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Chimney caps, yes or no?

Our home inspector recommended that we install a chimney cap on the older home that we are buying.

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Q Our home inspector recommended that we install a chimney cap on the older home that we are buying. The chimney has not had a cap in it’s 60 plus year life, so why put one on now?

A In my practice as a home inspector, I always recommend the installation of chimney caps. Chimney caps serve a variety of purposes. They keep animals such as birds, squirrels and rodents from entering the chimney and in some cases the crawl space. A 60 year old home may have had an oil-fired furnace in the crawl space or basement which would have been vented through the chimney. The vent pipe opening provides direct access for critters. It is not unusual for rodents to crawl down through the chimney into the crawlspace seeking a warm place to nest. Chimney caps also keep out rain and debris such as leaves that can collect in the flu. Chimney caps also serve as spark arresters. Most caps are not expensive, and your local chimney sweep can recommend the one that is best for your chimney.

Customer Deposits

Illegitimate Revenue Stream for Banks?

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This month, for a change of pace, we are bringing you a LAWCHEK™ ALERT! from our partner and legal site Lawchek.com. This article reviews the questionable changes that have occurred relative to bank "holds" on customer deposits. These changes can effect everyone from the individual customer to the small business owner.

CUSTOMER DEPOSITS: ILLEGITIMATE REVENUE STREAM FOR BANKS?
Richard A. Pundt, Attorney at Law

For quite some time now, certain banks and other financial institutions may have been profiting from what some members of Congress are calling an illegitimate revenue stream, namely, the deposits of its' customers. Today, many banks will place “holds” on customer deposits. Such customer deposit “holds” are for ten business days and usually translate into a ½ month use of the funds deposited; In this way, banks are able to benefit from the interest on customer funds. This questionable practice has caused outrage by depositors and has ignited the concern of key members of Congress.

Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) has stated: “Holding a deposit to ensure its safety and soundness is reasonable. But holding a deposit in order to profit from the interest is completely unacceptable. The latter practice prevents consumers from realizing the benefits of their own assets, while creating an illegitimate revenue stream for financial institutions. It unfairly penalizes consumers and should be eliminated from the U.S. payment system.” 1

From an analysis in a report by Ms. Laura Bruce of www.Bankrate.com, it is revealed that there are many concerns relative to the new federal enactment of the Check 21 Act. "Check 21" allows the checks that individuals write to clear within one to two days while the deposit may be held by a bank for up to ½ month when weekends are added to the allowable ten day hold under “exceptional” circumstances of the FED Regulations. As a result, the consumer may get “nailed” for overdraft charges if the consumer was counting on the deposit and, in addition, the banks have been keeping the interest on the funds “held” through the deposit delay. Ms. Bruce also notes in her article 2 that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has introduced HR 5410 that would “…redress imbalances between the faster withdrawals permitted under the Check 21 Act and the slower rates for crediting deposits.”

Examples of bank customers delays due to the banks “hold” practices is very wide-spread and, undoubtedly, has accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profits for banks. Consumers, realtors, businessmen, and attorneys are becoming increasingly aware of these practices by the banks. This author has encountered quite a number of reported instances where consumers experienced an improper deposit delay or hold for an unreasonable period of time.

Of the many instances reported to this author, there are three that merit review in regard to the issue of deposit “holds.” The first instance involved a very well-respected attorney who deposited over $200,000 into his attorney trust account at a well-known bank and was verbally informed, after the deposit had been made, that there would be a ten business day “hold” on the deposit. He did not receive any written notice as prescribed by Federal Reserve Regulation CC (Availability of Funds and Collection of Checks, 12 CFR 229). This particular attorney had never over-drafted his account and has always maintained a sterling reputation with the Bar, as well as other attorneys. Moreover, the deposit consisted of checks from State Farm Mutual Ins. and John Deere Inc. The attorney directed a hand delivered correspondence to this well-known bank, wherein he requested an immediate removal of the “hold” or, in the alternative, an explanation as to whether the bank in question believed that checks from either State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. would not clear or if there was any improper activity by State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. in regard to: (a) any suspected criminal activity, (b) any suspected money laundering, (c) any suspected terrorist activity, or (d) any other improper activity that would mandate the holding of either check. Needless to say, the bank could not accuse either State Farm Mutual Ins. or John Deere Inc. of any such activity, yet the bank continued its “hold” on the deposit to the trust account from December 7, 2005 until December 20, 2005. The attorney has never received a written or an oral explanation, as he requested in writing, for the hold as prescribed by Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229).

The second instance involved a well-respected realtor who deposited between $200,000-$300,000, as a result of a closing, into his account at the aforementioned bank. He was unaware of any “hold” on the deposit. The realtor issued various checks, as customary, to: other financial institutions, the seller, realtors, an insurance company, taxing authorities, and others. When the bank in question refused to release its “hold,” the realtor’s checks bounced and a significant amount of distress and embarrassment was the result for all parties concerned, except, of course, the bank that profited in two ways: from the interest on the deposit and from the overdraft charges.

