RE/MAX Collection Tom Carroll



Broker/Owner RE/MAX Partners
Serving the Andovers Since 1993
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE
GLOBAL RELOCATION

Does Closing Heating Vents Really Save You Money?

Baby, it's cold outside! 

It's cold and those oil and natural gas prices are enough to make you cringe when you open your heating bill. It's tempting to close aire registers in any rooms you don't use. Closing vents to a bedroom or bathroom that you're not using seems like a sensible way to increase energy efficiency. With the door and vents shut, no heat should pump into the room, freeing your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) to heat the rest of your house. Closing the air registers in rooms you don’t use seems like a good way to potentially save money, but there are some things you might want to consider before closing those registers. 

But because the rooms in your home have cold-air returns as well as heating vents, shutting the vents doesn't prevent air movement, it actually interferes with your home's energy efficiency.  It creates pressure in the closed-off room, which causes the return duct to pull in cold air from any cracks in windows or doors. In addition, the warm air still trying to push up through closed vents will start to leak out any ducts that aren't sealed properly, or it will be forced back down into your basement or into floor cavities. So, you'll still be paying energy costs for heat, just in places you can't use.

It's also possible to damage your furnace by closing too many air vents. Newer, high efficiency models are designed to operate with your specific square footage in mind and with fans running at full speed.  Closing off vents creates unexpected blockages, which forces the furnace to work harder when distributing heated air.  When you block a vent, your HVAC system’s blower motor will either have to work harder to push air through your home, or it may spin at a lower speed.  It's not good for the blower motor to have to push against a higher pressure.  the more vents you close, the higher the pressure, and the less efficient your system due to that leaking air.  It's also possible that limited air flow, especially in winter, may cause freezing in your ducts, meaning more work for your heating and air conditioning system. So this not only lowers the energy efficiency of your heater, but shortens its life.

Low air flow can also cause the condensation on your coils to freeze and can cause damage to your compressor.  If you have a furnace, low air flow can be dangerous.  Low air flow in a furnace can get the heat exchanger hot enough to cause cracks. Those cracks then allow exhaust gases to mix with your conditioned air. When that happens, your duct system can become a poison distribution system as it could be sending carbon monoxide into your home. (Which is another good reason to have working carbon monoxide detectors in your home.)

You can improve the efficiency of your heating system in several ways, starting with a furnace upgrade. Older models operate in the 55 percent to 70 percent range of energy efficiency, while newer models operate at 95 percent to 98 percent. Even though a new furnace carries a hefty price, a more efficient unit can significantly lower your energy usage and thus your energy costs (not to mention the environmental savings).  You should also have your furnace cleaned every few years and ensure all the ducts are tight and properly sealed. If you live in a home with multiple stories, it's okay to partially close upstairs vents while fully opening those downstairs. Because heat rises, the top floor often steals most of the heat. So partially closing vents can help keep other aeas warmer without damaging or stressing your HVAC system.

Using your heating system properly and making energy improvements will not only save you money, but when you decide to sell your home it will stand out from the less efficient competition!  I can ptovide you with additional information on ways to upgrade your home's energy efficiency.  Contact me if you’d like to learn more!

Bored with your all white kitchen?

All white kitchens remain popular, especially when paired with a classic counter top such as marble.  But do you feel like your kitchen needs something? A pop of color perhaps? It's actually quite easy to add some color, and finding the right options can be fun! Here are some ideas.

1. Create Open Shelving – If you have colorful collections of dinnerware, cookbooks or more, embrace open shelves to show off your favorite items while adding a splash of color to your kitchen. You can remove a couple cabinet doors, replace the doors with glass or hang some inexpensive, decorative shelves.

2. Change Your Sink – If you’re looking for a creative way to add a permanent hue to your cooking space, invest in a porcelain-covered sink to colorize your kitchen. Out with the stainless, in with some color!
 
3. Pick Out Accessories - Buy some accessories in your favorite color.  Canisters, oven mitts, hand towels and other accessories will add color, make you smile and not cost a fortune! 
 
