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When we were building our new construction home, the driveway almost seemed like an afterthought. With everything else so close to being finished, we walked around with a can of orange spray paint imagining the ideal path from the street to our garage doors.

So, if not in our experience, then generally speaking, the driveway occupies an important place in overall home and property design. When planning your driveway, there are several things to consider:

Budget
Sometimes money plays a big role in decision-making on materials. As you are thinking about budget, be sure to factor in the varying long-term costs associated with different types of driveways. While a paver driveway carries relatively high upfront costs, maintaining one isn’t expensive. Gravel, on the other hand, is perhaps the least expensive to install but requires the sort of regular maintenance that doesn’t come cheap. Before deciding on a material, make sure you understand what the driveway’s total cost will be over its anticipated lifetime.

Curb appeal
As viewed from the street, your driveway can make a big impression on the look of your house. And certain materials complement certain architectural styles more than others. A gravel driveway would make a nice visual accompaniment to a farmhouse cottage, whereas a herringbone-pattern brick driveway would better suit a colonial-style residence. In short, think about what your choice of driveway will add to, or take away from, curb appeal.

Climate
Some driveway materials may not be appropriate for the climate where you live. For instance, asphalt endures freeze-thaw cycles better than concrete. And heavy rainfalls can negatively affect driveway surfaces that are more prone to erosion, such as gravel and pea stone. Snow, humidity, rainfall and temperature changes are all factors that ought to influence your final decision. Do your homework.

Maintenance
Each material has its own maintenance requirements. For instance, asphalt requires resealing every three to five years. If you live in a place where plowing snow is necessary, a gravel drive will require replacement of moved material each spring. Is the maintenance required of a given material such that you can do it yourself, or will you need to contract someone to handle the work? A smart driveway design will take these questions into account.

Durability
What kind of traffic will your driveway be getting? Will there be lots of heavy trucks on it, or just passenger cars? Some materials are durable, others more finicky. And what’s the grade like? Gravel and pea-stone drives with a pitch are prone to erosion. Also, how long will the driveway be expected to last — 20 years? 40 years? And what kind of maintenance is required to maximize lifespan?

Whatever material you decide to use for your driveway, make sure you take time to lay it out right. If you’ll need space for guests to park, make sure to allow for that.

Once the rough grading is done, take a test drive into the garage from the street (and back the other way) to make sure it tracks comfortably for your biggest vehicle. You don’t want to swipe off your side-view mirror!

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.468.5753

Original Article By: Jennifer Noonan of BobVila.com

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Here’s just how seriously you should take the radiation emanating from your granite counters, among other potential home hazards.

Every now and then a news report gets people worked up about hidden dangers lurking in their homes. Should you be afraid that the radiation coming from your granite countertop or the flame retardants in your furniture are trying to kill you?

Granite countertops
A beautiful granite countertop can make any kitchen pop. Yet every once in a while people go into panic mode, freaking out about the fact that granite is a rock that can have some radioactive elements and could potentially give off radon, which can be harmful in high concentrations. But while the very mention of the word radiation is enough to stoke fears, you don’t really need to worry about this one. The EPA says that radon is more likely to come into your house from the soil than from your kitchen counters (and granite isn’t a very porous stone to begin with, meaning it doesn’t give out as much radiation as others).

Furthermore, any buildup of radon in the kitchen or bathroom is unlikely, as those rooms tend to have good ventilation systems. “It is extremely unlikely that granite countertops in homes could increase the radiation dose above the normal, natural background dose that comes from soil and rocks,” the EPA says.
Fear rating: Extremely low
Precautions: Be more worried about legitimate dangers in the kitchen, such as food safety and keeping sharp objects and cleaning solutions away from kids.

Particleboard and formaldehyde

Particleboard-based furniture may be great for furnishing your place on a budget. But pressed wood products such as particleboard tend to contain formaldehyde resins in the adhesives that hold the wood particles together. Formaldehyde is a surprisingly common volatile chemical, but it’s definitely not good for you. Luckily, good ventilation and keeping heat and humidity to a minimum can reduce the amount of formaldehyde released from furniture.

Fear Rating: Low
Precautions: Check what kind of adhesives furniture manufacturers used to make your products. Since the 1980s, when the EPA restricted the maximum allowable formaldehyde emissions from this kind of furniture, many companies have made efforts to substantially reduce the amount of the chemical in their production.

Flame retardants

A recent study found that 85% of couches tested in California contained flame retardants that have not been evaluated for human safety.

Couches in California are required to have flame-retardant properties, but some scientists worry that the chemicals used to prevent flaming sofas might be linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological issues — not to mention that these flame retardants aren’t necessarily present at levels in which they are effective at fire prevention.

No decisive link to health problems has been proved. The problem is that the replacements for pentabromodiphenyl ether, which the EPA banned from new products after 2005, haven’t been fully tested, according to study author Heather Stapleton of Duke University. Stapleton says that she and her colleagues are pursuing long-term health studies. The presence of these chemicals in the air outside the couch is worrying — especially as the same kinds of foam are currently used in baby mattresses and supplies.

Look for a label that mentions Technical Bulletin 117 — if it’s there then your couch probably has flame retardants. If it’s not, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t flame retardants, it just means that you don’t know for certain.
Fear rating: Medium
Precautions: Stapleton says that people worried about the dust should wash their hands frequently, especially before eating, to reduce chances of ingesting any toxic chemicals. Removing dust by cleaning regularly can help, too, but Stapleton cautions that vacuuming and dusting can cause some particles to become airborne.

