Show You Care: What to Include in a Care Package for a Soldier

Closeup of a soldier holding a Christmas present on a wood table with a Santa hat.

Sometimes, the simplest things make the most difference. Consider a US soldier, stationed thousands of miles away from home. Even the bare necessities, such as food and clothing, would be welcomed. That’s why many people send care packages to our military personnel and veterans all over the world.

Check out this handy list for some of the most useful—and appreciated—items you can send to a soldier.


Clothing:

  • knit hats
  • scarves
  • bandannas
  • gloves
  • colored socks

toysSmall Toys (for soldiers to give to children while deployed overseas):

  • Beanie Babies
  • Webkinz
  • small plush toys

foodfood Food and Drinks:

  • drink mixes
  • instant coffee and tea bags
  • energy bars and granola bars
  • peanut butter and jelly
  • crackers
  • cookies
  • gum
  • trail mix and dried fruit

Toiletries:

  • lip balm and sunblock
  • roll-on deodorant
  • toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • floss and mouthwash
  • individually packaged razors and shaving cream
  • moist towelettes
  • foot powder
  • shampoo and body wash
  • hand sanitizer
  • cotton swabs
  • muscle relief cream

entertainmentEntertainment:

  • travel-sized board games
  • cards
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • books
  • magazines
  • crossword puzzles

When you decide what to put in your care package, Operation Gratitude will make sure it gets to the troops. For more information on sending care packages to soldiers, including the preferred sizes of the items on their wish list, visit the Operation Gratitude website.

To get more ideas for how you can help veterans, visit www.americanlifestylemag.com/veterans.

A History of the Remembrance Poppy

poppiesYou may or may not have heard of the Remembrance Poppy—but you’ve probably seen it. These red-and-black poppies symbolize those who lost their lives in combat, and it was these same poppies that inspired a profound poem about a lost friend over a century ago that started the Remembrance Poppy movement.


During World War I, Canadian physician and soldier John McCrae discovered these very poppies growing around the burial site of his fallen friend, Alexis Helmer, in Flanders, Belgium. In his grief, McCrae penned the poem “In Flanders Fields”:

John_McCrae,_M.D.In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poem was published in the British magazine Punch later that year, on December 8, 1915, and it became very popular: it was republished throughout the world as a way to honor soldiers’ sacrifices during The Great War.

Later, in 1918, Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, developed the idea for the Remembrance Poppy. It took her two years, but in August of 1920 convinced the Georgia Department of the American Legion to adopt the Memorial Poppy as its symbol. One month later, the Memorial Poppy was adopted countrywide as a symbol of remembrance.

Madame Anna Guérin championed the idea of selling artificial poppies and having the proceeds benefit people suffering from the aftereffects of the war. By 1922, the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand had adopted the Remembrance Poppy.


poppywreathNow that you know more about the Remembrance Poppy, go ahead and make your own remembrance poppy wreath to display in honor of our veterans.

For more ways to honor veterans, visit www.americanlifestylemag.com/veterans.

From Elegant to Traditional: How to Enhance Your Home’s Exterior for the Holidays

porchheaderOne of the joys of the holidays is going out and about to see how others have decorated their homes. It not only adds an excitement to the air, but also may inspire you for how you’d like to decorate the exterior of your own home.

Perhaps the best place to start is the front porch, which is your home’s holiday greeting to all who visit or pass by. Whether your style is glam and glitz or traditional and country, these tips will make it easy to decorate your porch to celebrate fall, and then transition it seamlessly to winter holiday decor in no time!


GO FOR GOLD WITH GLAM DECOR

A simple, clean, elegant decor never goes out of style. And nothing says glamour quite like the color combination of black, white, and gold, which works quite well as a tool to show your style throughout the seasons.

glamfallIn the fall, take advantage of front door planters by mixing autumn vegetables such as white gourds and cornstalks with pinecones.

