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Don't Fall into Winter - Be Prepared!

Posted in Main Blog
October 30, 2014 by Jenn R.
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Prepare your home for winter with our fall home checklist.man on ladder cleaning gutters of house

We may still have a few warm, sunny days left, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s definitely fall in New England and we are slowly creeping into the next season. With this comes colorful leaves, cooler weather, and the perfect time to get your home ready for winter.

Exterior

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. Removing the buildup of leaves will help prevent wood rot problems, pest infestations, ice dams, and ruined gutters.
  • Check your roof for any damage, corrosion or leaks. Don’t wait until the dripping starts; stop it before the winter arrives.
  • “Clean chimneys don’t catch fire.” Call a local, certified professional to inspect and, if necessary, clean your fireplace or wood burning stove. Whether its creosote built up in your chimney or a rodent nest, the result can be a devastating fire. Some condo associations require an annual cleaning and inspection. Not a bad habit to get into.
  • Seal up your windows and doors. Applying silicone caulk to the gaps between siding and the window or door frames can prevent leaks, and help you save on the heating bill!
  • Trim trees and branches around your home. New England winters are notorious for wet or icy snow which causes branches to crack and break. Remove any limbs that are dangerously close to power lines or to the roof of your house.

Interior

  • Replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Don’t forget to test the detectors by pressing the “test” button.
  • Get your heating system inspected. (hint: the earlier the better, to avoid the last-minute rush) Replacing belts is much less expensive than a major repair, like a blown motor, and doing it before you need your heat helps to avoid a true “three dog night” when you least expect it.
  • Reverse your ceiling fans, if you have them. Energy Star recommends reversing the motion of your fans so they are spinning in the clockwise direction. This will cause a gentle updraft and causes the warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space.
  • Inspect your attic and basement for insulation and critters. Make sure your insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves, and definitely check for birds or rodents. Install screens for attic vents to keep out those unwanted guests. If your insulation is starting to fall, handle with gloves and consider stapling back in place.
  • Be prepared, get your cold-weather essentials now. Don’t wait until the first snowfall to get a new shovel or snow blower. Buy one now. Make sure to grab salt and ice melt while you’re there! (The pet safe kind can be tough to find in January.)

Spending a little bit of time and money now will save you money down the road, and may prevent the worst case scenarios from happening during the coldest time of the year.

Sources:
Energy Star
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Bob Vila

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4 Top Halloween Safety Tips

Posted in Main Blog
October 28, 2014 by Trish R.
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photo of foil-wrapped halloween chocolate

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I especially enjoy helping my kids decorate the house and select the perfect costume. It’s one of those fun holidays where you can dress up, scare everyone you know and eat enough treats to put yourself into a candy coma.

It’s also important to make sure everyone is safe while trick-or-treating, especially after dark. In an effort to keep my kids safe and my stress to a minimum, I follow a few common sense tips.

Safe Costumes: Costumes should be light or brightly colored and have reflective tape so that kids are visible at night to drivers while walking from house to house. Whether homemade or store bought, I put reflective tape on my kids costumes. If you’re creative (unlike me) you can use the reflective tape to make fun designs.

Avoid Masks: If at all possible avoid having your kids wear a mask; they can limit a child’s peripheral vision. Instead of a mask consider having them wear face paint or makeup. Test face makeup for allergy issues before putting it on your child’s face. It’s not always possible to avoid Halloween masks. This year my son is going trick-or-treating as a Power Ranger, the mask makes the costume. I decided to make the eye holes larger to help him see well. I’ve also had several conversations reminding him that he will need to be extra careful while wearing the mask. His typical response? “I know Momma!” along with an eye roll. When he has the mask on I won’t be able to see those.

Accompany Minors: Young children should be accompanied by an adult, while older kids who want to go out unsupervised should go in groups and let parents know exactly where they are going, who they are going with and when they will return. This year I will be taking my two younger children out trick-or-treating while letting my oldest go out by herself for the first time (with a known and accepted group of friends). I’ve given her a cell phone with a GPS tracking app, in case of an emergency.

