Archives for June 2014

How can a free credit report help you plan for the future?

bingoEveryone has a dream. A rustic cottage in the country, a shiny new sports car, the holiday of a lifetime, or the opportunity to run your own business. The problem is, dreams have a tendency to cost money – a lot of money. Barring a massive windfall, if you want to make your dreams come true, you need to plan.

You may find yourself in a position where you are looking for extra funds. Get your free credit score here to get things started.

Planning for your future

1. First, you need to set yourself a goal. Be realistic – what do you want to achieve, and by what date to you want to have achieved it? Maybe you want to spend your retirement travelling the world. Work out the age at which you would like to retire, and how much you expect your flights and accommodation to cost. Adjust these figures for inflation, and you have your goal.

2. Now you need to figure out how to raise these funds. If time is on your side and you have a regular income, then the obvious answer is to save. Set aside a certain percentage of your monthly salary until you have hit your goal. Keep your savings locked into an offshore bond or ISA account to make the most of the interest, and stop you from dipping in from time to time.

3. Don’t want to wait? Access your funds sooner by taking out a second mortgage on your property, or applying for a loan. Shop around a few different banks until you find a lending rate which suits your purposes, and make sure you don’t borrow more than you need.

How to borrow sensibly

Despite your best intentions, saving money is difficult. If you are serious about making your dreams a reality, you need to plan for the possibility that you will have to borrow money at some point.

When you ask your bank for money, the first thing they will do is run a credit check on you. This will give them access to your financial history and it will help them decide whether or not they want to lend to you, and at what rate.

Prepare for your credit report by getting a free credit score from a reputable credit agency.

Once you have this information, you can start taking steps to improve your credit rating, and get a better lending rate. It is never too late to change your credit score and open up a whole new world of possibilities in your financial future.

When you understand your creditworthiness, you can begin to make realistic plans for your future, and start making your dreams come true.

Incredible Ways to Keep the Kids Entertained This Summer

School is out, and the kids are off for the entire summer. This provides parents with the perfect opportunity to spend some much needed quality time with their children. We love to spend time with our children, but the summer holidays are just so long that it can be difficult to keep them entertained. Do not despair; these tips will make sure that your children never say the dreaded words “I’m bored!”

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Image Credit: Moyan Brenn

Arts and Crafts

Kids love to get messy. In fact, the messier the activity is, the happier they tend to be. Hosting arts and crafts sessions may seem like an activity that you do not want to clean up after, but your children will be utterly enthralled by the activity. Make sure that you have coloured paper, glue, glitter, pencils, paint and pompoms so that the kids can set about making their own fabulous pieces of art. You never know, you may discover that you have a mini Picasso within your family!

You can incorporate arts and crafts into the day. Decoupage is a great activity that the kids are sure to love taking part in. You can also buy kids craft books from Vibes and Scribes so that you can make sure that you have a fun activity for every day of the week.

Baking and Cooking

While baking cupcakes can seem a little humdrum for kids, you may want to introduce them into the world of fine baking and cooking. If your kids consider themselves to be something of a little chef, now is the time to introduce them to cooking. Not only will they gain a valuable skill that they will need in later life, but they will also have a lot of fun in the process.

Start small, try cooking omelettes, spaghetti bolognaise and so forth. While you can take the helm of the cooker, get your kids to join in by helping sort the ingredients and weighing out the measurements. They will love to get involved.

In terms of baking, keeping sugar to a minimum is a must for any parent. Try making delicious cheesecakes and scones so that your kids don’t get bored. Cupcakes are somewhat old hat, so try new and inventive ways of cooking with them.

Nature Walks

If you are lucky enough to live on green belt land, it may be a good idea to take the kids on a nature walk. Get them to make a list of all the things that they have spotted on their walk. You can get them to collect stones, feathers, pine cones and other interesting artefacts from their journey. You can then turn their finds into amazing arts and crafts creations.

If you are feeling particularly artistic, you can create a bingo card for the kids. They can mark off all the things that they have seen on their nature walk. It is a truly different, and entertaining, way of keeping the kids occupied during the long summer holiday. What is more, you get the perfect opportunity to exercise and spend some time bonding as a family.

Estate Agent Tricks to Watch Out For When Home Hunting

When home hunting, many people assume that estate agents are only there to help and get you the best property for your cash and expectations. However, there are a few tricks, occasionally used that are designed to influence your decision to better the life of the estate agent. Let’s take a look at what they are so you can watch out for them:

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Photo Credit

The Block From Buying

Nobody expects this trick from estate agents, which is why hardly anybody notices when it’s being used. Most of us assume that agents want to sell properties to us, so it never occurs to us that they may actually want to stop us from buying!

