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TV Reinvented

How Television is Adapting to the Internet

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As many of us look to stretch our dollar a bit further our money spent on entertainment is often cut. However, entertainment is a good way to relieve stress and get a quick break from the real world. Increasingly, the fee paid for an internet connection is offering a bigger return on the entertainment dollar. Improved connection speeds have created a mushroom of online content that allows users to watch streaming news broadcasts, missed TV shows, webisodes, viral videos (i.e. YouTube), free online games (and competitions), blogs and chat rooms - to name a few. Everywhere you turn, everyone is trying to get their movie, TV show, 15 minutes all noticed on the web. Television alone has morphed from episode summaries and casting lists on a single webpage to deluxe sites with missed episodes online, behind the scenes footage, games, screensavers, additional back stories and character development, and much more. So who is leading the pack with the best sites and content? Who is side-stepping the pack altogether? You might be surprised!

The Usual Suspects
Below is our ranking of the major broadcasting stations that are easiest to use and include extra online content.

  1. NBC.com http://www.nbc.com/ NBC has a slick and clean menu and you can easily find episodes of your favorite shows. A great plus is that you can watch a whole season if you got lost a while back and need to catch up. Also, you don't have to watch the show the same week it originally airs. Videos load quickly and offer chapter selection to jump where you left off or skim through with ease. 
  2. ABC.com http://abc.go.com/ The website is clean and easy to navigate. A big disappointment is that not only does the user have to sign an agreement but then download a special plug in just to watch online episodes. The entire site has a much more proprietary feel to it. However, they did redeem themselves a bit by allowing access to episodes from previous seasons for one of their most popular (and confusing) shows 'LOST.'
  3. CBS.com http://www.cbs.com/ CBS has a fairly easy menu. The best is to go by show as viewing directly by video is a bit more messy and makes it harder to find past episodes. The option to watch TV and chat at the same time is slow to load (I gave up after two minutes of the loading icon spinning). Video without chat loads quickly and is just as fast as the other stations. Plenty of content about shows but the webpages have an older point-and-click menu that takes a bit longer to navigate. There wasn't a lot of clarity in the order of episodes if you were trying to catch up for the season.
  4. FOX.com http://www.fox.com/ A slick moving website that is easy to navigate. However, FOX allows access to fewer full episodes then the other stations. The individual show websites offer a lot of extras but are not as clear to navigate.

Cable Networks
So if you don't subscribe to cable, who gives you the best online?

  1. Discovery Communications Group Discovery Channel - http://dsc.discovery.com/ | The Learning Channel - http://tlc.discovery.com/ Animal Planet - http://animal.discovery.com/ | Science Channel - http://science.discovery.com/ This family of websites has a similar menu and limited selection of full episodes like FOX. However, the fact that current shows with new content is available is a plus compared to other cable stations. Overall, a great way to get highlights of what you're missing for chats around the water cooler. Also, the extra games are a nice touch.
  2. Comedy Central http://www.comedycentral.com/ Full episodes are available for most shows. The individual shows do keep separate URLs which made it a little harder to navigate back to Comedy Central. However, all offered complete sites with extra content.
  3. Disney TV http://disney.go.com/index This site has a slick design and offers plenty of content including games and fan pages for their most popular shows. One negative is there is almost too much content. Many 'teaser' videos play when the user enters a new page without being selected. Although some full episodes are available online, they are not necessarily in discernable order.
  4. Nickelodeon http://www.nick.com Plenty of fun games and video bites for kids. Like Disney, there is background content that loads as soon as you enter a page. The pages are busy and harder to find content.
  5. A&E TV http://www.aetv.com/ Not the easiest navigation at first. However, more episodes and clips of episodes are offered then on some comparable cable sites.
  6. USA Network http://www.usanetwork.com/ A couple to a handful of episodes available of USA original shows. Some are available without commercial interruption which is a nice touch. However, not all series offer episodes for online viewing.
  7. Bravo http://www.bravotv.com/ Some behind the scene information and recaps. Videos are offered with some full episodes. However, the navigation of videos is not user friendly and is geared more towards a fan who knows what they are looking for on the channel.
  8. TBS.com http://www.tbs.com/ Again a required download of a plug-in before being able to view videos. Basically a collection of a few variety shows and reruns. There is not access to the movies, only their schedule.

A Brand New World
Sites without a presence on television but offering television/movie entertainment.

  1. TV.com http://www.tv.com/ There is definitely more content on this website then some of its competitors. This site has a larger variety of shows and even news broadcasts are easy to search and view here. TV.com offers an easier navigation if you want to find information and summaries of a particular television show. However, the video interface is not as friendly.
  2. Hulu.com http://www.hulu.com/ Hulu offers episodes of series from all different TV channels. Episodes are separated by genre rather than channel, but an easy search will help you find your favorite quickly. Interestingly, some episodes will load directly from Hulu whereas others will take you to the home website making Hulu act more like a search engine. An added plus are the movies. Many of your re-run favorites from Sunday afternoon can be found here. Load time is good, even for full movies.
  3. Boxee http://www.boxee.tv/ This is a free membership website that dose require users to download their program. It checks all your media on your computer and then creates a one stop area for everything from photos to music. With an open source code it is intended to be manipulated by users so they can add user generated content. However, it is not really ready for all computer systems at this time and was overall frustrating to install. PC to TV or TV to PC? Considering the competition for your entertainment dollars, it should be no surprise then that many TV's offer WiFi connection to your computer to make certain you can enjoy all these extra goodies from the comfort of your couch. However, some computers are also pushing their new models of All-in-Ones aimed at being one-stop entertainment centers. These new computers are offering bigger and better viewing screens, more compact CPUs and easy plug and play for cameras, music players (iPod, Zune, etc.), and much more. Depending on your budget and your pocket book, there are some wonderful choices on the market already.