The third, but surely not final, instance involved a party who received a Cashier’s Check from a centrally located and well-known bank and, on the same day, deposited the Cashier’s Check into an account at a branch of the same bank. The branch placed a “hold” on its' own main bank’s Cashier’s Check. What is especially interesting about this case, other than the fact that it was the bank’s own Cashier’s Check, is the fact that under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), a Cashier’s Check, as well as a check drawn on an account held by the same institution, must be made available on the first business day following the day of deposit.

It would seem that compliance with Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229) is being ignored by several of the largest banks. According to the article by Ms. Bruce, as noted above, proposed legislation HR 5410 has been presented in Congress to benefit the consumer. The legislation is being introduced in order to counter the Check 21 Act that allows the checks written by consumers to clear faster than the actual deposits made at the banks. It is noted in the article that Representatives from Wells Fargo Bank and Wachovia Bank have stated that their banks place holds on less than one percent of all deposits. If one were to consider the dollar magnitude of that one percent, especially if such deposits are for more than $5,000, a substantial windfall of interest profits are the likely result for the banks placing the “hold.” Perhaps the one percent accounts for hundreds of thousands of deposits each day and, if the average dollar amount of such deposit is $10,000 (most likely it is much more), the money on hold by the large banks at any one time would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for which the banks gain interest on consumers assets, as noted by Congressman Oxley.

Under the Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), it is mandated that interest should be paid to the consumer (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.14)). It is, therefore, understandable why Congressman Oxley has stated that such practice by the banks “…prevents consumers from realizing the benefits of their own assets, while creating an illegitimate revenue stream for financial institutions."

Under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), the following deposits must be made available on the first business day following the banking day of deposit: (1) Cash, (2) Electronic Payments, (3) U.S. Treasury Checks, (4) U. S. Postal Service Money Orders, (5) Federal Reserve Bank and Federal Home Loan Bank Checks, (6) State or Local Government Checks, (7) Cashier’s, Certified or Teller’s Checks, (8) Checks drawn on an account held by the same institution upon which the check is drawn, and (9) the first $100, or if less than $100 the entire amount, of all other checks. In the case of the individual who had deposited a Cashier’s Check into an account that was held by the same bank upon which it was drawn, both subsection 7 and subsection 8, as noted above, were ignored.

On other deposits that are not listed above, including the proceeds of local and non-local checks, the checks must generally be made available for withdrawal by the second and fifth business day respectfully following the deposit (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.12)). In the case of the attorney, and in the case of the realtor, as noted above, if the deposited checks were local, the deposit should have been credited within two days, and if the checks were non-local, the checks should have been credited within five days. There should not have been an arbitrary hold for ten business days or a ½ month total hold on the deposits.

However, there are exceptions set forth under Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.13), and those exceptions involve: new accounts,3 large deposits, repeatedly overdrawn accounts, or emergency conditions. The only exception of the above examples involving the attorney or the realtor, as given, would be the exception of a large deposit since our investigation ruled out any other scenario. In the case of large deposits, the bank must provide a notice to the consumer (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.13)), and that notice must be in writing (See Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.15), (12 CFR 229.16), (12 CFR 229.17) and (12 CFR 229.18)). Additionally, and under Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.14), interest must be paid on interest bearing accounts no later than the day the bank receives credit for the funds deposited.

It would appear that certain banks may be circumventing the requirements of Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229), and that is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Congressman Oxley has expressed concern, and why Congresswoman Maloney is reintroducing HR 5410. As a practical matter, most customers drop the issue once they actually receive their funds, which have been held by the bank, because they wish to maintain a good standing relationship with the bank. So does that mean that nothing can be done? The answer is no. Something can be done, but it requires positive action by the customer.

First, the customer may file a complaint with the Federal Reserve at: The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at 20th and C Streets, N.W., Stop 801, Washington, DC 20551. Additionally, the consumer may file a complaint with the respective State Banking Commissioner in the state where the violation occurs. Also, contacting the proper parties within Congress, such as Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) or Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York).

Finally, there is a civil remedy expressly set forth under Federal Reserve Regulation CC (12 CFR 229.21). The civil remedy allows for both individual and class actions. See Regulation 12 CFR 229.21 (a) (2) (i) and (ii). The statute provides a limitation on class actions that includes actual damages up to $500,000 or 1% of the net worth of the bank involved (the lesser of the two) plus costs and attorney fees.

Holiday Food Safety

Here is a short list of food safety precautions to take during this holiday season.

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With the various fall and winter holidays upon us, we know everyone is busy. Here is a short list of food safety precautions to take during this holiday season. As always, enjoy the fun and have safe holidays this year.

