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Easy ideas you can use to grow your child's imagination

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” It’s a pretty amazing statement when you consider just how much knowledge Einstein possessed. Today’s world always has a spot for creative, imaginative people. Whether they are designing the next dot com or the latest menu sensation, imaginative people are thriving everywhere.

So how can you help to strengthen your little one’s imagination and ensure they are as creative as possible? From analog to the digital, there are more fun, innovative ideas that can foster imagination than ever before. The following tips can help you grow your child’s imagination while creating some enjoyable, long-lasting memories along the way.

* Create the scene. Playing dress-up doesn’t have to be exclusive to tea parties. Encourage your child to dawn a costume and create a character based on that costume. The costumes can be lavish enough to include make-up or as simplistic as a new hat or mask. The important thing is that your child creates a new character or takes an existing character – depending on the costume – in a new direction using his or her imagination. Just make sure you dress up, too; this production needs a supporting cast.

* Travel with them to a faraway place. The genre-defining Skylanders video game series is best known for the innovation of bringing toys to life with games like Skylanders SWAP Force, Skylanders Giants and Skylanders Sypro’s Adventure. Now coming in October, Skylanders Trap Team, will continue to expand the bounds of your child’s imagination with an all-new adventure that reverses the magic of bringing toys to life and enables kids to pull characters out of the digital world into the physical world.

With Skylanders Trap Team you and your child have the opportunity to play together to seek out and defeat the most wanted villains in Skylands, pulling them out of the game and into living rooms by capturing them in magical Traps. Players can then send villains back into the game where they play as them in the fight for good.  You’ll enjoy exploring and working together to capture each villain and you’ll see your child’s imagination grow as the gameplay options expand.

* Encourage ad-libbing during story time. Reading to your child is a great way to strengthen their love of books and their reading comprehension skills. If you want to grow their imagination as well, make reading more interactive. Before you flip the page, ask your child what they think will happen next. They’ll create the story in their own mind and the answers may amaze you.

* Give them room to make their masterpiece. Art is one of the easiest ways to allow your child to develop their imagination. Create an environment that supports their artistic interests by setting aside space for a mini-studio. Make sure to include paints, crayons, markers and a big roll of paper to serve as their canvas. Line the area with newspaper because even the most determined little artists still make a mess from time to time.

* Take time to explore. These warm-weather months are the perfect opportunity for that nature hike or trip to the park. Turn the trip into an expedition by asking your child to create their own archeological adventure. This will make the warm-weather journey more enjoyable for both of you.

A child’s imagination opens their mind to limitless possibilities and no matter where their imagination takes the two of you, you’ll enjoy spending the time together.

Categories: Lifestyle

6 tips for a safe and enjoyable summer

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Summer is all about spending time outdoors – either at home or away. Whether you’re hitting the road or taking a trip to the local park, it’s time for fun in the sun. And when you’re preparing for fun outside, remember that there are safety concerns to consider as well.

With that in mind, Master Lock offers these six tips to help make the season a safe and enjoyable one for everyone in your household:

* Make your backyard a safe place. Remember to put garden tools and lawn mowers away in a locked place after use. Un-stored tools could cause a fall or be used by young children as toys. Secure your shed or garage door with a high-security, weather-resistant padlock. Not only does this deter kids from using tools as toys, it also guards lawn equipment from theft.

* Sleep safely with the windows open. Sleeping with open windows provides a cool breeze for pleasant rest and helps many people sleep better. What’s more is that it lessens the chance of succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, a dangerous nighttime killer. Unfortunately, it also provides intruders with easy access to your home. Before enjoying this summertime routine, take proactive measures to ensure you do so safely. If you have a home security system (only 14 percent of North Americans do, according to the recent Safety and Security Survey), make sure it provides window security coverage. Otherwise, use a window-blocking device that prevents windows from opening more than 6 inches, and ensure windows cannot be accessed from outside. While you’re sleeping, ensure all doors are locked and safeguard patio doors from intruders with Master Lock’s Door Security Bar.

* Designate a family meeting spot. More than half of North Americans have not designated a meeting spot in case of a house fire. Choose one with your family now so you’re prepared in case of a fire. It’s also good practice to designate a meeting spot whenever you’re away from home. Whether you are at a carnival, park or away on vacation, always come up with a plan of where to meet. This will give you peace of mind in case someone in your family is separated from the group.

