Cold Weather Safety Tips For Your Pet

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

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

5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes From Exploding this Winter

Even if you think they’ve already started to freeze.

New homeowners may have heard that winterization is important, but in the hubbub of your first year living in a home you own (finally!), it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare for the cold weather ahead. After all, it’s just not something renters deal with; prepping pipes for winter is often the landlord’s job.

Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.

Here are some easy techniques to save your pipes from bursting:

#1 Turn On Your Faucets

If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.

#2 Open Cabinet Doors

During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.

#3 Wrap Your Pipes

If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.

#4 Pull Out Your Hairdryer

A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.

#5 Shut Off The Water if Pipes Are Frozen

Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)

Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.

Article by JAMIE WIEBE

11 Ways to Use Up Leftovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Reform Changes That Impact Your 2017 Taxes

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

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

Medical Expenses

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

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

Personal Casualty Losses

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

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

Business Property

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

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

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

State and Local Taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpeting

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

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

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

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

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

#1 Sagging Towel Rack or Wobbly TP Holder

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

#2 Silence Squeaky Door Hinges

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

#3 Stop Creaky Floor Boards

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

#4 Remove Rust on Shutoff Valves

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

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

#5 Repair Blistered Paint on Shower Ceilings

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

#6 Fix Loose Handles and Hinges

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

#7 Replace Batteries on Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors

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

#8 Test GFCI Outlets

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

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

#9 Clean Exhaust Filter for the Stove

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

#10 Clean Out Clothes Dryer Vent

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

#11 Drain Hoses

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

#12 Check Electrical Cords

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

Article by JEANNE HUBER

How the tax bill impacts homeowners, buyers and sellers


The Washington PostKathy Orton · Dec 20, 2017

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

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

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

[How tax reform could affect your bottom line]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are The Best Dog Toys?

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

The Overall Importance of Dog Toys

Exercise

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

Intellectual Stimulation

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

Bonding

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

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

Dental Health

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

Top 10 Dog Toys

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

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

3 Brilliant Hacks to Make Snow Shoveling Less Miserable

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

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

Cue the snow shovel.

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

#1 Spray Your Shovel with Cooking Oil

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

#2 Lay Out a Tarp Before the Snow

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

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

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

#3 Make a Homemade De-icing Cocktail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FESTIVE EGGNOG CAKE

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

INGREDIENTS

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

INSTRUCTIONS 

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

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

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

What Is the Difference Between Housing Repossession and Foreclosure?

Housing repossession and foreclosure are legal processes that both refer to a creditor taking away your home. These processes are similar, but they have significant differences.

“Foreclosure refers to the process that your lender must follow if you go into default on your home loan and stop making payments,” says real estate expert Michele Lerner. States have different regulations for how long the foreclosure process can last, she adds. “In some areas, a foreclosure can happen within a few months, and in other places it can take a year or more.”

In foreclosure, a house is sold as collateral after the homeowners default on their loan. Housing repossession is a more general term for when a mortgage lender or loan provider takes ownership of a property because the owners haven’t paid their bills. It’s a consequence of foreclosure. A home isn’t considered repossessed until a foreclosure becomes final.

Foreclosure can be a long process

Homeowners typically have to be at least 120 days late on their mortgage payments before their bank or lender starts a foreclosure. The average time it takes to complete a foreclosure is 625 days, according to the National Association of Realtors®, although it varies by state.

Repossession of the property doesn’t typically happen during the foreclosure process.

“You don’t need to move out when foreclosure proceedings begin,” Lerner says. “If the foreclosure process is completed, you will be given a date on which you must leave the premises.”

What to do if you face foreclosure

Most banks are willing to work with homeowners who are missing payments, especially if there is a legitimate hardship.

“The bank really doesn’t want your house,” says Realtor® Virginia Field.

Homeowners who are dangerously close to having their home foreclosed on shouldn’t wait long to contact their lender.

“If you get into trouble, don’t pretend nothing is happening. Take action,” says Field. “If you contact your servicer and explain what is happening, you have a chance of saving your home.”

