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Take Fantastic Fall Photos

It’s obvious why fall is one of the best seasons for photography—it’s one of the times of year that nature is at its most colorful, and you (typically) don’t have to worry about combating scorching heat or freezing temperatures.

But in order to make the most of your autumn photography session, you’ll need to keep these few tips in mind.

  • Leaves are gone almost as quickly as they change, so try to find and scout your location the day of, or, no more than one day in advance.
  • Unless you’re really into the classic feet in the leaves picture, try to mix it up your session with a few landscape shots, or consider capturing aspects of the season that people often forget, like contrasting blue sky or wildlife.
  • Use the sun to your advantage. Fall is a great time for back-lit shots, as the sun will be peeking through the breaks in the trees. Also keep in mind what time the sun is setting, since it will be earlier than it was during summer.
  • Instead of focusing just on the leaves, seek out other tiny details, like a bird nesting or a squirrel gathering nuts—this will keep your photos from looking too similar.
  • Shooting with a cell phone? Don’t worry if the colors aren’t popping as much as they do in-person. You can always fix coloring on your phone or computer afterward.

9 Home Repairs You Can Count On (and When to Expect Them)

If you have ever purchased a home, you know that saving for that down payment is tedious. After budgeting and making financial sacrifices, the last thing any new homeowner wants to worry about is expensive home repairs. But unless you are prepared to ask the right questions of the previous homeowner, you may need to stick to the dreaded budget for longer than you think.

Here is what you need to know about common home repairs before you buy.

Roof (every 30 years)
The life expectancy of an asphalt shingle roof (the most common type in America) is about 30 years, with the average roof replacement costing around $12,000—although more accurate estimates are based on size, pitch (slope), and surface material. More high-end roof materials include slate, sheet metal, ceramic, and, of course, solar panels, all with varying life expectancies.

Windows (every 30 to 50 years)
When it comes to windows, wood casement windows have a longer life expectancy than aluminum casement windows, averaging about 50 years (wood) versus 30 years (aluminum). Obviously, the number and quality of the windows will greatly affect the replacement cost, should it be necessary. And for a better return on your investment, look for windows that are ENERGY STAR qualified. To get the most of existing windows, or when replacing windows, go to www.energy.gov for more information.

Gutters (every 30 years)
Gutters and downspouts are estimated to last for about 30 years; however, inefficient or improperly installed gutters can lead to a backup of water or ice, and can damage roofs, siding, and even a home’s foundation. Any standing water near the drainage point of a downspout may indicate improper installation, and you should ask the previous homeowner how long this has been occurring.

Central Air (15 years)
Much like a furnace, the lifespan and efficiency of a home’s central air conditioning depends on the relation of the size of the unit to the home. Several factors come into play when choosing the right unit for a home, such as the amount of wall and attic insulation, the efficiency and placement of your windows and doors, and the orientation of your home to the sun.

Furnace/HVAC (15 years)
A furnace replacement is on the mid-to-higher end of the home repair spectrum. Proper maintenance plays a big part in the lifetime of a HVAC system, so be sure to ask the previous homeowners about their upkeep. If you do need to purchase a new system, make sure you do your research, and understand the term annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), which measures how efficiently a furnace converts gas into heating energy.

Hot Water Heater (13 to 14 years)
A water heater replacement is one of the most common household repairs, considering their life expectancy is about 13 to 14 years for a gas and an electric unit, respectively. It is not difficult to determine when you need to replace your water heater, as a decrease in water temperature will dictate the replacement.

Carpet or Vinyl Flooring (11 years, 30 years)
Interior projects, like flooring replacement, are often for aesthetic purposes rather than need-based replacements. But if you are considering a home with carpet, you should know that the lifetime of a carpet is only about 11 years. When considering an update, know that vinyl or tile flooring usually has about a 30-year life expectancy.

Hardwood Flooring (100 years)
Real hardwood floors have the longest life expectancy—up to 100 years—but may require refinishing to keep them looking new. Since there are many variations of wood flooring, it would be wise to do some research into which type best fits your family’s needs. Some flooring may be more sensitive to moisture or prone to scratching, and therefore require more maintenance.

Fireplace (100 years)
If you’re considering a home with a fireplace, you should know that, while fireplaces look nice and create relaxing environments, there is some very serious maintenance required to ensure safety. Although the lifetime of a wood burning fireplace is around 100 years, annual maintenance is still required. You should also consider the amount of homeowners insurance coverage required for a home with a fireplace.

By considering these important and often costly parts of your home, and asking questions about them beforehand, you will feel more confident in your purchasing decision, and you’ll be more likely to avoid headaches during the home inspection process. And once the home is finally yours, use the home maintenance schedule to protect your investment and get the maximum life out of your home.