Unmarried Couples Your Property Rights

Moving in Together or Splitting Up

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Unmarried Couples
Your Property Rights: Moving in Together or Splitting Up

Recent nationwide surveys show many couples are deciding to live together before marriage or live together with no intention of marrying at all. For these couples, buying a home is not necessarily more difficult but it does come with additional challenges and items to consider before signing the dotted line.

Unmarried couples will find they have the common options of Tenants in Common or Joint Tenancy contracts when they purchase property. In some states one of these options will be considered automatically for them so they should be aware of what type of contract they are signing in advance.

Tenants in Common:

  • Contract between two or more people to own property together. There is no limit to the number of owners. This type of ownership is common for unmarried couples, groups investing in larger property and those interested in buying property in expensive markets they could not otherwise afford on their own.
  • Tenants in Common can sell their share of the home at any time. If no additional contract is made, they may do this without forewarning other owners.
  • Shares of the Tenants in Common does not need to be equal. Percentages can be assign based off contribution amounts. Sally A. may own 50%, Tony B. 25% and Mary C. 25%.
  • To terminate a Tenants in Common contract one owner may buy out the other(s) or all parties can agree to sell the property and split the profits according to percentage(s) owned.
  • If one owner passes away, then it is whomever they specified in their last will and testament who inherits that share.

Joint Tenancy:

  • Most of the above conditions also apply to joint tenancy. However, a joint tenancy offers a right of survivorship. If one of the owners passes away, the other(s) automatically get ownership without the necessity of a last will and testament.

It is important to realize the above contracts cover the basic property rights for a mortgaged/purchased home or property. The above do not protect individual property (i.e. furniture), discrepancies in contributions to home improvements, or other expenses of owning a home. Therefore, it is imperative that unmarried couples write up a contract that address these issues. Almost like a pre-nuptial agreement (and often perceived as unromantic as one) a contract of terms will protect both parties in case paths do part.

Items to consider in a contractual agreement:

  • If you have a Tenants in Common agreement, make certain all parties do have a last will and testament to clear any possible confusion of ownership in case of death.
  • Include terms for terminating the joint ownership. -Specify if the other party should be given a required number of days notice of the sale and an option to buyout before one of the owners sells their half. -Set limits on the amount of the time allotted for the buyout. A fair time should be offered with a consideration of time constraints created by working through the banking process. -If the property will be sold, make sure to include the percentages of the property owned so each party gets their share.
  • Detail how expenses will be kept on equal terms. Will the mortgage be split? Will one pay the mortgage and the other all the household utilities and joint bills? Again, if the contribution is not equal the difference should be recorded.
  • It may be too cumbersome and unrealistic to include personal property items such as furniture in this contract. Instead you may want to make a separate record. List items that each individual brings into the household. If furniture is later purchased together, many unmarried couples will find it beneficial to keep track of contributions. Because their separation will not be treated as a divorce, disputes over items like these will be harder to resolve without some record.
  • Do not include chore items such as who does the dishes. This can make your contract frivolous and tossed out in a court of law. However, some counselors do suggest making chore lists for all couples (married or not) to help cope with the pressures and expectations of our fast passed lives and homes.

If the unthinkable does happen and you do separate, make sure to give yourself time to cope and process. Even without a marriage it is a major life change. With or without contracts it is important to work together until you can sell or buyout the house if at all possible.

Some coping strategies:

  • Accept and expect mood swings
  • Don't expect to be able to concentrate and work at 100% for a while
  • Don't expect to understand why you separated right away - this takes time and reflection
  • Don't become a hermit - instead use this as a launching pad to rediscover your interests and hobbies
  • Prioritize your needs

Don't break the bank!

Recession survival tips for the household budget

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Now is the time of New Year's resolutions and an artificial restart for many of us.  This is a time taken to reflect on what goals we may want to achieve in the year ahead.  In many cases, financial security will be a primary objective for individual households as the recession continues through 2010.  Many people are grateful for the beginning of a gradual stabilization and cautiously hopeful for the recovery of the economy.  Although the majority of us do not have direct influence on the big companies and banks, we do control how we run our individual households, and many of us will be tightening our spending budgets and looking for ways to save.  Below we have provided some online resources for everything from keeping a balanced budget to finding ways to shop a bit smarter.

Know your budget: Before you can adjust your household budget to save, pay off debt or get ahead in your payments, you have to have a realistic look at what you owe and what you earn.

  • Bankrate: This site offers numerous online calculators from home budgets to which saving options will give the best returns. You can also begin to look at whether a home equity line of credit would be a good way to get rid of your debts or if now would be a good time to refinance under a lower mortgage rate. http://www.bankrate.com/brm/rate/calc_home.asp
  • BBB Develop a Working Budget: A printable worksheet that comes with other details to consider when calculating and understanding your budget. http://www.bbb.org/alerts/article.asp?id=709
  • Kiplinger.com Budget: An online budget form that will help you get started figuring out where you stand for the current month. http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/budget/
  • Microsoft Budget Templates: If you already use Microsoft Office, consider downloading one of their free budget templates. One of these Excel worksheets can help you keep track of your monthly expenses and be altered to fit your specific needs. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101172321033.aspx

Revisit your grocery list: Reconsider how you buy groceries and what you buy.

