Monday, May 9, 2016

5 Challenges Facing Established Small Businesses

Here is news for all you start-up entrepreneurs: you may think that after you get things rolling for your small business that everything is a bed of roses. Beware! You can never give up your vigilance or your competition will slip in and grab your customers when you least expect it. There are five big challenges an established company faces every day, and in the end it will pay to include them in your daily tactical planning.

First Challenge

The first big hurdle you will face it trying to do everything yourself. Small business owners can get very possessive about their products and manufacturing methods. You can’t expect to grow if you don’t learn to duplicate yourself well and leverage your efforts by hiring employees. Remember that as you bring new people into the team, you gain the benefit of their skills and talents.

Second Challenge

You’ll become so busy going after new customers you’ll forget about maintaining your current clients. Never ever forget the people that have helped you build your business to this point. Nurture them by maintaining lines of communication. They will give you repeat sales and refer other buyers to you. They are the foundation of your company.

Third Challenge

Gaining a false sense that everyone knows you exist so you relax your marketing and promotional campaigns. The golden rule of being in business is you always must “promote, promote, promote!” Exchanging your products and services for cash is the life blood of the company. Without sales you’ll spiral down very quickly. So, keep up with the promotional campaigns that have been successful.

Fourth Challenge

You decide to modify your product or service because you have been itching to make improvements. Progress is a good thing, but you may be forgetting your consuming public that is accustomed to the way your product is now. Before you make any changes that shock them so badly they stop buying it, ask their opinion. Never make a move like this without surveying your market first.

Fifth Challenge

You’ve got a little cash flow going on, so now you think it’s okay to blow it by investing in some type of expansion. Don’t be so foolish as to use up your cash cushion – you’re putting your business in danger. If you want to expand, set aside a percentage of sales or find an investor that wants to work with you. Don’t allow your cash flow to dry up.

More from this contributor:

How to Stop Wasting Money This Year
10 Low Cost Ways to Advertise Your Business Locally
How Networking Changed My Local Economy

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5 Challenges of Raising Gifted Children (That You Probably Never Thought Of)

Parenting a child — under the best of circumstances — is a daunting task. Raising gifted children adds a spin on the parenting experience that you might not have considered. You see, most everyone will consider gifted kids to be easy. Folks will call you “lucky” and (in some instances) “conceited.” Not surprisingly, it is tough to ask for help from peers, who generally believe that raising gifted children is a snap. There are most likely five challenges you are experiencing right now, which you never considered previously. Are you ready to tackle them head-on?

1. Gifted kids are always “on”

A gifted child is exhausting. The child is very active, requires consistent stimulation and switches activities, trains of thoughts and lines of questioning at breakneck speeds. Although older kids get to be pretty good at finding things to do and activities that keep them busy, infants and toddlers lack this ability.

Tip: Find peer support. Enlist help to keep the youngster occupied and take breaks.

2. Giftedness comes in areas

What is a gifted child, if not a youngster with a special inborn talent for a certain task? Whether it is music, math, movement, empathy or languages; gifted kids vary by talent. It is tempting to demand that a musically gifted child also be a high achiever in language arts; but consider that this may really not be her talent. Although it is possible to find multiple areas of giftedness in one child, it is not a given.

Tip: Educate yourself about the scope of your child’s giftedness. A counselor who specializes in dealing with these kids can be of tremendous help.

3. Asynchronous development is tough on kids and their parents

The child walks at nine months, runs at 10 months but will not string together a sentence until the age of four. In elementary school, she may be adept at seeing the relationship between angles of a triangle; however, the proper use of pronouns escapes her. Maturity and intelligence, too, may develop on two different tracks; frequently maturity lags behind. In some cases, it may lag very far behind.

Tip: Knowing that asynchronous development is a distinct possibility makes it easier to cope with the problem. Do not think that there is “something wrong” with the gifted child. If you are worried, discuss the youngster’s development with a pediatrician.

4. Gifted kids get their feelings hurt — often

Parenting a child identified as gifted occasionally requires a parental egg-walking exercise. The child is extremely sensitive to changes in mood, subtle facial expressions and even voice inflections. Adding insult to injury, the child does not just want to be loved by her parents; she also wants to be liked. It is easy for a parent to make a thoughtless comment, which the youngster — in his mind — blows out of proportion.

Tip: Apologize often and sincerely. Do not be afraid to call attention to a bad choice of words and explain what you really meant.

5. Developing the child’s talent is a double-edged sword

Raising gifted children usually has the parents look for avenues of supporting and stimulating the youngster’s talent. Sports, music, art, language, academics or any other field offers plenty of opportunities via extracurricular activities. It is here that mom must be careful not to overdo it. The child may be a perfectionist already; if the parent pushes too hard, the resulting frustrations may be more than either child or parent bargained for.

