Friday, June 30, 2006

Download your Next Software Purchase

By Christina VanGinkel

If you have a computer, at home or at the office, chances are that at some point in time you have purchased software. For the most part, software comes packaged in a box with a manual or a sheet of instructions, and most of the time the instructions are not read, let alone saved. Installation of software programs is usually automatic, with your computer instantly opening up the program's installation files, accompanied by the person installing it just following along with a set of prompts, clicking on an occasional open or install button. Sometimes, the person installing a program might have to go so far as to tell a DVD or CD ROM to run, and then have to look for the install file. Basically though, the install of most programs are quite simple.

Some software programs, such as graphic programs, come with books that you not only will want to keep, but that you will use for reference. If this is an issue, by all means order the software package that includes these needed extras.

Other programs may have a bit more detailed installation instructions, or choices when it comes to installing the whole program or just installing the basic program itself, often offering to leave much of the needed media files on the DVD or CD ROM to be accessed directly from them. In these instances, deciding how important these extra options are, or if they are worth the cost of shipping over just downloading the same title might be something you will have to decide on an individual basis.

Even when this is the case though, a large majority of people choose to install the whole program onto the computer's hard drive, so that they do not need to swap a disk to access these files. This is especially true if it is a program that they plan to use often. From the aforementioned graphics programs, to games, reference titles, productivity software, finance, even security software, most, if not all are available for download. This in turn means less time spent on your part waiting for a program to arrive, allowing you to use a program the very same day you buy it. That you do not have to deal with the sometimes-large boxes that software ships in is also a major advantage. Consider how many times you have hung onto a software package, even though you have no real need for it, simply because it looks so fancy and important, it seems like a waste to toss it in the trash, when in reality the real waste occurred the day the box was made.

One method of obtaining software that is becoming more common, especially as Internet connections are routinely faster than dial up, is to purchase and download your software purchases directly from the Internet. The company saves on manufacturing costs, and this often equals a price cheaper than if you choose to buy the same program via the traditional boxed version. This practice avoids the wait time for software to be shipped, allowing the consumer to start immediately using the program, often within minutes of buying it. It also saves both the company and the consumer on the cost of shipping the product. Also saved is the waste of tossing unwanted manuals, instead, including the manual in a digital format right along with the software application itself.

While this practice of downloadable software is not technically new, many people have avoided it, claiming that if something went wrong with the computer that they had downloaded the software to, they would not have backup copies to replace the program on a new computer. Burnable drives have all but eradicated this issue, allowing the purchaser to burn a copy of the program to CD or DVD for backup purposes. Many companies also keep a record of who purchased what, and the consumer is entitled to a future download of the product in case of such an occurrence.

If you will soon be shopping for any software, be sure to check if the program is available for download from your chosen store. More companies are offering this service, and this past week alone, I had offers in my inbox from companies such as Dell and Broderbund, both offering software at discounted prices if I were to choose to download them instead of having the retail box mailed to me. Broderbund's offer was for an instant download with no shipping charges, which equal a savings of $6.99 for a single product at standard shipping, or a savings of $18.99 for that same product if I want it to arrive in one to three days.

Home Projects for the Long Weekend

By Christina VanGinkel

With the holiday coming up, many people are taking Monday off too, effectively creating a four-day weekend. Some are even skipping out early today, trying to make it a five-day weekend. Many will travel, others have company coming over for at least one or two of the days, while others plan to stay home and catch up on projects around the house. If this latter group includes you, this is the perfect time to tackle some of those bigger jobs you have been putting off.

Most people who enjoy taking part in weekend projects have a list of things they intend to do. That list always seems to include one or two projects that seem to be forever put off, because we realistically know that they are going to take longer than just a day or two to complete, and we rarely have even two weekends in a row to commit to them. When we do have a weekend off, the time is usually used up with our chores that seem to always eat into our weekends, such as weeding and mowing the lawn. Four or five days off right in a row though, and the holiday itself on the last day, means that the stores will be open all weekend long as usual, which in turn means that you can pick one of those projects and get it done!

Some projects that you might have been putting off but you can easily be done in four or five days:


Assemble a new garden shed
Painting a large porch or shed
Replace or repaint the shutters on your house
Laying a new flagstone path
Installing a pond kit complete with bubbler and Koi
Assemble a wooden playscape for the kids or grandchildren
Put up a new fence
Build an install a trellis complete with climbing plants
Install a new dog kennel


Rip out old carpeting or linoleum and install do it yourself wood laminate flooring in a bedroom or hallway
Sew and hang new curtains
Replace the runner or treads on your stairs
Refinish kitchen cabinets
Tile the bathroom floor or a new kitchen backsplash
Restore a piece of furniture

These are just prompts to get you going on a big project of your own this holiday weekend. Just about any large project that you have wanted to tackle is perfect for such a long weekend. Even if you have to work on Monday, if you have Tuesday off and are not planning to spend it partying in the backyard or visiting relatives, then set aside the day to finish off whatever you started over the weekend.

Do avoid any project that might require you to call in a professional if something goes wrong that you do not feel you could handle on your own. Electricians and plumbers charge enough for a typical planned visit. An emergency call in on a holiday weekend is sure to cost you major bucks on top of their regular charges.

If the project is something, you have just been dreaming about, take the time to explore what you will need, including plans or instructions, and a couple of extra hands if that is what is called for. For example, if the project is more labor intensive than time intensive, invite a few friends over for a good meal on the grill. Be upfront with them, explaining to them that you could use a hand carrying the new cement fountain to the back garden, or moving your oversized antique sideboard from the upstairs bedroom down to the garage where you later plan to refinish it. Be sure you shop for everything you might need to avoid running low on supplies and finding your favorite store closed for the holiday.

If you are fortunate enough to have a long holiday weekend, be sure to put it to good use. With the Fourth of July falling on Tuesday, the weekend might just turn out to be as long as you can stretch it. You could potentially end up with enough time to get in some grilling and cold drinks and finish a project or two. Our only problem might end up choosing which project(s) to tackle. Have a Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Shopping for Anti-Aging Products

By Christina VanGinkel

A magazine that I had not ordered appeared in my mailbox the other day. As I carried it up from the mailbox at the end of our long driveway, I found myself glancing at the cover, assuming that it was some sort of women's magazine about health, but one that for the life of me I did not remember ordering. I get quite a few magazines though, so quickly came to the conclusion that maybe it was a free trial issue I had signed up for online. I set it aside with the rest of my mail, and did not look at it until later in the day when I took a break for a cup of tea. It was then that I realized it was not a magazine in the truest sense, but an advertisement of anti-aging products put together magazine style.

Anti-aging products have been around for quite a few years, with products promoting everything from instant face-lifts, to instant bust lifts. Knowing what is hype, and what might actual provide results is difficult to do. Because of misleading advertisements, shopping for anti-aging products can be a hit and miss proposition.

If you are considering trying any product that does promote anti-aging, be sure to consider those things that affect your appearance with aging to begin with. Sun exposure year after year can increase wrinkles though drying out your skin. Avoid over exposing your skin to the sun, and other harmful UV rays such as those common during artificially tanning. Moisturize your skin, from your face to your feet, every day, with a good quality moisturizer. Wear sunglasses when needed to help keep from squinting, which can increase the wrinkles beneath your eyes. Stop smoking. Smoking can do more harm to your skin than anyone once realized. From robbing your body of important nutrients it needs to keep its elasticity, and therefore its younger appearance, to turning your skin yellow from the nicotine itself, there is nothing good about smoking when it comes to the aging process. Those who smoke, routinely look years older than someone their same age who does not smoke. Many other things affect how old you look, from diet and exercise, sleeping habits, to your stress level. Leading a healthy, stress free life will leave you looking younger.

Once you consider all of the factors that can make you age faster than you should or would like to, shopping for anti-aging products should be done with as much information as you can find. Do not believe everything you read, especially on a label or in an advertisement. Look up any product you might be considering. The Internet is a good place to search for details and information, and to see what others are saying about just about any product that has been marketed. Be sure that any information you are reading though can be verified through more than a single source. Just like any other product or fact, just because it is on the web does not make it true. When you are considering anything that can affect your health, double checking facts is imperative.

Be sure you understand any ingredients or procedures and what side affects or complications that they might come with. Many anti-aging products make claims based on individual herbs or other ingredients. Be alert to any allergic reactions you might have.

For products that work simply, such as bras that have extra support, or tapes that pull back your skin, your best form of research is often trial. Look for products that have a money back guarantee and from companies that have been in business longer than just a few months. This way, if you do try something and it does not provide the results you expected, you can usually get at least part of your money back.

Until someone finds a cure for aging, anti-aging products will continue to be a profitable market for those selling them, and a murky market for those trying to filter out those products that actually provide some relief from the aging process from those that just empty pockets. Shop informed, shop wisely, and remember that aging is a natural process that we will all eventually go though.

