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Famous Haunted Homes

Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall?

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Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it is a great marketing ploy for bed and breakfast inns and historical societies? Or maybe people are comforted or enjoy the idea of hauntings? Okay, so not all of us believe in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as unique as their "spiritual" residents. For a little fun and change of pace, we have compiled a short list of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back and enjoy a little Halloween-flavored fun and learn a little history too!

*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail!

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay, CA

The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there right? Anyway, Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963 the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live in which prisoners were there to be shut away rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.

The Haunting: This place was creating ghost stories before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something wants out... There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.

How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use different ferry system to the island. 

Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX

The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.

The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.

How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering. 

The History: Hannes Tiedemann built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that lead to jealousy and ultimately, to murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of misery from her insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.

The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps out in the corridor. There is also claim that the tower room where the "woman in black" can be heard choking. Lights also swing around and some objects have been moved or thrown.

How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored at one time they would eventually start tours to the building, however, nothing is posted on their website about this yet.

Heceta House - Yachats, OR

The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century.

The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house!

How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. 

Hickory Hill House - Equality, IL

The History: This house was built in 1842 by John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. It is also said that he would kidnap free blacks and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves where kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.

The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 and many claimed to hear the rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The home had the reputation that no one could spend the night. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.

How to see it: Currently the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and closed to the public. A grant was received in late spring 2006, hopefully it will be able to reopen soon!

Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO

The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history of tales also leads to the idea of more ghosts. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.

How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. 

Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA

The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to here recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one!

The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want...

How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! To find out more,click here.

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA

The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation.

The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim that there is a woman but she is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.

How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. 

Villisca Ax Murder House - Villisca, IA

The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly and lamps won't stay lit regardless that there is no breeze in the home.

How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.

Waverly Hills Sanitarium - Louisville, KY

The History: Okay, not a house, but since it has such a grand reputation of being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time and most of the patients who entered would die there. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred, some were beneficial and some were more brutal leading to tales of mistreatment and abuse. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.

The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and allowed into disrepair. Transients, vandals and kids would break in. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was not power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish activities. One specific spot, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.

How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.

Whaley House - San Diego, CA

The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school and polling center. It was also the site where criminals were hanged before the house was built. Once built, it also had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!

How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days. Their website has more details about times and price;

White House - Washington D.C.

The History: The White House became the home to our presidents in 1800 with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home and some have decided not to leave...

The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents that like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies that have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat which has been said to be seen before national tragedies such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

How to see it: Of course you can still visit the White House today.  Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA

The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces and various oddities such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.

The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. However, some skeptics in the ghost hunting world believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground. Guess you'll just have to go to find out for yourself!

How to see it: The mansion is open to tours today. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details or you can also do a behind the scenes tour to see how the house functioned. 

Selling Your Home in a Buyers' Market

How to step out from the crowd!

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The phrase "buyer's market" is used a lot in the news today. Frankly, it is one. The interest rates are encouraging, although not the lowest for 30 year loans, they are still low and make it a good time to buy. Also, there is quite a choice for buyers to choose from on the market. This only increases as we get into spring and summer. So how do you get your home for sale to stand out from the crowd? Set a realistic sale price. First, know the appraisal value of your home. If you don't, hire an appraiser. You need to know what the bank thinks your home is worth. Setting your price too high can break a sale at closing. Next, take a good look at the market around you. Compare yourself with like homes; homes that are the same age, similar square footage, comparable yards, and in similar neighborhoods. Then see which of these homes have been selling and which have been sitting. Consider how long you want to be on the market. Depending on your location, even a well priced home may take 60-90 days or longer in a buyer's market. Make sure to concentrate on here and now, do not get stuck looking at what your home might have sold for last summer or fall. Facing the reality of how much your home is worth on the current market will help you avoid reducing your price or offering incentives you would rather avoid. Know your competition. As stated above, make sure to compare yourself to like homes. Also, check to see what, if any, incentives comparable homes are offering. Tour some of the homes. Get an idea of what updates have been done. Take a look at how comparable homes are being staged or what they are lacking in their staging. Sometimes using a critical eye on homes you are not attached to can help you discover what potential buyers may be seeing in your home. Get an experienced realtor. Find a realtor who has been selling homes for a while. Especially with the recent fall in home sales for most of the nation, you want to make sure you get a realtor who will avoid knee jerk reactions to a market they haven't experienced before. A realtor who is familiar with your neighborhood and knows what buyers are looking for can help you prepare the house for sale. Stage your home for showing. Set your home up as a model home. Go to an open house at a new development or home and garden show in your area. Notice how there are tasteful decorations that offer the aesthetics without the personality? Take down family pictures, collectables, anything that tells about your personality. You are moving anyway, so get these items boxed up now. You want buyers to walk through your home seeing the home as one they can picture themselves in. You don't want the buyers to walk away thinking, "Wow, they really like Elvis!" Ramp up the curb appeal. Make sure to keep the yard and front walkway pristine. This is the first impression before a potential buyer walks in or even picks up that flyer. Your backyard should be cleaned up as well. Sometimes people forget that the outside of the home can say a lot about the owner. If you have a neglected yard, buyers may wonder if you are neglecting other problems inside your home as well. Fix or update problem areas now. The last thing you want is to get an offer and then have something come up in a home inspection that can break the deal! If you aren't sure, it is not uncommon for buyers to have their home inspected before placing it on the market. Unless you are pricing your home below value as a fixer-upper, then you need to get any repairs done before going to market. Be realistic, although a new kitchen may add to your home, most likely the cost of remodeling will not be recuperated in your selling price. Instead concentrate on items that either have to be done or you can do easily and at little cost to yourself. Offer incentives for buyers. Incentives can vary in scope. Perhaps the carpets are old but you don't want to get them replaced; you can offer a carpeting/flooring allowance. Perhaps you want to drive the buyers to close by offering to pay closing costs. You can pay for other buyer costs such as homeowners insurance, home appraisal or home inspection. In the case of a condo, you can offer to pay the first 6 or x months of homeowner dues. Another incentive that might help is being flexible on your move in date. Respond to offers and questions quickly. Don't let potential buyers sit wondering what happened to their offer. Get back to any offers or questions about the home as quickly as you can. This will include the help of your realtor as buyers will contact them first. Make sure your realtor is a good communicator and will respond quickly!