 

Microwaves

Microwaves have been in our homes long enough to inspire lots of fear mongering, worries and urban legends. Rumors that microwaving plastic will poison your food, or that the radiation will disrupt pacemakers, have been around for years. According to the FDA, most of this is nonsense. No, you shouldn’t use some plastics in the microwave — because they could melt —but you can solve that problem by checking the bottom of the package to see what’s allowed; if the item is microwave-safe, there is sometimes a symbol (a box with wavy lines inside it) that indicates it is safe for microwave use. Pacemakers used to be affected by microwaves, but are now shielded. And you’re not going to get radiation injuries from a microwave; it just isn’t powerful enough to do any damage.

Interestingly, the FDA does warn about erupting hot water. Apparently, heating water in a clean cup for a long time can cause the water to get superheated. It reaches temperatures above the boiling point without the distinctive bubbling of a rolling boil. When anything is added to the water, or it is shaken, then it can erupt, causing burns.
Fear Rating: Medium
Precautions: Check labels, and don’t heat that cup of water for tea for too long.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics

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If you’re justifying home renovations thinking that you’ll recover the costs when you sell, you may want to recalculate.

Homeowners who want to remodel will find both joy and sorrow in the 2013 Cost vs. Value Report, recently published by Remodeling Magazine.

The joy comes from the report’s finding that remodeling projects overall could be expected to return a higher percentage of their cost at resale in 2013, reversing a six-year decline in the recovered value of such investments. Every project on the national list posted a higher return in 2012 than it did in the prior year. The sorrow is that while returns are higher than they were, they’re still far short of 100%.

The complete list included 22 midrange projects, ranging from a $1,137 steel entry door replacement to a $152,470 second-story addition, and 13 upscale projects, ranging from a $2,720 garage door replacement to a $220,086 master suite addition.

Best return

In the mid-range category, the least costly project — that steel entry door replacement — posted the highest return at 85.6%  of the cost.

Other midrange projects that returned 70% or better were an attic bedroom, basement remodel, wood deck addition, garage door replacement, minor kitchen remodel, vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning mid-range project was a home office remodel, which recouped just 43.6%.

In the upscale category, the highest-returning project was a fiber-cement siding replacement, which recaptured 79.3%. Other upscale projects that returned 60% or better were a garage door replacement, foam-backed vinyl siding replacement and vinyl window replacement. The lowest-returning upscale project was the master suite addition, which recouped just 52.1%.

Money-losers

And in those figures also lies the sorrow. That steel entry door replacement was the only project in the midrange or upscale category that achieved at least an 80% cost recovery, nationally. The home-improvement projects returned only a 60.6% national average. That’s not much of an incentive, financially speaking, for home improvements.

Replacement projects generally were a better investment than remodeling or room additions. Cost-and-value-recapture percentages varied widely on a regional basis.

Contractors agree with the positive outlook

Remodeling contractors have high expectations for 2013, according to a fourth-quarter 2012 survey by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry in Des Plaines, Ill.

The survey found remodelers reported better business conditions, more inquires, more requests for bids, more conversions of bids into jobs and a higher value of total jobs compared with the prior quarter.

Tom O’Grady, chairman of the NARI strategic planning committee and president of O’Grady Builders, a remodeling company, in Drexel Hill, Pa., said in a statement that remodelers were anticipating major growth in their businesses.

“Many (remodelers are) saying that their clients are feeling more stable in their financial future and their employment situations; therefore, they are spending more freely on remodeling needs,” O’Grady said.

The 2013 Cost vs. Value Report is a snapshot of generic projects and shouldn’t be applied to individual homes. Instead, homeowners should get estimates from local remodelers and discuss home values with a local real estate professional.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Marcie Geffner, HSH.com

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Winter gardening makes for a much sweeter spring. Here are the best ways to protect plants from the cold — inside or out.

 

Gardening, in January? Absolutely.

There are still lots of things you can plant, and you can start the new year on the right foot by doing timeless chores that will add to your garden’s health as spring approaches

Everything you accomplish now will make spring that much sweeter.

Trees and shrubs
This month’s tree and shrub tasks are all about planting, pruning and protecting.

  • If you live in a place that has mild winters, you can still plant trees of all kinds: fruit trees, shade trees and flowering trees; and choosing them is fun now, since nurseries tend to add their new selections in January.
  • On a day when temperatures are below freezing, plant new evergreens, rose bushes and deciduous shrubs.
  • While you shouldn’t prune flowering trees until after they’ve bloomed, you can now prune most shrubs and deciduous shade trees.
  • When you notice new buds on deciduous trees, possibly late this month or in early February, give them their third and last shot of dormant spray — follow the label’s instructions and avoid spraying on days that are windy, rainy or below freezing.
  • Keep up with raking; fallen leaves can do heavy damage if left to smother grass.
  • If you have snowfall, knock snow off the branches of evergreens and fine-branched deciduous trees using an upward motion to keep limbs from breaking — don’t risk the benign fluffy stuff turning into ice overnight. If breakage does occur, prune broken branches.

Winterizing
With winter in full force, there are several things you can do to protect challenged plants, trees, shrubs and even birds.

Don’t haul that Christmas tree out to the curb just yet: Its branches can be used to protect tender plants and even root vegetables and perennials or to form a wind or sun shield for shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, holly and boxwood. Or the full tree can be staked near a feeder to shield birds from cold. (Place far enough away to avoid accidents with cats.)

If you live in an area that has heavy winters and you haven’t yet wrapped newly planted trees or thin-barked trees such as maple, ash, mountain ash and linden, do so now. Wrap from the base upward to repel moisture.

Keep protecting tender plants against freezes by covering them with burlap or other cloth supported by a perimeter of stakes; just don’t let the cloth touch the leafy parts.

Houseplants
Winter houseplant care is more about attentive restraint than high maintenance.