An agent might do this because they’ve planned something with the property for themselves or one of their contacts, so they don’t want to disrupt their plans. They may also have found somebody who needs them to sort everything out for them including the mortgage. In this case, they’ll get a higher commission than helping somebody who doesn’t need help with the mortgage, so they’ll try and stop you from buying.

Stock Shifting

Of course, you’re looking for your ideal home when house hunting, but if an agent doesn’t have a property you’re looking for, they’re going to try to shift their stock and sell you something unsuitable. A successful agent will try to influence you to compromise and take what they have available, rather than hold out for your dream property. They may use fear to push you into making an offer, perhaps by claiming there are several other people interested.

Pumping Up the Price

Many people end up spending an extra 20% on a property they like, so agents know that they can squeeze extra cash out of a buyer by showing them a great property. They can do this in many ways; by starting with the cheapest and moving up to the most expensive, or taking you to a ridiculously expensive place first so that all other properties seem reasonable in comparison. Don’t feel pressured to stretch your budget too much.

The Web

Sellers, property developers, and agents all have a web of people that can help them to increase their earnings. They try to keep relationships with other businesses in the area so they can get an even bigger chunk of money. You might find this an expensive experience if you aren’t careful, so make sure you keep an eye on things and whether jobs are being carried out properly.

Sealed Bid Scams

If there are several buyers after one property, the seller and agent may ask buyers to submit their highest bid in an envelope by a certain time. This can use buyers competitive nature to get the price up, as well as allow agents to lie about a phantom bid to somebody with access to a lot of cash to get more money.

Of course, the points outlined in this post are only used by dishonest agents, and not trustworthy agents like this estate agent in Northallerton. Be on your guard, and you should get your dream house for a good price!

The Happy Egg Company – Profiling the UK’s Largest Free Range Egg Brand

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The Happy Egg Company is all about the welfare of their hens. Their number one concern is creating an environment in which their birds can live out happy natural lives, and through this, produce quality eggs in an ethical way. According to the company’s owner, Noble Foods, Happy Egg farms go far beyond RSPCA Freedom Food standards, and are regularly visited by a team of expert fieldsmen to ensure farmers are provided with the latest techniques and advice.

Because welfare is a primary concern, the way The Happy Egg Company operates is centered on what’s best for their hens. This means using only the best farmers and land. Farmers are chosen on the basis of their dedication to welfare and quality, and must be available twenty-four hours a day to respond to anything the hens might need. The Happy Egg Farms themselves need to meet a number of criteria, including being big enough to allow the birds to roam freely across acres of differing habitats. At least ten percent of each farm must be made up of wooded or forested areas, and farmers are encouraged to create areas of wild undergrowth. This means the birds are able to explore, forage and behave in ways natural to them.

Noble Foods and Happy Eggs go to great lengths to ensure their farms are set up to allow their hens to express a full range of natural behavior. Using research conducted at the University of Bristol, which found that domesticated hens are in some ways more intelligent that human toddlers, the company devised Activity Kits to stimulate the birds. These are placed at points throughout the ranges and encourage them to interact, perch, peck, shelter and group socially. Specially designed dust baths are also provided for Happy Egg hens to clean themselves. As they naturally like to roll in dust and sand to clean their feathers, the company leaves them to take care of themselves, reducing stress and increasing welfare.

The result of Happy Egg’s approach to farming is nutritious, delicious, and versatile eggs. Private, indoor nesting boxes allow the hens to lay eggs whenever they feel like it, so they’re in no way stressed or nervous during this important stage of the farming process. As can be seen from Happy Eggs’ TV adverts and packaging, which shows their farms’ considerate approach, hen welfare is always an essential part of the company’s philosophy.

By believing that keeping happy hens is the only way to ensure their eggs are of the finest quality, Noble Foods and The Happy Egg company can make sure they keep doing everything they can to maintain the welfare of their birds. If you’d like to know more about Happy Eggs then take a look at their Facebook profile: Happy Eggs on Facebook.

Healthy Breakfast Tips and Ideas from a Working Mother

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As a working mother, I know too well how important a good start can have on how you feel and how much you get done throughout the day.  Many people find it hard to find the time or motivation to bother making a healthy breakfast that will get their day off to the best start, however the truth is it is not actually that hard or very time consuming to prepare a morning meal.  What’s more, not only is it a very versatile meal but putting it together can also be a lot of fun.

