Category: articles I’ve written for money

Picking the Perfect Paint Color

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One of the easiest ways to transform the feel and mood of a room is to change the color of the walls. But a different color can be a major commitment, so you want to be sure of the shade you choose before you waste time and money on something that doesn’t suit your style.

Here are a few tips to help you pick the perfect paint color:

 

Lovely-Up with Lighting—

Does the room you’re painting have natural lighting, or do you depend on artificial sources to brighten the room? And if so, do you use gentle lamps, or do you prefer a radiant overhead light?

  • If the room is naturally dark, you may want to choose a paler wall color to help reflect light. And if the room is naturally too bright, dark wall colors can make it easier on the eyes.
  • Also: If you prefer a darker color, you can use man-made lighting to brighten the room, and paint any color you prefer. Everything is possible. Just be aware that paint can have a drastic effect on the lighting factor in a room, and adjust either your tone or light fixtures accordingly.

 

Magnify with Mood—

Before you choose a color palette for your room, consider what kind of a mood you want to create, because every color comes with a feeling. Psychologists have long studied colors, proving time and time again that color can absolutely shape the way we feel.

  • Shades of cream, yellow and pale melon can create a cheerful atmosphere, for example, while an intense shade like red or dark purple can come across as intense or dramatic.
  • Blues and greens are known for giving a soothing sense of ethereal tranquility, while shades of brown can create an earthy, grounding, natural vibe in a home. Use your favorite colors to convey exactly what you wish.

 

Tantalize with Textures—

If you want to add interest to a room, don’t forget that paint is more than one-dimensional and comes in many different finishes.

  • If you want to increase the brightness of a room, use a satin or gloss finish to increase reflectivity.
  • If it’s too bright, try a flat paint to mellow it out.
  • If the room feels boring, add a metallic or mineral finish or a color glaze to increase interest.

 

Start Small with Samples—

Scared of commitment? Never fear. There are baby steps you can take to build up to the big day.

  • Paint sellers offer small samples of their colors so painters can affordably test a shade to see how it will look in real life.
  • Another good way to start small if you are a tentative, beginning painter is to start with a smaller room, like a half bath or laundry room. This will be less overwhelming, allow you to practice your painting, and bolster your confidence to move up to bigger and better rooms.

 

Attract with Opposites—

Pay attention to the color wheel when painting, or anytime you’re decorating.

  • Sometimes you can use colors from the same family for a marvelously monochromatic scheme, like a room with varying shades of purple, from dark plum to pale lilac, for example.
  • If you want to spice things up, add a pop of color from the other side of the color wheel. Got a placid sky blue room that needs a spark? Add a bright orange decorating highlight, like a fiery orange vase.

 

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Test a color you wouldn’t have thought would work: that unusual hue might surprise you by being exactly the shade you wanted. If you keep the above tips in mind, you can choose your new wall colors with confidence, and be on your way to making the interior decorating statement that best represents you.

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5 Top Fuel-Efficient Non-Hybrid Cars

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Hybrid cars are a wonderful, eco-friendly way to save money on fuel costs and reduce your carbon footprint by using less gasoline. But hybrids can be more expensive than non-hybrids, and not everybody wants one. Fortunately automotive engineers have been working hard to design standard cars with fuel efficiency that rivals many hybrids.

Here is a list of 5 of the top fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars currently available:

 

  1. Smart Fortwo—

As one of the smallest cars with a standard gasoline engine on the market, the Smart Fortwo obviously gets much of its efficiency from its small size. As the name suggests, it offers seating for only two people, getting 34 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.

Despite the minuscule size of this vehicle, it has scored surprisingly well on safety tests, and if you live in a crowded city, it is a dream to park. If you’re looking for power—look elsewhere—but if you’re seeking steering precision and ease-of-parking, this might be the perfect car for you.

