sheets without having to play Jenga with other things I’m washing. I also think it makes it easier to keep clean — it just takes one simple sweep.

Once I start going down the rabbit hole of things to splurge on next time, the list tends to grow insanely fast, but it’s nice to take a break from the tedium of scrubbing my outdoor patio to daydream every once in awhile.

Article by SARAH FOGLE

4 Ways to Make Fido Happy in Your New Home

Your dog will l0ve these features, which will look awesome in your home, too.

Life with pets: They frustrate you, they make things messy, but you can’t help loving them anyway.

After years of DIYing with the world’s greatest sidekick, who likes to be in on the action at all times (even when I’m on a ladder or using an air compressor), I tend to pause whenever I see a cool idea for making Charlie feel more at home among the chaos.

I have a long list of favorite ideas for pet-friendly home features, but these are at the top:

 

Pet Feeder

I used to think having a fancy food bowl setup was one of those nice-to-have things that I would get around to making for my pup eventually. But little did I realize, this was one of the more impactful tweaks I made this past year, and it really changed some of the everyday annoyances I’d been dealing with for years.

Charlie had a long-standing habit of constantly flipping over her food bowl before eating, and I hated the way stray bits of food would wind up scattered across my floor in the process. But once I built her a food bowl stand that also fit my design style, it made the house so much cleaner.

It was like boom! She stopped flipping, and I stopped flipping out. I regret so much that I hadn’t done this sooner. There are lots of DIY feeder options out there, including ones that suspend from the wall, ones that include food storage below the bowls, or ones that look like mine — that just look pretty nice in the kitchen. 🙂

Outdoor Lounger

Now that I finally filled in my backyard this past year, I have lots of DIY outdoor projects on my task list. Adding one more: This DIY “dogzebo” from my friend at the “House of Wood” blog! I’m not sure I could get Charlie to sit still long enough to be my model like hers, but I know the perfect corner to add this.

Upgraded Gates

I used a retractable baby gate when Charlie was a pup. It was useful to help train her, but not all that aesthetically pleasing (nor was the linoleum floor she chewed up when she had to be kept in “puppy jail”).

If I could go back in time, I’d rather have had something that suits my style a little more, like this gorgeous custom-designed gate over at the “Yellow Brick Home” blog. Unfortunately, Charlie’s a little too big to be deterred by a gate anymore, but this would still be a great build for owners with small pets (like my parents’  … maybe next year’s Christmas gift?)

Dog Beds

Charlie has a bed of some sort in virtually every room of my house. She likes to follow me around no matter where I’m hanging out, and I like to have a place where she can be both comfortable and out of the way.

Still, though: Why do dog beds always have to be so ugly? I like the idea of making them more tied into furniture, such as with an ottoman or side table. That’s pretty much what Mindi from the “MyLove2Create” blog did with an old crib turned dog crate.

That wooden top is perfect for making it look like the rest of the furniture in her home.

Ultimately, it’s important to me to make Charlie feel just as at home in our shared space as I do. While some design choices are made just for me, I’ve learned that taking her needs into account can help us both in the long run — less clutter, fewer messes to clean up, and a house that can still be beautiful while addressing my biggest pain points of dog ownership vs. my design desires.

Win-win is always better, right? 🙂

Article by Sara Fogel

How to Discover What You REALLY Want in Your Dream Home

Here’s a fun way to pinpoint your style when your Pinboards have run amuck.

Raise your hand if you have a whole slew of Pinterest boards chock-full of what your dream house is going to look like. Keep your hand raised if you have no idea how to actually achieve that look.

Now take that hand that’s still in the air and softly pat your cheek, repeating the words, “It’s going to be OK. Mandi is going to help me.”

If you’re like 99% of Pinterest users, your boards are brimming with pictures of beautiful spaces — spaces you’d love to live in. Here, I’m sharing all my tips for narrowing down those 15,000 pins into an exact definition of what YOU love.