Shopping for the Perfect Mortgage

By Christina VanGinkel

The perfect mortgage would be one that you paid whenever you felt like it, or better yet, one that never charged you interest at all. Finding a mortgage with terms such as these is just a pipe dream, but you can find the perfect mortgage to fit your needs if you know what to shop for.

Interest Rates and Taking Advantage of the Tools Available

The interest rate on any mortgage you are considering is of utmost importance. The lower the rate, the lower the payment, the more money you have available to spend elsewhere. If you have poor credit, it might be tempting to jump into a mortgage to achieve your dream of home ownership, but if the mortgage you can get is tied to a huge interest rate, you might want to reconsider paying rent a bit longer. Take the extra cash that would be going towards the high interest and use it to clear up your old debt. Once your credit history is improved, then apply for a mortgage at a lower rate of interest. If you are having a hard time understanding the consequences of a high interest rate mortgage, check out an online calculator that will allow you to compare the dollar amount of the payment on a loan at different interest rates. For example, if you secure a mortgage for $75,000 at 6.5 percent interest, your monthly payment would be $474.05 for a total payment of $170,658.37 paid out over the course of 360 payments. The same loan amount of $75,000 at 11.5 percent interest would equal a monthly payment of $742.72 for a staggering total of $267,378.69 over the same length of time.

Length of Mortgage

Many people just assume that a mortgage is a loan that lasts thirty years, but this is not so anymore. You can take a mortgage out for just about any number of years, with fifteen, and twenty years quite common. With a loan that has no prepayment penalty, you can also shorten the length of your loan by paying extra on the principal whenever you want. Keep in mind that the shorter the length of the loan, the monthly payment will increase, but the overall cost of interest paid out will lessen. One way to get the best of both if you are considering going with a shorter loan length, but are worried about the higher payment, is to shop for a loan with no prepayment penalty and then just pay the higher amount on the months that you can afford to.

Have the Terms of the loan Spelled Out

Be sure you have all of the fine print in writing before you sign your name to anything. Hidden fees can be a big letdown. You think you have everything taken care of, only to realize that the loan officer or customer service personnel you were dealing with were not being upfront about all of the costs involved. If you approached a company because you saw an ad for a no fee mortgage, be sure that is the loan you are applying for. Most places offer numerous types of mortgages, and unless you stay atop the whole process, you might find yourself part way through the maze, only to discover that the mortgage you are applying for is actually different than the one you saw advertised.

Comparison Shop Online

Shopping online for a mortgage is a great way to compare what one company is able to offer over another. You always have things in writing, and can easily access tools to see how one deal might compare to another.

Know Your Qualifications

Shopping for a mortgage is one of the biggest financial transactions most people will ever enter into. Knowing what you want, and not settling for less, especially if your credit is outstanding, is imperative. Before you ever apply, check out your credit history, making sure that everything is in order. This way, if you are offered terms you do not agree with, you will have the knowledge about your credit to ask for better terms, or to confidently walk out the door and apply somewhere else. Shopping for a mortgage should be like shopping for anything else. Look for the best deal you can find, and do not settle for anything less than what you know you are entitled to.

Shopping for a Pet Carrier

By Christina VanGinkel

You might discover you need a pet carrier for various reasons. Maybe your dog or cat has become ill and needs to go to the veterinarian and you are uncomfortable holding them in your arms or just leashing them. Possibly, your pet has had a surgical procedure such as being neutered, and the veterinarian has recommended that they be kenneled for a few days to keep them quiet and from tearing at stitches. Perhaps you have a new kitten or puppy that needs to be kept enclosed when you are off at work or during the night when they cannot be properly supervised, to keep them safe or to keep them from having accidents about the house. Do not forget that if you are planning to travel with your pet, a suitable carrier will also be required, and your options will vary depending on the type of travel. For whatever reasons you might need to purchase a pet carrier, taking the time to think about how the pet carrier will be used can assure you that the one you do buy will fit both your and your pet's needs.

Size of your Pet

The size of your pet will of course play a major consideration in what size pet carrier you get. Bigger is definitely not always better, and neither is one so small that they cannot move at all. A pet carrier should allow your pet to stand and turn about at least. Take into consideration the main purpose of the carrier when considering size. If it is for a growing puppy, and protecting your floors from puddles is the main purpose, by all means, buy a carrier large enough to accommodate his or her growth, else wise you will soon find yourself having to make another purchase when puppy outgrows the original one. If you need to keep a pet calm after surgery, one that will just allow you pet to stand and stretch, and allow them to turn around before comfortably lying down is your best bet. By going too big, you are going to encourage them to move around more than they should. If you are unsure still about the size, ask your veterinarian to see what size cage your pet was kept in at their office immediately after surgery and if they have any recommendations on carrier size, especially if your pet will need to be kept calm for any length of time. For a pet that will be flying, airlines will often provide you with guidelines as to allowable size. Keep in mind that you will also need room for food and water in the carrier, so not all of the interior room is just for the pet itself. Keeping this in mind as you shop can help you avoid buying a carrier that is too small.


Once you know what size carrier you need, you will have to decide on the carrier construction itself. Some carriers are made of wire and allow your pet to see about the space they are in. These can be good for puppies that are being acclimated to a family. They can see you, you can see them, but they can still be controlled during specific times of the day, such as during meals or overnight. Carriers made of molded plastic, with solid walls are good for those times you would prefer your pet to be kept calm. They do not offer as much light, due to the solid wall construction most of them have at least on their bottom halves, so are not good for puppies that need constant interactions with those around them, even when they are caged. Many of these are ideal for cargo bays during flights and for visits to the vet where you want to limit their contact with other people and pets. They can also be good for nighttime crating, when the only thing your pet will use the carrier for is sleeping. Be sure that a solid walled carrier has good ventilation.

Other Considerations

When choosing the size of any carrier, also consider if it will fit in any vehicle that you might have to haul it in. I once bought a carrier to take a dog that had major surgery back and forth to the vet. The first time we went to sue it, to pick the dog up and bring him home, we realized that it was too large to fit in the back seat of our car. Always be sure that the door on any carrier you choose cannot be easily opened by your pet, as the main purpose of any carrier is to keep your pet safe and under control, when needed.

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day

By Christina VanGinkel

People have been in search of a fountain of youth most likely for as long as man has walked the earth. Most people do not like the thought of getting older for various reasons. Wrinkles, graying hair, slowed steps, and often a diminished thought process. From illnesses that come with getting older, to the natural aging process it self, slowing down seems to be par with getting older, with brains slowing down as common as the steps we take.

Nintendo DS has come up with what they believe to be a video game to help combat this process. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day is a game created by Ryuta Kawashima. Working as a professor, Ryuta Kawashima had dreams of furthering his studies on brain imaging. Somewhere along the way, he realized just how much money was being spent on video games and decided to delve into the world of video gaming in hopes to make enough money to fund his studies. From the popularity of this game, I would have to give an opinion that it looks like he has succeeded in his endeavors.

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day uses several subjects, including math, reading, colors, working mazes and more to supposedly train people's brains to improve, or at the least, maintain themselves, instead of sliding downhill as they age. For someone like me who has a hard time recalling what I had for breakfast by the time lunch rolls around, and can literally run around a house looking for a set of 'lost' keys that are actually in my hand, the idea that I might be able to play a game that has the potential to reverse the way my aging brain works is intriguing at the least!

The game will keep track of a player's long-term scores so that over the span of up to a year, the players can track their improvements. This is an important feature, otherwise we might think we are improving, but would never really be sure. The game is played on the Nintendo DS, taking advantage of the touch screen and stylus so that hand eye coordination is part of the training process. Whether or not this game will actually help to make an aging brain younger, still remains to be seen. The game has many fans, but also many critics. There are those people who will argue the point that video games in general are not healthy, and actually work to destroy more brain cells than a game such as this might save, and those that will argue just the opposite, saying that any game that gets kids or adults thinking surely has a positive side. I would have to say that any game played to excess might have its downfalls, but if someone finds a harmless game fun, even addictive, why not play just for the fun value. If you or someone you know is a fan of thinking games, or enjoys solving puzzles, then this game might be something intriguing for you to check out.

Some parts of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day can be a bit on the bland side, such as calculating times problems, or reading out loud, try to keep in mind that the whole game is suppose to be a process, where you are building up to more difficult tasks. When you consider the overall product, somewhat like playing games in a puzzle book, with the ease of an electronic playing field, I think there is a lot to be said for this game.

In keeping with the popularity of games, the makers of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day also included the very popular game of Sudoku. This bonus alone will make this game attractive to many potential customers. Sudoku, an addictive puzzle game is sure to get the players brain in a thinking mode even when nothing else will.

If you like puzzle books or games of any kind, and are looking to extend your play into the world of Video games, then be sure to check out Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day for the Nintendo DS.

Children's Furniture that Doubles for Play

By Christina VanGinkel

When you think of kid's furniture, you might not think of the play value that individual pieces might have. However, with kid's rooms becoming more colorful and decorative in recognition of their small inhabitants, furniture pieces can also do double duty as play equipment.