  • Always shop with a list - Some suggest a list for any shopping trip you take. Always have a clear idea of what you need. This will help you find the best deals and not get distracted by impulse buys.
  • Buy generic brands - When you compare ingredient labels you may be surprised how similar or exact the name brands are with the generic. Try a couple taste tests, not everything generic will be ideal for your pallet, but some may surprise you, and savings could sweeten their flavor all the more!
  • Buy in bulk - Many stores now offer you the option to save by buying in bulk. Never use enough of it in time? Consider teaming up with family or neighbors and splitting your purchases. Maybe you don't need 10lbs of chicken, but 5lbs at $2 less per pound is savings to the bank.
  • Pack more snacks - When shopping, look for items you can easily put in the car, at the office or anywhere you might get the munchies. This way you can curb you hunger before you decide to hit the fast food on the way home.
  • Home Ec 101: Bake and Cook - Take on the personal challenge to become a better chef. Don't have the time? The internet is full of quick and easy casseroles, muffins, and other recipes that can help you get through your day. You will save money in the 15 minutes it takes to make these meals and you may find them more satisfying than microwave dinners.
  • Home brewed coffee - If you are addicted to your caffeine, then it is time to invest in a coffee pot with a clock and timer. You can still grab the coffee on the way out the door without being slowed down. Need it at work? Consider a French press where you can brew coffee conveniently at your desk without any machines, filters or mess.
  • Find your green thumb - If you have the property consider making a garden with your favorite greens. Fresh tasting rewards combined with natural stress relief. Don't have the property? Consider a container garden (or even an indoor container like the Aero Garden) for some of your basics. Maybe get to know you neighbors and join in a community plot.

Coupons, discounts and closeouts: Many sites online now offer ways to compare the best deals by product or store. Whether looking for new electronics or ready to head to the grocery store, check out these sites before you buy. Also take time to review the forums with customer input and reviews. A bit rough around the edges, the customer reviews on these sites are often short and to the point.

  • The Bargainist: This site lists both sales and coupons. Easy to use search - just type in the product you are looking for and it will check for any deals currently available. http://www.bargainist.com/
  • Cool Savings.com: A membership is required. If you don't mind printing your own coupons, this site is ideal for the busy shopper who knows what they want but does not want to sift through mailers, the newspaper and magazines to find a good deal. http://www.coolsavings.com/
  • Coupon Mom: A list of coupons, free offers and much more. A great way to search out grocery coupons. There is a membership but as with similar sites, this is free. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Deal Catcher: Coupons, sales and rebates galore. Review sales by stores as well as by item rather than brand. http://www.dealcatcher.com/
  • Fat Wallet: The savings here can be found in the online forums. Savvy consumers share information and special deals. There is also the plethora of coupons and discounts listed by store or category. http://www.fatwallet.com/
  • RetailMeNot: A twist to the coupon frenzy, this site offers the coupons for online retailers. Many online retailers or stores with online shopping offer discounts or special deals with certain coupon codes or key words. RetailMeNot searches for these codes for you so you can use them on your next purchase. http://www.retailmenot.com/
  • SlickDeals.net: Mostly user driven, this site helps to create a community where bargain hunters can congregate and share what they have found. The latest deals page can be fun to review but you can also search for products by name. http://slickdeals.net/  

Be an educated consumer: Be more particular about the products you buy. Taking time to read reviews and learn the pros and cons others have experienced before you buy will help you choose better products that will last longer.

  • Buzzillions.com: After compiling reviews from customers that are sent to major retailers in response to the products they sell, Buzzillions then puts all those reviews together into an easy to read snapshot with an overall rating. You can then read the individual reviews from other consumers like you. http://www.buzzillions.com/
  • Epinions: This site is user driven with opinions on everything from products to entertainment. Perhaps you want to know more about a book, video game, movie or iPod? Most likely someone has given their two cents about it here. http://www0.epinions.com/
  • PriceGrabber.com: This site helps the consumer compare prices between online retailers. Many popular products also come with reviews and ratings. The price comparison also includes some of the used markets such as Amazon Marketplace. http://www.pricegrabber.com/

Rack up rewards: There are many programs out there to reward shoppers. Take the time research them and find one that works for your shopping style. If you shop online there are shopping portals that offer rewards. If you shop a little bit everywhere, consider a credit card with flexible reward points. If you shop at one store the most, get a rewards card with them. *A thing to remember with reward credit cards is that they usually come with a higher APR. It is better if you can charge and then pay immediately and not rollover this debt. That way you can get the rewards without the extra interest.

  • CreditCards.com: If you use credit wisely, then you might consider a credit card rewards program. This site offers an easy glance through some of the programs available. Also consider looking at individual card company sites. http://www.creditcards.com/reward.php
  • Ebates: An online shopping portal that received favorable reviews from some bigwigs like Good Housekeeping and CNN. Not only do you get a discount when shopping, but you can get bonuses as well. http://www.ebates.com/

Buy and barter used: Flea markets and garage sales can be great if you have the time and the weather to get one going. Maybe you don't have either? Then how about trying the same bartering and selling online? Besides the already popular eBay, you may be surprised at how many sites there are that will allow you to exchange, sell and buy cheap!

  • BarterBee.com: A site specifically geared towards recycling CDs, DVDs and computer or consol games between households. Once you sign up for a membership you list your used items for sale. Sell items to get points. You can then use those points to buy other CDs, DVDs or games that you want to try out. Of course you wouldn't use this site to make cash - points are used for like items. http://www.barterbee.com/
  • Craigslist: An online mismatch of services, used goods and announcements by city location. Here you may be able to find used items cheap. It can be the ordinary like used furniture to the not so common. For example, I once found someone who had new pavers left over from a patio project that they are willing to sell at a discount just to get them off their lawn. You may also be able to find cheap services such as yard work. However, users beware, there are no regulations on this site and you should take precautions when working with anyone on this list. This site definitely has a mixed history of great successes and terrible wrongs. Be careful. http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites
  • eBAY: One of the most popular and well known online auction stops, eBay has been around since 1995. Users have the ability to rank other users for the ease of trade transactions. Probably the biggest garage sale on the internet. http://www.ebay.com/
  • SwapThing: This site allows for consumers to trade and barter items or services. There is also the option to do flat out sales. Unlike an auction site, you can barter privately and do not have to list items for auction. You enter what you want and it will match you with others who have it available. http://www.swapthing.com/home/index.jsp

Get it FREE: There are some sites that will help you sift through the spam to get free items. Be warned that some of the free items still come with many "free" emails.