Don’t Fall into Fall

Vacation season is coming to an end and it’s time for one of the busiest times of year—fall. With holidays around the corner and back to school for kids, budgeting your time accordingly is key in having a successful season.

Sleep schedule

With more on your plate than usual, you may have to give yourself enough time in the morning and at night. If that means  waking up a half an hour earlier or later each day, be sure to adjust your sleep schedule accordingly. If you have kids, you may need that extra time in the morning to pack lunches for them and maybe yourself! These are things you should start planning out as summer begins to come to an end.

Have a planner

Whether it’s a calendar on your phone, an app, or a written planner, make sure to have some visual form of your day-to-day  schedule. Do not rely solely on memory—you are bound to forget something, so why leave room for error when you don’t have to.

Plan in advance

Don’t wing it, stay ahead of the game by starting to plan out fall before the summer ends. Don’t put off thanksgiving plans until the week before, or realize you need a babysitter the day school begins. You can easily stay on top of everything that will be coming your way by writing things down and planning things out a month in advance, if possible, so there are no surprises and mishaps. And, if you do need to adjust your schedule, you have enough time to do so.

Back to school

If you have kids heading back to school, you are now working around your schedule and theirs. There is bound to be overlap, which is why it’s so important to plan in advance, maybe get to sleep earlier, or have an earlier start.


Fall season also means flu season, and with a busy schedule, it’s easy to forget the little things that keep you healthy. Make sure you are drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and leaving enough time for a self-care. Stick to your fitness routine, even if you must make adjustments to fit your new schedule, make sure a good sweat session is still a part of it!

As the seasons change, we often change with them. Make this fall, and every fall, an easy adjustment by planning out a schedule to prep for the fast-paced season ahead.

Have S’more Fun with a Campfire-Themed Party

Camping out has been a traditional summer event for generations, but there’s no need for your friends and family to pack up and get lost in the wilderness—you can have a campfire party in your own backyard! With these fun party ideas, you will have your guests will have s’more fun!


Fire up your appetite:

  • The graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow combo is always a classic, but try throwing in some new ingredients like peanut butter, caramel, bacon, or even fruit for a new twist on an old favorite.
  • Burgers and hot dogs are obvious must-haves for a camping party. Keep your meat temperature preferences organized by writing them on the buns in ketchup or mustard.
  • Try out some sweet-and-salty trail mix treats that everyone will love.
Campfire-Themed Party Signs

Follow these tips and tricks to light up your party:

  • A bonfire is a great highlight for any camping party, but safety should always be the top priority.
  • Build a fort out of objects you have around the house or find outside.

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Tips for Baking, Packing, and Sending Cookies to Troops

Looking for a way to say thank you to our military personnel? Shipping some homemade cookies to a troop is always a great way to show you care! However, since your cookies will be traveling long distances, there is some important information you need to know about how to bake and pack them so they survive the trip.

Baking tips.

  • To avoid mold, use white sugar instead of brown sugar, honey, molasses, or corn syrup. Soft or undercooked cookies are also likely to get moldy on the longer trips.
  • Refrain from sending foods containing chocolate, since there is the possibility that they could melt.
  • Dense and dry baked goods, like biscotti, nut bars, shortbread, and gingersnaps, ship the best.
  • Cookies with fruit stay moist because of the fruit.
  • Don’t send cookies with custards, icings, or special toppings—they’ll spoil easily.

Packing tips.

  • Pack your cookies in metal food tins, or in plastic boxes or bags that seal tightly. Do not use containers that may break, like glass.
  • Line the container with parchment paper, and add parchment paper in between your cookie layers as well.
  • Be generous with your packing material, which can be Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, plastic grocery bags, or shredded paper.
  • Put your packing material along the bottom of your box, then place your cookie container on that layer, and surround the remaining space with the rest. Once the box is full, shake it to ensure that nothing is moving. Add more packing if necessary, especially in the corners.
  • Make sure to seal your box securely with packing tape.

Sending tips.

  • The United States Postal Service is the only mail service allowed to send packages to stationed troops. International rates do not apply to military mail delivery. Use a USPS Priority APO/FPO/DPO box to ship items overseas.
  • Never send homemade goods to soldiers you don’t personally know. If you plan to send homemade cookies or treats, you must have the name and address of an individual soldier. Troops are instructed to throw away homemade food from people they don’t know. If you don’t know anyone and really would like to help out, do an online search for groups that you can join and become a volunteer baker for participating troops.
  • The address should be printed clearly and readable from over a foot away. Cover the label with clear tape.
  • Make sure your package is labeled “Fragile” and  “Perishable Food.”
  • You will need to fill out the US customs form PS 2976-A.