9 Tips to Get Your Home Ready for Spring

senior man stands on ladder and cleans a roof gutter

Spring’s popping up all over. Longer days, early blooms – these are signs that it’s time to make some simple home repairs after the long winter. Here are 9 simple jobs to take care of in order to make sure you’re ready for the change of seasons.

Inspect your roof. Check for loose or missing shingles, and ensure that seals around skylights are in tact and that chimney flashing is still in good shape. You don’t want any leaks during spring showers.

Check your gutters. While you’re inspecting your roof, inspect your gutters, too. They may have been overworked in the winter, with ice dams and falling branches. Clear the debris, check your downspouts and drains, and make sure the gutters are still secured to the house.

Check your pipes. Pipes that freeze and then thaw can cause some problems. Look for sign of damage under your sinks. And while you’re checking pipes, now is a good time to check your washing machine and dishwasher hoses and do a quick check in the attic, basement and crawl spaces for leaks.

Inspect your siding. Do a quick walk-around of your house and make sure no siding has been damaged or come loose.

Caulk your windows and doors to make sure these are sealed and still able to protect your windows and doors from water getting in.

Check your screens for tears. As long as you’re caulking your windows, check your screens, too. If any have tears or holes, now is a good time to repair those so you can open your windows and let in the fresh air.

Patch driveway and sidewalk cracks. Shoveling and salt can do a job on your cement in the winter, leading to cracks. Repair these now to keep them from growing and causing bigger problems.

Get your heating and air system checked. Call a qualified and recommended HVAC technician to come out and do a check on your system. Your heater worked hard in the winter and now your air conditioning is going to work hard in the summer. Make sure it’s in top condition. And, while you’re at it, change your filters.

Check trees and bushes for broken limbs and snapped branches. Heavy snow can harm trees and bushes. A good trimming can prevent additional damage. Grab your clippers and spend some time outside.

Getting your home ready now means more fun this summer! 

Get Out in the Garden. It’s Spring!

iStock_000021390493_Large

Whether you’re caught in a streak of warm winter weather or you’re finding a day of warm weather here and there, Spring Fever hits as soon as the sun starts staying out a little longer. And although we know there is probably more snow in our future, who can resist getting outside and getting a start on the garden? Winter is the ideal time to clean up the lawn, trim some trees, prep your flower beds and take care of some other chores that get you outside.

Start cleaning up your lawn. Begin by raking to open up the lawn so new seeds can germinate. Then level the lawn by covering the lowest areas with new soil. Finally, reseed where necessary or even reseed the entire lawn. To ensure the seeds germinate, add a good fertilizer and cover the seeds with humus to keep the birds from finding them. Why do this in the winter? You get enough natural water, without having to sprinkle.

Be ready to get rid of crab grass. During the winter, crab grass waits and gets ready to sprout in the spring. Be ready to spray with pre-emergent about the last week of February, or just before the temperatures start to get warmer.

Prune those trees! Prune your trees and rose bushes now, before they start to bud, in order to improve the production of flowers and fruit. Cut back overgrown bushes, too. Clean trees from the inside out, removing crossing branches and cutting thin branches.

Prep your flower beds. Remove fallen leaves and pine needles to get these beds ready for spring’s favorite flowers. If you want even more flower beds, determine now where you will put them and start clearing those areas. And, if you’re a container gardener, check out your local stores now to see what pots may be on sale from last year.

What About Flowers that Have Spring Fever and Bloom Early? Here’s How You Can Protect Them.

If you haven’t already, protect your bulbs with mulch, even those that haven’t yet peeked through the soil. Mulch is ideal because it doesn’t have to be removed and replaced repeatedly throughout the early spring months. Adding a layer now will protect your early bloomers.

For large flower beds, if you have time and gumption, build a frame to create a tent then cover the plants with newspaper, bed sheets, lightweight blankets, burlap or floating row covers. If you don’t have time to create a frame, lay the cover directly onto the plant. This will help to slow the loss of heat rising from the foliage and the ground. Use rocks or soil to hold down the ends.

Never use plastic sheeting to cover plants. Plastic traps moisture inside and increases the possibility of frost damage.

If your daffodils and tulips pop up, they will want some protection from cold nights and mornings. Protect them before dusk with newspaper, bed sheets or light blankets. By the time it gets dark, much of the stored heat in the garden has been lost. Remove the covers in the morning once the frost has thawed and before the sun has a chance to overheat the plants under the cover.

Cover individual plants with jars, plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut off, or upside-down flower pots. Or, fold triangles from newspapers and put soil or rocks in the edges to keep them from blowing away. Uncover them in the morning.