  • Coupon Mom: Already mentioned above, this site also lists ways to get free samples of many products. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Free Shipping.org: This site lists all the free shipping deals and codes. If a site offers a free shipping offer, they have it listed. If you need a code to get free shipping, they have most of those too. http://www.freeshipping.org/
  • Hey, It's Free: This blog website run by Goob works to find out the real freebies on the internet. Goob goes out there and finds out if a site is just spamming or if there really is something for free at the end of all the forms. That wisdom is then passed on to the readers of this sarcastic but informative blog. http://www.heyitsfree.net/

Compare Insurance Carriers: It is true, if you have been accident/incident free for a while you may be able to save by switching to another insurance carrier. Every company may offer something different in incentives, but take a look and see if a switch can't save you some money this year.

  • InsWeb: Recognized by sites like Kiplinger and Forbes, this online insurance comparison site will help you by getting quotes from agents after you supply your information. http://www.insweb.com/
  • NetQuote: An insurance comparison website. You fill in the information and the agents work out your rate with their company. http://www.netquote.com/

Be your own travel agent: Consider your vacation plans carefully in advance. When shopping for tickets, shop around to more than one vendor. It is not unusual for some airlines to give better deals then the online travel agencies. If you are a spur of the moment type of traveler, you might consider researching a couple major cities before tempted by last minute weekend travel deals. Like consumer reports, travel blogs are a great way to get more information before you go. Did you know you could see an opera in Vienna for $5? Well, now you do…

  • Budget Travel: In print and online magazine from Frommer's Travel, the site also offers free articles on featured destinations, trip ideas and advice from other travelers. http://www.budgettravel.com/
  • Kayak.com: This travel search engine is different in that it does not sell you the deals, it just works to find them for you. This is one of the easiest ways to search online travel agencies (i.e. Expedia) and the travel companies (i.e. airlines). http://www.kayak.com/
  • Lonely Planet: Supplementary to the printed books, this website offers information about popular travel destinations as well as tips from other like-minded travelers. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
  • USA.gov: Want to stay close to home but still get away? Check out the official state travel sites for the 50 United States and U.S. territories. http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel_Tourism/State_Tourism.shtml

Pet Friendly Home

Making your Home and Yard Perfect for your Pet!

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For many, bringing a pet home is the same as bringing home new family. Pets easily find their way in our hearts with their playful antics and friendly companionship. When you first bring a new pet into your home it is imperative that you are willing to make some adjustments to your living space. This article is aimed at giving hints for all who have pets or will have pets in their home. Preparing your home and yard for your new pet is important to their well being and your ease of mind. The focus will be discussing animals that are out most of the time, like cats and dogs, that are more likely to get into some mischievous fun. However, many of these tips and hints will work for most of the four legged friends we bring into our home. Most of the tips will seem like common sense, however, when the new pet is roaming around it may slip our mind to check for common place hazards. Many times we take for granted that things are safe or wouldn't interest animals. However the puppy running down the hall with a roll of toilet paper would beg to differ!

So let's get your home and yard ready so it is safe for your pets (and also not a free going playground waiting for destruction and mayhem)!

Part I: Preparing Your Home

When bringing a new pet to the home the last thing anyone wants to think about is cleaning and proofing their home. However, taking a little time to do so will prevent headaches and possible heartaches. It will keep your pet, prized possessions and your sanity intact. This is true whether you are bringing home a new pet or adjusting an older one to a new home. Or, perhaps, you find your self in the unfortunate situation of losing possessions to a pet who has never had boundaries set up in your home. Whatever your reason, these tips will help proof your home for the new, old and mischievous pets in your life.

Think Below the Knees 
Get down on all fours and look around at the same level as your pet. There is a whole other world down at their viewpoint!

  • Think low! Remove objects on low shelves, coffee tables, and anywhere else that is easy access. Anything destructible, such as paper, books, anything made of cloth (i.e. laundry). It is much easier to 'chew train' a pet if they do not learn a bad habit of "where to look" for destructible goodies when you aren't looking.
  • Also think about food and snacks. Don't leave pop cans, candy wrappers, crumbs or anything else on a low counter. Leaving out these delicious tidbits can easily lead to "counter surfing".
  • Since kittens and ferrets may actually have the ability to walk on your counters, make certain to keep an eye on them when cooking. You may have food on the counter and the stove burners on - both can be dangerous. If you are a messy chef you may have a very happy kitty, but it could be dangerous if you don't keep an eye on them!
  • Speaking of food and snacks, make sure if you have smaller pets, like mice, that they are out of reach to your new puppy or kitten. Don't forget your fish - sometimes the idea that the aquarium is invincible can be tested.
  • Smokers - do not leave cigarette butts where pets may reach them. If eaten it can lead to nicotine poisoning and the filters aren't good on the digestive system.
  • Children's toys can be great fun for pets too! Make sure your kids realize they may loose their toy if it is left out and unattended. Also many toys may have small parts or can be easily broken into small parts by your pet which can be dangerous.
  • Overall keep you place picked up of daily messes. For example: Newspaper whether read or not is still fun to shred and eat. (Same goes for the mail!) Just got home from shopping? Put away the bags! Plastic bags can be either chewed and swallowed (pups) or can suffocate some pets accidentally (kittens & ferrets).
  • Sometimes pets will eat something that will require surgery to remove. Small objects to watch out for include rubber bands, balloons, beads, buttons, Q-tips, sewing needles, thread, staples, string, pantyhose and coins - to name a few!
  • Medication should never be left around the house. Make sure it is secure - just like with children!
  • Keep heating vents covered. Many pets love to snuggle up to these and you don't want your pet falling in.
  • Smaller pets like ferrets should be blocked off from holes and other hideaways - you don't want them to find a comfy spot and not come out! Also be certain to check under recliners before moving them as your pet may find it a nice place to hide out.
  • Plants should be moved to higher ground or blocked. Watch out for vine plants that your pet might grab and bring the whole thing down. * Some household plants are poisonous to pets. Here are a few: aloe vera, amaryllis, caladium, holly berries, lilies, mistletoe, mums, and poinsettias. For a complete listing check out the Poisonous Plants resource links.