When I think of how to create play space in a child's room using furniture pieces, one of the first structures I think of are the tents that slip onto a bed. Bed tents can be quite simple. A basic tent that covers the mattress area so that children can feel as if they have their own little domain right where their bed is located. When these proved to be popular with kids, designers took the basic bed tent and created much grander designs. From princess castles to locomotives, race cars, to fancy cottages, kids can now play in their rooms, on their beds, and pretend to be anything from a race car driver to the princess of their very own castle, all for a few dollars and no floor space! Prices average from twenty to forty dollars so you can probably find one that your child will love and still have money left over for additions that are even more fun to their rooms.

When my now twenty something year old daughter was about five years old, her grandfather built her a dollhouse. The best part of it was that it was also a bookshelf. She thought it was great, I thought it was the perfect way to add some room for her ever-growing pile of novels, as she was an early reader who devoured books like some children do candy, and it gave her a place to keep her dolls, with several stories devoted just to the living arrangements of her favorites. Browsing an online store just this morning in search of a bookshelf for my own home, I discovered a manufactured version of a dollhouse / bookshelf reminiscent of the one my father-in-law had built so many years ago. Even better, this bookshelf / dollhouse even had little doors, one on each of the three levels for the small owner to tuck away items that they might not want left out on display. If they have a stack of doll clothes, or maybe a spot to tuck their backpack, these little doored sections would be ideal. I also saw another little shelf that was actually a media center, for the modern child who has a television and DVD player in their room. It had space for those items, along with a shelf that was set up as a doll's living space, ideal for any smaller sized dolls such as a Barbie.

I also discovered these cute little step stools, crafted especially with kids in mind, which were decorated to look like fire trucks, tractors, etc. They could use the footstool for reaching whatever they might need, such as clothes hanging on a top rod in the closet, or the sink to brush their teeth, but then they could also use the footstool to play pretend. With keeping with the fact that any item of furniture should serve at least two purposes, these footstools are perfect additions to any child's space.

While you might never think of lighting as something that should be played with, you can achieve the feeling of being outside beneath a night sky filled with stars, all with a stencil, some paint, and a lamp or two. You can make your own stencil or purchase one that will provide an accurate placement of the stars on your child's walls or ceiling. Use the stencil with glow in the dark paint, and before you know it, your child will be drifting off to sleep each night, beneath the starry night sky, all the while they are really tucked in safe and sound in their very own bedrooms. For kids with active imaginations, or those that might have trouble falling asleep, this can be a great way to end days that are filled with activity and play. The light reflecting from the stars can also be soothing to those kids who might want a night light, but think they are too old to have one.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Decorating Your Home to Reflect Your Family History

This is a great idea that all of us have probably thought of at least once; some African American families relish the idea of an African mask or statuary in their home to bring a little bit of their ancestral homeland into their present residence. Some Irish families may choose to shower their homes with Irish blessing cards and plaques or Waterford crystal. The idea of decorating your living space to reflect your ancestry gives you a wide pallet. Sure, lots of people might merely *like* Spanish or Indian decor, but doesn't it mean so much more if the items with which you fill your home mean something to you personally?

Idea #1: African decor. There are a few techniques to approaching this. African masks are a great decorating idea because they're very trendy, ethnic, and fun. If you don't mind the feeling lots of people seem to have that there is something *creepy* about them, it's a great home furnishing. African wood sculptures, carvings, and statues are another fun addition. Say you want to go beyond knick-knacks; why not choose an African-print sofa, curtains, pillows, etc.? It depends on how immersed in culture you want your room to be; a little decor or a lot depends on the style of the room.

Idea #2: Irish decor. This one is a bit harder because there aren't many home decor items that are associated with Ireland. The Irish blessings mentioned above are always a wonderful choice. Whether you choose to display them with tiny cards scattered around the house, a wall hanging, or a framed portrait, these cheery sayings will brighten the room and remind you of your ancestral home. Waterford crystal or any knick-knacks or figurines made in Ireland would make a unique collection. If you want to hang art, consider portraits of Irish cottages or countryside, or a motif of a Celtic cross. A Celtic cross is a staple in any truly Irish home. You can buy ceramic crosses to hang on nails throughout the home.

Idea #3: German decor. Those of German ancestry who are fond of collectibles should find no trouble with decorating their homes; Hummel and Goebel figurines might be one suggestion. Yes, they are fairly expensive but they look fantastic behind a display case or on a shelf. German beer steins are another great choice. The downside is that they are also on the high end of the price scale. No, you don't have to enjoy drinking to collect beer steins; the main draw for many collectors is the bright scenes that are painted on the steins. Try to decorate your home in the colors of Germany's flag, or find an art print of Neuschwanstein or another German castle.

Idea #4: Medieval decor. A European decorating idea that's sure to please. A medieval-style room can also celebrate your ancestry, provided you've actually traced your family tree back that far (don't get frustrated, it *is* possible). Knowing you come from knights and fair maidens brings out a dreamy quality in many people and they might choose to recreate that romantic era in their own home. Medieval-style furnishing is available through select stores, along with gargoyle items, dragons, tapestries, old-fashioned curtains, bear skin rugs and many other staples of medieval decor. Some wall art suggestions include sayings or blessings written in a very Old English font or in Latin (the language of the church in the Middle Ages).

Idea #4: Victorian decor. Many of us are probably more familiar with Victorian (19th century) ancestors than with medieval. Do you know for sure that your great-great grandmother owned a phonograph? Perhaps you'd like to set your household back a hundred years and buy one as well. There are some beautiful Victorian furniture pieces available, from couches to chests to old writing desks. Wallpapering will give your room a Victorian look, but most home decorators don't want to bother with the mess. It all depends on the amount of energy you want to spend on your project. Even rugs and curtains can be found in 19th century designs and patterns.

Idea #5: Eclectic decor. Did your ancestors come from many different countries? Mix and match! They are all a part of your heritage; shouldn't you honor each place? Place an leopard-print pillow here, a Japanese lantern there. Consider making your room ethnic-eclectic. A blend of many different countries gives your room an artsy look.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Tips for House Shopping Online

By Christina VanGinkel

The Internet has opened more doors for people than most ever thought possible, and in keeping with that theme; they have literally helped open the doors to new homes too!

If you are in the market for a new house, the Internet is the first place you should stop. Whether you are shopping for a house across town, or for one across the country, the Internet has made it possible for you to not only check what types of homes might be available in the market you are interested in, but in many instances, you can even tour many of the very homes you might be considering from the comfort of your computer first. You can check features such as how many bedrooms a house might have, when it was built, if the driveway is paved, and what sort of heating the home has and the age of the heating system. This type of information, and more, is standard at many online website listings for realtors.

Access Listings by Zip Code

To get started, begin by visiting the online listing of any realtor that you would normally consider. All of the major realty companies and many of the smaller ones have sites that list not only their own listings, but also will often offer access to listings nationwide, by simply typing in the zip code of the area, you are interested in finding a property or home.

Narrow your Search

You may also be able to narrow your search by inputting how much acreage a listing should include, how many bedrooms a property should have, the square footage, size of each room, even the price range, with a minimum and a maximum price that you are willing to spend if so desired. Other sites may be able to point you towards neighborhoods that meet specifics you are searching for, such as details about schools and the average home price of homes in a specific neighborhood. They can also provide information on things such as tax costs, and mortgage options.

Request Details via Email

If a listing you are interested in does not provide the details that you want to know, or enough photographs for you to even determine if you might be interested further, email the company to ask them to send you what they have available. Whether one property or ten, if a realty office have them listed, they should be able to accommodate your request. If you are looking for specific information about an area, ask. This might be details relating to churches, hospitals, shopping, how far to freeway access, etc. By asking the realtor in an email, they can often provide better quality information than if you ask them midway through an in person meeting when they might not have access to such information.

3D Walkthroughs and Virtual Tours

Some online realty sites offer 3D walkthroughs of a home. Some virtual tours are quite limited, though just as many can be quite detailed, with photos of both the inside of the house and the outside. Some might even include views that you would see from the inside of the house outward. A virtual walkthrough can be a great way to narrow down your search, especially if you are short on time or if you are trying to locate a property that is not within easy driving distance of your current address. In this way, you can omit those homes that are clearly not, what you are looking for, and narrow your search to those more obvious matches. When it comes time to set up a viewing, you can often do this via the Internet or email too.

Shopping for a new home can be a stressful situation, with never enough time available to do everything that needs to be done. When you do squeeze in a few hours for looking at listings, you want to be able to spend the allotted time viewing those properties that actually have potential, and you do not want to forget to ask about important details that you should be considering, or those that are important to you. By shopping on the Internet first, you are making sure that the time spent is spent wisely and you will be better equipped to end up with the home of your dreams.