Plus, you can add a striking focal point to your autumn decor by hanging a gold-painted harvest wreath on your door—this will maintain your glam theme while adding an extra touch of the season.


glamwinterIn the winter, switch out the autumn vegetables with more seasonal ornament-style decor, and forgo the usual pine wreath by opting for a clean gold straw wreath, to which you can add your own personalized touch of the season.

Cross-seasonal tip: Stringing pinecones around your door is an ideal transitioning tool—you won’t have to switch them out during the change of seasons!


KEEP IT COUNTRY WITH RUSTIC DECOR

The autumn and holiday seasons both evoke a sense of home and tradition, which is not only appealing to a lot of people, but also a hot design trend. You can reflect this style by implementing the tips below and bringing them all together in a bronze-colored tub.

traditionalfall

In the fall, incorporate the colors of the season with fall vegetables, including mini gourds, autumn corn, and corn stalks; mix in some pinecones; and add a pop of white to contrast the oranges of autumn by including a white pumpkin in the mix.


traditionalwinterIn the winter, switch out your traditional autumn colors with all white items, and frost the pinecones from your fall decor to bring the holidays to your doorstep; add a touch of green with some pine branches, which will also welcome guests with the scent of the season.

Cross-seasonal tip: Fill your tub with plenty of newspaper to add lift to your items so they stand out more.


To get more holiday-themed decorating ideas that will help you add your personal style to the season, visit www.americanlifestylemag.com/holidays.

What Buyers Should Know About Home Inspections

unnamed-1Many buyers hope to find a home in perfect condition so they can avoid dealing with maintenance issues. The problem is – no perfect home exists, so as a buyer, you should rely on home inspections to tell you what you need to know about the condition of the home you’re buying.

Be prepared to hire and schedule several types of inspectors to look at structural, pests, and environmental elements, depending on requirements in your state.

A structural home inspection should take several hours and cover all built-in appliances, all mechanical, electrical, gas and plumbing systems, the roof, foundation, gutters, exterior skins, windows and doors.

Home inspections may only cover the main house. This is significant for specialty inspections such as termites, because termites are more likely to be found in outbuildings. Make sure any inspection covers all buildings on the property including guest houses, detached garages, barns, stables and other buildings that will convey with the property, even if you have to pay more.

Attend every inspection and stay with the inspectors. Seeing problems for yourself will help you understand what’s serious, what needs replacement now or later, and what’s not significant. While home inspections point out problems, they also show you what’s working well so you can make your final decision about the home.

You can ask the seller to make repairs, or you can offer a little less. If you’re getting a VA or FHA-guaranteed loan, some items aren’t negotiable and the seller must address them, but otherwise ask your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices sales professional for advice.

How to Host (and Win) a Chili Cook-Off

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A tasty way to warm up the winter is enjoying a bowl of chili. There are seemingly endless varieties out there, though, so there’s really only one way to decide which is best: host a chili cook-off with friends and family!

Below you’ll find a pair of flavor-filled recipes to help you get a leg up on the competition; choose your favorite, and add it to the mix at your cook-off. And use the downloadable accessories to get your crowd in the proper cook-off spirit.


White Bean Chicken Chiliwhitechicken
Everyday chili? Bean there, done that. While everyone else whips up traditional tomato-and-beef-based chili for your cook-off, show them that you’re the host with the most flavor-filled chili! This chili recipe is a winner, with not only white beans and chicken but also a delicious blend of vegetables and spices to impress any palate.


Sweet & Spicy Pork Chilispicypork
Love spicy and sweet? Don’t settle for one when you can make both in one delicious dish! This recipe has many chili spices you’d expect—garlic, pepper, cayenne—but blends them with seasonal flavors like pumpkin and cocoa. Add tender pork to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe that’s sure to earn high scores at your cook-off!


To complete your chili cook-off checklist, print out these party accessories to set the mood to fever pitch at your get-together, and to remind everyone that it’s all about the fun.

