Tag Archives: fall

Tips for Getting Lit Up Before the Dark Days Arrive

October is here, Halloween is fast approaching, and daylight savings will end November 4th. Yep, it’s time to look at lighting! Use the tips below to make sure your lighting is adding to your home’s security, both inside and outside your home.

Inside your home
With a home automation system, you can put your lights on timers so they turn on when it starts to get dark, even if your house is empty. There are two safety reasons for having your lights turn on automatically.

  1. The lights turning on all of a sudden makes it look like someone’s home, to help deter burglars.
  2. When the lights are already on, you or your kids can see when first coming in the front door, reducing the risk of trips or falls in the dark.

Also take a walk around as dusk falls to evaluate your lighting needs. Are there dark corners or stairs that would be safer with better lighting? Are there nightlights for anyone who gets up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water during the night? Fix any problems spots you find, to decrease the chance of accidents.

Outside your home
Good lighting outside will also help deter burglars and reduce accidents, but it’s a little trickier because you’ll have to experience the dark spots to know where you need to make adjustments. Do your assessment when it’s dark and check for the following:

  • Are sidewalks and pathways clearly lit, for your family, but also for visitors?
  • Is the path to your shop or detached garage clearly lit?
  • Are there dark areas by doorways or windows where someone could hide while breaking in?

As you’re improving your outdoor lighting, keep in mind these three tips so your yard doesn’t end up looking like a brightly lit runway:

  1. Use motion sensors to provide light only when and where needed. Perhaps a soft light is enough most of the time, but a motion sensor can turn on a brighter light as someone approaches the house.
  2. Be wary of really bright lights that shine like a spotlight because they will also create dark shadows—and you want to avoid that.
  3. Be a good neighbor and make sure your lights are not annoying or pointing into anyone else’s yard.

And now? Now let the darkness come. You’re ready…

Preparing for the Flu Season in the Wake of a Deadly One

“Flu season deaths top 80,000 last year” read the headline that caught my eye last week. Last year was the deadliest flu season since 1976, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, with 80,000 Americans dying from the flu and flu complications during the winter of 2017-2018.

It was an unusual flu season for other reasons too, according to the CDC. We had a record-breaking 900,000 hospitalizations due to the flu, and we had three weeks during which the entire country was affected by the flu at a high level as compared to the usual region-by-region activity of the virus.

Why was the flu season so bad?
Why was it such a deadly flu season? According to one source, the flu season was so bad for a combination of reasons:

  • The flu vaccine used was less effective.
  • The strains of flu were stronger and deadlier.
  • The number of sick people who passed along the flu to others was higher.

Although we can use hindsight to see why last year was so deadly, we can’t know what the next flu season will bring, so we must be prepared, to keep ourselves and our loved ones protected.

The flu can hurt us financially too
As we’ve written before, the consequences of the flu go beyond being sick or even hospitalized. Many of us are also negatively impacted when kids miss school and parents must stay home from work to care for them. Many of those parents are staying home without pay. And when you’re talking about millions of school days missed and 22% of those days uncompensated for the parents who had to take time off either to care for their children or because they were sick, you can see a huge financial impact due to the flu.

What can you do to prepare for this year’s flu season?
Experts say to assume this year’s flu season will be as bad as last year’s, and they recommend getting a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, getting a flu shot does not mean you won’t get the flu. So in addition to getting your flu shot, you should also follow this advice to minimize your risk:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, and take good care of yourself. This strengthens your immune system. (Plus it’s plain old commonsense for healthy living!)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The flu virus can survive 24 hours on hard surfaces and you won’t know if someone sick has touched that gas pump handle or ATM machine before you got there.

Also go to the CDC website to learn more about the flu vaccine and prevention.

To read about all those deaths from an illness we consider to be a “normal” one is heartbreaking. Let’s try to prevent another deadly year as we take steps to protect ourselves knowing a new flu season is coming.

Aggressive Driving: Not Worth the Risk!

What’s it like to be hauling three horses in a trailer on winding, hilly roads, while drivers aggressively pass you and honk in anger as they fly by? Kind of scary, to be honest! And that’s what I experienced this past week while driving to and from a beach trip with friends and horses.