Additionally, there are resources to help you navigate your options. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can connect homeowners facing foreclosure with housing counselors who can give you free assistance. The sooner you contact either your lender or a counselor, the better your outcome is likely to be.

Selling your home to avoid foreclosure

If you’re struggling to make payments—or even missing some—selling your home to avoid foreclosure is an option. If the house can sell for more than you owe your lender, you can walk away from the sale with some cash in your pocket and no loan debt. It will just be important to move quickly to sell; the closer you get to foreclosure, the more complicated the sale can become. Certain real estate agents specialize in distressed properties, but generally the sale and closing process should be similar to any other home sale.

Short sale

If your house can’t sell for more than you owe on your mortgage, you’re looking at a short sale. Short sales are a bit more complicated than traditional ones, and will require your lender’s approval. It can take a long time to complete the process, and it will ding your credit a little, but not as much as a foreclosure. If you think you’re headed in that direction, find a real estate agent who specializes in short sales.

If you find yourself in trouble or need to discuss options, please feel free to contact us using the column on the right or give us a call at 630-570-9740.

Article by Audrey Ference

9 Mood-Lifting Ideas For a Cozier Home This Winter

Try cleaning your light fixtures. Amazing how much brighter things look.

It’s been a freakin’ long day at work and you just want to get home and relax on your deck. But nooooooo, it’s already dark outside and that chill in the air is telling you it’s time to pull out your parka. OK, inside it is. But then it hits you: Indoors feels more like a dank cave than a welcoming oasis. Depressing.

You don’t have to succumb to the winter blahs. Just implement a few of these ideas, and you’ll be warm and comfy inside until winter’s worst blows over.

#1 Clean Your Light Fixtures and Bulbs

Your home will appear 30% brighter — without turning on more lights.

#2 Keep the Cold Air Out

It’s not just window and door leaks killing your cozy vibe. Don’t forget to plug stealthy gaps around recessed lights, electrical boxes, and wall outlets. Use a lit incense stick or scented candle to hunt down drafty spots while leaving behind a cozy scent.

#3 Dig Out Your Slow Cooker

Nothing says warm and cozy like opening the door to an enticing aroma that makes your mouth water. Even better, slow cookers are more energy efficient than electric ovens, typically using less energy than a light bulb.

#4 Bring Home Some Nature

Many indoor plants, like golden pothos and gerbera daisies, are particularly adept at sucking up nasty VOCs — the vapors emitted from household cleaners, paints, and dry cleaning. And since plants increase humidity levels, they help decrease household dust.

#5 Vacuum With Your Thermostat Fan On

Run the fan to help filter dust that gets kicked up while cleaning. Leave it on for about 15 minutes after you finish vacuuming, and switch it back to “auto” afterward. HVAC blowers aren’t intended to run all the time.

#6 Change the Furnace / AC Filter

Change your filter every couple months (monthly if you have pets) to prevent excess dust and allergens from circulating. All that bad air just gets you down.

#7 Let the Sunlight In (It’ll Make You Happy)

Clean your windows. Sparkling glass not only lets more natural light into your home, it’s a feel-good task, according to a survey by the American Clean Institute. When ACI asked consumers what clean surfaces make them happy, “gleaming windows” made the top five above a “spotless sink.” Besides all that, daylighting is a great mood booster.

#8 Put Your Window Screens Into Hibernation

They trap dirt and can make your home appear darker inside and out. It’s a good curb appeal booster, too.

#9 Add an Interior Window

If you’ve got a dark room with no sunlight will look and feel warmer if you paint the walls in reds, oranges, or yellows.dark room that’s next to a sun-drenched space, putting a window in the shared wall will let the natural light in.

A dark room with no sunlight will look and feel warmer if you paint the walls in reds, oranges, or yellows.

Article by DEIRDRE SULLIVAN

 

Got an Evacuation Plan for Your Pets? What to Do Now Before It’s Too Late

The largest of the wildfires tearing through Southern California are now bigger than New York City and Boston combined, forcing thousands to evacuate the area—but what about their pets?

TV host Ellen DeGeneres brought this question front and center on Sunday, tweeting, “Our house is under threat of being burned. We just had to evacuate our pets.” DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, have a home in Carpinteria, CA, near Santa Barbara.

