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Updated: 39 min 11 sec ago

Preparing for back-to-school: backpacks, new jeans and vaccines

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Summer is a time when kids and parents get to take a break from the school year routine and have a moment to enjoy some ice cream, the outdoors and family time. But parents know that just as everyone begins focusing on fun, it’s already time to begin planning back-to-school to-do lists and prepare for the coming school year.

Back-to-school tasks for parents of pre-teens and teens often include such items as stocking up on school supplies, purchasing some new wardrobe items, coordinating extracurricular activities and organizing fall schedules. But getting prepared to go back to school also presents a great opportunity to talk with your child’s health care professional about recommended vaccines for your pre-teen or teen boys and girls.

As children get older and become pre-teens and teens they can be at risk for other diseases for which vaccines are available. Children tend to have fewer regular visits with their health care professional as they get older and visits are usually for sports physicals or because of illness. These types of visits, in addition to wellness checkups, can be used as an opportunity to ask about vaccines.

“Many parents know to vaccinate their children when they are younger, but there are some parents that may not know that there are vaccines that are also recommended for older children,” says Registered Nurse Beth Battaglino, Chief Executive Officer of HealthyWomen. “The school year can be hectic, so I encourage parents to use the summer break to make appointments with their child’s health care professional or take advantage of already scheduled appointments to discuss vaccines and their dosing schedules that are recommended for their pre-teens and teens.”

Vaccines are recommended not only for children, pre-teens and teens, but across an individual’s entire lifetime to help maintain health and wellness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccines to help prevent more than 15 diseases, and has vaccination schedules that cover children, pre-teens, teens, and adults. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines help prevent more than 30 infectious diseases worldwide.

To learn more about vaccines for all stages of life, people are urged to talk to their health care professional and visit The website provides information from Merck about the importance of vaccination, how vaccines are developed, approved and manufactured, and infectious diseases for which there are vaccines. It also offers a resource that can be used when talking to a health care professional about vaccination.

Categories: Lifestyle

Sports concussions generate attention with start of school year

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You’re spending your nights standing on the sidelines, cheering your daughter as she dribbles a soccer ball across the field. Or maybe you’re cheering on your quarterback son as he yells “hut” at a football scrimmage. The school year - and its associated sports - is an exciting time. But with that excitement comes the risk of traumatic injuries - including concussions.

Concussions are generating a lot of attention these days as an increasing amount of research highlights the difficulties in treating them.

To this end, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) has developed Sports Concussion Guidelines - available in both English and Spanish - to help coaches, schools, parents and athletes better understand concussions, and when an injured athlete should be allowed to return to play. The guidelines cover the following:

Players: Concussions can happen in any sport and at any time during the season. A concussion can occur when the head hits, or is hit by, a solid surface. It can also happen when the head’s motion is stopped suddenly, even if it doesn’t strike, or is struck by, a solid surface. If you witness changes in the behavior or personality of a player on your team, or if you see them giving a blank stare, acting disoriented, suffering from memory loss or even vomiting, ask the player if he/she was involved in a collision. Alert your coach if you witness or are involved in any violent contact while on the field.

Parents: Educate yourselves about the signs of a concussion, as you know your child best when he/she might be exhibiting unusual behaviors. Download the AAN’s concussion reference sheet for parents, coaches and players at, and share with your young athlete your concerns about him/her playing with a head injury. While cheering for your child in practice and in games, keep an eye on the play for any potential head collisions and report anything significant that may have been missed.

Coaches: Have a conversation with your players early in the season about the dangers of concussions, and communicate clearly that they can happen in any sport at any time. The AAN offers a Concussion Quick Check mobile app to help coaches, parents, and athletic trainers quickly identify if a player is exhibiting signs of a concussion. Additionally, listen to your players if they are talking about someone having taken a hard hit. Enforce the rule that players should not be allowed to return to play following a head injury until they are evaluated and cleared by a physician.

Physicians: Concussions are also generating more attention in the medical field. Physicians are ethically obligated to safeguard the current and future physical and mental health of the student athletes they treat, whether the student has a concussion or not. This includes providing parents and athletes with information about concussion risk factors, symptoms and discussing the potential for long term brain health effects from repeated blows.

“Brain disease threatens to steal from us what makes us human,” says retired NFL player Ben Utecht, who suffered five known concussions during his football career and is now the spokesperson for the American Academy of Neurology and its foundation, the American Brain Foundation. “I will fight relentlessly to see that through research we can in fact find the origins of healing through the cures that are waiting to be discovered.”

Categories: Lifestyle

New discoveries decode the symbols and mysteries of the Mona Lisa

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Almost 500 years after the death of artist Leonardo da Vinci, the world-famous Mona Lisa painting continues to fascinate people of all ages. An estimated 6 million people view the painting each year at the Louvre in France, and many more read and study about its history and the theories surrounding the legendary work of art.

The identity of the woman

One of the most debated mysteries of the Mona Lisa is the identity of the woman behind the iconic smile. Following 12 years of investigation, academic and art historian W.N. Varvel has confirmed that the painting took place in the Italian duchy of Mantua, where da Vinci promised to paint in color the portrait of Marquesa Isabella d’Este, considered to be an intellectual prodigy.

“Leonardo made three preparatory sketches during his stay in Mantua in 1500,” says Varvel. “The key to unraveling the mystery behind the painting’s iconic woman was the discovery of the final preparatory sketch of Isabella d’Este within a private art collection in Florence. When you compare Leonardo’s final sketch to the Mona Lisa, her true identity is immediately obvious.”

Varvel explains several new theories about the Mona Lisa in his book, “The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Hidden Secrets of the Mona Lisa” (Brown Books Publishing Group).Through illustrations and maps, he details research that identifies the woman and explains the correlation between the painting and the bible.

Hidden meaning behind symbols

Intrigue deepens around symbols hidden in the painting. In fact, Varvel has identified 40 separate symbols comprised of 15 geographic landmarks and 25 religious representations. Several of note include:

The composition of the Mona Lisa combines three separate elements: a map of the Old City of Jerusalem, a pen and ink sketch of Isabella d'Este done in 1500, and verses found in chapter 14 of the Old Testament Book of Zechariah.

The symbols within the composition of the Mona Lisa present the message contained within the 21 verses of chapter 14 of the Book of Zechariah. This message states that the Christian concept of the "New Jerusalem" will not begin on earth until women’s rights to the priesthood of Jesus Christ are recognized.

Secret of the smile
The smile of the Mona Lisa is not meant to entice viewers to ponder her physical identity, but to recognize her theological rights and what is being hidden directly behind her back. The answer to this question is the "New Jerusalem." The body of the Mona Lisa has been painted within the exact geographic markers that define the boundaries of the "New Jerusalem" as stated in Zechariah 14:10.