I was shocked at just how rude and aggressive the other drivers were, especially given that I was driving the speed limit and only slowing down on curves, and because I was obviously towing a horse trailer full of live animals, not a boat or other inanimate object. So I got curious: Are drivers getting more aggressive, or is it my imagination?

It’s not my imagination. Nor is it unique to my state or even the country I live in. It turns out that aggressive driving is on the increase all over the world, and people are dying as a result.

What is aggressive driving?
Aggressive driving is not the same as road rage. Aggressive driving is defined as intentional driving behavior that puts the driver (and others on the road) at risk. While road rage is usually the result of some kind of altercation, aggressive driving is done intentionally. This is a key difference because people who are aggressive drivers are doing so on purpose.

Aggressive driving includes:

  • Speeding, whether that means driving faster than the posted speed limit or too fast for the weather or road conditions
  • Frequently changing lanes or weaving in and out of traffic
  • Running red lights or stop signs
  • Tailgating
  • Failing to yield the right of way
  • Not letting other drivers merge
  • Cutting off other drivers
  • Passing on the right
  • Passing on the shoulder of the road
  • Not using turn signals when changing lanes
  • Honking your horn
  • Flashing headlights
  • Yelling and gesturing at other drivers to make it clear just how pissed off you are

Aggressive driving is dangerous!
If you don’t think driving aggressively is a big deal, take a look at these numbers that prove otherwise:

How to put a stop to aggressive driving
Once you see those numbers, I hope you’ll agree that driving aggressively is simply not worth the risk. So what can we do about it?

If you’re the one driving aggressively, start by recognizing and admitting to your behavior. You’re not going to get anywhere any faster by driving that way, and you are putting yourself and any passengers at risk. Try to relax and take a deep breath. Listen to soothing music or an audiobook that will take your mind off your frustrations. Recognize when you’re getting in the car angry, such as after a bad day at work. You want to make it home safely, right? And you want everyone else to make it home safely too, I’m sure. So dial it back.

What if you’re driving safely but you’re on the receiving end of the dangers of an aggressive driver? Do not start driving like them or trying to get back at them. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt and stay clear of them.

Just because a behavior has become the new normal does not mean we have to behave that way. We can put safety and security first. As for me, I’m ordering “Caution Horses” stickers for the back of my trailer…and taking a lot of deep breaths on my next road trip with those live animals in tow.

6 School Safety Tips to Protect Your Teens and College Kids from Theft

Your teens are heading back to school, and they’ll be even more distracted than they were this summer because, you know, teenagers. That means now is the time to review some basic school safety tips, before they get wrapped up in classes and homework and sports—and don’t have time to listen. OK, they might not listen anyway, but you can at least try while they have time.

Last time, we went over cyber safety tips. This time, we offer six school safety tips designed to help your teen not to become a victim of theft. As we’ve done before, we’ve written it directly to your teen…so maybe have them read it, and we’ll nag them for you:

  1. If you don’t want to lose it, leave it at home
    Leave anything you don’t want stolen at home. Yes, your new jacket is to be admired and you want your iPod near, but taking them to school means losing them to theft or forgetfulness.
  2. Lock the car and keep valuables out of sight
    Just as you would when parking your car in any public area, hide anything of value under the car seat or in the trunk of your car if you drive to school—or carpool with a friend. If you leave a purse, backpack, iPod or some other tempting thing in plain sight, you invite a break-in.
  3. Lock your locker
    It sounds like commonsense, right? But my own kids confessed to leaving their lockers unlocked for a whole list of reasons. Sometimes it was because they forgot the combination. Other times it was a sticky lock they didn’t want to mess with during the short time between classes. Or there was the time one of them was sharing a locker with a friend. Your locker has a lock for a reason. Use it.
  4. Lock your gym locker
    When it comes to the gym locker, kids assume they’re coming back soon, so why bother? When one of my kids was in high school, she told me phones were stolen from gym lockers on a regular basis. As with the advice above, it locks for a reason. Lock it.
  5. Do a double-check before leaving the classroom
    When my youngest was still in high school, she suggested this safety tip because forgetting a jacket, purse, cellphone, charger or other piece of property can mean it disappears forever. Teens are distracted anyway, but even more so when in class trying to keep up with the lessons and homework, and then thinking about where they need to be next. If they can get into the habit of doing a double-check before leaving a room, that’s a safety habit they can use anywhere, even when out on their own.