Playtime!
Unless they are sleeping, or eating, they are playing!! Some tips to make this non-stop action fun and safe for both of you!

  • Keep an eye on your pet at play with certain toys. Some toys don't hold up to your pets hunting prowess and become shredded in no time. Toys with squeakers are fun but many pets will work hard to remove them if your not watching. Just keep in mind if you are in the other room, you may never see them devour their cut up prey! A solution would be have toys for when you can see them and more durable toys for when they are in the yard, other room, or you are not at home.
  • Also watch older toys. If they don't fall apart they may actually be warn into sharp edges, don't let your pet play with damaged toys, they can cut themselves easily. Look before you step when playing with all our small pets. Try this pattern "Turn, Look, Step"
  • Some small animals such as rabbits are chewers and it normal to give them various chew toys such as: Cardboard boxes, empty oatmeal containers, bird toys, cardboard paper towel rolls, things to shred. Try to keep them away from your wooden furniture - they love wood! Instead wood sticks are available at pet stores.

Road Blocks
If they can't reach it, they can't eat it, scratch it, or all out destroy it!

  • Don't forget the garbage! Take the garbage outside or make sure you can close it away in a closet/room where pets cannot reach it. Not only will they make a mess rifling through all the goodies they can also hurt themselves if there are any rough objects they rifle through.
  • Keep some rooms closed. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be certain rooms that pets may not visit unless supervised. One obvious choice would be the bathroom (remember that puppy running down the hall with toilet paper - cute - but after the 20th time said pup turns from cutie to lil'-demon). If you don't have a door to a particular area look into getting a child gate or blocking it off with other materials. If you have a mixture of pets you may not want them to be able to access certain areas of each others space. A prime example is keeping kitty litter from dogs, some seem to find the "deposits" tasty snacks. In this instance you can set up a roadblock for the dog that the cat can still easily climb over.
  • If your pet is especially good with its nose or paws you may want to get childproof latches. They will work well to keep them out of lower cabinets in your home.
  • Keep the lid down on the toilet, especially if you use strong cleaners. Small, curious pets may fall in and pets taking a drink can be poisoned by cleaners - some of them even contain anti-freeze!
  • Speaking of cleaners, here are some examples of cleaners that are really dangerous to your pets (to name a few!): ammonia, bleach, disinfectants, drain cleaner, oven cleaner, paint, rat/bug poison.
  • Keep electric cords out of reach or secure them to baseboards. When first home keep an eye on where your pet is at all times. Some may try chewing on the cords. You can deter this with a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple", a mix of vinegar and water, or hot sauce. Or even better, block access to them altogether.
  • Speaking of cords, watch those drapery cords as well. Tie them up so all your window treatments aren't pulled to the ground.
  • Many animals are attracted to fire. The light of a candle or the heat of a fireplace will peak their interest. Make sure candles are never left unattended. For the fireplace make sure Fluffy knows just how close they are allowed to get for a good snooze - warm is good, singed is bad.
  • Keep the upstairs windows and any cellar doors shut. Young pets are just like children with their curiosity but can easily misstep and fall.
  • Be careful when working in the garage. It is best to keep them out and make sure you clean up thoroughly! Such toxins like anti-freeze are very lethal to pets - a drop the size of a dime can be lethal! (You hear a lot about anti-freeze, not only is a small amount incredibly lethal, anti-freeze is also sweet smelling and tasting to pets - they will seek it out!!)
  • Watch our for open dresser drawers, closets and other nice dark places, kittens are especially curious and many are drawn to these make-shift dens. Have you heard about the kitten jumping in the dryer? Its not a urban legend, be alert and check before you shut the door.
  • Another warm place kittens like to snuggle is on a car engine. If your kitten has access to your car (or the neighborhood cat for that matter) it may help pound on the hood of your car and honk you horn. If you don't want to do this every day try to limit access to your car.
  • One of my favorite words of advice when watching out for the sleeping kitten: "Locate your kitten before you sit down on the sofa or use the recliner." (Of course, depending on your house rules, that may go for your other pets too!)

Table Manners
Don't feed table scraps to your pets. Many times people don't realize that some foods okay for us can be toxic or hard on the system for animals.

Some foods to be aware of: Alcohol, Chicken & Turkey Bones, Nutmeg, Apples (stems & seeds), Chocolate, Onion Apricots (seeds), Coffee (grinds & beans), Peaches (seeds),  Avocados, Dairy Products (large amounts), Pears, Baking Powder, Fatty Foods, Plums,  Baking Soda, Garlic, Potatoes (peelings & green,) Broccoli (large amounts, )Grapes, Raisins, Cherries (stems & seeds), Macadamia Nuts, Yeast, **Tobacco, although not a food, ingestion can be poisonous

Holiday Playground
The holidays are fun for everyone - including your pets!

  • Decorations should be up high or in rooms that pets have limited access.
  • Any holiday lights should be treated the same as other electrical cords. Get it out of the way or secured so your pets don't accidentally trip over them. Also keep a lookout and make sure they do not chew on them; again a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple" will work.
  • Other holiday items to keep from you pets include: metal ornament hooks, popcorn strands, tinsel, angel hair (it is spun glass), and decorative artificial snow or tree flocking - to name a few.
  • Don't forget that holiday plants like holly berries, mistletoe, and poinsettias are poisonous!
  • Fourth of July fireworks are fun for us but many pets find all the racket frightening. One suggestion is to have treats nearby and give them treats whenever there is "Boom!" so they associate the noise with happier things (mostly used for dogs). Another thing to keep in mind if you are leaving for the festivities, don't leave pets alone out in the backyard. They may panic and do things they normally wouldn't do like digging their way out!
  • Many holidays include house guests that are not familiar with your pet or household rules. After introducing your guest to your pet, make certain you let your guests know not to leave doors open, feed table scraps or any other important household rules. If there are a lot of guests you may want to arrange a quiet place for your pet to retreat.