Tip: Find a balance between encouraging a child and letting him explore — and fail! — on his own.

More by Sylvia Cochran

What to Do When You Secretly Wish that Your Child Was Average

3 School Year Organization Tips for Moms

Preschoolers Who Are Picky Eaters: 5 Facts and 1 Solution

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5 Carpentry Tools Every Homeowner Should Have

The basic tools for home repairs include a Philips screwdriver, a tape measure, a utility knife, and a hammer. Frequently overlooked are the carpentry tools that come in so handy when repairing busted railings or installing new flashing. While carpenter’s tools have gotten a bad reputation for frequently being too specialized — what else will you ever do with a No. 0 biscuit? — there are some that are simply indispensable. Do you know the five carpentry tools that will make home maintenance easy and enjoyable? More importantly, do you know what you should expect to spend on them?

1. Rip Claw Hammer

You can spend between $8 and $50 on a claw hammer. Avoid the curved claw hammer, which is a bit of a uni-tasker, and instead, opt for the ripping and framing hammer. It still delivers the benefits of the claw but also comes in handy during demolition work. (Anyone who has ever owned a home knows that there is plenty of demolition to be done over the years.)

2. Hack Saw

A basic handsaw, preferably a 12-inch hacksaw with comfortable grip and durable frame, is among the carpentry tools you cannot do without. Spend about $35 on a good saw, and you will be rewarded with years of good use. Cutting a board or shortening a table leg does not usually call for a power tool.

3. Electronic Stud Finder

Basic tools for home improvements frequently do not include a stud finder. This useful carpentry tool lets you find framing studs without lengthy attempts at knocking around the walls. The magnetic versions are OK, but the internal capacitor stud finder with center search is perhaps the easiest to use. Sold as a one-step, this tool may be as inexpensive as $34.

4. Random Orbit Sander

Costs for a random orbit sander range from about $59 to more than $110. Better than hard work and sandpaper, this tool makes quick work of sanding doors, table surfaces, boards, and pretty much everything else that needs to have a coat of paint or varnish removed. Since it does not matter whether you sand with or against the wood grain, this is one of the carpentry tools no freshly minted woodworker should fail to own.

5. Set of Clamps

Since you will do your fair amount of work with wood glue, have several clamps you can use to press glued wood surfaces together. I needed some clamps just recently when fixing the kitchen cabinet door with the trusty wood glue. Since staples and nails would have looked out of place, the glue was the only way to go. Holding the surfaces together with clamps overnight lets the glue set and harden before you work with the pieces some more.

More Woodworking Ideas from Sylvia Cochran:

How to Build a Wooden Table Without Burning Down the House
DIY Refinishing Hardwood Floors? Read This FAQ First!
Safety Tips for Setting Up a Woodshop With Power Tools

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5 Can't-Miss Christmas Movies You'll Find on TV

I’m a card-carrying Christmas movie junkie. The day after Thanksgiving, you’ll find me veggin’ on the couch, remote control in hand, seeking out my seasonal faves on Lifetime, Hallmark, ABC Family and the boob tube at-large – the sappier, the cheesier, the better. When you’re in search of a little good old fashioned holiday cheer, check your listings for any one of these super Christmas movies on TV. They’re sure to put you in a ho-ho-ho’ing, jingle belling, eggnog-imbibing kind of mood just in time for December 25th.

Can’t-Miss TV Christmas Movie #1: Comfort and Joy (2003), Lifetime. The Facts of Life alum Nancy McKeon plays Jane Berry, a stuff-loving high-powered executive-type who thinks she has it all. That is, she does until a Christmas Eve car crash sends her to an alternate reality that comes complete with a devoted husband, two cute kids and several other jarring surprises. We watch as Jane adapts to her new life and comes to the realization that money and possessions aren’t everything, and that in fact, they aren’t worth much at all. It may not be a unique concept (hello, The Family Man, anyone?), but it’s funny, charming and will get under your skin, if you let it.

Can’t-Miss TV Christmas Movie #2: A Season for Miracles (1999), Hallmark. What do you get when you take a good-hearted Aunt and two kids on the run, a conveniently empty old house, an angel, a super-friendly small town and a hottie police captain? A Season for Miracles, of course! Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Spy Kids) stars as Emilie Thompson, the self-appointed caretaker of her drug-addicted sister’s two children, who flees child protective services and winds up in the appropriately-named town of Bethlehem just as her beater-car quits. When townies mistake her for the heir to a large, vacant home, Emilie lets the misconception stand, despite her sensibilities, and finds love with the long arm of the law as the Christmas season approaches. It’s a tale of error and redemption, and reminds us to remember to look for miracles.

