Finding Paw Friendly Ice Melt Products

Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably the kind of dog owner who knows the difference between what’s safe and not safe for your dog.

But there are some things about rock salt – and its safer cousins – that might surprise you.

When it comes to our dogs and winter, here’s something to ponder …

Why Do We Protect Our Cars But Not Dogs From Salt?

Think about what happens to it when you drive behind a salt truck in the winter. That rock salt will corrode the metal and paint of your car. So those of us who live in cold climates take our cars in every fall to spray on some goo that keeps the salt away from our precious cars.

But we let our dogs walk unprotected on the same roads (and sidewalks) we’re protecting our cars from.

Try this experiment at home:

Fill a zip lock bag with a few drops of water, add a tablespoon of rock salt and zip it up.

Now feel the bag.

You’ll feel that it gets hot. Now imagine how it feels between your dog’s toes.

Salt can get lodged in between your dog’s pads where it can heat up to around 170 degrees! That’s hot enough to cause burns. And the pain will cause your dog to lick his paws, which adds more moisture to his feet … and now the salt is on his lips and tongue too.

Rock salt can also irritate his gastrointestinal system … and even trigger seizures when eaten in large quantities (think about how much dogs lick their irritated paws after walking in salt).

So if you didn’t know before, then now you know that you should keep your dog away from salt whenever possible! And you should use safer alternatives if you’re looking to melt snow in your own yard.

But are those Pet Friendly alternatives safe?

Finding Paw Safe Products

With names like “Safe Paw,” “Safe-T-Pet” and “Ice Melt for Pets” those alternative products must be safe, right?

But you have to look at more than the name to know if an ice melt product is really safe. Here’s an example …

Ice melt products can say “Pet Friendly,” or “Safer for Pets/Paws” on the label even if it’s still just rock salt. Because rock salt has jagged edges, they can just round it off and that apparently earns them the right to say it’s safe for paws!

Well, rounded rock salt might be safer than jagged rock salt, but that’s not really the point (no pun intended) … it’s still not safe for your dog (or the planet)!

But there are some safer alternatives out there. Steven Vernik, Director of Operations at Gaia Enterprises Inc and creator of Safe Paw Ice Melter, shares some tips on finding the most pet friendly choices.

Before you buy, take the container off the shelf and look at the back label to see if there are any warnings. If you see something that says, ”Keep away from children”, the chances are high that it isn’t all that safe for your pet. If you see that it causes irritation to eyes, skin, etc., or that it’s harmful if swallowed, consider whether or not this product is truly safe or just a marketing ploy to get your money.

A good ice melter may carry a heftier price because the components that go into making a truly safe and good ice melter aren’t cheap. If you see a low price tag, you should be suspicious of what’s inside the bag. By mixing cheap chemicals as filler along with salt or other chlorides, manufacturers can say that their product is pet friendly or safer than rock salt when in reality, it isn’t much safer at all.

Here are the most common chemicals to be aware of when choosing ice melt products:

Chlorides

Salt is chloride based and this is the most dangerous form of ice melter. It’s also the cheapest because it’s mined from the earth and made into the shape you see, then packaged. Some examples of the many chlorides used are potassium chloride, sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. All of them should be avoided.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA)

CMA is a relatively safe ice melter, except that it isn’t very effective and doesn’t last long. It’s therefore likely that if your product contains CMA, it’s mixed with salt and or other chemicals to boost its power. CMA is toxic and also extracts moisture from the surface, so be mindful of CMA products on wood decking, rubbers, plastics, etc. If you see CMA as an ingredient, you’ll want to know what else is in the product.

Urea

Urea is a pretty decent ice melter. It’s less toxic and less corrosive than chlorides. However, if it isn’t treated and modified, it’s somewhat toxic and is a pollutant (according to the EPA) because of its nitrates. Urea is also costly and expensive to make safe.

Modified Crystalline Carbonyl Diamide

This is a safe ingredient that acts like a sponge and has particulates that disrupt the hydrogen bonds.

Eco Safe Glycol

Glycols can be infused with components that power up its ice melting capabilities, including traction agents and special inhibitors to increase the safety of the product.

Colorants

Any colorants used should ideally be food grade.

In summary, here are some things to consider when choosing an ice melt product:
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  • Don’t look for a low cost product. The safe ice melt products use more expensive chemicals and are worth the extra expense.
  • Look for a product without any warning labels on it. If a product is not safe for you or your children, it’s not safe for your pets.
  • Look for a salt and chloride free product.
  • Visit the manufacturer’s website and read about the ingredients, or do some online research.

Finally, even though you may be using a pet safe product, your neighbors and city may not be, so it’s always a good idea after walking your dog to immediately clean his paws with plenty of lukewarm water, then dry them. Some dogs take a while to get used to booties but they’re another solution to keep paws safe.

Article by Dana Scott

5 Doable DIY Projects To Send Your Home Equity Soaring

A new front door has the highest ROI, not to mention the boost in curb appeal.

You’re going to save money with DIY home improvement projects. Sure, everybody knows that.

But did you know how much? Cut professionals out of the equation and you can save half the cost of a project — or more.

What’s more, you get a great return on your investment. Meaning, the financial value you get out of a DIY project is much more than what you put in.

Here’s a rundown of some top money-saving projects, using cost and recovered costs data from the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

#1 New Steel Front Door

Few replacement projects have as much upside as a new steel entry door. Not only will you recover about 75% of the cost of having an entry door professionally installed, but you’ll spruce up your curb appeal big time. Want proof? Ninety-six percent of homeowners responding to the “Remodeling Impact Report” say they are happy or satisfied with their new front door.

Of course, you’ll save even more if you tackle this project yourself. Know your door parts (jambs, threshold, stops) before digging in. You’ll be putting in a pre-hung door that includes jambs, so the old stuff has to come out. If you can, preserve the old casing (trim) that goes around the door. Otherwise, plan to buy new casing.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $2,000 Cost $250
Recoup at sale $1,500 Recoup at sale $1,500
% recoup 75% % recoup 600%

This is a good one to have a friend or spouse lend a hand. It’ll take six to eight hours if it’s your first time. Remember the three-legged mantra of door installation: Plumb, level, square.

#2 New Garage Door

Tired of looking at that big blank billboard every time you pull into your driveway? Change out your old garage door for a spiffy new steel model and the whole neighborhood will thank you. Save some cash by keeping the same motorized opener.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $2,300 Cost $850
Recoup at sale $2,000 Recoup at sale $2,000
% recoup 87% % recoup 235%

A steel garage door comes in four panels that are relatively lightweight but awkward — get a friend to lend a hand and you’ll have this project done in a day. Then stand back and admire along with 95% of homeowners in the “Remodeling Impact Report” who said they were happy or satisfied with their new garage door.

#3 New Vinyl Windows

If you want to replace four or more windows, or a second-story window, then hire the work out. Being up on a ladder with an object as bulky as a window is no place for a non-professional. Pros bring scaffolding, which takes time to set up but ultimately makes the work faster and safer.