Home Improvement Web Sites

These days you can find a web site that covers anything. Included in this trend are home improvement web sites.

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These days you can find a web site that covers anything. Included in this trend are home improvement web sites. Some of these helpful sites may be related to a television program (as discussed in our April article 'Home Improvement Television'). However, there are also many that are mostly web based that offer great home improvement hints, tutorials and visual aids. Below is a list of some of these web sites. We have included the web site message to the consumer, our short review and our ranking of the practical features (such as navigation) to the right. Web sites are listed in alphabetical order. Hopefully you will find some information here that may help you on your next home improvement project! About.com Home Repair http://homerepair.about.com/ Web Site Summary: [About.com contains areas maintained by experts in the field; the only description we found about this section was about the expert.] Bill Lewis is a professional electrician. He has also been a carpenter, a contractor, an editor, a publisher and an urban planner. Bill focuses in this site on repairs and improvements with an eye to saving money and adding value. Homecheck Summary: Helpful articles about various projects and home repair issues. A good article reviews the pros and cons of do-it-yourself work. Overall the articles are quick and to the point. No illustrations are offered but the advice is good and well written. Would like to see more topics and visual aids. Al's Home Improvement Center http://alsnetbiz.com/homeimprovement/ Web Site Summary: Als Home Improvement Center is the site for do it yourself and how to tips covering all aspects of residential home repair, home improvement, remodeling, and renovation projects around the house. Featuring tips, advice, how-to articles and step-by-step information to help you maintain and improve the value of your home. Homecheck Summary: Random. This web site is primarily made up of links to other home improvement sites. However, there are some written guides and tutorials. The web site itself is basic in appearance and has few visual aids. However, some of the tutorials do offer step by step pictures. The site may be hit and miss but does seem to have some hidden gems. Ask the Builder www.askthebuilder.com Web Site Summary: Once you are in my new cool web site, here is what you will find: Over 400 Step-by-Step Guides- these contain the extra content, how-to instructions, links to manufacturers, etc. that the newspapers didn't have the room to print when they ran my original columns. Numerous TV Video Clips - watch me show you new products and cool tricks on how to do things. Over 150 Radio Shows - These radio shows have been stripped of the boring commercials. Each show is broken out into the individual callers. I explain in great detail how to do things as I talk to callers. You can listen to the segments or shows as often as you want. Each week I add the latest radio show for your listening pleasure. Email Questions and My Answers - Live questions from visitors just like you along with my responses. [This description is what a premium, paid for membership includes, some of these materials are available for free on the web sit as well.] Homecheck Summary: This web site does offer some good articles about home improvement. A paid for membership will give the user access to much more. Good content in the articles and Q&A, but not very many visual aids. Some of the material is for geared towards those with advance knowledge of home construction. A good site to review and would be even better if you want to pay for the membership; check out what a paid membership get you, click here. Better Homes & Gardens www.bhg.com Web Site Summary: BHG.com is focused on decorating, building and remodeling, crafts, entertaining, cooking, and gardening. It also has extensive information for women and families. In addition to providing useful tools and advice, BHG.com's trusted experts keep visitors up to the minute with information on the latest developments and trends around home and garden. BHG.com was designed with real people in mind. It has easy-to-use interactive tools; clear visuals; specific, step-by-step instructions; and money saving suggestions. It makes life easier and more enjoyable. Homecheck Summary: One of the first things you'll notice are the pop up ads on every page; incredibly annoying and overused! This site does have home improvement and restoration articles available online. However, the articles are brief and some do not have pictures. The Tools & Guides are useful and easy to use. These tools include planning the layout and painting rooms to calculators for figuring out the cost of materials in advance. Overall this site is better for stimulating decoration and remodeling ideas but does little to tell the do-it-yourselfer how to tackle these projects. BobVila.com www.bobvila.com Web Site Summary: Online and on the job site, home improvement pro Bob Vila helps homeowners build their dreams. Homecheck Summary: This web site offers a lot more information than just TV listing times. It is easy to get around, however, there is so much information available the choices at first can be a bit overwhelming. Articles are very practical and thorough, fix its include diagrams and photos, and the videos are a great way to review topics if you missed the television show. Design tools and the bulletin boards do require a sign up, but it is FREE! These tools are great and easy to use. Overall this site is one of the most informative and generous internet sites offering expert advice. DoItYourself.com http://doityourself.com Web Site Summary: N/A Does list a great deal of quotes from media sources and what they say about the site. Homecheck Summary: This web site really uses the point and click method. Once inside, most of the pages show all possible selections at once leaving the user to scroll and review at will. For shopping this works best. Once in the home improvement section, each topic has How To, Q&A and Tips. All are written concisely and use some pictures when applicable. Some How To's are more informative than others. Depending on the topic, users may find not all their questions answered as the subject may only have an introduction/summary instead of a full tutorial. More diagrams and drawings for some of the How To sections would be nice as well. Finally, a collection of manufactures and suppliers are listed by area of expertise or in advertisements throughout the site. (For professionals interested, listing on these pages begins at $30.) DoItYourself Network www.diynetwork.com Web Site Summary: DIY Network is your television source for the latest do-it-yourself projects, including Home Building; Home Improvement; Automotive & Boating; Crafts; Gardening; Living; and Woodworking. Informational and entertaining, DIY's programs and experts answer your most sought-after questions, plus offer creative projects that will inspire you to do something out of the ordinary - yourself. DIY's web site, DIYnetwork.com, features step-by-step instructions for all that you see on-air, totaling more than 15,000 projects online. Homecheck Summary: The tutorials do point out the television show times. However, if you miss the show, a step by step detail with pictures from the project are available online. Not all the show reviews are meant to be tutorials of how-to but instead are examples of what may be accomplished; a sort of idea bank. Overall the tutorials are clear and easy to follow. There are also some project planners available, but these are borrowed from the Lowe's web site. Home Decoration Concepts www.homedecorationsconcepts.com Web Site Summary: Homedecorationconcepts.com is a site that has been built to ensure you have all the information you want when you build your own house. The information presented here covers various aspects of home decor ranging from individual articles on decoration bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc to general articles on furniture &furnishing the house. The site even provides you with articles based solely on how to paint and maintain your house. In short, Homedecorationconcepts.com can be your first step towards your dream house! Home Depot www.homedepot.com Web Site Summary: The Home Depot is the world's largest home improvement retailer and second largest retailer in the United States. We help our customers build their dreams by being more than a store. Learn about Home Depot and our other subsidiaries that specialize in everything from flooring, lighting and interior decor to landscape supply. See how we're making your community a better place to live. Find a career with a Home Depot company or invest in your future as we drive to establish wealth and financial security for our investors. Homecheck Summary: An extension of the store, this site is intended to sell products. However, it also has some tips and ideas for using the products available. The tutorials on this site do come with difficulty rating and photographs of the project steps/procedures. An easy tool included in the tutorials is a printable shopping list so you may know exactly what you need (and where to buy it!) for any project. The only downside is the planning tools are brand based and only show painting color schemes, shelving layouts, etc. using one