 

  1. Nissan Versa—

Known for being one of the least expensive cars in its class, the Nissan Versa is extremely fuel-efficient, offering 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. An interesting quality this car has to offer is legroom, which can be hard to find in a smaller vehicle, but test drivers of this car often praise the fact that they don’t feel cramped.

With a relatively quiet engine, the Nissan Versa goes from zero to 60 mph in a little over 10 seconds, so while it won’t win many races, it does get points for stealth.

 

  1. Volkswagen Passat—

With 31 mpg city and an impressive 43 mpg highway, the Volkswagen Passat is a great car for those seeking good gas mileage combined with the power not usually found in a fuel-efficient vehicle. As a sedan, this car works great as a family car, and test drivers seem to truly appreciate its stability, linear steering and straight suspension.

If you have been trying to find the size and steadiness of a larger family vehicle combined with the fuel-efficiency of a smaller car, look no further than the Volkswagen Passat.

 

  1. Audi A3 TDI—

The Audi A3 TDI offers a bit of luxury with its 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway, with cutting-edge technology like an on-board Internet connection and a premium sound system. Going from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, this car offers a bit more power than many fuel-efficient cars.

Later in the year, the company has promised to deliver a 1.6 liter TDI that will get a whopping 61 mpg on the highway (for the European market).

 

  1. Scion iQ—

Another car useful for fuel economy with seating only for two, this car offers excellent efficiency, getting 36 mpg city and 37mpg highway. What the Scion iQ lacks in size and power, it makes up for in fuel savings and convenient maneuverability.

Because of the lack of power, this car may not be ideal for anyone with a daily highway commute, but if your main vehicular priority is to own something to drive around a crowded city with limited parking, consider the Scion iQ.

 

According to the EPA, the ten most fuel-efficient cars currently on the market are electric or hybrid vehicles. If you’re hoping to find a standard gasoline engine that gets great gas mileage, however, you can still go green by purchasing one of the smart choices on the above list.

 

5 Tools Every Home Should Have

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There are certain commonly-used and practical tools that no household should ever be without. Male or female, renter or homeowner, things will occasionally break that you can easily fix with the right tools. Calling an expensive professional every time is unnecessary if you have a good selection of tools to help you do the job yourself.

Assembling a proper tool kit can take time and money, but if you take it slowly, one quality piece at a time, you can build a collection of which you can be proud.

The following 5 tools form the solid backbone of any good tool box, and are great starter pieces for a beginning handy-person.

 

  1. Hammer—

The hammer is the arguably the most essential tool in anyone’s assortment, and can be used to hammer and remove nails, or for adjusting anything around the house that requires force beyond what the human hand can withstand. Great for hanging pictures, building and repairing structures, or even demolition, the hammer is a necessary part of any tool box.

Most experts recommend a 16-ounce hammer with a steel or fiberglass shaft, because wooden handles tend to break more easily. A smooth head is also recommended because one with texture can damage a flat surface.

 

  1. Crescent Wrench—

Any smart do-it-your-selfer knows that you need the right tool for the job, which is why pliers should never be used when a wrench is required. Pliers can strip nuts and bolts with too much pressure, but a crescent wrench is designed to hold them in place without stripping.

An adjustable crescent wrench with a sliding jaw is recommended for maximum versatility and strength.

 

  1. Pliers—

This is a tool that can help you with more than home repairs, and that makes it a great one to have in your cache. Anytime you’re having difficulty pulling something out, pliers can provide you with a way to tightly grip anything without hurting your hands. If you’re crafty, they’re also great for jewelry making, or anything electrical that involves the twisting of wire.

Needle-nose pliers are the most often recommended because they can fit into smaller spaces than regular pliers and often come with a wire cutter built into the base.

 

  1. Flathead and Phillips Screwdriver—

You will use both types of screwdrivers because there are no universal screws, so you’ll need to be prepared for all kinds. Whether you are putting together furniture, taking light switch and electrical cover plates off to paint, or hanging towel bars, chances are good that you will frequently need these screwdrivers.