Replacing one, two, or maybe three first-story windows is a good DIY job. Anything more and the pros will get the job done with better efficiency in terms of time and hassle.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost (per window) $556 Cost (per window) $250
Recoup at sale $444 Recoup at sale $444
% recoup 80% % recoup 178%

If you’ve measured your rough opening correctly and bought the right window, then one window should take you three to four hours. You’ll get faster with subsequent windows.

#4 New Wood Flooring

Few projects are as satisfying, while recovering such a high percentage of your investment, as new wood flooring. According to the “Remodeling Impact Report,” 96% of homeowners were happy or satisfied with their professionally installed hardwood floors. Combine that with a 91% return on your investment, and you’ll likely be a very happy homeowner.

For the DIYer, installing hardwood flooring is a bit labor intensive, but the techniques are fairly easy to master. Once you get the hang of it, installing prefinished hardwood flooring should go smoothly.

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $5,500 Cost $1,770
Recoup at sale $5,000 Recoup at sale $5,000
% recoup 91% % recoup 282%

#5 Insulation Upgrade

OK, maybe it’s not the sexiest project. After all, it’s tucked out of sight in your attic. But you can feel it with increased comfort, and see the savings on your energy bill. Those are big pluses.

Upgrading an under-insulated attic space can save you up to 50% per year in energy costs. With a pro cost of $2,100, it’ll take at least a couple of years to pay off your investment with savings. Do it yourself, however, and you’ll only spend about $700 for enough 10-inch-thick fiberglass batt insulation to cover a 20-foot-by-40-foot attic space. You’ll pocket the savings much sooner.

It’s also an awkward project, it can be messy, and you’ll need to bundle up behind protective clothing. However, insulating your attic is a low-skill project that most DIYers can pull off. Just be sure not to stick your foot through the drywall under the attic floor joists!

If You Hire If You DIY
Cost $2,100 Cost $700
Recoup at sale $1,600 Recoup at sale $1,600
% recoup 76% % recoup 229%
Article by JOHN RIHA

Paleo Buffalo Chicken Dip

When’s the last time you had a nice cheesy party-time dip? If the answer is “too long ago” it’s time to change that and whip up a delicious yet nutritious dip that’s bursting with protein and healthy fat.

For a long time I thought I couldn’t indulge in things like buffalo chicken dip because of the Paleo rules. I was in the mentality that dieting meant giving up snack foods like this and depriving myself of good times involving food. But you’ve probably noticed that there are tons of recipes out there that allow you to have foods you love but in a healthier way.

It’s no fun going to a party and not being able to eat the food there, so you can either avoid it, bring your own if it’s potluck style, or eat it and then feel bad about it later.

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup cashew nuts, soaked three hours
  2. 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  3. 1 ½ tbsp lemon juice
  4. 2 garlic clove, minced
  5. 1 ½ cups shredded cooked chicken
  6. 1 red chili
  7. 1 tsp vinegar
  8. 2 tbsp water
  9. ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  10. 1 egg yolk
  11. ½ cup macadamia oil
  12. 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  13. salt, pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Place the cashew nuts in a glass bowl, cover with water and soak for three hours. Place the chili, vinegar, water and pinch of salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Let rest for an hour, then strain .
  2. Set the chili sauce aside. To make the mayonnaise, in a small bowl whisk the egg yolk. Add slowly half of oil, drop by drop whisking constantly. Then add ½ tbsp of lemon juice and mix well. Add the rest of oil in a slow stream and continue whisking until all of the oil is incorporated. Transfer in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Drain the cashew nuts well and place them in a blender with the remaining lemon juice, nutritional yeast and minced garlic and process until smooth and thick. Add the chili sauce and cayenne pepper and mix well to combine.
  4. In a small baking dish, combine the shredded chicken, mayo and cashew mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve warm with your favorite veggies.

3 Big Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Home

Are you thinking about buying a home? It’s an exciting time in anyone’s life, whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned real estate pro.

No matter how much experience with home-buying you have, you could benefit from taking a step back and ensuring you’ve fully thought about every angle of the process — and the responsibility you’ll take on when you sign the contract and get the keys.

Before you start browsing the MLS listings for your dream home, make sure you consider the following 3 questions — and feel confident about your answers.

1. What’s Your 5-Year Plan?

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know what you’ll do for dinner next Tuesday. Knowing what life will look like in 5 years, therefore, sounds like an impossible feat.

But don’t worry: you don’t need to know with absolute certainty what you plan to do. You just need to have an idea. Considering the possibilities can help inform your decision about buying a home.

Thinking about this now, before you get into a house that’s not the best fit for your long-term plans, is an important part of the process. You might want to consider things like:

  • How established is your job and income stream? If your income isn’t stable and you’re new at your job, taking on a mortgage might not be the best move right away. Make sure you feel confident about your ability to earn a certain amount of money for the next few years to ensure you can afford your new mortgage payment.
  • What will your family look like in the next few years — and how will that impact your cash flow?
  • Are you comfortable living in the same place for the next 5 years? To make the costs of homeownership worthwhile, a good rule of thumb is to plan to stay in your home for at least 5 years. The idea is that the value of the home will have risen enough by the time you go to sell for you to recoup your upfront costs.
  • Do you know the area well enough to invest in it? Make sure you’ve spent plenty of time in the neighborhood before buying a home. If possible, you might want to rent in the same location first before investing in an illiquid asset like a house. You want to be fairly certain you want to spend years of your life in this location before you buy.

People tend to get the most (financial) value from their homes when they plan on owning the property for the long-term. If you’re not sure what life looks like in 5 years, but are set on buying, just be aware of the risks — and think through potential “Plan Bs.”

For example, would you be open to the possibility of moving out of that particular home and renting it out instead? Would you be okay if you only broke even when you sold the home?

2. What Can You Realistically Afford?

Don’t necessarily rely on a lender to tell you how much you can borrow. Only you—not a lender—can assess your finances in a holistic way to judge how much money you can borrower.

Run your own numbers. Factor in things like estimated mortgage payment, taxes, insurance, and other costs like HOA fees, closing costs, and other expenses you might need to pay upfront.

You’ll also want to consider how much your house will cost you on a yearly basis. Estimate things like regular upkeep, scheduled maintenance, and unexpected repairs.

Don’t forget to think about what life might look like in the future, too. What you can “realistically afford” doesn’t mean “the maximum your budget can handle.”

If you max out what your savings and monthly cash flow, it will be difficult to deal with additional and unexpected expenses down the road–like a baby, a business, or going back to school.

3. How Much Will You Save for a Down Payment?

You should plan to have 20 percent of a home’s purchase price in cash ready to use for before buying a home. This is your down payment. The more you put down, the less you need to finance — which translates into more money saved on interest fees and smaller monthly mortgage payments.

If a 20 percent down payment doesn’t feel doable, you do have some alternatives.

For one, you could just put down 10 percent. Most lenders won’t strictly require 20 percent, although they do prefer it.

You can put down 10 percent and still get a mortgage to buy a home, but the penalty will be PMI (private mortgage insurance). PMI usually costs $30-$70 per month for every $100,000 you borrow, according to Zillow.

Or, you could consider alternative mortgage programs. Conventional 30-year mortgages usually require a 10 to 20 percent down payment. But other loan types, such as FHA loans, require as little as 3 percent down.