particular brand. Home & Garden TV www.hgtv.com Web Site Summary: At HGTV.com, you'll find even more of what you love about HGTV: instructions for thousands of home and garden projects, video tips, an interactive Program Guide and episode finder, Calculators, Message Boards and more. Just click on your favorite topic—Decorating, Remodeling, Gardening, At Home, Crafts—to learn the latest on enhancing your nest. And be sure to visit the HGTV Store for unique home and garden gear. Homecheck Summary: The How-To tutorials are great. They take you through step-by-step with audio and visual review. After watching the segment you may print out written instructions as well. It does work best with a high speed internet connection. Only negative comment is we wish there were more! But these are sponsored by Lowe's and users may always click on the advertisement to go to their library as well. The Home Improvement Web www.the-home-improvement-web.com Web Site Summary: The New Home Improvement Web Directory - Tips, Design, Decorating, Repair and Improvement Information For The Consumer and Professional! Find Improvement Tips, Products, Professionals, and Services in Canada, United States, and United Kingdom! Homecheck Summary: Some great articles about home maintenance and repair. However, there are no illustrations. Many of the articles are submitted by other web sites/sources, but the quality of the articles seems to stay about equal. HomeStore.com www.homestore.com Web Site Summary: Homestore, Inc. is a leading supplier of media and technology solutions that promote and connect Real Estate Professionals to consumers before, during and after a move. Homecheck Summary: This site is primarily geared to those looking for realtors, homes, apartments and other real estate listings. To find home improvement articles go the Home & Garden tab at the top right. Here you may find decorating and some guides to home improvement projects. The tutorials are borrowed from the Creative Homeowner text and include great pictures with the step by step guide. Finding the tutorial you are looking for can take a little time through the different menus. It is easy to click on another feature and be taken to another site; although the new site is owned by the same group, why you went there may not be clear at first. Again, do-it-yourself home improvement is not the main feature of this site so unfortunately there are not as many articles and projects; but the articles it does offer are easy to follow and have good visual aids. HomeTime.com www.hometime.com Web Site Summary: Welcome to Hometime.com your online source for home improvement, remodeling, and repair information. Here is where you’ll find project advice, information about current and past TV episodes, behind-the-scenes Hometime information and a variety of products to help you with all your project needs. Homecheck Summary: This site has project advice, information about the show and a variety of products to help you with all your project needs. Also find lists of vendors and their contact information for materials you see used on the show. The how-to tutorials on the web site are basic. Check out the archives to find past episodes that relate to your own projects. Copies of programs can be bought and usually cover one individual tutorial or the whole series related to construction of one house project. Home Tips www.hometips.com Web Site Summary: Home Tips is your free one-stop resource for help with home improvement, remodeling houses, home repair, decorating, and buying appliances and other home products. Homecheck Summary: This site has some lengthy articles and some quick summaries. Very few pictures and a lot seems to point towards purchasing material through the site. That is not to say the information isn't valuable; many of the articles/buyer's guides offer good reviews of the materials available to the consumer. There is a section of D-I-Y Instructions that offers a bit more insight. But again would like more step-by-step, illustrated instructions. Lowe's Home Improvement www.lowes.com Web Site Summary: [Well the closest we could find!] Lowe's has been Improving Home Improvement ® for more than 59 years. In 2005, Lowe's earned several notable industry distinctions, including: Ranked 43 on the FORTUNE 500; Named 2003, 2004 and 2005 ENERGY STAR Retail Partner of the Year; Operates more than 1,100 stores in 48 states Homecheck Summary: Offered by the retail store as an extra feature, the primary goal of the site is to get information about and/or purchase products for sale. Prompted for your Zip Code, this information is used so you may search for products available in your area (this includes plants!). Navigation is easy, however some pages heavy with images may take longer for some computers to load. Most of the tutorials suggest certain products, which is to be expected. However, these tutorials do still prove to be helpful and diagrams are provided for more complex tasks. Check out their 'In-Depth Microsites' for more information and online tools such as the Garden Planner. The Garden Club has really useful tools with great information about plants. Overall, this site does prove helpful to the home improvement weekend warrior. Michael Holigan's Your New Home www.michaelholigan.com Web Site Summary: Michael Holigan’s Your New House, seen on broadcast stations and cable by more than 2 million viewers every week. We promote tips and advice on how to build, buy and remodel the home through our TV show...serve as a source of expert advice and information for consumers on topics relating to: New home construction, The purchase and financing of new and existing homes, The purchase and financing of manufactured homes, Residential remodeling, Home improvement Homecheck Summary: Tutorials are available through online copies of show transcripts or broken down into step-by-step online tutorials. The use of photos help illustrate the steps of the projects. If you have a good connection you may also watch video excerpts from the show. All around great advice and direction. Just can't wait for there to be even more topics available. MSN House & Home http://houseandhome.msn.com/ Web Site Summary: [Could not find one for this section, but everyone is pretty familiar with MSN.com for which this is an extension.] Homecheck Summary: Tutorials and content is provided by Better Homes and Gardens. Articles are short and to the point. Most have drawn illustrations. Start Remodeling www.startremodeling.com Web Site Summary: StartRemodeling.com’s Roots began in 1997 as an interactive sales tool for Lone Star Specialty Remodelers, a Houston, TX based remodeling contractor, in business since 1982. The site, still owned and operated by Real Remodeling Professionals, was transformed in 1999 to bring visitors to the Internet an informative and easy to navigate site that will allow them to locate anything and everything they may need to improve their homes. Homecheck Summary: Some good short articles and how-to's are in the Interior and Exterior Showcases. The remodeling values article is a nice hidden gem as it was the first we saw of someone illustrating how that major home improvement project may effect the resale value of your home. Overall, the articles are bit hit and miss and could use more visual aids, but there are some definite gems to look over in the archives. This Old House/Ask This Old House www.thisoldhouse.com Web Site Summary: Homeowner Know-how: Our extensive database of do-it-yourself articles and step-by-step instructions help homeowners execute a wide range of home improvement tasks. Organized by topic, this section covers everything from kitchen and bath to yard and garden. Homecheck Summary: Some free tutorials available online. However, most information is only available to magazine subscribers ($4.93/3 issues & presumably much more through online access). The guides that are offered for free are well written, have great photographic visuals and are easy to follow. It may make the subscription worth it to those who want expert guidance and help. TrueValue www.truevalue.com Web Site Summary: True Value, operating worldwide, has been a leader in the hardware industry since 1948. With its broad and deep product selection and helpful customer service, True Value is a trusted resource for do-it-yourselfers in big cities and small towns alike. Homecheck Summary: The web site for the retail store, this site has some good directions for home projects and improvements. The tutorials are very detailed. Drawn pictures serve as visual aids; it would be nice if there were more of them for some of the projects listed. Well written and easy to follow articles. Don't forget to check out the expert Q&A where you may submit questions or review the archive or questions asked. Toolbelt Diva http://media.home.discovery.com/fansites/toolbeltdiva/toolbeltdiva.html Web Site Summary: As the feisty host of Discovery Home Channel's new series Toolbelt Diva, Norma pairs up with female homeowners to tackle a variety of home-improvement projects. Toolbelt Diva proves that any woman can take on just about any home-improvement project, and it also has plenty of information and insight for the man of the house as well. Homecheck Summary: A fun twist to the usual home improvement shows, this tv show's web site also offers video clips and written guides reviewing projects handled on the show. Wish there was more material available online as the topics covered are still rather limited.