4. Replace Boring Seating – If you’re shopping around for a clever way to bring more color into your home, replace ordinary seating with colorful chairs, slipcovers or cushions to give your kitchen a more modern look. White wooden chairs are so passe! 
 
5. Buy Colored Appliances and Cookware – Are you a bit daring? If you need new appliances like toasters, coffee makers and blenders, look for colored ones to liven up your kitchen. You'll find some awesome colors, both modern and retro. 

6. Install Colored Lighting – Don't just stick to metallic finishes for your lighting.  Add color with counter lamps, cabinet lighting and light fixtures. There are endless options in all price ranges.
 
7. Grow Some Plants – If you want to bring the outside in and add some color at the same time.  Try your hand at growing some plants - including herbs - on your windowsills.  
 
8. Paint or Wallpaper an Accent Wall – If you’re hoping to find a cost-effective way to embellish your cooking area, paint an accent wall a bright color to enhance the style of your all-white kitchen. And yes, wallpaper is making a comeback, especially when used as an accent rather than covering an entire room.  

9. Add Dramatic Window Treatments – Hang curtains with bold patterns to spice up your windows and adorn your kitchen with rich color to complement the crisp white cabinets.  Just don't overdo it with fussy window coverings, as you don't want to block light or make your kitchen look dated.

10. Hang Some Artwork - Do you have some empty wall space? Some favorite photos from trips you've taken? Have some photos blown up and framed.  They'll add some color and provide daily reminders of the good times!

 

 

Looking For Fun This Long Holiday Weekend?

We're so lucky to live in a place that offers abundant opportunities to enjoy activities both indoors and out, no matter the season! Here are some ideas to keep you busy this weekend.

Owl Prowl at the Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, Sunday from 7-9 pm. Participants will hike through the property in search of screech owls and great horned owls with the help of a knowledgeable guide. Flashlights should have a red cloth rubber banded over them so as not to disturb the animals, though there is something to be said for the magic that happens when you walk through the woods in darkness. Owl Prowls will be held rain, snow or moonshine. For more info https://rem.ax/2mnsftU

Game of Thrones withdrawals? Here's the cure! Head to The Precinct Kitchen and Bar at the Loews Boston Hotel, where you'll find the "Game of Thrones Bar" complete with GOT-themed decorations, drinks and food - including the "A Burger Has No Name."  Open daily from 4-11 pm.

New Car? RV? Tent? You can take a look at all your options in one place - the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.  Both the International Auto Show and the Boston RV & Camping Expo are at the BCEC through Monday.  Browse, dream, grab a snack or drink. Don't forget your checkbook!

Free is good! In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, both the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts are offering free admission on Monday.  Open 10-5.

Beauty and the Beast Jr, presented by Acting Out Productions.  The cast of over 90 students from 8 local schools presents a fun family show at Triton Regional on Friday at 7 and Saturday at 2 and 6.  For additional info https://rem.ax/2Dk873E

SoWa First Friday: Meet artists in their studios and experience a wide variety of contemporary art. Over 80 artists’ studios open to the public and free! Friday from 5-9 pm. https://rem.ax/2mkSL6V 

Children of the World Doll Making Class at Artbeat Creativity Store and Studio in Arlington.  This special project honors the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr by creating dolls from different cultures. You’ll start by creating a small flag from the country you choose, and use it for display or as a blanket or cape for your doll. You’ll draw the face, fingers, and other features on a cloth doll, and then dress it in felt clothing - $15pp. https://rem.ax/2D1o9Sq

Newcomers Club concert at the Crossroads Cafe in North Andover. Newcomers Club is a harmony-focused folk rock group from New York City, with roots in New England.  Influences include Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Fleetwood Mac; the Beatles; the Beach Boys; Simon & Garfunkel – the classics - and a dose of funk. https://rem.ax/2D2q6hh