  • When you water, which should be minimal during the winter, do it just enough so that water saturates the soil and comes through the drainage holes; at this time of year, plants left in standing water can suffer root damage.
  • Turn plants every two weeks for balanced foliage as they seek sunlight.
  • Check for pests in the greenhouse and on houseplants; treat with organic products so kids and pets aren’t endangered.
  • Hold off on transplanting those plants whose roots are potbound.
  • On nights that are extremely cold, be sure to draw the curtains or blinds of plant windows.

Wouldn’t it be nice if birds ate slugs for a living? If you’re a feeder of birds, don’t stop now — during this month they’ll need all the help they can get, and it needn’t be fancy. Birds will likely find any station above snow level, from old logs to carpet scraps.

Every slug you catch before it reproduces can spare you from facing several more generations. (And you thought rabbits were prolific.)

Maintenance
Take this chance to get sleek for spring. No, not to buff up for your getaway swimwear — you know, the fun stuff. Machines. Tools.

  • Any machine repair you have done now will spare you spring headaches — or at least a long wait in the queue that begins to form in February. Consider mowers, chain saws and other power tools.
  • Clean, sharpen and oil hand tools, from clippers to shovels.

Perennials
Even after the holidays, the catalog season continues.

  • Start planning your spring garden now by making a map of your garden, including what you’d like to plant where, with seed and bulb catalogs by your side for inspiration.
  • Clear away mulch from winter-blooming bulbs.
  • Dig up and divide winter-blooming bulbs after they’ve flowered.
  • In mild climates, you may still be able to plant hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and crocuses.
  • If an unexpected warm streak fools bulbs into thinking it’s springtime, help protect them with an extra light layer of mulch.

Weeding
It’s a nasty job, but unless your garden is buried under snow, somebody has to do it. Too bad weeds don’t take winter vacations.

  • Many weeds are still merrily going through their flowering and seeding cycle even in January. Uproot them before seeds spread to spare yourself weeding future generations.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Sally Anderson of MSN Real Estate

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The housing market seems to be turning a corner, with prices ticking up thanks to reduced inventory and a decline in foreclosure sales. But problems looming in the broader economy could roil this housing rally.

 

Will the housing recovery last? That’s the question some economists are asking, given the plodding growth in the economy, as well as the looming “fiscal cliff,” which threatens to raise taxes and cut jobs.

Tight inventory in many markets and a decline in foreclosure sales have lifted prices, and record-low mortgage rates eased some buyers off the fence, but weak job growth, lousy credit and the large number of buyers with little or no equity could conspire to flatten out the rebound, making this one of the longest, most excruciating recoveries in housing history.

That’s possible even if Congress manages to stave off the “fiscal cliff” in January that would take away the Bush-era tax cuts and raise taxes for most Americans.

“It’s clearly not sustainable,” says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist for real-estate analytics firm CoreLogic. “Real incomes are not growing. We are at the same level we were in the mid-1990s. [The recovery] is not sustainable until incomes recover.”

Some markets have yet to hit bottom, says Robert Shiller, the Yale economist who first warned of the looming crisis in real estate, and who — with Carl Case — created the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Home prices have yet to turn positive in markets such as Milwaukee, Atlanta, Philadelphia and even New York City.

Shiller, for one, is still reluctant to call the recent improvement in the market a solid recovery.

“The question is how strong is it, and will … this rally fizzle or not? And I don’t know the answer to that,” Shiller said in a recent interview with NPR. “But I point out that this is the fourth time we’ve had a rally since the crisis ended.”

A good start
Still, there’s no question that the overwhelmingly negative news about the housing market has turned positive.

Existing-home sales jumped 11% in September from the same time a year earlier, while the median home price of $183,900 was 11.3% higher than a year ago — the seventh straight month of year-over-year increases, according to the National Association of Realtors.

With sales increasing, the supply of for-sale housing has dwindled to a healthy 5.9-month supply, down from the 8.2-month supply last summer. Of those homes on the market, far fewer are foreclosures, which typically sell for 20% to 30% less than traditional listings.

“When properties come on the market they move fast,” says Gary Bauer, a broker and blogger in Denver. “It’s not uncommon in the price ranges up to $750,000 for a new listing to get multiple offers.”

While new-home sales dipped slightly in August, the median price of a new home surged 11.2% to $256,900, the biggest one-month increase ever recorded. Prices have climbed 17% over the past year and are at the highest level since spring 2007, according to the Commerce Department, fueling some talk of a growing bubble.

It’s true that homebuilders are feeling more confident. New single-family home starts ticked up 5.5% in August from the previous month.

Add to that rising consumer confidence and record-low mortgage interest rates in recent weeks, and it’s easy to see why so many are starting to think the housing market has really turned the corner.

Too much excitement?
Of course, some things are missing for a robust and sustained rebound, including meaningful job growth, pay increases and enough affordable inventory in some markets.

Tight inventory helped pushed the NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index (based on signed contracts) down 2.6% to 99.2, despite being 10.7% higher than the same time last year.

Prices have yet to rise enough to make selling viable for those who bought in the past seven years, Khater says.

About 10.8 million, or 22.3%, of homes financed with mortgages were in negative equity at the end of the second quarter, according to CoreLogic. And 45% of all homes have mortgages with an 80% loan-to-value ratio, giving homeowners little to put down on another house.

Moreover, many foreclosures that would have wound up with a for-sale sign in front are being sold in packages to investors as rentals. While that’s good for propping up prices near term, this affordable inventory won’t make it to individual buyers.

And despite the record-low mortgage rates of late, qualifying for a loan can still be tough.

Paul Diggle of Capital Economics pointed out the growing gap between the NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index and its monthly sales figures in a recent housing report. As many as 15% of contracts don’t make it through to closing, he says, in part because of today’s tight lending environment.

But the real driver of the recovery, Khater says, needs to be jobs. Without meaningful growth in jobs — job creation that outpaces population growth — and stronger pay raises, the recovery could fizzle out.

