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Give Thanks Meaningfully

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It won’t be long until your children bring home pictures of Pilgrims dressed in black and white and sitting around an outdoor feast with several American Indians in the background—a result of their lesson on the “First Thanksgiving” held in Nov. of 1621. On that day, the Pilgrims were giving thanks for a bountiful autumn harvest. But a day of thanksgiving wasn’t held regularly until, on Oct. 3, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of Nov. a National Holiday. In the midst of one of our Nation’s most troubled times, Americans were asked to remember that they still had much to be thankful for.


In the midst of today’s troubled times, your Thanksgiving Day could be just a day of feasting and football, or it could be a day to purposefully give thanks and resolve to meaningfully show gratitude for everything we have, not just on that one day, but throughout the year.


Here are some tips to help you remember to feel grateful and to meaningfully give thanks this Thanksgiving Day and throughout the year:


  1. Appreciate the little things. A common way to say this is, “Take time to smell the roses.” We often don’t notice and feel grateful for things like the beauty around us, the laughter of children, a clear blue sky or much-needed rain. A neighbor who goes out of the way to greet us, a boss who praises a job well done, or a good night’s sleep can all be things to be thankful for.


  1. Look on the bright side.  Instead of focusing on our trials or what we don’t have, we can change our mindset to be grateful for all that we do have—those who are helping us through dark times, what we are learning from our challenges, the things we take for granted that many others don’t have, the hope that there are sure to be better days ahead.


  1. Count your blessings. Sometimes it takes a specific time and activity to help us notice and remember all of the good things in our lives. Studies have shown that people who regularly give thanks and express gratitude are not only happier, but more successful. Some keep a Gratitude Journal that they write in every night or every week. Others have a gratitude jar. When they notice something they have to be thankful for, they write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. When they’re having a bad day, they lift their spirits by getting a piece of paper out of the jar and read what they wrote only a few days ago.


  1. Volunteer. Helping someone else is often the best way to forget our own troubles and give thanks for what we have. A feeling of warmth and self-worth can come from making life easier for someone else. Just noticing the needs of those around you and trying to meet one or 2 of them, can be very uplifting. If you need ideas, you can ask a church leader or look on line for organizations that need volunteers.


  1. Show appreciation for others.  Remembering to say “thank you” for even small kindnesses or acts of service right when they happen will help you to notice the people in your life who love and support you. You might try thinking of someone, like a teacher, who helped you in the past and made a difference in your life. By write a note, sending a text or an email giving thanks for their service to you can make someone else’s day as well as your own.


The team at Citywide Home Loans wants you to know how much we appreciate our association with you. We are thankful every day for your trust in us, and that we can help you get into a home that you and your family will love and appreciate for a lifetime. We wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving Day and many things to be grateful for all year long.

Halloween Safety Tips

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Our kids and grandkids look forward to Halloween almost as much as Christmas. They start thinking months in advance about cool costumes and which neighbors have the best treats and scary decorations. While some of the scary parts of Halloween can be fun—costumes, decorations, spooky noises—parents are often scared about all the dangers to their kids that can be “out there.

Common Dangers or things parents worry about include: Falls, fire hazards, unsafe treats, choking, encounters with strangers, getting hit by cars or bikes, getting lost, getting cold, and not being able to sleep because of a seemingly inevitable sugar high

General Tips include following any rules your town may have about how early or late kids are allowed to be out; setting a return-home time or a place to meet if they get separated from you or a group; just to be on the safe side—remembering to take your cell phone, house keys and ID with you when you accompany your kids; and if you can’t go with your kids, arranging for them to be part of a group, for safety-in-numbers’ sake.

Tips to Counteract 10 Common Halloween Dangers or Worries:

  1. Falls: Masks can block a child’s vision, especially on the sides. Try face paint or other makeup instead, but be sure it’s hypoallergenic and doesn’t get in their eyes. Little princesses, pirates and witches can also trip over costumes that are too long.
  2. Unsafe Costumes: Besides being the right length for walking, costumes should be flame-resistant. Unfortunately, yard decorations sometimes include candles in bags or pumpkins. Only allow accessories like swords, wands or guns that are made of soft plastic and won’t hurt anyone.
  3. Unsafe Treats: Go through your children’s “loot” before you allow them to eat anything. Throw out treats that aren’t wrapped. If you have a child with allergies, especially to peanuts, be sure treats don’t contain nuts. Really gooey or hard candy can stick to or even break teeth. Especially with younger kids, be sure the candy isn’t so small or so big that it’s a choking hazard.
  4. Darkness: Dark streets and sidewalks with uneven surfaces pose a number of hazards, especially for little goblins who are in a hurry to get to the next house. Try to go out early and carry a flashlight. If kids are going out without you, make sure they only go on streets where they’ve been before. Going with a group is also a good idea. Remind them to stay on sidewalks and cross streets only at corners &/or crosswalks.
  5. Strangers: Probably well-meaning people might invite your kids to come in to show off their costumes. Make going in an absolute No-No! Tell them not to go to houses where the porch light isn’t on. Little kids should stay away from big kids who might think it’s funny to give them a scare. Tell them to run, if anyone seems scary in a bad way.
  6. Moving Vehicles: Cars or even kids on bikes might run into trick-or-treaters in dark clothing, or who suddenly dart into the street. Have them wear something that reflects light or carry a glow stick. Remind them to stay on sidewalks, listen and watch for kids on bikes, scooter or skate boards and yield to them.
  7. Getting Lost: If your neighborhood has lots of trick-or-treaters, it might be easy for the younger ones to get confused and feel lost in the crush. As in #4, if kids are going out without you, make sure they only go on streets where they’ve been before and pair a younger child with an older one.
  8. Getting Cold: Keep an eye on the forecast for the night of Halloween and dress your kids accordingly. When buying or making costumes, make sure a coat will fit over or under them. Warm underwear, heavy socks, gloves, a hat or ear muffs and hand warmers will all help to keep your child comfortable. Don’t forget to dress the same way yourself!
  9. Unsafe neighborhoods: If you don’t feel safe sending your kids out at night in your neighborhood, consider an alternative. Some neighborhoods, churches or businesses host a “Trunk-or-Treat” activity in a parking lot. The kids dress up and go from car to car to get their treats from people they know. Some malls have treats in their stores for kids in costume. Some businesses allow employees to invite their kids in during the afternoon to get a treat from employees who want to participate. And you could always host your own Halloween party.
  10. Sugar high: Teachers dread the school day after Halloween, because most of the kids are on a “sugar high” and have lots of extra energy. To keep your kids from being the culprits, have an early dinner first, and don’t let them eat anything while you’re out. When you get home, go through the candy to weed out any of the risks in #3. Then divide it up into little bags of what they are allowed to eat per day after Halloween. Include the bags in school lunches or dole them out as rewards for helping & other good behavior. They will expect you to let them eat more candy than usual on that night, so you might have to let them stay up a little later in order to calm down enough to sleep.