She’s hardly the only animal lover who’s concerned about the plight of their four-legged friends in the event of a disaster. One study by the University of California at Davis and the International Animal Welfare Training Institute found that 16.2% of people polled wouldn’t evacuate their home without their pets. Some owners will even put their own lives at risk in an attempt to rescue their furry family members. In one extreme example during a 2009 bush fire in Australia, a dog owner jumped out of a rescue helicopter rather than leave her beloved pooch behind. Both were saved, but in some other cases, owners have been killed in the attempt to save their pets.

All of which just goes to prove that pets are indeed important members of the family who should have an escape plan in place in the event of a fire, flood, or other disaster. So just how is pet evacuation done, and what can pet owners do to prepare for the possibility?

Pet evacuation steps to take

Pete Duncanson, a disaster recovery expert with ServiceMaster Restore, says Step 1 is to just have a plan.

“It’s important to develop an evacuation plan, keep a map of it in plain sight, and practice an evacuation drill with your entire family—that includes your pets,” Duncanson tells realtor.com®. “You should assign one person—an adult or parent—to keep track of the cat or dog, so that everyone, especially the kids, aren’t focused on looking for them during an emergency.” 

If your pet fits in a carrier, it’s also important to keep it easily accessible.

“Most cat and dog owners leave their travel crates in a back corner of a garage,” points out Los Angeles real estate expert and developer Tyler Drew. “Only, wildfires move very quickly. What looks like a fire over a few hills from your house can be on your doorstep within minutes if the winds are strong enough. So, make sure carriers are accessible and ready to go.”

Separated from your pets? What to do

In case you and your pets get separated—say, you must evacuate while you’re at work and are unable to get home—there are things you can do. For one, the ASPCA offers a free Rescue Alert Sticker that you should place prominently on a front door or window where you can indicate the types and number of pets in your home, as well as a place where you can write “EVACUATED” if you were able to—that way, rescue specialists who venture into dangerous areas will know whether your pets still need help or not.

Pet owners should also keep their animals’ paperwork in order.

“Keep electronic copies of your pet’s medical records, including insurance cards, vaccinations, and chip finders, ” Duncanson says. “Their medications should also be in a place where you can easily grab them if you have to evacuate. Also make sure you have electronic copies of recent photos in case you’re separated from them.”

While microchips can help track down a pet, they’re expensive to implant and don’t offer real-time tracking of your pet’s whereabouts. So if you’re looking for other high-tech options, you might consider a digital ID tag like Pawscout ($20), which allows you to pinpoint your pet’s exact GPS coordinates by smartphone.

Article by Judy Dutton

5 Holiday Hosting Disasters and How to Avoid Them

Why does the oven go kaput on a holiday? No worries. Here’s how to go on the offense now.

Imagine you’re preparing to host your annual holiday party, and you’re past the point of no return. The veggies and meats have been bought. Guests are already braving busy airports and crowded highways to get to your home — and then your oven won’t turn on. Your home-cooked meal has quickly turned into a microwave dinner.

That’s just one of many hosting nightmares that can end your holiday party before it even begins. Thankfully, some of the most damaging mishaps easily can be avoided. We collected five of the most prevalent issues and give you preventative tips to keep your holiday party on track.

Problem: The Oven Doesn’t Heat

For any holiday occasion, the oven is the most important appliance in your house. If it fails to work, the centerpiece of your meal could go from roasted beef, ham, duck, or Tofurky to Peking Duck from the local Chinese takeout joint.

How to avoid:

  • There are any number of reasons a stove can break, but one common cause of disaster is easy to prevent. Don’t self-clean your oven until AFTER the holidays. You risk blowing a fuse or a thermostat, and tracking down an oven technician around the holidays can be tough.

Problem: The Kitchen Sink Clogs

The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for plumbers. The prime cause of this clog-a-thon is the mistreatment of drains when cooking holiday feasts. We hope your Thanksgiving went well, and that you avoid clog-a-thons for the rest of the holidays.

