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3 springtime home improvement projects

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Are you thinking about updating your home this spring? If so, these three projects are perfectly suited to the season.

1. Upgrade the landscaping. Spring is the perfect time to upgrade flower beds and walkways or even install a pool or hot tub. Your garden will have time to grow in and you’ll be able to enjoy your new outdoor space all summer long.

2. Rebuild or refinish the deck. If your deck has seen better days, this is the ideal time to repair or rebuild it. Consider expanding it to create zones for eating, cooking and relaxing.

3. Replace the siding. If your siding took a beating over the winter, now’s the right time to replace it. Choose a quality product and consider using a more modern color. Cool tones like gray, blue and green have been popular in recent years.

Spring is the best time of year tackle most outdoor projects. Just be sure to get to them before the hotter weather arrives.

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The environmental impact of fast fashion

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The inexpensive rapidly produced clothing sold by large retail chains that are often referred to as fast fashion carries a steep environmental cost. Here’s what you should know about it.

Water stress and pollution
The fashion industry uses a lot of water. The water footprint of a single cotton shirt, which is the total amount of water needed for its production, is approximately 650 gallons.

These companies also tend to produce their clothes in countries with more relaxed environmental regulations than Canada or the United States. This means they dump untreated wastewater into rivers people rely on. A full 20 percent of worldwide water pollution is directly caused by textile treatments and dyes.

Ocean pollution
Every time a garment made of a synthetic fiber like polyester, rayon or nylon is washed, it releases nearly 2,000 plastic microfibers. These end up in the ocean, where they enter the food chain and eventually end up on our plates.

Waste accumulation
In 2014, people bought 60 percent more clothes than they did in 2000, and since we recycle only 15 percent of our clothes, most end up in landfills. Many of these are made of synthetic textiles, which will take over 200 years to decompose.

Greenhouse gas emissions
The fashion industry accounts for 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Production, manufacturing, and transport all factor into this. In addition, the synthetic fibers used by many brands are made from fossil fuels.

The fashion industry has a huge environmental impact. You can help mitigate this by privileging local brands and natural fibers and by buying second-hand clothing as much as possible.

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Easter-weekend activities for the whole family

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Are you looking for something to do over the Easter break? If so, here are some great activities the whole family is sure to enjoy.

Themed events
Participate in one of the many Easter celebrations taking place nearby. Consider bringing your kids to an organized Easter egg hunt or egg roll race, or simply staging your own at home. Or, you could visit a petting zoo in town or at a nearby farm.

Alternatively, keep an eye out for Easter-themed crafts and workshops offered by local community centers and businesses.

Cultural outings
Take advantage of the extra days off to absorb some culture at a local museum, learn about history at a nearby heritage site or read a book at your neighborhood library.

Or, if you want to be entertained, consider taking in a theater production, watching the latest blockbuster at the movies or cheering on your favorite sports team at a local game. You could also go to see a concert, dance recital or magic show.

Athletic activities
If the weather’s temperate, head outdoors for a hike or bike ride. Or, consider venturing to the nearest snow-covered mountain to go snowshoeing, snowboarding or skiing instead. However, if the weather’s not great, an indoor activity such as skating, bowling or swimming may be more appropriate.

If you’d prefer to stay in over Easter weekend, there are lots of things you can do from the comfort of your own home. You could decorate eggs, do some baking or simply cuddle up on the couch with a movie.

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Tax time: Go for the refund, or no?

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Not to be a downer, but if you get a refund to come tax time, it means one thing: you had too much money withheld from your paycheck throughout the year and you gave the government an interest-free loan.

Not that that’s a bad thing. The debate will surely rage on about whether it’s a good idea to set yourself up for a refund, with many experts loudly proclaiming it a bad idea.