We’re going to approach this in three steps:

  1. The broad approach, where we get a sense of your general style
  2. The next-level approach, where we evaluate permanent fixtures, like cabinet fronts
  3. The detailed approach, where we get a sense for finishes and furniture

1. What’s Your General Vibe?

The first thing is to look at your pins broadly. Are 85% of the kitchens that you have pinned filled with white brightness? Do you repeatedly pin soaring loft spaces with exposed brick? What are the colors, tones, and styles that you’re drawn to?

Pick up on the vibe that your boards are putting off.

2. What Features Do You Love?

Now, narrow it down a little. Say you love white kitchens. Is there a certain style of cabinet front that you keep pinning? Do all the pictures have subway tile with dark grout? Are the floors light tones or dark tones? Are your pins pointing you toward dark accent walls or a certain style of window?

3. What Accents Do You Adore?

After you’ve narrowed things down, look more closely at the details. Do you have an obsession with brass hardware or raw wood dining tables?

When I pin something inspiring, I always write in the pin’s description what I LOVE about the picture (whether it’s the light or the shape of a pillow). That way, I can focus on that one item and the rest just sort of falls away.

Last, and most importantly, will your choices work with your lifestyle? It’s easy to get wrapped up in white floors, white walls, and white cabinets, and to picture a perfect house that’s gleaming clean 100% of the time. But is that realistic for your life? Do you have a gaggle of children who like to destroy your house? Do you entertain a lot and need more than one piece of minimalist furniture?

After you’ve narrowed everything down, use your intel to search for materials in that style (i.e., a white kitchen scheme with shaker cabinets and brass hardware). Then take one final gut check to see if it’s the direction your heart’s been leading you all along.

Happy house hunting!

Article by MANDI GUBLER

PALEO CUBAN-STYLE SLOW COOKER FLANK STEAK

Slow cooked flank steak, green peppers an onions come alive in this flavorful Cuban-Style Slow Cooker Flank Steak recipe. This delicious Paleo flank steak recipe uses a traditional Cuban spice blend of cumin, oregano, garlic and bay leaves to evoke island flavors and aromas. It’s made in the slow cooker, so you can throw it together and then return home after work to a piping hot, mouth-watering meal. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Recipe makes 4 servings.
Approximate Prep Time: 20 minutes
Approximate Cook Time: 4-7 hours

Ingredients

1/2 cup(s) chicken broth
2 teaspoon(s) cumin
11/2 teaspoon(s) oregano, dried
1 teaspoon(s) sea salt, to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon(s) black pepper, to taste (optional)
1 can(s) tomatoes, diced (14 oz)
1 medium onion(s), sliced
2 medium bell pepper(s), green, sliced
2 medium garlic clove(s), chopped
1 tablespoon(s) capers, chopped
11/2 pound(s) beef – flank steak(s), cut crosswise into three pieces
1/4 cup(s) olives, pimento-stuffed, sliced

Instructions

  1. In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, mix together the chicken stock, cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper (if using).
  2. Add the tomatoes and their juices, onions, peppers, garlic and capers and stir to combine.
  3. Place the flank steak on top of the mixture, partially covering with a few tablespoons of the vegetables and liquid.
  4. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low 6-7 hours.
  5. Shred steak with two forks, add olives and mix all contents together.

Defying Predictions, Mortgage Rates Are Dropping—Here’s Why

Anxious would-be home buyers have been watching mortgage interest rates finally begin ticking up again in 2017, after years of historical lows. And when the Federal Reserve raised the short-term interest rate in March, the conventional wisdom was that mortgage rates would follow suit—as they typically do.

But that’s not happening this time around. Despite a Fed hike just last month and two more looming on the horizon, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell back below 4% for the first time since November, according to Freddie Mac.

They were at just 3.97% as of Thursday, down from 4.08% the previous week and a high of 4.3% for the year, on March 16.

So what’s going on?

“If you had an answer to that question, you’d probably make millions trading on Wall Street,” says Danielle Hale, managing director of housing research at the National Association of Realtors®. “Interest rates are really tricky to predict.”

Yet even a small change in the interest rate can be a game changer for buyers. A fraction of a percentage point can add up to hundreds of extra dollars a year in mortgage payments. And that extra money can make a real difference in the kinds, sizes, and locations of homes that buyers can afford.

