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Get Out Of Your Rut With These Cabin Fever Fighting Activities

Your home may be a sanctuary and place of respite, but it can feel a little bit more like a prison when bad weather is keeping you from spending much time outdoors. Cabin fever hasn’t quite earned a place in the psychiatric manuals just yet, so it’s fine to treat this restlessness and frustration on your own with a few fun activities to get out of a funk.

Rearrange the Furniture

It will involve a little cleaning if the sofa has a few dust bunnies under it, but moving your furniture around can make your familiar walls feel brand new again. Spend a few bucks on a new piece of wall art or a bunch of fresh flowers to spruce up the place as well. Even giving a single room a new arrangement makes a big difference to your mental state, especially if you can improve the flow or fix a long-term space issue.

Try Mindfulness Exercises

Meditation is the traditional way to practice mindfulness, but it’s not always the ideal time to practice sitting still when you’re already feeling restless with cabin fever. Yoga or even an exercise like pilates is a great way to get in shape, release stress, and practice focusing on your body and the moment rather than your unhappiness with the weather. Even jumping rope can serve as an ideal focus for your excess energy without requiring you to suit up in snow gear.

Travel for a Quick Trip

When it reaches a fever pitch due to winter conditions, getting away is one of the best ways to shake it off. You don’t need an accumulation of vacation time just to make a quick pre-spring trip either. Try a weekend away that only requires a short flight or a drive to a warmer destination. A weekend getaway is just the right amount of new scenery to brighten up your mood.

Develop a New Skill

Starting oil painting or learning knitting can be too frustrating for some people, but others thrive on the challenge of starting a new hobby or professional skill. With the wide range of video tutorials, hands on local classes, and other learning opportunities, getting focused on one specific activity can make your last few weeks of winter a productive time instead of a difficult period.

Don’t forget to take some time to review your home insurance during your cabin fever focus on productivity too. Call us here at Matsen Insurance Agency if you need help with the process.

5 Steps to Being More Organized at Work

Did you know January was “Get Organized Month”? Not really surprising since January is the time when most people make resolutions, and one of those resolutions always seems to be to improve organization at home or at work. Of course, if you missed out on “celebrating,” that doesn’t mean you can’t get organized now. (After all, they’re your resolutions, right?) Here are a few simple tips you can put in place right now to improve your organization at work:

  1. Declutter your area. Just like having a cluttered home can make life seem more harried and hectic, a cluttered work space makes it difficult to stay on task and stay focused. Get rid of unnecessary clutter and be ruthless about it. If there are some objects you don’t want to toss, store them in a box out of sight and out of the way.
  2. Invest in supplies. Technology has cut down on a lot of paper clutter, but there’s still enough to clutter our desks and work surfaces. Take inventory of what you need to help you stay on task, like bins, file folders and other organizing material, then hit up the local office supply store and pick some items that suit those needs to a “T.”
  3. Keep your desk clear. Once you’ve decluttered and you have the items you need to keep things in order, make sure to keep your desk free of any unnecessary items – typically, that means only the items you’re working on now and maybe some things you plan to work on later. Stow anything else in its proper bin, folder or box.
  4. Start and end every day with a list – and decide how to tackle your tasks. Having a list – handwritten or virtual – is one of the most important things you can do to stay organized. Plus, crossing things off adds to your sense of accomplishment. (For virtual lists, use the strikethrough function instead of deleting items so you can stay motivated by seeing all you’ve done.) Tackle difficult tasks first while you’re most alert and energized, or if you have a couple of small, easy tasks, opt to knock those out to get that feeling of accomplishment early in your day.
  5. Set aside specific time for email, social media and other online tasks. The internet can be a big timesaver or a big timewaster. Tame the ‘net’s siren call by setting aside specific times each day – maybe first thing in the morning, after lunch and before you leave for the day – to check in, and limit your time online to 15 minutes each time.

Improving organization at work can clear your mind, help you focus and even make you more productive. Plus, studies have shown working in an environment that’s organized can actually improve your mood, not just at work, but in other areas of your life as well – and that’s a resolution we all want to keep.