One roof or two?

My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms.

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Q. My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms. Recently, I had a new shingle roof put on, and the roofing contractor told me that I could save a little money by putting the new shingles on top of the old ones. I wonder if this could be contributing to the cracking of my plaster ceilings.

A. The new roof over the old is most likely the reason for the ceiling cracks. Some roofing contractors will put new shingles over old ones because it saves them time and money, but this is no benefit to the home owner. Your house was framed to handle the weight of one shingle roof, but not the weight of two. The extra load on the structure is placing stress on the rafters, braces and ceiling joists, and causing stress cracks in your plaster ceilings. At this point, your best option is to just live with the cracks, because if you patch them without relieving the extra load on the roof, the cracks will just come right back. Next time you are ready for a new roof, insist that the roofer remove all of the old shingles, felt, tar paper and any other materials right down to the plywood or boards and start from scratch. This will not only eliminate the extra weight problem, it will give you a better looking, tighter and longer lasting roof.

Feng Shui

Another Look at Interior Design

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Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway) has been used in China for centuries and has made a strong entrance into western culture. Best described as "the art of placement" Feng Shui was originally used to determine the placement of temples, official buildings, graveyards and homes in their natural environment. In China, there became many different schools of Feng Shui such as the Land Form School in the southern region and Compass (Fukien) School in the northern region, to name a few. When the western world first came into contact with Feng Shui it was labeled as a form of geomancy which is considered "divination by means of figures or lines or geographic features." Although this may be a misrepresentation of the initial use of Feng Shui, this art is constantly in flux and today there are many different schools, some of which do concentrate on the use of this art as a way to impact ones fate in a favorable direction. With this variation, Feng Shui has found a niche in the New Age market of the western world. This has added some aspects to the art that are not for everyone. However, this art of placement does have some wonderful interior design techniques that everyone could adapt and find beneficial. This article will discuss many of these interior design solutions for cluttered and cramped spaces in the home and office. It is difficult to write about Feng Shui without looking at some of the ideas of balance that have become part of this art form. First we will look at some of the ideas behind the creation of balance and then we will look at some of the practical solutions this art form has for our living and working spaces. For those who are more interested in the practical interior design aspects of Feng Shui, take a look at the third paragraph.