What’s really driving down mortgage interest rates

Mortgage interest rates are influenced by the Federal Reserve’s short-term interest rates, but in fact they’re more closely tied to the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond market. That’s because as investments, bonds and mortgages are similar: Investors consider them significantly safer bets than the more volatile stock market.

So when investors got spooked by the rising stock market (fearing a downturn) and the unpredictability of the current U.S. administration, they put their money into bonds. And since mortgage rates are generally an inverse reflection of the strength of the bond market, when bonds are up, mortgage interest rates drop.

“Investors are a little skeptical because the stock market keeps climbing,” says Don Frommeyer, a mortgage officer at Marine Bank in Indianapolis. “They’re looking for safe ways to invest their money, and they’re going back to the bond market.”

They’re also not quite as optimistic about how quickly President Donald Trump‘s infrastructure plans will come to fruition, after having invested in sectors expected to profit from those plans. So they’re turning back to bonds.

“Now people are re-evaluating and coming to the conclusion that [these promises] are going to take a lot longer than they expected,” says Freddie Mac’s chief economist, Sean Becketti.

How long the downward trend might last

The lower rates aren’t just confined to conservative 30-year fixed-rate loans. Rates averaged 3.23% on 15-year fixed-rate loans and 3.1% on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages as of Thursday, according to Freddie Mac.

“It’s good news for people who are already in the market,” says Hale. “Lower mortgage rates translate into a lower monthly payment.”

But this situation might not last. With two more Fed hikes expected this year, mortgage rates are likely to fall back in line with their usual pattern. They’re anticipated to keep going up gradually, Hale adds.

Of course, life can always throw us a curveball.

“There’s so much uncertainty and volatility in the market,” there’s no way of knowing what the mortgage rates will do next, says Becketti.

Article by By

Minimalist Spaces That Feel Oh So Luxe

5 ways to get that sleek, Scandinavian look even though real life is messy.

It’s amazing how fast items can start to take up room in my house. Like most people, it’s not as though I intend to build up clutter; I just find it hard to get rid of things as fast as I accumulate them, both for sentimental reasons and because it’s so easy to procrastinate on getting organized.

But lately, I’ve been making more of an effort to eliminate excess items in my home, and the idea of living more simply has stolen my attention (as if someone just told me there’s cake nearby).

I love the look and wish I could incorporate the Scandinavian / uncluttered trend more often, but it can be tough to limit items when you’re always remodeling the way I do (since home renovation requires a lot of power tools and supplies).

That’s partly the reason why I like to look through so many minimalist interiors as inspiration. When done the right way, incorporating this design style has some serious appeal and personality. Just a few appropriate cozy and visually interesting elements are all it takes to get the clean but comfy look I crave.

Here are the five things that make me swoon over minimalist rooms.

1. Natural Wood

Look at a spread of minimalist home design photos and you’ll quickly notice how natural wood tones are key to ensuring that the space feels less stark. For me, it’s warm wood shades like maple, honey, and walnut that add the most drama without overwhelming.

Take for example the wooden doors in my friend Ann Marie’s old kitchen — it has just the right amount of visual contrast while still looking spotlessly clean:

This DIY coffee table from “I Spy DIY” also keeps it simple, but it’s the natural tone of the wood and the textured sides of the slab that make it far from boring (and also warm up the grays in the rest of the room).

2. Exposed Brick

If you look at pictures of minimalist rooms, architectural details take center stage, such as an accent wall of exposed brick. Even if you whitewash or paint the brick to match the other walls (or even go with veneer for the same effect, like Mandi Gubler did in the photo below), the variation in texture adds charm.

3. Warm Metallics

Minimalism is traditionally associated with stark white and black, which often can feel harsh, but you can include accents of color that warm up the room without disturbing their minimalist appeal.