Comparison Shopping for Electronics

By Christina VanGinkel

If you find yourself shopping for something from the electronics department, and you are increasingly becoming a bit bewildered between the differences of one choice to the next, it is time to learn the art of comparison shopping. With electronics especially, it can be difficult to stay up to date with what is what. Features come and go, prices change like the wind, and when we think we finally have the basics of something down, the manufacturer or the designers decide that leaving things be would just be too easy, so they go and switch things all around.

Thankfully, most online outlets that sell electronics have taken these facts to heart and have made it increasingly easy to compare not only prices of the electronics we are interested in, but also the features of the same.

A good example of how the fact that one can compare features and prices will not only get us a good bargain on our next electronics purchase, but also help us understand what it is we are buying, is how these sites break down their comparisons of products, to help us be better informed customers.

For instance, one online site recently offered for sale four projectors that all seemed to be about the same, but ranged in price from $700 up to $3000. Now that is no small price difference, yet at first glance all four projectors seemed to be quite similar, especially in how they physically looked.

When I selected the four models that they were offering to be compared, the site lined up all four models and gave me a line by line comparison beginning with the name of each. As each was manufactured by the same company, the names were very similar, yet the model number that was provided with the name of each made for the obvious distinction.

Next, the comparison chart provided key shopping points for comparison of each model to its counterparts, starting with the contrast of each, along with a brief section outlining any important features that they felt would not be covered in the comparison of each model elsewhere. After the important features were listed, they listed the lumens of each, the resolution, and the included warranty that came with each model. I was not sure what lumens meant, but was able to look it up for a better understanding of how the differences listed from model to model might affect my viewing pleasure. I was also able to see what was included with each base package, and if any customization from model to model were offered, I was able to discern what was being offered to be customized, and what each had available as standard.

If I had viewed these each separately on a store shelf, I do not know how I would have been able to so clearly see the numerous differences. The fact that I could simply check a couple of boxes and receive a comprehensive list of comparisons is one of those features of shopping on the Internet that is hard to find anywhere else.

While each electronic will of course offer a different distinctive list of features when comparing, this is a good illustration of how using such a comparison chart could help even an uninformed shopper, shop with the knowledge they need, to know that what they are buying is exactly what they want.

Another advantage of using an online shopping comparison tool is that you can quickly ascertain if the price difference from a cheaper model to a more expensive one includes features that are worth the difference to you. For example, if you are shopping for a new digital camera, and the cost between two models is one hundred dollars, yet through the comparison feature, the only difference you find is that one has an LCD screen size a quarter of an inch larger than its lesser priced competition, you can quickly decide if that is worth the one hundred dollars to your pocketbook.

The next time you are ready to buy a new television, a projector, DVD player or recorder, video camera, still camera, or whatever electronic accessory that you might be in the market for, shopping online where you can easily compare the gear side by side, is definitely the way to shop.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Home Depot Color Solutions Journal

By Christina VanGinkel

If painting of any form is in your decorating future, I just found the perfect book / organizer for you. Home Depot has a Color Solutions Journal, the Ultimate Paint Project Organizer. It is a small three-ring binder filled to overflowing with all sorts of pertinent information, including color wheels and two CD ROMs, about painting.

When you first open the binder, you are greeted to a color wheel built into the binder itself, and an introduction on how to use it. There are also two more wheels in a clear plastic sleeve. The first one, the Woolie Wheel, is created to be used with the Woolie, and the Woolie 2-color roller. The second wheel is a pocket color wheel with color and paint word definitions, and a visual look at what colors mix to make other colors.

After viewing the wheels, you will open the first section of the journal to find the first tabbed section, which is about choosing a color scheme, and helpful hints to having fun with color. Here on you will also find lined notepaper to keep track of your own personal notes about projects you might be working on or are considering. In the back of the binder, you will also find stickers to place on the tabs with the headings of Dining Room, Living Room, Family Room, Kitchen, Master bedroom, Bedroom, and several blank ones to fill in on your own. There are also clear vinyl envelopes throughout the binder for you to store your paint chips. These are included with each section, allowing you to keep them separated right along with the corresponding room tabs that they are intended for.
Section 2 covers getting ready to paint and goes over covering stains, removing mildew, and when to use primer.

The third section of the binder is on paint estimation, and includes information on details such as calculating wall area, and adjusting for windows and doors. The fourth section is a simple but all-inclusive paint project list that covers every conceivable item you might need for your next painting project. From brushes to primer, patching material, even screwdrivers and scrapers, they have made it easy to keep track of all your needs to lessen the chance of finding yourself in the middle of a paint job without something you really need.

Section 5 is filled with some of the most important information someone planning to paint a room might need, from selecting the proper paint sheen, to five steps to success in painting, along with tips about brushes and rollers, and safe cleaning. Section 6 is a primer on faux painting, including sponging on and sponging off, ragging off, ragging on, color washing, dragging, combing, and stippling. There is also information on using glazes.

Section 7 covers important information on the use of safety equipment, and includes protecting your skin, protecting your eyes, and protecting your lungs. It also tells you the difference between the two respirator types and what those made for use in the home do not protect against. Making sure that any respirator you do use fits properly is also covered. Section 8 finishes up the tabbed section of the binder with basic clean up tips, including proper disposal of wash water and wastes.

This binder still has more to offer though. In the very back are two disks to use in your home computer. Both cover faux finishing techniques, with disk 1 on Glazing Techniques, including Sponging On & Off, Ragging On & Off, Colorwashing, Frottage, and Dragging. Disk 2, Texture & Accent Techniques, includes SandWash and Venetian Plaster, texturing techniques, and Crackle, Metallic, and Pearlescent, accent techniques. The step-by-step disks will work on both a Windows based computer or a Macintosh, and are created in conjunction with the BEHR paint company.

If you have a painting project in your future, big or small, be sure to check out this Color Solutions Journal from Home Depot before you start. It is full of useful tips and information that can make your job easier, safer, and maybe even add a bit of fun when you try some of the many techniques that are covered both in the binder and on the included disks.

Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker

By Christina VanGinkel

What could be better than buying your children a fun, new toy, then buying them one that when they are done playing with it you can open it up and serve them a bowl of delicious ice cream!

That is exactly what will happen when you get them a colorful Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker by UCO. Do not be surprised when each child wants one of their own, available in their favorite color, as the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker comes in a wide rainbow of colors, including blue, green, orange, pink, purple, red, and crystal clear.

Priced at $29.95, the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker provides you with the option to make ice cream no matter where you are. Home, camping, at the park, just bring along the colorful Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker and the needed ingredients, and in about twenty minutes, the kids (and the adults) will be enjoying a pint of ice cream from each ice cream maker. Better yet, the ice cream can be in any flavor that you want, with no real limits on the flavors, limited only to what you bring along to use as flavoring. Recipes are included, but users can also experiment with their own fun flavor ideas, their imaginations their limit.

It seems like so many toys that kids play with have a very low activity level. They offer a child nothing much beyond sitting in front of a screen, or if they do offer some form of action, the fun level, or the draw to get kids involved, get them up and moving, just is not there. The promise of a delicious bowl of ice cream though, is enough temptation to get even the most sedate child or adult up and moving.

If you know that a crowd is going to be present, and a pint of ice cream is just not going to be enough, then be sure to check out the MEGA Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker, also by UCO. It makes a quart of ice cream in less than thirty minutes.

Both are made of a durable polycarbonate construction, and are easy to clean and bring along with you wherever you are going. The MEGA sized is prices slightly higher, listing at just under forty dollars, but if you have tens instead of small children, or want to share the finished ice cream with more than just one or two people, the MEGA Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker is the way to go. Remember that neither model ever needs electricity to run, as they are kid (or adult) powered.

When I first saw these, my initial thought was that the small one would be great fun and a learning experience for my young grandson. When I saw the larger, MEGA sized one, I instantly thought of an approaching family reunion that I would be attending later this year. Often, the younger cousins that are in attendance, have not seen each other for a year or two, and with the wide range of ages amongst them, it can be difficult to find something that they are all willing to do, or even something that they all 'can' do. When you have a group that contains children as young as two and three years old, and up to eleven, twelve, even thirteen years old, coming up with an activity that is going to be of an interest to each of them is almost impossible. The idea of being able to creatively make a quart of ice cream by rolling around a ball filled with ice and rock salt in one part, and the ice cream mix in the other, and end up with homemade, delicious ice cream, seemed like the perfect activity that might just be able to bridge such a huge age gap.

If you have a couple of kids or a large group that needs entertaining, and the same old toys are just not going to fill the need, check out the Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker that makes a pint of ice cream, or the MEGA Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker that will make a quart. Both are sure to please even the finickiest of kids.

Building a Home Library of DVD's

By Christina VanGinkel

Building a library of your favorite DVD's no longer means having to take out a second mortgage on your home. While newly released titles are often on the high end price wise, costing upwards of twenty to thirty dollars for a single title, and much more for a set, say of a season's worth of shows, bargain bins with titles costing five dollars and even less, are popular in most electronic departments of your favorite stores. It is not even uncommon to find them on a shelf offering discounted items at the local grocery.