“The economy is fundamentally very weak,” he says, “and that could keep the malaise out there for an extended period of time.”

Especially, he says, if Congress fails to push off the spending cuts and tax increases due to take effect at the beginning of next year. That could send the country back into a recession.

The road ahead
Of course, analysts say, there’s a chance that legislators could extend those cuts to keep the economic recovery on a firm footing or replace them with something else to help low- and moderate-income Americans.

But the economic uncertainty will keep many buyers on the sidelines, says Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics at Clear Capital. Debt-ceiling brinksmanship pushed down consumer sentiment 14.3% last year, the largest amount since the end of the recession, and uncertainty over taxes could “throw a wrench into the recovery.”

The Federal Reserve did its part recently by announcing a third round of monthly mortgage-backed securities purchases, a stimulus designed to increase employment and keep mortgage rates low so more people will want to buy homes.

If consumer confidence can survive the weak economic news, Clear Capital predicts a strong market through the start of the spring buying season.

With prices rising in most markets, growing numbers of people who already own a home may be nudged into moving up to a larger one. First-time buyers will still need to be making enough money at their jobs to qualify for loans.

But with the large number of low-down-payment FHA loans available, and lower mortgage rates bringing down the cost of homes, would-be buyers won’t have to spend as much to get one.

Indeed, Diggle sees the high home-contract cancellation rate as a positive rather than negative for the housing market in the months ahead. The cancellations, he says, “reflect would-be buyers’ willingness to buy increasing at a faster pace than the bank’s willingness or ability to lend.”

In other words, you have an eager pool of buyers who might have less than perfect credit — good news if credit loosens a bit.

As far as supply goes, inventory should grow as more homeowners gain equity in the next year or two. CoreLogic says that just a 5% jump in annual home prices would be enough to get a significant number of those underwater homeowners into an equity position.

Still, that might not happen, he says, at least not in the next year. Local Market Monitor predicts values in the U.S. will remain relatively flat in the next year, with a larger increase — up to 7% — in the next 36 months.

“It seems as if we have a long recovery in order, given the slow economic growth and pace of hiring,” says Ingo Winzer, president of Local Market Monitor.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate

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From what to plant to what to harvest, here’s everything you need to know to prepare your garden for autumn.

 

There’s a snap in the air, the songbirds are looking at their calendars, and trees are exploding in hues of yellow, pink and red. But don’t think that means you can spend the weekends in your jammies. Make haste while the weather is still gardener-tolerant; you’ll be happy for those shorter to-do lists come late fall and winter.

Perennials
Keep planting spring-flowering bulbs, all the way up until the ground becomes frozen, and prepare tender perennials for winter.

  • Holes for planting crocuses, daffodils, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs should be about three times deeper than the diameter of the bulbs. Add peat moss, fertilizer and bulb dust to the soil as you plant; then give them a good watering.
  • In milder climates, bulbs can still be divided and transplanted.
  • Before the first frost, move tender plants such as begonias, geraniums, gerbera daisies and impatiens indoors for the winter.
  • Buy hardy garden mums to plant in well-drained soil in a sunny location; fertilize now, and again in the spring. Color spots of winter pansies and flowering kale and cabbage can also be planted early in the month, or until the ground freezes.
  • Gladioluses, dahlias, tuberous begonias and fuchsias should be prepared now for winter storage.
  • Hold off on mulching perennials until the ground has frozen.

Trees and shrubs
October is a great month to shop for trees and shrubs, as they’re showing their true colors at the nursery. Planting can take place now and over the next several months, letting strong, healthy roots develop over the winter.

  • Make your last selections of trees for planting this month and later, even if you hold off on buying.
  • Tie up and prune raspberries.
  • Mid-autumn is a perfect time for planting grapevines.
  • Take hardwood cuttings.

Lawn care
In most areas, lawn care can continue until about mid-October.

    • Aerate lawns now while grass can recover easily; if you core aerate, make cores 3 inches deep, spaced about every 4 to 6 inches. Break up the cores and spread them around.
    • If your lawn needs it, thatch and follow with a fall or winter fertilizer.
    • Even if thatching isn’t necessary, your lawn will be happy for a dusting of fertilizer now to help roots gain strength before the spring growing season.
    • Overseed bald patches or whole lawns as needed.
    • Rake and compost leaves as they fall, as well as grass clippings from mowing. If left on the ground now, they’ll just make a wet, slippery mess, inviting to pests.

Watering
It’s easy to forget about watering duties in the middle of fall, but proper moisture now is key to your plants’ successful survival over the cold winter months.

  • Check the moisture of all plants, especially those in dry, sheltered areas such as under eaves and around tall evergreens.

Composting
Autumn leaves must fall — but what to do with them?

  • Rake or otherwise gather all the little fallen ones, from leaves to grass clippings to spent plants and vegetables, and either give the compost pile a good feeding or spade them directly into the ground. Exception: If your grass has been treated with herbicides, it might be safer to compost than to blend into the soil.
  • As an alternative to raking, if you have drifts of piled leaves, mow over them in the grass to break them up and make a great brown-and-green composting combo.
  • Save some whole leaves for piling around roses after the ground has frozen

Pest control
Slugs don’t slow down as the weather gets cooler; in fact, you’ll likely find them at all life stages in October, from eggs to youngsters and adults.

  • Take whatever measures you prefer — salt, slug bait, saucers of beer — to eliminate slugs. It’s best to catch them at early stages, to stop the reproduction cycle.
  • Keep the ground raked and tidied to reduce their habitat.
  • Keep staying ahead of weeds this month; they serve as homes for pests and bugs, and destroying them before they flower and seed will save you work in the future.

Harvesting
In many areas, October is the month to harvest.