Barefoot in the Park, the classic Neil Simon romantic comeday about newlyweds living in a tiny 5th floor walk-up apartment in a Greenwich Village brownstone. Presented at Dunstable Town Hall by the Dunstable Theater Collaborative on Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. https://rem.ax/2mhaagS

Want to stay inside and have fun with the kiddos? Check out Dave & Buster's in Woburn. Kids and kids-at-heart can play games to their heart's desire, including classics like Pac-man and Skee-ball, or some of the newest games, like Zombie Snatcher. There's also billiards and bowling, and tons of tv's so you can catch your favorite team's game. https://rem.ax/2DoWkkV

THE PATRIOTS!  As if you could forget, Saturday at 8:15 is kickoff for the Pats vs. the Titans! Not a New England fan? I can help you find a new home anywhere in the US!  http://www.patriots.com/

 

Should You Purchase a Home in the Winter?

You're likely to hear both "yes" and "no" when you ask friends and family if winter is a good time to buy a home.  With interest rates continuing to be low and prices continuing to increase, winter may be just the right time for you to buy.  

Less Competition & Less Inventory: Traditionally, you face less competition from other buyers in the winter, as most Americans look for houses in the spring when the weather is nicer and the days are longer.  Also, the majority of people have been conditioned to think they must wait until the "spring market" to go out looking for a home.  In addition, many people want to close on their new home when the kids are out of school.  That allows their children to finish out the school year witout interruption, and use the summer to get settled in their new neighborhood, hopefully meeting new friends they'll go to school with.  These factors mean there will be less inventory on the market in the winter, but you'll also face less competition, and have less of a chance of getting into a bidding war.  

Motivated Sellers: It's not a guarantee, but there's a good possibility sellers will be more motivated when they're house is for sale in the winter.  Who wants to have people schlepping through their house with snowy boots, or booking a showing in the middle of the holiday season? Sellers who list in the winter may be facing a job relocation that starts at the beginning of the year. Or they may have decided this last barrage of snow and ice is enough, and they're heading to warmer climes! These situations may make for easier negotiations and a better purchase price for you.

Interest Rates and Home Prices: The Federal Reserve Board will see a new Governor in February, and indications are strong that interest rates may rise at least once in 2018.  With the strong economy, it is possible the rate could rise several times. With historically low rates, this is a good time to lock in a good mortgage rate.

Housing Prices Are Climbing: Housing prices have been steadily climbing and the trend is expected to continue, again thanks to the strong economy.  With both buyers and sellers looking at the prospect of higher prices, now is an even more appealing time to snag a house before prices tick up once more in the spring.  

Investment Rental Properties: The best deals on rental property purchases actually are in the colder markets - other than top ski destinations. Don't head to Florida or Arizona looking for a steal. The winter months in warmer climates are filled with snowbirds and many of them decide they want to purchase instead of continuing to rent every winter.  They drive up the purchase prices.  Wait until the weather heats up (and the renters are gone) for the prices to cool down!  The lower purchase price probability increases, along with your potential to maximize your investment returns. 

Winter, spring, summer or fall, the decision to purchase is yours, of course!  There are a lot of factors to consider and your personal situation is what takes precedence.  Whatever your timeframe, I am here to help you make an informed decision by providing in-depth market data and expert guidance.  

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Storing & Protecting Holiday Decorations

As another holiday season heads toward its inevitable end, it's time to think about how to store and protect your holiday decorations for next year.  And if you added to the collection this year, you may be short on storage space!  Below are some tips to keep in mind as you think about that dreaded chore of taking those decorations down and putting them away for another year.

Label The Lights

If it took you forever this year to figure out which string of lights goes where, you can make your life easier by labeling each string of lights with masking tape.  Coil each string of lights and wrap it with the tape to help keep it from tangling.  Wrapping the lights around a piece of cardboard is even better - you can re-use those gift boxes by cutting them into forms for the lights.  Use a permanent marker to indicate on the tape the location the lights are used in, so that you don’t end up having to figure it out by trial and error next year. Put all the lights in a box and label the outside of the box as well.  