Home Alone
What do they do when you leave the home? Preferably it doesn't involve eating the couch!

  • Before you leave for a long day at work it is important your pet is calm. For dogs a good walk in the morning may be necessary. For cats a little play time will help with bonus energy. Teach your pet tricks and have them perform for you before you head out. Our pets sleep more then we do and getting rid of morning energy will help them settle for a nap while your out earning money to spend on them.
  • If you have a really active breed you may want to look into a dog daycare or walking service for a couple days out of the week. Taking your dog to a pet daycare is like taking them to camp. They get to romp with other dogs and usually come home tired and ready for a good night sleep. Many find that a few days out of the week is enough to hold them over on the days in-between.
  • Crates can be lifesaver when you are gone. If you have pet that is still undergoing training and is not sure of all the rules, a crate or restricted room is a must.

Cautionary tale on the restricted room - we placed one of our pups in a room in our house as we went out to get a bite to eat. There was no furniture in the room except for her crate with her toys. When we came back she had climbed the crate and chewed the metal blinds on the window and also proceeded to dig up part of the carpet!

Part II: Preparing

Your yard is fun place for you and your pet to enjoy the outdoors. Maintaining your yard for your pet is relatively easy. There are some hazards that you will want to watch for and prevent. Not all of your pets may enjoy your yard to its fullest, some may stay in pens or restricted kennel/runs. The tips below address pets that have more freedom. These pets roam a fenced backyard or around the perimeter of your house (i.e. Dogs & Cats). In addition to proofing tips we offer some ideas about making your yard more enjoyable. Sometimes you may have a small space or areas you really don't want Fido to excavate. Read on for a checklist of ways to make your yard safe and entertaining for your pets.

Yard Maintenance
When maintaining your yard you want to keep your pets in mind.

  • When working on the yard keep pets indoors. Our dogs like to chase the lawnmower - bad idea - so they now watch from inside. Some pets may be just the opposite and try either to attack the mower or try to escape in a panic - equally bad idea. Besides the lawnmowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, and other loud tools should not be used when pets are around.
  • Be careful with other tools such as shovels, rakes, spades, etc. Some pets may try to "help" you do the yard work and can inadvertently be struck by these items.
  • Review the chemicals you use on your yard. Weed killers, bug killers/bait and other chemicals can be poisonous to your pets as well. Some you may still be able to use, however, you may need to let the yard sit for x amount of hours before letting your pets back out. Symptoms of poisoning usually include: vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes convulsions or unconsciousness.
  • Keep your yard clean of waste. Especially with puppies, they can get in the habit of eating their waste. Besides, you will both enjoy your yard much better if it is not covered in poo mines! For cats you should have an outdoor litter box. This will be easier to clean and prevent the cat from laying waste to your (or your neighbor's) flowerbeds.
  • Remove any ladders, tools or stacked piles (i.e. wood), etc. that young pets may try to climb or knock over. If you do keep the stacks in your yard, check that they are secure and cannot roll onto your pet. Consider carefully what you plant in your yard. Plants that can cause complications include: Rhododendron, Japanese Yew, Lilly of the Valley, Peach and Cherry Trees (pits) to name a few. See our links to Poisonous Plants for more details.
  • You may want to try to keep your yard clear of the bee family by getting rid of nests on your property. Your dog cannot escape bees flying through the yard, but cutting down their numbers may help. All dogs are naturally allergic to bee stings. Depending on the location of the sting they may have to visit the vet for medication. If it is on the mouth/head it can lead to swelling and difficulty breathing.

The Kingdom 
Your pets will make your yard into their own domain. Make sure their kingdom is safe and enjoyable. 

  • Check the fence of the yard for holes or gaps that may be an easy escape. Make sure your gates are locked and secured and guests and children know to do so as well.
  • It is best not to have any young pets around water unattended. If you have a pool or pond make sure to watch them around this area carefully. Some trainers even suggest teaching pets how to get out of the pool or pond early on, sort of a "Swimming 101" for the pet in case they get into trouble when your back is turned. If your pet does get into a pool, make sure they get a bath so none of the harsh chemicals can effect their skin and coat.
  • Most pets are sun lovers. If your pet likes to "sunbathe" keep an eye that they don't get too hot. Signs of heat exhaustion include: restlessness, panting excessively and drooling. The worst case scenario is the pet collapsing and eventually falling into a coma. To counter it, wrap them in a damp cool (not cold) towel and go to your vet or animal hospital. In hot weather keep plenty of water. Refresh and refill it often. If you keep food outside as well make sure it does not sit too long. The heat may cause it to spoil and flies may contaminate it.
  • Make sure you have shade in your yard. You may even want to add a structure such as a doghouse for your pup to rest
  • Ask your vet to recommend a flea & tick prevention plan right for your pet. Depending on how much your pet is outside, where it goes, etc. you may need more preventive tools. It is imperative you ask your vet as many medicinal solutions are measured by your pets size, weight, age, etc.
  • Your pet may like to make or find a burrow to rest in. Block off crawl spaces under sheds or decks. You don't want them to get trapped or hurt by any debris you cannot see underneath.

Ideas for your Pet Friendly
Yard Below are just a few ideas of things you may do to improve your yard for your pet.

  • Placing markers around your yard for your dog to potty on or for your cat to scratch on can help save some of your other trees. Start by blocking the trees you want to save and place toys or treats by the markers you want them to use. Eventually you can train you pet to have a habitual like for that particular log(s)!
  • Prepare digging spots for your pets. For your dog it can be a small area of dirt and sand where you keep toys to encourage him to be there. For cats you can have one container/pot with catnip or another enticement. By keeping them interested in their designated digging spot they will learn to have fun there and leave the rest of your yard alone (most of the time!).
  • If you don't want your dog in your flower bed try a wooden or stone fence. Some dogs will learn to stay out of the area due to the road block, however you may need to supplement the roadblocks with additional training.
  • Dogs are going to do their rounds around "their" territory. This will leave worn paths in the grass. You may want to lay a nice stone path on their route to beautify it.
  • Continuing with a dogs tendency to make paths, for smaller yards you can make a maze path for them. Using placing flowerbeds and other structures you can create a winding route for them for their territorial routine.