Can’t-Miss TV Christmas Movie #3: A Holiday to Remember (1995). This one may be the cheesiest of the bunch, but I don’t care. Cheese rocks! Connie Sellecca (The Greatest American Hero) is Carolyn Giblin, who along with daughter Jordi, leaves her fast-paced life in the city to begin anew in her teeny (but gorgeous – check out the lush scenery!) hometown. But it isn’t an easy transition: When she arrives back home, Carolyn comes face-to-face with Clay Traynor, the still-heartbroken man she’d left at the altar years earlier (Randy Travis). It’s a tale of love and rediscovery that’ll make you feel all squishy inside just in time for Christmas Day. And as a bonus, Golden Girl Rue McClanahan appears as Clay’s Aunt Miz Leona!

Can’t-Miss TV Christmas Movie #4: Christmas Child (2003). Based on a tale by Christian author Max Lucado, this one follows Chicago journalist and adoptee Jack Davenport as he heads to Dallas and Clearwater, Texas on assignment just days before Christmas. As Jack (William R. Moses, Perry Mason movies) investigates the story of the Ottolman family and a mysterious life-sized Nativity scene that graces a church in town, he uncovers stunning secrets of his own past. His revelations enable him to begin the process of repairing his own damaged marriage, and give him a family that he never expected to have. There’s no humor in this one, but it’ll make you think, and just may make you believe that very good things can arise from very bad situations.

Can’t-Miss TV Christmas Movie #5: The Christmas List (1997), ABC Family. It’s fluffy, fun and could never really happen, but don’t get lost in the sillies and miss out on the message behind The Christmas List. Mimi Rogers (Paper Dolls) stars as department store fragrance expert Melody Parris, a thirty something whose personal life is marked by a difficult mother and a jerky boyfriend. She creates a Christmas list filled with selfish items and after a co-worker drops it into the store’s mailbox, she’s stunned when she begins receiving her wishes, one by one. But the wishes aren’t granted in easy or intuitive fashion, and Melody must work to mitigate the consequences associated with her requests. In the end, she gets what she always wanted, but it doesn’t come easily, just as life rarely plays out as we expect.

Grab a big blanket, pop some popcorn, sip some cocoa and enjoy any of these Christmas movies on TV. They’ll all make your holiday feel-good wishes come true.

Sources

A Holiday to Remember, IMDB

The Christmas List, IMDB

Christmas Child, IMDB

A Season For Miracles, IMDB

Comfort and Joy, IMDB

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5 New Cars to Avoid Unless Someone Gives Them to You Free

It appears that the “cash for clunkers” program is a big hit with new car buyers and dealerships are finally seeing an uptick in showroom traffic. For most consumers this will end up being a very good thing because most new cars are incredibly reliable and fuel efficient. But that is not true of every vehicle. Far from it. Beware, consumers. There still are a lot of dogs out there on the new car market.

But to call these vehicles dogs is to almost be unkind to the canines of the world. These cars and SUVs are so bad that you would probably be better off investing in a bus pass. Not only will your friends make fun of you for buying one of these cars, you will no doubt get on a first name basis with the owners of your local towing company. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And yes, all these “clunkers” qualify for the “cash for clunkers” discount. (As of this writing it appears Congress is attempting to free up another $2 billion to extend the program.)

Chrysler Sebring-Be it in sedan or convertible form this is the absolute worst car on the new car market. Beware even if you are offered one on a rental car lot. The Sebring convertible was rated dead last in a recent Consumer Reports survey with over 300 times the number of problems suffered by an average car. If you think Fiat could somehow ruin Chrysler quality you really are deluded. No one could have ruined Chrysler quality more than the morons running Cerberus. (Better similarly priced options: Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata.)

Mitsubishi Outlander-If you are looking to buy an SUV this is the worst choice you can make. Exterior build quality is so bad that it looks like the body panels were lined up manually by near-sighted rhesus monkeys. And as for the interior the plastics look like they are made from recycled Big Mac containers. The Outlander also offers a third row of seats so flimsily designed that I doubt it could withstand the weight of two whole Olsen Twins. And in this brave new economic world how long do you think the #6 Japanese automaker is going to last? (Better similarly priced options: Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge.)

Jeep Compass-Based on the poorly built Dodge Caliber and 3 times as ugly, this is a Jeep without any purpose. Totally devoid of any off-road capability, the Compass looks like a banana slug that was exposed to radiation during the Chernobyl accident. Ugly, slow and with one of the worst CVT transmissions on the market-only buy the Compass if you like to hear moo-ing noises from your transmission whenever you attempt to accelerate. (Better similarly priced options: Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue.)