Put your Spring Fever to good use as winter comes to an end. And have a plan to protect your early bloomers for a warm and colorful spring.

Keep Your Fresh Cut Flowers Fresh Longer

bouquet-of-flowers-262866_640

We are smack dab in the middle of winter. That means you have to bring some spring and summer freshness into your home to feel a little warmer inside. Fresh cut flowers may be what you need to feel warm, cozy and spring, when it’s cold outside. Want to keep your blooms fresher longer? Try some of these tips.

Start by Snipping the Stems.
Flowers have a vascular system in their stems that draws up water and nutrients to feed the blooms. If you don’t cut them, air that has been drawn into the stems while they were out of water can block water absorption. Use sharp scissors or pruning shears, and snip 1/2 inch off the bottom of the stems at a 45-degree angle. Every three days trim about 1 inch. Why do you cut the stems at an angle? It allows the flower stem to take in more water.

Trim the Foliage.
Before putting the flowers in water, trim as much foliage as you can off the flowers, if the foliage will rest under the water line. This will decrease the bacteria in the water and keep your vase clear and prevent odors. It also will redistribute the flowers’ resources to the main blooms. There will probably be some foliage in the water, but try to remove some.

Select the Right Vase.
Make sure the opening of the vase is the right size: Not so narrow that it crowds the flowers; not so wide that the arrangement loses its shape. You can even choose a short vase and really cut the stems. Fill the vase about two thirds full with fresh, cool water. Don’t use warm water. Warm water may make the flowers open faster.

Place the Flowers in Water Quickly.
Don’t waste time getting your bouquets back into water. You can even cut the stems while holding the stems in water. No matter what, don’t let the flowers lay on the counter for long!

Get the Temperature Right.
Keep fresh flowers from direct sun and other heat sources, including heat vents. To take it one step further put the arrangement in the fridge overnight. According to FTD, this strategy is the best way to preserve a bouquet.

Change the Water.
Fresh flowers need to drink fresh, clean water, every one to three days. Dump all the water out, swirl hot water in the vase to kill any bacteria and add fresh, cool water back to the vase. If the stems are ready to be cut, trim them. If there’s more foliage you can remove, remove that.

Remove Wilting Flowers.
Remove wilting flowers from the arrangement. They can get moldy and contaminate other flowers.

Place the Flowers in the Right Spot.
Flowers and fruit are not friends. Fruit and vegetables gives off ethylene gas, which causes flowers to wilt. One apple won’t make a difference, but keeping your flowers away from a large bowl of produce is a good idea.

It may not spring, but it can feel like spring in your house with some fresh blooms that stay fresh just a little longer.

The Gift of Giving Back – Teach Your Children Early

Children work together in food bank

‘Tis the season of gift giving. But perhaps there is no greater gift that you can give to a child than the gift of “giving back.” Children who are involved in giving at an early age make it a practice and a habit that continues into adulthood. They also behave better in the classroom and reach higher academic achievement.

How can you start kids down the path to being young philanthropists and volunteers?

Start small. Host a bake sale, gather school supplies, play games with elderly residents in a or work at a food bank or other event as a family.

Talk about local needs and global needs, but hold these conversations at a child’s level. By talking with them about homelessness, hunger, etc., you can teach them about compassion and about how they can make a difference in people’s lives.

Match your efforts with your family’s time and resources. Giving should feel pleasurable, not overwhelming. Even small efforts, such as shoveling a neighbor’s walk or taking a meal to a sick friend teach children valuable lessons in giving.

Talk about giving. Tell stories about what you do to show generosity with a single kind act, with a day of volunteering or with donations of goods or money. Encourage questions and think of ways you can all donate together.

Provide a “giving allowance” to encourage both saving and giving – an allowance with three equal parts set aside for spending, saving and giving to charity. This is a great opportunity for parents to help their kids understand the value of making the right purchases, saving money and choosing the right charities.

As kids grow older, you can up your discussions to help teach about financial values and setting and achieving short-term and long-term financial goals, saving for college, getting part-time jobs and more.

If you have a larger pool of donation funds, let kids select where some of the money goes. Teaching about discretionary giving is another step toward creating stronger philanthropic ideals for older children and young adults. You can also  give your kids a budget for some of your charitable dollars and let them decide how they grant these them. Do they give it all to a single organization? Divide it among charities? This will help them consider how to have the greatest impact.

Kids mirror what they see. Teaching them how they can give back with their resources of time and money when they are younger will be one of the best life-long gifts you can share with them.

Universal Lending gives back.

At Universal Lending, we believe in giving back all year long. Our foundation’s Mortgage Bridge Program provides up to three months of mortgage and HOA payments to patients and caregivers at Craig Hospital after a traumatic brain injury or spinal injury, so they can focus on their recovery rather than their bills. We are honored to support others when they need us most.