Buying wisely though is the most practical way to build a library of DVD's that you can be proud of, and that you will actually use. Buying a DVD that you are not going to watch at least a couple of times is not really worth the cost, even if the cost is quite low to begin with. Take for example a buying frenzy that I took part in about two years ago. Stopping at a local discount store, I came across several bins of DVD's that were marked down to the incredibly low price of one dollar. Over the following couple of days, I actually went back to the store several times, and it the end, spent upwards of about fifty dollars. Not a large sum, but hey, fifty dollars is fifty dollars. If you are like me, with a somewhat meager budget, fifty dollars can be spent on many things, and dollar DVD's should not top the list.

Still, I was proud that I had been able to kick off our then small collection of DVD titles with so many. I had browsed through the hundreds of titles the store had available, picking out those that I had thought my husband and kids would watch. I even picked up a couple of old westerns to send to my brother, proud owner of his first DVD player just a short while at the time. Well, of the numerous titles that I bought, I figure that we have watched a total of three of them, each a single time. Sadly, this is not an exaggeration. The DVD's were a poor quality. Why I figured for a dollar they would be, I do not know. They are hard to navigate, and my youngest son, technical wizard that he is, told me the only thing the DVD's were good for would be to use them as coasters, I kid you not.

When building a library of DVD titles, ask yourself if you or someone in your home will watch the movie more than once. Consider what the viewing habits of your family or yourself truly are. Only by taking the time to answer these two basic queries, will you be able to make a good decision on your future DVD purchases.

Sure, there will be those movies that you will add through the years to your DVD library that will be mistakes. Some might not get the viewing time others might. Some might end up just not being what you thought they were, or you might even end up with a double here and there, forgetting that you already own the title (Note below on how to keep that from occurring).You can always sell such titles, as there are sites like eBay or that make this quite easy. Unlike dumping nearly fifty DVD's that are not worth the postage, I would have to charge someone to ship them!

Do not overlook the same sites that you might use to sell your own unwanted titles when it comes to shopping. and eBay, along with online sites that sell electronics and various other products are often great places to get bargain prices on your favorite DVD titles.

Be sure to read the fine print when shopping either in person or online. If you have a preference for widescreen versus full screen, be sure you know which you are buying. If you are shopping for a special edition, double check which special edition you are getting, as even a single title may have more than one special edition. One might include a soundtrack, while another might have a disk of extras, while yet another might have even more added extras. Difference in cost from special edition to special edition might differ greatly too, so be sure you are buying the version you want, otherwise you might have the movie, but not all the extras you thought you were getting.

To keep from buying doubles, create a list of your library's titles in your Palm Pilot or Pocket PC, or even a small wire bound notebook, purse sized of course. Separate the titles by genre, alphabetically, or both. Also, keep a list of wanted titles, those that you know you want to add to your library, but are not yet available, or maybe you are waiting to find them at a cheaper price than when they were first released. If you are searching for a special edition of the title, be sure to make note of that too. This way, when you come across a bargain bin, you will be armed with the knowledge of what you have, and what you want. If there is more than one shopper, such as two spouses, just duplicate the list, and keep track of any changes the other might make.

Building a DVD library can take years. It will probably be a progression that has no end. Titles will come and go, but if you or your family enjoys spending time watching movies, you will all take pleasure in the time you spent choosing titles that are worth watching.

Choosing the Right Size LCD or Plasma Screen Television

By Christina VanGinkel

When it comes to shopping for a new television, I have always assumed that you should shop for the biggest television that a: you can afford, and b: that you have space for. Neither answer is correct I have come to find out, though the second answer is somewhat correct.

With the new LCD and Plasma HDTV's all the rage, who would not want the biggest, most expensive television they could afford. I now know the answer to that is someone in a small home or someone who is going to place the new set in a room that of itself is not that big.

I never gave this much thought, even though I have been fervently campaigning for a new, larger, televisions set for my own home for going on six months now. I never gave it much thought that is, until I stopped at a friend's house for an unrelated matter and she showed me their new, large, LCD television in their family room. The family room is small, cozy, but small. It is rectangular in shape, and they placed the LCD screen at one end of the room. The first thing I noticed was how overbearing the set was in the room, and that the screen actually looked distorted. As it was a model that I have actually looked at in the store, this surprised me. Before I could comment, not even sure that I would have, she stated that they were surprised how different the set looked down here, that they had tried it in their much larger living room, and it had looked better. However, they really did not want the television in their living room, and preferred it tucked down into the family room. She went on to comment that it just seemed to be too close to their seating, but she had tried rearranging things and nothing seemed to work. The set was too big was her opinion.

A few days later, I happened across an article on how to properly hang your new LCD or Plasma screen television. As I casually read the article, I came across a paragraph that referred to making sure that the room you are going to place the set in is large enough for the screen. The author explained that he meant not only big enough for the physical size of the set, but that the set should have room a plenty around it too. The smaller the room, the smaller a size television you should choose.

These two events got me thinking, as I have been pushing for a larger television, at least a 32-inch one. Considering that, our home itself is small and the living room where we would put any new television tiny even, I started to consider for the first time placement of any set we might buy. I might have gone a bit extreme, but what I did was tape together several pieces of paper until I had a sheet about the size that I figured the average 32-inch screen LCD set would be. Within minutes, I realized that I definitely did not need, or want, a screen that big.

I am stubborn though, so I walked around the room, trying my makeshift 'screen' in various places, even moving my couch once to give the room a different layout, but no matter where I placed it, it was just too big. I cut down the paper 'screen' until it was about the size of what a 26-inch screen would be, and discovered a much better fit.

If you are shopping for a new LCD or Plasma screen television, and the room you are going to place it in is not Grand Central Station by any stretch of the imagination, but more along the lines of your typical small family or living room, be sure carefully consider your options. A television can be too large. It can overpower the room, making it seem crowded and even making a beautiful screenshot look distorted because you are sitting too close for the space.

I am going to price some sets in the smaller size that would much better fit our space, and see if one of them would also be a better fit for our budget. I might just get that new television I have been wanting yet!

Windows Vista, the Next Operating System for your PC

By Christina VanGinkel

The average person who shops for a desktop computer will show little interest in the operating system itself. They are more concerned with hard drive size, amount of memory, if there is a DVD burnable drive or just a CD Rom. They just assume that whatever operating system comes with it when they buy it is what they will have. Sure, they might have to make the distinction between XP and the XP Media Edition, but that is about as difficult a decision as it gets. However, as I write this, some computers are starting to ship with a label that says Designed for Windows XP Windows Vista Capable. Microsoft is almost ready to let the computer shoppers of the world see the next operating system. Well actually, some people are already using it, as the beta 2 version of Windows Vista is available for IT professionals, developers, and technology enthusiasts.

The operating system is the backbone of your desktop computer, yet most of us just take it for granted. I just passed down an old computer of mine to my young grandson. I had it tucked into a corner of my craft room, and I honestly could not tell you the last time I turned it on. Well, when I booted it up to clear off the hard drive and add a few age appropriate titles for him, I we reminded what Windows 98 was. I was also given a reminder to be thankful for my Windows XP Media operating system that is on the computer that I am currently typing.

I had forgotten what the benefits from Windows 98 to Windows XP were until I was maneuvering around the old desktop. They actually look a bit alike, but when you start to click open files, and search for things, I was given a good reminder on just how insightful XP is in comparison.

Well, nosy as I am by nature, I decided to see what all this fuss is about with the new Windows Vista. What I found made me want to tell Microsoft to hurry up, as it appears to be loaded with features that I know I will love, features that will make working with our digital picture files easy and intuitive, by making it easy to not only import them, but also find them, fix them, and share them with others. If this were not compelling enough, it will also come with a simple way to save them to other media, such as a CD or DVD.

Besides making it easier to work with, and have fun with, your digital pictures, Windows Vista was also created with your music files in mind. Listening to music has undergone a huge change for many, what with sites like iTunes, and accessories such as MP3 players and the iPod. Windows Vista is being made to work seamlessly with these applications and accessories. It is being created with activities such as listening to music and ripping CDs, as important functions, not just something, that the system might occasionally be used for, but as a focus when it comes to ease and simplicity. After all, if our computers do not make things simplified, they are not doing their job, now are they!

Windows Vista is not just for play though, it is being created with small businesses in mind. Taking security and back up of data to the height of importance. However, because most small businesses do not have a tech on board to make sure these aspects of computer security are being covered, they are working to seamlessly make them function, by having features such as automatic data backup and centralized security, so you can stay focused on the business at hand and not spending all of your time working on the computer.

If you are shopping for a new computer anytime in the near future, be sure to consider if the system you are considering is Windows Vista capable, especially if you feel that any of the features Windows Vista is going to be able to accomplish, are features that would be of interest to you. For more information on the Windows Vista operating system, stop by the Microsoft website for more information.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shopping for Small Kitchen Appliances

By Christina VanGinkel

Outfitting a kitchen with small appliances can often be more confusing than choosing a good stove and refrigerator. If you are setting up a new household, part of the problem may lie in not knowing your own preferences. If you are re-outfitting a kitchen, you may be stuck in an old grind, not really secure in stepping out and buying some different, but needed small appliances. Part of the reason may be because you have done without them before; so you have just figured you can continue to do without them.