Don’t Let Dietary Restrictions Spoil Your Thanksgiving: Simple Tips to Satisfy Everyone

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, chances are you’ve got at least one or two guests with dietary restrictions – sugar free, gluten free, paleo, vegan – the list goes on. At first glance, it may seem like a real hassle to adhere to multiple dietary restrictions when trying to host a holiday dinner like Thanksgiving. But there’s a silver lining to this culinary cloud: One of the best ways to meet the needs of different restrictions is to cook as close to the natural source as possible. And that can make the job of the cook a lot easier.

For instance, keep the turkey simple – just a plain roast with a few fresh or dried herbs. Instead of adding salt, serve the bird with plenty of lemon wedges for squeezing. You’ll get the “zing” of saltiness without the sodium. Cook any stuffing on the side, and consider making it simple as well, with whole grains, celery and onions and a little vegetable broth to keep it moist.

For vegetarians and vegans, yes, Tofurkey is certainly one option. But if you only one or two vegans at your table, you’re going to have a lot of leftover soy to deal with. Instead, consider making a dish or two that combines whole grains or and beans, like a Southwest-style quinoa salad with a balsamic drizzle on the side for more flavor.

Taking a fresh approach with sides can also help: Instead of making mashed potatoes filled with cream and butter, roast some small red or gold potatoes alongside the turkey and some in their own pan with a little olive oil and rosemary. You can roast cauliflower and brussels sprouts too, for a little added flavor that’s a lot more festive than the usual steamed versions.

For desserts, search the internet for options or stick to simple fresh fruit and cheese. Some fruits like pears and even apples can be sprinkled with lemon juice, cinnamon, ginger and a little oil, then baked or grilled for a delicious gluten free option. Serve vanilla ice cream and maple syrup on the side for those who want to indulge.

Of course, if doing a lot of cooking is something that makes Thanksgiving special for you, you don’t have to go “simple” – there are plenty of paleo, gluten free, low-carb,  low-sodium recipes that taste great, and recipe sites like allrecipes.com, food.com and even pinterest.com just waiting to share them. You can also search for recipes based on the specific restrictions – for instance, “gluten-free side dishes” or “paleo desserts.”

One more option: Go potluck. Let everyone bring a dish or two that suits their specific needs – something festive and special with plenty to share. Of course, not every dish is going to suit all the other diners’ needs, but you can fill in “around the edges” with a few special salads or whole-grain dishes.

Most of all, consider making and serving different foods an adventure – a chance to learn and explore new dishes and get to understand your loved ones a little better. And who knows? You might just turn up a new family favorite or two!

Get Ready for Fall Rain: 7 Home Maintenance Chores That Should Be on Your List

Like spring, fall is a transitional season that takes us from the sweltering hot weather of summer into the cool, frosty months of winter. And just like in the spring, our homes require a little extra attention when autumn arrives. Here’s what should be on your home maintenance to-do list this fall:

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  • Get ready for the rain by cleaning those gutters. Fall is usually much wetter than the rest of the year, and preparing your home for increased rain levels – especially after the hot, dry months of summer – is important for keeping away mold and insect infestation. Ideally, clean your gutters a couple of times in the fall, including now before the rains really kick in and again once all the leaves have fallen. If your gutters are high, hire a professional. It’s worth the added expense to stay off high ladders and avoid nasty falls.
  • Look for peeling paint. Even a small area of peeling paint can provide plenty of opportunity for moisture and even insects to enter your home and putting off painting chores can quickly lead to damage that will be much more costly to repair.
  • Caulk windows. The hot sun of summer can cause caulk to shrink and crack. Remove old damaged caulk carefully then replace it with weatherproof caulk to prevent heat loss and also keep moisture and bugs from getting in.
  • Seal your driveway. Rain combined with the contraction and expansion cycles of varying temperatures can cause cracks to widen. Now is the time to clean the cracks carefully and patch them using a special caulk made expressly for driveways. Then seal to protect the surface and prevent additional damage.
  • Have your furnace services and your chimney cleaned. Keeping the chimney in good repair is important for wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, and it’s also important to ensure your furnace is venting properly. An annual maintenance of your heating system keeps your heating bills low while preventing unexpected breakdowns.
  • Prune those plants. Home maintenance doesn’t just include the house. Fall is also the time to trim back overgrown plants, paying special attention to branches that overhang your home or other outdoor structures to avoid damage from fall winds and storms.
  • Maintain your garden tools and stow them away for the winter. Oil wooden handles can carefully clean metal parts of rakes, shovels, spades and other implements so they’re ready for action when spring returns.