“Leonardo placed symbols in the Mona Lisa as tantalizing clues to reveal the theme of the painting,” says Varvel. “Each of these 40 symbols specifically correlates to a verse found within the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah. This reinforces the theory that Leonardo used this single biblical chapter as his source of inspiration. When Leonardo combined the pen and ink sketch of Isabella d’Este with the map of the Old City of Jerusalem by placing her silhouette within the boundaries of the geographic landmarks, Leonardo married the subject of the painting to its stated theme in Zechariah.”

Summarizing the findings of the research, Varvel concludes, “For 500 years, the general public has suspected that the Mona Lisa was hiding something grand and now we know what it is.”

A video by the author on “The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa” can be found at The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and IndieBound.

Categories: Lifestyle

Make sportsmanship part of your child's (and your) game plan

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You’ve probably been to a youth sporting event when an argument broke out between coaches and parents. Or maybe you’ve watched youth athletes refuse to help one another up or congratulate an opponent on a great play.  

And you wonder where has sportsmanship gone?

A new effort by Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Play Positive program looks to renew the spirit of sportsmanship and remind youth sports coaches and parents of the importance of this life lesson. Parents and coaches are asked to take the Play Positive Pledge to promote good sportsmanship. Taking the pledge could even help your youth sports team or organization earn $2,500 toward providing a better youth sports experience.

Recently, a survey of 2,000 youth sports parents and coaches conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance revealed shocking statistics about the decline in sportsmanship in youth sports, underscoring the need for a stronger emphasis. 

According to the survey:

* 50 percent of parents and coaches believe that sportsmanship has worsened in youth sports since they participated as children (while only 12 percent think it has improved).

* According to both parents and coaches, learning “teamwork” and “sportsmanship” are the two most important aspects of participating in youth sports.

* 26 percent of parents say they have witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16 percent say they have witnessed a confrontation between parents.

* 55 percent of coaches have experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own kids, and two in five have experienced parents yelling negatively at other kids.

So how do parents and coaches stop this trend and improve sportsmanship for the next generation? It starts with teaching children the value of sportsmanship. Seventy-five percent of parents and coaches say that teaching sportsmanship is the responsibility of parents. If you want to help your child learn the value of good sportsmanship and playing with a positive attitude, follow these tips:

* Play with integrity. One of the most essential lessons a child can learn from sports is to follow the rules. Make sure your children understand the rules and don’t break them, even if they have the opportunity to get away with it.

* Respect the officials. It’s important that youth athletes – as well as parents and coaches – learn to respect referees and officials. Showing respect for the officials will set a good example for your children. Remember, they are always watching and learning from you.

* Be a good sport. This means teaching your child to do what they can to lift up their teammates. Teach them that being a good teammate also means being a good person on and off the field regardless of the outcome.

* Maintain self-control. Help your child learn to keep their cool, have a positive attitude and avoid overreacting during practices or games.

* Let the coaches coach. Avoid chiming in with your coaching advice for the team or other parents. Let those in charge run the plays. This will help your children learn to respect their coaches and the coaches’ decisions.  

“Growing up as a youth athlete, my coaches and parents were constantly using examples of poor behavior on the field as an opportunity to teach me about the importance of sportsmanship,” says actor Chris O’Donnell, Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive ambassador. “Those lessons have stuck with me over the years, and now as a father of children involved in youth sports, I know the opportunity lies with us as parents to have the conversation and reinforce this important life lesson."

You can learn more about Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Play Positive program find helpful tips and resources for teaching your children lifelong sportsmanship skills and take the Play Positive Pledge by visiting

Categories: Lifestyle

Take two: Going back to school to find a successful new career path

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Thinking about returning to school as a way to restart your career, enter a new field or complete the degree you never finished? Now may be the time. Adults are flocking back to school, with nearly 4 million people ages 35 and older enrolled in a degree-granting institution, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In fact, adults have become the fastest-growing demographic in universities across the United States.

Driven by the desire to improve earnings, change one’s life-style or reinvigorate the way one feels about going to work every day, going back to school could be the first step to getting there. The first step of course, is determining your professional goals and what experience is needed to achieve them. Even if you are not set on the exact goal, this process is essential in helping you arrive at the right field for you to explore.

With back-to-school season upon us, many may find themselves thinking about a teaching profession. A December 2013 survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Kaplan University’s School of Graduate Education found that 32 percent of Americans have considered a career in teaching. Additionally, the survey found 60 percent of parents believe they would make good teachers.

If you think the education field might be a good fit for you, there are online tools that can help you make the right decision regarding your future. One of the newest such tools is Kaplan’s new Virtual Advisor. It guides users through a series of questions and scenarios, offering interesting facts and information about many different education careers, from teaching and educational psychology to college and university administration. At the end, Virtual Advisor analyzes your answers and recommends the best education degree for you at Kaplan. While Virtual Advisor is a great resource for guidance in the education career space, there are other tools on the market for those exploring other careers, from government-sponsored websites to online career quizzes and surveys.

A new career in the education field may give you the fulfillment you desire and numerous job opportunities are available. There is a demand for teachers in many cities across the United States, but also consider various education career paths outside the classroom that may align with your aspirations. Many build on skills you may already have.

For example, if you have a background in psychology or would like to pursue the field, a master of science in educational psychology might be a good option. With this degree, you’ll learn how to build, implement, evaluate and improve instructional and training materials and programs for use in K-12 programs, colleges, corporate or military environments.

Those who have a love for technology or a knack for instruction design might consider a master of science in education in instructional technology. In this program, you’ll focus on the design, development and evaluation of instructional programs, materials and media in K-12 programs, higher education, corporate and military environments.

If your interests lie with helping people and being involved in education at the college level, a master of science in higher education will teach you the specialized skills you need to teach online or on campus, work as a college administration leader or pursue a student affairs position. To learn more about these and other education degrees, you can visit

No matter what you decide to go back to school for, make sure you follow your passion. This is the best path to self-fulfillment and a rewarding new career.

Categories: Lifestyle

Young adults are getting serious about money sooner than you think

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - More evidence has emerged that parents are doing a better job teaching kids about money, and young adults are getting better at managing it.

For instance, the majority of millennials are investing for retirement by the age of 24, according to the Spring 2014 Merrill Edge Report. This is in sharp contrast to older generations who began investing for the future at an average age of 33. It shows that younger Americans are paying attention to money and learning lessons from the recession, but it also indicates that parents are doing more to teach these lessons early.

“Parents should add a money talk to their checklist of everything that needs to be done to set kids up for success this fall,” says Aron Levine, head of Preferred Banking and Merrill Edge for Bank of America. “We see young millennials taking money seriously, so if you’re a parent of younger kids it’s time to make money management a regular part of the parenting conversation.”

Money issues demand frequent conversation and teaching moments, and back-to-school season is the perfect time to explore financial lessons and encourage kids to benefit from the experience of others. There is no age limit for helping kids learn to manage money - teenagers and young children alike can become financially literate. Whether you have youngsters or college-bound kids, there are ways to teach your children how to manage money responsibly.

