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Get Your House Ready for Summer

(Family Features) - The dog days of summer can really put the heat on electricity bills and put even the best air conditioning systems to the test. "The Department of Energy says that almost 45 percent of a homeowner's utility costs come from heating and cooling the house. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to help lower those costs, keep your system working as it should, and beat the summer heat," says Dave Quandt, Senior VP of Field Services for American Home Shield, one of the nation's leading providers of home warranty services.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when summer temperatures start to sizzle:

  • An air conditioner set at 70F can cost twice as much to operate as one set at 78F. Raise the thermostat by 2 degrees above its normal setting. You'll still be comfortable, and your pocketbook will thank you.

  • Set the thermostat to 80F when you'll be out of the house for several hours and lower it when you return. But don't shut the air conditioner off; it's less efficient to cool the house back down than to leave it set at a higher temperature.

  • A ceiling fan uses about as much energy as a 100-watt bulb, but it can make a room feel up to eight degrees cooler. In summer, blades should turn counterclockwise, pushing air downward to create a cool breeze.

  • Keeping windows closed and curtains drawn during the day can reduce cooling costs by 30 percent.

  • Lights, computers and televisions all generate heat. Turn them off when they're not in use.

Quandt believes your best protection, however, lies in preventative maintenance. 

"It's important to have your air conditioning system professionally inspected and cleaned a least a month before you'll need to start using it," he says. "At a minimum, turn it on and make sure it's still running like it should.

"Last summer, we responded to more than 550,000 requests for air conditioning repairs during the record-breaking heat wave. You don't want to find out that your air conditioner needs repair or replacing just when you need it most. Now's the time to be sure everything's in good working order."

Find out the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance on your type of unit. You can usually find it online and in your owner's manual. In addition:

  • Create shade for the unit, but keep the area around the exterior condensing unit clear of leaves, bushes and other obstructions to ensure adequate airflow.

  • Clean or replace the air filter. Clean or replace the air conditioner filter monthly. Clogged, dirty filters block air flow and make a unit work much harder. A clean filter can save up to 10 percent on your bill.

If your air conditioning system and/or components break down, a home warranty can help protect you from unexpected repair costs. "A home warranty," said Quandt, "is a service contract that covers the repair or replacement of many of the most common home system breakdowns. It also covers appliances not usually covered by homeowner's insurance." Quandt says that American Home Shield offers home warranty coverage regardless of the age of the home, and it can be purchased at any time, not just when a home is bought or sold.

To get more summer home care tips, and to learn more about home warranties, visit www.ahs.com.

SOURCE:
American Home Shield

Entice Early Readers with Fun For Free

(Family Features) - While it may be hard to believe, a recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirmed that millions of American children reach the fourth grade without being able to read proficiently at their grade level. Research has shown that children who do not learn to read at an early age are much more likely to fall behind in their studies or drop out of school. For young elementary school students, the key is to make reading fun and exciting. Here are a few simple steps parents and guardians can take to make reading fun, interesting and a life long habit. 

Keep Books, Newspapers and Magazines Front and Center. Why keep books and other reading materials tucked away on a dark shelf in your child's bedroom? Let reading be part of the atmosphere of your home. A recent study commissioned by the non-profit literacy organization Reading is Fundamental found that easy access to print materials improves children's reading performance and attitude about reading and learning. With a basket of books, magazines and newspapers by the couch in the living room, a few books accessible on a counter in the kitchen, you demonstrate that reading is an important part of your daily life and can be enjoyed by all members of the family.

Create a New Habit. Having reading materials readily accessible also means you are more likely to be reading in the same room with your child. Reading is a great habit to create - both for you and your child. Remember, children love to imitate their parents - so be a good reading model. Take every opportunity to read with your child. No matter where you are, words are everywhere. Ask your child to help you read labels at the grocery store, or to look for a certain road sign. Take a few minutes while cooking dinner to help your child as he stumbles over a word while reading at the kitchen counter. Each time you read aloud together, you are engaging your child's mind and instilling the importance of the written word. Be careful not to criticize, but gently correct mispronunciations. Remember, reading should be fun.