* Check your smoke detectors. Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors save lives and protect against injury and loss due to fire. Yet, survey results showed that only 7 percent of North Americans test smoke detectors monthly – the recommended frequency to ensure they’re always working correctly. Replace batteries yearly or as soon as you hear a low-battery warning sound - usually a chirping noise. Smoke alarms themselves should be replaced every 10 years.

* Create backups. With busy summer schedules, it’s easy to forget your keys before leaving the house. To avoid being locked out of your house, make extra copies of your keys and keep them in a secure spot. A lock box allows you to store your extra key and make it accessible only to those who know the combination.

* Prepare for the unexpected. Technology today makes it easier than ever to ensure you’re never without important information, such as your child’s insurance details or passwords to your online accounts. Store digital copies of your family’s important medical and identification information in a secure app such as the Master Lock Vault for access whenever you need them.

By taking the proper safety precautions, you’ll enjoy a safe and worry-free summer. To learn more about the products available from Master Lock, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Addressing a new era in security: how to protect your business from the inside out

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - During the first 43 days of 2014, the Identity Theft Resource Center said 91 data breaches were reported by companies across the country, and the full list doesn’t just show household names of big brand retailers – many of these companies were small businesses, family medical practices or local restaurants that never thought they’d be cybercrime victims. For instance, the most high profile breach of 2013 – Target – was actually set into motion when one of its much smaller regional contractors was hacked.

Undoubtedly, businesses of all sizes are potential targets for cyber criminals, but while the “big boys” often have the financial means to rebound relatively quickly, for small business owners, one attack can mean life or death for the future of their business. In fact, according to the National Small Business Association, a single cyber-attack costs a small business an average of $8,000 to recover from (and this figure does not include the incalculable damage done to the company’s reputation).

Historically, small business owners have focused their security prevention on their physical domains, but, with the lines between physical and digital security having blurred over the last decade, it’s critical for small business owners to rethink their 21st century security strategies.

ADT offers these helpful tips for small business owners in order to more effectively protect themselves, their assets, and their loyal customers from the wide range of physical and digital threats:

* Make sure your employees are informed. Whether you’re concerned about digital security or physical security, your employees are your first line of defense. Your employees should be up to date on all company security measures and aware of the vulnerable digital and physical areas in your business. Keeping them informed ensures they know how to protect your business and alert you should a problem arise.

* Increase the strength of your passwords. Creating strong passwords may at first be inconvenient for you and your staff, but stronger passwords can greatly improve the security of your business. Using your name or the company’s name or address will not deter a hacker for long, but complex passwords have a significantly greater chance of tripping up hackers.

* Improve the traditional security system. A security system is a must for a business of any size, and an interactive solution like ADT Pulse can help mitigate threats with all-in-one security and automation capabilities that combine video surveillance with activity-triggered alerts. This allows you the freedom to monitor and control your business with a web-enabled device from any location.

* Erase old hard drives. You’ve heard the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that is certainly true when it comes to old hard drives. While your business may not have any use for these outdated systems, the information stored on the hard drive is valuable to would-be criminals. Before you throw out that old computer or copy machine, be sure to erase the hard drive.

While many small business owners may think cyber criminals aren’t interested in businesses their size, the reality is small businesses require the same strategic physical and digital protection as major corporations, and following the above steps can help you to prevent the significant financial and reputational damage that comes with a security breach.

In order to learn more about how ADT can help protect your small business, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Life on the cutting edge: Groundbreaking stem cell research into Lou Gehrig's disease

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig said goodbye to the crowd at Yankee Stadium: "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." The bad break he referred to was his career-ending diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known today as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Seventy-five years later, researchers studying ALS are using cutting-edge stem cell science to develop treatments and, one day, a cure.

ALS affects nerve cells called motor neurons that control a person's muscles. As the disease progresses, the brain loses the ability to control voluntary muscle movement, which slowly causes paralysis, eventually taking away the ability to breathe.

Monica Carrasco, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at Columbia University, lives on the cutting edge of ALS research. Carrasco uses human stem cells to study the ways ALS functions. Her current project focuses on the interaction between motor neurons and cells known as glia that help maintain the balanced environment neurons require to function properly. Stem cell research can be very intense, she says, because the cells need attention every day.