  • Do a taste test on vegetables, and harvest them when flavor is at its peak. If you’d like to extend the harvest of carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, leave some in the ground to mulch as the weather gets colder. They can handle cold snaps!
  • Early in the month, before temperatures drop too much, seed cover crops such as clover, peas or vetch to enrich the soil. It will serve as a natural fertilizer, stifle weed growth and help loosen up the soil for next year’s crops.

Houseplants
If your September was mild enough that your houseplants and geraniums are still outdoors, be sure to make them cozy inside before the first frost takes a bite out of them.

  • Take geranium cuttings of 2 to 4 inches to root indoors.
  • If you treat houseplants chemically, after treating be sure to keep them warm and away from direct sunlight.
  • Fertilize houseplants now; they shouldn’t need it again until March.
  • Get poinsettias and Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti ready for well-timed holiday color. Give them a daily dose of 10 hours of bright daylight or four hours of direct sun, and 14 hours of night darkness. Christmas cacti need a cool environment of 50 to 60 degrees F, while poinsettias prefer a warmer 65 to 72 degrees. Let cacti dry out between waterings.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Sally Anderson of MSN Real Estate

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…To start planning your Christmas Wishlist.

I find most of the gifts I ask  for from this beauty of a publication:

THE NEIMAN MARCUS CHRISTMAS BOOK

 

MY TOP PICKS:

These adorable Kendra Scott earrings – and a steal at only $90.00

This cashmere robe. Talk about luxurious. Too bad it doesn’t get below 90 degrees in Austin.

But above all else….

A walk-on role in the Broadway production of Annie. I would die and go to heaven. I am going to try to convince James to buy this one – but don’t hold your breath.

 

So ladies (or gentlemen), if you want to make your own Neiman Marcus wishlist to give to loved ones, view the online catalog here.  You’re welcome.

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The most potent weapon in your antiaging arsenal may be scaling back at mealtime.

The most potent weapon in your antiaging arsenal may be scaling back at mealtime.

IT CAN HAPPEN AT ANY AGE: One day you’re eating what you want with no consequences. The next day, one stray cookie and your jeans don’t zip. Elisabetta Politi, nutritional director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina, notes that each year your resting metabolism burns approximately 10 fewer calories — 100 fewer per decade — meaning you can slide up into the next dress size all too easily if you don’t gradually adjust your diet over time. Plus, as you age, “your old techniques don’t work anymore,” says Heather Bauer, a New York City-based registered dietician and coauthor of Bread Is the Devil. “You can’t binge and starve your way to a healthy weight.” Research suggests that even exercise can’t counteract the evils of age-related weight gain. Recent studies indicate that metabolism is less responsive to exercise than we had thought. New York-based fitness instructor and holistic health coach Craig Smith believes that the food you eat accounts for a full 85 percent of your body’s appearance, while a gym routine dictates only the remaining 15. “No workout will give you the results you want unless you change your diet,” he says. We polled the country’s top nutritionists and doctors and a swath of svelte professional women to find the best body strategies for every age.

20s

THE SCIENTIFIC SCOOP: Most women’s basal metabolic rate — a key determinant of metabolism speed — can drop by 5 to 10 percent between their mid-teens and early 20s, due to a rise in reproductive hormones, says Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, a family doctor and nutritionist based in New York City. “As a woman enters prime childbearing years, estrogen — which increases body fat — rises,” he explains. At a cellular level, mitochondria, which convert glucose into energy, become less efficient, impairing the body’s ability to burn fat and sugar, says Oz Garcia, a New York City-based wellness and aging expert whose clients include Hilary Swank and Heidi Klum. “As kids, our mitochondria work at full blast,” he says, but they slow with age.

THE EATING STRATEGY: Aim to get a full third of your diet from protein, suggests Morrison, who says he’s seen patients become vegetarians only to find it harder to shed weight when they consume inadequate amounts of protein, which is necessary to maintain muscle mass and optimize metabolic function. Case in point? Jewelry designer Suzanne Somersall, 29, lost 5 pounds from cutting back on calorie- and carb-dense Nature Valley granola bars and eating more lean protein like chicken, salmon, and hummus. In addition, New York nutritionist Joy Bauer suggests swapping sugar- and calorie-heavy coffee drinks, the domain of college all-nighters, for skim-milk lattes. Milk provides calcium (women need 1,200 milligrams daily to help build bones before menopause) and protein. And add vegetables like spinach to get folic acid, which is important for women who want kids.

THE EXERCISE PLAN: Experts agree that establishing a consistent fitness routine, say 30 minutes of cardio three to four times a week to establish muscle tone and drive metabolism, is a must. Good habits now will pay dividends later.

30s

THE SCIENTIFIC SCOOP: Research done at the Cleveland Clinic shows that while portions of the human skeleton continue growing through the mid-20s, by her 30s, a woman’s vertical growth has stopped and the hormones responsible for boosting muscle and bone strength fall off dramatically. Experts say those growth hormones also help prevent glucose absorption in fat cells, and when there is a deficiency, it’s hard to lose weight. On top of that, pregnancy and breast-feeding mean many women temporarily increase their nutritional intake, and stress — brought on by full-fledged careers and family life — can cause overeating and trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone that signals to the body to store fat around the midsection.

THE EATING STRATEGY: “In your 30s, every day can be a frantic whirlwind,” says Bauer. To stabilize blood sugar and maximize energy, she suggests starting the morning with a breakfast of Greek yogurt, which has lots of calcium and twice the protein of regular yogurt, and making a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread for a mid-morning snack. (The slow-burning carbs help you feel fuller longer, as does the fat in the peanut butter.) Elisa Dahan, a 33-year-old mother of two and the Montreal-based co-creative director of outerwear line Mackage, eats Nutella on whole-wheat toast every morning, saying it satisfies her sweet tooth and gives her something to look forward to the night before. For dinner, in lieu of bread or pasta, Dahan has a salad and barbecued salmon. One habit busy women should avoid, experts agree, is unintentionally sabotaging a diet by casually polishing off high-calorie foods (like uneaten French fries) from your child’s or partner’s plate. “You have to create controlled moments when you can eat,” advises Bauer. So steam a big plate of spinach to snack on while your kids have dinner, or order a side of grilled asparagus at restaurants.

