Deck the Halls (Safely)

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Holiday decorations are a hallmark of the winter season. Over 85% of Americans decorate their homes to celebrate each year and almost 50% include the use of outdoor lights and decorations.

While holiday lighting and decorations contribute to the splendor of the season, they can also significantly increase the risk of fires and electrical injuries if not used carefully. Use these best practices to decorate safely.

  • Double check lights for frayed wires or cracks, and be sure there is a bulb in each socket. Discard and replace damaged strands. Frayed or cracked electrical cords or broken sockets are leading fire hazards.
  • Lights should be approved by Underwriters Laboratory. “UL” will be clearly displayed on the tag, signifying the product has been inspected for potential safety hazards. Red UL marks indicate the lights are safe for indoor/outdoor use, and green UL marks indicate the lights are only safe for indoor use.
  • Don’t use outdoor lights indoor – they’re too hot for interior use. For the coolest bulbs and greatest energy efficiency, try LED lights, which come in a wide range of styles and colors. Indoor lights should not touch drapes, furniture or carpeting.
  • Do not hammer tacks or nails into the electrical cord when hanging lights. They can cut through the wire insulation and create a fire hazard. Only use UL-approved hangers.
  • Use heavy-duty extension cords, and only use cords outdoors if they are designated for outdoor use. Avoid overloading extension cords by using no more than three sets of standard lights per cord.
  • If possible, outdoor lights and inflatable decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). GFCIs help prevent electric shock by breaking the circuit when differences in the currents of hot and neutral wires occur.
  • Use a timer or turn off lights before going to bed, or if you will be away from home.
  • Prevent tripping by placing cords and decorations in low-traffic areas where they won’t be walked on. Avoid twisting, kinking or crushing cords.
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When they season is over, remember to take down your outdoor decorations in a timely manner. Ninety days is the recommended maximum duration. The longer they stay up, the more likely they are to suffer damage from weather and animals.

It is also important to safely store decorations for next year – tangled lights can lead to damaged cords and broken sockets. After the holidays, coil each string loosely around a stiff piece of cardboard, wrap it in paper or fabric to protect the bulbs, and store in a sturdy container until next year.

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving: Then, Now, & Always

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For many Americans, the Thanksgiving meal has become something of a buffet of seasonal dishes to pick and choose from when filling up a plate (for the first or second time). The often copious leftovers eaten in the ensuing days are one of the few similarities between the modern Thanksgiving meal and the original Plymouth feast in 1621 that lasted three days.

The quintessential American Thanksgiving meal includes seasonal dishes such as roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. But how this compare to what was likely served almost 400 years ago?

TURKEY

While no records exist of the exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow noted in his journal that the colony’s governor, William Bradford, sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event. Wild turkey was a common protein for both English settlers and Native Americans. It is likely that the hunters also returned with ducks, geese, and swan.

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Turkey without stuffing? It happened. Instead of a bread-based stuffing, it is reasonable to assume that native herbs, onions, or nuts may have been cooked with the birds for extra flavor.

Winslow wrote that the Wampanoag guests arrived with an offering of five deer. Culinary historians speculate that the deer was roasted on an open spit and that some of the meat was used to create a hearty venison stew.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

The 1621 Thanksgiving celebration marked the Pilgrims’ first autumn harvest, so it is likely that the colonists feasted on the bounty they had reaped. Local vegetables that likely appeared on the table include onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas.

Corn was plentiful during the harvest season, but it was prepared very differently– no corn on the cob or corn pudding. In those days, the corn would have been removed from the cob and turned into cornmeal, which was then boiled and pounded into a thick corn mush or porridge that may have been sweetened with molasses.

Regional fruits included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries and, of course cranberries, which Native Americans ate and used as a natural dye. And the cranberry sauce? The Pilgrims might have been familiar with cranberries by the first Thanksgiving, but they wouldn’t have made sauces and relishes. That’s because the sacks of sugar that traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower were nearly or fully depleted by November 1621. Cooks didn’t begin boiling cranberries with sugar and using the mixture as an accompaniment for meats until about 50 years later.