Here are tips for teenagers:

* Show your teen how to create a budget
Work with your kids on making a plan for spending an allowance or earnings from a job. By age 13 or 14, they may be thinking about buying a car or similar big purchase. That takes effort and smart planning.

* Introduce and explain investing
Investing smaller sums with limited consequences is a great way for kids to learn about managing risk. For 43 percent of Merrill Edge Report respondents, choosing among different investment products is the most complicated part of investing; starting early can help build a base of knowledge.

* Plan for college
Talk about the cost of college. Let your children know how much you can cover and how much they need to contribute. If you have established a savings plan, discuss how it works. Explain the difference between costs at a private and state school. Discuss loans options, and let them research scholarships.

* Create learning opportunities
If your kid is shocked by how much of their first paycheck goes to Uncle Sam, sit down and explain taxes, Medicare and Social Security. If your kid wants a bank account, show them how to balance a checkbook and track the account online. Consider bringing your kid along when you visit your financial advisor to establish a baseline understanding of the financial planning process.

Tips for younger kids:

* Teach budgeting
An allowance can be a great first step in showing your kids how to manage money. Consider giving money every week to young children, at two-week intervals for preteens and monthly for teenagers. Spreading out the timing helps children understand the need to set goals and manage spending.

* Show the value of saving
It’s natural for money to burn a hole in the pockets of young kids, but you can help them discover the benefits of delayed gratification. If there’s a toy they want, suggest they forgo spending on ice cream and instead save to make the bigger purchase.

* Let them earn extra
You probably expect your kids to do daily chores. Consider offering them the chance to make extra money by helping clean the garage, wash windows or taking on another job beyond the routine. Earning for extra work instills good habits and gives children more control over saving and spending.

* Introduce philanthropy
When kids are very young, they can understand charitable gifts. Talk about organizations they might like to support, then earmark part of their allowance for donations.

* Create learning opportunities
If your child spends an entire allowance right away, resist requests for more money before the next allowance is due. Negative consequences can carry powerful lessons. Talk with your child about how to do better next time.

Teaching money lessons early and reinforcing the messages as you go will help your children learn to avoid major money mistakes as adults. For additional resources you can also visit, a web site developed by Bank of America in partnership with education innovator Khan Academy with the goal of providing free, objective information to make it easier for everyone to understand the fundamentals of personal finance. With a little coaching from parents, kids of almost any age can learn how to make wise spending choices and become better prepared to live financially responsible lives later on.

Categories: Lifestyle

Allergy and asthma preparation: an important item on the back-to-school checklist

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Sending children back to school comes with a long checklist of items to remember. For example, you need to know what school supplies to buy. You will want to visit the school to find the classroom and meet the teacher. You will also plan after-school activities full of fun enrichment opportunities. If you have a child with asthma or allergies going back to school this fall, you need another item on that list. Specifically, your checklist should also include connecting with the teachers, school nurse and other school staff about your child’s symptoms, treatment and prevention strategies.

One out of 13 children in the United States has a food allergy. This means there’s a good chance that two children in your child’s class will need plans in place to prevent exposure to certain foods. Some states have laws to protect children with asthma and allergies in a school setting. You can find out which states by visiting The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) publishes this report each year. It informs the public about how each state measures up on student health and safety policies. 

It is important that you prepare your child, his teacher, school nurse, classmates and others about managing his allergy or asthma condition at school. Discuss ways to prevent exposure to triggers to ensure his classroom environment is a safe zone where he can learn and play. Here are some helpful tips to consider:

 * Get an asthma or anaphylaxis action plan – This plan will inform staff at the school about managing your child’s condition, like worsening asthma and allergy reaction symptoms. Plan in advance to get your child’s doctor or nurse practitioner to review and sign the action plan. Make sure you bring it to school on the first day, if not sooner along with a fresh supply of any prescribed emergency medicines.

* Share a copy of the asthma or anaphylaxis action plan with all appropriate staff members – This way staff will be able to help should something happen while your child is in their care.

* Meet the teacher – Your child’s teacher has a lot to do at the beginning of a new school year. There are many new faces and a lot of information to process. In light of this, try to schedule a quieter time with the teacher, school nurse and other necessary school staff to educate them about your child’s allergies or asthma. It is best if this can be done before the first day of class. Many school districts have policies for handling food allergies. Review these policies and make sure that your child’s specific needs will be addressed. One helpful idea is to have the school draft a letter to be passed out to all students in the classroom or sent home to parents explaining what special policies will be in place.

* Encourage your child to share information – It is important for your child to be able to communicate about his condition to his classmates, friends and the teaching staff. Make sure he knows to tell a grown up if he is experiencing symptoms. Communication helps others become more aware of his condition. This leads to compassion and understanding and cooperation. People – even his closest friends – might forget about his allergy or asthma. An open dialogue is important to help others understand the condition. 

* Discuss medical emergency policies – Make sure your child’s school has procedures in place for identifying symptoms and for treatment of emergencies. Review these procedures with the school nurse. Make sure your child’s action plan is on file and that his medications are accessible. Your state will have laws governing what the school can and cannot do. For example, all states except one allow for students to self-carry their prescribed asthma inhalers or epinephrine auto-injectors. Epinephrine auto-injectors are used to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. Currently, 38 states allow schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors for use in an emergency, but the numbers keep growing. Check out the 2014 State Honor Roll to see where your state stands regarding policies for children with asthma and allergies in school settings.

As your child prepares to start school again this fall, these actions can help ensure he, his classmates and the school staff are informed about ways to avoid triggering his allergies or asthma, and actions to take if his condition flares up. And then you can delete another item from the back-to-school to-do list.

Categories: Lifestyle

Must-have supplies for a successful year at college

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Packing up the bedroom and leaving for college comes with the promise of a semester of learning, meeting new friends and future peers, and good college fun.

In addition to the clothes and household goods that will be packed into the car, there are some other items every college-bound student will want. These include the technology gadgets that help students process all of their homework and class projects, as well as the snack foods and cleaning equipment they’ll need to survive the semester. Staples recommends every college student has the following must-have supplies in order to succeed this school year.

* Laptops – From taking class notes and writing term papers, to checking emails from friends and family back home, a laptop is essential for college survival. Staples offers a wide selection of laptops from Toshiba, HP and more to ensure every college student has the technology that is right for them.

* Textbooks – Start the semester right with all the textbooks you need before you even arrive on campus. Save up to 90 percent and rent your textbooks from, and then have them shipped to your dorm or apartment address so they’re waiting for you when you arrive. Plus, it makes the end of the school year much easier to close down – just ship the rented books back to Staples, pack up your belongings and depart for your next adventure.

* Extra charging stations – College dorms and apartments are plugged in. Students have smartphones, laptops, tablets and plenty of other electrical devices that need charging. Stock up on charging stations and portable chargers so you can have them in the dorm room or in a laptop bag or backpack if you need extra power during class.