Be Kind to the Packaging

Often it's easier and faster to rip open the box a new ornament comes in than to figure out how to get it out without ruining the box. Who designs these packages, anyway, especially the ones with mulltiple plastic tabs, tape and twisties? Keeping the packaging intact is definitely a better idea in the long run. To be sure your ornaments stay in one piece for next year, you can store them in their original box where there is likely padding and a custom space for them to sit until next holiday season.  Don't have all the original packages?  Check out the sales at the dollar stores, pharmacies and home improvement stores where you can get ruggedized corrugated cardboard or plastic containers with dividers to keep ornaments separated and protected in their own space.  

Food Ornaments (Non-Edible, Of Course)

There's nothing worse than pulling out that macaroni ornament your child made last year, only to find it crushed or eaten by critters.  You can protect that special gingerbreadman cookie, Rice Krispie wreath or macaroni tree pretty easily.  Just put any food-based decorations in re-sealable plastic sandwich bags before putting them into their designated compartment in the storage container you bought at Home Depot.

Label, Label, Label

This sounds like an easy and logical task, but many people forget to do it when hurrying (and often hating) to take down and store holiday decorations. Just use a permanent marker to make a quick list of the contents in the box before you put it in the basement or attic. Then next year you won't have to waste time and end up frustrated when searching for a must-have decoration! 

Take an Inventory

If you never know what decorating items you need to repurchase, there is an easy solution. When you’re putting decorations away for the year, make a list of all decorations you have on hand and concurrently create a list of things you need to replace. This is a good time to take advantage of sales, as stores want to unload their stock. 

Keep Candles in Shape

Almost everyone loves candles, especially at the holidays.  Whether you purchase them yourself, or receive the as gifts, you need to protect them from getting smashed, cracked or melting into lumpy messes.  If you want to keep your candles looking great for next holiday season, put tapers into paper towel tubes to protect them.  For larger candles, try using square tissue boxes (the candle will be held in place by the opening in the box).  It's best not to store candles in the attic, where summer's heat can melt them.

With your holiday decorations safely stored, you can now focus on your New Year's resolutions!

 

Should You Hang Your TV Over the Fireplace?

To hang or not to hang the TV over the fireplace, that is the burning question!  There have been plenty of arguments about whether or not to hang the TVs over the fireplace, and at this time of year you may be facing that dilemma yourself.  A fireplace is typically the focal point of the room.  So it makes sense to want your TV in the same spot. Hanging the TV also means leaving floor space open for other pieces of furniture or just to keep the space feeling more open.  Here's a quick look at the pros and cons of booting that mirror or painting and elevating your TV to the place of honor over the fireplace.
 
Pros
 
Space Saving

One of the biggest pros to hanging your TV over the fireplace is the space you save. The rest of your walls can now be used to hang photos and artwork. Since both the fireplace and the TV are focal points in your living room, putting them together will create one center for the room.  It will make it easier to arrange your furniture, since you won't have to decide whether the TV or the fireplace is the focal point. 
 
Aesthetics

The look of a TV mounted above a fireplace is aesthetically pleasing to many people and makes the room look cleaner, more modern and less fussy. The simplicity of having your TV matched with your fireplace will help create cohesiveness and won’t make the TV a distraction or take away from the fireplace. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fireplace and the TV, helping to make the room appear larger.  If you really don't want the look of the TV above the fireplace, there are new models that will allow you to use the screen as a painting or print (or even your favorite photograph) when you aren't watching the television.
 
Cons
 
Height Issues

When you place your TV over your fireplace, it will sit higher than you're used to, and that can make it uncomfortable to watch your favorite shows and movies. Make sure to measure everything before mounting your TV so you won’t regret your decision later on. If you don’t feel as though you will be comfortable with the height of the TV above the fireplace, then think about another place where the TV will work for your floorplan and furniture layout.  If your home isn't already wired for hanging a TV over the fireplace, be sure to hire a professional to come in to run the wiring so it won't show, and to mount the TV to the wall.
 