How to avoid:

  • Fats and cooking oils can solidify in your pipes, so never dispose of them in your kitchen sink.
  • If you have a garbage disposal, make sure it’s running before anything goes in it, and never feed it any stringy, fibrous, or starchy foods like poultry skins or potato peels.
  • To fix, don’t rely on chemical drain-clearing products that can harm your pipes. Use a snake instead, available for $15 at your local hardware store. Best to keep one on hand.

Problem: The Heat Goes Out

As the party’s host, you’re supposed to hang guests’ coats — not apologize to them for having to keep them on. A lack of heat can stop a holiday party dead in its tracks.

How to avoid:

  • The key to avoiding freezing your party to a standstill is regular maintenance of your HVAC. Every 90 days, a new one-inch pleated furnace filter should be installed. If you haven’t done it in a while, now’s a good time to replace it.
  • Also inspect insulation on refrigerant lines that are leading into your house. Replace them if they’re missing or damaged.

Problem: The Toilet Stops Up

Toilets have a way of clogging up at the worst times, such as during parties and when you have overnight guests. This is especially true if you have a low-flow toilet from the early 1990s.

How to avoid:

  • Don’t flush anything other than sewage and toilet paper down the toilet. And there’s nothing wrong with putting up a polite note to remind your guests to do the same.

Problem: The Fridge Doesn’t Cool

Without a properly functioning refrigerator, your meat could get contaminated, your dairy-based treats could go sour, and you may not be able to save your yummy leftovers. To avoid discovering a warm fridge after it’s too late, take these simple precautions.

How to avoid:

  • Get a thermometer for your refrigerator to make sure each shelf stays below 40 degrees and you can be aware of any temperature changes.
  • Also make sure the condenser coils located on the back of the unit or beneath it are free to breathe. Coils blocked from circulating air by cereal boxes atop the fridge, or dirtied by dust or pet hair can prevent a fridge from keeping cool.

Eggplant Ricotta Bites

Lightly breaded eggplant is sauteed instead of deep-fried, giving it crunch without excess oil. It’s then topped with ricotta and tomatoes for an eggplant Parmesan-inspired appetizer with much less fat.

Ingredients

Directions

Thinly slice the eggplant into rounds and season with salt. Pour some flour into a shallow dish. Beat the eggs in another dish. In a third dish, mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dredge the eggplant in the flour, then dip in the eggs and coat with the breadcrumb mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, cook the eggplant until golden, about 2 minutes per side, adding more oil between batches, if necessary. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

Toss the tomatoes with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil and the vinegar in a bowl. Spoon some ricotta onto each eggplant slice. Top with the tomato mixture and basil.

8 Credit Score Myths Even Shrewd Home Buyers Fall For

That small balance you keep on your credit card? Not helping at all.

Forty percent of us think our credit score will climb if we carry a small balance (nope), and 52% don’t realize bad credit can increase the amount needed for deposits on utilities (it does!), according to a NerdWallet survey.

“There are quite a few myths and misinformation about credit scores,” says Ryan Greeley, author of the “Better Credit Blog.” “This stuff isn’t taught anywhere, so it’s something you have to dig into yourself.” The worst time to find out you’ve got a going-nowhere credit score is when you’re trying to buy a home.

Unless you have us to dig for you, that is. Here are seven top credit score myths, and the reality behind them.

Myth #1: Always carry a small balance on your credit card.

Reality: The credit score gods want to know two main things: that you pay your bills on time, and that you don’t constantly max out the credit you have.

And yes, one of the items they like to see you pay is your credit card bill — all of it. The only thing a running balance increases is the interest you owe. That’s why Erin Lowry, who writes the “Broke Millennial” blog, believes banks and credit card companies probably perpetuated this myth to boost their profits.

Myth #2: It’s OK to pay credit cards a day late if you pay them off in full.

Reality: ”Missing a payment is the biggest way to hit your credit score,” Lowry says. “If you pay a student loan a day late, your score can go down as much as 100 points.” So much for that degree making you smarter.

To maximize your score, always pay your installment loans (like car loans and mortgages) on time and in full. You know, like you’re supposed to. But also note that actual humans work for financial companies; if you need to pay late for a legit reason, call your lender — before the due date — and have a frank conversation. They’ll often help out.