Personal safety and security don’t just happen except through luck. And who wants to trust to luck? Instill good habits in your teens and college students now, and those habits might just stick into adulthood. Now that’s a lesson learned!

8 Cyber and Cellphone Safety Tips for Teens, College Students—and Parents

School is starting! That puts high school and college students back into the busy-ness of the academic year, as well as back into the social media fray. Sure, they spent an inordinate amount of time on their phones all summer long, but being back in school gives them even more reasons for screen time.

And that means it’s time to review some cyber and cellphone safety tips for teenagers and young adults. If you’re the parent of a high school or college student, read through this advice as well, so you’re better informed about the dangers your kids face.

#1 Keep some things to yourself. You don’t have to share every mood swing, angry moment, argument, thought or opinion. Nor do you have to post every single photo. When it comes to sharing, less is better. That applies to news about yourself too, including being home alone or going on a trip. You are entitled to your privacy, and sharing less helps to protect it.

#2 Remember that everything you do is going to become part of the public record.  Once it’s on the Internet, it’s not going away. Every email, message, post, tweet, like, share and photo might seem temporary because you’re not likely to see it again any time soon, but it could come back to haunt you later.

#3 Employers can access Facebook too, and they do. About 70% of employers will look at a Facebook profile when considering a job candidate. What will they see on your Facebook page? If it’s something you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see, it’s probably something you shouldn’t post. This could apply when you’re applying to internships too.

#4 Practice self control. Technology can make that hard to do, because we live so in the moment these days, but you can take the higher road. Put your phone away until you calm down. Choose not to react or respond. Talk to someone instead.

#5 Follow the same rules of good behavior online that you do offline. Don’t gossip, be mean, or spread rumors. If you wouldn’t do it in person or say it to someone’s face, you probably shouldn’t be doing it or saying it while hiding behind the supposed anonymity of a screen.

#6 Watch your step. You’re leaving a trail of everywhere you go. Every website you visit and link you click provides data that is recorded somewhere. Even if you’re clearing your cache to remove the evidence from your laptop, it has already been recorded.

#7 Remember that what you’re seeing online is often not real. The perfect looking people on Instagram, the pornography, the vacation photos…be hyper aware of how those unreal images are affecting your own self-image. Experts have noticed an increase in depression among teens in recent years, and some attribute that to social media. We know of a young woman who deleted Twitter and Instagram from her phone because looking at them caused her to feel so bad about her own physical appearance.

#8 Put your phone away for a while. Teenagers are averaging nine hours per day on social media. That’s more time than most people spending sleeping in a 24-hour period. Not only is that unhealthy, it’s dangerous too. Teens are at risk when looking at their phones when so distracted while walking down the street, and obviously while texting and driving, as these horrific videos show.

The Internet and social media have changed our world, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Teens and their parents can help make it a change for the better by practicing cyber and cell phone safety, starting with these tips.

5 Steps to a Quick Home Security Inspection Before the Seasons Change

At our house, we’ve been suffering from an unusually hot and dry summer that has taken its toll on our hay field, our pastures, our horses, our garden and—in truth—us. Despite the heat, however, we are looking ahead to the fall, knowing that the rains will be back. And the question is, will we be ready?

It’s not just the time to prepare for a change in the weather, however, but also a good time to do a home security inspection before the days get shorter and everyone gets busier with the new school year and activities.

To make sure your home is secure heading into this fall, follow these tips. Also check out the resources below for checklists you can use to do a more thorough home security inspection.