Explore your options and talk to a lender about the different kinds of home loans available, and the requirements for each.

You can also consider working with a home ownership investment program, like Unison. Through the Unison HomeBuyer program, Unison partners with potential homebuyers to provide funding for their down payment.

Unison can match your down payment funds for an additional 10 percent (or more) of the down payment. That allows you to go to a lender with 20 percent, avoid PMI, and enjoy smaller monthly mortgage payments.

The money Unison provides isn’t a loan, so there’s no interest rates or payments required. In exchange for providing some of your down payment, Unison gets to share in the appreciation in value in your home that you realize when you go to sell or when you pay off your mortgage after 30 years.

There are countless other questions you could ask yourself before buying a home — and you should! Think through possibilities, consider all your options, and seek out the answers to anything you’re not sure about.

Knowledge is power, and it can help you make informed decisions around your homebuying experience.

Article by Kali Hawlk

7 Genius Entryway Storage Ideas to Get You Out the Door Faster

Creating personalized bins is a good start.

It’s so easy (and so unfair) how quickly your entryway can go from clean to chaos— and that chaos makes trying to get out the door brutal.

Think of all that time wasted hunting for your keys and umbrella, or digging through a pile of coats to find the one you need. Five minutes spent searching for stuff each morning becomes 35 minutes a week, or more than 30 hours a year!

Corralling your clutter can feel overwhelming, but with the right mindset and a few clever hacks, your entryway can be what helps you get out of the house on time — not what slows you down.

Here are seven ideas to help you out:

#1 Personalize Buckets

How do those hats and gloves end up all over the entryway? Half the time, it happens when someone tosses them aside while searching for their own stuff. That’s why separating each person’s storage space is so ingenious.

“Susie has her own basket, Tommy has his own basket,” says professional organizer Yve Irish. Assigning space and responsibility to each individual family member saves you — and your kids — time digging through other people’s belongings.

You don’t need a huge closet to do this — even little baskets in an inexpensive Ikea shelving unit can do the trick.

Irish recommends pairing a storage system with training to make personalized buckets work: “Teach your children to return items to their basket when they come home,” she says. “You want to make sure that happens and they get into the habit.”

#2 Hang Your Purses and Bags

Digging through a forest of coats to find the right purse for your outfit is a hassle. It’s also not great to shove your bags onto a cluttered closet shelf or (ugh) pile them on the floor — a practice some believe is bad luck. There’s a feng shui saying, “A purse on the floor is money out the door.” So hang your bags from the closet rod using S-hooks instead.

Lacking a closet? If your walls are less than five feet apart, you can install a tension rod between them. Or choose a decorative wall shelf with hooks.

No matter how you hang them, do a purse purge first to avoid creating a handbag jungle. Keep that oversized bag you only pull out for special occasions tucked out of the way.

#3 Create a Charging Station

While you might charge your primary smartphone overnight by your bedside, creating a charging station in your entryway can save valuable time, especially if you have a work phone or use the kids’ tablets for car rides. When they’re always charging in the same spot, you won’t waste time in the morning hunting down chargers.

Assemble tech storage using assigned baskets with neatly-organized cords, or go big with a built-in. At organization blog “A Bowl Full of Lemons,” a cabinet with plugs inside was installed in the mudroom to serve as a neat home for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, which all charge up inside.

#4 Install an Information Station

Papers can be pernicious devils, accumulating in ugly piles, blocking surfaces, and creating stress. Cut off the problem at its head with an information station, starting with a customized paper organizer on the wall.

“We had an extreme amount of clutter,” says Aniko Levai, the blogger behind “Place of My Taste.” As part of a grand entryway remodel, she created a wall organizer to keep papers and small items out of the way.

The process is simple enough for even the newest DIYer. Levai created the organizer by combining painted wood, fabric, a few small hooks, and a $15 wall magazine rack from Ikea.

But not all paper needs to be saved, and mail-sorting procrastination is the stuff cluttered entryways are made of. Setting up your recycling center near your entryway — in the closet or a free corner — can turn paper sorting into a quick, easy to-do task every time you walk in the door.

If you have the space, add a shredder into the mix or add a whiteboard for reminders.

#5 Add Lots of Shoe Storage

Step into any big box home store and you’ll find two dozen shoe storage options, from stackable organizers to hanging canvas cubbies. The perfect option for you is a matter of taste and space, but let’s be serious: However many shoe cubbies you think your family should need, the truth is probably three times that amount. That’s why we’re partial to this clever solution from Sara Davis, who transformed an old wooden mail sorter — found at a local antique shop — into a gorgeous, 45-slot shoe cubby.

While antique mail sorters may not be available everywhere, you can create your own by converting a bookshelf or cabinet, bundling cut PVC piping into handmade cubbies, or buying a large shoe cubby. Davis’ solution is perfect for her long, thin mudroom, which is 17 feet long, but only five feet wide.

“It’s hard to miss, so it’s a great reminder for the kids to take off their shoes,” Davis says.

#6 Assign Lockers

Industrial-style decor is in — take advantage of the trend in your entryway by installing lockers. (Yes, we mean the aluminum models your kids use at school.)

While not ideal for a super-small entryway, lockers can instantly triple your storage space if you have the room, as each one has hooks on three surfaces, as well as shelving. Even better, install short tension rods and use S-hooks for even more hanging storage.

And they provide plenty of room for creative decoration. You can paint them to match a variety of decor.

#7 Make a Station for Wet, Muddy Footwear

Your entryway is always one of the first victims of nasty weather. Is it a rainy autumn? Say hello to a puddle of dirty leaves. Winter? Snow boots can leave the entire room soaking and soiled.

Weather-safe storage solutions can be the key difference between an unorganized mess and a pristine entryway. The biggest culprit is shoes. While a mat can go a long way toward preserving the cleanliness of your entrance, you’ll need to develop a plan for storing boots — without them dripping everywhere.

Try this DIY solution: Line the bottom of a chest with a mud tray, and then fill the tray with a layer of river rocks. The rocks allow the water to drain away from the soggy boots so they’ll be ready to use the next morning — and the whole process is hidden away inside the chest.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

10 Foods That Are Bad For Dogs

You probably want to share all your delicious people food with your pup. After all, who can resist those puppy-dog eyes begging for a morsel? But hold off on spoiling your fur baby. Sometimes being a good doggy parent is knowing when to say, “No.” Some foods are just downright bad for dogs and can cause all sorts of health problems. Even if your dog has eaten these foods in the past with no problems, they could be causing serious issues that you might not be aware of. Here are a few foods you should never feed dogs, no matter how adorably they beg.

1. Chocolate

At the top of the list of bad foods for dogs is the one you’ve probably heard of most often–chocolate. Theobromine isn’t harmful to humans, but it’s the toxic part of chocolate for dogs. It’s found in all kinds of chocolate, but especially in dark chocolate and baking chocolate. It can cause a dog to vomit, have diarrhea, and become overly thirsty, but on the more extreme side it can cause abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, tremors, or death. Save the sweets for yourself.

2. Bacon And Fatty Meat

Wait, your dog can’t have bacon? That’s right! High fat foods like bacon, ham, or meat trimmings can cause pancreatitis in dogs. And since these meats are often high in salt content, too, they can cause upset stomachs and, in extreme cases, can cause dogs to drink too much water, leading to bloat, which can be fatal. If you want to make a mess of your own diet, leave your pup out of it.