The breakthrough that made her projects possible came in early 2006, when another lab pioneered the process for developing stem cells for motor neurons. At the time, people mostly used mice to study ALS, but only a tiny fraction - 5 percent - of ALS cases can be studied with mice models. That imposed serious limitations on ALS research.

Carrasco says that stem cells will be huge for many diseases. For ALS, they already are. The ability to develop stem cells from the skin samples of many different ALS patients gives researchers the big picture that studies using mice could not. As a result, the past few years have been a hotbed of new discoveries.

To support those discoveries, the ALS Association funds more than 98 projects with a total award value of $18.1 million through its Translational Research Advancing Therapies for ALS (TREAT ALS) program. From 2006 to 2008, Carrasco was the recipient of the Milton-Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship for ALS Research from the ALS Association. Funding for this two-year scientific research award was made possible by the generosity of the Safenowitz family through The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter in memory of Milton Safenowitz, who died of ALS in 1998.Dr. Carraso has since received several other support grants from the association to continue her work and says that the ALS Association’s funding has been “Incredibly important. We wouldn’t be able to study ALS in the lab without that support. There are many things that we could not be doing right now without it.”

Research today is “advancing as fast as I have ever seen,” she says.

Many ALS patients have lost up to 60 percent of their motor neurons by the time they are diagnosed. Carrasco wants to better understand the causes and phases of ALS and enable doctors to diagnose the disease as early as possible. Early diagnosis is crucial to effective treatment, she says. “By understanding the mechanism of the disease, we can move on to develop drug treatments.”

There’s still a long road to travel before stem cell research into ALS reaches its full potential, Carrasco says. “You have to consider that only in 2006 was the technology developed to take skin samples and develop the skin samples into pluripotent stem cells,” she says. “This is unique and very new. It’s not just about using the cells; it’s about asking the right questions and understanding exactly what information you can get out of the cells. There is huge hope, but these are the really early days.”

Categories: Lifestyle

Caught in a data breach? How to reclaim control of your credit and identity

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - By the end of the first quarter 2014, more than 200 data breaches compromised millions of consumer records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, which keeps track of reported data breaches. Stunned? Data breach stats are even more staggering if you’re among the millions of Americans caught up in one every year.

In addition to the potential monetary loss and identity theft risks, data breaches can also rob you of your sense of security and confidence. When you learn you’ve been involved in a data breach, it’s important to take steps to help protect your identity and financial accounts, and to rebuild your sense of security.

Often, breached organizations will offer affected customers some form of credit monitoring for a set period of time (usually one year) after the breach. While such services may go a long way toward making you feel more secure, be sure you understand exactly what the offered product can – and can’t – do to help you recover from the potential impact of a data breach.

Data breaches, credit monitoring and identity theft risks

Consumers whose personal or financial information is compromised in a data breach may be at greater risk of experiencing identity theft. In 2013, more than 13 million Americans experienced identity fraud, according to a study by Javelin Strategy.

Credit monitoring products aim to help minimize identity theft risks by keeping an eye on your credit accounts, where evidence of potential fraud and identity theft may first appear. Identifying such signs early may help mitigate some of the damages associated with identity theft.

While it’s true that consumers can do on their own virtually everything a credit monitoring product does, going it alone can sometimes be time-consuming and burdensome. Convenience is a significant benefit of a credit monitoring product. Not all credit monitoring products are alike, however, and if a company offers you this product in the wake of a data breach, don’t hesitate to carefully review the product and ask questions, including:

* Does the product provide daily monitoring of credit files?

* Will you receive timely alerts of key changes in your credit files?

* Does the product monitor your credit file at all three of the major credit reporting agencies, or only one? For example, Equifax Complete monitors information from all three bureaus.

* Are financial alerts included, and is it possible to link your bank and credit card accounts to the monitoring product? This allows you to be alerted when withdrawals from your bank account and/or charges to your credit card are processed, based on threshold amounts that you define.

* Is Internet scanning for your Social Security Number and credit card numbers included? This may help detect unauthorized posting of your Social Security number and credit card numbers on certain suspicious trading sites.