Have Fun!!



Getting Your Yard Ready For Winter

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No one wants to think about winter coming yet, but September is actually the best time to start getting your lawn ready to bounce back in the spring. Hopefully, depending on where you live, you still have time to enjoy the outdoors through a great fall. You can spend some of that good weather raking leaves and getting the plants, trees and bushes ready for wind, cold and snow.


Aerate Again?

If you already aerated in the spring, you can probably skip that chore, unless you have some heavily-traveled areas that are really packed down. According to experts, aerating most lawns every 3 years could be enough, depending on the soil and the type of grass you have. If your lawn is a cool-season grass, like bluegrass or ryegrass, do it in the early fall. If you live where warm-season grass thrives, aerate in early spring. Do it on a day when the soil is moist but not soggy. Start by going around the outside edge of the lawn. This provides a buffer zone for turning the heavy machine around as you go back and forth over the rest of the lawn.


How Low to Mow?

If you’re like me, you wonder whether longer or shorter is better to help grass survive through the winter. Again, experts will tell you that it depends on the climate and the type of grass you have. A general suggestion is to cut the grass down to 1 to 1½ inches. “If your grass is more than 3 inches tall, take it down incrementally over a few mowings—no more than a third of the grass blade at a time—to avoid stressing the plants.”  [Does anyone really measure?] Mow right up until the ground freezes or the grass stops growing, whichever comes first. The final cut should be the minimum height recommended for your variety of grass. Then winterize your lawn mower. Change the oil, drain or top off the gas and add stabilizer. Get your snow blower up and running.



Time to Rake?

Last year in the Salt Lake Valley, snow fell before all of the leaves were off the trees, or before they could all be raked up. If that happened to you, you saw first-hand how large patches of leaf-covered grass emerged from the heavy snow hopelessly flattened and smothered. You may have developed fungus problems, as well. Start raking when the first leaves fall, and do it often to save your lawn from as many leaves as possible being trapped under snow. You can mulch a few leaves at the same time that you mow, or put the bag on the mower if you think the mulch will be too thick. Some people like leaf blowers or even vacuums to get the leaves off the grass. But it can be a lot of fun to get the whole family involved in raking the leaves into big piles and then letting the little kids jump in them. Our town has a park where residents can bring bagged leaves to be recycled, and the bags are free at the fire stations.


Bare Patches?

Where grass is sparse, fall is a good time to reseed and get some new grass growing. Start by spreading a half-inch layer of aged compost over the area. Be sure your compost is cured: dry, crumbly, and cool to the touch. Otherwise, it could burn your lawn. Fill your spreader with seed, set it to about two-thirds of the bag’s recommendation, to account for overlapping passes. After spreading, mix the seeds into the compost with a leaf rake held tines up. Water lightly—5 minutes at a time, two to three times a day—until the seeds sprout. Then water once a day for 15 to 30 minutes. Mow the lawn again when the existing grass reaches 3 inches.



It may seem counter-intuitive to fertilize when the grass is about to stop growing, but fertilizer with the right mix will help stimulate root growth and ensure the survival of the grass until spring. If you can, get a soil test so that you know exactly the type and amount chemicals in the fertilizer that will be best for your grass and soil. Or there might be a supply place that recommends the right mix for the soil and the season where you live.  When fertilizing or seeding, always go over the turf twice, with crisscrossing paths. This eliminates the risk of stripes in your lawn. Fertilizer mixed with weed killer applied in autumn will go straight to the heart of perennial weeds.



What Else to Prune, Pull or Prepare?

Pruning most fruit trees is best in the winter or when they are dormant. Remove dead wood from trees and woody perennials before the snow falls. Some perennials are more complicated. I have raspberry bushes, and only the canes that have borne fruit and those that are dead should be pruned. If you’re unsure about some of your perennials, look them up. If they can wait until fall’s last gasp or until spring, their tops could help them survive a rough winter. Many perennials should be cut back to the ground in the fall. Again, you have to know what your particular plants need. Once temperatures drop below freezing, pull up annuals and toss them in the compost bin.


Bring houseplants inside before it gets too chilly. Put them near a window and don’t over-water. Plant any new plants six weeks before the ground usually freezes. If you’ve planted new trees in the fall, give them a really good watering. Prep younger trees by wrapping or screening them to protect them from the snow and bugs. To prepare shrubs for winter, generously water them when temperatures start dropping (but before it freezes). If your shrub is weak, wrap it in burlap and tie it so the covering stays in place.


To ensure ground cover survives winter well, plant it at a time of year when it will have the most time to get established before bad weather comes. If you’re in a region with cold winters, plant in the early spring. If you’re in a mild area, plant in the fall or winter. Straw, shredded leaves or other loose mulch also prevents ground cover from drying from wind gusts. Some ground cover dies completely back and then reappears in the spring without doing anything.


Your Reward?

The yard work you do in the fall can, in large part, determine how much you will have to do in the spring. When winter snows do come, you can rest assured that you’ve done everything you can to ensure that all the growing things around your home will come to life again in the spring.