FISH AND SHELLFISH

Seafood was one of the staples of the first meal – the coast was teeming with bass, lobster, clams, and oysters. Mussels in particular were abundant in New England and could be easily harvested because they clung to rocks along the shoreline. The colonists occasionally served mussels with curds, a dairy product with a similar consistency to cottage cheese.

POTATOES

Whether mashed or roasted, white or sweet, potatoes had no place at the first Thanksgiving. It would be over fifty years before these staples of the modern meal were introduced -white potatoes, originating in South America, and sweet potatoes, from the Caribbean, had yet to infiltrate North America.

New England’s native inhabitants are known to have eaten other plant roots such as turnips, squash, and groundnuts, chestnuts in particular. Most of these sides would have been served roasted.

PUMPKIN PIE

While both Native Americans and the Pilgrims enjoyed pumpkin, the possibility of pumpkin pie was out. The colony lacked the butter and wheat flour necessary for making pie crust. Even if they did, the settlers hadn’t yet constructed an oven for baking.

No pumpkin pie?! So what did they do instead? According to some accounts, early English settlers in North America improvised by hollowing out pumpkins, filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard, then roasting the gourds whole in hot ashes.

Whatever your meal consists of this year, I am thankful to all of my clients, family, friends, and readers and wish you all a wonderful, peaceful, and safe thanksgiving.

 

 

 

To Care for Those Who Cared for Us is One of the Highest Honors

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I am pleased that one of the newest members of the Win Win for a Cause family is the Daily Living Center right here in the Valley. The Daily Living Center is a licensed adult day health care serving the Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County area for over 27 years. By providing an excellent standard of care, The Daily Living Center allows family and friends of those who are not able to care for themselves to attend to their daily lives knowing that their loved ones are being taken care of in a positive, safe, and caring environment.

The Daily Living Center is a non-profit, United Way agency and also a member of the National Adult Day Services Association and of the Virginia Adult Day Services Association. The Daily Living Center prevents the pre-mature placement in a long-term care facility or institution-enhancing the quality of life of our participants and their caregivers, keeping them at home with their families and in our community!

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In addition to providing a safe and secure environment, clients are part of socialization and recreational activities, receive health monitoring and medication management by licensed professionals, and nutritious meals and snacks. There is a monthly support group for the caregivers, as well.

To learn more about The Daily Living Center, I encourage you to visit their website. My clients have the option of selecting this wonderful agency as the recipient of their Win Win for a Cause donation from completed closings.

First Home Upgrades

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For most first-time homeowners, the draw of making a sound financial investment is a huge factor in the decision to buy. You not only want to stop paying someone else’s mortgage, but also to increase your return on investment. This is a big decision and you want it to pay off. Below are a few relatively inexpensive upgrades that will not only provide you with comfort and enjoyment, but will also help increase your home’s value.

 

Swap out your kitchen countertops

Granite, while considered the cream of the crop in countertops, makes an impression, has lost some of its ‘wow’ factor as it becomes increasingly common. If the countertops are the only upgrade you’re planning, splurge on recycled glass (around $85 per square foot) for a truly unique and polished look.  For a less expensive but equally stunning option, try quartz (around $60 to $75 per square foot).

Conventional colors are the best bet here, but that doesn’t mean boring. Stick with neutral colors like white, gray, or “greige,” which will appear clean and bright and won’t turn off potential buyers.

Increase your living space

Outdoor areas are an affordable extension of your home and a perfect place to entertain guests or relax with your family. The possibilities are many – in addition to the traditional raised deck, consider creating patios, outdoor living rooms, and even outdoor kitchens.

Add outdoor lighting

In addition to doorways and porch lights, consider lights along your driveway, walkways, and patio, and uplights on trees. All of these will create ambiance the evening and will increase the quality of any photos you post of your home when it comes time to sell.

Give your exterior a makeover

Have your house exterior and front porch professionally power-washed, upgrade light fixtures (this can be as simple as replacing the bulbs with Edison-style ones that add instant character and warmth), swap out the hardware on your front door, upgrade your mailbox, replace worn-out or broken shutters, and freshen up your landscaping.

What are some of your favorite home upgrades? Please share your experiences.