One type of breakfast that I personally love is having a selection of fresh fruit chopped up and served with some natural yoghurt.  I love the creaminess and the fact that you can just turn whatever you have in your fruit bowl, cupboard and fridge into a mouth-watering morning feast that also gives you a head start for getting your 5 or more pieces of fruit for the day.  Any real sweet tooth out there should try chopping up some pineapple, melon, grape, apple with some slices of dried apricot.

Perhaps you prefer something hot first thing in the morning.  By making slight changes to how you cook the ingredients, even the humble full English can become a healthy option for breakfast.  Instead of frying the sausage, bacon and tomato, try grilling them as they will taste just as nice, without needing any oil.

If I want a warm breakfast, I always choose porridge – I think it may be my husband’s Scottish influence.  Some people seem to think that porridge takes too long to cook or that it is far too bland.  The actual truth is that porridge does not take very long to cook, particularly if you are just making a portion for yourself.  While it might be bland on its own, the beauty of porridge is that you can add various things to it to make it rich and tasty.  Dried fruit, fresh fruit, some chocolate spread, honey and even salt all work well.

In recent years breakfast bars have become a popular breakfast option for busy people.  They normally consist of a mixture of oats, cereal and nuts and are often dipped in chocolate or yoghurt to add extra flavour.  If you have a very limited amount of time in the morning, these are great to have in the house, particularly as you can eat them on the walk, bus or train ride as part of your daily commute.

One of my best friend’s favourite breakfasts is a couple of slices of toast with a slither of marmalade or jam.  It is something she has always done since she was a little girl and I have to say that I love on a less busy morning sitting back with a cup of tea and some toast.

Breakfast is not nearly as a hard a meal to prepare for as people often make it out to be.  Hopefully, I have helped to give you some ideas and even if it still feels like hard work, many of the suggestions above can be prepared the night before, meaning you have more time to enjoy them before getting on with your day.

Top Reasons For Moving Your Family To The Country

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credit to Alison Christine

Living in or near a major town or city is good for some people who love the noise and everything that goes on there. Others have the dream of moving away to the countryside. There are many advantages to living out in the country, and we will take a look at some of them in this article. If you have a family, especially with young children, I hope you will grab the opportunity to move out there with both hands, should it ever arise. Here is why you should.

Fresh Air

The pollution levels in towns and cities are unacceptable. The local authority will argue that the levels are within permitted levels, but I argue that the permitted levels are far too high. Reports on the news yesterday say that climate change may bring back the smog, which is deadly even to people who do not have lung disease. It happens when a mass of air does not move for days. Because fresh air doesn’t replace it, pollutants build up, and death rates soar. If you were to move to the country, your family would have a permanent supply of fresh air to enjoy without the worry of heavy pollution.

Exercise

There is little to entice us or our children out of the house in towns and cities. All of the places we played many years ago are now gone thanks to the invasion of land developers. Farmers found that there was more profit to be had by selling the land rather than growing crops or raising cattle on it thanks to cheap imports with which they could not compete. Out in the country, where the land is untouched as of yet, you have plenty of room to use and explore. The children can run in fields and explore woodland; something that most children are denied today except on managed forestry commission land. They can make their own entertainment by building a den in the woods or fighting off an imaginary foe. When children have room to play it sparks their imagination, and they make good use of the surroundings.

Noise

Listen to the birds and rustle of trees instead of traffic. The sound of cars and trucks is all around us, and it invades our lives so much that we sometimes do not even notice it anymore until it is gone. You will appreciate the lack of that insidious sound when you ears only hear the sounds of nature. That fact alone is enough to drive people straight to the estate agents.

Dark Sky

Many people have never seen a dark sky because of light pollution from populated areas. Only when the nearest town is a faint glow on the horizon can you experience true darkness and see the majesty of the night sky. There are more stars than you could count in a lifetime, and hopefully you will be able to see the milky way. Lie on your back and look straight up to the sky; you are almost guaranteed to see a shooting star within an hour.

Well, I hope you are heading for the internet, newspaper, or letting agents, to find a place to live away from the town. It is an attractive prospect, and the argument for the move is compelling, I think you will agree.