Feng Shui, as the art of placement, is aimed at creating the best balance of elements and flow of chi throughout any space. Chi is considered an energy that surrounds all living things. Feng Shui strives to give chi the smoothest possible flow so it does not become trapped or flow through too quickly causing an imbalance in the energy/vibe of a space. If chi does not flow correctly it is believed to have adverse effects on those living around these imbalanced areas. The elemental balance of a space is reached by balancing five elements of nature: earth, water, wood, fire and metal. These elements are mapped out using a bagua. A bagua is a chart used for IChing that is also used to plot the areas of a home/space. Each direction has an effect on certain areas of life (click on the image to the right for a larger look). The main directions of North, South, East, West and center correspond the five elements of nature. In short, the areas on the bagua effect and are represented by the following:

  • South - Fame - Red, Fire, Birds, Summer
  • SW - Relationships & Marriage - Yellow & Pink
  • West - Children & Creativity - White, Metal, Tiger, Autumn
  • NW - Helpful People & Travel - Gray
  • North - Career - Black, Water, Tortoise, Winter
  • NE - Knowledge & Spirituality - Turquoise
  • East - Family & Ancestors - Green, Wood, Dragon, Spring
  • SE - Wealth - Purple

Keep in mind some of the colors and other symbols may change depending on the school of Feng Shui you choose to use. It is also interesting to note that in some schools the bagua is superimposed over a space (i.e. in a drawing of a room) strictly based on compass direction - the chart's North points the same direction as compass North. In other schools, especially those popular in western adaptation, the bagua is situated according to the main entry to the space. With this method, the South end is always on the same wall as the main entrance so your doorway will always fall into the SE, S or SW section. Once the bagua is superimposed over the drawing of a space you may then see how the various areas of a room or areas of the house are affecting your life whether it be your career or your children. On examining the space you may then pinpoint if something in that space is disrupting the chi of the area and the balance of that part of life. Major problem areas can be fixed with various cures from mirrors to crystals. Changing the placement of objects and adding more lighting can also improve areas (leading into the interior design aspect of Feng Shui). Or if the space is fine but you want to enhance that portion of your life you can add elements and symbols to the space to increase their effectiveness. For example, hanging black and white (gray) travel photos in the NW section may help to encourage travel opportunities. Finally, Feng Shui looks to balance spaces based a symmetry, square and rectangle shapes are ideal. Odd shapes and areas jutting out often can cause imbalance in the chi. For example, if a bedroom falls outside the square or rectangle shape of the house that person will feel detached from the rest of the family and it may lead to arguments or withdrawal. Obviously this is only the tip of all the aspects of Feng Shui and its variances. It takes books to explain these concepts in detail. Let us move on to the more tangible interior design aspects of this art form.

Feng Shui as a interior design tool is truly an art of placement. All placement has an effect on chi and placement should be a conscience act. Many of these placement ideas have very practical reasons and aesthetic appeal to those who may not be interested in the chi aspect of the placement. The following list includes some of the more common aspects of Feng Shui interior design.

Keep places clear of clutter!
One of the basics of Feng Shui is that everything should be kept in its place. Keep areas clear of clutter. Cluttered spaces will trap and slow down chi but will also give you a subconscious weighted down feeling. It sounds simple enough and it is! Clear off your desk, file those papers, go through that stack of books, etc. It will feel like a weight was lifted off your shoulders and you will find that you can think more clearly as there is less subconscious worries about needing to "get to that someday" - get to it today so you can move on!

Doorways 
-All doorways should be in good shape, if they need any repairs, repainting or replacement this needs to be done. Doors should also open into the room rather then out. This will encourage energy to flow in rather then out. -Main Entrance to the Home: Considered the most important entry, the main entrance to your home should be welcoming and positive. Keep the area well lit and free of clutter. Company should come in the doorway feeling welcome.
-Common problems with the main entrance: 1) If your home is a split level you may see stairs going both up and down as soon as you enter. This will cause chi to disperse too quickly and may lead to conflict and bickering in the home as you don't see things the same way. The two stairways also cause a split view which can lead to anxiety. Cures for these entrances include mirrors or a multidimensional picture that illustrates depth. 2) Seeing the back door directly from the front door. This will cause chi to flow too quickly through the home causing missed opportunities. Also, when guests can see the "exit" upon entry it will make them feel unwelcome or impatient to leave. Fixes for this include a screen, curtains or plant to block the direct view; this can also add a rich fullness to the home and encourages people to enjoy what is around them rather then peering through to your backyard right away. More traditional cures use crystals or wind chimes hung between the doors. 3) Some entrances are small and box-like with blank walls. To fix this hang a painting, perhaps one of the outdoors that makes the visitor think of spacious areas.You may add a mirror, but some Feng Shui experts advise against this as startling your visitors (and yourself) with your reflection as one walks in the door can be unnerving and rude. Make sure the area is well lit and bright. You do not want cramped, blank entrance ways to be dark and shadowed. -Other Doorways: Keep the path of doorways clear of clutter. Doorways provide the main pathway for chi and should not be disrupted or blocked - you shouldn't have to tip-toe around a bookshelf, etc when you first enter a room!

Windows
-Like doors, windows in disrepair are not good for the home. Cracked and damaged windows disrupt the chi and should be replaced.