– See more at: http://americanlifestylemag.com/belly-warming-chili-recipes-for-chilly-weather/#sthash.8nBmbUwW.dpuf

Carve with Care: 5 Tips for Carving Pumpkins

There’s no bigger Halloween tradition than carving the pumpkin. (Granted, kids may disagree.) Actually, this annual event goes back centuries here in the US, as Americans are believed to have started carving pumpkins in the 1800s, following European tradition.

Traditions aside, though, these gourds sure tend to be messy, and they also can be a challenge to maintain. So give yourself a treat: follow the 5 tips below to make your pumpkin-carving experience easier—and enjoy the holiday to the fullest!


Cut the hole in the bottom of your pumpkin instead of the top.
Ready to turn your pumpkin-carving experience upside down? Then consider cutting your hole in the bottom instead of the top. When you are ready for your pumpkin to light up the night, simply lift it up, place a lit candle on the ground, and then carefully put the pumpkin back over it. This method not only makes the design of your pumpkin look cleaner, but also makes candle lighting so much easier!

Use a metal ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds.
If you’ve experienced the frustration of trying to get all the seeds and stringy mess out of your pumpkin, you’ve surely thought that there has to be an easier way. There is: use your metal ice cream scooper. It’s stronger and bigger than those plastic scoopers in pumpkin-carving kits, so you’ll get more done with less effort.

Draw your design using a dry-erase marker.
You use dry-erase markers in everyday life because of they are easy to use, right? So use them for Halloween preparation as well! Unlike other writing utensils, these markers won’t harm your pumpkin; and unlike permanent markers or pen ink, the ink from these markers can be removed quickly and effortlessly with and a simple baby wipe.

Use toothpicks for structural support when necessary.
If attempting to remove the seeds isn’t the most trying part of pumpkin carving, then accidentally cutting off part of your pumpkin is. When this happens, just reconnect the pieces with a toothpick, which is easy to conceal and will provide support to the connected pieces. (Bonus tip: Once you’re finished carving your pumpkin, rub plenty of Vaseline around the edges to keep it from drying out.)

Rub some ground cinnamon inside your pumpkin.
There are a few good reasons to add some spice to your pumpkin carving. First, it will add a strong scent of the season to your pumpkin with its wonderful autumn-like smell. In addition, if you’ve ever had trouble with critters like squirrels feasting on your Halloween pride and joy, then cinnamon may be your best friend, since its strong scent has been known to repel such animals.


Now that you have some ideas for how to maximize your pumpkin’s shelf life, have some fun with your pumpkin! Download one out of this trio of terrifying (OK, maybe not-so-terrifying) templates to make your pumpkin stand out this Halloween:

pumpkintemplate1

 

 

 

Fun Face

Why carve out the same old triangle-eyed, smiling pumpkin, when you can give your pumpkin tons of personality? Your kids will crack up at this fun face template, which features a goofy take on the traditional pumpkin face.


pumpkintemplate3

 

 

 

 

Cat

No critter says Halloween as much as the cat, so if you want to ditch the smiling pumpkin this year, this would be a great alternative. If you’re a fan of felines, this cool template of a cat with a full moon sets the tone for Halloween.


pumpkintemplate2

 

 

 

Spider

If you really want to be unique and have people gasp at your gourd, then this spider template is for you. It takes the silhouette of the creepy eight-legged creature and enhances it, so when you light up your pumpkin, it stands out from the crowd.


Halloween is always exciting because it’s the unofficial start of the end-of-year holidays. To get more ideas to use throughout the holiday season, visit www.americanlifestylemag.com/holidays.

Quick Fixes for FICO® Scores

With mortgage interest rates near record lows, you may want to buy a home before rates go higher. Can you qualify for a purchase loan? Your FICO® scores may be the key.

unnamedOver 50 years ago, The Fair Isaac Company created credit scoring so that lenders can understand at a glance how much risk you pose as a borrower. “FICO” scores are determined by a software algorithm that analyzes your job, credit, income-to-debt ratios, spending habits and payment history. Base scores range between 300 and 850, and borrowers with the highest scores get the best credit terms.