* Data storage – With so much of college learning occurring online now, backing up your computer data is essential. Extra storage like flash drives, external drives or cloud storage will help all students feel confident that the hard work they put into taking notes, writing papers and completing projects will never be lost. Extra storage also makes the work mobile, so classmates working on a group project can share the work between members of the group.

* Bluetooth speakers – Music, videos and online video chatting are all ways college students like to kick back and relax in between classes and homework studying sessions. Having a set of Bluetooth-enabled speakers in the dorm room or apartment gives students the quality of audio they want and need for listening to recorded lectures or checking out the latest music videos.

Visit a Staples store or go online to find these must-haves and more so you can have a successful year at college.

Categories: Lifestyle

Tips to successfully transform from graduate to employee

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With the start of summer comes warm weather, vacation planning and an influx of recent graduates on the job hunt. In fact, during the 2013–14 school year, colleges and universities are expected to award nearly 5.3 million degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. All those recent grads can easily translate to a highly competitive job market.

As students begin planning for their future outside the classroom and preparing for the next chapter of their lives - finding a job, apartment hunting, paying back student loans - many realize that graduation is an opportunity to refresh one’s persona and digital reputation. This can include social media makeovers, refreshing your tech skills and upgrading your outdated email service to something more suitable for the next phase in life.

“Think of your digital footprint – your email address, social media and even the results of a search of your name – as the first impression you make on a company or recruiter. An excellent one will open doors,” says Karen Elizaga, executive coach and author of Find Your Sweet Spot: A Guide to Personal and Professional Excellence. “Because recruiters and executives receive hundreds of inquiries a day, they need easy ways to weed people out. Many recent grads overlook the importance of their digital footprint and use amusing, old email addresses that undermine the professional image they want to convey, or their social media pages reflect a candidate who is irresponsible, profane or disrespectful, any of which quickly moves someone to the ‘no’ pile. Jobseekers first task: clean up their digital image and make sure it makes a positive impression.”

There are several mail tools and features recent grads should leverage when making the transition from student to newly employed, including:

* Manage your email reputation: Your email says a lot about you. In fact, it can be thought of as your first impression to employers. Whether you need to migrate over from an outdated email address or upgrade to a more professional email username,’s import wizard allows you to import and manage your mail from Yahoo Mail, Gmail and many other email providers. You can even keep your old email addresses, but manage them all from one place.

Additionally 81 percent of all email users are using multiple email services, making it hard to keep up with numerous or old accounts, a recent study by Radius Global revealed. Consider consolidating to one personal email address to keep you connected and manage your contacts in one place.

* Utilize a shared calendar to organize your networking schedule: Having an always up-to-date address book and shared calendar available across your phone, tablet, and other devices makes networking easier because you aren’t tied to any one device where information might be saved. Your calendar is accessible right from your inbox, so it’s easy to stay up-to-date, subscribe to online calendars, import events from your other calendars, or share your agenda with family to keep everyone in sync. You can also send invitations, track RSVPs, and set notifications to stay on schedule.

* Leverage the tools employers care about most: A recent Microsoft survey looked at the job and skill requirements from 14.6 million job postings from the second and third quarters of 2013 and identified the 20 most common skills required for those positions. Proficiency in Microsoft Office was among the top five skills employers look for in a prospective new-hire. allows consumers to create, open, edit and share Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for free using Office Online, accessible from your inbox. It’s a great way to create, access and share your resume and there’s no need for you or those you share with to install Office, and your formatting stays intact.

* Remember that’s it’s all about who you know: As the old saying goes, “it’s all in who you know,” so working off one set of contacts that pulls in information from your social networks allows you to check your contacts’ recent status updates, profile pictures, and Tweets while you email them. Additionally, many recent graduates are looking for jobs outside of their current residence. Don’t let distance be a factor in the job hunt by staying connected with Skype chat and video calls right from your inbox.

Staying organized and being informed can be the difference between landing a job and a missed opportunity. For more tips, visit to learn more.

Categories: Lifestyle

Overlooking insurance during your job search could cost you

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - An improving economy has many people entering the job market and looking for new employment opportunities. But if job seekers are not insurance-smart in their search, they may end up in worse financial shape than they were in their previous role.

Earning a higher salary is the primary goal for many job seekers, but research from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) shows that many job seekers ignore the wider benefits package, not realizing that insurance benefits alone can account for nearly 10 percent of total compensation, according to research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This could be costly, as 25 percent of job switchers found out. In fact, new employees reported that insurance-related changes in their new position either slightly or greatly worsened their overall financial situation.

If you are exploring new opportunities in the job market, make sure you ask these questions.

Five tough questions to ask when changing jobs

1. Beyond salary, what are the other financial implications of making a job change?

2. What options do I have to cover medical expenses while I’m between jobs?

3. If something catastrophic happens to me between jobs, is my family protected?

4. Have I thought through all of the financial consequences of a job change that includes a long-distance move?

5. All things considered, could this be a good time to start my own business?

Asking yourself these questions will put you in a better position to research new opportunities in an informed way. Before you decide to accept a new position, make some smart insurance decisions to be sure you and your family are protected during the transition.

Five insurance-smart things to do as you change jobs

1. Find out if your new employer has a mandatory waiting period before health insurance coverage takes effect. If so, consider a short-term plan to cover the gap.

2. Conduct a line-by-line comparison of your current health plan with plans offered by your new employer to determine the right blend of deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance for your needs.

3. If you have children and your health insurance coverage is at risk of lapsing, look into government-sponsored programs, such as Children’s Health Insurance Plans (CHIP). These plans may provide coverage at little or no cost to you.

4. See if your current group life insurance plan has a conversion privilege. You may have 31 days from the day you leave your employer to submit an application.

5. Insurance rates and coverage vary greatly from state to state. Before a move across state lines, contact your state insurance department so you know what to expect.

Accepting a new position can be an exciting time in your professional life. By asking the right questions you can ensure your new job is even more profitable for your family than your last. For more tips, tools, videos, interactive games and downloadable apps to help you get smart about insurance during a job change or other life event such as buying a car, buying a home, getting married, becoming a parent or even turning 50, visit

A fun video by the NAIC illustrates the importance of educating yourself on insurance during these life events.

Categories: Lifestyle

Fun kids' activities reverse summer learning loss

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - School-aged kids count down the days to summer vacation when they can play outside and take a break from homework duties. However, being out of the classroom isn’t all fun and games – summer learning loss is a real issue that parents worry about every year.

Research shows students can lose two to three months of learning over the summer break, which means teachers spend more time in the new school year revisiting topics from the year past. Kids deserve time off, but that doesn’t mean learning should fall by the wayside. Parents today have more options than ever to keep kids learning and having fun throughout the summer months.