Check the candy: You should ALWAYS examine your child’s candy before letting them consume any of it. It’s important to make sure candy is intact, unspoiled, and nothing looks suspicious. Throw out any homemade treats from strangers, it’s best to be safe. This is also a good time to ration how many pieces of candy they can have each day. As I sort my kid’s candy, I’ve on occasion been known to sneak a few pieces; it’s a great way to help ration the pieces, right?
As the parent of three kids I’ve found these four tips extremely useful in ensuring all of my kids have a frightfully fun and safe time trick-or-treating. This year I think I’ll dress up too and get in on the fun.

Sources:
American Academy of Pediatrics 
Safe Kids Worldwide

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Refinancing your HELOC

Posted in Main Blog
October 23, 2014 by BCCU
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tiny house on top of cash on top of calculator

 

 

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) can also be referred to as a home equity loan. What to do when your HELOC is approaching maturity is something Bellwether Community Credit Union can help you with.

 

 

 

 

Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) are very useful. Actually, a line of credit secured against the equity in your home, a HELOC can help you complete home renovations, or take a dream vacation. But here are some important facts about your HELOC to keep in mind as it nears the end of its term.

Some facts about your HELOC—The "Draw Period"

Most HELOCs require interest-only payments during their term (although you have the option to make payments on the principal as well,) which is usually 10 years. This term is often referred to as the "draw" period, meaning you're able to "(with)draw" funds as you need them, at any time, provided you are making your interest payments regularly.

When the draw period ends, so does your ability to withdraw funds. The end of your draw period also triggers the start of the repayment period. Your monthly payments will now include a repayment amount of the principal, as well as interest on the balance. If you've withdrawn a significant amount of your HELOC funds during the 10-year period, your monthly payments could be considerably higher than what you had been paying each month. Still want access to your funds? Consider refinancing your HELOC.

Options When Nearing the End of Your Draw Period

Here are some steps you can take as your approach the end of your HELOC's term:

  • Ensure you know when your draw period ends.
  • Review the repayment details and determine if you'd prefer to begin repaying the HELOC, or if you feel it's more convenient to continue to have access to those funds.
  • Contact your lender (or Bellwether Community Credit Union—see our number below) to discuss your HELOC and get further advice on repayment or refinancing.

Did you know…

Bellwether can refinance your HELOC even if it's with another lender? We can help you choose the best option for refinancing your HELOC to meet your family's financial needs. Contact us to explore the possibilities—603-645-8181.

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Eat Local, Participate in a CSA

Posted in Main Blog
October 22, 2014 by Trish R.
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Have you ever thought about participating in a CSA? Whether to expand your vegetable repertoire or to just get healthier, a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture is a popular way to buy seasonal, local food directly from farmers. Participating farms sell a limited number of “Shares” to the public. A share is like a membership to the farm, where each week, for a set number of weeks, “Share” holders get a box of fresh, local produce. This past spring I decided to purchase a full share from a local farm. I really liked the idea of buying local and eating fresh organic produce all summer long.

Being a “newbie” I quickly realized there are pros and cons to participating in a CSA. Here are a few tips I learned from my first year.

Farmer loading tomatoes into woman's basket

  1. Plan your meals around the ingredients not the other way around. Pro: Planning meals around the ingredients is very cost efficient. Con: it can be a challenge some weeks to cook with what was harvested, but now is your chance to plan out your meals for the week and save yourself time and money. I had never heard of kohlrabi before, but a quick online search told me it’s similar to cabbage. I found a variety of coleslaw recipes but ultimately went with a great kohlrabi kimchi recipe.
     
  2. You may find yourself with an abundance of an item some weeks. Pro: This is your chance to expand your go-to side dishes. Take lettuce for example it isn’t just for salads, you can also use it for wraps, or try juicing it. Con: You may get a lot of an item several weeks in a row, consider canning or freezing the extras. I received zucchini and summer squash 3 weeks in a row and I couldn’t eat another bite so I froze the extra. Now I look forward to enjoying it in the middle of winter!
     