Myth #3: Closing old cards will erase any negative history.

Reality: If it was that easy, we’d all be driving Teslas. Credit-reporting companies keep information on your file for seven years, no matter what.

And actually, the longer you’ve responsibly used a particular credit card, the better effect it has on your credit score. Remember, you’re judged by how much of your credit you’re using. Closing a credit card makes that percentage change for the worse.

Myth #4: If you’ve never had credit, you have a perfect credit score.

Reality: There’s no reason to save your credit virginity for that special something. If you’ve never used credit, it’s anyone’s guess how well you’ll handle it once you do. Credit reporting agencies call it a “thin file,” meaning there’s not enough information on you to create a credit score. So if you’re a newbie, get an itty-bitty card or loan, and starting fattening up that file.

Myth #5: Checking your credit score frequently will hurt your score.

Reality: How else are you supposed to keep track of the darn thing? It’s true that several “hard” checks by companies can ding your score a few points. Hard checks generally happen when you are actually seeking a loan or line of credit, such as a mortgage or credit card.

If you check your own, it’s called a “soft” check, and it doesn’t hurt your score.

So for Pete’s sake, check your score and credit report at least annually. It’s super easy these days, especially with websites like creditkarma.com, or use a banking app that lets you easily monitor your score. A sudden, unexplained dip could be a sign that identity theft or mistakes are hurting your credit (and keep hard checks to one or two a year).

Myth #6: Paying off a student loan or car loan early will hurt your credit.

Reality: Ah, no. Credit report companies definitely do not punish you for paying off loans early. They might even throw you a parade. (Not really. Put away your princess wave.) While responsibly paying installment loans may be good, paying off those loans is way better.

Myth #7: Your age, sex, and other non-money issues affect your credit score.

Reality: What century is it again? Federal law protects you from credit discrimination based on non-credit issues, like race, color, national origin, or sex. Sure, credit card companies or lenders can ask, but they can’t deny you credit based on your answers. Income, expenses, debts, and credit history are what matters.

Myth #8: My credit score can hurt/help my chances of landing a job.

Reality: Actually, this one is partially true, depending on how fancy your job is. If it requires a security clearance or using a company credit card, an employer will want to know how you use credit, or if you’re in a financial mess that may make you bribe-able, Lowry says. But don’t worry, the employer will ask your permission before pulling your credit report, which is considered a soft pull and won’t hurt your score.

Article by LISA KAPLAN GORDON

11 Easy-Up, Easy-Down Decor Hacks for Stress-Free Holidays

Start saving those egg cartons!

Give or take a Scrooge or two, everybody loves the holidays: Decorating the tree, hanging lights, hanging holly … all those things! But you know what nobody loves? Taking all those things down.

Because, wow, what an unorganized mess.

Before you go all Scrooge, get your jolly back with these simple holiday decorating hacks.

#1 Protect Ornaments With Holiday Recyclables

Trimming the tree should feel like the happy ending of a Lifetime holiday movie, not a game show guessing which box will contain broken memories.

Keep ornaments safe for next year by stowing them in leftover party cups, hot-glued onto a piece of foam board cut to fit inside a storage bin, recommends Lisa Woodruff, a Cincinnati-based professional organizer.

Or pack ornaments away using bubble wrap from holiday packages, or egg cartons from those countless cookies you made.

All of these options make for shock-absorbent padding that’s more durable than paper towels or tissue paper.

#2 Create a Year-Round Focal Point

You dream of decking every hall, every year, but when the holidays roll around, you’ve got a brisket to bake and cocktails to clink.

So focus your festive energy on just one iconic focal point — a wreath on the front door or greenery on the mantel — something that easily changes with the seasons.

Or, create a display that makes you feel merry year-round. (Try repurposing storefront letters to spell out “LOVE” or “JOY” — sentiments that never go out of season.)

#3 Create a Decorating Toolbox

Before you can hang a single strand of lights or sprig of mistletoe, you have to find the gosh-darn zip ties, track down the floral wire, and repurpose a few extension cords.