If a breached company cannot answer these questions, or you’re not satisfied that the credit monitoring product being offered is comprehensive enough for your needs, you may need to take additional steps. First, you should ask the breached company for a different product. Such companies are increasingly aware of the impact data breaches can have on their reputation, and may be more willing to engage with those customers who feel they’re not receiving an appropriate response in the wake of a data breach. If a company refuses to respond to your request, consider also subscribing to a more suitable product of your choice on your own – it can be a key step toward regaining some confidence and peace of mind when you’re a data breach victim.

Categories: Lifestyle

Suffering from low libido? It may be a sign of a bigger medical issue

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With the hectic schedules that many women adhere to, it’s not surprising that many feel stressed out or overwhelmed. The responsibilities of juggling a career, a family and obligations as a wife and mother can be nerve-wracking, and for many women sex is not on their mind. While this lack of desire may be the result of the day’s stresses, in a number of cases it may be the symptom of a bigger issue.

Nearly one in two non-menopausal women ages 30 to 50 say they have experienced low sexual desire at some point in their lives, and 61 percent of these women felt distressed by it, according to a new survey supported by HealthyWomen and Palatin Technologies, which is developing an on-demand treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a common type of female dysfunction otherwise known as low libido.

HSDD is characterized by a lack of sexual thoughts or desires that cannot be explained by another medical condition. Though HSDD has been diagnosed for over 30 years, the vast majority of women surveyed had never heard of the condition. But HSDD is very real and, if not recognized, can ruin relationships.

“Sex is an important part of a romantic relationship, so a lack of intimacy can sometimes create tension within an otherwise healthy partnership,” says Beth Battaglino, R.N., president and CEO of HealthyWomen. “Women who avoid sex because of low sexual desire may not realize that this could be a sign of a medical issue. Most women don’t know what female sexual dysfunction is, or understand that conditions like HSDD are real and can be a serious concern for them as well as their partner.”

Survey results support this idea, as 85 percent of surveyed women said they felt low sexual desire would hurt their relationship with their partner and 66 percent felt it would impair communication. Perhaps more concerning is that nearly half of those who had identified themselves as having HSDD blamed themselves for the condition, and 38 percent said it made them question their worth in their relationship.

“It’s important for women living with HSDD or some other form of female sexual dysfunction to not blame themselves, and they need to feel confident to discuss their concerns with their health care provider and their partner,” Battaglino says.

There are currently no approved medications for the treatment of HSDD, yet 92 percent of women surveyed said they would be interested in a treatment for HSDD. The good news is that medications for HSDD are on the horizon. For more information visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Establishing a 401(k) at your small business is easier than you think - and helps employees save for the long-term

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Over the next 16 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. Social Security alone may not be enough to provide an adequate retirement. Every day you hear about the lack of retirement savings and how ill-prepared many Americans are to meet their spending needs during retirement. Many remedies are suggested to help Americans save for the long-term. While there is much discussion around new ideas on how to close the savings gap (state administered plans, myRA savings plan, etc.) one answer to help Americans save more for retirement is available today.

Creating a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) continues to be one of the most appreciated benefits of any company. According to The Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study conducted by Guardian Retirement Solutions, overall satisfaction with 401(k)s among existing plan sponsors is virtually 100 percent, including a majority (56 percent) who are “very satisfied.” Specifically, more than half (57 percent) of small-business owners say the plan helps employees retire with an adequate and secure income and at least half say their plan is very successful when it comes to making retirement savings easy, providing employees with retirement income planning tools and supporting and encouraging disciplined, systematic savings by employees. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73 percent of people without access to a workplace retirement plan say they have less than $1,000 in total retirement assets. The solution? Increase access to workplace retirement plans.

Many small businesses are still without a 401(k) plan. In fact, 46 percent of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan, according to Guardian’s Small Plan 401(k)RetireWell Study. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to attract and retain the talented employees vital to making them competitive in their industries. It also does not help close the savings gap for the average U.S. citizen. In order to help more Americans save, small-business owners should consider offering or improving a workplace retirement plan. Satisfaction rates are high, and the need is significant.

If you’re a small-business owner considering offering a 401(k) plan or looking to improve the current workplace retirement plan you offer to your employees, follow these five tips to establish a successful plan so your employees can feel more confident about their retirement and remain loyal to your company.

5 tips for implementing a successful workplace retirement plan

1. Work with a competent financial professional. Business owners who work with a financial professional when offering a 401(k) plan were much more satisfied (61 percent) with their overall plan than those who did not work with a financial professional (40 percent), according to the Guardian Retirement Solutions Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study.   