Caring for Children – The MaDee Project

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Earlier this month, one of my client’s requested that their Win Win For a Cause donation (a portion of my commission donated in lieu of a traditional closing gift) be given to a one of our newest charities – The MaDee Project. I am so pleased that my clients chose this deserving organization providing such a meaningful service right here in the Valley. This wonderful organization helps children with pediatric cancer and their families through the hardest times of their lives. Please take a moment to learn about The MaDee Project and the amazing work they do right here in The Valley.

The MaDee Project is a non-profit foundation that provides support to pediatric cancer patients and their families in the Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County areas. The project will also nationally fund research in the hopes of finding the cause and help to pediatric cancers from reaching any other children.

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MaDee’s determination, love for her family and friends, as well as her strong spirit while battling this disease became the inspiration of this project, ensuring that her legacy lives on. If MaDee were physically here with us today, ‘she would be holding children under her wing, teaching, guiding, and comforting them, especially those diagnosed with cancer.’ This project is a way of showing the community that MaDee’s legacy lives on, providing hope, help, and healing to children with pediatric cancer and their families.

There are many ways to support this worthy organization. Donate while you shop, it can be that easy – simply make your normal online purchases through AmazonSmile or use your Kroger Plus Card (please register online HERE) when grocery shopping. For additional ways to donate or volunteer, please visit the MaDee website.

 

 

Home Prep for Cooler Weather

With the weather turning cooler outside (at least at night), now is a great time to get moving on some preventative maintenance to prepare your home for the chilly weather before it arrives.

Check for Peeling Paint

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Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings. Peeling paint means that the existing paint film can no longer adequately protect the siding of the building. Lower humidity and cooler (not yet cold) temperatures make fall a good time to paint the exterior of your home.

Gutter Check

Regularly clean gutters and downspouts. Make sure all drainage areas are unblocked by leaves and debris. Consider installing gutter guards to make the job a lot easier.

Caulk Windows

Be sure to caulk around windows and doorframes to prevent heat from escaping. Caulking and sealing openings is any inexpensive and easy-to-do maintenance job to check off. Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold buildup.

Inspect the Roof

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Inspect your roof, or hire a licensed professional to examine your roof for wear and tear. If the shingles are curling, buckling or crackling, replace them. If you have a lot of damage, it’s time to replace the entire roof. Also, check the flashing around skylights, pipes and chimneys.

Heating Systems

Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor. Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer, and have fewer problems if properly serviced. Clean and replace filters in your furnace or heating system.

If you use a hot water system for heating, drain the expansion tank, check the water pressure, and bleed your radiators. 

Seal the Driveway

Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer. Sealing the driveway now will help extend the life of the asphalt through the winter and beyond.

Air Circulation

Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling. Clean your humidifiers regularly during the heating season. Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.

Clean Yard Equipment

Prepare your yard equipment for storage. This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws.

Protect Yourself and Your Home

Each fall, check carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and put in fresh batteries. A carbon monoxide detector can also save lives if a home has oil or gas-burning appliances, like a furnace or water heater.

What home maintenance items are on your autumn list?

 

Advocating for Change

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Virginia Organizing, a Charlottesville-based organization, is one of the newest recipients of Win Win for a Cause donations. At the close of every sale, my clients will have the opportunity to choose Virginia Organizing to receive a portion of my commission instead of a traditional closing gift. If you don’t already know about Virginia Organizing, now is the time. They work tirelessly to create a more just Virginia, especially for those who have traditionally had little or no voice in our society, and I am proud to support their efforts.

Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities to address issues that affect the quality of their life. By building relationships with individuals and groups throughout the state, Virginia Organizing strives to get them to work together, democratically and non-violently, for change.

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The issues they address are many and vitally important. To name a few – the treatment of all our citizens with dignity and respect; equal educational opportunity; a sustainable minimum wage; natural resource preservation; and the overall idea that all of our citizens are entitled to the basic necessities of life – nutritious food, adequate housing, affordable quality child care, mental and physical health care, and a secure retirement.

 

I encourage you to visit Virginia Organizing’s website at http://www.virginia-organizing.org/ for more information about the important work they do to create positive change in our state for all of us!