Finding love in a retirement home

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Some people say that love is a young person’s game but that’s utter nonsense!  Love is something that transcends age, and even those in their twilight years can still find companionship, even if they’ve moved into a retirement home. In fact, a retirement home is a wonderful place to find love, and here’s why, along with some things to consider…

There are plenty of activities to take part in together

Any retirement home worth its salt will have a range of activities in which you can take part, and this is perfect to meet someone who has similar interests. Take the care homes run by Extra Care for instance: you can take part in loads of activities, including arts & crafts, gardening, woodwork, IT training, and many more social events and entertainment. After all, it’s important that you stay active when you’re older, and doing it in pairs or groups is much more enjoyable. Your social life won’t have been this active in years, so getting to know some great people (and maybe that special someone) is easy!

You’ll always have someone to talk to

Having good company is something that worries a lot of elderly people, but by finding a companion you will ensure you have some great company pretty much all of the time. Staying in a retirement home, you’ll never be too far from that person if you want some to chat to, or sometimes it’s just nice to sit with someone even if you don’t feel the need to talk.

shutterstock_84033649Don’t go searching for it

As is always the case, love comes along when you least expect it, usually when you’re not looking for it. Don’t go storming in trying to find a potential partner or you’ll likely end up being rejected. You also have to be sensitive to others; you don’t know whether someone has lost a partner and isn’t looking for anyone else. Just let any potential relationships flourish naturally and the whole thing will be better for everyone.

Volunteers and staff are off limits!

It can be tempting when you see that hunky young staff member to develop a bit of a liking for them, but you need to remember that they’re off limits! A bit of harmless flirting never hurt anyone, however, so you might be able to get away with that!

Friendship rules all

When you’re in your elderly years, having a solid group of friends trumps everything, so don’t prioritise trying to find that one special person. You’ll meet loads of new people and will likely strike up some great friendships, which will be much more valuable. Love would be great but friendship rules all and is much easier to come by!

How To Guide Your Family Through A Divorce

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credit: seandreilinger

For children at any age, seeing their parents go through a divorce can be stressful, sad and extremely confusing. As a parent, it’s your job to reassure them that everything will be fine – but there’s more to it. Helping your kids cope means providing some form of stability in your home and attending to your children’s needs with a happy, positive attitude. It most certainly won’t be easy, but you need to take some of the following tips on board to keep your children from straying off and becoming depressed.

As a parent, it’s normal to feel uncertain about how to give your children the right support through your divorce or separation, because at the same time you’re stressed and perhaps a little lost and confused. It may be uncharted territory, but you can successfully navigate this unsettling time and help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.

There are many ways you can help your kids adjust to separation or divorce. Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimise tension as children learn to cope with new circumstances. By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind children they can rely on you for stability, structure, and care. If you can maintain a working relationship with your ex, you can help kids avoid the stress that comes with watching parents in conflict. Such a transitional time can’t be without some measure of hardship, but you can powerfully reduce your children’s pain by making their well-being your top priority. There is always commercial mediation if you require that extra bit of professional guidance.

What to tell your children

When it comes to talking about the fact you’re splitting up with your husband, many mothers freeze because it’s not an easy thing to explain to a child. Anticipate the tough, confrontational questions that may be thrown your way and plan your response carefully.

The key aspect is to not place the blame in anyone’s hands. It will only make the child negatively view the parent and grow up to blame them for everything.

Your kids are entitled to know why you are getting a divorce, but long-winded reasons may only confuse them. Pick something simple and honest, like “We don’t get along anymore.” You may need to remind your children that while sometimes parents and kids don’t always get along, parents and kids don’t stop loving each other or get divorced from each other.

However simple it may sound, letting your children know that your love for them hasn’t changed, or won’t change, is a powerful message. Tell them you’ll still be caring for them in every way, from making their breakfast to helping with homework.

Warn your kids about changes in their lives by acknowledging that some things will be different now, and other things won’t. Let them know that together you can deal with each detail as you go. Address the situation with a subtle, child-friendly tone. You don’t want it to sound like it’s the end of the world, nor do you want to fill them with false hope.

At the end of the day, you’re all in this together as a family. Treat it with care, get the professional help if you need it, and stay positive. Now is the time to be super mom to keep your kids happy.

How To Rebuild Your Family After Divorce

How To Rebuild Your Family After Divorce

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Nobody plans to go through a nasty divorce, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable. You may well have loved your partner at the time you got married, which is why this entire experience can be very stressful for everyone involved. Children are often affected greatly by the break-up of their parents, so it’s vitally important that you put their wants and needs before your own. At the end of the day, you’re an adult, which means you know how to deal with situations like this – they don’t.