2. Understand your role – as the plan sponsor, you are the plan fiduciary.  This means you have taken responsibility for the plan and you must act in the plan’s best interest. Among other duties, this includes acting prudently and in the best interest of the plan participants, selecting and monitoring the service providers who help administer the plan, providing education for participants and employees, selecting and monitoring the plan investment options, and ensuring the plan is paying “reasonable” fees for the necessary services required to administer the plan. Educating yourself on these responsibilities, and talking to your legal adviser to understand your obligations as a plan fiduciary is critical. Additionally, your financial professional can work with you to help find service providers who can assist with these responsibilities to ensure you’re doing what’s needed for the plan, minimizing your fiduciary risk, and ensuring the plan is operating optimally.

3. Find the right help for you and your plan. Look for a recordkeeper and other retirement plan service providers who are focused on the needs of small-business owners to ensure your needs are met. Services can include: customized and flexible solutions for your business, fiduciary support services, investment flexibility (target date funds, managed accounts, multiple fund choices), access to customer service teams, enrollment and on-going education and support. Small companies do not have the same access to staff and resources that larger companies do. Working with providers who understand and cater to the small business market and who can offer these value-added services will help you reduce your administrative burdens.

4. Find the right plan design for you. Talk to your third-party administrator (TPA) about a plan design that makes sense for you and your employees. There are many ways to setup a workplace retirement plan, not just a 401(k) (i.e. defined benefit plan, cash balance plan, profit-sharing only plan,etc.). In order to maximize company and employee tax savings and meet other plan and business owner objectives, you want to be sure the plan has the necessary features to help you attract and retain employees.

5. Educate your employees. Look to work with service providers who can provide your employees with robust enrollment and on-going educational tools and the support to help them plan, save and invest for retirement. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you can help your employees achieve the retirement they desire.

Categories: Lifestyle

How to maximize your tax benefits from charitable gifts

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You answer calls to support your alma mater, the local animal shelter and the American Red Cross with gifts of money and volunteer time. And after cleaning out the closets, dressers, kitchen cabinets and garage, you take a trunk load of donations to the thrift store.

You know your gifts of cash, time and household items may be tax deductible, but what do you need to do to verify that and maximize your deduction?

"Being charitable can cut your taxable income, as long as you follow a few simple rules," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for popular digital tax preparation brand TaxACT. "Those include giving to eligible organizations and keeping accurate records."

To determine if you've donated to eligible organizations, search the IRS' database of Exempt Organization Select Check at Most religious organizations and government agencies are eligible, even if they’re not listed in the database.

Keeping detailed records is important for accurate valuation of your gifts (and in turn your tax deduction) and in the unlikely event of an audit. Dolmage says records should include organization name, donation date and amount.

For monetary gifts, keep the written acknowledgment from the organization with the donation date and amount. A canceled check or card statement with the transaction date also suffices for gifts under $250.

If you receive merchandise, benefits or privileges in exchange for a gift, you must subtract the value of those from the original gift amount. If your payment is more than $75, the organization must give you a written statement with a description and estimated value of the merchandise, goods or services.

For noncash donations, document the charity name, date and location of the items, along with a reasonably detailed description of the items. If you receive a receipt from the charity, keep it with your records.

The IRS requires additional documentation for vehicle donations. You must receive a written acknowledgment or Form 1098-C from the charity for the vehicle.

Noncash donations, such as clothing, kitchen gadgets and furniture, must be in good condition or better. The tax-deductible amount of those items is the fair market value (FMV), the price if they were exchanged between willing buyers and sellers. Special rules apply to donations of cars, boats airplanes, property subject to debt, investments that have appreciated in value and inventory from your business.

Mobile apps can make tracking throughout the year painless. Donation Assistant by TaxACT tracks cash, noncash and recurring gifts, with FMVs for more than 1,300 commonly donated household items. You can also save photos of your donations and receipts. When doing your taxes, import the information and TaxACT Deluxe will calculate your maximum deduction and complete your tax forms.

You can deduct charitable gifts you made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. In order to itemize, all of your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction amount based on your adjusted gross income and filing status.

Additionally, you must file Form 8283 if your noncash contributions total more than $500, and include a qualified appraisal of property worth more than $5,000.