3. Salty Foods

You may have heard that popcorn and pretzels are bad for dogs, but that’s really only the case if those foods are salted. Salt can cause a condition called sodium ion poisoning, not to mention excessive thirst or urination. Symptoms of eating too much salt might include vomiting, diarrhea, high body temperature, and seizures, in addition to bloat, as is the case with bacon. Salt can be fatal, so keep it to a minimum in the foods you share with your pup.

4. Garlic And Onions

This one-two combo of foods doesn’t just give you dragon breath and repel vampires. These pungent ingredients are bad news for dogs. They can actually destroy a dog’s red blood cells, leading to anemia. This is a tricky one because a small dose might not do much harm. But a large dose or regular small doses can lead to poisoning. Symptoms might include weakness, vomiting, breathlessness, and a loss of interest in food. Keep the bad breath to yourself.

5. Milk, Cheese, Ice Cream, And Other Dairy Products

You may have slipped your dog a pill in a piece of cheese, but dogs aren’t really built to process cow milk products. They lack the enzyme to break down milk sugar, and many dogs are lactose intolerant. Dairy can cause dogs to vomit, have diarrhea, or develop gastrointestinal diseases. The high fat content can lead to pancreatitis, as is the case with fatty meats. Don’t share your dairy with your dog. More ice cream for you!

6. Raw Meat, Fish, And Eggs

This one is a subject of controversy, as many vets are seeing health benefits from their patients switching to raw meat diets, including healthier skin and coats, cleaner teeth, and easier digestion. Some vets recommend cooking raw food to kill off bacteria and parasites that can be harmful to dogs. The majority of vets and the FDA still discourage feeding raw meat to dogs, and salmonella and e. coli infections do happen in canines. Most of these infections happen to dogs whose immune systems are already compromised, but it may be hard to tell if your dog’s immune system is completely healthy. Raw eggs have enzymes that can cause skin conditions in dogs, and raw fish can hide parasites that cause fatal diseases. There are risks to a raw diet that you need to weigh against the benefits before you decide to try it.

The important thing to understand is that it is absolutely not safe to just run to the grocery store, buy raw meat, and toss it into your dog’s bowl or to allow your dog to sneak unprepared meat off the counter or out of the garbage. If you are planning to switch to a raw diet for your dog, you need to learn about proper preparation of the food so that the risk of bacterial infection can be minimized, learn about the appropriate amount to feed your dog, and take into account your dog’s overall health. Research and understand the risks and stay informed. If you don’t, your dog can get very sick.

7. Candy, Gum, Peanut Butter, And Baked Goods

The real culprit when it comes to these sweets is an ingredient called xylitol. It causes an insulin surge through your dog’s body that can lead to a drop in blood sugar and liver failure. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, and eventually death. Several of these foods, especially peanut butter, are sometimes made without xylitol, so check the list of ingredients in your foods before you share them with your dog.

8. Grapes And Raisins

This is a sneaky case of dangerous foods, as your dog has probably eaten some grapes or raisins without issue. But it’s risky. Grapes and raisins are known to cause renal failure in dogs. Your dogs kidneys might start to shut down, causing vomiting and lethargy and eventually leading to death. It’s best to keep the grapes and raisins out of reach of your dog.

9. Sugary Food

Sugary food isn’t good for humans, and it’s not good for dogs either. In fact, it can lead to similar problems for dogs as it does for humans. Obesity, dental health issues, and diabetes can all result from overeating foods that have high sugar content. Don’t feed your dog sugar, and consider cutting back, yourself.

10. Avocado

Not only are the pits of avocados a choking hazard for your dog, but avocados contain persin in their leaves, seeds, bark, and fruit. If you have an avocado plant in your house or in your yard, make sure your pup can’t get anywhere near it. Persin isn’t harmful for humans, but it’s toxic in large amounts for dogs. Keep the guacamole to your own fiesta and prepare your dog something safe to eat.

Other products that aren’t necessarily food for you that your dog should stay away from include uncooked yeast dough, seeds and pits from fruit, raw potato, cooked bones, apple cores, alcohol, caffeine, and human medicine. Don’t let your dog anywhere near these products, as they are toxic and can lead to potential poisoning and death. Stick to a diet approved by your vet, or research some healthy foods that you can share with your dog. Resist that cute face and keep most of your human food to yourself.

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Black Accents Make Comeback in Home Design

Black is making a comeback in home design, with black fixtures, appliances, and furniture emerging as hot trends for the new year. Ryan Brown of Brown Design Group in Southern California predicts that black fixtures will replace brass as the most trendy home hardware in 2018. “They look great in modern applications, as well as transitional homes,” he told realtor.com®. “And the best part is no water spots to clean off.”

Matted black furniture also will gain popularity in 2018, says Amy Chernoff, vice president of marketing for AJ Madison, an appliance and fixture retailer. Black goes with anything, and in matte finishes, it’s easier to clean than lighter, polished metals. Also, Chernoff predicts that black stainless appliances—an alternative to the shiny finish of stainless steel—likely will become trendier in the new year. “The smudge-resistant, minimal and sleek look was in line with 2017 kitchen trends,” Chernoff told Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Chicken Chili with Sweet Potatoes

Tons of spice, corn and bell pepper give this healthy one-pot chicken chili recipe Southwestern flair. Serve with your favorite hot sauce, tortilla chips and a cold beer.  David Bonom

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups cubed sweet potato ( ½-inch)
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 15-ounce can low-sodium cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2 cups cubed cooked chicken ( ½-inch; about 10 ounces)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • Sour cream, avocado and/or cilantro for garnish

Preparation

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, sweet potato and bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute.
  2. Add beans and broth (or stock) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and stir in corn; cook 1 minute. Add chicken and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in salt and pepper. Serve topped with sour cream, avocado and/or cilantro, if desired.

Nutrition information

  • Serving size: about 1½ cups
  • Per serving: 324 calories; 10 g fat(2 g sat); 8 g fiber; 35 g carbohydrates; 26 g protein; 29 mcg folate; 48 mg cholesterol; 5 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 8,680 IU vitamin A; 24 mg vitamin C; 86 mg calcium; 3 mg iron; 570 mg sodium; 793 mg potassium
  • Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (174% daily value), Vitamin C (40% dv)
  • Carbohydrate Servings: 2½
  • Exchanges: 1½ starch, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat, 1 fat

The 3 Best Reasons to Buy a Home in 2018 (but You’d Better Hurry)

Figuring out when to plunge into the real estate market can be quite intimidating—especially when prices are high, choices are limited, and history urges restraint.

“We’ve seen two or three years of what could be considered unsustainable levels of price appreciation, as well as an inventory shortage that resulted in a record-low number of homes for sale across the country,” says Javier Vivas, director of economic research for realtor.com®. “When you factor those together, you have a market that has to either explode or see some relief.”

Comforting, right? Well, take heart: Experts agree that relief is indeed on the horizon.

A lot depends on where you live (and how much you plan to finance), but these factors combined could mean 2018 will be your year to take the buying plunge.