Warm metallic tones are perfect for this. Shades of copper and gold continue that sleek, simple look while amping up the luxe factor. Ashley’s (“Hither and Thither”) home is full of these kinds of details (as well as a few more elements on this list):

4. Textured Fabrics

In the same vein as a brick wall, warmth and coziness can be added through fabric and other items that add texture instead of color. I suppose sometimes the mix of textiles in design is more aligned with the concept of Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) the Danish word for coziness and a concept for living simply. But a chunky knit throw blanket or a nice textured rug can add depth as well as invite friends to settle in.

In my own living room, I like to keep the color scheme fairly neutral, but it’s the textures on the pillows and planters that provide the little details that keep the room from looking too blah.

Provided that you cleanly edit the color choices, minimalism is all about keeping balance around the room. Amy of “Homey Oh My” (below) shows this idea off well in her living room with a textured rug and a simple basket for storing items to keep clutter off the coffee table.

Emma’s cowhide rug and two-by-four coffee table (and oh look … natural wood again!) follow right along with this style, too.

5. Plants, Plants, Plants

It’s never a bad idea to bring more of the outside in (well, except maybe pests). But have you noticed the last element that keeps sleek rooms looking lively? Plants! Whether it’s bouquets of flowers or potted houseplants, varied height plays a big role in keeping things looking uncluttered. I think the greenery adds a lot of life and cheer (especially in routinely disappointing spaces, like my laundry room).

Maybe it’s about getting older and realizing that I am happier when I have less around me to feel anxious about (or clean). Or maybe it’s the desire to need less. Or maybe it’s just with so much else keeping me busy on a daily basis, adding more negative space (subtracting to add, I suppose?) is the calm I need at the end of the day.

But regardless of the reason, I’m getting better at figuring out how much nicer a home is without a bunch of clutter in my way.

Article by Sarah Fogle

How Pets Can Help You Sell Your Home

It all started with Chompers the corgi, starring in a video to sell a San Francisco home in 2015. Then in Tiffany, a 5-year-old Shih Tzu mix whose owner, a real estate agent in Australia, started placing the pooch in listing photos, resulting in “nearly double” the page views and a slew of sales.

Then the furry floodgates opened wide. Now there’s even a website, Pet Realty Network, devoted to helping animal lovers find pet-friendly real estate agents and property.

Not too long ago, pets were considered a serious hindrance to the home-selling process—cuddly companions that should be hidden at all costs. So what caused the change of heart?

For one, the ever-growing number of animal lovers—56% of homes now have pets—may have helped turn the tide. But more than that, furry faces are just plain good advertising, touching on our emotions without getting too personal. The Internet proves this thousands of times a day when videos such as “Cat vs. Cucumber: Guess Who Wins” get a zillion views.

When used for real estate purposes a pet “solidifies the American dream: the kids, the dog, the whole package,” explains Sherron Lawrence of Realty National.

So how do you leverage Quilty the canary dog to help you sell your place?

“It’s all about showcasing the attractive things and putting away the unattractive,” explains Kyra Frankel of White Space Staging. If you’re wondering where to draw that line as pet owner (news flash: not everything Olly the dachshund does is cute, endearing, or irresistible), here are some tips for every area of your home.

Key word: attractive. Don’t put some ratty old thing that’s been dragged through the mud on display. If you have a cotton, canvas, or fabric leash, toss it in the washing machine to give it new life, or pick up a new one that complements the decor. Fake it if you have to. There are many stylish ones out there these days, such as this blue-and-black option from See Scout Sleep.

Kitchen

Find a cute treats container to display on the counter, and think about upgrading your animal’s standard water bowl with a sparkly new (and stylish) one.

“A fresh bowl of water paints the right picture,” says Lawrence. This one from Docapet can play off the stainless-steel accents in your kitchen and fit right into the decor.

Living room

While showing off framed photos of family is considered a serious no-no, “it’s OK to leave framed dog and cat photos,” says Louise Whittet of White Space Staging. “More and more listings are doing this, as well as shelter magazines and websites. It isn’t as personal as a family photo, but it’s successful in implying a space for all types.”

Bedroom

“A faux sheepskin throw rug can be seen as a romantic element,” explains Frankel, “or also a cozy spot for a pet to curl up.” Alternatively, place a new, or at least nice and clean, dog bed at the foot of yours. While on the pricier side, these Mungo & Maud pet beds are so chic, we’d sleep on them.