Food Preparation:

  • Before cooking or preparing anything - wash your hands! In between working with different dishes - wash your hands!
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables. Even those with tough outer skins that you do not eat. When slicing these, the knife may pick up bacteria from the outer skin.
  • Thaw meats in the refrigerator overnight. Never leave them on the counter to defrost. If defrosting in the microwave, make sure the meat is cooked soon after.
  • If preparing a turkey, make sure it is completely thawed before cooking. Cooking a frozen turkey can lead to uneven cooking with the inside not being up to temperature. According to the FDA, a "20-pound turkey needs two to three days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator at a temperature of no more than 40 degrees F. A stuffed turkey needs 4 ¼ to 5 ¾ hours to cook completely."
  • If marinating food then do so in the refrigerator - not on the counter! If you want to have extra marinade to use as a sauce later, make sure to separate a portion ahead of time. Never reuse marinating sauces!
  • Do not reuse any batter or breading that has touched raw meat.
  • Use one plate for raw meats and another clean plate to take cooked items to the serving area. Never use the same plate. The raw juices can contaminate your cooked meats and side dishes.
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on kitchen projects. If you are faced with a grease fire, remember, put a lid on it, and turn the heat source off!
  • That evil mayo - did you know according to the Department of Health, it is not really the mayo that is making those deviled eggs a dangerous game of chance. Instead, it is the fact that when making cold salads usually the ingredients are mixed together when still warm creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, chill all your ingredients separately before mixing them together.
  • Use ciders labeled as pasteurized, or bring unpasteurized cider to a boil before serving. This is especially important when serving cider to people with weakened immune systems.

At the Table:

  • So you have guests over and have set out a brunch style breakfast. If you have late risers, consider these times when leaving items such as milk or cooked meat on the table:
    - These foods are safe to leave out: Dry foods such as nuts, crackers, baked goods, breads, hard cheeses and candy don't support bacterial growth. Fruits, pickles, jams and jellies are too acidic for most bacteria.
    - Anything else should be discarded after sitting out for 2 hours.
    - To save milk or soy, make certain they are kept in the refrigerator instead of on the table.
    - An alternative is to keep cold items on ice. However, the ice will still need replacing every two hours or so.
  • Supply plenty of clean plates and utensils. Encourage guests to get a new plate if theirs has been sitting out as they waited between helpings.
  • Do not add new food to a serving dish that has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours.

The Cleanup:

  • Refrigerate any left over food within 2 hours of its initial serving. If the temperatures are higher, then 1 hour or earlier. Meat should be be kept hot for serving (140°F) and unused meat should be refrigerated immediately as it cools. If you have too much left over meat, make sure to freeze whatever you won't eat within the next 2 days.
  • Use leftover turkey meat, bones, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within two to three days.
  • Cut up any leftovers before refrigerating so they may be spread out in a tray. For meats like roast beef, this helps to make sure the meat cools at the same rate.
  • Date leftovers - you'll appreciate it a week later when you've forgotten what food is from which feast.

Holiday Specific:

Turkey Fryers:

- Always use outdoors away from anything flammable. 
- Use on cement or stone surfaces - not on a wooden deck!
- Do not leave unattended. It is a very good idea to not have children and pets in the vicinity, better if they are inside. If they must be outside, make certain they are watched very carefully! Do not allow children and pets near the fryer as it cools after use either.
- Make certain the turkey is thawed before cooking - water and oil don't mix!
- Check the oil temperature frequently and immediately shut off if the oil begins to smoke. 

Mail Ordered Food:
- If sending mail ordered food as a gift, let the recipient know so they may know to look for the package.
- If you receive any mail ordered food, make certain to check that items that should have been kept cool were packaged properly.

Candle Decorations:
- Do not use candles on evergreen or natural trimmings.
- Use nonflammable holders and make sure they are placed where they cannot be knocked over easily.
- Do not keep candles lit in rooms that is not occupied/supervised.
- Check your candles as they burn. Some will burn unevenly and may finish sooner than you expected.
- Do not leave children unattended around candles and matches/lighters.

More

USDA Food Safety - Cooking a Turkey 
ttp://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Countdown_to_the_Holiday/index.asp

USDA Food Safety Ask Karen
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/food_safety_education/ask_karen/index.asp#Question

USDA Cooking for Groups
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Cooking_for_Groups.pdf

RI Food Safety Education - Kitchen Thermometers
http://www.uri.edu/ce/ceec/food/factsheets/therm.html

How to start a Neighborhood Watch

A neighborhood watch can help police cut down in crime.