While the Phillips screwdriver is most commonly used because it allows for more pressure to be applied without damage, the flathead screw is still sometimes needed, so you’ll want a set with different sizes of each screwdriver type, if possible.

 

  1. Tape Measure—

The tape measure will enhance the use of every other tool you own. Before you hammer a nail into your wall, use screwdrivers to mount a bracket, or even if you just need to know if that new couch you love will fit in your living room, you will find yourself getting out the tape measure before nearly everything you do that involves building or fixing.

Investing in a first-rate tape measure with both locking and retractable functions is money well spent for any household.

 

If you need a full selection now, and can’t afford to buy top-of-the-line products individually, many tool companies sell affordable, good-quality tool kits, with some even offering lifetime warranties.

Whether you’re using a hammer to put a nail in your wall to hang a picture, using your measuring tape and screwdrivers to mount shelving or tightening a dripping faucet with your crescent wrench or pliers, these five tools can help you accomplish almost any simple do-it-yourself project around your home.

5 Tips to Keep Pets Fit and Healthy

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We all love to spoil our beloved pets with toys and snacks, but sometimes we need to remember that too many treats can be detrimental to their health. If you’ve noticed your dog has developed a bit of a waddle when they walk, or that you can no longer feel ribs when you pet your cat’s sides, your furry little pal may have a weight problem.

And yes, it is a problem. Extra weight on pets is unhealthy, and can lead to joint problems, arthritis, respiratory issues, back and hip pain, cancer and even diabetes. Just as with people, it’s important for pets to exercise regularly and control their caloric intake to stay fit.

 

To help you keep your puppy or kitty healthy and happy from the very start, or to help an older pet find their way back to fitness, we’ve compiled a list of 5 useful tips for you.

 

  1. Start Young—

Watch your pet’s food intake and weigh them regularly from an early age. If you notice a weight problem early, it’s much easier to adjust diet and exercise to halt the progression of weight gain before it becomes a problem than it is to lose weight after the pet is already obese.

Read the labels on your pet’s food and do your research so you can give your particular size, age and breed of animal the correct amount.

 

  1. Watch the Treats—

They love the treats and you love to make them happy, so it feels like a win-win for everybody. But too much of this seemingly win-win situation can very quickly turn into the need to lose-lose for your pet.

Experts recommend that if you must give treats, pay attention to the amount of calories you’re giving, and remove that amount from your pet’s other food sources.

 

  1. People Food is for People—

Only humans should be eating human food: no exceptions. Giving pets people food will only cause obesity and bad manners for them.

Once they develop a taste for it, and realize they can get it from you, your very smart animals will plead, whine and intently stare every time you eat. What was once cute quickly becomes annoying, and you have nobody to blame but yourself for reinforcing the bad habit of begging.

It’s best to avoid this unhealthy headache from the beginning by never feeding them anything but pet food.

 

  1. Exercise is Excellent—

If you’ve adjusted your pet’s diet and want to speed up the weight loss process, or simply want to keep them glowing with good health, finding ways to get them more exercise will help them, and will be great for you as well. Bonus!

If you have a dog, this can mean taking them on extra walks, throwing a ball or chew toy, or finding a safely fenced-in dog park where they can run freely and be stimulated by others of their kind.

To get a cat more exercise, laser pointers can entice them to chase the red dot around, feathers dangling from a stick can stir them up, and adding a cat condo can entice them to climb around more.

 

  1. Utilize Your Veterinarian—

Veterinarians generally do what they do because they love animals, and are more than happy to help you figure out a plan to maximize the health of your pet.

Consult with your vet to determine your pet’s fitness level and figure out a weight management plan specific to your pet’s particular needs. An expert can evaluate exactly where your pet should be physically, and the best way to get there.

 

Studies estimate that 40-50% of pets in the United States are overweight, and this obesity puts them at risk for many health problems, as well as reducing the length and quality of their life.