Inexpensive Holiday Gift Guide

Funny pancakes for Christmas

Looking for the perfect holiday gift but don’t have a lot of money to spend? Here are some great gifts for anyone on your list that won’t blow your bank account!

A potted plant

Some indoor plant life can bring some much needed green into the long, dark January and February months. A potted plant is a great gift for anyone who has recently purchased a home or has lived in their home for years or even decades and needs a change. You can think big or small, depending on the size of their home. But if they have pets, make sure you pick a plant that is non-poisonous to animals.

Kitchen gadgets

It takes a long time to stock your first kitchen, especially with stuff that’s going to last. For that friend who needs basics, think a can opener, potato peeler or corkscrew. If you want to get fancier, you could go for a garlic press, a potato masher or a pastry cutter. Maybe throw in a pretty tea towel or place mats for a splash of color.

Small gardening tools

These are great for new homeowners suddenly faced with caring and tending to their own garden. Think some basic pruning shears or some tools for planting fresh flowers. Want to make the gift even more fun? Put these items in a flower pot and get them started on decorating their deck when spring comes.

A cookbook

A great way to save money is to make meals at home, but there are a lot of cookbooks out there. Choose something simple with a lot of basic recipes that can be adapted or modified. Or choose a cookbook that has an online blog associated with it. Then they will have a built-in community, where they can seek out further recipes as well as tips and tricks.

A few months of Netflix (or the recipient’s channel of choice) and some popcorn.

Cable TV is expensive, and a lot of people are looking for ways to cut their bills. A gift fo a few months of Netflix or Hulu is great for someone who wants to try something new but doesn’t know where to start.

Pancake mix and maple syrup

Pancakes are a favorite weekend treat, light and fluffy and a warm reminder that you have nowhere to be on a cold snowy morning. But making homemade pancakes isn’t always a top priority. A special pancake mix from a specialty food store can make this the perfect gift. Top it off with some maple syrup or homemade fruit compote. If they are new to the kitchen, you may even throw in a small griddle and a spatula!

A deck of cards

A deck or two of playing cards and you can create your own family fun and holiday memories. Old Maid and Go Fish for the kids, Gin Rummy, Poker and Black Jack for the adults. Get a classic deck or go for the recipient’s favorite theme. Whatever you decide you’re sure to bring family fun to your family’s holiday.

Board games

Go old school and get family games like Parcheesi, Monopoly, Trouble, Sorry or Yahtzee. Those games are around today still because of the fun they bring for the whole family. Or you can go with strategy games like Settlers of Catan or Risk. Those will bring a challenge, for sure. Friends like word games? How about Scrabble or Boggle? A walk down the game aisle of any toy store wil spur more fun board game ideas. Check out puzzles while you are in this aisle. Some of the best conversations and comfortable silences happen over the bonding of puzzle building.

Winter skin care kit

Frigid temperatures, bitter winds and dry, radiator air will give anyone’s skin a scare. But you can take the bite out of this pain with some nice lip balm, a good hand lotion, some cuticle oil and maybe a facial moisturizer or shaving lotion.

For pet lovers: A box of pet treats and a pet toy

Pamper your friends by pampering their pets. Get some squeaky toys and some treats. Or maybe Fido moved to a new home but his favorite bed didn’t make the trip. Check out all the options for pets online or in your local pet store. After all, nothing says you like your friend than loving their pet!

Whatever gift you give, at Universal Lending we want to wish you a  warm and happy winter holiday season and a happy new year!

What Can You Do with a Pumpkin Besides Carve It?

pumpkin-2868748_640

Have you ever wondered what you can do with your pumpkin besides carve it, paint it or leave it on your porch until after Thanksgiving? Here are some fun uses for pumpkins that don’t require a lot of money or effort but do provide some unique fall decorations, healthy snacking choices and even beauty and wellness options.

Create clever fall decorations.

Carve the perfect fall vase. Cut off the top of your pumpkin, carve out the center and then place a container filled with water inside. You can choose a short pumpkin, tall pumpkin or something in between, based on the size of your glass container. Add your favorite bouquet. Or float fall candles.

Make pumpkin fries. Use a potato peeler to remove the pumpkin’s skin, then cut the squash into fry-like strips. Coat them with the spice of your choice, arrange on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and then bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes. Serve with a spicy aioli or another dipping sauce.

Create a fall candle holder. Take a small or miniature pumpkin and remove the stem. You can snap it off or cut it off, but make sure that the top is smooth or evenly indented. Place a votive candle where the stem used to be. You can leave the display as is, or add a glass hurricane shade over it. Try grouping several together or spreading them across the center of your table to create the illusion of a glowing runner.