Either of these situations calls for, basically, the same answer. Take stock of what your past use of your kitchen has or has not been, and with that as a position to build on, try to see yourself as you would like to be using the space. Also, be sure to take into account that any appliance you purchase should fill a need, or a want. It should be something that will either shorten your kitchen prep or cooking time, or help you make a food or beverage that you might not otherwise be able to make, such as an espresso machine.

At the same time as you are doing this, ask yourself just how likely, you are to continue to use certain small appliances after you get them. If you are the type who loves to try new things, but rarely continues to use something if it does not work exactly as you think it should, or if it takes more work to use it than pressing a single button, you might want to reconsider any small appliance that is likely to fall along the theme of being a novelty item. You know the sort that I am referring too. Those that are advertised on shopping shows you have never heard of before, and claim to do the same thing some normal brand item does, along with twenty three other surprising little tricks like fold your laundry and steam clean the dogs. Ok, I made that last part up, but you know what I mean. If a small appliance, claims to do all sorts of things that just do not seem to be within the normal operations of such an appliance, you might want to reconsider the purchase. This is especially so if it is more likely to become just another thing to dust, or to find a storage spot in the back of the cupboard, than to be anything that will make it onto your long term list of appliances that you will use at least on a somewhat regular basis.

Are you a morning person, who would love to have a juicer to make fresh squeezed juice, or is that picture about as likely as you winning the lottery? Do you drink coffee or other hot beverages that would call for a coffee maker, espresso machine, or some other similar contraption? Are you the type that will actually take the time to use such a machine or are you better off spending the money on instant mix beverages and a nice display of mugs? Do you cook big meals, even occasionally? If so, are there any appliances that would make those times flow more smoothly?

By taking the time to ask yourself questions such as these, you will be better equipped when you shop. You will have the knowledge to avoid certain appliances, and to search out others. If you are not even sure, as to what small appliances are even available, then before you shop to buy, window shop. Head to your favorite online kitchen store, such as and spend some time checking out their product categories to see what small appliances are available. They have a huge variety of links to all different sorts of kitchen gear including quite a large selection of small kitchen appliances. With everything from juicers to slow cookers, and grinders to steamers, you will be able to figure just what setup of small appliances will suit you best.

Shopping for small appliances is much more than just picking up a new toaster and mixer. There are so many small appliances available to buy, some of them worthy of earning a spot on your counter or inside your cupboards, some of them not, so be sure to take the time to figure out the difference.

Creating Ambience in a Room

By Christina VanGinkel

I have never given a lot of thought to creating ambience in any of the rooms in my home. Sure, I do follow a theme somewhat, but when I think of the word ambience, I associate it with an overwhelming feeling of being special in some way, special beyond just the normal matching the colors and or fabrics of the curtains to the colors of the carpet and the couch 'type of special'.

Part of this I am sure is because we live in a small house, and the rooms are too lived in, day in and day out, for them to ever be able to truly reach a state of true ambience, no matter how much effort I were to put into trying to achieve such a feeling. However, I recently flipped open a garden style magazine and found myself staring at the room of my dreams. The room was not even actually a room, but an outdoor space, but that really was not the point. The homeowner had actually created a serene little 'room' complete with curtains, coffee table, rugs, and plenty of seating all just outside of her back door. It was a room filled with ambience. Every little nook and cranny was filled with little touches that made the room special. That it was a room that she used was the kicker. By this I mean you could tell that the homeowner not only decorated the space with ambience in mind, but that she then used the space fully and frequently. Even trying to explain what I mean is difficult, so can you imagine me trying to recreate something similar, something just as special to me, in my own home, a home that is a constant space of motion and activity!

There were no bags of yarn stuffed under a chair, or baskets of toys sitting next to the television, no stacks of unfolded laundry piled on the end of the couch waiting to be folded. What the room made me think of when I looked at it was that it looked comfortable, it looked like it could be lived in, was being lived in, but still looked pulled together, stylish, it had what I had been after for as long as I could remember, but had always lacked in recreating, and that was ambience.

While I could not ask the homeowner, how she achieved this feeling of ambience the room obviously reeked of, I could find in it the bravery to ask a friend who's house always looked similar, even though she had once had toddlers and now teens living in her home much the same as I.

After showing her the pictures of the space in the magazine, then waving my hand around at her own lovely, ambient filled living room, I asked her how they did it, how she herself did it. Her reply was so simple that I nearly choked, really. She walked over to a massively comfortable looking, very stylish footstool that I had admired from the minute I recalled her owning it, and flipped the cushioned top up. It revealed her personal stash of junk. Inside of it was everything from her current plastic canvas project, to her teen daughter's math book, sorted and organized into small wicker folding cubes. She then walked over to her video cabinet and opened a drawer towards the bottom that revealed an organized drawer of vide games along with her teen son's Xbox.

I ended up getting a mini tour of the space, where she showed me how a bit of planning, was able to allow her family to live in the room, which was actually a combination living / family room, as her house Is not much bigger than my own small abode.

What I learned was if ambience in a room is what you are in search of, first you must create organization of the stuff that makes up our life. She pointed to the picture in the magazine and showed me two obvious pieces of furniture in my so-called dream room that were obviously used for storage of whatever the homeowner needed. One was an actual trunk / coffee table, and another was a little side cabinet doing double duty as an end table. Along with the thought to where to put things, both my friend's home and the picture upon a second look, had an air of being staged. By saying, they appeared staged; I mean this in a good way, not in terms of looking like no life ever entered the rooms, but just the obvious. Staged with the thought that if people would be in the rooms, and if they were to be comfortable in the space, then certain things would be needed. Comfortable throws to snuggle in. Chairs conveniently placed next to tables so a cup of tea was easily reached. Tables had coasters, the room had good lighting, and not just decent, but good. Small touches such as a candle or two, a decorative box, a nice pair of candlesticks. Fabrics were all complementary to each other, but not matching to the point that it all looked like it fell off one single designer's wagon. The rooms had ambience. Now that I was beginning to understand exactly what the word ambience meant when it came to how someone lived in a space, I had a better chance of creating just such a room in my own home.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Paint Shopping Tips

By Christina VanGinkel

My daughter and her family have just moved into a new home, new as in new to them, not as in newly built. The previous family who lived there had a fondness for painting walls in colors that I am sure suited them perfectly, but are not colors that even remotely fit my daughter's ideas of what colors should be used on a home's walls.

Take for example one downstairs room off the family room. My daughter plans to set it up as a playroom / computer room for both her husband and herself, and my young grandson. Currently, the walls are what could only be called violent purple. That is not a misspelling either, I meant violent, and not violet.

In hopes that she could find some color a bit more serene, one that would not make one or all of them ill if they spent more than a few moments in the room, she decided to go paint shopping with her husband. They headed to the local Home Depot store, where they spent the next hour of their lives combing through paint color samples, in hopes that they would find a color more suitable to the activities they had planned for the room's space.

They asked a sales associate to explain the differences between not only the brands of paint (how many coats of paint would be needed from each brand was the most obvious difference), but also the difference between glossy, semi-gloss, and flat finishes. Depending on how dirty the walls might become from such things as sticky fingers and kitchen grease will have a lot of bearing on this choice, as glossy is by far thee easiest to keep clean, but also the most shiny, hence the name glossy. Be sure you know the difference before your final decision-making.

Another important thing they learned was that the prep work was as important as the paint choice and the actual painting itself. In addition, that using the proper types of brushes and rollers, along with painters tape to tape off areas they did not want to apply paint would make the whole process easier to do, and help keep clean-up time to a minimum when done.

After finding several colors that they thought might work, they went home with several sample sheets of each color. Instead of just one, they chose to grab at least four of each so that they could get a better idea of how the color would look on their walls.

Once back home, she cut the colors they were interested in, out of the sheets of samples that each also included several more colors from the same hue. She then taped up the four blocks of each color onto one of the walls, and left them there for the day. They checked out how the color looked at different times of the day, and repeated this process over the next couple of days with the other colors that they were interested in.

By approaching the choosing of a color in this way, they were able to be sure that the color they chose was something that they had given consideration to. A few days later, once decided on a color, they headed back to the store to buy the needed paint. At this time, they were all set to pay for the two gallons they needed, at a cost of about twenty dollars a gallon, when (very unexpected but quite a nice bonus), they were offered one of the gallons at a discount of 75 percent off, or a mere five dollars for the gallon. There had been a return just that morning of a gallon of paint in their chosen color. The gallon had obviously been opened, with most likely a paintbrush dipped into it, but was otherwise a full gallon. On a budget like many young couples, they were happy to have the savings offered to them.