Make math practice fun
Parents can keep math skills fresh and make learning fun by pairing math and technology this summer. Games and customized learning activities engage kids to fight math learning loss and even get a head start on the upcoming year. For example, the TenMarks Summer Math Program ( is a customized program for students in grades 1 through Algebra 2 and Geometry. Students work at their own pace – just one hour a week – through a personalized program that features hints and video lessons to refresh topics they’ve learned and introduce new math concepts for the upcoming year. Levels, points and customized rewards provide a motivating and fun environment. TenMarks Summer Math Program is free this summer (previously $39/student).  Also new this summer, the TenMarks Summer Math Program is available as a Kindle App; as well as on any browser or iPad.

“Using TenMarks over the summer definitely had a positive impact on my daughter – it helped her move up a grade in school,” said Renee Lennon, mom of 4 kids from Maryland. “By having videos and helpful hints, my children were able to use TenMarks independently all summer long.”

Research reading titles that inspire
Instilling a love for reading is important for all kids, whether infants or teenagers. That’s why the summer months are the perfect time for children to read books of their choice or start a fun new series. Reading programs are plentiful during the summertime, but with so many books to choose from, it can be overwhelming for parents and kids to narrow down options. To ensure kids select books they’ll love, it’s smart for parents to have the inside scoop on which titles are popular. Amazon’s Summer Reading for Kids site ( offers curated lists that will keep young readers turning the pages all summer long, as well as other themed booklists, such as Graduation Gifts for Little Scholars and Nature Nonfiction, to encourage learning enrichment. It’s simple to search for books by age group so parents can find the perfect read for their children.

Find science learning opportunities locally
Inspiring curiosity through hands-on activities helps to strengthen science skills during summer break.Fortunately, there is a multitude of scientific opportunities that allows kids to go outside and explore. For example, planting a vegetable garden helps children learn how photosynthesis works. Investing in a magnifying glass or microscope can also provide endless hours of activity for little explorers. For children of all ages – consider visiting a local zoo or science and technology museum. Students can also explore specialized science summer camps where kids can create their own science experiments and build their understanding for subjects such as physics, biology and engineering.

Combating summer brain drain doesn’t have to be difficult for parents or students. With a few creative ideas and engaging programs, children will be ready to go to the head of the class come fall.

Categories: Lifestyle

Education insight: 5 tips for conquering college later in life

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Today’s college students are breaking the stereotypical mold. Older students are no longer intimidated to conquer college later in life, and many colleges see students in their 20s studying alongside students in their 30s, 40s - even 60s! If it’s been a long time since you’ve been in a classroom, it’s important to understand how modern educational changes are making getting a degree easier than ever before.

Perhaps why more working adults and older individuals are considering a college degree is because the classroom landscape has changed immensely in recent years. Online colleges and virtual classrooms make it more convenient than ever to take classes, and studies show that the average online learner is 34 years old. What’s more, between 2013 and 2017, e-learning is projected to grow 23 percent. 

If you are an adult contemplating going back to school, consider these five tips for finding the right program and conquering college later in life:

Find your focus
Whether you want to advance your current career or start a completely new one, begin by investigating the field of study and growth expectations for different career paths. A good resource for learning about industry growth, employment statistics and wage outlooks is the Bureau of Labor Statistics at Some of the fastest-growing industries today include health care, information technology and education.

Analyze your lifestyle
Many adults put off getting a college degree due to time constraints. Because online education is flexible and convenient, more adults than ever before are able to complete a college degree. When deciding what college to attend, explore time commitments and flexibility of the classroom environment. Every college has different philosophies and requirements, so you’ll want to find the one that best matches your lifestyle.

Use your experience
As an adult, you’ve likely gained career and life experience that younger students do not have. Some colleges recognize this as an asset, such as Western Governors University, which offers online degrees based on real-world competencies as opposed to seat time or credit hours. Because progress is determined by whether you can "prove" you know the skills, you can draw upon your personal experience to complete assessments faster, ultimately saving you both time and money. Learn more about competency-based degrees at

Crunch cost considerations
It’s no secret that college can be expensive. With some research, you can find an institution that offers quality curriculums with reasonable tuition rates. To start, ask your employer about tuition reimbursement programs. Many companies offer partial or full reimbursement to qualifying employees. This can cut costs considerably. Next, you should research colleges with affordable tuition rates. For example, WGU is a self-sustaining nonprofit with tuition of $5,800 per year for most programs and has not increased rates since 2008.

Ask about accreditation
With thousands of colleges across the U.S., and particularly because of the exponential growth of online universities, accreditation is key when comparing institutions. You should always ask about accreditation to ensure the college and curriculum have been evaluated by a leading third-party organization so you know the education is high quality and that the degree you earn will be recognized and respected by employers and other academic institutions. It’s also wise to ask about faculty credentials, which can be a great indicator for what you can expect from the program and class time.

Learning is a lifelong journey, and now it’s easier than ever for older people to go back to school and complete their degree. These five key factors will help determine the right college and program to suit any lifestyle.

Categories: Lifestyle

Providing national defense from the air and the sea: An exciting opportunity from America's Navy

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - When it comes to protecting America, a group of highly trained Navy Pilots and Naval Flight Officers are ready to serve from the air and the sea. This world-class team maneuvers the most sophisticated airplanes and helicopters to electronically detect and track ships, submarines, aircraft and missiles.

Naval aviators fly tantalizingly close to the ocean surface and execute strategic aerial maneuvers using the most innovative and high-tech aircraft in the world.

Joining the Navy and becoming part of this elite group requires a bachelor’s degree, and candidates must successfully complete an intense, comprehensive aviation training program before earning their “wings of gold.”

Candidates should have a background in math and science and must have completed or be pursuing a four-year degree. A recruiter will be able to discuss the specific physical and mental requirements needed to join the military, and offer other opportunities in the Navy.

Naval aviation is open to both men and women. In fact, there are more than 600 women Naval Aviators today continuing a proud heritage that began in 1973 when the Navy started a test program to train female Naval Aviators. In the 1980s, females started landing helicopters on aircraft carriers, which is one of the most challenging maneuvers for a pilot. By 1993, female aviators were serving with combat squadrons.

When not flying, Naval Aviators collect intelligence, control and maintain internal and external aircraft systems, and study aerodynamics, aircraft engine systems, meteorology, navigation, flight planning and flight safety. In addition, they provide vital attack, defense and logistical support to others in the Navy around the world.

Once they’re finished with Navy service, aviators are well-positioned for careers with airlines, government agencies or private corporations to work as pilots, aircraft construction and maintenance, or other fields requiring this unique leadership experience. For more information, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Going back to school? Tips to choose the right degree

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - For many, earning a college degree opened the door to the working world; it may have even been instrumental in landing your current job. But are you applying what you learned in college to your current career field? A recent survey suggests this might not be the case.

Only 35 percent of college-educated workers consider all or most of what they learned in college to be applicable to their current jobs, according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix.

Today, many working adults are returning to college to either complete a degree that better aligns with the skills required for their current job or earn a second degree to gain additional experience for a potential career change. The National Center for Education Statistics reports an estimated 8.7 million adults over the age of 25 were planning to enroll in college in 2013, up nearly 37 percent from 2000.