With that in mind, today I’m going to spend time discussing some of things you can do to rebuild your family unit. Of course, you don’t have to follow my advice, but reading it could make you feel a little more positive about the future. While you might think all is lost, there’s nothing stopping you from holding your head up high and ensuring your kids get all the care and attention they need. Finding a new man is simple these days, as you will soon see, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re going to be a single parent forever. There are lots of good people out there who would love to make your acquaintance.

Spend quality time with your children

This is the first and most important step you need to take. Whether they’re talking about it or not, your divorce has left the kids feeling upset and confused. Their mom and dad will no longer live together, and while there’s not much you can do to make them understand the reasons for this at such a young age, you can take steps to show them they’re still loved. Kids often feel like they’re to blame in some way for your divorce, so you need to make sure they never question the way in which you feel towards them.

Move to a new home

Your ex-husband might well have moved out of the family home, but there will still be a lot of bad memories there your kids could do without. The chances are, you’ll have argued quite a lot on the run-up to, and during your divorce, and the last thing you want is for your children to think about this every day when they come home from school. So, moving to a new property might be a good idea. Some people think uprooting their kids in this manner can have ill effects, but in truth, they’ll have to learn that moving around is normal given the situation they now face.

Find a new partner

There are no right or wrong ways to find a new partner, and there are no right or wrong ways of introducing them to your children. However, it would be sensible to ensure you’re happy with a new man for at least a few months before letting him become that involved in your life. If you don’t get to socialise much (which is completely understandable being as you’re a single parent), perhaps you should turn to the internet. All you have to do is register on some of the best mature dating sites, set up an honest profile and wait to see if anyone shows an interest.

I hope this article has helped in some way, and now you see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you just stay focused on your children, everything else should soon fall into place.

Good luck!

The Perfect Cheesecake: Four Tips and Tricks

The Perfect Cheesecake- Four Tips and Tricks

Cheesecake, although one of the most decadent and visually stunning desserts, can also be a baker’s worst nightmare. The pricey ingredients are as temperamental as they are time consuming, and after hours in the kitchen working on a cheesecake, the last thing anyone wants to do is bake it all over again if the first one flops.

There are a few major reasons why cheesecakes don’t come out, but those reasons are not hard to fix. Using Almond Ricotta Cheesecake as an example, here are four tips and tricks to baking the perfect cheesecake every time:

1. Ingredients

Fresh ingredients are always best, for they offer the maximum flavor. Look for fresh Sargento ricotta cheese, fresh eggs, and fresh whipping cream, which are the base ingredients for your filling. Cold ingredients should always be brought to room temperature when baking because they combine together more smoothly.

2. Follow the Recipe

With cooking, straying from the recipe yields fine results. In baking, however, straying from the recipe can tremendously hurt the final outcome. It is essential to follow the recipe, especially the measurements, exactly as the recipe calls for.

Most cheesecakes use a traditional graham cracker crust, as does the Almond Ricotta Cheesecake. To make a 8-inch cheesecake, use a 1 cup graham ratio to ¼ c butter and ¼ c sugar. The sugar sweetens the crust while the butter holds it together. Form the crust into the bottom of a springform pan, and prebake the crust for 10-12 minutes. Prebaking ensures the crust will hold together when sliced.

Next, since creamy cheesecakes have the best, smoothest texture, be sure to use a standing mixer or hand mixer for the filling. Blend 2 cups ricotta, ½ cup whipping cream, ¼ cup flour, 2/3 cup sugar, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ cup water, and 1-1 ½ tsp almond extract. Whip until the mixture is fully combined. Add in the 4 eggs, one at a time, and whip after each addition. Stir in ½ c almonds, and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Chill for 4 hours (chilling the cheesecake allows for it to release from the springform pan with ease).

3. Temperature

When baking, temperature is extremely important. The importance of room temperature ingredients was stressed above, and the oven temperature is just as important. If your oven temperature is even slightly off, your cheesecake will most likely crack. Cracks are not the end of the world, but if you are looking for a perfect presentation, calibrating your oven to the right temperature can prevent cracking.

4. Cracking

Sometimes, even if you do everything right, a cheesecake crack still happens. However, it is not the end of the world. Using a topping such as whipped cream, sour cream, chocolate ganache, caramel sauce, or fruit, etc., can cover a multitude of baking sins. In the case of Almond Ricotta Cheesecake, you can use a covering of whipped cream and lightly toasted slivered almonds to cover the top.

Sargento covered the costs of the ingredients used in this recipe, but the opinions are my own.

Author Ted Levin is a food lover and cheese aficionado always searching for the newest recipe craze. You can connect with Ted on Twitter.

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