Tips to Boost Your Credit Score

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Your credit score is a three-digit number lenders use to help them decide how likely it is they will be repaid on time, if they grant you a credit card or a loan. The higher your score, the more likely you are to qualify for the most favorable terms. An excellent to good credit score is usually anything above 720. A bad credit score is usually anything below a 620.


If your credit score is not where you need it to be, there are tips you can follow to improve it. Raising your credit score takes time, but the sooner you start working on the issues that have lowered it, the faster it can go up. Most scoring models take into account your payment history on loans and credit cards, how much revolving credit you regularly use, how long your accounts have been open, the types of accounts you have and how often you apply for new credit.


Three Things You Can Do Right Now

  1. Start by checking your credit scoresat all three credit reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) for any inaccuracies. Incorrect information on your credit reports could bring down your scores. Verify that the accounts listed on your reports are correct. If you see errors, dispute the information and get it corrected right away. Along with your scores, you will get information about the factors that are affecting your scores the most.

2.     Set up payment reminders. Making payments on time affects your credit scores more than anything else. Enrolling in automatic payments through your credit card and loan providers and having payments automatically debited from your bank account may help, but you should make more than the minimum payment, if you want to significantly lower your debt.

3.     Reduce the amount of debt you owe. The first thing you can do is stop using your credit cards. Then follow the 5-step Snowball Plan described in our article “Paying Down Credit Card Debt.” This plan also will work for any other debt you have, like student loans or overdue utility bills.

Three Things to Always Consider

1. Payment History: Together, payment history and credit utilization ratios can represent up to 70 percent of a credit score. FICO Scores are the most widely used credit scores, used by 90 percent of top lenders. Payment history contributes 35 Percent to a FICO® Score calculation, but problems like missed or late payments are not easily fixed. Prevent them by:

  • Paying your bills on time.
  • Getting and staying current on any previous late payments.
  • Insisting on a “pay for delete” agreement before paying off an account that has gone to collections. This means that that the collection company will delete the account from your credit report, rather than let it stay on your report for seven years.
  • Seeking assistance from a credit counseling service. This will not hurt your FICO Scores.


2. Amounts Owed: This category contributes 30 percent to a FICO® Score’s calculation. People with the best credit scores often have very low credit utilization ratios. It tells lenders you haven’t maxed out your credit cards and that you follow these guidelines:

  • Keep balances low on credit cards and other revolving credit
  • Pay off debt rather than moving it around.
  • Don’t close unused credit cards. Closing an account may increase your credit utilization ratio.
  • Don’t open new credit cards that you don’t need


  1. Length of Credit History: New accounts lower your average account age. This has a larger effect on your scores if you’re new at managing credit. Opening a new credit card can increase your overall credit limit, but the applying for credit creates a hard inquiryon your credit report. Too many hard inquiries can negatively impact your credit score. Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years.


There Is No Quick Fix for Bad Credit Scores

Time is your ally in improving your credit scores. If your credit report has negative information, such as late payments, bankruptcy, or too many inquiries, you should follow the advice above and wait. The length of time it takes to rebuild your credit history depends on the reasons behind negative changes.


How Do Specific Changes Affect Scores?

It is impossible to provide a completely accurate assessment of how one specific action will affect a person’s credit score. This is why the credit risk factors provided with your score are important. They identify what elements from your credit history are having the greatest impact so that you can take appropriate action. Credit scoring involves complex calculations. These components tend to be the most important:

  • Negative information remains on your credit report for a set period of time. The good news is, all negative information will eventually cycle off your credit report.
  • You don’t need to carry a monthly credit card balance to build your credit history. You can pay off your credit card bills every month and positively affect your credit standing.
  • Settling accounts for less than the full amount you owe can harm your credit scores. Any time you fail to repay a debt in full, it can negatively affect your credit.
  • The negative impact of settlement is still less than the negative effect of not paying a debt at all or declaring bankruptcy.


Maintaining a good credit score can open doors for you, from helping you qualify for the best interest rates and terms when you borrow money to buy a home, to influencing how much you pay for life insurance. Because credit scores are so important to your overall financial well-being, it’s wise to do everything you can to ensure yours are as good as possible and stay that way. Prevention is much easier than the time, patience and discipline it takes to fix something that brought your scores down.






Home Upgrades That Make the Biggest Bang For Your Buck

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You’re in the mood to update your home, but you’re not sure how long you’ll be there. You have a limited budget, so you want to know which upgrades will make your home more attractive and livable now, and give you the biggest bang for your buck, should you decide to sell.

Upgrade the Kitchen

The No. 1 upgrade with the greatest return is the kitchen. According to HGTV, you can expect to recoup 60%-120% of your investment on a kitchen remodel. A “modern/updated kitchen” tops the list of what most first-time homebuyers are looking for. Even a small investment can have a large return. Some popular changes you can make without taking the room down to the studs and breaking the bank include:

  • Fresh paint: Get the biggest bang for your buck on a kitchen remodel by repainting in neutral colors. Both white and gray are hot colors for cabinets right now.
  • Stainless steel: As your appliances wear out, replace them with stainless steel. This finish equals “updated” in the mind of a buyer. The latest trend is black stainless. Its softer, less reflective finish shows fewer finger marks.
  • Quartz countertops: Quartz is catching up to granite and marble as the go-to material in higher-end kitchens. It resists scratches, cuts, and stains, requires less upkeep and is less expensive than natural stone. Add color with new backsplash in tile or glass.
  • New flooring: Hardwood or laminate are still popular, but tile that looks like wood is growing in popularity, partly because of its ease of upkeep.

Beautify your bathroom

For even a minor bathroom remodel, the average return at resale can be 102%.

  • Go granite, marble or quartz with your countertops. Your bathroom counter is most likely smaller than your kitchen counter and will be less expensive to replace.
  • Swap the overhead lighting with wall mounts to add warmth and value. Make sure that you have even lighting around your mirror that doesn’t cast shadows.
  • If you can afford it, heated floors are very attractive to buyers.
  • Upgrade your bath area with something as simple as new grout. Consider replacing your tub with a walk-in shower, if you don’t have one.
  • If your home only has one bathroom, you can recoup a large percentage of your investment by adding another one. Consider using any extra rooms, closets or underutilized spaces as a bath.