Heat Damage

The heat that comes from the fireplace can damage your TV. You will need to figure out the exact temperature in the spot where you plan to mount the TV and be sure you insulate your chimney correctly. Calcium silicate plates will help you avoid this problem. But without proper protection, you can melt the entire bottom of the TV.  Be sure to plan ahead to avoid a meltdown!

So...

Now that you know about the pros and cons of hanging your TV over your fireplace, will you choose to hang it or place it somewhere else in the room?  The choice is yours!

KEEP KIDS ENTERTAINED - AND KEEP YOUR SANITY - WHILE TRAVELING

Traveling to visit family or friends, or just to get away during the holiday season is great, but keeping your children occupied during a long plane or car ride can be a real challenge. Some kids can say entertained for hours with electronic devices, but others may get bored and need a change.  Or you just may prefer not to have the kids staring at a screen for hours on end.  With some advance planning, you can keep the kids busy and make your travel time less stressful at the same time.
 
1. Activity Books

Your local pharmacy, dollar-type store, used or new bookstore probably has an entire section dedicated to activity books geared towards kids of all ages. These books of puzzles, activities, quizzes and games are easy to transport and keep kids occupied when they need to be still and quiet. Hidden picture books are great, especially for younger kids who might not be able to read well enough to do more complicated puzzles and games independently. The older kids can help the younger ones learn how to do the puzzles, too.  Another great choice of car trips is a book of Mad Libs. Mad Libs are silly, fill-in-the-blank games that everyone can take part in while providing hilarious entertainment for the whole car. I bet you had Mad Libs as a kid!

2. Inexpensive toys

Buy age appropriate toys from the dollar store, wrap them up, and give one to your children whenever they start to get bored or restless. Unwrapping a new toy is exciting and the novelty will make each trinket seem like a fun new adventure.  And if the toy gets lost or broken, it didn't cost much so it won't be like losing that $40 video game or Lego set.  Mazes, magnetic doodle faces or magnetic games like tic tac toe and Trouble will entertain without losing game pieces!

3. Window Decorations 

Inexpensive window clings can be an entertaining, non-messy way to let your child decorate the airplane or car window. These window clings can be rearranged, added and removed multiple times, providing long-term entertainment for a child who is trapped in a seat for several hours.  Think "Colorforms" from your childhood.  How much fun were those?

4. New Coloring & "Painting" Materials 

A new coloring book and crayons can be another fun way to pass the time. The novelty of having brand new coloring supplies - particularly if they have to wait until they are in the plane or car to use them - can add an extra level of anticipation to the journey. Paint with water books are great for on a plane.  Just ask the flight attendant for a small amount of water in a cup and the kids can paint away! Invisible markers are fun, too, and won't make a mess on clothing or other surfaces. 

5. Glow-in-the-Dark Fun

If you will be traveling at night, buy some glow sticks, glow bracelets or glow window clings and bring them along. These can be an endlessly entertaining way to provide each child with their own personal night light.  

6. No-Fail Traffic Games

If you will be driving to your holiday destination, there is always the old fallback of the license plate game. Print out a license plate checklist for each member of your family and play all day to see who can spot all the states first.  Alternatives are to look for drivers wearing sunglasses or hats, or cars with dogs, or any other specific item or action you can come up with. 

7. Story Time

Audio books can be a great way to entertain everyone in the car. Your children will be transfixed and the story can help the long drive pass more quickly.

8. Edible Fun

Buy an inexpensive tackle box or plastic container with multiple compartments and pack snacks.  Kids can create their own "stack snack" or eat the items individually, or one compartment at a time. Pack licorice ropes and cheerios or Fruit Loops to make edible jewelry!  An over the seat organizer or backpack is a great place to store these items.

Of course, with Google and Facebook Moms pages, you're sure to be able to find a plethora of additional ideas.  Whatever you do, wherever you go, have fun and create memories that will last a lifetime!

TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL HOLIDAY PARTY

Thanksgiving is fading in your rear view mirror and now the holiday season is in full swing.  Are you throwing a holiday party? Hosting a more intimate gathering?  Whatever you're planning, it can be stressful, but with a few simple strategies you can make your holiday celebration a memorable one for everyone.
 
1. Consider a Theme

This can be anything from a tacky sweater Christmas party to a Mad Men '50s party or anything you can dream up. The best themes are ones that can carry over from the decorations to the food and attire.

2. Choose the Right Food

What does the usual array of finger foods, chips and dip, and veggie platters say to your gets?  Boring!   While the food will be memorable for its status as the usual go to foods, it will not provide a memorable experience for anyone. Try to provide at least one memorable dish that will impress your guests and leave them wanting to come back for your next holiday party. It doesn't have to be anything overly difficult to make; there are many dishes that look impressive but are pretty easy to prepare.  Google is a great place to find inspiration, or look up a dish from your favorite restaurant to see how it's made.  Your party will be twice as memorable if you can come up with an amazing dessert as well.  Creme brulee anyone?

3. Plan in Advance 

The sooner you start planning your party, the more time you will have to spend perfecting the decorations, planning the menu and determining the guest list. Your friends and family are more likely to be able to come if you invite them early on, so they clan plan their party season, too.   Getting yoru invites out early also signals that you really want those people to attend - and if invitees do decline, you will still have time to invite a few additional people that didn't make the first cut guest list (okay, the B Listers). 

4. Don't Skimp on the Decorations

Great decorations can help to transform your home to coincide with a theme, time of year or holiday. Lots of festive garlands and mood lighting can help to improve the atmosphere without breaking the budget. A word of caution - skip the old plastic light up figures, the cardboard cutouts and the things you and your kids made in grade school.  While they may have sentimental meaning to you, keep them out of sight until after the party.  You want to set an inviting, festive and grown up mood.  You don't want your guests remembering your tacky decorations!

5. Games and Activities  

Make sure that there is something for your guests to do when they are finished eating. Silly games can be a great way to break the ice and get a conversation going, but consider your audience when planning the games. Small children will enjoy an entirely different set of party games than the older attendees.  You can also add a swap of some sort, such as an ornament swap instead of the traditional all-encompassing item swap.  Or collect small toys or pantry items for an organization you support and provide gift bags and tags for guests to help wrap in their own personal style.

6. Prizes to Boost Participation   

Prizes can add a whole new level of competition to any party game. They do not have to be anything expensive or elaborate – any prizes will be exciting and memorable. Bonus points if the prizes are in keeping with the theme of your party.  Everyone likes to win and it will evoke happy memories of childhood parties and the excitement of bringing home a "goodie bag."

7. Select the Music  

A quiet party is a dull party, so make sure you have holiday themed music to go with your holiday themed party. Again, consider your audience when choosing the music. The right music can help to make it a fun and memorable evening for everyone.  Keep the volume of the music in mind and make adjustments as conversation and the number of guests increases - or decreases as the first people leave.

8. Don't Make Your Guest Play Musical Chairs

This one might seem obvious, but make sure there is plenty of seating available in the areas that people are likely to congregate. Nobody wants to stand for the duration of the party.  Provide a variety of seating; some guests may need back support or a higher or lower chair. Be sure there are occasional tables scattered about so your guests won't have to put their plates and glasses on the floor where it's awkward to reach down to get them, or where someone might step on them.  Embarrassment is definitely something that can kill a party mood!  Provide an array of glasses to help guests identify their stray beverage, or grab a set of washable glass markers in silver, gold, red and green (or other colors to match your theme).  The guests can write their own names, or you can pre-personalize and have the glasses ready and waiting.

Whatever your plans this holiday season, enjoy the moments with friends and family and leave the stress behind!

Work Off That Turkey This Weekend With Some Fun!