Conclusion

Pets are a wonderful addition to the family and home. Taking time to proof your house and yard will make both of your lives a lot easier. It may seem daunting at first that there are so many things to do for or keep away from your pets. However, after a while your pets will learn the house rules. You may even be able to reclaim certain areas of the house as your pet matures and understands not to destroy your things. For example, our dogs don't touch the laundry anymore and we can leave books on low shelves without them getting even a sniff of interest. You will find many of the hazards you watch for you will begin to do so naturally. Eventually you won't even realize your new habits. It is simply part of the lifestyle change that happens as it is always an adjustment to bring animals into our home. Just know that you can be pro-active, you'll have far fewer headaches in the long run and in the end you will have great company and lots of fun!

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 1

t's time to give your home a little TLC.

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Welcome to Rocky's Corner. It's time to give your home a little TLC. We all know how quickly time flies -weeks turn to months and months to years. Too often homeowners neglect to do periodic maintenance checks on building structures, roof systems, household fixtures and appliances. This neglect can lead to expensive repair costs that could have been avoidable.

You have joined me on the first of an 8-part series on Preventative Maintenance Tips for your Home. I hope that you will find this information to be both informative as well as useful in helping you to maintain your home.

PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE TIPS FOR YOUR HOME MONTHLY FIRE EXTINGISHER:
* Check that it is fully charged and recharge if necessary.

SMOKE DETECTORS AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS:
* Test all alarms to insure that they are working properly.

GARBAGE DISPOSAL:
* Always run cold water when grinding to harden fats and grease and to move waste down the drain lines.
* Disposers are generally self-cleaning- grinding citrus peels, eggshells, small bones, or a little ice will clean deposits and get rid of odors.
* Remember not to grind oyster or clam sheels, or highly fibrous materials or non-organic materials such as metal, glass or plastic.

DRAINS:
* Use a non-toxic biological drain cleaner regularly to keep drains clear. (Avoid using bleach or mouthwash down biologically treated drains because it kills the "friendly bacteria" working to keep your drains clear.

SINKS & TUBS:
* Check for moisture or small leaks under toilets, bathtubs and sinks.
* Keep strainers in your bathroom sinks to catch soap pieces and hair.
* Overflow holes on tubs should always be clear to prevent water damage to floors and ceilings.
* Flush with hot water and baking soda.

HEAT PUMP:
* Clean reusable filters or replace disposable.

FORCED WARM AIR HEATING SYSTEM:
* Clean reusable filters or replace disposable.

EVAPORATIVE AIR CONDITIONER:
* Clean reuseable filters or replace disposable.
* Clean evaporator or condenser coils.
* Clean condensate drain when in use
* Clear debris from around outside unit.

When performing your maintenance check if you should find that additional work is required consider hiring a professional. Proper care and maintenance to your home can saves hundreds of dollars in repair costs. I hope that you have found this article to be helpful and informative.

Please join me next time for Preventative Maintenance Tips for your Home part 2. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Landscape Your Paradise

How to Select a Landscape Designer

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Both the front and back yards of our house offer a buffer between our home and the outside world. Often, especially in the case of backyards, they may be manipulated into a sanctuary outside, giving us a place to relax and enjoy the outdoors at home. Many weekend warriors find outdoor projects fun and rewarding challenges for their spring through fall months. However, sometimes an idea may be too grand or a space too oddly shaped for us to visualize how to put it all together. This is where a landscape designer** may be helpful. These professionals are the "exterior decorators" of the outdoors. They can help in a wide range of outdoor projects whether it be redesigning a whole yard or helping incorporate one feature into your greater masterpiece. They also have an extensive knowledge of plants that will help you find the right color and texture for your yard with a plant that will be happy in that area's light and soil conditions. Before hiring a landscape designer, you should first consider what you want to get out of your yard/project. After this you can begin interviewing different landscape designers to find one that will work with your ideas.

**Frequently today the terms landscaper, landscape designer, landscape architect, landscape contractor are used synonymously. For ease we have chosen to use landscape designer as a "Jack/Jill of all trades" in this article. Keep in mind that these professionals may use the different titles. Also, keep in mind that sometimes your project will require a team of landscape professionals as they may be more specialized. For example, you may hire one landscaper who does only pre-design of the project and hires out the labor to another contractor. Contents: Introduction

Part I: Determining Your Yard Project

One of the major hurdles to your landscape design or redesign will be deciding on what you want to change. Many times the change options can be overwhelming. However, if you concentrate on limitations and functionality of your living space, you will be better prepared to meet with a landscape designer. Here is a basic checklist of things to consider before contacting a landscape designer:

  • The most important first step you can take is to determine your budget. Be honest with yourself and set your limit in advance. Once you get started with a landscape designer it can be tempting to stretch your budget. Your landscape designer will appreciate knowing in advance what budget to work in, and your wallet will too!
  • **To save money, some do-it-yourself warriors may hire a landscape designer for only a plan and do all the physical work themselves. Many landscape designers will do this and include a list of plants and types of building materials for your reference. Knowing your budget in advance may help determine if this is the best option for you.
  • Next you will want to consider your time frame. How quickly do you want things done? Do you need things done by a certain time for an event such as a wedding? Or are you interested in a tackling one area at a time and can spread it out over months or even years? The latter may be considered by those who are interested in purchasing plans but may do most of the physical labor themselves.
  • Consider what will be the function of the landscaped space. Are you interested in a gathering place for entertaining guests; a play area for kids and pets; a private hideaway; or a garden for growing flowers and/or edibles? You may even be interested in a combination of more than one of these uses. Also, if you don't use your back or front yard much now, it may help to consider how a change to the space will make you use it more. Or if you are not interested in using it more, perhaps how a change to the design will help with self-maintenance.
  • After you have considered the function of your new space(s), you will want to consider any of the hardscapes. These are areas such as patios, decks, paths or anything else that may mean putting down cement, wood, pavers, etc. Knowing what you would like to use for some of these areas will help the landscape designer determine cost and possible layouts. There may also be the chance that the landscape designer will need to contract out some of this work and this effect the price and/or the timeline.
  • Think about any particular plants you want to either keep or incorporate into your yard. If you have a tree you want to protect or transplant this can effect design and cost. Or if you want more privacy you may want to consider the growth rate, height and coverage of a particular plant or plant type.