Heighten Curb Appeal

Your home’s exterior gives an important first impression. Here are some cost-effective ideas that could make potential buyers stop, look and want to come in:

  • Paint your front door and maybe even the window trim a bright color.
  • Add mulch and edging to your flower beds.
  • Add landscape lighting.
  • Make sure your walks and driveway are in good shape.


For more “curb appeal” ideas, see this Citywide article: Moving Up: How to Add Curb Appeal to Your Home. https://www.citywidehomeloans.com/article/moving-up-how-to-add-curb-appeal-to-your-home/

Improve Energy Efficiency

Today’s buyers are concerned about a home’s energy efficiency and operating costs. Even if you’re not ready to sell, you can save yourself a bundle each year in heating and air conditioning costs by making your home more energy efficient. Most local utility companies offer a free energy assessment that tells you what will help your particular home. They may even offer rebates or credits for certain upgrades. All of the following could potentially be selling points and money savers:

  • Add energy-efficient windows.
  • Bring your attic insulation up to code or the recommended amount for maximum energy savings.
  • Fix or replace doors that let in hot and cold air.
  • Install a programmable thermostat that turns heating and cooling off and on as needed.
  • If it’s more than eight years old, a new, energy-efficient water heater could pay for itself.
  • LED lighting not only costs less to operate but has a much longer life-expectancy.
  • Replace older appliances with energy-efficient models, and remember stainless steel appeal.

Repurpose a Room

Versatile rooms have greater appeal to potential buyers. Try to think about other ways that you, and potential buyers, can use your existing space:

  • Basements frequently work well as second living rooms, or game rooms. If zoning allows it, you could also turn this space into a small apartment for an aging relative or a tenant.
  • Attic spaces often work well for craft rooms and game rooms, especially if they have high ceilings. If you have kids, you can add swings to the rafters, and create a cool play room just for them.
  • Create more space by knocking out a non-structural wall, removing a kitchen island or room-dividing cabinets. Today’s buyers like an open floor plan, with flexible living space.


Additional “Bang for the Buck” Upgrades

  • Smart-home technology
  • A deck, patio or porch
  • An upstairs laundry room
  • Hardwood or plank-like tile floors
  • Crown moldings and chair railings
  • Elderly-friendly features, like bars in the shower and wheelchair accessible doors
  • New paint in a neutral color, especially in high-traffic areas
  • Closet organizers

Little Fixes and Upkeep

Spending a few hundred dollars on small fixes can make your home feel clean, fresh, and more inviting, while also indicating that it has been well-maintained. Keep the paint fresh, fix the roof when it leaks, replace wood that rots, and get rid of any mold. Chores like these keep your home from deteriorating over time. Buyers want a healthy, safe home, and they look carefully for signs of routine maintenance.


Afterthought: Home Improvement Projects that Don’t Add Value

·         In-ground swimming pools

·         Gourmet kitchens with high-end accessories

·         Whirlpool baths

·         Sunrooms

·         Expensive landscaping

·         Home office remodeling

A new roof, unless yours is visibly old and scary looking










Great Ideas for Summer Fun on a Budget

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Many families need to limit the money they spend on summer fun. Saving to buy a house or to fix up your home and yard to make it more appealing to a potential buyer are just two reasons why even one pricey summer vacation is impractical this year. If you just moved to a new area, you may be in the process of learning what there is to do with kids close to home that doesn’t “break the bank.” Even if you can afford to go once to a theme park or the beach, there are still all those other days when the kids are just staring at their devices or moaning “I’m bored!”


Google It! Even though the goal may be to get the family’s eyes off of their screens, the Internet is a great place to find ideas, locations and schedules for low-budget or even free activities. Just search on “Summer Fun on a Budget in _________ (add the name of your city or county) and you’ll get pages of results. Or you can search on specific activities like these:


Not Your Grandmother’s Library

Libraries aren’t just for books anymore, even though a challenge from the school, the library or parents to see how many books kids can read over the summer is a great idea. Many libraries also have music, videos, puzzles and games you can borrow. Check libraries near you for Story Time, exhibits, craft classes, performances, movies, exercise sessions and more. Just reading in a quiet, cool place away from home can be fun, too.


Family-Friendly Movies Under the Stars

Some theater chains have discount matinees with movies the whole family can enjoy. One even includes kids’ snacks in the low price. Your community might offer free movies or concerts in the park. Check to see if you need to bring your own chairs or blankets to sit on. You can usually bring your own picnic or snacks, and save even more. Or have a Movie Night right at home. What makes it special is getting the whole family together with snacks you made with them in the afternoon.


Water Fun Without the Beach

On a hot summer day, even parents enjoy playing in the sprinklers. You can run around and simply get wet, or you can play lawn games with the water on. Squirt gun battles are both exciting and refreshing. Even a warm rain storm can provide the water. Giant bubble makers can be purchased inexpensively, or make your own using straws and string with instructions you will find here. Community swimming pools are becoming more prevalent. Some include areas just for kids, and lifeguards will help you keep your kids safe. Remember the sunscreen!


Biking or Hiking for a Reward

Families with bikes can plan a safe destination, like an ice cream store, that will make the exertion worth the effort. Even a long walk can be dubbed a “hike.” Your community is likely to have hiking and biking trails that are safe and include beautiful scenery or great views. Desert or mountain locations may have plant or ever animal life to look at and learn from. Geocaching includes both walking and a treasure hunt, and it’s totally free. Check out the link to learn more about it.


A Rainy Day at the Museum

Get to know your local museums and watch for Free days. Most museums also offer free activities on certain days of the month. Admission might be affordable all of the time. A museum is the perfect place to spend a rainy day. In the same category, plan to visit science centers, aquariums, gardens, arboretums, zoos, and historical sites.