THE EXERCISE PLAN: Full-body conditioning, like in a cardio class with weights, will torch calories and build muscle simultaneously, making it a time-efficient way to get in shape during your 30s, says Smith.

40s, 50s & BEYOND

THE SCIENTIFIC SCOOP: As metabolism function drops further, daily calorie requirements dip, too. In addition, women approaching menopause have less estrogen, meaning fat goes straight to the abdomen, not hips or thighs.

THE EATING STRATEGY: After 40, overall health becomes as much a consideration as weight. Experts highlight the need for heart-healthy fats like coconut oil, which contain a cholesterol-lowering triglyceride that’s easily converted into energy; and antioxidant-packed and anti-inflammatory foods like red bell peppers, which can reduce the effects of chronic oxidative stress and excessive inflammation, both of which are linked to higher cancer risks. Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Moreno, a San Diego-based family practitioner whose latest book, The 17 Day Plan to Stop Aging, was published in September, tells patients this age to eat Brazil nuts, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that can help fight depression. Ji Baek, 42, founder of Rescue Beauty Lounge, an upscale line of nail products, has her own approach: She eats just one meal a day. Throughout the morning and afternoon, Baek snacks on an apple or a few cashews and drinks tea in anticipation of a 6 p.m. dinner date with her husband or friends, which often includes wine, stuffed pasta shells, and steak. “I’m not a farmer. I don’t need to eat three times a day,” she says, adding that the diet allows her to enjoy the foods she loves while staying lean. “I choose quality over quantity.”

Jewelry designer Ann Dexter-Jones, in her late 50s, took the opposite approach, eating more, not less, when she realized that being too thin was adding years to her appearance. “I needed a few carbs to fill out my face,” says Dexter-Jones, who now has oatmeal for breakfast, a meal she used to skip; vegetable- and fish-filled lunches and dinners (Dover sole and sea bass are favorites); and vodka sodas instead of wine, which she says has too much sugar. Savory snacks, like Gorgonzola and Emmentaler cheese, salami, and pickles, round out the day.

THE EXERCISE PLAN: Add resistance training to your fitness program to mitigate the effects of sarcopenia, the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass, says Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center.

THE NEW PRESCRIPTIONS

Last summer, the FDA approved its first two diet medications in more than a decade, Belviq and Qsymia. (Another, Contrave, was rejected in 2011 but is expected to be reviewed again in two years.) Die-hard dieters are rejoicing, but experts like Dr. Gerard Mullin, the director of Integrative Gastroenterology Nutrition Services at Johns Hopkins Hospital, question the drugs’ long-term efficacy. Even those who celebrate the addition of new tools to help patients, like Dr. Caroline Apovian, say the drugs are intended for clinically obese patients with diseases like type 2 diabetes or hypertension. “This is not for someone who wants to lose 5 pounds to fit into a wedding dress,” she says.

NAME: BELVIQ

TIMELINE: Approved by the FDA in June 2012; available by prescription soon.

CLAIM TO FAME: This appetite suppressant activates a serotonin receptor in the brain, so smaller portion sizes trigger greater satiety. In clinical trials, almost half of the nondiabetic patients who used Belviq lost 5 percent or more of their starting weight (an average of 12 pounds) in a year. Possible side effects include headaches and dizziness.

NAME: QSYMIA

TIMELINE: Approved by the FDA in July 2011; available by prescription soon.

CLAIM TO FAME: This drug combines phentermine, an appetite suppressant, with topiramate, an epilepsy and migraine medication often prescribed off-label to help people feel fuller. Dieters on a high dose lost slightly more than 10 percent of their starting weight, but possible side effects include elevated heart rates, a decline in cognitive function, and birth defects in babies of pregnant patients.

NAME: CONTRAVE

TIMELINE: Rejected by the FDA in 2011; may be reviewed again in two years.

CLAIM TO FAME: Contrave, a combination of the antidepressant buproprion (marketed as Wellbutrin) and naltrexone, a medication for drug and alcohol addiction, suppresses food cravings. The FDA has asked for more research on its effect on cardiovascular health.

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Tatiana Boncompagni

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Appliance-makers are betting on finishes that are just different enough.

Is this the end of a 25-year run for stainless steel?

Major manufacturers are placing bets on different potential successors to the shiny, upscale appliance finish, whose resilience surprised many.

It is a pivotal moment in kitchen design: While stainless steel is still the dominant look, there are clear signals it has outworn its welcome, even with no clear successor in place.

The appliance industry has tried to promote new looks before. In recent years, manufacturers have pitched “oiled bronze,” “antique copper” and a gray hue called “meteorite,” as well as aluminum and other look-alikes, but none has been able to unseat stainless steel.

Whirlpool Corp., the world’s largest home-appliance maker, recently introduced its Ice Collection of appliances, including glossy white. “White is the new stainless,” a Whirlpool news release says.

“Black is the new stainless steel,” Wolf Appliance says in a news release for black-glass ovens introduced this spring.

In September, General Electric introduced refrigerators, ovens, microwaves and dishwashers in a muted gray called “slate.” Miele says it will roll out new high-gloss finishes for the U.S. soon, though it has not shared details.

The new colors and materials, though not as vibrant as the avocado green and harvest gold of previous eras, are designed blend in with their surroundings, rather than stand out like a trophy of technology the way shiny stainless steel tends to do.