1. Rates are going up

After years of record-low interest rates (hello, 3%!), the Fed is finally making some noticeable increases: The rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage broke the 4% mark last year. And with economic growth continuing to carry momentum, Vivas predicts we’ll see at least two to four more rate increases throughout 2018. Rates are anticipated to hit 5% by the end of the year.

“The big story there is that those increases will further constrict affordability,” Vivas says. “The more buyers wait, the more expensive it will get to buy—not just because of home prices, but because of inflationary pressure.”

In other words, if you want in on the American dream, now might be the time.

2. Prices are climbing, but not crazily fast

Home prices have soared over the past few years, pricing otherwise well-positioned buyers out of high-cost areas and leading some experts to cry “bubble”. But in 2018, price increases are expected to moderate.

Vivas forecasts a home price increase of 3.2% year over year, after finishing 2017 with a 5.5% year-over-year increase. Existing-home sale prices are predicted to increase 2.5% year over year.

Of course, it all depends on where you live. While red-hot markets such as San Francisco are predicted to finally lose some steam, sales numbers and home prices are poised to climb in Southern states such as Texas and Florida, where economic momentum continues chugging along and new construction is happening in the right price points.

So what does that mean? Basically, home prices will still increase, but not at the same pace as they have over the past few years.

3. Inventory levels will begin to increase

An inventory shortage has plagued the U.S. housing market since 2015, forcing some buyers to settle (a tiny house with linoleum floors for $1 million, anyone?) and keeping others out of the buying game entirely. But by fall 2018, the tides will begin to turn, with markets such as Boston; Detroit; and Nashville, TN, recovering first.

The majority of inventory growth will happen in the middle- to upper-tier price point, in the ranges of $350,000 and $750,000 and above $750,000, Vivas predicts.

New home construction is also expected to expand. But that will happen slowly, thanks to a constricted labor market, limitations on the amount of lots and land that’s available, tight bank financing for building loans, and a run-up in building material prices, says National Association of Home Builders chief economist Robert Dietz.

“It’s been a slow climb back from the recession, and now we’re confronting all of these limiting factors and supply-side constraints,” Dietz says.

It’s particularly tough, he says, for builders to break ground at the entry level for first-time buyers, particularity in high-cost coastal markets such as California. That means it will take longer for those inventory levels to recover.

But there’s a bright spot: Builder confidence is at its highest level since 1999, according to the NAHB. And that means hope is on the horizon.

“As we head into 2019 and beyond, we expect to see the inventory increases take hold and provide relief for first-timers and drive sales growth,” Vivas says.

The wildcard: Taxes and politics

When the Republican tax plan was introduced, the proposed elimination of the mortgage interest deduction was all anyone could talk about: While the new limitations on the deduction will affect only 2.5% of all existing mortgages in the U.S., it will have a disproportionate effect on Western markets, where 20% to 30% of mortgages are above the new threshold, according to Vivas.

Across the board, experts agree that the new tax plan decreases incentives for homeownership and reduces the tax benefits of owning a home—particularly in highly taxed, expensive markets such as California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. But on the flip side, that means that if fewer folks are motivated to buy, then there’s less competition for those who want in the game. Plus, some taxpayers—including renters—will see a tax cut. That increase in buyers’ disposable income could spur demand from folks who are looking to build equity as a homeowner, rather than flushing away their savings in rent.

“Buying remains the more attractive option in the long term—that remains the American dream, and it’s true in many markets where renting has become really the shortsighted option,” Vivas says. “As people get more savings in their pocket, buying becomes the better option.”

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Righteous Renovations! These Home Features Are Proven to Pay Off

After all these years of paying down your mortgage, spending thousands on maintenance, and pouring buckets of blood, sweat, and cash into your home, you’re finally ready to move on and sell. But hold on: Those home features you thought were so cool back in 1995 might just be a tadoutdated.

Sorry, we know you’ve had some fabulous times in that sunken living room. You once beamed with pride over your white-on-white, brushed metal-accented kitchen. If that backyard Jacuzzi could talk! And maybe you still harbor a secret affection for those popcorn ceilings in the bedrooms. But the truth is, those things are repelling otherwise eager shoppers. If your home has the right mix of what buyers today are clamoring for—trendy amenities like open floor plans, stylish backsplashes, and heated hardwood floors—it can help you sell your home faster and at a better price.

So the realtor.com® data team looked at a variety of common amenities, to come up with which ones are featured in the homes that close the quickest—and for the most moolah.

“Renovating a home with the right features can not only recoup the cost, it can help you sell your place much faster,” says Jessica Lautz, managing director of Survey Research at the National Association of Realtors®. “That means a quick transition into your dream home.”

Tastes simply change over time. The same way we look back with regret on scrunchies, Crystal Pepsi, and the Spice Girls, there are parts of our own homes that now fill us with remorse. It’s not surprising that dedicated home-theater rooms, which take up lots of space for an activity that can now be done on an iPad, just aren’t as popular anymore, says Kermit Baker, chief economist at the American Institute of Architects. On the other hand, an extra bedroom has mostly universal appeal, since it can be used for a guest room, a gym, or a home office.

For millennials, the largest group of first-time home buyers, extra rooms are not necessarily going to sell them on a house. “It’s more features than space they are looking for,” Baker says. Especially techie ones, like smart home connectivity.

To come up with our hot list, we looked at 40 of the most common home features. Then we sifted through realtor.com’s listings to figure out which were in the homes that sold in the fewest number of days. The fewer days on the market, the more in demand the feature. (We narrowed our selection to features that can be found in most parts of the country).

We discovered that the top features are:

1. Smart home features (such as smart thermostats, refrigerators, and locking systems)
2. Finished basements
3. Patios
4. Walk-in closets
5. Granite countertops
6. Eat-in kitchens
7. Hardwood floors
8. Laundry rooms
9. Open kitchens
10. Front porches
11. Dining rooms
12. Energy Star appliances
13. Two-car garages
14. Fireplaces
15. Security systems

Some of the most lusted-after home features, like infinity pools or swanky wine rooms, actually ranked near the bottom of our list. The reason? They tend to be in multimillion-dollar homes that can take much longer to sell. There simply aren’t enough deep-pocketed buyers in the market to scoop ’em all up.

So don’t call the excavators to start digging a new pool in your backyard just yet—at least not until you’ve finished reading.

After a busy day of work, you’re heading home to cook a romantic dinner for a special date. Sweet! But you’re not sure if you have the right ingredients at home. Is there a tin of beluga and bottle of Sauvignon Blanc chilling in the fridge? If you’re a smart home owner, finding out is as simple as opening an app on your Galaxy Note8 and peeking inside the appliance.

So you can begin to see why smart home features place first on our list: They’re all about convenience and control for already overworked homeowners. In fact, the median listing for a home with smart home features is $575,000—up a staggering 82.6% over the past two years. That’s partially due to heavy demand, but also because many newer, higher-end homes come with these new-fangled gadgets already installed.

Smart home tech is actually an umbrella term covering a range of products and levels of connectivity. The common denominator: The technology operates with minimal human input, is interconnected, and can be manipulated or tracked remotely from a device, or in home from a central control. Smart home devices include household items like ovens, lights, and thermostats, many of which learn your preferences and adjust to you. Hence the smart part.