Have Technology-Free Tuesday. In addition to family movie night, have a family reading night or a Technology-Free Night. Spend part of the evening reading your own reading material and part of the evening reading something together - and there's nothing to rent. While you read your local newspaper, your child could read their own magazine or newspaper, such as "Kidsville News!" Available for free in 60 markets nationwide, "Kidsville News!" also has a section for parents and plenty of interesting, kid-friendly material that children and parents will enjoy sharing together. Reading together is not only educational for the child, but also helps establish a bond between parent and child.

Visit the Library. Make a trip to your local library a part of your family's regular weekly routine. Allow the children to pick out their own books and help them understand the importance and responsibility of returning them to the library so that others can enjoy them. In the 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report, the researchers found that the power of choice is a key factor in nurturing a young reader. Nine out of ten children are more likely to finish a book they choose themselves.

However, books aren't the only thing a library has to offer. Check out the free periodicals in your community. For instance, "Kidsville News!" is a free monthly newspaper and educational resource for children grades K through 6th, teachers and parents. Each edition has its own local owner/publisher who customizes and localizes the publication to serve that particular community. The child takes ownership of it immediately and is proud to have his or her own newspaper full of fun and educational stories, puzzles and games. "Kidsville News!" won the Parents' Choice Award in 2008, carries the NASA Space Place learning initiative, and recently partnered with the New York Times #1 Best Selling novelist James Patterson's ReadKiddoRead.com to provide book reviews and recommendations, which will help you and your child on your next visit to the library or bookstore.

For more information about "Kidsville News!" or how to bring it to your community, visit www.kidsvillenews.com or call (877) 458-6397.

SOURCE:
Kidsville News!

Keepin' Up With Your Little Mover

(Family Features) - Between the sleepless nights, spit-up and countless diaper changes, new parents quickly realize that chasing after their little speedsters is no easy feat.

"When our first son was born, my husband and I focused on baby-proofing the house to meet our little guy's needs. Before we knew it, his energy had surpassed ours and we needed to not only adapt our home but ourselves," says Laila Ali, professional athlete and mother to toddler son and soon-to-be-born baby number two.

Huggies® teamed up with Laila to help parents conquer the chaos of parenthood by offering exclusive tips for the everyday mom. According to Laila, and other modern moms struggling to keep up, little bundles of joy can often have parents wishing for more hours in the day.

"With only a few lifestyle changes, your baby's exciting milestones don't have to be accompanied by crazy days, puffy eyes and fast food dinners," explains Laila. "From squeezing in daily fitness routines to finding little ways to reward yourself - it's possible to maximize your energy as you chase after your running, dancing and playing little mover."

Check out these tips, and don't forget to enjoy this special time in your active baby's life.

To learn more about parenting rewards from Huggies and obtain other tips on how to enjoy the amazing ride of parenting, visit www.Huggies.com.
  1. Get moving.
    Finding time to hit the gym isn't always easy with a baby at home, so find ways to incorporate aerobic activity into your day. Walk to the library or supermarket whenever possible, and be sure to get your toddler out of her stroller so she can walk some of the way, too. If walking to your destination isn't an option, park the car far from entrances and enjoy those extra steps of exercise.

  2. Surround yourself with support.
    From sharing parenting advice to all those special firsts in your baby's life, connecting with other parents is a great way to surround yourself with needed support. Huggies(r) Brand is helping moms all over the country come together by teaming up with Meetup, the world's largest online network of local groups, to host 60 "Keep-Up Meetups" from January to March. "Keep-Up Kits" will be given away to help Meetup Moms keep up with their little mover.

  3. Laugh.
    From the spit-up to the spilled milk, don't be afraid to laugh off the silly situations. Laughter really is the best medicine - relieving stress and burning extra calories. Remember, parenting is never perfect, so the next time you find yourself in the middle of that messy diaper change don't let yourself stress - laugh it out instead.

  4. Accept a helping hand.
    For a first-time mother, it's hard to realize you really can't do it all. Keeping up with your little speedster all day can be exhausting. When feeling overwhelmed and ready to pull out your hair, it is ok to admit that you really could use that extra helping hand. Accept your family or friend's offer to come over and keep your little one entertained for a couple of hours. Don't second guess this decision; be grateful and accept the favor because you deserve it (and others relish the time with your bundle of joy).
     