Dinner is over, the dishes are done, the turkey coma has set in! Take advantage of the long weekend to have some fun and work off that big meal.

24th Annual Methuen Festival of Trees.  Do you love Christmas trees? Looking for some tree decorating ideas? Want to awe the kids? Head to 13 Branch Street in Methuen (you'll see the big neon sign on Rte. 113) on Friday or Saturday from 10 am - 9 pm. In addition to nearly 250 trees, there are gifts and decorations for sale, raffle (win a tree or even $5,000!) and food.  https://rem.ax/2zZHG3X

Not enough trees in Methuen? Take a quick ride north and see more at the 5th Annual Sea Festival of Trees at the Blue Ocean Event Center on Salisbury Beach. Check out the holiday trees, designer wreaths, holiday stage performances, Seaside Ice rink and skate rentals, visits with Santa and other fun characters, our Giant Gingerbread Castle display, North Pole Gift and Sweet Shoppe, and Festival Café. Open daily through December 3. https://rem.ax/2zYZNr2

Edaville Railroad Christmas Festival of Lights.  Kids and adults alike will love the park even more than usual when they see the 17 million (yes million) lights around the park.  Take a ride on the train and take advantage of all the other attractions in the park. https://rem.ax/2B312lS

23rd Annual Castleberry Faire at the Shriner's Auditorium in Wilmington. Over 250 of the nation’s finest Craftspeople selling products including Holiday Décor, Pottery, Tile, Fine Jewelry, Soy Candles, Turned Wood, Soaps, Fine Art, Toys, Wildlife & Nature Photography, Ceramics, Wearable Art, Victorian Wreaths, Leather, Pet Treats & Accessories, Children’s Clothing, Clay, Ladies Apparel, Sports Apparel, Sheep Skin Accessories, Fleece, doll clothes, table games and so, so, so much more! Friday, Saturday and Sunday. https://rem.ax/2Baawvs

Boston Winter at City Hall Plaza returns! This outdoor mix of live performances, holiday shopping market in dozens of "chalets" and an outdoor skating rink.  Easy to park or take the T, walk to other attractions like Faneuil Hall, or just spent some time enjoying the events and local vendors offerings. http://cityhallplazaboston.com/

Cider Hill Farm Holiday Open House at the farm in Amesbury on Saturday and Sunday. Bring the kids and enjoy storytime, gingerbread man decorating, letter writing to our troops, a complimentary hot chocolate bar, and more! After your visit, take a stroll through downtown Amesbury and check out all the new shops, cafes and restaurants.  Amesbury is bustling! https://rem.ax/2AsVZP

North Andover Holiday Events The annual Santa parade kicks off at the middle school on Saturday at noon, and will progress down Main Street to Elm Street to Watter Street, back to Main Street and end at Sutton Street.  Lots of local talent will be participating! On Sunday at 4:30 be on the Common for the tree lighting and take part in the festivities until 6:30. Meet Santa Claus and have some free cookies and hot chocolate! There will be live entertainment as well as a free printed picture with Santa! https://rem.ax/2iOfk2X

Small Business Saturday! Get out and support our local small businesses and take part in some special events and sales planned just for the day! 

 

Prepping for Holiday Guests

Are you the hostest with the mostest this holiday season? Take some time to get your house ready for the onslaught of guests now, so you'll be able to enjoy the holidays with your guests.  Here are some tasks to tackle.

1. Declutter your house and garage 

It's not the time of year to have a yard sale, but you can post the items you want to clear out on CraigsList, e-bay and Facebook sale pages.  You’ll raise some extra holiday cash, give a new home to furniture and household goods you no longer need and have your house looking great for the holidays.  Or consider donating the goods to a local organization that can sell them or provide items to those in need.  Donating will also allow you to take a tax deduction when the dreaded April 15th date is looming!

2. Check the condition and quantity of your linen closet

If you need new items, you’ll have time to watch for a good sale before guests arrive.  While many people will be shopping for toys and gifts on Black Friday, you just may score a great deal on towels, sheets and comforters! 