Do your pets a favor by keeping them on a smart diet and exercise plan so they can feel good and be with you for a long, long time.

 

5 Simple Space-Saving Ideas for Small Kitchens

 

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No house or apartment is perfect, and sometimes we have to take a little bad with the good. For example, maybe the living room of your dwelling has plenty of cheerful natural light, but the bedrooms are dark. Or perhaps your home is older, but you have a gorgeous backyard that makes the extra maintenance worth it. Life is about compromise, so we decide what we can live with, what we can’t, and move on.

But if one of the things you’ve had to compromise on is kitchen space, you should know there are plenty of things you can do to make a tiny kitchen feel bigger.

 

Below are 5 simple space-saving ideas to help make your small kitchen more spacious.

 

  1. Mini is Mighty. Take an honest look around your kitchen, and decide which appliances you use, and which ones you rarely touch.

Of the often-used bunch, consider buying smaller, more compact versions of the same machines. Compact appliances are technologically sound, and you don’t have to sacrifice power or quality.

Some questions to ask yourself during downsizing might be:

  • Do I need a full-sized coffee pot, or can I get by with a single cup capacity machine?
  • Could I manage with a more compact refrigerator if it would open up more storage space above?
  • Do I use the blenders, juicers, toasters and appliances sitting out on the counters? And if so, could I buy smaller versions of them?

As for the rarely touched appliances: try putting them away in storage for a week. If you miss them, bring them back, but if not… I think you know what you need to do. (Cue: “Chopin’s Funeral March.”)

 

  1. Goodbye, Conventional. Hello, Convectional. Convectional microwave ovens, that is. New microwaves are available that come with convectional cooking capabilities and can even grill food, rendering that hogging-your-limited-space dinosaur of a conventional oven obsolete.

 

  1. Dish Decisions. Do you wash dishes often, or do they sit sadly in the big, empty dishwasher all week? If you don’t make a lot of dishes, consider replacing your traditional dishwasher with a compact one. Many people with small kitchens completely remove the built-in dishwasher to free up the space for cabinets, using one of the efficient new compact portable counter top dishwashers instead.

 

  1. Wonderful Wet Bars. One easy way to make room for food preparation in the kitchen is to create spaces outside of the kitchen for wines, beers and other drinks. These entertainment areas can feature compact wine and beverage refrigerators, wine racks and even kegerators for beer. If you have an area of your house that would make a great home bar, consider moving beverage-related items out of your cramped kitchen and into a space of their own.

 

  1. High Hanging Helpers. When you find yourself trapped in a small space, sometimes you have nowhere to go but up. So look up, not around. Place a magnetic strip on your wall to get that knife block off your limited counter. Use wire racks above your sinks for extra storage. Install overhead pot racks to hang pots and pans and free up cabinet storage. Get that bowl of fruit up out of the way with a hanging fruit basket. Seeking extra storage? Well, maybe you weren’t blessed with square footage, but nobody’s stopping you from utilizing those walls.

 

With the addition of compact appliances and some of the suggestions on this list, you can turn your small kitchen into a fully functional, efficient and spacious area for your family to enjoy.

5 Powerful Foods for Superhero Health

 

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Some excellent reasons for including many fresh fruits, vegetables and juices in our diets is for their vitamins, minerals, anti-inflammatory, and potential cancer-preventing properties.

Many foods, commonly known as superfoods, have been found by researchers to help prevent cancer, and have even been shown to stop the progression of cancer cells in studies.

Below are some powerful health-boosting edibles you should definitely include in your diet:

  1. Broccoli—

Broccoli and cauliflower, both members of the cruciferous vegetable family, contain powerful health agents. Not only do these vegetables lower your risk of getting certain cancers, researchers are discovering they can even fight off existing cancers by preventing them from growing.

Scientists have found that a chemical found in broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables called isothiocyanate can stop cancer growth by killing cancer cells.