  1. Start in the street
    Start your home security inspection outside of your home, looking at it from the street the way a burglar will. Make sure your home is decidedly unattractive to a burglar! Cut back bushes that offer hiding places, especially by doors and windows. This applies to your garage too. If you have a tall fence or hedge that hides your house from the street, rethink that. Try to keep a car parked in the driveway when no one is home. Make sure you have your home security system sign displayed in your hard.
  2. Check all doors and windows
    Check the locks on your doors and windows, but also check the construction. Consumer Reports has a very quick rundown on locks here, as well as good advice about doors and strike plates. Make sure all the windows lock in both closed and open positions, and that you keep them locked. When locked in the open position, make sure the opening is too small for anyone to get through. Do this same inspection on your garage and any outbuildings too.
  3. Turn on the lights
    Review your use of lighting both during the day and then again at night when it’s dark. Also compare your lighting that’s on when you’re home vs not home. Does your home look occupied when you’re gone? If not, use timers or your home automation system to make it look lived in.
  4. Take a night view
    While it’s dark, check for additional hiding places caused by shadows or poor lighting. Most break-ins happen during the day, but not all. And what might not be a hiding place in daylight could be concealed in the shadows of the night.
  5. Review your home security system
    Finally consider your home security system. Is your home security system aging? It might be time for an upgrade, especially when you want to take advantage of the home automation features now widely available. Also review where you have your video cameras set up, in case they need to be moved around.

Bonus: Use a home security checklist
If you want to go beyond our simple list (and you should!), take advantage of the many resources you can find online. Below are two home security checklists we recommend using for a more thorough home security inspection:

And to answer the question posed at the beginning about whether or not we’ll be ready for the rain, I don’t know yet! But my fingers are crossed!

Traveling for the Holidays? Be Prepared to Pinpoint Your Perfect Pet Provider

Halloween is over and while some may already be looking forward to tree-shaped cookies and the smell of gingerbread, the rest of us are thinking of turkey and cranberry sauce. Our winter holidays are a time of eating good food, seeing family and most of all…traveling.

Since 68% of U.S. households own a pet, chances are you may be leaving a critter back home this season when you travel. Before you run knocking on all your neighbors’ doors asking for their help looking after your favorite fur ball, check out these tips for finding the right pet sitter for you.

Before You Choose That Pet Sitter…

  • Start looking early. Finding a pet sitter is not a task you want to rush. This is someone who will be entering your home, caring for a furry member of your household, and taking on a lot of responsibility. Starting your search sooner rather than later can guarantee finding reliable care for Fluffy and Fido.
  • Check their services. See what the different options of sitters have to offer. Some pet care can include multiple visits during the day to feed, walk or play with your pet, while others can stay in your home so your pet isn’t alone. Many even offer to bring in your mail or water your plants while you’re away.
  • Ask around for referrals. Your perfect pet sitter may be just a question away. Friends, neighbors or even your veterinarian may know of some great pet services they’ve used in the past and can tell you about the not-so-great ones to avoid as well. If your pet has special dietary or behavioral needs, your vet may be the best resource for finding a pet sitter who will work for you.
  • Have a list of prepared questions. While searching, know which questions you’re going to ask potential sitters. These questions can be as simple as their hourly rate or how many visits they can do each day, but they can also be specifically tailored to you and your pet’s needs. The Humane Society has a helpful list of potential questions you can use if you’re not sure what to ask.

 

Preparing Your Pet Sitter…and Your Pet

  • Schedule a meet and greet. Before you leave your pet alone with your chosen sitter, introduce your furry friend to their caretaker while you’re still home. This can provide a more comfortable transition for your pet, as well as allow you to explain any special requests to the sitter while you’re face-to-face.
  • Reserve for the holidays ASAP. Many pet sitter businesses offer their services on holidays, but those days can fill up fast. Be sure to plan with your sitter well in advance if you need someone watching your pet while you’re away this holiday season.
  • Leave more than one key. Have two spare keys, one for the sitter and one for a trustworthy neighbor. If the sitter gets locked out, they have a backup, and if something happens and they can’t stop by your home, it enables your neighbor to step in and help. Also have your pet sitter and your neighbor exchange phone numbers so they both know whom to contact.
  • Show them around. Make sure to show your pet sitter your home’s safety features such as the circuit breaker or security system, in case of an emergency or just accidentally setting off the alarm.
  • Buy extra supplies. You never know what might happen while you’re traveling, especially around the winter holidays, so stock some extras that your pet may need in case you’re gone longer than expected. This could be food, medication, doggy bags, kitty litter, or even some water jugs in case of an emergency.

Wherever your travels take you this holiday season, rest assured that your furry family is safe and sound back home with a pet sitter you trust–especially if the rest of your family can’t be trusted to keep their fingers off the turkey.