Just thinking about the prep work makes you ready for a long winter’s nap. But this year’s gonna be your prep for next year, and the years to follow.

As you put everything up, keep a running checklist of what you need. Then stock a toolbox that gets replenished every year.

#4 Leave Your Light Hooks and Nails in Place for Next Year

If you like to trim your home’s roof and siding with holiday lights, you know what a hassle it is to find last year’s nail holes while balancing on a ladder with your extremities slowly freezing.

So, this year, use hooks that match your siding (not nails because they fall out easier) or paint them so they are indistinguishable from your siding or trim before you put them up.

Then leave them up when you take down your lights.

Come next year, just rehang your lights and bask in your twinkling success.

#5 Wrap Lights Around Gift Boxes

There’s nothing like a multicolored knot of lights to put a damper on your bright holiday spirit.

So as you take down this year’s lights, wrap them around empty gift boxes or cardboard. Make a small notch on each side to keep the ends snugly in place.

Next year you’ll spend less time untangling your lights and more time basking in them.

#6 Hang Wreaths in the Rafters

All year you look forward to hanging that wreath you got for a steal at an after-Christmas sale.

Rather than tossing it in a trash bag, where it can too easily get seriously mushed or even forgotten, hang it from 4-inch nails hammered into the attic rafters or garage walls, Woodruff recommends.

It will be easy to find, and will be in pristine shape for next year.

#7 Store Your Tree With the Decorations on It

No, seriously.

If strategizing the placement of skiing Garfield and his 107 dangly friends is your least favorite part of holiday decorating, skip it after this year.

Ask someone to help you tightly wrap this year’s decorated (artificial) tree — yep, ornaments and all — with heavy-duty stretch plastic wrap (the type that professional movers use, which you can find at home improvement stores).

Next year, just cut the wrap and reshape the branches.

Happy holidays indeed.

#8 Or Give in and Buy a Tree Bag

Every December 26, you begin to dread awkwardly wrestling your artificial tree back into its original packaging.

This year, go ahead and spend the 50 bucks on a tree bag or box, Woodruff says. It will seal out dirt, dust, and bugs, won’t smash the branches, and some styles even allow you to store your tree fully or partially assembled.

Plus, just knowing you can skip the reassembly next time makes for an extra happy New Year.

#9 Trim Those Trimmings

Getting out decorations should be a welcome walk down memory lane — not a guilt trip through items you “should” display but … ugh.

So when you take down this year’s decor, follow the old rule for paring down your wardrobe and get rid of anything you didn’t use — you know, that carol-singing mounted fish from your dad or Nana’s crocheted coaster set — and donate them.

“If it’s a sentimental item, take a picture of it,” Woodruff says.

You won’t waste storage space and, come next year, you’ll be greeted only by items you love and use.

#10 Organize By Room

If you’ve got snowmen in every bathroom and a jingle bell on every drawer, you may end up with mountains of half-empty boxes piled everywhere for longer than you spend enjoying the decor.

Get your halls decked more efficiently by sorting your boxes of trimmings by room, Woodruff suggests.

Then, label each light strand by location — mantel, doorway, tree, etc. Decorating is merrier when you can grab a bin and make an evening of it, one room at a time.

#11 Create a “Must-Have” Bin

Put all your favorite decorations in one “first-up, last-down” bin.

Next year, you’ll spend more time enjoying your cherished menorah or manger and less time rummaging to find it.

Article by AMY HOWELL HIRT

 

15 Things You Should Know About Dogs Playing Poker

Thanks to Dogs Playing Poker, painter Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (a.k.a. C.M. Coolidge) has earned the dubious distinction of being called “the most famous American artist you’ve never heard of.” But while critics might sniff at his contribution to the art world, the history of his greatest works is rich.

1. Dogs Playing Poker is not one painting, but a series.

Coolidge’s earliest explorations of dog paintings were made for cigar boxes. Then, in 1903, the 59-year-old artist started working for the “remembrance advertising” company Brown & Bigelow. From there, he began churning out works like A Bold Bluff, Poker Sympathy, and Pinched With Four Aces, which were reproduced as posters, calendars, and prints, sometimes as parts of promotional giveaways.