Broccoli is also full of antioxidants, vitamin K and vitamin C, making it a wonderful addition to any detoxification program or cleanse.

  1. Kale—

Kale is in the same plant family as broccoli, and contains the same cancer cell-killing phytonutrients, plus it packs a punch loaded full of antioxidants (carotenoids and flavonoids) and anti-inflammatory nutrients that help your immune system fight off disease and illness.

Studies have shown that a diet including kale can not only help prevent cancer, but may also help with its treatment. Kale is extremely alkaline, and if you are fighting disease, one of the best things you can do is to lower your body’s acid levels and increase the alkalinity, giving it more power to fight off the bad guys.

Kale also contains enzymes involved with detoxification, and can help cleanse toxins quickly, allowing us to perform at maximum capacity.

  1. Purple Sweet Potatoes—

A new type of sweet potato has been grown specifically for its cancer fighting benefits. With purple pigment inside rather than the usual sunny hue, this strange new vegetable contains the chemical anthocyanin, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, prevent cancer and even slow the progress of existing cancer cells.

The purple sweet potato is loaded with the same antioxidants found in similarly-colored grapes and berries, but don’t count out those good old-fashioned orange-toned sweet potatoes, because they have plenty of vitamin A and antioxidants to offer as well.

  1. Flaxseed Meal—

Flaxseeds are loaded with much-needed Omega-3s (which are helpful for reducing inflammation and preventing skin cancer), vitamin E and dietary fiber, which is great for colon health (and the prevention of colon cancer).

It’s important to grind whole flaxseeds up or buy them in the already-ground meal form to reap the full benefits, as they can be hard to digest.

In scientific studies, daily ingestion of flaxseed meal has been shown to reduce cancer cell growth in patients, making flaxseeds an important addition to your daily smoothie, juice or breakfast cereal.

  1. Spinach—

Well known for its high iron content, spinach is one of the best superfoods you can feed your body, as it also contains vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, folate and magnesium.

This nutritional powerhouse vegetable has been shown to lower the risk of macular degeneration, making it an excellent daily juice or smoothie choice for those genetically prone to eye disease.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences discovered that eating carrots and spinach more than twice weekly reduced breast cancer risk by 44%, so mixing in some carrot juice with your daily spinach juice would be a great idea. (Source: Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, November 1997)

Other studies have proven spinach to lower the risk of ovarian, stomach, skin, prostate and bladder cancer, so do your body a favor and eat your daily spinach.

 

Fruits and vegetables have long been considered powerful weapons in the fight against cancer, and research only continues to show this over and over again. Nearly every study conducted proves the anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting protection these plant-based superfoods can provide, so be sure to include them in your diet today.

5 Green Vegetables That Will Make You Glow

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Eating green vegetables and other nutrient-dense green foods such as spirulina, wheat grass, blue green algae, sea vegetables and seaweed (a.k.a. “superfoods”) can give us large amounts of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy and strong.

Chlorophyll, which we learned in grade school science class is what gives plants their green color, also happens to be quite similar in molecular structure to human blood. Isn’t that amazing? The same pigment oxygenating the plants in your yard can also help oxygenate your blood. But first, you have to get that green goodness into your body.

That’s where fresh, green juices come in. Starting your day with a juice or smoothie full of green vegetables is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. If you get into the habit of drinking fresh juices every day, you’ll likely notice your energy levels increasing, your digestion improving, and your eyes and skin looking bright and clear.

As they detoxify their bodies by eating raw whole foods, and drinking pure, fresh juices, many people begin to notice their entire systems have begun to work more efficiently, and they will naturally lose weight.

By ingesting green juices, you’ll also be giving yourself the gift of antioxidants, as well as decreased chances of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Certain green vegetables have even been shown to help prevent the occurrence of certain cancers.