Pick a Park, Local or National

If you live in the western United States, it’s probably less than a day’s drive to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Admission to National Parks is a bargain, and guided tours by rangers can be educational and fun for the whole family. Local parks are also a great place to picnic, throw a Frisbie, kick a ball or play any number of outdoor games. Some parks offer playground equipment like swings and slides and even splash pads. Picnic tables and bathrooms make it possible to spend the whole day.


Camp Out or In

Pitch a tent and spend the night sleeping outside, either in your yard or in a bonafide campground. Some campgrounds require advance reservations and a small fee for maintaining the space and using the bathrooms. Or you could just blow up some mattresses and sleep under the stars—depending on how many bugs there are out at night where you live. Kids even like to make tents in the house out of tables, chairs and blankets, then read stories with flashlights—no electronics allowed.


Make a Bug Collection

Kids love bugs, unless they’re taught to be afraid of them. You can find some pretty impressive bugs that are already dead. But if they’re still crawling, catch them in a bottle and let them suffocate. Look for them on some of your other day trips or right in your own neighborhood. Then pin each one to a big square of Styrofoam, look up the proper name and label them. The kids will love to show off the collection to their friends, and it may even come in handy as a class science project when school starts again. Another alternative is to simply photograph the creatures, flowers and trees that you see when you’re out and about.


Give Back to Your Community

Bring your family together and keep them busy by helping others. Pick a place to volunteer for the afternoon! Maybe you already know an elderly neighbor who could use help with some yardwork, home maintenance or errands. If not, it’s easy to find volunteer opportunities for everyone with resources like VolunteerMatch or JustServe. You could plant trees, play with animals, clean up parks, help in a food bank, and much more. You’ll make a difference, and your kids will have fun as they learn how to change their community and possibly the world.







New to the Wasatch Front area? Check out these recreation opportunities:

  • Timpanogos Cave
  • Bridal Veil Waterfall
  • Hike the Y
  • Drive the Alpine Loop
  • Stewarts Falls
  • Float/Tube down the Provo River
  • Alpine Falls Canyon
  • Donut Falls
  • Wheeler Farm
  • Hogle Zoo
  • Tracy Aviary
  • Loveland Living Planet Aquarium.


Getting Your Yard Ready for Summer Fun & Curb Appeal

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An appealing first impression makes a big difference, whether you’re selling or buying a home, or just trying to fit into your neighborhood and enjoy what you see every time come home. Even your backyard has value to a buyer or your family when you make it a comfortable outdoor living space for quality time with family or friends.


There are things you can do all year to make changes to your yard or help to keep it in great shape, but spring is a great time to start. For the best results, you’ll need a plan. “What to do first?” can sometimes feel like an overwhelming question.


Major Overhaul

If you want to do a major overhaul of your yard, it can be a big help to consult a landscape architect or even your local garden store expert. Front yard landscaping should have a balance of pops of color and greenery, but a yard that looks “high-maintenance” might scare buyers away. With the advice you’ve been given, draw a picture or diagram of the end result, showing where bushes and flowers will go and labeling them to create a shopping and planting list.


Again, check with an expert to determine where and when to add each plant.  It’s often tempting to overplant, so be sure to consider what your yard will look like after several years of growth. A clean and uncluttered look has the most appeal, whether you’re planting perennials or annuals.


Simple Changes

You don’t have to do a major overhaul to give your yard more curb appeal. Here are some simple changes that anyone can make:

·         Define the borders: Clean edges can help make everything in your yard look neat and well-maintained. Broad, sweeping curves that match the size of your home look better than wavy lines.

·         Repair walkways and edging. Aside from damage done by your snow blower or a plow, frost heave can split concrete and knock stones out of place. To help keep a problem from worsening, seal any gaps in concrete with concrete-crack filler.

·         Secure loose pavers or patio stones. If the damage is extensive, consider having a landscape contractor dig up and reset the stones.

  • Add mulch. Once you’ve created a neat border, a layer of wood chip mulch adds to the clean look where lawn is not growing. It help keep weeds down, and the bright color smooths out any uneven soil surface and gives your landscaping a professional touch.
  • Prune shrubs and trees.
    • Look for dead and damaged limbs to prune first.
    • “Skirt” trees by pruning around the base. Remove branches within 6 inches of the ground.
    • Prune any plant that is touching the house to within 8 – 12 inches to prevent chipped paint, mold and bug infestations. Also, prune branches that are hanging low over a walkway or the roof, or block a window.
    • It’s best to prune evergreens and hedges early, when they begin new growth. Pruning most fruit trees is best in the winter when they are dormant. Do some pruning to shape and strengthen mature trees in the spring and summer.


Set Up a Maintenance Schedule

Big changes or even year-round maintenance can be a lot of work. If you have children of any age, assign chores that let them help in any way their age dictates. Working together in the yard can be a great family activity and give your children skills that will stay with them for a lifetime. Everyone in the family will enjoy the yard more if they participate in taking care of it. Set up a schedule that works for all family members.


Check Your Mower and String Trimmer

Before your grass starts growing, start your gas mower and string trimmer to make sure they’re running well. If you didn’t winterize the gear, don’t start the mower or trimmer with stale gas in them. Remove the gasoline from each tank using a turkey baster. Then fill tanks with fresh fuel and stabilizer. Now test your tools. If any problems occur, take the equipment to the service center now, before they get overloaded with repairs.


Set your sprinkler system for consistent watering. The amount of rainfall you usually get and the character of your soil will determine how often to water. Check with a local expert for the best advice. Don’t forget the surrounding plants. Give your system a test run before you actually need to use it. Schedule or make repairs as needed.


Get Your Lawn Ready

Keeping your lawn thriving throughout the summer depends in large measure on what you do during the spring. Getting started early in the year helps to develop a lawn that’s resistant to the effects of the sun, weeds, pests and heavy foot traffic.