Dodge Caliber-People complained when Fiat decided to keep the PT Cruiser in production for another six months but that is a far better car than the Caliber. Ugly, noisy and slow-the Caliber has some of the worst interior plastics since the AMC Gremlin. And at least the Gremlin was so ugly that it was cute. The Caliber rides on giant SUV tires so it rides horribly and features giant, poorly fitting wheel arches that could suck unsuspecting third world nations into them long before U.N. Leader Boutros Boutros Ghali could give them a word of warning. Avoid. (Better similarly priced options: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Mazda3 Five Door.)

Pontiac G6-When Oprah tried to give away a fleet of Pontiac G6 sedans away to her studio audience all it did was make them really mad. (Granted that was because they were going to have to pay exorbitant taxes on their “prize.”) Currently there is a semi-stylish G6 coupe that looks good but is utterly impossible to get into unless you are under 5 foot 4 or are actually a piece of origami. There is also an utterly unreliable hardtop convertible version with a top so overly complex that it always looks like it is about to eat the driver’s head when it is being lowered. Recent GM models have really made leaps and bounds when it comes to design and quality. The interior of the G6 is truly a remnant of “The Old GM” as the plastics look like they were previously used to make McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys. (Better similarly priced American cars: Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Saturn Aura, anything except a Sebring.)

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5 Celebrity Beauty Tricks

Cate Blanchett has been a well known actress for quite some time. Her unique presence on screen and immense talent as an actress have won her a place in our hearts. Like her acting skills, her beauty is undoubtedly a natural gift, but her tips for preserving her beauty are a blessing to us all in the quest for flawless skin and youthful radiance.

One of the more well known facts is Cate’s relationship with SK-II. Cate became the spokesmodel for the Japanese skincare line after they discovered her devotion to it’s products. Cate has moved beyond being just the face of the company with the recent launch of her own SK-II beauty kit. It is now even easier to bring home three of her favorite essentials. While the skincare kit may seem pricey at $250, there is no denying it’s power to refresh and rejuvenate your skin. Great looking skin is a necessary foundation to the overall appearance of beauty, and the starting point for Cate’s famously fresh look.

Great skin not only needs to be moisturized and treated, it needs to be protected. The sun is one of the biggest factors in damaged skin. The sun is especially strong in Cate’s homeland of Australia, which makes sunscreen crucial. Her skin is extremely fair, and to keep it from burning as well as from becoming damaged, Cate’s tried and true choice for sun protection is Colorescience sunscreen. Colorescience sunscreen products are loose mineral formulas that work with all skin types.

When it comes to makeup, Cate is a minimalist. One of the many great tips to be learned from Cate, as well as one of her favorites, is tinting her eyelashes. This gives her one less thing to do, and with her eyelashes tinted, there is no need to apply mascara. Added to this, Cate puts on Chantecaille Eye Shadow in Pyrite for everyday wear, and Aqua for special nights. This is a great tip for women like Cate who want to wear less makeup and appear more natural while still looking amazing.

While Cate is extremely diligent about skincare, she is admittedly less specific in her hair care routines. Cate makes sure to use great products so that her hair looks naturally healthy, and doesn’t spend lots of time styling and primping her hair when she’s not working. To get her natural curls looking soft and healthy, Cate uses Philip Kingsley Conditioner. This leaves her hair beautifully manageable so all she has to do it smooth in a little gloss from the Frédéric Fekkai Glossing Line, and pull it back. Classically simple like the rest of her appearance.

To end with, no star would be complete without a go to shade of classic red lipstick. For Cate’s pale complexion, she uses Edward Bess Lipstick in Eternal Passion. This is a pure red which is perfect shade for her light skin. Finding the right shade of red is different for everyone. If you don’t have Cate’s fair skin, you can still wear red in a shade that’s best for you.

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5 Cent Refund

5 Cent refund

Every wondered how it happened that the certain bottles are redeemable for 5 cents in New York State, me either. But in case anyone was wondering the law was originally enacted on June 15, 1982, and went into effect July 1, 1983, pursuant to Chapter 200 of the Laws of 1982. Laws of 1983, 1984, 1988 and 1997 made changes to the original law.

Ever since seeing the Seinfeld episode titled, “The Bottle Return” I wondered how lucrative bottle refunding was. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago over hearing a conversation in my office that I really got motivated to find out.

So a few weeks ago I found myself safe keeping empty bottles after finishing my drinks. I was scouring for empty bottles everywhere I went, water bottles, soda cans, etc…

Two weeks of this and I had decided that I had gathered enough empty bottles to make my trip to the nearest recycling center. So a muggy, dreary late Saturday morning found me at the recycling center. Frankly I was a little concerned about what I was going to find there. But off I went. To my surprise there was a long line of all sorts of people waiting to redeem their bottles. Young folks, elderly and a few homeless people. Heck I even saw one of my neighbors there!