Here are 5 of the best green vegetables to give you maximum nutrition for a minimum investment:

 

1. Spinach is a wonderful green vegetable to include in your daily juicing and smoothie regimen. It’s high in the aforementioned cancer-preventing antioxidants, and has also been shown in studies to reduce macular degeneration, heart disease and stroke. One of the best things about spinach as a fresh juice or smoothie additive is that it has a surprisingly mild flavor.

When mixed with carrots, apples, and ginger, even the pickiest children have been known to give spinach the thumbs-up. If you find the right blend, it can be a great way to quickly get some healthy greens into your kids.

 

2. Kale is another amazing green vegetable that has been rapidly growing in popularity, with delicious new kale products (such as kale chips) currently hitting the markets. In addition to giving our bodies loads of vitamin C and vitamin A, kale is widely appreciated for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.

It seems to be no mistake that the word kale starts with a ‘k’ as it is absolutely loaded with vitamin K, to the tune of over 600 percent of our recommended daily allowance. Also abundantly found in spinach, broccoli, parsley, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, vitamin K is very important in the formation and protection of bones, as well as blood clotting and cancer prevention.

Kale is also high in calcium, providing the lactose intolerant among us with an easy way to get the nutrients necessary for proper bone health.

 

3. Parsley has long been known in the world of nutrition as a major player in the treatment of anemia, thanks to its high iron content. In addition to vitamin K, parsley is loaded with the well-known immune system boosters, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin B12. Parsley contains vitamin A, which is important for eye health.

Folic acid is also abundant in parsley, which lowers cancer risk, and is especially crucial for pregnant women, as it can prevent birth defects in unborn babies.

 

4. Cucumber can play an important role in your detoxification, which is one of the goals of any juice fast, smoothie or healthy eating program.

Cucumber acts as a natural diuretic in the body by eliminating excess water, and as long as you make sure to re-hydrate to replace what you’re losing, this process can cause your body to remove toxins at a faster rate. This diuretic quality is also why cucumber is used to clean the kidneys, with many using it daily to remove kidney stones.

An excellent source of silica, cucumber can help those with achy joints, as well as assist in preventing many types of cancer.

 

5. Celery will give you the same diuretic effects as cucumber, with the added benefit of a natural laxative effect that will help speed up the body’s removal of toxins.

Celery has been shown to reduce cholesterol and prevent stomach cancers, and helps reduce acid levels in the body. Creating an alkaline environment is highly desirable, as it will allow your body more energy to dedicate to fighting the bad guys.

 

Do you want to feel stronger, live longer, have more energy, and feel better about the way you look? Are you ready to glow with good health and vitality? Let green vegetables come to your rescue.

With their mega-doses of antioxidants and high levels of vitamins and minerals, green vegetables can be the superfood hero your body has been seeking. To healthy living, fresh juicing, and beyond!

 

5 Fabulous Reasons to Own a Pool

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If you’re thinking about getting a pool, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re making a very smart choice.

In addition to the many health benefits swimming has to offer—such as reduced blood pressure, low-stress exercise, a stimulated metabolism and the ability to burn around 500 calories an hour—there are many other wonderful reasons to own a pool.

To help you feel even better about your decision, we’ve compiled a list of 5 great things owning a pool can do for you and your family:

 

  1. Take a Virtual Vacation—

Question: What’s the first thing your kids ask on any vacation upon checking into a hotel? Answer: “Does it have a pool?” Well guess what, kids? Now you have a pool forever.

Having a little bit of the big blue in your backyard feels like a permanent vacation every time you step outside and see it glimmering there before you. Set up a lounge chair and read by the water, and take a dip whenever the mood hits you.

Bonus: No flights to catch home or travel hassles required when you’re done; just walk back inside your home.

  1. Be the Cool House on the Block—

Yes, if you have children, get ready to be the popular house in your neighborhood, especially as the summer swelter starts to scorch.