What they also learned for future painting tasks, was that many stores that sell paint often have an Oops section. This is where you might find a gallon or two of paint, deeply discounted. Maybe the store mixed the wrong color, a customer decided once paint was mixed that it was not right, or a return such as the gallon they were lucky enough to get, that has obviously been opened, but the store for whatever reason, decided to make good on the return.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Shopping for Long Distance

By Christina VanGinkel

Telephone service has come a long way in a very short time. When I first married my husband and moved to the same property we still live on today, party lines had just been discontinued. For those of you who do not know what party lines are, it was when an area where telephone service was in place had several homes, sometimes even a whole road share a single line. Yep, you read that right. More than one house would share a single telephone line. Not only were kids competing with their parents to use the phone, they had to wait for the neighbors to have their turn too. This also meant that your neighbors could theoretically listen in on your conversations. Even though they were technically not supposed to, this was actually a common fact of being on a party line.

Well, to say that we have made leaps and bounds where telephone service is concerned would be quite the understatement. With these advancements though, comes a lot more personal responsibility. Back when party lines were in place, we got our bill each month and paid it. We did not think about where the service came from, or whom we had to write a check to, as we had no choice. We relied on our local company for any service we had. Today, we most likely still use our local provider for local service, but beyond that, it is up to us as the informed shoppers that we need to be, to choose the remaining parts of our telephone service, especially any long distance that we have.

There are several ways to go about making sure you get the best deal available to you, with the services that you need, and several of them may actually overlap. For example, living in as small of a community as I do, with the local town population at about 2,000 people plus maybe that many more in the rural community, you might think that we do not have a lot to pick from. We are limited somewhat when compared to say, someone who lives downtown Chicago, but even living as rurally as we do, shopping for long distance service is still a process. I recently added long distance to our phone, after a hiatus where we had no long distance service, making all toll calls via a calling card.

To begin with, I contacted our local company and asked them for a list of carriers that they worked with. A larger area would most assuredly have more options, but even the list from such a small community was overwhelming. I then went online to see what plans each of these were offering. What I discovered at this point was that not all plans that a company might list is necessarily going to be available to you. What this means is just because you see an ad on television, or read about it online, does not mean that you can get it. You location will ultimately determine what calling plans and features are available where you live. This is especially true for those in rural locations.

Once you have found a few plans to consider, you will then need to review what exactly is included. With long distance service commonly packaged together with everything from wireless service, Internet, to satellite service, knowing what you are paying for is important. If this part starts to overwhelm you, take a deep breath and forge ahead as there is not much else you can do other than this. In order to give us the best deals that will work for each individuals needs, these long distance bundles have become common. Most require you to put in your zip code, and from this information, they will be able to tell you, company by company, what they each can offer you depending on your locale.

Besides the big companies, be sure to consider any local coverage that might be available. Eventually, that is exactly what I did, though I found several better deals with larger companies, most of the features of those deals were not available to me because of my location. Shopping for long distance service can be overwhelming, but at least we are still not sharing a single line with the neighbors!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Power Bracelets

By Christina VanGinkel

I love power bracelets. Maybe not for all the right reasons, but I do. I love the simplicity of a single strand of gemstones on an elastic cord that can be slipped on and off with ease. I love that they are available in so many different colors and gemstones and that they are worn by both the young and old alike. I love that they have a bit of thought behind them, and whether the process that some people take before wearing theirs is really required or imagined, I still love the thinking that goes with it all.

Power bracelets are believed by many to bring strength, and a cure, in various forms, depending on the chosen stones, to the person wearing them. Hematite for example, is believed to bring strength, and increase the blood flow of the person who wears a strand. This could be important for someone with heart issues, or other circulatory problems.

Goldstone, with its copper attributes, is said to bring success by increasing the ambition of those who wear a strand made up of the beautiful stones. It is also said to aid the pain of arthritis, and to bring strength to the bone structure of those who wear a strand. If even a small part of these attributes were true, I know quite a few people who should be wearing a strand. That these stones are so stunning to look at is just a secondary plus to many, when they consider what the believed powers of these stones are.

From Blue Quartz to Turquoise, each gemstone carries with it a different power and cure. So believing are many people of the strength and power of the Power Bracelets, that they even follow a routine upon getting a new one. They will unpack the bracelet from its packing material, and gently run it underneath cool or cold water. If a natural flowing stream is nearby, they will head there to let the cold current flow over the stones, all the while holding it in their hands, not yet wearing it, as it has yet to be activated. Once the bracelet has been cleansed, they will find a place in the sun to set the bracelet to dry and be charged by the sun itself. A lamp is not a substitute, nor should any towel drying be used, and they will only place the bracelet on once they have followed all of these steps. If someone else were to slip the bracelet on, all of these steps must be repeated to cleanse and recharge the bracelet before once again placing it back on themselves to wear.

Of course, not everyone who wears a Power Bracelet follows these steps before wearing theirs, but many followers of Feng Shui do, along with others. They believe that a course such as this is the only way to reap the benefits of what they consider a very powerful form of healing and to be able to derive the strength that these bracelets are believed to hold.

Whether you believe in the power that Power Bracelets are said to hold, or are just captivated by the numerous color and gemstone choices, they are a fun accessory to add to your jewelry collection. Finding one to match any outfit you have in your closet is not difficult, simply because of the number of different colors they come in. They make great gifts too, merely due to the many choices. If you have several friends that you want or need to pick up a small gift for, Power Bracelets are perfect because you can give each of them the same gift, but each one can be quite different, all at the same time.

Finding them is also not difficult, though the quality of Power Bracelets on the market does differ greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. Even the most well made ones are quite reasonable in price though, with many nice ones well below the ten-dollar mark. I have even seen them listed as low as a dollar apiece; though the quality of these cheap bracelets was quite poor.

If you have not discovered the power behind Power Bracelets, be sure to check them out today. You might find some truth in all of the claims, or you might just find the perfect bracelet to match that outfit that nothing else seems to go with.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Shopping for Electronics on Ebay

By Christina VanGinkel

Ebay is a favorite shopping port for all types of people, in search of all sorts of things. Shopping for electronics on eBay is yet one more way that they have stepped up to meet a demand. Ebay has listings for MP3 players, televisions, computers, cameras, game systems, toys, various accessories, and every other imaginable electronic someone could think of. If you cannot find it on eBay, chances are you really did not need it in the first place!

When I consider how many times in years past I have thrown something out, or tossed something into the back of a closet, because I was missing a cord, or broke a small, but apparently important part, I now cringe. Chances are, if I had saved the item, I would now be able to pick up the lost cord, or find another device identical to my own, with the missing piece intact. If I had no use for the item myself, I could have most likely made a few dollars by selling whatever the electronic item was.

Sure, many electronics are short lived, but many more come to the end of their life with actually a lot of life left. Electronics probably fill up more landfills than new devices fill store shelves, and sadly, most do not need to be there.

Now, thanks to eBay, some of those electronics that would once have been destined for the trash are once again being put to use.

My own personal experience with just how useful eBay can be for finding and buying electronics and accessories is twofold. Years ago, my daughter had a Sega Genesis. With it, she had accumulated quite a collection of game cartridges, including Sonic the Hedgehog and her all time favorite; Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, and about a dozen other games. She still had the machine years later, will all of the game cartridges, but no one ever used it because the family dog had long ago chewed one of the cords. When my daughter came across the machine boxed up with all of her cartridges when she made a move recently, Thanks to eBay, we were able to replace the cord in a matter of hours, when we had not been able to find a replacement elsewhere in years. For several years, we had looked, until we eventually forgot about the system. We had checked stores, and every rummage sale we came across. We had found a few complete systems right when we first began looking, but all for a lot more than what we wanted to pay just to replace a single cord. Thanks to eBay, we replaced it for less than ten dollars, and my grandson is now enjoying the same games his mom grew up playing.

I was also able to pick up several VideoNow Jr. disks on eBay for this same grandson. While we could find disks for the regular VideoNow players, we could not find the Jr. version disks, this after I had bought him the VideoNow Jr. player.

Shopping on eBay for electronics and electronic accessories, both old items, such as the cord my daughter needed for her Sega Genesis, and new items, such as the VideoNow Jr. disks I was looking for, can save you both time and money. Check out the following tips to make your next shopping excursion for whatever electronic device you have on your list, as simple as possible:

Know exactly what you are shopping for if possible. The selection is so huge, that having specifics can mean a quick sort through the numerous listings and the knowledge to get a good price.

If shopping for new or used electronics, be sure that you take the time to check the rating of any seller you are considering purchasing from.

Ask questions you might have for a seller, before placing a bid.

Be clear on what the shipping charges are, especially where weight might be an issue.

Many stores and some individuals that sell electronics through eBay take advantage of the Buy it Now type listing. This can be a good way to order electronics without the hassle of bidding, so be sure to check these types of listings out, but at the same time, still be diligent about checking these seller's ratings.