Download the free Donation Assistant app at and learn more about the tax rules of charitable giving at and

Categories: Lifestyle

How to help veterans who've returned home from service

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - In wartime, members of the armed forces often face dangerous situations. President George Washington recognized this, when he created what is now known as the Purple Heart medal in 1782, to honor combat wounded veterans. Since then, an estimated 1.7 million Purple Hearts have been awarded by the military to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The Purple Heart medal is awarded to men and women in uniform who have been injured or killed in combat or captivity. Medal recipients who return home can join the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization that supports veterans and their families with many nationwide programs. Volunteer and financial assistance is needed year-round to continue these services. If you’re interested in looking for ways to help veterans across the country, consider the following ways you can assist:

* Say “thank-you” – On Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Purple Heart Day and every other day of the year, telling a vet,  “Thanks for your service,” is a great way to honor their sacrifice. If you own a business, you can also offer veterans a discount on your products or services as another way to show your thanks.

* Volunteer for a veteran service organization – Veterans often need assistance in many different areas of life, including financial, career, educational, health and social. If you are interested in volunteering your time, contact the Purple Heart Foundation at to determine the right service organization that will best match your talents and availability. By volunteering, you not only will be helping service members adjust to civilian life, but also gaining valuable expertise in the field of your choice.

* Donate your vehicle or gently used household items – If you’re considering holding a garage sale this summer, you can save time and energy by donating clothing, furniture, thrift goods and even cars to the Purple Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports all veterans and their families. Visit to learn more about how your donation can be picked up from your home, and how you can declare the donation on next year’s income taxes.

* Make a financial donation – Veterans organizations are always in need of financial donations to continue the services they provide. Keep in mind that any monetary donation you make to a registered nonprofit organization can be declared as a deduction on your federal income taxes. The Purple Heart Foundation has made it easy for a person to donate $10 toward veterans causes supported by the Military Order of the Purple Heart by texting PURPLE to 20222.

“The Purple Heart medal represents courage, sacrifice, commitment and ‘heart,’” says Jim Blaylock, president of Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, and a Vietnam veteran who earned three Purple Hearts. “The Purple Heart Foundation celebrates the heart of every veteran by providing emotional, physical, educational and financial support for veterans and their families. They earned our support with their sacrifice.”

Since 2008, the Purple Heart Service Foundation has invested more than $42 million in programs and services to help veterans and their families with suicide prevention, Post-Traumatic Stress, brain injury, women’s health issues and to get claims approved. Join the millions of Americans helping veterans returning home after service. To learn more, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Stay on top of your rheumatoid arthritis with these helpful tips

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an incurable, progressive disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a person’s joints, causing inflammation and damage. Approximately 1.3 million people have RA. This condition strikes about three times as many women as men and most commonly appears in people between 40 and 60 years old.

If you have been diagnosed with RA, you are probably familiar with many of these statistics, just as well as you know the pain that occurs in your joints during an RA flare-up. Chances are good that symptoms of your RA have caused you to miss social events or even work.

But there is good news. Although RA is not curable, there are multiple ways to effectively manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Follow these tips to begin improving your condition today:

* Stay positive. Just because RA is incurable doesn’t mean it has to dictate your life. People across the United States who have been diagnosed with this disease lead very productive and rewarding lives. Don’t let RA control you. If you have recently been diagnosed, or have had an especially painful flare-up, it’s important to educate yourself about the disease and take proactive measures to ensure successful management of your RA. This is the first and most important step in your treatment.

* Find the doctor who’s right for you. If you feel comfortable with your current rheumatologist, then you can skip to the next tip. If you don’t have a rheumatologist or you don’t feel comfortable with your current doctor, make finding the right one a priority. Remember, you will work closely with this doctor to create a personalized treatment plan, so trust is important. Before meeting with a new rheumatologist, be sure to create a list of questions you want to ask them. The answers you receive will help determine if this doctor is right for you.

* Maintain a healthy diet. Inflammation is the hallmark sign of RA. Patients may reduce their RA symptoms by incorporating foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, including omega-3 fats such as fish, certain vegetables and soy foods and walnuts. Antioxidants have also been shown to help ease inflammation. Leafy greens, fruits, beans, nuts, dark chocolate and certain spices contain high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E, carotene, lycopene and flavonoids. Speak with your doctor to learn more about dietary changes that may benefit you.