Having other kids over to swim with your children will give them wonderful friendship opportunities, and will give you a chance to keep an eye on them while they are getting fresh air, exercising and being social. You will always know where your kids are, and they will have a positive entertainment alternative to sitting in front of a screen that will keep them fit and healthy. It’s a win-win!

  1. Pool Parties are Priceless—

People pay good money to rent out the local pools for birthday parties and social gatherings. Well, those days are over for you, new pool owner.

Also gone are the days of being forced to rent out the local germ-infested pizza and game arcade for your kids’ birthdays, because now you can have pool parties! And pool parties aren’t just for kids—having an adult pool party is a great way to get to know your grown-up neighbors, too.

  1. A Good Investment—

If the day ever comes that you decide to sell your home, having a swimming pool can drastically improve your property value, allowing you to sell the home for more money.

Many prospective buyers are particularly excited by the idea of owning a swimming pool, and in a tough realty market, your swimming pool might be the sparkling gem that makes your house stand out in a dull throng of for-sale homes with boring backyards.

  1. Make Memories—

Pool time is family fun time, and if you have a pool, it’s likely your kids will have wonderful childhood memories of learning to swim and playing pool games with friends and family.

Family board game night is fun on a cold winter night, but when you want to beat the heat and have some family bonding time, there’s nothing more refreshing than splashing around together in a swimming pool.

 

You and your loved ones will enjoy your pool for years, as the soothing crystal waters lend rejuvenation, relaxation and balance to your life. By adding a swimming pool to your home, you’re giving yourself a guaranteed backyard vacation any time you need one, and a gentle form of exercise that will keep you healthy and strong. Congratulations!

Five Ways to Take Carrot Cake to the Next Level

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Nothing beats the old-fashioned goodness of a perfectly moist carrot cake with a rich cream cheese frosting. The depth of the flavors and spices is an amazing taste to behold, making this classic dessert a favorite of many. We can feel good about the fact that we’re also eating our vegetables when we have a piece of carrot cake, but that doesn’t really matter does it? We eat it because it’s delicious. So, so very delicious.

Below are some tips to help you make the very best carrot cake you possibly can:

 

  1. Use Fresh Carrots—

Carrots are almost fruit-like in their sweetness, making them a popular choice for fresh juices, breads and oh yes… carrot cake. Be sure to buy the freshest carrots possible because the fresher they are, the more tender they will make your carrot cake. If you can afford organic carrots, even better, as organic fruits and vegetables are well-known for their great flavor, as well as health benefits.

 

  1. Soak Dried Fruit in Water—

If you are planning to use raisins in your carrot cake—or perhaps dried cranberries if you’re bringing the carrot cake to a festive holiday dinner—be sure to soak the raisins in warm water for a few minutes. This will cause them to re-hydrate, becoming plump and juicy, which will add moisture to your carrot cake.

 

  1. Blend Dry Ingredients Well—

You can use a spoon to blend the dry ingredients, but if you have one handy, nothing gets the lumps out of baking soda, flour and spices quite like a sifter. Because nothing ruins a bite of carrot cake like a salty lump of baking soda or a chunk of flour that didn’t get mixed in. Blend the ingredients well to give your carrot cake the smoothest texture possible.

 

  1. Use Oil Instead of Butter—

Most serious bakers are big fans of butter, and rightly so, as it adds a flavor to many baked goods that can’t be denied. But carrot cake is an exception to this rule, perhaps because the grated carrots already add such a large amount of moisture. Using a lighter type of oil like vegetable or canola will help keep your cake moist without making it too dense or heavy.

 

  1. Try Creative Additions—

Once you’ve mastered the perfect classic carrot cake, you might want to have fun experimenting a little with different spices, nuts and fruits your family or dinner guests might enjoy in a dessert. Use golden raisins instead of the traditional, or add pineapple and coconut to your carrot cake to give it a tropical flair.