There’s everything from the Kevo Smart Lock, which allows you to unlock your front door via your cell phone, to the Nest Learning Thermostat, which sets your temperature automatically after figuring out what you like. It can’t help you decide what you want for takeout—yet.

Smart home features are catnip for younger buyers. “Technology is just a very big draw for them,” says Baker at the American Institute of Architects. “They’re so used to managing their lives through their iPhones, they want the same from their home.”

Security systems, often an integrated part of the connected home, are going strong too, posting a 11.5% price appreciation over the past two years.

No brainer: Coming home to find your holiday package stolen is the rotten cherry on top of an already stressful “festive” season. But imagine opening an app at work, seeing the delivery person at your door, and then unlocking it with a push of a button, so your package can be placed inside, away from those hell-bound thieves.

Energy Star appliances, a government designation for efficiency, are a popular home-selling feature as well. Who doesn’t want to lower their electric bill? The median list prices for homes with appliances like refrigerators, ovens, and air conditioners that carry the label have risen nearly 27% since 2015.

“There is a huge demand today [for Energy Star appliances],”  says Ron Samuelson, owner of New York-based Home Energy Consultants. “That logo is insurance that you’re getting a real energy-saving product.”

Just about everywhere in the country, you’ll find homeowners installing hardwood. Buyers love the stuff. And there are seemingly endless variations showing up now: bamboo, walnut, oak, ash, Bolivian rosewood, even heated hardwood for colder climes.

“The first thing buyers look at are the floors … and when they take in beautiful hardwood, their eyes light up,” says Zelda Sheldon, a real estate agent at Nashville Real Estate Rockstars.

The data backs it up. Home listings with hardwood floors have appreciated 14.8% since 2015.

“They’re a feature every generation seems to want,” says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer for the Center for Generational Kinetics, a marketing firm in Austin, TX.

Another one: granite countertops. Americans have been in love with the surface for two decades now, and the ardor doesn’t seem to be dimming. The two-year price appreciation of homes with these counters might not seem like much—just 1.2%—but that figure has been rising steadily for years. Newer counter surfaces like quartz might be all the rage on HGTV, but homes with granite go off the market faster, at 112 days. And granite is cheaper and easier to maintain than marble.

And while we’re talking about tried-and-true home features: Many home buyers are still attracted to fireplaces, real and artificial alike. Who can blame them? They evoke nostalgic memories of getting toasty by the crackling blaze, while sipping Swiss Miss. But not all generations view them the same way.

“[Millennials] tend to be more interested in aesthetics” than in blazing heat or dramatic flames, says Dorsey. Many are drawn more to low-maintenance gas models rather than the real thing. “You don’t have to clean these, and they’re not a fire hazard. After all, a lot of these buyers don’t even own a tool box.”

The typical home with fireplaces of any type goes off the market in 126 days. Smokin’.

Making the most of outdoor living spaces has become a national obsession among homeowners. People are spending more time and money building out luxe outdoor kitchens complete with sinks and pizza ovens, and picture-perfect gazebos.

Yet the hottest outdoor home features are still the basics: patios, front porches, and two-car garages.

“There is something very pleasurable about covered porches—they allow you to be outside while protected from the rain and heat,” says Stuart Narofsky, principal of New York-based Narofsky Architecture. “No one really wants to hang out in the sun anymore.”

And homeowners are finding new and fun ways to make use of their patios, which have a median 108 days on the market.

“More and more homeowners are putting in big firepits out by their patios, setting up outdoor furniture. People are basically building outdoor rooms around their patios,” says Elizabeth Lawson, owner of Elizabeth Lawson, an interior design firm based in Maryland.

Dual garages, meanwhile, have posted a 16.1% price appreciation over the past two years.

In most American housing markets, households typically own more than one car. So two-car garages are often seen as more of a necessity than a desire— no circling the block or having your ex scratch your ride if it’s parked on the street. We’re looking at you, Carrie Underwood.

Homes with two-car garages have a median value of $313,350, or about a 16% appreciation since 2015.

For city dwellers who typically have to muscle aside a block of crammed clothes to find what they need and end up with a shoe box falling on their heads, a walk-in-closet is the stuff dreams are made of.

“Buyers will walk away from a home without enough closet space. They’ll say, ‘I can’t put an offer on this house, my clothes wouldn’t fit,'” says Nashville real estate agent Sheldon.

Among interior design elements, walk-in closets go off the market the quickest, at 110 days. But eat-in and open kitchens are still getting plenty of buzz, too. Eat-in kitchens last 113 days on market, while homes with open kitchens stick around for 118 days.

“Everyone is always in the kitchen, and they want to be able to keep an eye on their kids,” Lawson says. “In [an open kitchen with] a kitchen island, your kids can eat meals right there on the barstools.” You can binge “American Horror Story” while cooking, too (not recommended while eating, however).

Let’s be honest: Most of us struggle to find a home in our price range, let alone one that includes most of the items on our wish list. But that’s why finished basements are again in such hot demand: They give owners space they can customize. Want a beer fridge? Done. Pool table? Looky there, you already scratched. An art studio for your kids? Yours for the asking.

“It’s all about using all the space we have and not building a bigger home,” says Baker of the American Institute of Architects. Finished basements can be so much “more than just a place we store boxes.”

And all of those sleep-deprived parents out there know just how big of a lifesaver a dedicated laundry room can be. The prices of homes with such rooms have jumped 15.6% since 2015.

Dedicated dining rooms are also staging a comeback. Sure, outside of the holidays, most people don’t need them. But there’s an uptick in homeowners hosting guests instead of going out, so listings including these entertainment spaces have increased 11.6% over the past two years.

“Millennials are viewing their home as a hub for activities, not just [a place to] live and raise their kids,” says Dorsey at the Center for Generational Kinetics.

Article by Lance Lambert

Cold Weather Safety Tips For Your Pet

Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents are licked off of bare paws. To help prevent cold weather dangers from affecting your pet’s health, please heed the following advice from our experts:

  • Repeatedly coming out of the cold into the dry heat of your home can cause itchy, flaking skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to his feet and in-between the toes. Remove any snow balls from between his foot pads.
  • Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin, and don’t neglect the hair between his toes. If your dog is short-haired, consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
  • Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals—and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.
  • Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If your pooch must be bathed, ask your vet to recommend a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse.
  • Massaging petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents. Booties provide even more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.
  • Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
  • Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in wintertime. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, and making sure she has plenty of water to drink will help keep her well-hydrated and her skin less dry.
  • Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.
  • Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed. In addition, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.

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

11 Ways to Use Up Leftovers

One of the things that we get really practiced at during a down financial month or during a pantry challenge is eating up leftovers. It’s one way to fill the tummy without having to cook or spend money. I consider leftovers “free” in a sense, since the ingredients were originally destined for another meal and “should have” been eaten up.

Some leftovers are worth fighting over. My husband and I divide these Poblano Enchiladas even-Steven. No cheating, unless some bartering is involved. They are that good.