Regardless, the average taxpayer received a refund of roughly $3,000 each of the last few years, according to NerdWallet. And if you’re one of the many people who look forward to that windfall every April, here are some ideas to be fiscally smart when your money comes back around to you:

* Pay off or pay down high-interest credit cards, or, if the refund won’t pay them down completely, consider rolling the balance over onto cards with lower interest rates. (Note: consider the interest you pay during the course of a year and whether it’s better to have less money withheld from your paycheck so you can pay that debt off sooner.)

* Add funds to your emergency account. Or set one up if you don’t have it already.

* Invest it. From the NerdWallet article: A taxpayer who received a $3,000 refund in 2010, invested it and earned a 6% average annualized return would have more than $5,000 in that investment today. If they did the same for each of the past 10 years, they’d have more than $47,000 today.

* Put it toward retirement. Whether that’s your 401(k) or some version of an IRA, you can use the refund in a tax-free investment for your golden years.

* Put it toward an education fund or a 529 plan, each of which offers tax benefits as well. (Always consult your CPA.)

* Buy life insurance.

* Donate to your favorite charity.

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How to choose perennials

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Do you want a lush garden that grows back year after year? If so, here’s how to choose the perfect perennials for your outdoor space.

• Know your climate. Find out which hardiness zone you live in and choose plants that can thrive in it.

• Evaluate the amount of light. Does your garden get direct sunlight all day or is it in a shady spot? Either way, choose plants that will flourish with the amount of light provided.

• Consider when they’ll bloom. To ensure your garden flowers all summer long, plant a variety of perennials that bloom at different times.

Other factors you may want to consider when choosing your perennials include whether you want to attract pollinators and if you’d like flowers for cutting and displaying in bouquets.

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4 tips to help you complete your long-distance training

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If you’ve decided to broaden your horizons by completing an online training program, you’ll need to do these four things to ensure you succeed.

1. Set realistic goals
Estimate how long it’s likely to take you to finish the program. Evaluate how much time you have available and compare it to the amount of work that needs to be completed. Then, determine the date at which you’d like to be done. Don’t overestimate yourself, however, as trying to meet an unrealistic goal could backfire and undermine your motivation.

2. Stick to a schedule
Determine how many hours a week you can dedicate to your training program and create a schedule. Make sure to set specific times for yourself to do the course work and stick to them as much as possible.

3. Find a place to study
Find a quiet, isolated spot where you can focus. If you have young children, ask your partner to take care of them for a few hours or hire a babysitter. If finding a suitable spot at home is impossible, study at your local library or a coffee shop.

4. Ask for help
If completing your coursework is challenging, or if there are things that you’re unclear about, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Oftentimes, seeking out assistance is essential to achieving your objectives.

In sum, you can succeed in completing your long-distance training program by focusing on your goal, setting a schedule, studying and asking for help when you need it.

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The best storage solutions for every room in your home

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Did you finish your spring cleaning only to realize you need more storage space? Here’s a room by room look at some of the best solutions available.

Kitchen
Install hidden trays under your cabinets to hide chargers, coffee pods and other essentials. In addition, placing pull-out shelves in cupboards will make it easier to organize your items.

Bathroom
Store your cleaning supplies on a Lazy Susan to make them easy to find when you need them. Use baskets to hold things like bath towels or toilet paper.

Living room
Put a bowl on the coffee table to stylishly corral remote controls, magazines and other items. Additionally, a storage ottoman is perfect for holding throws and pillows.

Bedrooms
Take advantage of the space under your bed by adding drawers or using under-the-bed storage boxes.

Garage
Install overhead racks near the ceiling. This allows you to incorporate storage in the garage without sacrificing parking space. Use this area to hold stuff you don’t need to access often, like seasonal decorations and sporting gear.

Workshop, office or craft room
Mount a pegboard above your work area and use it to organize your tools or supplies. By hanging things on the wall, they’ll be easier to find and you’ll free up some room.

In addition, be sure to use the vertical space in your home. Install shelves above doors, get extra tall bookcases and put hooks on the back of closet doors.

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