Let your pumpkin pack a punch by doubling as a punch bowl. Get a short, round/fat pumpkin. Cut off the top and remove the pumpkin pulp from the inside. Place a short glass bowl into the pumpkin and pour in your favorite punch. Add a ladle and you’re good to go with this fall party table decoration.

Make a pumpkin drink dispenser. This item may be used during Halloween, or for other fall-themed events, such as Thanksgiving. This project may be of interest to those who enjoy arts and crafts, entertaining, or even those who want to undertake a fun project with other family members. Click here for easy instructions for this family craft.

Get spicy and creative with the seeds.

Stay classic and bake the seeds. Bake the seeds with your favorite spices at 350 F until they are toasted, about 20-30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes. Make sure you rinse the seeds and let them dry before bake them. Or use them in granola. Add the seeds to oats, dried cranberries or other favorite snacks for a great granola blend.

Spice up your guacamole. Use pumpkin seeds to liven up your favorite guacamole. Bake the seeds with chili powder and mix them into your
traditional snack for a little healthy fall fun.

Add pumpkin to your health and beauty regime.

Scrub away with your pumpkin with a pumpkin exfoliant. For a full body treatment, you can use purée pumpkin and brown sugar (oatmeal is another great exfoliant). Put the exfoliant on a damp loofah or cloth and scrub onto skin in circular motions. This helps to drain toxins from the body. Finish with a nice warm shower.

Add shine to your hair. Restore shine and moisture to dry and damaged strands with a homemade pumpkin hair mask. Combine one cup of pumpkin (you can purée chunks in a food processor or use the canned version), a half cup of plain yogurt and two tablespoons of honey into a bowl. Mix well, and then apply to hair from root to tip. Cover head with a plastic shower cap and sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Wash treatment out and
follow up with a thorough cleansing using a shampoo and conditioner.

We’ve answered some questions about pumpkins. We’d be glad to answer questions about home mortgages, too.

Top Tips for Keeping Produce Fresh Longer

Family Outing to the Grocery Store

No one likes to throw food away. Groceries are expensive and when you can keep your food fresh longer, you can save a lot of cash. Here are some tips for keeping your fresh food fresher longer.

Keep your refrigerator clean. Leftover residue or mold spores can increase the spoilage of all your food in the refrigerator.

Click here for some tips to easily clean your refrigerator and keep it clean longer.

Don’t store fruits and vegetables near a gas stove. Natural gas has been shown to increase ripening. In addition, don’t store fruits or vegetable in areas that have smoke or heat, like the stove or toaster oven. The exhaust and heat from these can increase the amount of Ethylene gas that is produced and speed up the ripening process.

Store produce in special storage bags that you can buy from your grocer.

Don’t cut your fruits and vegetables until you will be using them. Cut fruit will spoil faster.

If you do cut your fruit or veggies sprinkle them with a little lemon juice to keep them fresh and cover them with plastic wrap.

Place fresh herbs and leafy greens in a jar or vase of water, just like you would a bouquet of flowers. They’ll last longer and you’ll have a beautiful, green arrangement.

Store dried green onions or chives after you chop them up in a plastic water bottle in the freezer. When you’re ready to use some, just pull this out and sprinkle.

Store potatoes with apples to keep the potatoes from sprouting, and keep them away from your onions. Onions will make apples go bad faster.

Keep your greens in the refrigerator in a bowl with a paper towel, and cover with plastic wrap. The paper towel will absorb the excess moisture and keep them fresh.

Clean berries, fruits, and greens in a mixture of 10 parts water and 1 part white vinegar. This will remove dirt and even pesticides, and help them last longer by preventing mold.

Bad apple in the bunch? Remove it immediately. The old saying “One bad apple will spoil the bunch,” is true.

Store fruit in the middle of the refrigerator or in the drawers to keep temperatures consistent.

Keep bananas away from your other produce, as they produce some of the highest amounts of Ethylene gas. Place plastic wrap around the crown of your banana bunch to keep them lasting longer. If you want them to ripen super fast, place them in a closed plastic bag. Since they emit so much Ethylene gas, they’ll ripen quickly when the gas is trapped by the bag.

Keep tomatoes at room temperature and away from sunlight. If you grow your own tomatoes, pick them as soon as they are ripe. Do not to store your tomatoes in plastic; this will trap moisture and increase the likelihood of spoilage.

Store nuts in the freezer or in a food safe jar to protect them from moisture and air.

It’s no fun to throw food away, and it’s always fun to eat fresh! Try a few of these tips and see if you’re not saving and using more food than you ever have before!