  • Reseed bare patches. This should be done prior to peak growing season, preferably in the fall or early spring. Till the soil and spread the seed evenly across the bare spot. Water the area as you normally would
  • Aerate your lawn to promote the healthy formation of the root system. Many experts suggest aerating your lawn every 1 to 3 years, but high-traffic areas may require more frequent attention. Aeration allows the grass to breathe, and also enables water and nutrients to reach the root system more efficiently. Do it in the autumn if your lawn is a cool-season grass, like bluegrass or ryegrass. If you live where warm-season grasses thrive, aerate in early spring.
  • Rake your lawn to remove thatch and other debris. Go over your lawn from end to end with a rake to remove thatch or decaying plant material that has accumulated. A thick layer of thatch can block sunlight and prevent water from reaching deep down to the roots.
  • Fertilize your lawn according to the type of grass you have. Apply fertilizer at least twice a year during the peak growing seasons of your lawn. Scale back fertilizing about 30 days before the highest summer temperatures hit.
    • Cool-season grasses should be fertilized during early spring and at the onset of fall. Use fertilizer with higher nitrogen concentrations when fertilizing in autumn to ensure the survival of the grass.
    • Warm-season grasses flourish during the summer months. A nitrogen-rich fertilizer should be spread in the spring, when the lawn shows signs of coming back to life. Fertilize again in late summer.
    • Bags of fertilizer display three numbers separated by hyphens. The numbers refer to the ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), in that order. A soil test will let you know what nutrients your soil is lacking.
    • Bagged fertilizer is best distributed with a spreader set to release the right amount.


Start a flower bed. Designate at least one small corner of your yard to grow flowers. Plant a variety of annuals and perennials. The colors and fragrances of a flower bed add beauty to your home. Consult a gardening expert to see what types of flowers grow best in your climate.

  • Prepare flowerbeds by enriching the soil with organic matter.
  • Spread about 3 inches of compost across the surface; if the soil is sandy, work it in a little. Compost keep weeds down, the soil at a constant temperature, and moisture around the plants.


Plant a vegetable garden. It’s becoming popular to grow crops right in your backyards. Decide what you’d like to eat fresh—beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, squash—and make sure the soil is thoroughly aerated and suitable to grow vegetables. Your own small patches of vegetables give your yard practical appeal, while providing you and your family with homegrown food to enjoy all summer long.


Control Pests

Aphids and garden pests love spring growth. If you see curled or poorly formed leaves on certain plants and trees, such as roses, citrus, or fruit trees, it is a likely sign of aphids. To get rid of them, wash plants frequently with a strong jet of water, blasting the aphids from the foliage. Spraying with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can help, too. A more natural measure is to release ladybugs at dusk this time of year. Pull snails and slugs out of your garden by hand or, if necessary, bait them.


Outdoor Living Space

Don’t forget the touches that can turn your backyard into a place for fun with family and friends. Watch for sales in the spring or fall, and purchase water-resistant furniture for your deck or patio. Even a few paving stones could support a picnic table, so meals can be enjoyed outdoors in good weather. To entice your kids or grandkids outdoors, a portable or installed basketball hoop, a badminton net, tennis rackets, or even a sandbox with some toy trucks could do the trick. With some thought and elbow grease, your yard can feel like part of your home.

Staying Organized For Peace and Profit

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Your taxes are done and on their way to the IRS, but there are still piles of forms and documents used in the process all over your desk. You vow—as you do every year—that next year you’ll be more organized, to make both the tax preparation and the clean-up easier. But where to start to make that actually happen?


Benefits of Decluttering and Organizing

Chances are that if your tax-related paperwork isn’t organized, there are other areas of you home that could use some attention, too. There are at least 2 big benefits to keeping all of your living and working areas organized and clutter-free.

  1. Peace of mind: When everything is finally in an accessible yet out-of-the-way space, we feel less stress. We’re calmer, have clearer minds and more positive energy. We feel healthier and happier living in a beautiful, uncluttered space.
  2. Profit: Besides improving the way we feel, de-cluttering can actually be profitable.
  • There are lots of ways to sell the things you’ve decided you don’t really need, either online or at a yard sale. Someone else probably needs or wants what you have.
  • If you donate usable clothing or household items to a charity, get a receipt and attach a detailed list of what was donated. Enter your items into an app like TurboTax – It’s Deductible. It will estimate the value of your items, add up the total and enter it on your tax forms. When tax-related documents or receipts come into your hands, immediately file them or scan them into your computer. When you do your taxes next year, everything you need will all be in one place, which and could result in a higher refund received sooner.
  • If you’re keeping on top of clutter, you are developing a habit that will come in handy when you are ready to sell your home and move. You will get more for your decluttered house, and because you’ve gotten rid of so many things, you will pay less for your move.


The universal key is to first tackle the clutter and then adopt best practices to keep it from accumulating again. There are lots of so-called decluttering and organizing experts. You can find many, many books on the subject. There are also people trying to sell you the “perfect storage solutions to organize stuff that you keep. However, there are a few basics everyone can apply that have wide-spread acceptance and proof of value.


Methods to Declutter Your House and Keep It that Way:

Start small. Pick a small space, cabinet or drawer. Set a timer for 30 minutes and work on just that space. Once you get started, you might want to keep going, but don’t stop until the time for that day is up.


To help with whatever space you are tackling, keep 3 boxes close by: one for things you want to keep, one for things you want to sell or donate and one for things you are going to bravely throw away. Unless it’s already where you want it to be, assign each item to a box.


Here are some tips to help you make those difficult decisions:

  • Take a photo. You can keep the memory of the item without keeping the item, itself.
  • Think “Would I replace this item if my house burned down?”
  • Ask yourself
    • What’s the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of this?
    • Could I rent, buy or borrow this item if I need it in the future?
    • Is the storage space taken up by this item really worth it?
  • Stay in one room; put out-of-place stuff in a container and move it to its place when you are done for the day.
  • Digitize your piles of paper. When you get something new you want to save, scan it and save it on your computer.