Part II: What to Look for in a Landscape Designer

After you have considered your budget, timeline, function, etc., you will be prepared to contact landscape designers and start to collect estimates. Like working with any other contractor, you should get at least three or more estimates and compare the landscapers available. Do research, review contracts and credentials and make certain you get all your questions answered. Many landscape design projects will not come cheap, so doing your homework will be worth your time and money. Here are a few things to look for when hiring a landscape designer:

  • You may want to start in locating a landscape designer by asking friends, family and neighbors who may have first hand knowledge of their work. You may also search the phone book or an online database. More and more you may find examples of their work posted on online websites which may help in your initial selection process as well. Finally, check with local nurseries in your area as they will more than likely know quite a few landscape designers (and they might be able to give some "reference" input as to their reputation as well)!
  • When you contact the landscape designer, ask them to come out to your home and view your yard first hand. This way they can get a good idea of the layout of your land and give a more accurate estimate. It is also helpful if you have a list of criteria, gathered during your pre-planning, to give them as a guide to follow.
  • It will also be beneficial to look at a couple of the projects they have done in the past. Preferably they will be projects similar to your project's size and style. Many landscape designers will have pictures available, however, if possible try to see a couple sights in person.
  • Like with any other contractor, you will want to get a bid before moving forward. Again, having a rough outline of what you want to see accomplished will help the bidding process.
  • Ask for references and call them! One of the common errors people make is that they ask for references but then never follow up. Granted, references are rarely dissatisfied customers. But their insight on how the whole project and process worked for them can be invaluable when working out any details for the contract.
  • Review licensing and insurance information. If the landscape designer and their crew will be working on your property, you want to make certain they are covered by their insurance. Also make certain they are going to apply for or help you apply for any needed permits. Any contractor that says, "You don't really need that." should be quickly shown the door!
  • Once you have decided on a landscape designer, get a written contract for the project. This should detail cost, payment agreement (never pay all in advance!), timeline, materials included, labor included and any warranties. Also, consider any changes to the timeline or cost in advance. How much of a delay is acceptable if the weather turns bad? Is there any leeway on material costs?
  • Know the details of any warranty - make sure to determine what is covered under warranty and for how long. What happens if plants die, the fountain breaks, etc.? Who do you contact if your fountain stops working after two years?
  • Detail any sub-contracted areas on your project. Who will be sub-contracted, what will they be expected to do and who will be in charge of resolving any questions if the work is not 100% satisfactory.
  • Consider the size of plants that will be included in the project. Many nursery plants will not see their potential size until later - sometimes years later. Consider if you want to pay more for a more mature sized plant or change the plant chosen due to its size and growth rate. Go over this carefully in advance with your landscape designer!

So your yard is perfect. You don't need anyone to change a thing or add anything new. But there is that little task of maintenance. Do you have the time to keep your eden in tip top shape? If not, you may want to consider hiring landscape maintenance. Here are some things to look for when hiring for landscape maintenance:

  • Before you call, make sure to consider exactly what you want to see done. Is it just weeding, mowing and raking? Or do you also need special maintenance for your pond or pool? Also consider a schedule. What tasks should be done on a weekly, monthly or seasonally basis?
  • Ask friends, family and neighbors for references. Check to see if there are already landscapers who come to your neighborhood. Also check with local nurseries. Check the yellow pages or online directories.
  • Get estimates! Have the landscaper come out and see your yard. Give them a list of the exact tasks you want to see done. This way they can better see the size and scope of the projects and give you a better estimate.
  • Ask for references and call them! Check on to see if they are punctual, neat, thorough and easy to work with. Find out if there is anything you should be more specific on in the contract to avoid any miscommunication.
  • Check for business licence and insurance. They will be working on your property, make sure they have their own insurance to cover any accidents.
  • Make sure they are aware of and respect local laws. Are they aware of watering restrictions, burn bans, etc.
  • If this will be a long term agreement, then make certain to get a written contract. Even for a one weekend job you may want to get a contract to make sure there are no questions about what is expected. As with any contract, the more details the better. Specify cost, payment, timelines, warranties and delays in service.
  • Discuss if there is any warranty on their work. If they are taking care of your coy pond and all the fish die, who is responsible?
  • Discuss the types of chemicals they may use on your yard. If you have children and pets playing in the yard there may be certain products you do not want used! Discuss the type of equipment they will use. Do they expect to use any of your equipment? Do they have equipment that is safe and properly running?
  • Keep in mind that working with a landscape maintenance crew can be a dynamic rather than static relationship. Make sure you continue to get good service and communication is open and easy. If at any time you feel you are not getting your moneys worth or being understood, it is time to end the contract. Don't just accept that this is "just how it is" or "they know better than I do." It is a business deal like any other and you should feel comfortable that you are getting the services you pay for.

Conclusion

It can be fun being the week-end warrior and master of your outdoor domain. However, sometimes the projects you have in mind for your front and/or back yard can be a bit overwhelming. Consider hiring a landscape designer for part or all of the project. You will learn some great design and technique ideas from them and save your back a bit too!