Shopping for a Low Rate Credit Card

By Christina VanGinkel

Shopping for a low rate credit card can be enough to send you screaming into hiding. Just when you think you have found the ultimate deal, you read a bit further and discover a list of hidden fees or extra charges that suddenly make the card not such a great deal after all. It is still possible to find a credit card with a low rate, one that will not put you in the poor house the first time you use it. You just have to be diligent about looking for it, and have the credit rating to be approved.

Your credit rating must be in good shape to get approval for the low interest rate cards that are available. If your credit rating is not all that great, take the time to improve it before applying. If you just randomly apply, hoping that you will strike oil, and get approved by luck, all you are actually doing is putting hits against your credit by having each of these companies do a credit check. Each inquiry into your credit history is stored for future credit inquiries to see. While companies that send you credit offers in the mail do not count against your credit, those that you apply for, essentially asking the companies to do a credit check, do. So be sure to keep this in mind before you start applying for numerous cards. Do your clearing up of your credit first, and then shop wisely for the card you want before finally applying for it.

Next, read the fine print. Read all of it. Just scanning the basics is not good enough when you are seriously shopping for a low rate card. That low rate may only be an introductory offer, or it could be a variable rate. While a variable rate offering is not always bad, you do have to keep in mind what the word variable means. Specifically, it is not a fixed rate. The interest rate can change, and with the Feds raising interest rates each time they meet, it makes one wonder just when they will stop. I know, this does not make me an optimist, but it does mean I am a practical person.

Compare any annual fee that a card may have against all other benefits of a card. If there is a rewards program, will you be able to earn enough rewards to offset the cost or at least part of it? If the card says it will waive the annual fee, be sure you know when it will kick in. Some cards may waive it for the first year, or if you agree to make a purchase every so many days or months.

What additional benefits might one card offer over another, such as travel insurance and fraud protection? Are they offered free, or must you pay yet one more fee for these privileges? Also, ask yourself if these added benefits are ones you will actually use. If you never travel, a card that offers you travel insurance as a deciding factor of one card compared to another might not be the one for you.

If you are going to be transferring a balance, be aware if there is going to be any balance transfer fee, and if so, what it is. It may be a set fee, or a percentage of the balance being transferred. Also, is the balance transfer going to incur interest rate equal to a purchase, or equal to a cash advance? Some balance transfers will not incur interest for a set period, but will after a certain number of months, so this is important to know, especially if the balance transfer is going to be charged at the rate of a cash advance.

Do be aware what the different rates of interest are on any card you are considering. Cash advances are usually at a much higher rate. I always avoid taking a cash advance on any credit card, and would only do so in an emergency, yet many people use their credit cards for cash advances regularly. Plus, if you carry a balance, when you make a payment, most companies will apply the payment towards the lower interest rate balance first, meaning that the charge or cash advance that is going to accumulate more interest is going to be paid off only after you have paid off the charge that is accumulating a lower interest.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shopping for a Reception Hall

By Christina VanGinkel

Choosing a location to hold your wedding reception is by far one of the most important aspects of your wedding next to choosing the correct future spouse. Choosing the place of the wedding ceremony itself, probably leads this decision, but not by much. One of my favorite television shows highlights a young woman and her friends explaining to her future husband how she has had the location of her wedding reception picked out since she was twelve years old. While this is a sitcom, it hit home with me, as I had several friends who had similar plans from middle school on. They had their whole weddings planned, save for who the groom would be!

If you are like most engaged couples though, you do not have any idea on where to hold your reception. This is all foreign territory, and the only thing you know is that you want it to be somewhere that is nice. Nice is a relative word though. Before you even get to nice, you have to shop for size. In order to do this, you will need to know how many intended guest their will be.

Once you have a good estimate on how many guests will be coming to the reception, you will then need to know if you plan to have a sit down dinner, a buffet style dinner, or something along the lines of cake and champagne. If you plan to host a band or DJ with dancing, that will also need to be a consideration.

Once you have these particulars decided upon, you can start shopping. As you visit possible locations, you will then have to consider logistics such as if the place will be able to offer enough parking for the number of guests you are expecting, and if so, will they proved any sort of valet services if this is something you feel is needed. The atmosphere of the hall will be an important consideration too. Consider if there is a place to greet guests as they arrive, to place your wedding registry for guests to sign, and if it is winter, a place to check coats.

As to the atmosphere, you should also consider the lighting, the condition of the building itself, such as the floor if you do plan to have dancing. The last thing you want is your Great Aunt Tilda twisting an ankle as she does the Tango because the floor is uneven! Is there a view from the hall, and is this important?

Take into consideration the number or placement of bathrooms, especially if your guest list is large. Is there a room there for the bride to get away by herself for a few minutes, to straighten her makeup, and to change into her going away attire at the end of the evening? If the reception hall is actually a room at a hotel, is a room onsite provided for the Bride and Groom for the night of the wedding itself? The inclusion of a wedding suite is quite common when the chosen hall is in a hotel. If you are holding the reception outside on a lawn, is there a secondary plan available if it storms?

Finally, but by far not the least important aspect of shopping for a reception hall, is the cost. Make sure that when you are discussing the costs that you are clear on what is and is not included. Some reception halls that host many weddings may have a person, or coordinator of their own to deal with issues such as parking, and catering. Make sure though that when these items are discussed, that you are clear on the cost of each of these items, else wise, you might feel like your bargain price you secured for the hall is actually more along the lines of a balloon payment with a huge payment due at the end. I cannot stress enough the fact that you need to get every fine detail in writing. Do not allow the person in charge to say that yes, they will add this or that, but not put it in writing. Be prepared to pay a deposit when booking your chosen hall, but again, be sure you have it in writing what that deposit entitles you too. Leave nothing to chance when it comes tot eh details of this very important day!

Shopping for Wedding Flowers

By Christina VanGinkel

From bouquets for the Bride and her attendants, boutonnieres for the Groom and groomsmen, including the Father of the Bride, decorations for the church or chosen place of the ceremony, along with centerpieces, and other flowered table decorations at the reception hall, flowers can be a big bite out of any wedding budget.

I had a very small wedding twenty-five years ago, and I can still remember that the flowers were a big part of my decision making. My then future husband to be had an Uncle who actually had a side business of creating floral arrangements, so we ended up saving dramatically on the cost, yet the decisions alone were tough to make, right from the first one of deciding on the color scheme.

If there is a wedding in your future, take heart that the flowers should be just as fun to pick out as any other aspect of the wedding, but also keep in mind that they will be one of the more central parts. Whether you keep the flowers to a minimum or go all out, everyone notices the flowers. So with this fact as a background for your decisions where the flowers are concerned, decide if you will be choosing the flowers yourself, or working with a floral designer. Floral designers can be found in your local florist shop, or may be someone who deals exclusively with large-scale events such as weddings and other gala affairs. If a budget is needed, be sure to set out the guidelines for it before you even begin shopping, as it is very easy to overspend when it comes to choosing flowers, whether you have the guidance of a designer or not.

The actual shopping for the flowers should be done months in advance, depending on the size of the wedding. It is not unheard of for the flowers to be decided upon six months to a year prior to the actual date. When you consider that flowers are not always in season, that you might have to have flowers shipped in just for the big day, then these are tasks that you definitely do not want to leave to chance. Remember when shopping, that flowers that are going to be in season for the actual date of your planned big day, will cost less than if you choose flowers that are not. If you are trying to trim a budget, or just stay in bounds from the start, that choosing wisely can often equal savings. The details should be all ironed out as early as possible. Another reason to plan so early, as that with much of wedding planning, there are often changes, so the earlier you start planning, the more time you will have to make changes.

When doing the actual shopping, remember the timely rule that more is not always best, especially when it comes to looking elegant. Greenery can be a great way to make an arrangement look full, and will help keep costs in control for the overall number of actual stems of flowers you will be paying for.

Consider using some of the flowers twice. Have them removed from the location of the ceremony and transferred to the location of the reception. I know one enterprising bride who had the flowers from the ends of the pews at the church made in such a way that her Aunt just had to stay behind after the ceremony to unclip each bunch of flowers. She then just popped them into a couple of boxes, and then transferred them to bowl shaped vases that were waiting at the reception hall. The vases were already trimmed out with lengths of ribbon running under the bowls, with bows on the ends of the tables and every so often along the lengths of the underlying ribbon. This small step saved her a huge amount off the top of her flower budget.

Whether you are choosing the flowers yourself, or working with a floral designer, do not forget to arrange for the delivery, set up, and removal of the flowers used as decorations. Again, if you are taking care of all the flower arrangements yourself, do not assume anything. Make sure you have all the fine details such as these in writing, if the florist is suppose to take care of any of these issues. Leave nothing to chance, otherwise you risk arriving at the ceremony, or the hall to find a delivery of flowers but with nothing set out.

If you have a wedding planner, be sure to coordinate any overlying tasks that your floral designer and wedding planner may be assuming are theirs or are not, so there is no chance that a vital task with the flowers is not overlooked.