2. The most popular of these paintings is of dogs cheating at poker. 

A Friend in Need pits a pair of bulldogs against five huge hounds. Who could blame them for slipping helpful cards under the table with their toes? As the most beloved of this series, A Friend In Need is also the one most often misnamed “Dogs Playing Poker.”

3. These PAINTINGS gave Coolidge some fame in his 60s.

Coolidge already had a quirky artistic claim to fame—he’s credited as the father of Comic Foregrounds, those carnival attractions where tourists can stick their heads atop a cartoon figure as a photo op. But with Dogs Playing Poker catching on through calendar and poster sales, Coolidge was able to sell some of the original paintings for $2000 to $10,000.

4. Dogs Playing Poker has never received much critical praise.

Commissioned for commercial use, these paintings are regarded most often as kitsch, art that is basically bad to the bone. Recounting the highbrow opinion of these pieces, Poker News‘s Martin Harrisexplained, “For some the paintings represent the epitome of kitsch or lowbrow culture, a poor-taste parody of ‘genuine’ art.”

5. THEY became a staple in working class home décor ANYWAY.

n the 1970s, kitsch was king, and demand for Dogs Playing Poker hit its peak—which made the pooches readily available in various affordable forms. Or, as art critic Annette Ferrara put it, “These signature works, for better or worse, are indelibly burned into the subconscious slide library of even the most un-art historically inclined person through their incessant reproduction on all manner of pop ephemera: calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, the occasional advertisement.”

6. They could be seen as a sort of self-portrait.

Coolidge went by the nickname “Cash” and has been described as a hustler whose résumé showed quite a few career changes. Before he was painting for calendars, he worked painting street signs and houses and also tried his hand at being a druggist, an art teacher, and cartoonist. He also started his own bank and his own newspaper. So perhaps the pooches who are always looking for the angles represented Coolidge’s own ambitions.

7. kITSCH OR NOT, Dogs Playing Poker paintings sell for big bucks.

A 1998 auction saw a Coolidge original sell for $74,000 at Sotheby’s. Then in 2005, A Bold Bluff and Waterloo: Two were put up for auction in Doyle New York’s Dogs in Art Auction. Before they hit the block, predictions were made that the pair of rare paintings would fetch $30,000 to $50,000. But an anonymous bidder ultimately paid a whopping $590,400 for them, setting a record for the sale of Coolidge works.

8. This pricey pair shares a storyline.

Auction notes from the Doyle event explain, “The (paintings’) sequential narrative follows the same ‘players’ in the course of a hand of poker. In the first (A Bold Bluff), our main character, the St. Bernard, holds a weak hand as the rest of the crew maintains their best poker faces. In the following scene (Waterloo: Two), we see the St. Bernard raking in the large pot, much to the very obvious dismay of his fellow players.”

9. Not all of the Dogs Playing Poker series fit the name.

Coolidge painted 16 pieces within this collection, but only nine of them actually show dogs playing poker. Higher Education displayed helmeted pups playing football. New Year’s Eve in Dogsville imagines a romantic soiree with dinner and dancing dogs. And Breach of Promise Suit showed a canine court.

10. Dogs Playing Poker has a small place of honor in Philadelphia, N.Y.

Coolidge was raised in Philadelphia, but the small town was largely unaware of the fame of their former resident until 1991. That’s when his then 80-year-old daughter Gertrude Marcella Coolidge took it upon herself to travel to Philadelphia and give a print from his collection to the town. Today, this piece is framed and hangs within the one-room museum at the back of the local library. Visitors can also ask to see a thin folder of related Coolidge materials.

11. Coolidge’s wife and daughter were unimpressed by Dogs Playing Poker.

In 2002, 92-year-old Gertrude told The New York Times that she and her mother were more cat people than dog lovers, but she admitted, “You can’t imagine a cat playing poker. It doesn’t seem to go.”