No-brainer things to get rid of: Expired makeup & medicine, 3-year-old spices, old magazines (they’re online), duplicate kitchen tools, manuals for appliances (also online), orphan sox or earrings, old technology and cords, clothes you haven’t worn in more than a year, more than 3 decorative pillows on your bed or couch, storage containers with no lids.


How to Stay Organized:

  • Keep the “one in, one out” promise. When you buy something new, get rid of the old one.
  • Don’t wait to put things away; make the choice to keep it or trash it; then file or put it in its place NOW.
  • Make a habit of a tidy-up time every day.
  • Schedule a big de-clutter at least twice a year.
  • Group similar items into separate cubbies or shelves: cleaning products, toys, books. DVDs, etc.
  • Buy a label maker; label drawers and cupboards with what’s in them.
  • Do most of your meal prep for the week on one day.


It Just Looks Better If you….

  • Decorate minimally with objects that are beautiful, meaningful & necessary.
  • Keep surfaces clear. Have a specific place to put stuff that usually accumulates there; don’t use your desk top for storage.
  • Unclutter the front of your fridge.
  • Use baskets for essential clutter like toys, boots and gloves.
  • Use under-the-bed storage.
  • Use vertical spaces for storage by attaching hooks, shelving and racks to walls and doors.
  • Hang a metal fruit basket on a shower curtain rod to hold bath toys.
  • We’re sure you can think of lots more ideas, or find them on Pinterest!


If you can’t make yourself do it or you just don’t have the time, it might be worth it to hire someone who will come to your home do it for you. Lots of people wouldn’t have it any other way. Either way, everyone agrees that being organized and clutter-free is a huge life-improvement.



Tax Tips: Things to Think About When Filing Your Taxes

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Tax Tips: Things to Think About When Filing Your Taxes


Some tax-preparation tips can help you lower your taxes. Some help you save time and money when preparing your tax return. Others can help you avoid costly penalties and interest on both federal and state taxes. The goal is to lower your stress while paying less money in taxes.



It’s easier to take the standard deduction, but you may lower your taxes quite a bit if you itemize, especially if you are self-employed, own a home or live in a high-tax area. It’s worth the time and headache if you think your qualified expenses will add up to more than the 2018 standard deduction of $13,000 for married couples filing jointly and $6,500 for single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately. The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on 2018 returns begins with incomes of $266,700 or more ($320,000 for married couples filing jointly).*


Common deductions include mortgage interest and charitable donations. You can also deduct the portion of your medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for 2017 and 2018.  Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses for the year must exceeds 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.*


Home ownership deductions: Homeowners should check to see if they qualify for these money-saving tax deductions, per the new 2018 tax laws*:

  • Mortgage Interest: The interest on a new mortgage of up to $750,000 can be deducted. Existing mortgages have been grandfathered in with the old limit of up to a $1 million mortgage.
  • Property Tax + State and Local Taxes: Starting this year, you can only take a total deduction or combined limit of $10,000 on property, state and local taxes on your federal return.
  • Home Equity Loan Interest: Interest on home equity loans is deductible only if the loan was used for the purpose of improving the residence, effective through the end of 2025, including existing home equity loans.
  • Home Sale Gain Exclusion: You are allowed to potentially exclude from federal income tax up to $500,000 of gain from a qualified home sale, if you are married filing jointly.
  • Home Office Deduction: If you use a portion of your home exclusively as an office, you can write off a percentage of the expenses based on the square footage of the office compared to the total area of the house.


Contribute the maximum to your retirement accounts: If you haven’t already fully-funded your retirement accounts for 2018, you can do so by April 15, 2019. You have until then to make tax free contributions to a traditional IRA. For 2018, the maximum IRA contribution you can make is $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older). For self-employed persons, the maximum annual addition to SEPs and Keoghs for 2018 is $55,000.




Make a last-minute estimated tax payment: If you didn’t pay enough to the IRS during the year, you may have a big tax bill, and you might owe significant interest and penalties, on top of taxes.

  • You must pay 100% of last year’s tax liability or 90% of this year’s tax or you will owe an underpayment penalty.
  • If you make an estimated payment by January 15, you can erase any penalty for the fourth quarter, but you still could owe an underpayment penalty for earlier quarters, if you did not send in any estimated payments then.
  • Try not to overpay by too much. It’s better to owe the government a little rather than to expect a refund.


Check IRA distributions: You must start making regular minimum distributions from your traditional IRA by the April 1 following the year in which you reach age 70 ½. Failing to take out enough triggers these penalties:

  • A 50 percent excise tax on the amount you should have withdrawn based on your age, your life expectancy, and the amount in the account at the beginning of the year.
  • After that, annual withdrawals must be made by December 31 to avoid the penalty.


Provide taxpayer IDs on your tax return: Taxpayer Identification Numbers (usually Social Security Numbers) for you, your children and other dependents must on your return. Otherwise, the IRS will deny any dependent credits that you might be due and delay processing your return. If you are divorced, only one of you can claim your children as dependents. The $2,000 per child tax credit begins to phase out at $400,000 for married couples filing jointly and at $200,000 for heads of households.


File and pay on time: If you can’t finish your return on time, be sure you file Form 4868 by April 15, 2019. This gives you a six-month extension of the filing deadline until October 15, 2019. On the form, you need to make a reasonable estimate of your tax liability for 2018 and pay any balance due with your request. If you file and pay late without an extension, the IRS can charge a late-filing penalty of 4.5 percent per month of the tax owed and a late-payment penalty of 0.5 percent a month of the tax due. The maximum late filing penalty is 22.5 percent, and the late-payment penalty tops out at 25 percent. By filing Form 4868, you stop the clock running on the costly late-filing penalty.




It’s not too late to organize what you will need to prepare your tax returns. You may discover some forgotten deductions in the process. Some of the documentation you will need includes last year’s tax return, this year’s W-2s and 1099s, receipts, your children’s Social Security Numbers, and anything related to self-employment income.