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Many people are skeptical when they hear about neighborhood watches. Many think it involves a lot of effort with minimal impact or effect. However, most police departments will inform you otherwise. A neighborhood watch can help police cut down in crime as you are going to notice suspicious, out of place behavior in your neighborhood before they will. An example that is often used is the scenario of the stranger hanging around your neighbor's car. You look out your window and notice a stranger at your neighbors car and know they do not belong to that car. However, when a cop car drives by the stranger casually looks up and waves hello. The officer cannot tell that person does not belong to that car or neighborhood, he/she may wave back and simply drive ahead. Obviously a call from someone in the neighborhood would inform the police of the stranger's suspicious behavior and they can question them. So how does a neighborhood watch work? How do you set one up? How can you and your neighbors reduce crime and help the police in your area?

Why should our neighborhood start a watch?

Still haven't convinced you? Fair enough, lets look into the benefits of a neighborhood watch a bit more. Unfortunately, most neighborhoods don't consider a neighborhood watch until there is already a problem with thefts, burglaries and/or vandalism. Today, many households have two working parents and kids gone at activities so the home is empty a majority of the day making it a target for thieves. A neighborhood watch helps to place other sets of eyes on your home when you are away. Your neighbors get an idea of who belongs there and will more easily recognize something out of the ordinary. The neighborhood watch will also help build a community partnership. Neighborhoods today are more isolated, people do not know their neighbors so it is more difficult to identify normal behavior for a household. Some neighborhoods have taken this a step further and used the watch to help community in the time of an emergency. Recently in Saucier, MS a neighborhood watch group used their ties to make a list of all those staying behind when Hurricane Katrina came ashore. After the storm, members used this list to make sure everyone was accounted for and also used the list to set up aid for the community including food, water, clothing and other necessities (Neighborhood Watch Needs You, National Crime Prevention Council). In addition to building a sense of community, a neighborhood watch can also help keep the community informed. A neighborhood watch sets up a phone tree system so you know if someone has had a problem in your area. Without this system you may not hear about vandalism or some other problem until a much later date or not at all. Finally, a neighborhood watch helps the police in you area do a better job. As in the example in our introduction, neighbors are the ones that can inform police of suspicious behavior that would not be obvious to them. Also, neighborhood watches may help police build a case on crimes. For example, in one neighborhood, there was a vandal who was slashing tires. In most cases this would only have been a "slap on the wrist" with little real consequence to the vandal. However, with the neighborhood watch, they were able to document that 80 tires were slashed in the neighborhood during the same crime spree. This made it much easier for the police to build a case for stronger prosecution of the vandal (Open Letter to Watch Groups in Kent). These are just a few examples of ways a neighborhood watch can help your community.

What does a neighborhood watch involve?

Meetings - The last thing anyone wants is more meetings to attend! With a neighborhood watch there are really only two major meetings that need to be done.

The First Meeting - The first initial meeting with your neighbors is to see who is interested in joining. This is a vital meeting in that it is where everyone learns what is involved and expected of participants. Once people find out how little time is involved, many neighbors will express an interest. At this meeting you will want to cover setting up a map, a phone tree, and electing a captain and co-captain(s). You may also want to distribute information on programs like Operation ID or other crime prevention programs that your community may find beneficial (your police department can help you find materials or you may also look to the organizations listed in ourMore Info on the Web section).

Yearly Social - After a watch is in place, there should be at least one neighborhood social per year. This may be a BBQ, Community Garage Sale, Neighborhood Picnic, or some other type of family friendly, all-inclusive gathering. At these social events, captains and co-captains may easily give quick highlights and goals for the year. This could be done as a speech or flyers handed out at the event. This would also be a good time to check and see of any changes in information for the watch - such as a change in phone number, etc. After a quick recap of watch business the rest of the social is a community building experience. It is a chance for neighbors to get to know one another and put faces with names. It should be fun - not tedious!

National Night Out - National Night Out (NNO) is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. It is an annual event for neighborhoods to participate in to promote safety and awareness in their community. Taking place on August 1st of every year, the identified goals are: "heighten crime and drug prevention awareness; generate support for, and participation in, local anti crime programs; strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back." Again this is organized around some social activity such as BBQ, block party, or flashlight walks, to name a few. A neighborhood watch can register their event with NNO and receive helpful information about how to set up their event. To find out more visit their site at www.nationalnightout.org/nno/.

Captain & Co-Captain - Captains and co-captains are those who help organize records and keep track of the changes in the neighborhood. Captains are the contact point for people to notify of changes such as phone numbers or new residents. Usually captains will organize a welcome for any new residents welcoming them and informing them about the neighborhood watch to see if they would like to participate. And most importantly, captains are informed of any problems in the area. It is assumed the effected party would have notified the police. However, the captain can also track events and report it to their contact with the police department; as in the example above, it was a captain who brought it to the attention of the police that over 80 tires were slashed in one crime spree. Keep in mind the police don't have a database that would track minor crimes like this, thus a neighborhood watch can help collect this useful information. Captain should be by no means be an exhaustive position! Instead, they are helped by co-captains and can have their duties covered by co-captains when gone. Many neighborhoods will assign more than one co-captain to help share responsibility. One example is to have a captain designated as the main police contact and then multiple co-captains for each block or cul-de-sac for neighbors to report to.