* Get out and be active. Many people diagnosed with RA mistakenly believe they must limit their activity to avoid disease flare-ups, but regular activity has been proven to limit or control RA’s symptoms. Discuss your activity goals with your doctor to determine which activities could be beneficial for you.

* Improve your methotrexate (MTX) efficiency. As a person with RA, you may be taking an oral form of MTX and know all about the side effects that come with your medication. But these days, some RA patients are opting for new, easily injectable MTX options.  Speak with your doctor about what options may be most appropriate for you.

To learn more about how you can treat your RA, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

5 vital questions to ask your financial professional

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - When was the last time you met with a financial professional? Would you be more likely to keep those appointments if you knew some specific questions to ask? These meetings provide an important opportunity for you to ensure your strategy is still on track and ensure your family and finances are protected. You can get the most out of your meeting by asking the right questions.

Whether it’s your first meeting or your 20th, Thrivent Financial suggests you consider asking these questions when meeting with a financial professional:

1. Is my coverage adequate?

Ensuring proper financial protection against death, disability or injury is one of the most important things you can do for your family. Talk to your financial professional about cost concerns, protection options and how you can make sure that your family will be covered financially in the event of an untimely death or disability. If you’ve experienced major life changes like the birth or adoption of a child, purchased a house or gotten married, chances are your protection will need updating.

2. What are some creative ways we can refine my strategy to help maximize benefits?

A financial professional can help you organize your financial strategy in a way that factors in things like taxes and market volatility, and he or she will know what changes are on the horizon that could affect you. A financial professional can also help use primary products, like life insurance, in unique ways - like helping supplement a retirement income stream. These are applications many don’t know about but can offer different advantages to your financial strategy.

3. How are my financial strategies aligning with my values?

Having a financial strategy that allows you to align your finances with your values is another important topic to bring up. If you have charitable causes you want to support, or volunteer trips you want to take, make sure your financial professional knows about them. He or she can help you develop ways to bring your generosity to life.

4. Tell me about the strength and stability of your company or organization.

Insurance is only as strong as the ability of your financial institution to pay out claims when you need to claim a contract. Make sure to investigate the strength and stability of any company you’re working with to ensure it is financially sound enough to make good on its obligations.

5. What should I do differently in the next year?

This seems like an easy question, but you’d be amazed how few people ask it. Your financial professional is often in a unique position to help you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to your future strategy needs. Taking advantage of market volatility and ensuring your future protection needs are just two of the many variables to consider. Yearly meetings with a financial professional can help you hone your financial strategies for the upcoming year and help keep them as healthy as possible.

Your time is valuable, and your financial future is even more valuable to you and your family. Make sure you’re maximizing both and ensure you get the most out of meeting with your financial professional.

Categories: Lifestyle

Smart tips to keep your student and their possessions safe this school year

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - If you’re on the way to the cabin or in the middle of an amazing family summer vacation, the upcoming school year is probably quite far from your mind. However, school will be here before you know it, and it’s important to make sure your child or teen has all the tips and tools he or she needs to be successful this year. As those helpful - and oftentimes required - educational tools continue to get more expensive, it is in your best interest to teach your children how to keep their property safe.

“With millions of iPads, smart phones and laptops now essential parts of everyday student life, efforts must be made to keep them secure,” says Rebecca Smith with Master Lock. “The new school year can be stressful enough without worrying about losing expensive electronics and other valuables.”

If you plan to make safety part of your back-to-school preparations this fall, the following tips will ensure your student, and his or her possessions, enjoy a safe, productive year.

1. Safety away from the desk. Middle school and high school mean your teen will be traveling around the building much more than they did in elementary school. This extra travel increases the risk of lost or stolen items. To protect these items, find out what locks are provided by the school and what you need to provide yourself. Then look for a padlock like the Master Lock 1500eXD dialSpeed Digital Combination Padlock to keep your teen’s possessions safe. This easy to use lock, which features a set your own combination for easiest recall, provides a measure of safety for your teen and ensures their clothing and electronics remain right where they left them. You may also consider getting one for their gym locker as well so they can participate carefree.