“There is significant progress being made in higher education to adapt to the needs of the employment market and tie curriculum to careers earlier in a student’s education,” says University of Phoenix School of Business Executive Dean Ruth Veloria. “It is critical to choose the right degree program so you know the knowledge you glean from coursework can be applied to the career you desire.”

Veloria offers these tips to help you get the most out of your educational experience:

* Research degree programs with a career in mind – Don’t wait until you are enrolled in college to determine your career path. Research specific positions, develop learning plans with an academic advisor and take career and skills assessments. Phoenix Career Guidance System is designed to help any student – from those just starting to those looking to advance their careers – research jobs related to different degree programs and discover which fields best fit their interests and personalities.

* Go straight to the source - If you know someone currently working in the career field in which you are interested, schedule an informational interview to learn more about the skills and experience required for that line of work. Don’t know anyone? Veloria recommends joining industry associations and attending networking events as a way to make new contacts and learn more about a new career field or job.

* Communicate with your boss – Your return to school will most likely benefit your company, so share your education plans with your boss, including how your classroom learning can benefit colleagues and special projects in the workplace. If your manager feels invested in your goals, it could be a source of support and motivation for you. Additionally, contact your human resources department to see if the company offers education reimbursement benefits to help pay for school.

* Consider certificate programs that lead to a degree – Many working adults balance school with workplace and family priorities, so it can take additional time to earn a college degree. University of Phoenix offers a certificate option that allows you to move core courses toward the front of your degree program. This program allows you to earn certificates along the way to degree completion to help you gain the knowledge needed to elevate your career.

“Researching and planning the education path you need to achieve your career goals is very important,” says Veloria. “You want to know that the skills you learn in college are the skills you need to advance your career to the next level.”

Categories: Lifestyle

Healthy lunch and snack ideas for back to school

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - If schools and parents received report cards on the lunches they’re serving kids, most wouldn’t receive a passing score. Many lunches, whether served at school or brought from home, are made with bleached flour, artificial sweeteners, food coloring, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, hormones and trans fats. Studies have shown that these ingredients are linked to weight gain, defects in insulin and lipid metabolism, hyperactivity, increased risk of tumors, cancer, digestive issues, asthma, premature heart attacks, diabetes, and overexposure and resistance to antibiotics. Some of these ingredients are even banned in other countries.

As a parent, what can you do to keep your child healthy? Life Time – The Healthy Way of Life Company, suggests checking in with your child’s school to learn where foods are sourced, the nutritional values and ingredients in order to make informed decisions.

“The more highly processed foods are, the more likely they are to contain the seven unsavory ingredients. Meaning they are foods it’s best to find alternatives for,” says Laura Burbank, a registered dietitian with the Life Time Foundation.

“We encourage parents to speak with school nutrition directors and cafeteria managers about reducing the amount of highly processed and artificial items served in their lunch rooms, in favor of wholesome, real foods, and we’re able to help parents throughout that process,” Burbank says.

Until changes are made, Burbank advises actively engaging kids - starting when they’re young - in packing lunch at home. “Getting kids involved in packing their lunches makes them more likely to eat and enjoy them,” says Burbank. “They feel helpful and they’re learning along the way.” She says it’s important to include a protein, whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy fats with every meal, and provides some ideas below.

Lunch box option one:

* Lunch: turkey or ham sandwich with avocado and spinach on whole grain bread. Look for meat that is free of hormones, antibiotics, nitrates, artificial preservatives and other additives.

* Snack: orange slices and string cheese.

Lunch box option two:

* Lunch: grilled chicken breast, avocado and roasted bell pepper or shredded carrots in a whole grain pita with a Greek yogurt based dressing or pesto.

* Snack: apple slices and almond butter. If your child’s school has a strict nut-free lunchroom guideline, include Greek yogurt with vanilla and/or honey.

Lunch box option three:

* Lunch: a wholesome PB&J made with almond butter and 100 percent fruit preserves on whole grain bread.

* Snack: hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers with Greek yogurt based vegetable dipping sauce, or pita chips and peppers with hummus.

Healthier lunch room choices

Burbank notes that sometimes making lunch at home isn’t a viable option. If that’s the case, she suggests parents discuss healthy lunch room options with their kids, as studies have shown that in addition to nutritional benefits, healthier diets also associate with higher academic performance. Things to consider include:

* Choose a salad when available to include more vegetables in the meal.

* Choose white milk over chocolate milk to cut down on sugar intake.

* Choose 1 percent milk over skim or non-fat milk, the higher fat content is more satiating.

* Choose whole grain pasta over bread which may contain bleached flour and preservatives.

* Choose red pasta sauce (vegetable-based) over cream sauce (high in fat).

* Choose fresh fruit over canned fruit which may contain artificial colors, preservatives and sweeteners.

Parents should also be encouraged to talk to the nutrition directors and cafeteria managers about reducing the amount of highly processed and artificial items in the school meals. The Life Time Foundation is a great resource for more information on this.

The Life Time Foundation partners with schools to help them remove highly processed and artificial ingredients from school meals by providing resources and assisting with menu development. For more information on how your school can get involved, visit

Categories: Lifestyle

Going home again: A great office is a key to success for new home-based workers

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Whoever first said, “You can’t go home again,” probably wasn’t considering the 38 million home-based businesses in the United States, or the approximately 37 million households that have active home offices. More workers are plying their trade from home, as employers recognize the value of flexibility for their work force and more employees decide to enter the ranks of American entrepreneurship.

It’s not just small business owners or lucky full-time employees who are working from home, either; the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 24 percent of people employed outside the home work at home at least some of the time. If you’re poised to become home-based, here are some things to consider as you’re putting your home office in order:

Location is key

Without the need to fight rush-hour traffic during a twice-daily commute, you may think the location of your home office isn’t that important. Actually, it is. Where your office is located in your home can affect your productivity and even your personal life.

Choose a room that’s in your home’s heavy traffic lanes, and you could face frequent interruptions. Park your desk in the game room over the garage and you may feel isolated from the rest of the house. Try to stuff a desk in a corner of your bedroom and you’ll spend most of your life stuck in the same room – you may even feel less inclined to sleep there if you’re always working in your bedroom.

You’ll need to balance personal and professional priorities in order to decide which room in the house makes the most sense for your home office.

Good lighting sets the stage for success

The harshness of artificial lighting is a common complaint among people working in offices outside the home. A window in one’s office has long been a sign of prestige in cities across the country, and having abundant natural light in a home office is one of the many advantages of working from home. Natural lighting has a mood-boosting impact that’s been well-documented, making office workers feel happier, healthier and more productive. What’s more, use of natural light can help reduce reliance on artificial lighting and trim utility bills accordingly.