Stop Blaming Ben Franklin and Focus on Getting Ready for Darker Days Instead

Daylight Saving Time ends November 5th, and most everyone will be looking for someone to blame when the sky starts getting dark an hour earlier than we’re used to. But did you know that the man who invented the bifocal glasses did not invent Daylight Saving Time?

A Short History of Daylight Saving Time (DST)
Although Ben Franklin did write an essay on using daylight hours more efficiently by getting up earlier, it was actually New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson who in 1895 first proposed setting clocks forward two hours in March and setting them two hours back in October. That idea didn’t stick, but a small town in Canada kicked things off by setting their clocks one hour forward in 1908, followed by the rest of the country and then popularized by Germany. By 1918, the United States had passed legislation to establish DST, and by the end of World War II, most European countries also followed the time change.

Time to Perform a Lighting Audit
Whether or not you agree with setting our clocks forward and backward in the middle of the night when the time changes, soon it might be dark by the time you get home from work. And if you can’t see the pathway walking up to your house, it’s probably time to reevaluate your home lighting—before the days get any shorter.

One way to check the adequacy of your home lighting is to walk up to your home in the dark as if you don’t live there. Come up the sidewalk as if you’re a guest visiting for the first time.

  • Can you see your feet, the path right below you, and the path in front of you?
  • Check your porch or your front door: Is it well-lit from the outside?
  • Are there lights on inside the home to ensure suspicious characters know the house isn’t empty (even if it is)?
  • If you walk to your outbuildings, are they well-lit?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you could be risking someone tripping and hurting themselves in the dark, or even inviting burglars in by giving them darkness to hide under.

Light It Up Instead
If you’ve taken a look around and decided your lighting could use some adjustments, what then? You can place small pathway lights leading up to your home and to any outbuildings, reducing the risk of tripping over an unseen obstacle. Another option for these outdoor lights is to install motion sensor lights, which work well to eliminate hiding spots by dark buildings. If you’re home while the skies get dark, you can make sure to turn on any outside lighting and leave on a few lights inside as well. If you aren’t home, your home automation system can be used to turn on your lighting at any time you set it to, or even remotely. You can be halfway around the world, and as long as you have WiFi, you can turn on your lights.

Although we’re talking about shorter days, it is also a good idea to keep a couple lights on inside while it’s still light out as well since 65% of burglaries happen between 6 am and 6 pm. Just because it’s daytime doesn’t mean your home isn’t vulnerable after you leave for work.

We have a lot of things to credit Ben Franklin with (even swim fins are his invention!), but we can’t blame him for losing that extra hour of sleep in the Spring and that extra hour of light in the Fall. Instead, we can keep our houses well lit, thank him for our bifocals while reading a good book, and settle into the darkness and quiet that fall brings.

On the Spookiest of Nights, Safety Still Matters: How to Keep Kids Safe This Halloween

Always check your children’s Halloween candy to see if it has been tampered with, right? Stories of poisoned Halloween candy being randomly handed out to kids have circulated in October for years. In 1982, after the Tylenol tampering scare, candy poisoning hysteria hit its peak. Some hospitals even offered to X-ray Halloween candy for free to check for anything unusual.

We heard those rumors in our own youth, and it’s something we look for in our children’s candy hauls. You never know if one of your neighbors has decided to play the cruelest trick of all on the treats they hand out…

…except these stories aren’t true! There has never been a police report of randomly distributed poisoned Halloween candy. Although there have unfortunately been cases of specifically targeted poisoned Halloween candy and cases of harm befalling children after they’ve eaten their Halloween treats, none of these support the rumors of a devious homeowner purposely passing out modified candy on Halloween night. (Read this Snopes article if you do want a couple of chilling examples of Halloween harm…)

So if you don’t need to worry about poison or razorblades, everything’s just fine for October 31st, right? Well, not quite. It’s still a night that requires a diligent eye on the part of the parent. Here are some other items you can check for on the spookiest of holidays…

In the bag

  • Check nutrition labels on treats to make sure there are no ingredients that your child is allergic to.
  • Check goody bags for anything that could be a choking hazard, like small toys, hard candy and even gum.
  • Check to make sure your child isn’t hungry before venturing out on their candy hunt. They shouldn’t be eating any treats until they get back home so you can inspect them, and if they’re hungry, it will be harder for them to stay out of the candy.