Phone Tree - A phone tree is the easiest and fastest way to help notify the neighborhood of important events. Like other phone trees, each person only calls a few people and then the next group calls the next so no one person is calling everyone. After a crime has happened a phone tree may be used to help notify the neighborhood a certain type of crime at a specific location occurred. Today, some may opt for an email instead of a phone call. However, make sure to somehow include all that want to be involved. Some residents may not want to use email and still need a mini phone tree.

Newletter - This is not the quickest way of giving out information but it is effective. Either pamphlets or emailed letters will help give the neighborhood updates of what has been going on the last couple of months. Unless there are major concerns, newsletters may be quarterly or every couple of months. Many times these newsletters can also inform residents of local events or holiday related safety and laws; for example, safety tips and local laws for the use of fireworks on the 4th of July. If working with a police department representative they may already have a newsletter available to which you may tack on neighborhood info before distributing. Newsletters are not required for a watch, but some do find them useful.

Map - The map is a extremely useful tool for the neighborhood watch. A standard map will show the streets involved in the watch, the homes, names of residents, phone numbers, emergency in-state and out-of-state contact numbers and email. This information is always voluntary. However, many residents will find the extra security worth it. Most of us will not know an address of our neighbors, instead we know 'it is three doors down' or 'just around the block'. This map will help get the exact address if the need arises to notify the police and neighbor of a problem. This map may be used in a number of ways. This can be used by a neighbor who sees someone prowling outside a window at night to call the neighbor and the police. If there is smoke from a house, a neighbor can tell the fire department the exact address and notify the resident if they are not at home. Or it might be used with the phone tree to raise the alarm in a neighborhood. One example of this is a vandal just broke the front window of the house but was scared off and got in a car and drove off down the street. You can call the neighbor down the street and see if they saw which way the car turned or can see the license plate. All this will help police track them down. This is a good time to note, that a neighborhood watch is used for information gathering - at no point should neighbors be running out in the street as vigilantes to stop crime. Instead they use the phone tree, map and neighborhood connections to track events and relay information to the police!

Operation ID - Operation ID is a way to encourage citizens to inventory their valuables. Residents mark or engrave valuables with a special number. Usually a driver license is used as this is public information and also identification back to you. If you use your driver license number, then make sure to put your state initials before the number and DL after so the number cannot be changed and will help police identify out of state items. NEVER use your social security number! Valuables may be marked with your identification number with invisible marker or engraved. Keep an inventory list of all items marked and store in a secure location such as a lockbox or fire proof (locked!) safe. Once you have inventoried items you may get some decals from the police for your windows and items. If your police department offers these decals it is usually a limited number. You may have to purchase more decals for all your items. Many neighborhood watches purchase an engraver for the neighborhood and then check it out to neighbors. They also then get decals for all participants so the neighborhood is covered and burglars are deterred. **If you sell an item with your ID, then cross it out with one line and initial it. Also make sure to note it on a bill of sale for the buyer. Keep a copy for your records.

Going the Extra Mile - Make an effort to look out for each other on a daily basis. Help each other better protect their homes and the neighborhood by encouraging neighborhood participation in activities.

  • Get all neighbors to turn on porch lights at night.
  • Help older neighbors or others who may need help with the safety of their home. For example, help trim high bushes in front of their door/window or change light bulbs in high outdoor lights.
  • Have clean up parties to help clear out vacant lots, playgrounds/parks or abandoned cars. Help clean graffiti right away.Work together to beautify the neighborhood, let would be criminals know you care about where you live!
  • Recognize captains, co-captains and other participants who go that extra mile to help others!
  • Use the neighborhood watch to sponsor safety events. For example, invite fire fighters to a meeting to help better prepare residents against fire.

How do we start a neighborhood watch?

So how do you start a neighborhood watch? First, contact your local police. Not all departments have facilitators to help set up a neighborhood watch, but they will have resources available. Even if they do not have an official representative, ask the department if an officer may be able to stop by the meeting, many times something like this can be arranged in advance. Next, set up a meeting with your neighbors to give out information and see who is interested in participating. This should be a meeting place accessible to all, maybe a school or church in the neighborhood. As mentioned before, this is the vital meeting where you explain to others what is involved and expected for participation. You will find that many neighbors will express an interest, especially after they find that it does not require a great deal of time or effort. At the first meeting get as much information as possible as it is harder to get the information later. Nominate a captain and co-captain, hand out a form for residents to submit information for the community phone tree and map. Find out if residents are interested in meetings every few months or general meetings about fire safety or if they want to stick with one annual meeting per year. Once the first meeting is over and the information is gathered, the captain and co-captains can compile the phone tree and maps. These will then be given to every participant in the neighborhood. And that was the major bulk of the work. Now it is up to residents to keep information up to date and work with their neighbors on community projects or socials. That's it! 