Each credit reporting bureau, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, calculates its own score, so review all your credit reports for errors and get them resolved as quickly as possible. Visit www.annualcreditreport.comto get free one-time copies of your credit reports. Credit scores aren’t free, but you can get scores from all three bureaus at www.myfico.com for under $60.

FICO scores change with new information. Prevent lower scores by doing the following:

  • Pay all bills on time.
  • Pay more than the minimum payment required.
  • Reduce credit card debt to improve income-to-debt ratios.
  • Don’t open new accounts to consolidate debt or close credit card accounts.
  • Use no more than 30% of your available credit on any card.
  • Don’t change jobs immediately before applying for a mortgage loan.

Mortgage lenders are most interested in your ability to repay the loan. Long-term employment in the same field and on-time credit payments are the best ways to build and protect your credit scores.

Fall Maintenance Checklist

As the weather changes and before the days seem to get shorter, there’s a few simple maintenance routines and easy chores you can do to keep your home in tip-top shape this winter and heed off potentially costly repairs. We found this great list from HouseLogic. Click here for more detailed information.

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Understanding Your Credit Score and Its Effect on Purchasing a Home

What’s Your Credit Score?

If a home purchase is in your future, one thing you absolutely have to think about is your credit score. No matter what your timing looks like, it’s a good idea to think about it sooner rather than later, because having a good credit score can be the difference between obtaining the mortgage you need to buy your dream home—or settling for less because you didn’t qualify for the money you need. Here are some great tips on understanding your credit score from RISMedia.

Unfortunately, many prospective buyers don’t think about their credit score until they’re already in buying mode. And more often than not, at this point, it may be too late to do anything to fix your credit score. Therefore, it’s important to remember that if you have a bad credit score, it’s not something that can be fixed overnight or by simply making a phone call.

If you’re not sure where you even stand on the credit score spectrum, the first thing you’ll want to do is obtain a copy of your credit report. Your report will list all the details that were used to calculate your score, including past payment information concerning loans, credit cards and other bills.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly five percent of consumers have a major error on their credit reports, and approximately 25 percent of all reports have some sort of error that can negatively affect a score.

Once you receive your credit report, look it over and make sure there are no errors or discrepancies. For instance, if there’s an entry for an outstanding bill on a credit card or a late payment on a car loan that’s incorrect, you’ll want to take action quickly, as these items will lower your credit score. Be sure to dispute any errors you find with the Credit Bureau.

If there are no mistakes within your report, and your score isn’t where you want it to be, there are a number of things that can be done to gradually increase your number. To start, make a list of the money you owe and start paying off any debts you may have incurred over the years. Eliminating debt is the best way to see your score rise. Also, be sure to pay everything on time path forward. Late payments are seen as a huge negative when it comes to your credit report and overall score.

You’ll also want to refrain from opening any new accounts or taking out other loans, as this will simply add to the problem. Be sure to stay away from closing accounts that you have a strong history with as well. By closing accounts, you run the risk of eliminating a good payment record.

And last but not least, beware that debts that get sent to a collection agency typically stay on your report for years. While most people think paying these items off will cause them to vanish from their credit report, it’s simply not true.

If you feel that all hope is lost, there are agencies out there that you can pay to help you improve your report and remove negative items. Before you go this route, think about the expense you’ll be incurring, and whether it’s worth it in the long run.

Checking your credit score is something you should think about doing annually regardless of whether you’re planning to move or not. By keeping up to date with your report, your credit score will be solid when you’re ready to buy your next home.

To learn more about understanding your credit score, contact the Petersen Partners team today at info@petersenpartners.com or 770-379-8040. We’re the #1 team with the experience and professionalism you can trust.