Tips to help you get started:

  • Print out a tax checklist to help you gather all the tax documents you’ll need to complete your tax return.
  • Put in one file all the related tax information that came in the mail in January, such as W-2s, 1099s and mortgage interest statements. Be careful not to throw out any tax-related documents you might need.
  • Collect and sort receipts and information that you have kept during the year. Group similar documents together. Having this of information at your fingertips will save you from another search through your files.
  • If you don’t know the price you paid for any stocks or funds you have sold, call your broker before you start to prepare your tax return.
  • Compile the details on income from rental properties.
  • Be sure you have all the tax forms you will need. You can view and download a large catalog of forms and publications at the Internal Revenue Service Web site, or have them sent to you by mail. The IRS also will refer you to a Web site that lists sites where you will find state forms and publications.




There are three main ways to file your taxes:

  1. Manually, by filling out a form 1040 according to instructions provided by the IRS and then mailing it to the IRS, along with any payments you owe.
  2. Software programs or the website of a service like TurboTax or H&R Block. The service walks you through a series of questions, fills out your 1040, and (if you choose) files it electronically for you.
  3. Professional help from an accountant or tax preparer, who will work with you to maximize your refund and fill out your tax return on your behalf.


The Manual option is free. Software programs vary in price, but they’re still less expensive than hiring a professional. Some programs now offer free filing if your return is simple enough. The average cost of hiring a professional to prepare your tax return is about $275 for anything other than the simplest tax situation. Even with help, you could feel like you already did most of the work just by assembling the information an accountant will need. The IRS has a Help Line you can call, but you should be prepared to be on hold and you may not reach the person who can answer your question.


*Contact a tax professional about your specific circumstance to find out more details about the tax benefits of home ownership and other 2018 changes to the tax laws that might affect how you prepare your taxes. The 2018 tax law could mean that itemizing deductions might not be your best tax strategy. To see a list of the tax items for tax year 2018 of greatest interest to most taxpayers, go to https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/in-2018-some-tax-benefits-increase-slightly-due-to-inflation-adjustments-others-unchanged

How To Protect Your Information

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All of us are aware of how rampant identity theft is. We might even think we are doing everything possible to prevent it. How can you know if your personal information has been taken? Unfortunately, you can probably assume that it was. Cyberattacks happen all the time. Because protecting all types of information about yourself online can safeguard your identity, your assets and your credit score, we’re sharing a few tips you may not have considered.


Your personal information, including your email address, phone number, Social Security number and browsing history, is worth a lot of money to both legitimate businesses and criminals. Companies want to know as much about you as possible so they can sell you more products and services. Criminals can use your information to steal from you in a number of ways. The more you know about how they can do this, the more you can do to protect your valuable personal information.


Follow Password Tips

Use strong, creative passwords, especially on sites that store sensitive information. Try to be unpredictable. Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words. The longer your password, the harder it is to hack. Use at least 10 characters. One technique is to think of a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to go to the Grand Canyon with you!” could become 1W2G2tGcwU!.  Don’t use the same password for multiple sites, and never use your Social Security number as a username or password.


Don’t share passwords on the phone, in texts or by email. Legitimate companies will not send you messages asking for your password. If you get one, it’s probably a scam. Keep your passwords in a secure place, out of plain sight.

Lie when setting up password security questions. “What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “In what city were you born?” are common questions websites may ask you to answer to supposedly keep your account safe. In reality, true answers can easily be found by doing a little Internet research. Keep your “lies” with your password so you won’t forget them.


Use a password manager like 1Password or LastPass. These sites create a unique password for each website you visit and store them in a database protected by a master password that you create. Password managers reduce the risk of reused passwords or those that are easy to decode. A password manager can eliminate the dilemma of not being able to create or remember so many unique passwords.


Use two-factor authentication. Then, when you log into a site, you will also need to enter a special code that the site texts to your phone. Some services require it each time you log in, others just when you’re using a new device or web browser. Some people think two-factor authentication is too time consuming, but if a site offers this additional security feature, it could be wise to enable it.

Secure Your Social Security Number

Think twice about sharing your social security number with anyone, unless it’s your bank, a credit bureau, a company that wants to do a background check on you or some other entity that has to report to the IRS. If someone gets their hands on it and has information such your birth date and address they can steal your identity and take out credit cards and pile up other debt in your name.


If asked for your Social Security Number, ask if you can use a different kind of identification. If they say “No,” ask other questions, like:

  • why they need it
  • how it will be used
  • how they will protect it
  • what happens if you don’t share the number


Sometimes a business will not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide your number. They may need your SSN so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service. Your employer and financial institutions have to have your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes.

Be selective about sharing even the last 4 digits of your Social Security number. The last four are often used by banks and other institutions to reset your password for access to your account. If someone has the last four digits and your birth place, it’s a lot easier to guess the entire number. That’s because the first three are determined by where you, or your parents, applied for your SSN. And the second set of two are the group number, which is assigned to all numbers given out at a certain time in your geographic area. So a determined identity thief with some computing power could hack it given time.


Random Tips

  • Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you initiated the contact and know who you’re dealing with.
  • Use encryption software that scrambles information you send. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted.
  • Only give personal information over secure websites. Look for “https” at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure).
  • Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers on publicly accessible sites. Don’t fill out your social media profile.
  • Make sure only friends can see what you’re doing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Go to Settings and ensure you’re protecting your privacy as much as you can. Think before you post!
  • Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. Install security patches for your operating system and other programs.
  • Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Doing that could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures passwords or other information.
  • When using a public wireless network, ensure your information will be protected. Only use a secure wireless network so that all the information you send is protected.
  • Don’t use an automatic login that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. If your laptop is stolen, it will be harder for a thief to get at personal information.
  • Enable private browsing if you don’t want anyone with physical access to your computer to see where you’re hanging out online. It deletes cookies, temporary internet files and browsing history.
  • Back up important files and your tax returns onto a removable disc or a back-up drive, and store it in a safe place. If your computer is compromised, you’ll still have access to your files.

Safely Dispose of Personal Information

Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information stored on it. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. Before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.