Introducing a new finish is a gamble. Development takes a year or more. Stores sometimes grant extra space to new ideas. Typically, however, manufacturers have to work within an allotted number of slots, so an unsuccessful product can put the company’s overall sales at risk.

No manufacturer is writing off stainless steel completely. It is too durable and versatile for that. Whirlpool, mindful of consumers’ devotion to it, played it safe and included a stainless-steel option in the Ice Collection line. Still, there is a growing sense that stainless steel’s popularity is running into overtime.

The new kitchen
The new appliances partly reflect the kitchen’s changing role in the home. In an open floor plan, the kitchen functions as the hub of relaxing and entertaining — a return to its historic role as the center of family life.

“Until the industrial age, the kitchen was central to the home,” says Victoria Matranga, an industrial-design historian and program coordinator for the International Housewares Association.

It lost that role as kids went to their second-floor bedrooms with their own TVs, she says, adding, “Now there’s a movement to get people together again, in the kitchen.”

Patrick Schiavone, Whirlpool’s vice president of global consumer design, spent two decades as a car and truck designer at Ford Motor Co. before joining Whirlpool in 2010. Now house-hunting near Whirlpool headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich., he is set against stainless steel for his kitchen appliances.

“I’m over it,” he says.

Schiavone’s first big U.S. project at Whirlpool was developing the company’s Ice Collection, which aims to remake what he saw as the outdated look of black and white appliances on the market.

“We wanted to make them as beautiful as stainless steel,” he says. “We want it to feel more like it was meant to be in the space, rather than be some futurist styling of machinery.”

Consumers typically buy a new appliance when an old one breaks after a decade or two of use. They often mix different brands. Schiavone wants the Ice Collection’s distinctive look to push people to splurge on the whole collection.

“We were careful to make a suite that people lusted after,” he says.

Banking on change
The appliance industry needs a boost after several years in which the housing-market slump has dampened appliance sales. Manufacturer discounts have eaten into profits.

GE is betting on a metallic matte finish it calls “slate.” Figuring that cost-conscious consumers aren’t likely to replace all their appliances at once, GE revised the new finish several times, making it warmer so as to complement the stainless steel, white or black appliances already found in consumers’ kitchens.

“Not every consumer is ready to completely change out their kitchen appliances,” says Lou Lenzi, director of industrial design for GE Appliances. “They don’t see the need to swap that expensive range they bought a year ago.”

There is a 12- to 15-year life span for an appliance finish to build momentum, peak and decline, Lenzi says. “For stainless steel to have such a strong run is remarkable.” Still, he says he detects “stainless fatigue” in the market. “Living-room aesthetics are appearing in the kitchen’s cabinetry and flooring. Then you have this big piece of industrial steel staring at you. Clearly, there is a disconnect.”

Slate’s development was veiled in secrecy. Lenzi’s team used code names such as “Dorian Gray” and “Earl Grey.” The team noted that countertops were becoming less polished and figured a matte appliance finish would complement them better. A muted surface shine also makes appliances resemble the flat-screen TVs and iPads that are increasingly at home in the kitchen.

At the high end, Viking Range — whose iconic, open-burner stainless-steel range was one of the first to bring professional-kitchen styling into homes — offers 23 color alternatives to stainless steel, including “cinnamon,” “wasabi,” “kettle black” and “dijon,” launched this spring. Still, stainless steel dominates.

“I’d say 80% of our sales are still stainless steel,” says Brent Bailey, design director at Viking Range. “I could add another 100 colors, and the percentage wouldn’t change much.”

Wolf, part of Sub-Zero Inc., chose highly reflective black glass for its new E Series line.

“Glass is becoming more popular in our society in general, and in architecture, the buildings coming up are glass,” says Michele Bedard, Wolf’s vice president of marketing. There won’t be a white counterpart, though. “It’s been debated, but white doesn’t have that lasting power. We test our appliances to last 20 years.”

German appliance-maker Bosch, meanwhile, stands by stainless steel in the U.S.

“We’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years alternative finishes on the market, but they’re not enduring,” says Graham Sadtler, industrial-design manager for Bosch. “Similar to fashion, fads come and go.”

Getting consumers to switch from stainless steel isn’t easy. Jenn-Air launched a line of “oiled bronze” appliances in 2007; it has already dialed back availability of the finish in certain models.

“We hoped that oiled bronze would take off,” says Brian Maynard, Jenn-Air’s brand-marketing director. “It got a lot of attention, and it sold quite well, but we’ve seen it wane a little recently. We’re not disappointed with it, but it just isn’t stainless steel.”

Electrolux recently introduced a black-steel finish in markets outside the U.S. but says that stainless won’t go away soon.

“People still want that connection between the restaurant experience and their own home,” says Bob Martin, Electrolux’s design director of major appliances in North America. “Stainless steel at the high end will be strong and stay strong for a long time.”

“Other finishes haven’t achieved the same level of sophistication in terms of aesthetic,” says Stefano Marzano, chief design officer for Electrolux, who has been exploring possibilities in stone, ceramic and enamel.

Stainless steel’s staying power is partly the result of how Americans approach their kitchens, says David VanderWaal, director of brand marketing for LG’s home appliances.

“They start with the cabinets, then it’s flooring, countertops, lighting, and then finally it’s their appliances.” LG isn’t offering alternatives, he says. “We don’t see the trend of stainless-steel appliances diminishing.”

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Ellen Byron of The Wall Street Journal

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The average American man works 8.73 hours per day. If you feel like you need 87 hours in a day just to meet all of your deadlines, then you have a bigger problem than drowning under your inbox: You’re setting yourself up for heart disease, finds a new study published online today in The Lancet.

The study looked at workers under “job strain.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that you 1) have piles of work to do, and 2) feel like you have zero control over your workload, your promotion chances, or the brain-numbing assignments your boss slaps on your desk.

