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Safety tips for snowmobile season

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January 18 to 26 is International Snowmobile Safety Week, and the theme is Safe Riders! You make snowmobiling safe. Here’s a rundown of some of the most important safety practices to follow when operating a snowmobile.

Precautions to take before leaving
Plan your trip in advance and practice staying safe by adhering to the following:

• Choose trails that you know well or that you’ve researched in advance.
• Bring a map of the area.
• Make sure your snowmobile is tuned up.
• If it’s your first time using a snowmobile, don’t take it out until you’ve familiarized yourself with how to use it. Be sure to take it slow during your first ride.
• Avoid snowmobiling alone and give someone who won’t be in your company an itinerary that includes your route and the duration of your ride.
• Ensure that you’ve memorized the hand signals used to communicate between snowmobilers.

Staying safe on the trail
Snowmobiles are definitely powerful, which is part of what makes them fun. However, they can also be dangerous should you fail to take the needed precautions. Here’s what you should do:

• Know your limits and the limits of your snowmobile.
• Respect signage and be attentive to your surroundings.
• Stop completely at intersections and look both ways before proceeding.
• Stay on the trail and respect private property.
• Be extra careful when driving at night. Adjust your speed so that you don’t “over-drive” your headlights.

For a more comprehensive list of safety tips, visit the website of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association at snowmobile.org.

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4 eco-friendly fibers

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The textile industry relies heavily on ecologically suspect materials. Petroleum-based synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and spandex reinforce our dependency on fossil fuels. What’s more, non-organic cotton is grown using large quantities of pesticides and herbicides. These respectively account for 60 percent and 30 percent of the fibers used worldwide. Here are four greener alternatives.

1. Eucalyptus. Able to absorb moisture and inhibit bacterial growth, eucalyptus is a fantastic alternative to other types of textiles. It grows in arid soil (even that which can’t be used for much of anything else), it requires very little water and the fabric production process is environmentally friendly. However, it’s unlikely to grow in North America.

2. Bamboo. This is the fastest-growing plant on the planet, and it doesn’t need any chemical pesticides or fertilizers to thrive. It also requires a lot less water than cotton. However, it’s hard to grow in some climates and the most bamboo fabric has to be imported from China.

3. Linen. An already popular textile, linen is made from flax stems, meaning that flax production could serve the dual purpose of providing food and fabric. Linen is much stronger and more durable than cotton and flax and can be cultivated in a wide range of climates, making it a very promising source of textiles.

4. Hemp. Hypoallergenic and stronger than cotton, hemp grows quickly in almost any climate, is resistant to bugs and diseases and matures in a mere 11 weeks. It also works perfectly as part of a crop rotation system with corn and soybean, which are heavily cultivated all over North America. On the flip side, it does need to be mixed with cotton to provide a soft fabric.

While further work needs to be done, there are a number of alternatives to petroleum-based textiles and non-organic cotton that are available. Look for them in specialty stores and in the aisles of more traditional boutiques.

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How to write a letter of resignation

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If you decide to leave your job, it’s customary to inform your employer with a written letter of resignation. Here’s what to include in it.

• A statement of resignation. Include your name, the company’s name, your position within the enterprise and your intention of leaving your job. If you wish, you can include the reason you’re leaving but it’s not necessary.

• Your intended last day of work. It’s customary to announce your resignation two weeks before you intend to leave the company. Putting your last day in writing can help avoid confusion.

• A thank you. Briefly outline the positive aspects of working for the company and thank them for everything you’ve gained from the experience.

• An offer to help with the transition. If it’s appropriate, you can offer to help with recruiting and training your replacement.

Once the letter’s written, sign it and give it to your boss in person. Remain respectful and polite during this encounter. Staying in your former employer’s good graces is important because you may need them as a reference in the future.

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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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