There are many benefits to a neighborhood watch program. Start the dialogue with your neighbors and see if you can start one in your community. It is a great way to build community, cut down on crime and rethink what a "neighborhood" is all about!

Summer Safety Tips

The summer has a pull for us, no matter our age.

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The summer has a pull for us, no matter our age. It is a time to take a few days off work, barbeque in the backyard, go for a picnic, a hike, a swim, a bike ride or go out on the water on our boat. It is also a time to mow and weed the lawn, plant flowers and finish countless chores around the home that have been put off until the weather "cooperated." Needless to say, summer is a busy time when we do more activities and chores and can very easily overexert ourselves. That is why this month we are focusing on some tips that can help you have a fun and safe summer. Part of having fun is being aware of what precautions you should take and how you should plan ahead for whatever you choose to do. But we know you are busy, so here is the quick list for a safe summer!

Barbeque and Food Safety:

Always check your grill before using it after a long seasonal break. If propane is used make sure to check all the connections! Check your individual user manual for your grill; all of these will have a checklist of items to review that are specific to your make/model.

Grills are for outdoor use only. NEVER bring a grill indoors to cook. Carbon monoxide will accumulate and can be fatal.

Always set up the grill away from the home (at least 5 feet or more).

If using a charcoal grill, use a charcoal lighting fluid instead of gasoline. Make sure to let the fluid be absorbed by the coals before lighting. Move the lighter fluid away from the grill before lighting. Once you light the fire, stay with the grill, never leave a cooking grill unattended.

That goes for all of you - NEVER leave a cooking grill unattended! Have baking soda handy for a grease fire and a fire extinguisher on hand as well.

For safest results, always grill with a meat thermometer. See the recommended meat temperatures to the right.

Before cooking or preparing anything - wash your hands! In between working with different dishes - wash your hands!

Invest in some long cooking utensils for the grill - this will help prevent burns!

For best grilling results, thaw frozen meats before cooking them on the barbeque. The safest way to thaw foods is slowly in the refrigerator.

If you use the microwave to defrost meats, then make sure you are grilling them shortly afterwards and not storing them again before cooking.

If marinating food then do so in the refrigerator - not on the counter! If you want to have extra marinade to use as a sauce later, make sure to separate a portion ahead of time. Never reuse marinating sauces!

Use one plate for taking meats to the barbeque and another clean plate to take cooked items to the serving area. Never use the same plate. The raw juices can contaminate your cooked meats and side dishes.

When hosting a barbeque, make sure to supply plenty of clean plates and utensils. Encourage guests to get a new plate if theirs has been sitting out in the sun and became a playground for flies, ants, etc. as they waited between helpings.

That evil mayo - did you know according to the Department of Health, it is not really the mayo that is making that potato salad a dangerous game of chance. Instead it is the fact that when making salads usually the ingredients are mixed together when still warm creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, chill all your ingredients separately before mixing them together.

Refrigerate any left over food within 2 hours of its initial serving. If the temperatures are higher, then 1 hour or earlier. Meat should be be kept hot for serving (140°F) and unused meat should be refrigerated immediately as it cools. If you have too much left over meat, make sure to freeze whatever you won't eat within the next 2 days.

When you shut off the grill make sure to shut off the propane as well.

For a charcoal grill, let coals burn out completely. The ashes should sit 48 hours before being disposed of in aluminum foil in a noncombustible container.

Food Safety on the Road:

Wash all fruits and vegetables. Even those with tough outer skins that you do not eat. When slicing these the knife may pick up bacteria from the outer skin.

Pack drinks and food in separate containers. The drink cooler is opened more often changing the internal temperature. This way the food container is disturbed less often and can remain colder.

Once at your destination, keep the cooler(s) out of the direct sun. Keep them in the shade, covered with a blanket. If on the beach, burry it partially in the sand in a shady spot or under an umbrella.

If grilling at the park and you need to dispose of ashes, make sure to place them in heavy duty aluminum foil and soak them in water before placing them in a noncombustible container.

If you use a recreational vehicle such as a camper, always review any canned foods that may have been left there. If temperature fluctuated and cans were frozen and thawed then they need to be discarded. Make sure to thoroughly clean the refrigerator out before using it this travel season.

Bug Prevention:

The best insect repellents contain DEET. However, they should not be used on children under 2 months of age. Also, bug repellent should be applied once per day. Do not get a sunscreen/bug repellent combo as you will need to reapply the sunscreen every two hours.

Avoid using scented soaps and perfumes. Also be careful with bright colored clothes as they attract certain bugs as well. Be extra careful around stagnate pools of water, heavily flowered areas and unused areas as these are more likely to be nesting areas or feeding areas for bugs.