On their costumes

  • Check to make sure your child can move in their costume, be it stepping up and down stairs or just walking without tripping over fabric.
  • Check to make sure you can see your child in the dark. Reflective strips can be attached to candy bags and their costume, or you can even find reflective costumes that look like any other normal costume—until the light shines on them, that is!
  • Check to make sure any products going on the skin, like face paint or makeup, are non-toxic and test them on a small patch of skin first prior to Halloween. If non-toxic and your child’s skin doesn’t react to it, face paint or makeup is a safe alternative to a mask, which can slip down and obstruct your child’s vision.

Out on the streets

  • Check for electronics. If a child is trick or treating without an adult, make sure they have a cell phone to use in case of an emergency. But along with the responsibility of having the phone is making sure they know to look up and pay attention to their surroundings while they’re walking. Have that talk!
  • Check both ways before crossing the street. Children are twice as likely to get hit by a car on Halloween night than on any other night. This caution goes for adults that are driving as well: Be extra cautious and on the lookout for any child darting out from behind a parked car. (And see the point above about kids looking down at cell phone screens—they can be oblivious!)

Back at home

  • Check your outside lighting, making sure your front porch is well lit as well as your yard and walkway.
  • Check your inside lighting. Indoor lights can make your home look more inviting for trick-or-treaters, as well as show any tricksters that someone is home.
  • Check for tripping hazards on your porch, in your yard and across your walkway. Even jack-o-lanterns should be placed out of the way to prevent tripping and so no loose fabric can get too close to a candle.

Although you may not be checking for poison or razor blades in your children’s treats, there are plenty of other safety factors to check before and after setting out on a candy quest. Have a happy and safe Halloween, practicing these safety tips and passing them on to your dinosaurs and storm troopers!

Stocking Pantries with Emergencies Supplies Is as Important as Our Favorite Fall Foods

We have officially entered fall, which means yes, pumpkin spice lattes and other favorite fall foods. More importantly, it means temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, and the weather is getting worse.

And speaking of food, is your food supply set for an emergency? You’re probably not facing hurricanes like those that have been dominating headlines lately, since only a portion of the country is vulnerable to those disasters. But storms and other natural disasters can hit anywhere at any time, especially with winter approaching. As you’re doing your disaster preparedness, make sure stocking your pantry is high on the priority list.

Consider the plight of people in Puerto Rico who have gone days without electricity or water in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, making food scarce and difficult to prepare. How well stocked is your home in the case of an emergency? Simply having a few boxes of pasta stashed away won’t work. Instead, here are four things you’ll need to keep your pantry as disaster-ready as the rest of your home:

  • A way to cook: Be it a camp stove, a grill, or even your wood stove, you will want some method of preparing or heating up food. Your heat source may be able to double as your cooking heat source, but you might need the two sources to be separate. Warming up canned goods so you can feed your family a hot meal is going to be much appreciated if your power goes out for a few days and you’re cold.
  • Food: Speaking of canned goods, store at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food, but not food that requires preparation. Everything should be either canned or dried, as your freezer won’t be working if the power goes out, and if water is scarce, you won’t want to use it to boil up pasta. High-energy foods like ready-to-eat meats, protein bars, peanut butter, dried fruit, and dry cereal are all items that don’t need to be prepared. Write throw away dates on these items so you know when to restock, or come up with an annual plan for restocking your emergency supplies, donating the previous year’s supply to your local food bank. It’s also best to avoid any foods that will make you thirsty, since water might be scarce. You can find more tips for the types of food to store here.
  • Pet food: Your furry friends will get hungry too, so be sure to keep at least a three-day supply of pet food on hand as well.
  • Water: A good rule of thumb for water is one gallon of water per person and pet per day. Store at least three days’ worth, and up to two weeks’ worth if possible. Check the expiration dates on water jugs as well as your food’s expiration dates. You’ll find more information on storing emergency water here.

Winter is coming, following close on the heels of those pumpkin spice lattes. With a little effort now, we can be ready to keep our families fed before the worst weather hits.

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