If the space you’ve chosen for your home office is short on windows and adding them isn’t practical, skylights can be a good alternative, not only for lighting but also to save valuable wall space for other uses. Adding Energy Star-qualified skylights, like those manufactured by VELUX America, can be as cost-effective as installing quality vertical windows, without creating the hassle of opening a wall. If you opt for a remote-controlled fresh air skylight, you can also use it to enhance the indoor air quality of your home office. Additionally, many of the features that make skylights appealing in other areas of the house – such as privacy in a bathroom or space conservation in a small bedroom – also make them a good choice for a home office.

Finally, skylights can be a good investment for your home-based business. Adding no-leak solar-powered fresh-air skylights and energy-efficient solar-powered blinds to your home office can qualify for a 30-percent federal tax credit on both products, including the installation costs. And from now until Aug. 15, there’s also a $200 cash rebate from VELUX on solar powered skylights. Visit or to learn more about energy-efficient skylights.  Want to see how skylights would look in your home?  A free skylight planner app is available to show you, room by room, what’s possible with skylights.

Furnishings create a foundation

Considering how much time you’ll spend in your home office, it’s important to invest in furnishings that will be functional, comfortable, inspiring and in step with your lifestyle.

If you prefer to sit while you work on a computer, the comfort of your office chair will be key. Prefer to get in a bit of healthful exercise while you work? Consider an ergonomic desk that allows you to stand while you type. Many versions of standing desks also can be lowered for use while seated.

Desks should incorporate storage and easy access to electronic components. Office chairs should be comfortable and ergonomically correct. Be sure your furniture choices not only fit your needs, but the room’s, too. A huge desk may make you feel like a Wall Street CEO, but your enjoyment will evaporate if you don’t have space to walk around the desk in a small office. It’s important to keep office furniture appropriate to the scale of the room you’ll be working in.

The number of people working from home continues to grow, according to Census Bureau statistics. One study by a Chinese travel website found that working from home increased employee productivity by nearly 14 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review. Ensuring your home office is set up to inspire can help you achieve greater productivity and satisfaction as you work from home.

Categories: Lifestyle

Ideas for awesome classroom enhancements

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - The approach of the school year has parents seeking out the best deals on back-to-school supplies, and teachers everywhere are preparing their classrooms to give students the best educational experience possible. From decorations designed to create engaging learning environments to having extra supplies on hand for students, the back-to-school shopping season requires a bit of planning by teachers.

On average, teachers spend more than $400 of their own money each year to purchase supplies and decorating materials for their classrooms. This year as they stock up on those needed materials, teachers can use them to create awesome rooms where students will love coming to learn.

* Elementary rooms – Picture books, numbers magazines, puzzle books and a large collection of crafting supplies are often needed in elementary school classrooms to create the perfect learning environment for younger children. Plastic containers, shelving dividers, colorful hanging tote bags and boxes – all decorated with fun shapes and colors – are the perfect way to keep the classroom organized. A teacher could create a puzzle corner to provide challenging word, mathematical or even scientific puzzles to stimulate their students’ minds. Keep extra paper, pencils and calculators in this area so students have the materials needed to stay engaged.

* Middle school rooms – In middle school, students tend to rotate from classroom to classroom to study different topics. It’s good to keep them moving in the classroom as well to engage their interest. Teaching history? Use media photos and crafting paper to create a timeline of historical events wrapping along the walls around the room. Are you an English teacher? Paint a door with chalkboard paint and provide colorful chalk for students to create short poems or words of inspiration for their classmates. Challenge them to create art with their words on the chalkboard and print out finished pictures of projects to decorate the board. At the end of the quarter or semester ask the students to vote on the most creative project.

* High school rooms – At high school, students need less action, but they still appreciate stimulation. Math students can use graphing calculators to create graphs of different trig functions, and then print those graphs on paper to create colorful and beautiful wall designs. Physics teachers can set up plastic boxes of problems featuring subjects their students are interested in. Namely, the cars they drive to and from school or the sports teams they support on Friday nights. Fill the boxes with different situations related to these subjects, and have the students apply the laws of physics to calculate what will happen to the car, or if the sports player will make the play.

Teachers can save money on their classroom supplies and decor by enrolling in the Staples Teacher Rewards program. Those who are enrolled will receive a coupon for 25 percent off any purchase of $10 or more to be redeemed during the Teacher Appreciation Event Aug. 1 – 3, alternatively they can provide their Staples Teacher Rewards Number at checkout. These savings are only available for teachers, and exclude any technology items. Educators who are not currently Teacher Rewards members can sign up at any Staples store, Aug. 1-3, and receive 25 percent back in rewards during this special Teacher Appreciation event. Exclusions apply, see store for details. Visit to learn more.

The school bell will be ringing soon, which means teachers need to get their classrooms in order for a great year of learning. Whether they’re looking for materials to support a room theme or extra supplies to have on hand for student use, Staples has the school supplies needed.

Categories: Lifestyle

Help your kids make the grade with healthy back-to-school snacks

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - School means big adjustments and big demands for everyone involved: shopping for supplies, shuttling here and there, studying – or overseeing the studying – special projects, and more. It’s easy to forget nutrition in all the hustle and bustle.

Make a pact to embrace healthful eating, whether breakfast on the run, packed lunches or after-school snacks. In other words, plan now to fuel those little bodies with something better than potato chips and cookies and to nourish at regular intervals to avoid big dips in energy and focus.

The first step is to start the day off right. Eating breakfast helps the brain to function and has been shown to improve performance in school. In fact, children who eat breakfast score higher on cognitive tests than those who don’t. With a little forethought, you can stock your pantry with breakfast staples, and orchestrate a fresh and healthful breakfast that is also tasty and quick.

One of the easiest options is to simply mix yogurt with granola and top with California grapes for a balanced and nourishing boost to the morning. Pump up the good stuff even more with a Yogurt Power Bowl.  This breakfast-in-a-bowl combines Greek yogurt, fresh grapes, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds with a touch of cinnamon. The yogurt serves as a great source of protein, the walnuts, flax and chia seeds offer healthy omega-3 fatty acids, while the fresh grapes offer a fresh flavor boost and contribute beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols that support a healthy heart.

Yogurt Power Bowl with California Grapes
Serves 4


1/2 cup nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon chia seeds

1 teaspoon flax seeds

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups red, black or green seedless California grapes, halved


Mix the yogurt, walnuts, chia, flax and cinnamon in a large bowl. Toss the grapes into the mixture to coat. Serve chilled.

Next, keep your child’s brain-power on a roll at lunch time by offering a balanced variety of foods. Grapes from California are an easy component of packed lunches; they complement sandwiches, salads and soups as well. Plump, juicy clusters of grapes help to hydrate and refresh, and won’t likely be traded off for something else. Grapes are easy to share, so you might just want to pack extra.

After school, kids need to refuel and recharge to accomplish the slate of afternoon activities, whether homework, sports, enrichment classes or simply a playdate. They aren’t alone, actually: according to a recent study by Technomic, 71 percent of people enjoy a snack in the mid-afternoon, with some 50 percent stating that healthfulness is important to them in a snack.