I patiently waited for my turn. When my turn came, I started taking out the bottles to put into the machines. Apparently it was really obvious that I was new at this because the machines kept returning my bottle. The same bottle I may add for like 5 minutes!

My frustration must have shown because two very patient and nice people came up and decided to help me out. Apparently there is a system to this. I learned that you need to remove the caps from the bottles. Some places or machines won’t take the bottles or cans even if they are stamped with NY 5cent refund on them. Some places won’t take glass bottles at all meaning this would mean a trip somewhere else where they do. You can tell who the expert redeemers were because they had all of their bottles sorted, emptied and uncapped.

I made about $2.00 total on that one trip, meager showing for a newbie but it was to be expected. You would think that that would put an end to that experiment. But I wanted to try my hand at it again if only to try out my new found knowledge.

So I did the same gathered my stash and waited until I felt I had enough to redeem. This time though I made sure that the bottles were separated and uncapped before I went to redeem them. I had also done some research as to where I could redeem glass bottles as well.

So another Saturday, this time early morning, specifically 7:30am found me at a different location to redeem my stash. There I waited until the recycling center opened up at 9am. It was hot, humid and it smelled. Not to mentioned the flies. I noticed that there were three other folks in line. I started talking to the three people in front of me.

I had told them that the last time I redeemed my bottles I made a total of $2.00. I was curious to know how much they took home, as this was the whole point of me doing all of this. So I asked these folks how much was it possible to really make redeeming bottles? One guy mentioned that he started redeeming bottles in the 1990’s and oh boy was that lucrative times. He was making at least $200 to $250 dollars a week of course these is all based on his memory. In recent times he makes less than that because there is more competition, more people out there building up their stash of redeemable bottles.

A second person, this time an elderly woman, mentioned that what she gets from her benefits is not enough and this is a way to supplement it. 5 cents here and there can add up. At 9:10 am the recycling center opens up and the machines are turned on. Everyone patiently waited their turn. Bottles were redeemed and this time I had an easier time with the process. I got my receipt from the machine to redeem inside and said my goodbyes. I heard someone say to some folks see you next week.

What was my take home on this trip you wonder? I was able to redeem about $5.00 worth. Was it worth it you ask? Perhaps the answer to that depends on how much one needs the extra income. $5.00 is good enough for a gallon of milk or a round trip metro card. My total of $7.00 in those two trips was based by the way on a barely part time basis if that.

Would I go back and do it again, who knows maybe I will see more familiar faces in line next time.

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5 Centerpieces for Less Than $10

Entertaining on a budget is not impossible! It just takes a little imagination and some crafting ability. The next time you have guests coming over, try out one of these centerpiece ideas. All of them cost less than $10, and many of them have pieces that you can eat or use again later for different decorations. Money you spend on these centerpieces will be well-spent and will make your guests feel special.

Carnation Candy Dish

You will need one large bowl or vase and a narrow, cylindrical vase that can fit inside the larger vase. The first step is to put the small vase inside the larger one. Then fill the space between the two vases with the candy you purchased. Next add enough water to fill the small vase about halfway and then put a carnation in it. You have created a precious and edible centerpiece for very little money.

Mirrored Flowers

Get a round mirror or mirror square at a craft store. Keep your eye out and pick one up at the end of the wedding season for even bigger savings. Then put a small, unembellished vase in the center of the mirror. Fill the bottom quarter of the vase with colored gems, which you can find at discount or craft stores for $1-2. Then add some water and a small bouquet of flowers. Even an inexpensive bouquet will last several days with the rocks and water. The best part about this centerpiece is that it looks larger because of the mirror effect.

Wildflower Bouquet

This centerpiece takes a little work and a bit more dexterity from the frugal crafter. When your family finishes a jug of apple or orange juice, wash the jug out really well. Then you will need to cut a piece of burlap or similar stiff cloth. Sit the jug in the center of the cloth. Pull the cloth up and cut it at the same height at the jug. Then you will use a wide piece of ribbon to tie the burlap to the jug. If you have problems with the ribbon, you can use a rubber band to hold the burlap in place and then tie the ribbon. Put a single long-stemmed flower, such as a sunflower, into the opening of the jug for a nice, casual centerpiece.

Circle of Light

This centerpiece is super-simple to make. You will need to get a large bunch of ivy. You can find ivy cheap at most discount stores. You will put four short tapered candles in small candleholders. The holders shouldn’t be seen much, so their appearance doesn’t matter. You will take gather the ivy around the candles in the center of the table. Use a hot glue gun to glue a small piece of the ivy coming up about halfway up each of the candles. This Circle of Light centerpiece will shine brilliantly and will look like lights in a forest when it’s all glowing.