“Dog or cat beds and baskets—if they’re clean and have a sensible place to be—are great,” says Frankel. “But stash the chew toys.”

Backyard

“I’ve suggested that sellers repaint the doghouse with a fresh coat,” says Lawrence. “It freshens it up quickly.” Just remember to stick to light colors, as darker shades absorb the sun and heat.

But the most important tip: Make sure the backyard is immaculate (read: no poop. None. Whatsoever. BTW, did we mention No poop?) before showing your property. You want your pet-friendly listing to be memorable for the right reasons.

And remember, the one mood killer to avoid at all costs is any kind of animal scent: Whether it’s the whiff of cat litter or just an overall doggy smell, any odor or hair can drive off a buyer in an instant.
Lawrence lays it out simply: “No smell, no problem.”
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How to Remove Stripped Screws, Fill Nail Holes, and Other Home Hacks

Our homes are full of small, but mind-boggling challenges, such as: Is there a way to remove stripped screws? Or eliminate those water rings on your coffee table, or those divots where your table once sat on your carpet? If you’re looking for answers to common conundrums you might encounter, a new book can help: “Tidy Hacks: Handy Hints to Make Life Easier.”

Written by home hack expert Dan Marshall (also author of Life Hacks: Helpful Hints to Make Life Easier and Dad Hacks: Helpful Hints to Make Life Easier), this modern-day maintenance manual is geared to people who have no time for home maintenance. The fix-its that it recommends are insanely easy to accomplish. And since we’re all about making homeownership easier, check out a few of these genius tips below.


How to remove stripped screws

Can’t put in (or take out) a screw because that X-marked divot is too worn to turn with your screwdriver? Place a flat rubber band over the top of the screw head, and insert the screwdriver so it pins the rubber band in place. The rubber band will give you enough grip to remove the screw with ease.

 


How to shine shoes with a banana

The combination of the potassium found in bananas (which is also an ingredient of shoe polish) and the natural oils in a banana peel makes a great natural leather shoe polish. So when your shoes need shining and you’re in a pinch with no shoe polish around, reach for the next best thing: a banana. Rub the inside of the peel on your shoes to buff away the scuff.

 


How to organize cleaning supplies

Get your cleaning supplies out of that awkward low cabinet under your sink. If you hang up a shoe organizer in an area that is easy to reach, like the back of your laundry-room door, you can store them handily, without turning yourself into a pretzel. The best part? Close the door, and you won’t have to look at the bleach and Windex until it’s time to start cleaning.

 


How to avoid tangled Christmas lights

After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there comes a time when every well-decorated home must lose its Christmas lights.

Some of us are all too familiar with throwing them into a storage box and calling it a day—only to spend hours untangling them next year. Allow us to suggest a better way to keep knots out of your lights: Take an extra three minutes to find some wire hangers and wrap the strands around them. This will space the bulbs at regular intervals, so that they are less likely to break.


How to fill nail holes

For many people, hanging a picture or a piece of art isn’t an exact science, and it often involves a certain amount of trial and error. If you happen to hammer a nail into the wrong spot on the wall, grab a crayon that matches the color of the paint and draw on the hole until it is filled. Wipe away any excess wax with a clean cloth.

 

 


How to get rid of a water ring

How dare your guests ruin your beautiful wood table with their damp drinking glasses? Don’t lose your head, though, because you have this ingenious trick to remove the liquid stain. Turn a hairdryer on high heat and hold it close to the water mark. It will start to disappear before your eyes! Keep the heat on the ring until it’s completely gone.

 


How to get rid of dents in the carpet

Rearranging the furniture in your bedroom or living room can be an exciting way to reinvigorate your home decor, but a heavy table or armoire is sure to leave unsightly dents in your carpet. Believe it or not, the secret of getting rid of those dents is hiding in your freezer. Simply place ice cubes along the indents, leave them there until the ice has melted, and then vacuum over the area to fluff up the fibers.

 


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