  3. Dare to be creative with your harvest. Pro: you’re more likely to eat fresh vegetables to get all the goodness they offer. Kale is wonderful superfood that goes great in soups, salads, smoothies. Con: You may have to spend some time researching recipes. Kale is wonderful superfood and everyone knows it goes great in soups, salads, smoothies, but have you ever tried kale chips? They are so simple to make and an amazingly tasty treat.
     
  4. My final tip as a CSA newbie is, not to get discouraged. Pro: You get fresh, local product every week. Con: farmers are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so your share may be larger (or smaller) some weeks. This also goes for the season. I was disappointed with the results from my first season’s CSA, because it was predominantly greens and root vegetables and I was really hoping for more summer veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers and corn.

While I was a little disappointed with my first season’s selection and yield, I really liked eating fresh, local produce while supporting local farms. I found many have vegetables that I now enjoy eating, and I look forward to participating again next year with a much better understanding and appreciation for local farmers. While I would’ve preferred a different selection of vegetables I did find that the cost of participating in a CSA was worth it, especially when I considered what I would’ve paid for the same organic veggies at the supermarket or co-op. The cost would’ve been double, even triple what I spent compared to the CSA. If you’re concerned about the upfront cost of a CSA, consider going in on a share with a friend or family member or consider purchasing a half share. After the first couple of weeks, it was very easy to work with each weeks share and I only purchased a few veggie staples at the supermarket every couple of weeks.

Sources:
Serious Eats
Local Harvest

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Columbus Day Weekend in New England

Posted in Main Blog
October 21, 2014 by Amanda N.
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I’m amazed at how quickly Fall is passing. Thankfully, college friends just called to let me know they’d be in town over this past three day weekend. This was my chance to stop, and enjoy some time off. Suddenly I was charged with planning a true New England weekend, with all that implies. These are southern people, never having stepped foot inside New England so my first thought was, spend the weekend with me! While I’ve lived in New England all my life (except for those years in college), foliage, and Fall have become kind of “been there done that” in my life, and I cherished the thought of having an excuse to do all those things I love about Fall. Foliage was at it’s peak, and even a rainy Saturday didn’t dampen our spirits.

Friday

People in warm clothing enjoying the outdoors

Expected Time of Arrival 3 pm. What better way to celebrate old friends gathering than to lift a glass or two. We had plenty to choose from in NH and opted for a visit to LaBelle’s Winery for a tasting, and a chance to wander through the fields, breathing in that crisp October air. We also made certain to pick up a few bottles for a very late firepit chat! It’s amazing how much fun you can have with friends, a firepit, and nothing to do the next day! This is definitely a cost-effective way to enjoy time with friends, and no worrying about what time you head home. Then again, I had the whole weekend booked tight, so it was lights out at 11!

Saturday

We totally planned for the Milford Pumpkin Festival or the Warner Fall Foliage Festival, but rain was on the agenda, so a drive north through damp but colorful leaves had us perusing guide books for something to do indoors. I’d booked a night at Colby Hill Inn in Henniker. My mom used to work there when she was in college. She tells me she worked in the kitchen, but based on her cooking, she must have washed dishes! A cozy, traditionally New England place, I’d made a great choice, and was really lucky because this place is usually totally booked unless you get your name in there far in advance! One thing I knew we could do without the rain causing an issue was shopping! NH has a lot of outlets, great deals, great food, and you can literally shop til you drop! Check out the list on newhampshire.com for a mall in your area. We did that, carrying all our bags back to the Inn for a nice dinner and an early night. Sunday was going to be the big adventure! Hiking and leaf peeping in what we hoped would be sunny weather.

Sunday

Hiking and leaf peeping in the mountains! We used the foliage map from YankeeFoliage.com to see when leaves are at their peak, and the best places for photographs, then headed to Franconia Notch and the Flume. A simple picnic, and layered clothing with good walking shoes prepared us for a day in the sun. It seemed everyone else had the same idea, but with so much to see and so many places to hike we didn’t run into that many people! By the time we were headed back to Manchester and the airport, we had enough photos of leaves, blue sky and fun to show anyone who didn’t already know, New England, and especially New Hampshire is a great place to visit in October!

Sources
Yankee Foliage
NewHampshire.com
BedandBreakfast.com
NH Magazine

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