Wear hats and long sleeves in the woods. Make sure to examine clothing and scalp for ticks. If you find a tick gently pull it out with tweezers. Do not use your fingers as you may squeeze it too hard. The methods of burning ticks with matches or suffocating the tick with nail polish don't work for removing ticks from the skin. If you live in a wooded area, try to keep your yard well maintained, ticks do not like direct sun and are looking for overgrowth areas.

Lawn Mower Safety:

Nearly 75,000 Americans are seriously injured in lawn mower accidents each year. About 10,000 of those injuries involve children. Data from University of Michigan

Always read and review your owner's manual at the start of the mowing season. There will be specific checks you will need to perform.

If you can, get a mower with an easy kill switch, a double handle that stops the motor when dropped is a good design to have.

Keep children and pets indoors or well away from the lawn mower at all times. Don't let children ride on the mower for "fun" and it is recommended that children not operate mowers until 16 years of age.

Pick up debris before mowing the lawn.

Wearing protective eye gear is also recommended.

Wear sturdy shoes when mowing. Never move the mower back towards your feet, always go forward.

Sun Safety:

The harshest time to be out in the sun is between 10:00am-4:00p.m. This includes cloudy days as the sun still penetrates the clouds although you may not feel it. During these hours of the day you should have a sunscreen of 15SPF or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. During really hot hours, stay indoors as much as possible.

Sunglasses that protect you from at least 90% of UV sunlight should be worn.

Dress for the heat. Wear light colored clothes of a breathable fabric, such as cotton. Wear a hat or use an umbrella if in direct sun for long periods of time.

Drink plenty of water, drink water even if you do not feel thirsty as you need to keep your body hydrated. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol as these will only aid dehydration.

Eat smaller meals more often. Eat less protein to reduce metabolic heat.

Avoid strenuous activity. If you are going to be doing really strenuous work or sports, do them early or late in the day. Take breaks often!

Need to know "HEAT" definitions:
Heat definitions from www.redcross.org

  • Heat Wave: More than 48 hours of high heat (90°F or higher) and high humidity (80 percent relative humidity or higher) are expected.
  • Heat Index: A number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels with the heat and humidity. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15°F. Heat cramps:
  • Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs. It is generally thought that the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes the cramps.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing. As a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
  • Heat Stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high--sometimes as high as 105°F. Call 911 or your local EMS number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body and fan it. If you have ice packs or cold packs, place them on each of the victim's wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Watch for signals of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down

Sun Safety for your Pet:

Dogs and cats don't sweat to lose excess heat, instead they pant. Most of our pets know better and will not over exert themselves in high heat. However, if chained in the sun or locked in a car, there is little they can do to avoid it. Never leave you dog unattended in a car. Although it is only 75°F outside, in the car it can reach up to a 100°F in one half hour. If you return to your car and your pet is agitated, wide-eyed and panting rapidly they may have heat stroke.

Always provide shade and water for your pet on hot days. If there are heat wave warnings bring them inside with you.

Animals have a natural higher temperature than humans (100°-102°F for both cats and dogs). However, anything 105°F is a sign of heat stroke. Other signs of heat stroke in animals include rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, pale and dry gums, staggering and weakness. They may even become unconscious.

The best way to treat heat stroke is to get them wrapped in wet towels and fan them as you would a human. Some suggest immersing them in cold water, but depending on the severity this may be too much too quickly. Also run cold water in their mouth. Keep track of their temperature, get them down to 103°F. Call your vet or animal hospital immediately.

Hiking Safety:

Plan ahead for any hiking trip. Take a look at the route and consider what equipment and skills you may need. Discuss emergency plans with your group before heading out. Know where the nearest ranger station is from where you start. Also, leave a detailed itinerary with someone back home. Let them know what car you are taking, where you will be starting and how long you expect to be.

Always hike with at least one other person. In more remote areas it is suggested that you hike with at least four people in your group. This way you will have one to stay with an injured person and two to go for help.

If a trail is marked as closed DO NOT go there. If an area requires special permits - DO NOT go there unless you have already obtained them.

Be prepared for bad weather and extreme weather changes. You should have enough supplies to get you through a night if needed.

Always assume the water from streams and rivers is NOT safe for drinking.

A Hiking Backpack Checklist:
Info from www.redcross.org

  • Candle and matches
  • Cell phone
  • Clothing (always bring something warm, extra socks and rain gear)
  • Compass
  • First aid kit Food (bring extra)
  • Flashlight
  • Foil (to use as a cup or signaling device)
  • Hat
  • Insect repellent
  • Map
  • Nylon filament
  • Pocket knife
  • Pocket mirror (to use as a signaling device)
  • Prescription glasses (an extra pair)
  • Prescription medications for ongoing medical conditions
  • Radio with batteries
  • Space blanket or a piece of plastic (to use for warmth or shelter)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Trash bag (makes an adequate poncho)
  • Water Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof tin
  • Water purification tablets
  • Whistle (to scare off animals or to use as a signaling device)

Survival Pack - one pack should be carried by EACH person in your group and should include: a pocket knife, compass, whistle, space blanket, nylon filament, water purification tablets, matches and candle in a waterproof container.