The findings: Men who experience job strain have a 29 percent greater chance of developing heart disease than men without these demands. Even guys who had very high workloads were in the clear as long as they felt like they had some control over their fate.

Strain leads to stress, which increases your blood pressure–the number one risk for heart disease–and could lead to a long list of other heart-damaging side effects, researchers explain.

Are you strained? Answer these two questions:

Do you feel constantly overloaded at work? Do you feel like there’s jack you can do about it? If yes to both–congratulations!–you have job strain.

But even if you can’t control your workload, you can beat the heart-damaging effects of stress. Step 1: Sweat. A lot. A University of Missouri at Columbia study found that 33 minutes of high-intensity exercise helps lower stress levels more than working out at a moderate pace. What’s more, the benefits last as long as 90 minutes afterward. For a fast-paced, muscle-building, fat-torching workout that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, check out Speed Shred from Men’s Health DeltaFIT. The eight follow-along DVDs will change your life, one 30-minute workout at a time.

Steps 2 through 15: These easy tips to turn your workplace into a palace of zen.

Take Your Calls Standing Up

Here’s what happens when you flick on your iMac: “Your breathing rate goes up 30 percent, your blinking rate goes way down, and you tend to tighten your arms and shoulders without knowing it,” says Erik Peper, Ph.D., of the Institute for Holistic Healing at San Francisco State University. Your remedy: Change your body position every half hour or so–simply standing while talking on the phone can improve bloodflow and ease muscle strain. (Is your office chair killing you? Find out in the Men’s Health special report Sentenced to the Chair.)

Visit Cracked.com

Each hour, spend a minute perusing a funny blog. Periodic breaks help you process and absorb new information, increasing your efficiency, says Cleveland Clinic psychologist Michael McKee, Ph.D. During your hiatus, take 10-second breaths–inhale 4 seconds, exhale 6–to bolster your heart’s ability to recover from stress.

Enforce the Three-Second Rule

The average working professional spends roughly 23 percent of his workday on email and glances at his inbox about 36 times an hour, finds a study from the University of Glasgow. It takes you an average of 64 seconds to return to a task once you’ve stopped to read a new email, according to another study from Loughborough University. Allow yourself no more than 3 seconds to decide whether a message is worthy of your immediate attention, says John Grohol, Psy.D. (Here’s an email you’ll look forward to receiving every day: The Men’s Health Daily Dose newsletter. It’s full of tons of useful stuff!)

Put a Green Dot on Your Phone

This is your secret reminder to take one deep breath before you answer a call, says Susan Siegel, of the Program on Integrative Medicine at the University of North Carolina school of medicine. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll sound more confident.

Go to Starbucks–with Your Coworkers

Researchers at the University of Bristol in England discovered that when stressed-out men consumed caffeine by themselves, they remained nervous and jittery. But when anxious men caffeine-loaded as part of a group, their feelings of stress subsided. Just make sure you avoid The 6 Worst Coffee Drinks in America.

Play Pandora at Work

A study in Nature Neuroscience found that listening to favorite tunes or anticipating a certain point in a song can cause a pleasurable flood of dopamine. Listen to a few songs in a row several times a day.

Try the Office Chair Workout

An Australian study published last month found that just 15 minutes of yoga–practiced right from an office chair–can reduce stress. Got a chair? Sitting in it right now? Great–try The Office Chair Workout.

Be Fashionably Late to Happy Hour

If you’re looking forward to unwinding after a grueling work week with a cold brew, hold off on happy hour for 30 minutes: Drinking while stressed out actually prolongs your anxiety–even when you limit yourself to two–according to a study at the University of Chicago. The easy fix: Tell the crew you need to run errands before hitting the bar. Then take a quick walk, browse Best Buy’s new releases, or flip to SportsCenter to check the scores.

Grab Your Ears

Tug your lobes (lightly) and move them in circles in opposite directions for a count of 10, advises massage therapist Elizabeth Cornell. The motion moves the tentorium membrane in your head, which can relieve stress. You’ll also be in fighting shape for charades.

Take the Scenic Route

If it doesn’t add much time to your commute, drive on roads with more trees and grass–natural scenes decrease feelings of anger and frustration on the road, according to a study in the journal Environment and Behavior. Not an option? Put on your favorite band’s new album. Drivers who faced frustrating and irritating congestion felt less stressed when listening to music they enjoyed, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Put a Hole in a Tennis Ball and Squeeze

Let the tension build up in your hand and the rest of your body, then release. This increases relaxation, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City. Tennis balls are those yellowy things people hit around in the ’70s and ’80s.

Hold Your Tongue

When your annoying colleague decides to be annoying once again, tell yourself, I choose to be calm, says Siegel. Ah, now it’s a choice, and you choose to be master and commander of the ship.

Make a Schedule

If the boss suddenly dumps a big project on you, try not to say, “I can’t do this. I’m gonna get fired.” (Try particularly not to say this in front of your boss.) Instead, present him with a schedule outlining when things can be done. What was overwhelming is now under control and open to negotiation, says James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a psychologist at Duke University.

Laugh It Off

Think your job is stressful? Try taking a gig as a New York City firefighter. One study found that every time a fire alarm bell rings, a firefighter’s heart rate jumps up to 150 beats per minute–about the same rate as a moderate jog. Firefighter Matt Long says his fire station received between 4,000 and 5,000 calls like that each year. “After a bad day, we deal with things through laughter,” Long says. To land the perfect practical joke, make sure you know the person well, always help clean up, and be ready to have your target prank you back.

Pop This Pill

Frazzled medical students fed an omega-3 supplement for 12 weeks saw a 20 percent drop in stress compared to their placebo-taking peers, Ohio State University research shows. Click here for the 10 Best Supplements for Men.

Do you feel your blood pressure going down already?

 

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by:Editors of Men’s Health

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