Bedroom
-The bedroom is one of the most important rooms of your house and the placement of your bed is the most important placement in this room. The bed should be a place to rest so you do not want to be disturbed or startled easily. Many consider it ideal to place the bed diagonally facing the door. However, if that is not possible, the following bad alignments should be avoided: 1) Do not have the foot of the bed directly in line with the doorway. 2) Do not have the head of your bed directly in line with the doorway. 3) Place the bed against a solid wall instead of a window or open space. 4) If you have a slanted ceiling the bed should not be under the lowest point.
-Some schools of Feng Shui are against any mirrors in the bedroom. If you do insist on having a mirror in the room make sure it is not directly opposite or viewed from the bed, this set up can cause unease as you will startle yourself when waking.
-Also, electronics such as TVs and stereos should not be kept in the bedroom. These items are usually not conducive for rest and sleep and should therefore be placed in the more awake rooms of the house such as the living room.

Study/Home Office
-The desk is the most important piece in this room. It should be in a command position where you can see the door. Ideal is diagonally so you can see as much of the room around you as possible. Never have your back to the door when seated at your desk. Also, if you sit too close to the door or have a poor view of the room you less control of your surroundings.
-Keep this room clear of clutter. Clutter will work on your subconscious and you will contently be split among several tasks and never be able to concentrate on just one.
-Lighting is important in this room. It should be bright but not glaring. Natural light from a window is good but should not be directly in front of you, instead it should be to your side.

Kitchen
-Another major area of the home the placement of the stove is considered key to this space. The stove should never be placed where you have your back to the main entrance and therefore prone to being startled while cooking! -It is extremely important that this room stays clean
- should be the cleanest in the house! Living Room -Furniture in this room should provide for easy movement. Chairs should be faced towards one another and share a coffee table or stand between them. Empty space between people may cause tension and more conflict, whereas having a table as common ground between them makes them feel more secure and comfortable in discourse. -Many living rooms lead into other spaces such as dining rooms, etc without any real doorway. This may cause an odd or L-shaped room. Again, it is bad Feng Shui to have tangents hanging off the main shape (rectangle/square) of the room. To counter this you may add a screen, open shelves, plants, etc. that gives more structure to the two spaces and keeps them separate. -If your living room or similar room is a sunken room make sure to get floor lamps to brighten the room up. Light will help bring the room up on equal level to the rest of the house and counter the detachment this feature may cause.

Dining Room
-This room should not be overcrowded but more spacious and inviting to groups. Comfortable table and chairs should encourage diners to take their time and enjoy the meal. -Mirrors are great for this room - double the size of your rooms and family!

Obviously this is just a quick sampling of the types of rules Feng Shui has for the placement and design of the home.

Feng Shui, although an ancient art has many practical uses for the modern age. Practical ideas such as having a command position in a room to tackle tasks more effectively can be very beneficial. There is no doubt that the various number of schools and approaches and the New Age aspects and fluctuations of this art form can be a bit confusing and frustrating at times. However, this art, whether you delve into it deeply and adopt its sometimes mystical aspects or if you only want to pull a couple ideas about placement, can still be beneficial and fun to anyone who wants to give it a try.

Fast Fun Feng Shui


- Some schools of Feng Shui believe that each person can be mapped by the bagua as well. Using birth date, the bagua calculators can tell you which directions are more auspicious than others and what areas should be avoided or countered. For an example calculator click here: www.fengshuitimes.com/resources/GuaCalculator/ There is even alterations to the bagua chart based on the astrological year (for year of the dog click here: www.bhargo.com/articles/firedogyear.asp


- Not home much? Feng Shui suggests that homes should always have flowing chi. If you are gone often or for long periods of time make sure to bring life into your home. On vacation - set the radio or TV to create sound while you are gone. Long days at the office or weekend trips - get fish or plants in your home so their energy will keep your space alive.

- Feng Shui isn't just about objects anymore! Have messy neighbors that are cluttering your space and chi? Many modern schools of Feng Shui suggest talking with neighbors and volunteering to help them with clean up projects. Not only will your chi and space feel better, you will also work on you outside partnerships and bring positive energy into your life and home.

- Not all antiques are good antiques. Antiques may have a carry over of bad energy or chi from the previous owner. Make sure to take time to calmly consider and feel the vibe from an antique before purchasing it.

- Cures for your bad Feng Shui: some schools rely heavily on cures. These include chimes, crystals, bagua mirrors, bells, golden arrows and bamboo flutes (to name some of the most common). However, some schools are dissatisfied with the commercialism of these cures. Instead they rely more on rearranging objects already in the homeowners decor or adding ascetic elements such as plants, water fountains and statues.

- My student is an A+ student! Many Feng Shui practitioners believe that you can aid your children's or your own scholarly pursuits through good placement. This could mean having your child's bedroom in the NE sector of the home. Or it may mean placing their desk in the NE sector of the room. Also adding colors of the blue and green/turquoise that represent your child's scholarly interest in the NE sector of the room. For example, blue and green planets on a mobile or pictures of marine life, dinosaurs, etc. where these colors dominate.

- Problems with office politics at the workplace? Work stations should not be directly face to face as this will cause conflict. Sharp angles and corners should not be pointed towards anyone's back other wise they will become the target of office politics and back stabbing. The boss should always have the office furthest from the front door so they are not distracted by everyday events and the distance gives them time to contemplate decisions. If a subordinate is further back then the boss they may feel like they see more and know more.

- Selling your home? Feng Shui can be considered to help aid you sell as well. One example is to make sure you don't have heavy furniture at the base or southern point of your home as this will keep you grounded. Or have a water fountain to help de-stress potential buyers. It is a growing trend and there are programs that offer real estate agents contact hours in Feng Shui training!