2. Have a back-up plan. Being a student today means more than just protecting your physical possessions. There are plenty of digital files to be worried about as well. As your teen writes longer, more in-depth papers and reports, it’s important to develop a back-up system for these projects. A paper lost to a power outage or computer error could take hours to recreate. Teens can prevent this by saving their work in multiple locations, including at least one cloud-based system that can be accessed anywhere, such as the Master Lock Vault. Students should also save their online passwords and lock combinations there, assuring they’re never without a code they need.

3. Keep the combination secret. The best way for students to protect the items in their lockers is to make sure they are the only person who can access them. This means encouraging them to not share their locker combination with anyone else. Remind your child that even though sharing lockers with his or her best friend or girlfriend/boyfriend may sound like a great idea, it could lead to other unintended people having access to personal belongings inside, putting the contents at risk. And if your student will have a locker partner, make sure that both teens understand the risk of sharing their combinations with anyone outside of their locker partner.

4. Invest in the proper backpack. Not all backpacks are created equal. Your child’s backpack and its contents should amount to no more than 10-20 percent of their body weight. When shopping for a new backpack, select a pack with dual shoulder straps and instruct your child to wear both to dissuade thieves from trying to steal the pack. If your child’s backpack has only one strap, slinging it across the body protects it better than carrying it over one shoulder. A lightweight portable lock like the 1550DAST Backpack Lock is perfect for warding off pickpockets and protecting your child’s possessions. Older students may not want a backpack at all so remind them that carrying one ensures they have all of their materials where they need them and they won’t leave anything behind to be lost or stolen.

You may not be ready to think about the new school year just yet, but the first bell will ring before you know it. Planning proper safety and security procedures ahead of time will ensure your student has an enjoyable year and can focus on getting the most out of each and every class.

For more advice on back-to-school security tips, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Money-saving tips so you can earn your degree without going into debt

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - If you’ve just finished high school and you’re headed to college, or if you’re an adult student looking to go back to school, chances are you’ve thought about student debt. You’re not alone.

The epidemic of student debt is taking higher education by storm. In 2011, combined student debt eclipsed the $1 trillion mark. Consider the fact that total credit card debt in the United States was estimated at $798 billion that same year, and you can see why student debt is such a problem.

While concerns about accruing debt may make you nervous, obtaining your college degree is the key to better career opportunities and a higher earning potential throughout your professional life. So how do you earn the degree of your dreams without a mountain of debt? Follow these money-saving, debt-prevention tips and you’ll see the benefits on graduation day.

* Avoid the credit card blitz. As a college student you will be inundated with new credit card offers. While the idea of spending now and paying later may be tempting, credit cards carry some of the highest interest rates available. Frequent use of your credit card without paying the balance off in full will cause you to pile up debt quickly. What’s worse, poor use of your credit card – maxing out the limit or making late payments – hurts your credit score and could make future purchases like a home or car more difficult. Avoid credit cards if possible, but if you must have a card, try to limit your cards to no more than two and don’t charge more than you can pay off each month.

* Maintain your current job or take a part-time job. Paying off credit cards or staying ahead is easier if you’re working part-time. Many students don’t want to work during their college years, but part-time work is an excellent way to avoid debt. Working even a few hours a week can help you pay down your bills and provide for a little financial cushion so you don’t always have to feel like a poor college student.

* Seek advice at your school. Universities across the country are more aware of student debt than ever before, and some of them are even instituting programs to help students save and reduce debt. Columbia College of Missouri’s Money Stacks Program provides students with important financial education and the tips and tools they need to graduate with little to no debt. You’ll learn about saving, spending smartly and how overall financial awareness can help you avoid debt.

* Avoid using loan money for non-education related costs. Think your loans are like a low-interest credit card? Think again. Instead of looking at your loans as a source of free money, budget your loan money solely for tuition, books and related fees. This will ensure your loan money is spent as it was intended and you stay on budget.

* Save money where you can. College is expensive, but there are plenty of ways you can save. Purchase new textbooks only after you’ve exhausted rental or used-book options. Living at home or in the dorms is more cost effective than renting a place of your own. Plus, if you live on campus or close to public transportation, you can eliminate the need to own your own vehicle, which will save you even more.

A college education is an investment that will benefit you the rest of your life, and while you may be concerned about the debt that pursuing a degree can create, saving and spending smartly will allow you to attain your degree without a mountain of bills. To learn more about Columbia College of Missouri and its Money Stacks Program, visit

Categories: Lifestyle
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