Many cooks use walnuts instead of the more traditional pecans to mix it up (with the bonus of the walnut’s heart-healthy Omega-3s), or even add walnut oil to give the cake a nuttier flavor. If a spicier cake is desired, you can add nutmeg, ginger and cloves to the classic cinnamon to jazz things up.

Some other fun ideas if you’re feeling brave would be to add vanilla, almond extract, citrus zest, bananas, dates, chocolate chips, dried mango or papaya bits, dried cranberries, dried currants or even dried blueberries if you’re feeling daring.

 

Now that you’re craving carrot cake, here’s a very basic carrot cake recipe for you to make your own by using the 5 tips above:

Classic Carrot Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1½ cups oil
  • 4 eggs

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease 9×13 pan.
  • Beat all ingredients together in a large bowl until well blended and pour mixture into pan.
  • Bake 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool before frosting.

Be sure to grease your pans well, as carrot cake has a tendency to stick, and don’t forget that you can add orange or lemon zest to your cream cheese frosting to give it a little extra zing!

No matter what your particular carrot cake style may be, this classic American favorite is sure to be a crowd-pleaser every time.

4 Easy Crock Pot Recipes Your Family Will Love

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Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day to do everything we need to do. Cooking with a crock pot or slow cooker is a fast way to throw together a hearty, healthy, delicious meal while saving precious time and energy.

Here are 4 quick and easy budget-friendly crock pot recipes that will make your life easier and keep your family happy.

Simple Beef Stroganoff

You will need:

  • 3 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 package (1 oz.) dry onion soup mix
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat
  1. Combine soup, water, sour cream and onion soup mix in crock pot. Add beef and stir until well-coated. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours.

Note: Beef Stroganoff is traditionally served over noodles, but you can serve it over rice if you prefer. This dish goes great with a green salad.

 

Island Shrimp with Rice

You will need:

  • 1 package (12 ounces) frozen shrimp, thawed
  • ½ cup fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sweet and sour sauce
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • ½ cup pineapple chunks, drained
  • ½ cup diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  1. Combine all ingredients in crock pot except for peas, pineapple and tomatoes. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours.
  2. Add peas, pineapple, tomatoes and rice. Cover and cook on low an additional 5-10 minutes, and serve.

 

Picnic-Style Baked Beans

You will need:

  • 1 pound dried beans of your choice
  • 1 pound of bacon
  • 5 hot dogs, sliced into circular pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups of ketchup
  • 1 cup of your favorite barbeque sauce
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  1. Soak and cook the beans according to package directions. Refrigerate until ready for use.
  2. Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Drain on a paper towel, cool and crumble. Save 3 tablespoons of bacon fat in skillet, and add hot dogs and onion. Cook over medium heat until onions are tender.
  3. Combine cooked beans, bacon, hot dogs, onions, ketchup, barbeque sauce and brown sugar in crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours.

Note: 1 pound canned, pre-cooked beans may be substituted for dried beans to save time, if desired. This kid-friendly dish can be served with soft bread or buns on the side, and works great as a side dish for any gathering.

 

Simple Southwestern Stew

You will need:

  • 2 pounds ground turkey (or beef)
  • 1 can tomatoes and chilies, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 cups instant white rice
  • 1 can ranch-style pinto beans
  • 1 bag (16 oz.) frozen yellow corn
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • ½ cup scallions, diced
  • 1-2 cups water, to preferred consistency
  1. Add ground turkey or ground beef, onion, diced tomatoes and chilies, broth, water, corn and spices to crock pot for 3-4 hours, until meat is cooked.
  2. Add instant rice and cook 40 minutes, then add beans for 10 minutes, and serve.

Note: This dish can be garnished with shredded cheese and diced green onions, and is great served with tortilla chips on the side.

 

Cooking with the crock pot will make your house smell wonderful all day long. There’s really not much better than coming home to the scent of a savory slow-cooked dinner, is there? No matter what your family is in the mood for tonight, there is something here for everyone, so give one of these easy recipes a try today.