Further Reading Online

American Feng Shui Institute
www.amfengshui.com
To correct mistakes committed in various Feng Shui books on the market and to prevent people from being victimized. To help people discern real professional Feng Shui practitioners from impostors, and to set Feng Shui apart from superstition, mysticism, and religion. To apply the fundamentals of Feng Shui to initiate interest and research in the ancient natural science. To utilize Feng Shui correctly such that it benefits all mankind.

Fast Feng Shui
www.fastfengshui.com/articles.htm
We are pleased to offer the following articles on contemporary western feng shui.

Feng Shui Chinese
www.fengshuichinese.com
The Site is made in Hong Kong and China by Feng Shui Experts and is in both English and Chinese Languages. We appreciate your feedback.

Feng Shui Gate
http://www.fengshuigate.com/
Essays on the origin of Fengshui

Feng Shui Society
http://www.fengshuisociety.org.uk/ 
The Feng Shui Society, based in the United Kingdom with links throughout the world, is an independent, non-profit organization established in 1993, run on a voluntary basis by an executive committee elected from the membership. It administers minimum standards for education in feng shui to professional practice level and maintains a register of accredited consultants. 

Feng Shui Times
www.fengshuitimes.com
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

World of Feng Shui
www.wofs.com
First Magazine of Feng Shui in the World

Back to School Basics

Tips and Tricks to Save $$

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In our area, the made-up snow days at the end of the school year made this past year seem long. Therefore, it's a bit jarring to be thinking about back to school supplies already. However, planning ahead can help prevent a lot of the headache in back to school shopping. Many times the quest for new supplies and clothes can seem like an endless scavenger hunt that quickly eats through money in the bank! Below we have compiled a few tips on how to keep the costs low, as well as things to consider when deciding on which supplies will best fit your student's needs. We have also taken a look at a few of the activities you can still be doing the final days of summer to keep your child's mind sharp and ready to jump into the next grade. Students on average lose a month of learning during summer vacation and can lose over two months of learning for harder subjects.* Luckily, there are ways to battle the summer brain drain while still having fun! *"Summer Vacation Slide" by Barbara Pytel

Back to School Supplies Armed with a supply list provided by the school, it is time to begin the scavenger hunt. As you look for supplies for your children, below are a couple items to keep in mind.

  • Waste Not, Want Not Take a look through left over supplies from last school year. Did older children leave something the younger ones can use? Where certain supplies never used or still have some life left in them? Do some supplies just need new batteries, lead, erases or other refills? Also, check older items that may be spruced up a bit with stickers, photos, etc. - it makes for a fun project for the younger kids and can help get them excited about going back for the next year.
  • School Supply Closet If you don't already have one, set up a supply closet/space where you can keep old and new supplies all year round. Here you can keep packets of pencils and stacks of paper or notebooks that you know will be used throughout the year. Buy commonly used items in bulk and you will save in the long run.
  • Collect Year Round Now that you have a School Supply Closet set up in your home, you can more easily take advantage of deals as they arise during the year. With a place to neatly keep school items you will have a better idea of what you need more of as you shop. Although Back to School sales can be good, you may find even greater bargains at the end of the season or during clearance sales.
  • "Ouch! My back!" Backpacks are often overloaded with school supplies and can cause back pain and muscle soreness for students of all ages. A backpack should only be 10-20% of the student's weight. If a smaller student is expected to carry a lot, then you may consider getting a rolling backpack.
  • "But everyone else has one..." The plaintive cry of so many children around the country. But be strong - get only what your child really needs for school. Get supplies that are basic and therefore timeless. Fancy cartoon or pop-icon covered supplies are short lived. If you do get them, only get a few that you are certain your child will use before they become "unfashionable."
  • Quality is still #1 You can shop cheap without going so generic all you get is poor quality. You don't want to buy supplies that will break, leak, rip, or fall apart before the end of the first week. (I still remember a black glued notebook I had in high school that literally just fell apart at the seems with paper scattered about the floor - not fun!) Make sure there is some quality in the products you buy. Keep in mind how roughly binders may be handled, how pens may be shoved at the bottom of a backpack and how that same backpack will be tossed, dropped, kicked, lugged, shoved and zipped/unzipped more times than worth counting.
  • Batteries not Included Avoid gimmicky and flashy supplies that twirl and light up. Teachers find these are very distracting in the classroom. If you do get a fun item like this, keep it at home where it can make the homework blahs a bit more fun.
  • Accounting 101 As your children get older, include them in the budget planning. Working together on budgeting for supplies will teach your students how to prepare and why all the flashy supplies may not be worth it. You will soon find your child will learn to appreciate the cheaper supplies so they may budget for one or two more fancy items.
  • Organization 101 Along the same lines as Accounting 101, sit down with your older children and take the time to recall what worked or didn't work last year for their learning. Did they find note cards useful and need more this year? Did color coding subjects help or would an all in one binder be more useful? Are they still struggling and need to try something new?
  • Munch a Lunch Increasingly, online access allows parents not only to review the menu but to check their child's account and upload more funds when necessary. Many schools are also adopting healthier menus. If you don't have a picky eater, this may be the most convenient option. However, if you do have a picky eater in the house or if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then packing a lunch is the better way to go. Buying food and snacks in bulk has decreased the grocery bills of many households. With a bit of pre-planning, you may actually save money if packing lunches with items you know your children will eat. For growing teenagers with insatiable appetites, giving them as many snacks as possible can help curb the fast food purchases and the extra expense of impulse hunger-buys. Packing Get a good, strong lunch bag. Brown paper bags don't hold up well and are not environmentally friendly. A good lunch bag will protect other items from spills and with a small ice pack can keep food at a safe temperature until eaten. Free Tupperware is good (i.e. sandwich meat containers) however they only have so long to live after being tossed around in a lunch bag. Good containers is a worthwhile investment as they will be used 5 days a week to pack a healthy and full meal! Munchies Include your children in planning lunches for the week. Do this on a regular basis as they may have been all about bananas the last two weeks but are now sick and want a different fruit or veggie. Find out if lunches are satisfying - are they still hungry or brining extra home? If they are brining a lot home, find out if they are preferring a food/snack served in the cafeteria. If you are trying to save money by buying in bulk, you may be able to buy this favorite to pack in their lunch or find a healthier alternative instead.
  • Free Shipping Shopping for school supplies online is not out of the ordinary anymore. Many office supply stores and their competitors are allowing parents to shop from the computer. Compare shipping rates - you might even get free shipping with purchases at a specified total.