Fresh grapes are the quintessential healthy, but oh-so-tasty snack. They are the perfect finger food, easy to eat, convenient and portable. Grapes play well with other foods too, complementing cheese, crackers, nuts, yogurts and granola bars. Grapes from California are available May through January, with a wide selection of grape varieties available throughout the fall.

Consider these super snack ideas:

* Let the kids make their own no-brainer burritos: Spread a tortilla with whipped cream cheese, a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar, and line the center with grapes. Roll up for a tasty fruit-filled burrito.

* For a savory roll-up, spread cream cheese on a sun-dried-tomato tortilla, and top with sliced turkey.  Roll it up and slice to enjoy.

* Smoothies are a great way to add wholesome fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet. Enhance it with a spoonful of nut butter for extra staying power.

* Set out a platter of hummus, pita bread and fruit. Remember that hummus, while traditionally made from chickpeas, can be made from any type of bean, from black beans to white beans to pinto beans, and edamame (soybeans).

* Top an open-face peanut butter sandwich with bananas and grapes.

* Create a fresh trail mix with nuts, cheese cubes, chocolate chips and fresh grapes instead of raisins.

* Pair almond butter with fruit. Spread directly on apple slices or mix with a little honey for a peanut dip for colorful grape skewers.

* Frozen grapes are always a cool treat.

* Sometimes it is OK to play with your food! Create some grape caterpillars by threading green grapes onto bamboo skewers. To make eyes on the end grape, place a dot of cake icing on the back of each of two mini chocolate chips and stick them to the grape.

Categories: Lifestyle

Teenager danger: Five rules for young drivers

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - If you’re feeling nervous about handing the car keys to your teenager for the first time, you’re not alone. It’s a common sentiment given some sobering statistics. According to, 20 percent of all 16-year-old drivers will be involved in an accident during their first year behind the wheel.  And studies show more teenage motor vehicle fatalities happen during the summer than any other time of year. But there are some things you can do to help keep your teenager from becoming a statistic. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has some tips and tools to keep your teen safe.

Though auto accidents are a fact of life for most drivers, even a minor fender bender can impact insurance rates, costing parents and teens for years to come. The good news is research shows teen drivers who follow rules are half as likely to get in an accident. Before your teen hits the road, consider establishing some simple guidelines to protect his or her safety and your wallet:

1. Set a driving curfew. More than 40 percent of teen auto deaths occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Set a curfew to keep your teen off the road during these times.

2. Limit passengers. A teen’s relative risk of being involved in a fatal crash increases with each additional passenger. More passengers equal more potential distractions.

3. Make the cell phone off limits while driving. Talking and texting can double the likelihood of an accident. If your teen must use the phone, instruct him or her to pull over before doing so and be sure to set a good example when you are behind the wheel.

4. Empower your teen to exercise his or her rights as a passenger. Only 44 percent of teens say they would speak up if someone were driving in a way that scared them. Remind your teens they are just as vulnerable in an accident as the driver, so they should speak up if they feel unsafe.

5. Be Prepared. Arm your teens with the knowledge of what they should do if they do get into an accident. Mobile apps such as WreckCheck can help take the guesswork out of a tense situation, guiding users through a step-by-step process to create an accident report. WreckCheck uses your device’s location service, camera and audio recorder to document all pertinent information about the incident and provides tips on how to file and follow up on a claim.

A Teen Driver Contract is a simple way to keep your teen accountable. It establishes basic driving ground rules and clearly lays out the consequences associated with driving privileges. The NAIC has developed an online tool to guide parents through building a customized Teen Driver Contract. There’s also a downloadable sample contract to help get you started.

Educating yourself and your new driver about the risks and insurance implications of unsafe driving can save lives and money. As your teen begins his or her journey on the roadways, take time to speak openly and candidly about your expectations for behind-the-wheel behavior.

Categories: Lifestyle

5 packing tips to make the back-to-college move easier

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Back-to-school season has thousands of college students packing their childhood rooms into cars, vans and moving trailers to transport into dorms and off-campus apartments. While college students usually don’t have a lot of belongings that need to be moved, the process can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Whether you're moving to college for the first time or the third, you'll find there are ways to make your move smarter and, believe it or not, more enjoyable. There are many resources available to make the move to college much easier. One of the most practical things you can do is to rent a moving truck. Since college moves often mean traveling long distances, it can be hard to get a lot of people to help with the move. Rather than stuffing gear into multiple vehicles, a truck is a good, simple solution.

Rather than relying on guesswork, take some tips from the experts at Penske Truck Rental:

1. Condense. College apartments are small and dorm rooms even smaller. Especially if you have a roommate. Everything you own will not fit, so make the effort before you start packing to take only the essentials. Pare things down by considering what you need most. For instance, if you have some clothes you like for special occasions but wear rarely, it is best not to bring them. Instead, take the clothes, shoes and personal items you wear time and time again. As for what you'll need, see if your college has a checklist of essential items; this can be used as a guide.

2. Tackle packing bit by bit. Last-minute packing leads to stress and the potential to either over pack, or forget something. Start early and create a running list of items you need to bring but are unable to pack until it’s time to leave. Also keep a box open and waiting for additional items as you think of them. When moving day finally comes, make sure you have sturdy boxes in a variety of sizes, along with foam "peanuts" and bubble wrap to protect your fragile items, as well as a good supply of packing tape and bold markers for labeling boxes. Moving blankets and hand trucks will make the experience easier, so be sure you've got them on hand.

3. Mark and group. Label the outside of your boxes as you pack. Try making a generalized list of what's in the box. It's also a good idea to label the box with your first name or a symbol that'll help you recognize what's yours, particularly if you have roommates or are moving into a dorm. In the hectic whirlwind of thousands of students moving in at once, it's important to cut down on confusion.

4. Plan ahead. If you're renting a moving truck, it's essential to reserve it at least two weeks in advance. Because it's a busy moving season, delaying could leave you stuck without transportation. Most movers find the 12- or 16-foot truck perfect for moving a few large items or the contents of a small apartment. For guidance with truck selection, visit

5. Safety and security. Trucks are taller, wider, heavier, and they require more stopping distance than the vehicle you are used to driving. Take extra precautions, especially when the truck is loaded. Watch out for low-hanging tree branches and building overhangs, and use extra caution when cornering. To protect your belongings, park in well-lit areas and padlock the rear door, especially if stopping for the night. If possible, back the truck up tight against a building wall to prevent access to the storage area. This can be particularly important when moving to college, as thieves have a ripe opportunity to take advantage of the hectic moving days leading up to the start of the academic year.

One final packing tip is to keep the important documents like registration information and dorm confirmations, as well as credit cards, driver’s license, drinks and energy snacks in a bag that doesn’t get packed for easy access. For a complete list of moving tips, visit

Categories: Lifestyle
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