Other times, you might not have enough leftovers to feed the family, but you want to make sure they don’t go to waste. That’s when you need to think creatively about what to do with them. Leftover, cooked food, properly refrigerated, is good for four days. There’s nothing wrong with giving it new life in a new dish.

And, no, I’m not talking about Gramma’s Mystery Meatloaf.

One night last week we had grilled chicken, quinoa, and a salad. The first night, I enjoyed these items separately. The second day, I combined them for a fabulous lunchtime salad. The flavors were different the second day since all the components were chilled and tossed in vinaigrette. It was a great way to use up what we had and enjoy a great lunch in the process.

Here are ways to use up leftovers that retain the integrity of the ingredients, stretch your supplies, and help you avoid waste. You’ll eat well, too, which is the whole point, right?

The following are great ideas for using leftover cooked meats and vegetables, preferably without sauces.

  1. Reheat and eat.
  2. Make an omelet.
  3. Make Stone Soup.
  4. Make fried rice.
  5. Top a pizza.
  6. Fill a sandwich or panini.
  7. Make a salad.
  8. Fold into a quesadilla.
  9. Make a potpie.
  10. Wrap in a burrito.
  11. Freeze it to use later. Just be sure to label it with the contents and date.
Article by JESSICA FISHER

Tax Reform Changes That Impact Your 2017 Taxes

With all of the buzz about Tax Reform many taxpayers are questioning how this will affect their 2017 tax return. Most of the provisions would kick in on January 1, 2018 which means that they wouldn’t affect 2017 tax filings. But there are a few provisions that are retroactive to 2017 and even 2016.

Here’s a recap of what you need to know about the few provisions that take affect prior to tax year 2018.

Medical Expenses

This one reaches back for tax year 2017. Currently if you itemize your deductions, you can deduct qualifying medical expenses which exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

Under the new bill the medical deduction stays in place with a lower floor of 7.5%. For example – if you make $50,000 you may now deduct any medical expenses over $3,750 if you itemize your deductions.

Personal Casualty Losses

This tax break is retroactive back to 2016 and was expanded to include losses in any federally declared disaster area, like the Mississippi River Delta Flood Disaster Areas. Your principal place of residence must have been located in a 2016 disaster area and sustained a loss from a federally declared disaster.

A personal casualty loss is typically claimed as an itemized deduction but with this new law a taxpayer may claim the loss if they claim the standard deduction with limitations.

Business Property

Expensing certain property for your business in the first year has been increased, up to 100%, for any property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017.

The bill also eliminates the requirement that the original use of the qualified property start with the taxpayer- this means it could be a used item!

The bill also expands the definition of qualified property to include qualified film, television, and live theatrical productions released after September 27, 2017.

State and Local Taxes

For tax year 2018 (the taxes you file in 2019), you may be able to deduct sales tax, state and local income tax, and/or property taxes capped at $10,000 if you itemize deductions. While this may not directly affect your 2017 taxes, there is one clause in the bill that taxpayers should know about.

Are your total state and local taxes and property taxes typically more than the $10,000? If so you might be tempted to pay a portion in 2017 and get the full tax deduction on your 2017 taxes, however the new tax bill prohibits prepaying 2018 state and local taxes that were not imposed in 2017.

Article by Alexis Hartford, Enrolled Agent, Intuit Tax and Financial Center

The Cost of Owning a Dog, Cat, or Other Pet: Prepare to Be Shocked

The cost of owning a dog, cat, or other pet might not be the first thing on your mind when contemplating bringing one of these furry balls of love home, but it’s best to know what your financial responsibilities are upfront. Petfinder averages the costs of owning a dog at around $766–$1,350 the first year, and $526–$9,352 each year after. The cost of a cat is a bit less, but similar.

Much of that money will go toward vet bills and pet food, but one oft overlooked financial drain is on your home. News flash: Dogs and cats can do a decent amount of damage to furniture, rugs, and other things in your home. So if you’ve just bought a gorgeous new couch or redone your hardwood floors, it’s best that you know what could happen now that Travis the terrier or Humbert the Havana brown in the house. Here’s a rundown of what to expect, and how to curb the damage.

Carpeting

There’s no way around it: Carpets take a serious beating when it comes to pets. We have had to get rid of every carpet we have ever owned within a year or so, thanks to our 17-year-old dog. Over the course of his life, I would guess we’ve disposed of about $1,000 in rugs (we always buy cheap ones for this reason). But for those with wall-to-wall carpeting, the costs are even worse.

12 Simple Home Repair Jobs to Lift You Out of Winter’s Funk

Like that annoying squeaky floor board. Easy as tossing a ball to fix!

Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter.

For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.

#1 Sagging Towel Rack or Wobbly TP Holder

Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.

#2 Silence Squeaky Door Hinges

Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.

#3 Stop Creaky Floor Boards

They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.

#4 Remove Rust on Shutoff Valves

Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most.

Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.

#5 Repair Blistered Paint on Shower Ceilings

This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.

#6 Fix Loose Handles and Hinges

You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.

#7 Replace Batteries on Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors

If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.

#8 Test GFCI Outlets

You’re supposed to test ground-fault circuit interrupters them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.

Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!

#9 Clean Exhaust Filter for the Stove

By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.

#10 Clean Out Clothes Dryer Vent

Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires.

#11 Drain Hoses

Inspect your clothes washer, dishwasher, and icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.

#12 Check Electrical Cords

Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?

Article by JEANNE HUBER

How the tax bill impacts homeowners, buyers and sellers


The Washington PostKathy Orton · Dec 20, 2017

Many homeowners, buyers and sellers are left wondering how the tax reform legislation will affect them. The plan, which is expected to lower income tax bills next year for many households, is the most significant overhaul to the tax code since 1986. Several provisions that have a direct impact on the housing market were added, taken away or altered during the legislative process, leaving confusion about what remains in the bill.

Below is a look at what the final version contains and what it means to homeowners, buyers and sellers.

Standard deduction: The new law increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers. For many homeowners it no longer makes sense to itemize deductions. A report by Zillow found that for 98 percent of the homes in the District it made sense to itemize under the old law. Now, for only 64 percent of D.C. homes does it make sense to itemize (by taking the mortgage interest deduction and property tax deduction) rather than take the standard deduction.

[How tax reform could affect your bottom line]

Mortgage interest deductions: The new law caps the limit on deductible mortgage debt at $750,000 for loans taken out after Dec. 14. (Loans made before that date can continue to deduct interest on mortgage debt up to $1 million.) Homeowners can refinance mortgage debts that existed before Dec. 14 up to $1 million and still deduct the interest as long as the new loan does not exceed the amount refinanced. The interest on a home-equity loan can be deducted as long as the proceeds are used to substantially improve the home. Mortgage interest on second homes can be deducted but is subject to the $750,000 limit.

State and local property taxes: The new law limits the property tax deduction to $10,000, a cap that will affect more than 90,000 homeowners in the Washington region, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data and analytics firm. The bill specifically precludes prepaying 2018 state and local taxes in 2017.

[Will your taxes go up or down in 2018 under the new tax bill?]

Capital gains exclusion: Home sellers can exclude up to $500,000 for joint filers or $250,000 for single filers for capital gains when selling a primary home as long as the homeowner has lived in the residence for two of the past five years. An earlier proposal would have increased that requirement to five out of the last eight years but it was struck down.