Back to School Clothes Most kids grow out of their clothes and shoes at an amazing rate. Keep their closets full with basics and not the trendy fashion of the day. Keep clothes practical and you won't break the bank!

  • Basics, Basics, Basics Keep the clothes to the basics as much as possible. Going for trends and fads will only hurt the checkbook when your child refuses to wear them again. This doesn't mean you can't get trendy clothes if it fits your budget. One way to make this easier is to get your child involved in the budget process. Let them know how much is budgeted for the season and then shop together for some basic items while saving for a few "gotta have" fun items.
  • Playground Attire (At Every Age) Can you run, jump, play and have fun in those clothes? Make sure your kids try moving around in the clothes they want to buy. Oddly cut pants are no fun for young kids to play in and skinny jeans will not be as appealing to that middle school student once they try to sit in a chair hour after hour of class. Make sure your children on aware of the functionality of their clothing choices. Finally, make sure you check out what is allowed at the school. Funky, trendy, or skimpy may not be practical and they may get your child sent home too! Take care to read slogans on t-shirts, ambiguous language or even blatant references to questionable or illegal subjects (i.e. drugs/alcohol) may not be allowed as well.
  • Hand-Me-Downs (Even with the Neighbors!) If you have more then one kid, hand-me-downs can be great. Especially if you stay with the basic and timeless classics, it will be easier for the younger kids to use what their older siblings can no longer wear. With how quickly they grow through clothes, most of the clothes will be in great condition and you can't beat the price! If you don't have older siblings, consider roving the local garage sales. Or talk with parents at the school, some parents plan exchange nights where they all bring clothes their kids can no longer wear and exchange with each other - again, you can't beat the price of a good barter in kind!
  • Consignment & Charitable Stores Both consignment and charitable stores can offer a great way to fill your kids closet. Get your children involved. At the consignment store they can make their "own" money by turning in old clothes for cash or store credit. Going to charitable stores, children can learn early how to stretch their dollar. Especially when shopping for items they know they will not be using often - so they need a white dress shirt for choir but will only wear it one season - a charitable or consignment store is a great fit. For the really creative kids, this can be a great way to mix and match and create their own style for cheap.
  • Shop In and Out of Season Without a doubt the department stores and outlet stores will run great deals and back to school sales. But also keep a look out for seasonal closeouts. Items you may not use this year might be used the next - just be aware you may have to do some good guessing on future sizes! Again, when shopping seasonal or end of the year sales, make certain to go for basic and timeless styles - the trendy may be a good bargain, but may not be worn by a stubborn teen next year.

Back to School Learning As mentioned in the intro above, research has shown that children lose about a months worth of knowledge over a 3 month summer vacation. For more difficult subjects this loss may be even more. There are ways to keep your kids mind sharp and even learn new things over the summer while keeping it fun and relaxed.

  • Homework Hour Okay, I know we just said to keep it fun and relaxed...it still can be with a scheduled time at night for quiet "study" time. Try to leave an hour open twice a week (or more) for a homework hour where you and your kids play a challenging game, watch a documentary, quietly read, or they can play an educational computer game - there are many online covering everything from dinosaurs to foreign languages. It will help keep you child's mind sharp and attuned to concentrating on one task like they will have to when real homework starts again in the fall. Of course this is generally for the older student, younger kids wouldn't need to do a whole hour - something more comparable to what they do in a school activity. The idea is not to sit them down with a chart to fill in or tables to review. Instead, get them to apply some of their learned knowledge in an activity.
  • Summer Reading If not done during homework hour, summer reading can be done daily. Read to the younger kids, read along with the older ones and read quietly next to the tweens and teens. The idea is to again make the environment conducive to some reading time. Take a trip to the library once every two weeks to stock up on books. Perhaps an older kid might be interested in entering one of the many reading contests that happen every summer. Read the same book as a family and compare opinions. Read books related to an upcoming summer vacation. Read books with a movie fast approaching and compare them to each other. Read non-fiction books as well. Simply put - read!
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know Consider making national pastimes a chance to learn - How do fireworks work? What creates a thunderstorm? Why do we celebrate July 4th? Which constellation is that? How does a camera work - perhaps put it on manual and figure what different apertures and shutter speeds can do. Or turn a family road trip into a chance to learn a bit more - stop at a national park or try a different cuisine from what you get around home. Challenge yourself to look at items we take for granted as possibilities for learning and experimenting.
  • Did we say Experiments? What better time then summer to make a mess in the backyard. Make a homemade volcano, your own play dough, or put together a model car/airplane/ship/dollhouse. Get your kids involved in projects - perhaps you are doing a home improvement, although you child may be too young to help with the tools, they might be able to help you figure the square footage as you plan your project. Need help in the garden? Don't make them the "weed puller" - instead let them help you tend soil, plants, discover bugs, create a sculpture or taste some ripe berries off the vine.