Night at the Aquarium

When you’re having an outdoor event, try this conversation-starting centerpiece. You will need a wide bowl. You can use a goldfish bowl, or you can look for a wide-mouthed bowl in the craft section. Fill the bottom of the bowl with sand, which you can buy by the bag at most craft stores if you don’t have sand in your yard to use, and then put a few seashells on top of the sand. Add a starfish or a sand dollar for a little extra pizzazz. Fill the bowl with water and pick up two or three floating candles. Put them in the bowl and light them for a beautiful aquarium effect.

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5 Child Safety Car Seat Tips

Thanks to the invention of the child and infant car seat, many accidents that previously would have proven to be fatal to small children and babies have been prevented. Still while most parents know their children should be kept in a car seat to keep them safe there are still some gray areas where parents are confused. Here is a look at 5 tips to help keep your infant or child even safer in their car seat.

1. Always keep children in the back seat if possible. The number one reason for this is due to most vehicles having air bags and the risk of them being deployed if you are in an accident. The safest place for children and infants is in the back seat. This is imperative for most children under the age of 12 or those that are under 4″9. This is also important because only after your child has reached a height of 4″9 will the typical seat belts that come with the car fit correctly.

2. Always put an infant under 20 pounds or one year old in a rear facing or convertible seat. Infants who are not a year old yet or who have not reached 20 pounds should always face backwards to avoid potential injuries. Even if your infant has reached a year old but is not quite 20 pounds you should still avoid putting them in a forward facing car seat. After they have gotten to the proper weight and age requirements you can then safely keep them in a forward facing car seat but it still should remain in the middle of the back seat if possible.

3. Never put a toddler in a booster seat till they are 40 pounds. Many parents make the assumption that once their toddler has reached a certain age they can move them to a booster seat. However it very important that toddlers not be put in a booster seat till they are at least 40 pounds or the tops of their ears have reached the top of their car seat. If a toddler is put in a booster seat too early they can run the risk of trying to “escape” from their booster seat while the parent is driving and this can easily lead to an accident. Parents should look for a car seat with a 5-point harness that makes it difficult for curious toddlers to try to get out of their car seat.

4. Never buy a used car seat. While there are many infant and children’s items that you can safely buy used a car seat should always be bought new. The reason for this is due to the fact that unless you are getting one from someone you know very personally you will have no way of knowing if the car seat was involved in a car accident. Another excellent reason is because manufacturers are always improving and changing car seats so you will want to get the newest models to ensure your child stays safe.

5. Make sure the car seat is installed correctly. This is especially important for those who have new infants or parents who have never had to put a car seat in their car before. Be sure to read the instructions that come with the car seat and follow them. If you still are not sure you can always contact your local police station or fire department where they will have someone on hand to help you get the car seat installed correctly and help settle any fears you may have.

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5 Characteristics of Good Elementary Schools (and How to Spot Bad Ones)

As a credentialed teacher and a parent, I had experiences with schools that were both good and bad. Working in schools with a mostly dedicated staff, it always shocked me when I heard about teachers bullying kids or being unresponsive to students’ needs. When I became a parent, I looked high and low before finding a great preschool. Even at an expensive private school, I learned that it is important to look for red flags and not settle for a mediocre education. Here are some characteristics of good elementary schools, and, how to spot bad ones.

A Responsive and Warm Staff

When I was substitute teaching and job hunting, I quickly learned what schools I wanted to work at and what schools to avoid. When the office staff was cold and rude, it was usually a good indicator of the site’s overall atmosphere. Likewise, when my daughter went to private preschool, the entire staff treated us like family. On the other hand, when we went to a different private school for kindergarten, a lot of the staff was cold and unresponsive. Luckily, her current teacher is warm and wonderful!

Red Flag #1: While teachers may have the professional expertise, they should still be open to change. If a teacher is rigid and unbendable in his or her policies, this is a red flag.

Your Kids Should Be Having Fun

The other day, I was delighted to see my daughter come home with a pumpkin turkey. I thought, what a fun craft. A good school will have field trips, opportunities for hands-on experiences and creative curriculum (like games, songs and chants).

Red Flag #2: If your child doesn’t want to go to school or has a sudden temperament change, this is a good indicator that he or she isn’t enjoying school.

The School has Differentiated Instruction

I was a student teacher at two different districts in San Diego. One of the schools didn’t have any reading groups. The kids simply sat in their desks all day and completed worksheets. In elementary school, I don’t see how kids can learn without small group instruction. I had both reading and math groups. Good schools make sure that each child’s learning style is being supported.