  5. Don't forget to sleep.
    Between the late night feedings and round the clock diaper duty, it may seem impossible to get more than a couple hours of shut-eye. To keep from feeling like you are going to fall asleep while at the stroller wheel, try to fit in a midday nap while your baby snoozes. For the working mom, head to bed as soon as possible once the little ones are tucked snuggly in their beds. Teaming up with your partner and switching off middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes can also save you from exhaustion.

  6. Take up a hobby.
    Setting aside time to work on something you enjoy can help clear your mind and leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Don't be afraid to try out different hobbies until you find the one that fits your schedule and interests. If possible, incorporate your little one into your new hobby as this can make for some very special bonding time.

  7. Stay organized.
    Organization is key to keeping stress to a minimum. From making sure the diaper bag is prepared prior to a long car ride or day at the playground, staying organized and scheduling your day can help you stay cool, calm and collected.

  8. Reward yourself.
    Parents deserve rewards for all that they do on days other than Mother's Day and Father's Day. What's even better is getting rewards on items they already purchase - like diapers. This season, enjoy a winning code in every pack of Huggies® Little Movers diapers to cash in for prizes like Starbucks gift cards and iPods. Submit each on-pack code online and see details at www.Huggies.com to win.

  9. Take a break.
    Take regular breaks away from your children. It's easy to brush off the importance of "me time" but it's a must to keep you at your best - whether it's taking a walk, reading a book or going for a drive, "me time" cannot be underestimated.

  10. Remember to treasure those "aww-inspired" moments.
    Last but certainly not least, remember to sit back and enjoy the ride of a lifetime - parenthood. From sharing photos of your toddler on www.facebook.com/huggies to connecting with other parents via www.twitter.com/huggies, remember to treasure each and every moment.

SOURCE:
Huggies

Scholarships for Student Athletes

(Family Features) - High school student athletes now have the chance to score some extra cash for college. The National Milk Mustache "got milk?" Campaign, in partnership with USA Today, is announcing the call for entries for the 14th annual Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year (Sammy) Award program. The Sammy Awards recognize 25 outstanding high school senior student athletes who represent excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership and include lowfat milk in their daily routines.

The Sammy scholarship rewards exceptional student athletes by helping to offset some of the costs associated with college tuition. The scholarship helps educate teens on the value of making smart choices - like drinking lowfat milk, eating right and staying active. Twenty-five talented teens will receive a $7,500 college scholarship, attend an awards ceremony with celebrity guests at Disney World, be pictured in a special Milk Mustache ad in USA Today, and have a chance to help their favorite charity in the process. To date, the National Milk Mustache "got milk?" Campaign has awarded 325 talented high school seniors with nearly $2.5 million in scholarships.

"It's an honor for the national got milk? campaign to continue to reward such extraordinary student-athletes who not only excel in their respective sports and communities, but also serve as advocates for drinking milk," said Vivien Godfrey, chief executive officer of the National Milk Mustache "got milk?" campaign. "Lowfat chocolate milk has the right combination of carbohydrates and protein, making it a great choice to help refuel and recover after a tough workout."

High school seniors who excel in the classroom, on the sports field and in their communities are encouraged to submit an application. This year's winners will be selected by a celebrity panel of Milk Mustache athletes, including Apolo Ohno, Chauncey Billups, Dara Torres, Andy Roddick and Lindsey Vonn.

"I am so excited to be championing the 2011 Sammy Awards and to connect with these exceptional student athletes," said speed skating superstar Apolo Ohno "I recently joined the Milk Mustache campaign, and as a judge for Sammy, this is a great opportunity to pass on my tips for staying ahead of the game. My coaches and trainers agree - grabbing lowfat chocolate milk after a strenuous workout helps me get nutrients back into my body quickly to help me refuel for the next race."

High school seniors who are interested in applying for the 2011 Sammy Awards program should visit www.bodybymilk.com. All applicants are required to describe in 250 words or less how they refuel with milk while excelling in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.

Entries must be submitted no later than 11:59 pm ET Friday, March 4, 2011. For complete contest rules, applications, tips and exclusive Milk Mustache celebrity videos, log onto www.bodybymilk.com/sammy.

SOURCE:
MilkPEP