Need a place to hold extra guest towels? Swap out your towel rack for a shelving unit or put some decorative hooks on the bathroom (or guest room) wall.  The towels will add some color as well as a welcoming feeling, and guests won't have to hunt for towels or ask you for some.  If yours is a super-small bathroom, a shelf over the door can hold extra towels for guests.  

When making the bed, use sheets with a decorative touch, such as lace or scalloped edge.  Even if they're not expensive sheets, they will look like you really made an effort to welcome your guests..  Add a couple throw pillows to make the bed more inviting, and put a spare blanket at the foot of the bed.  A couple glasses and a water pitcher will also make the room look and feel special for your guests.

3. Baby Proof

Are your children or other guests bringing little ones into your not-so-baby-proof home? There are lots of temporary safety devices to help keep toddlers safe so parents relax and enjoy their visit with you. You can get a childproofing kit or get individual items like outlet plugs, cabinet latches and gates.  Just be sure you know how to operate them so you won't be frantically trying to get into a cabinet or open a door when you need something (or find a 5 year old, who will likely be able to get past the childproofing in a heartbeat).

4. Run your oven through its self-cleaning cycle long before the guests arrive

You’ll want your oven in top shape for cooking big meals (especially if you’ve got the kind of family members who will judge you based on the cleanliness of your oven). Cleaning the oven a few days before guests arrive will also give that icky self-cleaning oven smell time to get out of the house.  Running the self-cleaning cycle before guests arrive also helps reduce the risk of kitchen fires.

5. Don't mistreat your garbage disposal 

Preparing meals for a big crowd can put your garbage disposal through a real workout. Some disposals are better than others at handling hard or fibrous foods.  Feed vegetable peels into the disposal in small amounts with the water running.  Avoid grinding fibrous foods like celery, corn husks, artichokes and pulpy insides of pumpkins or squash.  Grind bones, fruit pits and other hard materials only if your disposal is designed to handle those kinds of foods. Even then, do a small amount at a time.

And be sure your guests who offer to help clean up know if you don't have a garbage disposal!

6. Protect yourself from washing machine hose problems

Inspect the hoses that connect your washing machine to the hot and cold water spigots in your laundry room. Look for blisters or cracks. If you see any, replace the hoses before using your washing machine again.  These days stainless steel hoses are recommended, so this might be the perfect time to change out your old hoses for some new ones, and avoid any leaks and floods!

7. Clean the lint out of your dryer vent

Clean your dryer vent (or call a professional in to clean it).  The last thing you need at any time of year is the lint in your dryer vent to catch fire.  And a vent full of lint makes your dryer work less efficiently, so you're wasting time and energy.  

8. Get your septic tank inspected and pumped, if needed

The ground still isn't frozen, so you have time to get your septic inspected and pumped.  With people visiting, your system will be getting a workout and handling more waste than usual.  If you have guests visiting who don't know about septic systems, let them know what they can and cannot flush.  You don't want to face the ugly and smelly prospect of the septic system backing up while you have guests!

9. Inspect your holiday decorations

If you have family heirloom, sentimental or antique holiday decorations, they may contain lead, asbestos or mold.  Some of the older ornaments we had as children are lovely to look at with their "snow" and "silver", but they may contain lead.  And that "snow" that your grandmother put around her Christmas village just may have been made with asbestos fibers.  Those old bubble lights that are so fascinating to children can contain poisonous chemicals in addition to be scalding hot if the glass gets broken.  If you live in an older home and store your decorations in the attic, be sure you don't have any asbestos insulation that could get into the storage boxes.  And the moisture in an attic can cause mold growth on cardboard boxes.  Mold can also grow on the trunk of a live Christmas tree.  Just as we know to check that wiring isn't frayed, we need to look at the total "package" when decorating. 

And now that you've got the house in tip-top, safe shape, you can relax and spend your time with the family and friends who are staying with you.  Bring on the holidays!