Red Flag # 3: Be wary if every child in the class does the same activities all day long. This reveals the class is not student centered and doesn’t give children a choice in what they learn.

The Staff Works Together

The school I most recently worked at used Professional Learning Communities. This is where we worked together to ensure our children were learning. We used data, collaboration and hard work to achieve our goals…together. We had enrichment groups where the kids were able to go to another teacher for an hour a day to work on their strengths and areas where they struggled. At good schools, teachers should be on the same page, even though their teaching styles may be unique.

Red Flag # 4: When staff members are not on the same page or appear to be at odds, it may be time to go elsewhere. After all, how can a school work together to help your child if they can’t get along?

The School Welcomes and Communicates with Parents

Do you receive newsletters from your school? Does your teacher welcome parental involvement and classroom volunteers? Frequent communication is important. However, communication is a two-way street. Always remember that as a parent, it’s vital to stay on top of your child’s progress. At the same time, teachers and staff should also respond promptly to emails, phone calls and notes. While teachers are busy, I would say that they should respond within 24 hours.

Red Flag # 5: If days have gone by without a response from an email you sent, this could signal a problem. If your child is doing poorly in an area and you haven’t been contacted, this would be a good time to set up a conference with your child’s teacher.

The media tends to pounce on negative education stories. There are plenty of good schools out there. However, you need to look for characteristics of good schools and don’t forget to watch out for those red flags.

More from Melissa:

Learning in a Bubble: Standardized Testing in Kindergarten is Too Much Too Soon
What Do Teachers Really Do After School?
Teacher Turnover: Why Do Educators Leave?

Tags:5 Characteristics of Good Elementary Schools (and How to Spot Bad Ones)

5 Cheap Bathroom Upgrades

The bathroom is one of the most important areas of your home. Whether you are looking to sell your home for the best price, or simply trying to make living in the home more pleasant a few improvements in the bathroom will make a big difference. Here are some projects that are quick, easy and best of all inexpensive.

Though not the cheapest improvement, one way to make a big improvement in your bathroom is with an exhaust fan. If you do not have one, adding it will do a lot to improve your bathroom. Besides removing odor (which is a great improvement indeed!) an exhaust fan in your bathroom will help to reduce moisture in the bathroom that helps to feed the growth of mold and other common bathroom nastiness. A bathroom exhaust fan will start around $20 and can be installed by a do-it-yourselfer. If you are uncertain about installing electrical items, a professional can be hired to do this quick job at a low cost.

Another easy and cheap way to brighten up your bathroom is to remove old caulking and replace it. It is surprising how much a clean bright line of caulking spruces up a room. While you might not be conscious of the dingy caulking detracting from your bathroom once it is replaced with new you will see a big difference. A newly caulked bathroom will also make the whole room look cleaner.

Bathrooms are prone to mold and mildew and other problems on the walls and ceiling. A good scrubbing of bathroom walls and ceilings will often bring out the colors on the wall and remove that dingy look. While painting the room is relatively inexpensive, a good cleaning is almost free and can make a big impact.

While floors can also be cleaned, if you have vinyl on the floor the effects of being wet and walked all over will result in uneven and cracked flooring. Buying vinyl tiles to replace the floor is inexpensive and is an easy job to install for the do it yourselfer. New tile in the bathroom is an easy and inexpensive way to provide a new look to a bathroom.

Though more expensive than the other ideas in this article, a new bathroom sink faucet is another easy and quick way to improve the look of your bathroom. Searching the internet by using Froogle and eBay will result in a great deal for a faucet. If you have a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, it might be a good source as well. The bathroom faucet is one thing that everyone who goes into the bathroom will see and use. Again, if you are uncertain how to replace a faucet a local handyman should be able to do this for a low price.

These are just a few ideas to add a new look and improvement to your bathroom without spending a lot of money.

Tags:5 Cheap Bathroom Upgrades

5 of Charlton Heston's Best Films - Historical Epics and More

When Charlton Heston died in April of 2008, Hollywood lost one of its all-time great actors. Charlton Heston appeared in numerous epic movies throughout his career and was most noted for his brilliant portrayals of both historical figures and characters from classic literature.

Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur is one of the great masterpieces of epic Hollywood, and it is the only role for which Charlton Heston ever won the Academy Award. The film features Charlton Heston inhabiting a variety of different situations as the title character, Judah Ben-Hur. He begins the movie as a wealthy Jew before being persecuted by his childhood friend and sent to a life of slavery as an oar handler on a Roman ship. Fate is on Judah’s side though, and he finds himself free again eventually. Heston is all aspects of Judah Ben-Hur convincingly – from his glorious early life to his sweaty days in the belly of ship and back again.

Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments

Charlton Heston’s role as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic masterpiece The Ten Commandments remains the quintessential film depiction of the Biblical figure. Few men in Hollywood outside of Charlton Heston had the commanding presence coupled with the acting ability to fully portray Moses as both a son of Egypt and a man of God.

Charlton Heston in the Agony and the Ecstasy

Charlton Heston’s depiction of Michelangelo in the motion picture The Agony and the Ecstasy manages to capture the title emotions of the film perfectly. The movie manages to show the struggle that creating such a magnificent work of art was without being stagnate. A lot of this can be attributed to co-star Rex Harrison as well as to Charlton Heston – both men were perfectly cast.

Charlton Heston in Diamond Head

In the movie Diamond Head Charlton Heston is not a very likeable person as Richard “King” Howland which is quite a departure from having lead the Hebrew people. The fact that Heston was able to play a part so contrary to type and to act bigoted when he was really a champion of racial causes is extraordinary.

Charlton Heston in Khartoum

In the movie Khartoum, Charlton Heston portrays General Charles Gordon, a real life hero of the Sudan. In this film Heston holds his own once again against a powerful co-star, namely Sir Laurence Olivier. When Khartoum is watched, one can feel the intenseness of the situation Charles Gordon encountered in the Sudan and momentarily forget that it is, in fact, only a film adaptation of real life.

These five movies are some of the more interesting portrayals of Charlton Heston in cinema and should be on the watch list of anyone wanting to take a closer look at the career of this legendary actor. Four are great historical epics while the fifth is an interesting “out of type” movie.

Sources:

Charlton Heston. IMDB.com.

Tags:5 of Charlton Heston’s Best Films - Historical Epics and More

5 Cheap Bodybuilding Foods to Get You Ripped

If you plan to start bodybuilding, effective exercise is undoubtedly important for building and sustaining lean muscle. Losing body fat so these muscles become more visible–and getting adequate nutrition to sustain this–all boils down to cardio and an effective diet, however.

I ran into quite a conundrum when I first started bodybuilding–I could barely afford to buy a package of chicken breasts! I quickly began researching–and frantically searching all the grocery stores in my area–for alternative eats that weren’t as expensive. The foods listed below are now my main eats, with plenty of protein and slow-digesting carbs to spare.

If you’re on a tight budget, here are some cheap bodybuilding foods you can purchase that won’t break your wallet:

5 Cheap Bodybuilding Foods to Get You Ripped

Canned tuna: Canned tuna is a great (and cheap) bodybuilding food because it’s rich in protein, low in carbs, and usually very low in bad fats. I like to mix it with a pinch of plain yogurt and chili seasoning for a zesty kick. If you’re watching your caloric intake, go for the “light” versions, which contain less than 100 calories per serving. At my local Cub, canned tuna usually sells for $0.70 per can.

Cottage cheese: Cottage cheese is almost the perfect bodybuilding food–not only is it low in carbohydrates, it’s packed with muscle-building protein. I prefer to eat this as my last meal, usually with a side of peaches, so that it slowly digests while I’m sleeping, which helps fight late-night hunger pangs. I prefer the cottage cheese sold at Trader Joe’s, simply because it’s cheaper and tastes better–last week I bought two tubs for around $4.00.

Eggs: You’ve probably already had this on your grocery list, but eggs serve as a wonderful source of protein (and good fats) if you can’t afford lean beef or chicken, making it a great cheap bodybuilding food. If you live near a farmer’s market, you can get eggs there for fairly cheap. If you don’t, try to locate a local Asian market for great deals. I regularly snag carts of eggs from my local Asian market in St. Paul for around $1.00 each.

Natural peanut butter: Lo and behold my surprise last week when I visited my local Trader Joe’s–natural peanut butter currently sells there for under $2.00. As far as peanut butter goes, that’s dirt cheap. I love peanut butter because it’s rich in good fat, high in protein and has a naturally sweet flavor. Mix it with your post-workout shake, have it with bread for a filling meal, or dip fruit in it to sustain your energy levels. It’s the perfect bodybuilding food for staying satisfied.

Potatoes: Although sweet potatoes are generally better for bodybuilders, regular potatoes still contain slow-digesting carbs, which keeps you satisfied. Regular potatoes are always a favorite cheap bodybuilding food of mine because of its versatility–I can cook it as is, slice it into strings for homemade fries, or mix it in the blender for instant mashes potatoes. It always tastes good with a serving of protein, too! I can usually snag a bag of potatoes for around $2.50 at my local Cub, and it usually lasts for a week or more.

Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of cheap bodybuilding foods you could possibly purchase, these are the ones I prefer the most, due to taste, cost and its high protein, good fat and carb content.

Tags:5 Cheap Bodybuilding Foods to Get You Ripped

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