Bicycle, Skateboard & Scooter Safety:

Always wear a helmet when bicycling. If on a scooter or skateboard, wear the proper protective gear such as knee and elbow pads and a helmet.

Only ride a bike that is properly fitted for you. If not fitted correctly you may hurt your knees, back, arms and will not be able to maneuver or stop as well as you should be able.

When entering the roadway from the driveway - always look! This is a high accident area as many cars do not see those coming out of driveways on bikes, skateboards and scooters.

If traveling on the road, make sure to follow all the road signs and lights. Bicyclists should follow the same rules as cars and use standard hand signals. Skateboard and scooter users should be extra carful on roads as well. HOWEVER, it is strongly suggested that scooters users stay on sidewalks and skateboarders stay well away from roads, preferably skate at the skate park.

Be predictable. Do not weave in and out of the roadway or cars. If you come to an obstruction in your path, stop and look around and behind you before going around it. A sudden swerve out into the road will not be anticipated by automobiles that are traveling much faster than you are.

Pay attention at all times. Obstructions such as wet leaves or loose gravel may come upon you quick if you are not paying attention. Also be careful around parked cars, you may not see someone opening the car door until you are right on top of it.

Try to avoid being out on the road at night or in bad weather. If you are out, be extra careful; imagine the cars cannot see you and ride defensively. You should have bright colored clothing and reflectors or battery operated lights as well.

All skateboarders should learn out to fall. Considering fractures and breaks from falls are the most common skateboard injuries, knowing how to brace yourself is important. If starting out in the sport, start small, skateboarding is just like any other sport, it takes practice and time to develop the skill.

When riding on the trails always give pedestrians the right of way. If passing from behind let them know by using a bell or stating "on your left," before passing. Keep a controlled speed on trails as you do not always know who is there around the bend. If the trail is shared with horses, slow down and give them a wide space when passing. Again, let them know you are coming by stating "on your left."

Water Safety:

Learn to swim! This is a skill everyone should take time to learn. Even the basic knowledge can help!

Children and inexperienced swimmers should use an approved floatation device/life jacket when in or, in the case of children, near the water.

Never leave a child alone around water. Make sure someone is watching them at all times!

Never swim alone. Always swim with a friend or in a supervised area. Never snorkel alone. Never surf alone.

Read and OBEY all posted signs. Do not dive in the water unless the area is clearly marked as safe. Even when marked, make sure to check for any person or debris below before diving. If the area is not marked, always enter feet first.

If swimming in lakes, rivers, or the ocean, be familiar with these bodies of water. Make sure you are aware of risks such as debris, under tows, and currents. Also, always be aware of your energy level; you need enough energy to make it back to shore!

Pay attention to your surroundings. Pay attention to the weather. At the first sign of bad weather, leave the water!

If pulled out by an ocean current do not swim against it. Instead swim parallel to it gradually moving towards the shore. You have to move out of the current by swimming across it before you can head back inland. Think of an arc instead of a straight line.

Check surf conditions before entering the water. Keep away from piers and pilings when in the water. Watch out for wildlife and have some basic knowledge of what animals and plants are in the water. Know what you need to avoid and leave wildlife alone!

Do NOT mix alcohol and swimming activities - they do not mix!

If you own your own pool, make sure it is supplied with emergency equipment and first aid. Keep a phone nearby and have instructions for emergencies posted. Have CPR instructions and make sure to take lessons in CPR. Every adult responsible for watching kids around the pool should have CPR training.

Take lessons before attempting SCUBA diving. Never dive alone. Only dive for areas you are trained for. Be familiar with your equipment and check it often.

Boating & Watercraft Safety:

Always have on life jackets. Make sure they properly fit everyone on your boat - especially children!

Learn to swim! Also, take a boating class, learn everything from navigation rules to information about your particular boat.

Do NOT mix alcohol and boating activities - they do not mix!

Let someone on shore know how long you will be gone and where you are going.

When using jet skis or other personal watercraft make sure to know the rules of the water body you are on and obey these rules. Be courteous to others and look out for swimmers, skiers in the water, etc.

Do not water ski at night. Always have someone in the boat to watch and aid the skier. Always approach a skier in the water with the engine off.

If fishing, scale, gut and clean the fish as soon as they are caught. Wrap fish separately in plastic and keep on ice. It is recommended that fish be cooked and eaten within 2 days or frozen. Frozen fish can last up to 6 months. Shellfish should be kept alive until cooked. Lobsters and crabs should be cooked the same day they were caught. Oysters, mussels and clams should be cooked within 5 days.

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.