12. Dogs Playing Poker have been compared to Tennessee Williams’ plays.

Maybe that sounds silly. What do plays like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Streetcar Named Desire have in common with these kitsch masterpieces? According to New York Times contributor James McManus, these works share similar views on sexual politics: “Men drink, bellow, smoke and play poker. The women who serve them … their game is to tame the bad boys.”

For Williams, this means Maggie the Cat, Stella Kowalski, or her frail sister Blanche DuBois. For Coolidge, it means a cocktail-serving poodle, or a pair of terriers breaking up the game.

13. Coolidge pulled inspiration from great artists who came before.

The works of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, and Paul Cézanne are often cited as influences on how Coolidge posed his canine card players.

14. The art elite still give Dogs Playing Poker no respect.

Popularity and prestige do not always come hand in hand. Art critics have long sneered at the commissioned works Coolidge undertook. Even his 1934 obituary described his greatest artistic accomplishment as “painted many pictures of dogs.” But a low blow was delivered on April Fool’s Day when the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., posted a prank in the form of a press release proclaiming the institution wanted to exhibit Dogs Playing Poker.

Chrysler Director William Hennessey was quoted as saying, “There’s long been a spirited debate in scholarly circles about the position of canine art within the canon. I believe it is now time for these iconic images to assume their rightful place on the walls of our institutions where homo-centric art has too long been unjustly privileged.”

This praise was followed by an addendum: “EDITOR’S NOTE: April Fool! Every word printed above is true with the single exception of the suggestion that the Chrysler is actually trying to obtain these paintings.”

15. Critics might be missing the point.

Many critics have dismissed Coolidge’s works as trivial because of their commercial origins. But in the 2004 book Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America, Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger proposed that Dogs Playing Poker was a satirical series intended to mock the upper class in their excesses and attitudes. Basically, Coolidge’s critics might not be in on the true joke here.

Article by KRISTY PUCHKO

 

4 Ways to Erase Ugly Scratches From Wood Floors

Get your crayons out for the coolest solution of all.

Dogs chase kids, pans drop, chairs scrape, and soon you must repair wood floors and erase scratches that make a mess of your red oak or Brazilian cherry.

A professional floor refinisher will charge $1 to $4 per square foot to apply a new coat of finish. No worries. We’ve got inexpensive ways to remove wood scratches and repair deep gouges in a few easy steps.

#1 Use Crayons and Sharpie Pens to Hide Small Scratches

Take some artistic license to hide minor scratches in wood floors by rubbing on stain-matching crayons and Sharpie pens. Wax sticks, such as Minwax Stain Markers, are great scratch busters because they include stain and urethane, which protects the floor’s finish.

Don’t be afraid to mix a couple of colors together to get a good match. And don’t sweat if the color is a little off. Real hardwoods mix several hues and tones. So long as you cover the contrasting “white” scratches, color imperfections will match perfectly.

#2 Use Homemade Polish to Camouflage Scratches

Mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar, which work together to remove dirt, moisturize, and shine wood. Pour a little directly onto the scratch. Let the polish soak in for 24 hours, then wipe off. Repeat until the scratch disappears.

#3 Spot-Sand Deep Scratches

It takes time to repair wood gouges: Sand, fill, sand again, stain, and seal. Here are some tips to make the job go faster.

  • Sand with fine-gauge steel wool or lightweight sandpaper.
  • Always sand with the grain.
  • Use wood filler, which takes stain better than wood putty.
  • Use a plastic putty knife to avoid more scratches.
  • Seal the area with polyurethane, or whatever product was used on the floor originally.
  • Apply the polyurethane coat with a lambs wool applicator, which avoids air bubbles in the finish.

#4 Use Wood Putty to Fill Gaps

Old floorboards can separate over time. Fill the gaps with colored wood putty. Or, if you have some leftover planks, rip a narrow band and glue it into the gap.

Article by JANE HOBACK

Almost-Famous Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Ingredients

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the spinach and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water; squeeze out the excess moisture, then finely chop.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the onion is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, parmesan and sour cream.

Return the pot to medium heat. Add the spinach, cheddar and artichokes and stir until the cheese melts and the dip is heated through. Serve warm with tortilla chips, salsa and sour cream.

Photograph by Andrew Mccaul