Deduction for casualty losses: The law restricts the deduction to only losses attributable to a presidentially declared disaster.

Moving expenses: The law eliminates the deduction except for members of the military.

Estate tax: The law doubles the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million.

Historic Tax Credit: The HTC has been used to fund renovations in more than 40,000 historic structures since 1981. The law continues to provide a 20 percent credit when the certified historic property is placed into service but the new law spreads the deduction over five years.

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit: The bill retains the 4 percent LIHTC, which funds about a third of all affordable housing construction.

What Are The Best Dog Toys?

As a dog owner, it is important to understand not only the physical benefits of exercise for your pet but also the intellectual benefits of interaction with them. Toys are a great way to provide this mental stimulation while also spending time with your dog and strengthening the bond you have with them. Let’s take a look at ten of the best dog toys on the market today and discuss why we love them!

The Overall Importance of Dog Toys

Exercise

Exercise is the primary reason why many dog owners invest in toys. Having a ball to throw for a dog helps not only to keep exercise rigorous but also makes it fun for both the dog and the owner. Exercise is a crucial part of having a healthy dog because without adequate exercise a dog can become obese and fall prey to a number of illnesses. Obesity in dogs is a serious concern not only due to an increased risk for illnesses like diabetes, but also because it puts additional strain on their joints and their internal organs.

Intellectual Stimulation

All dogs require exercise not only to help to keep them at a healthy weight but also to ensure that they stay stimulated. Despite being “domesticated,” dogs can easily become bored. There is a saying that a “tired dog is a good dog” and this is particularly true for working breeds such as border collies. Without adequate intellectual stimulation dogs can become destructive, disobedient and downright impossible to handle. With a combination of exercise and intellectual stimulation, however, it is possible for even the most high energy dog to relax.

Bonding

Dogs are pack animals by nature, and they have a need to bond with other members of their pack and feel accepted. A great way to bond with your dog is to engage in playtime that involves their favorite toys. Not only does your dog benefit from the time you spend together bonding, but researchers have found a proven link between better health and dog owners!

Toys are also a great way to encourage bonding in multiple-dog households. If you have more than one dog, toys can encourage interactive playing and help dogs to bond with each other as well as understand their place in the hierarchy of the home.

Dental Health

Dental health is a difficult concern for many dog owners. It is crucial to a dog’s overall health to have clean teeth. Poor dental hygiene can lead to malnutrition as well as infections, absences and bad breath. Brushing a dog’s teeth can be particularly difficult, especially with dogs that don’t like to have their teeth cleaned. Surgical cleanings can be particularly difficult as well since they involve a significant financial burden and putting your dog under anesthesia. A great way to improve dental health and reduce the need for surgical cleanings, however, is to invest in toys that are designed to clean teeth as your dog plays. These toys encourage chewing which stimulates saliva and helps to diminish plaque and reduce its occurrence.

Top 10 Dog Toys

There are thousands of dog toys on the market to choose from and here are ten of our favorites.

  1. Benebone Bacon Flavored Wishbone Chew Toy
  2. KONG Air Squeaker Tennis Balls
  3. KONG Rubber Dog Chew Toy
  4. KONG Rubber Flyer Frisbee
  5. Nylabone Galileo Natural Nearly Indestructible Bone
  6. KONG Wild Knots Bears Durable Dog Toy
  7. Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Dog Toy
  8. Nylabone Dental Dinosaur
  9. Mammoth Floss Chews Cottonblend Color 3-Knot Rope Tug
  10. ZippyPaws Skinny Peltz No Stuffing Squeaky Plush Dog Toy

3 Brilliant Hacks to Make Snow Shoveling Less Miserable

Don’t break your back. Try a de-icing cocktail instead.

If you’re a homeowner in a snowy climate, chances are good you rue the winter: All that snow has to go somewhere, and it’s not getting there itself.

Cue the snow shovel.

Barring a move to a snow-free state or barricading your family inside all winter, there’s no way to avoid the endless task of shoveling snow. There are, however, ways to make the process much easier. Here are three simple hacks to make the morning after a snowfall much less stressful.

#1 Spray Your Shovel with Cooking Oil

Snow sticking to your shovel makes an already arduous task even more obnoxious. Avoid it with this hack: Lightly coat your shovel with non-stick cooking oil to make snow slide right off. No more time wasted removing snow from your snow remover. (You can substitute a spray lubricant like WD-40, but the downside is it’s toxic.)

#2 Lay Out a Tarp Before the Snow

If you like short cuts, this technique, billed as “the laziest way imaginable” to clear snow, according to a tutorial from “Instructables,” has got your name on it. The day before an expected snowfall, lay a tarp on your walkway. When the snow finishes falling, just pull out the tarp, and voilà: an instantly cleared walkway. (Word to the wise: Make sure pedestrians won’t trip on your tarp; include a sign or use this technique in your backyard walkway if you’re concerned.)

The technique requires a tarp, firewood, and twine as well as some prep work. Pre-storm, use firewood to weigh down your tarp — you don’t want it flying away in the wind! — and tie the twine to both the tarp and to a shovel standing upright in your yard. You’ll use the shovel to pull out the snow-laden tarp.

Although this method might be faster than shoveling, it does require manpower. After all, a cubic foot of snow can weigh between 7 and 20 pounds. So don’t get too ambitious with the size of your tarp or you might not be able to pull it once it’s full of snow.

#3 Make a Homemade De-icing Cocktail

De-icers make snow removal easier by cutting through the tough, icy layers that are a pain to remove with a shovel. But an easy solution should be easy on your property as well. Many commercial de-icers are pretty harsh.

Commercial ice-melting substances — magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride (salt) — all cause damage to the environment, according to the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center. They can also damage concrete sidewalks and driveways, which mean hefty repair costs later.

A better solution: Make your own de-icer using rubbing alcohol or vinegar. You’ll save money, too. Commercial melters typically cost $8 or more. Plus, you’ll avoid the hassle of trekking to the hardware store to stock up.

Use vinegar before a storm to make ice and snow removal easier:

  • Combine 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water.
  • Spray or pour gently (you still want to avoid runoff into your landscape) before a storm.

To keep the sidewalks and steps from icing after a storm:

  • Combine 2 parts rubbing alcohol with 1 part water.
  • Apply to minimize runoff.
Article by AMIE WIEBE

FESTIVE EGGNOG CAKE

This colorful and tasty Festive Eggnog Cake uses yellow cake mix as a base so it will go together quickly. The additions of the rum extract and vanilla pudding mix will take the basic cake mix to a new level of delicious. The colorful morsels help add a festive touch.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 pkg. (18.25 oz.) French vanilla or yellow cake mix
  • 1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) French vanilla or vanilla instant pudding and pie filling
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons rum or brandy extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Holiday Morsels, divided
  • 1 container (16 oz.) cream cheese frosting

INSTRUCTIONS 

PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

BEAT eggs in large mixer bowl for 1 minute or until frothy. Add cake mix, pudding mix, water, oil, rum extract and nutmeg. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of morsels. Spread in prepared pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup morsels over batter.

BAKE for 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Spread frosting over cake. Sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup morsels.