Autumn home maintenance doesn’t have to be a hassle. Start now and spread out tasks over the next few weeks so you can feel confident your home is well prepared for whatever winter may bring.

7 Cookout Safety Tips to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses This Summer

Eating outdoors is one of the pleasures of summer, whether you enjoy a backyard barbecue, a picnic in a park or a campfire cookout. Unfortunately, summer’s warmer temperatures also mean food poisoning becomes a very real risk  in fact, the USDA reports foodborne illnesses are much more common in the summertime. If you’re planning a summer cookout, you can reduce your risks for food poisoning simply by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Pack foods in an insulated cooler and cool food before packing it to maintain cool temperatures for as long as possible. Don’t forget to include ice packs and keep the cooler out of direct sunlight whenever possible. Remember: Opening the cooler frequently can cause the internal temperature to rise, so consider packing beverages in their own separate cooler. Make sure meats are carefully packed in separate leakproof containers to prevent the meat juices from contaminating other items.
  • Keep all meat and seafood in the cooler at all times until just before it’s ready to be cooked, and keep deli meats, mayonnaise-based salads and dressings, fruits and vegetables, and dips and dairy products in the cooler as well.
  • When grilling, use a meat thermometer to ensure they’re cooked thoroughly. Ground meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F, and any chicken products should be cooked to 165°F internal temperature. Steaks and chops should have an internal temperature of 145°F after resting off the grill for three minutes.
  • Have a separate cutting board and utensils reserved solely for raw meats during, and never use these items for any other types of food during your cookout. Items that are used to handle raw meats should never be used to serve meats once they’re cooked.
  • Don’t “parcook” meat at home. Meat should be completely cooked at the location where you’re grilling. Partially cooking items at home to “speed up” the grilling time can provide bacteria time to grow while you’re traveling to your destination, so do all your cooking once you arrive.
  • Never leave perishable food out for more than an hour. Serve food in small portions, refilling from the cooler as needed and throw out leftovers. Cooked meats should be kept at 140°F or higher until eaten. You can keep meats warm by placing them off to the side of the grill rack so they don’t overcook.
  • Be sure to wash your hands often, especially after handling raw meats, and keep surfaces clean. If clean water isn’t available where you’re having your cookout, pack some wipes for hands and countertops.

Want more tips? Visit the USDA “Fight Bac” website for plenty of downloadable resources to help you keep your summer cookouts safe and fun.

6 Garden Tasks to Do NOW for a More Beautiful Home Landscape

Northern California is a gardener’s paradise, offering a climate that’s ideal for growing many edible and ornamental crops that can turn any yard into an oasis of colors and flavors. Sometimes, though, the heat of midsummer can make maintaining a healthy garden and landscape a bit of a challenge, especially when those maintenance needs are competing with other pursuits, like summer vacations and weekend trips to the beach or woods. Fortunately, all it takes is a little careful planning and a few helpful tips to allow you to enjoy a beautiful landscape and garden without giving up time for other leisurely activities. Here’s what you should be doing now to keep your lawn and garden in top shape:

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  • Mow long for healthier roots. Mowing isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of fun, but cutting short to extend time between each mowing can damage your grass over time. Set your mower blades so only about a third of the grass shoots are cut with each pass, leaving the remaining two-thirds of the shoot length in place to provide important nutrients to the roots and a healthier, greener lawn.
  • Mulch for moisture. A two- to four-inch layer of organic matter placed on top of garden beds controls weeds while also retaining moisture so you don’t need to water as often to keep plants healthy. Keep mulch away from stems and trunks to prevent rot.
  • Provide support. If you have fruit trees, now’s the time to make sure the branches are supported to prevent breakage. Wooden supports placed beneath fruit-laden branches are a quick way to maintain healthy limbs. Make it a regular habit to remove fallen fruit to prevent diseases and insect infestations.
  • Plant some pesto. Tomato season is in full swing, and it’s not too late to plant some basil to enjoy a late-summer Caprese salad and lots of pesto for autumn snacking. Purple and green varieties add visual interest to any space, and they grow well in pots too.
  • Water right. Vegetables and flowers can benefit from some extra moisture this time of year, and in California, we have to make every drop count. If you don’t have drip irrigation in place, use a bucket and dipper to make sure water reaches the roots and avoiding spraying the leaves to prevent many diseases and mildew issues.
  • Deadhead and pinch back. Plan for a flush of fall foliage and blooms by removing spent flowers and pinching back plants that have become too leggy. Divide irises and daylilies for healthier plants next spring.

Having a beautiful landscape and garden doesn’t have to compete with other summertime pleasures. Add these tasks to your to-do list and spend a little time each week completing them for a home landscape that will reward you for years to come.

Planning to Host Some Fireworks This 4th of July? Know the Law and Follow These Tips to Stay Safe

Few events are more evocative of a midsummer night than a fireworks show. After all, fireworks are a major part of any 4th of July celebration, and they can be fun at other outdoor gatherings too. For many people, enjoying fireworks means going to a public display and sprawling on the grass with hundreds of other spectators. But others prefer to enjoy at least some of their fireworks at home.

California has some of the strictest fireworks laws in the country, with nearly all types of fireworks designated as illegal for private use by unlicensed individuals. The list of prohibited fireworks is extensive (you can see the complete list here), and includes things like firecrackers, skyrockets, Roman candles, chasers (fireworks that move around on the ground) and even sparklers longer than 10 inches or wider than ¼ inch. On top of those state regulations, there are plenty of local ordinances with even greater restrictions.

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Why so many restrictions – even on seemingly “innocent” fireworks like firecrackers and sparklers? California’s laws were initially enacted in 1973, and like many other states with stringent laws, they were enacted in response to reports of serious injuries and even deaths of individuals using the products or bystanders in the nearby area. Even a sparkler can cause serious burns, and the tiny sparks and white-hot metal core can start fires that can cause substantial property damage, not to mention personal injury.

If you do manage to find a fireworks product that’s legal under state or local regulations, the next step is to use it safely:

  • Make sure everyone remains a safe distance from the fireworks being used.
  • Use sparklers responsibly and keep them out of the hands of young kids.
  • Keep pets indoors – more pets run away during the 4th of July holiday than any other time during the year as a result of extreme fear from loud noises and bright lights.
  • Don’t use fireworks near homes or other structures or near trees or brush piles.
  • Have plenty of water and sand on hand in case a fire starts.
  • And of course, follow all of the manufacturer’s directions to the letter.

One more tip: Before using any type of fireworks, check to make sure your homeowner’s insurance will cover any losses. If you’re using illegal fireworks, your policy may not offer coverage, and you could wind up having your insurance canceled.

The take-home message: Follow the law when planning 4th of July celebrations this year and keep things safe by enjoying your pyrotechnics at a public event. And give your insurance agent a call to make sure you have the coverage you need for any outdoor event you plan to host this summer.

Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer This Summer With These 5 Tips

About 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and 20 percent of people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer at some point during their lifetimes, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. About half of all Americans will have either a basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma – the two most common types of skin cancer – by the time they reach the age of 65.shutterstock_308218160.jpg

Most skin cancers develop as a result of sun exposure, and since May is National Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, it’s a great time to learn about the steps you can take to make sure your skin stays as healthy as possible.

  1. Understand the SPF value of the sunscreen you’re using. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Be sure to choose a product that also provides protection from UVA radiation. And for extra measure, make sure it’s waterproof so it doesn’t come off while swimming or perspiring.
  2. Use sunscreen correctly. Be sure to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading out – that’s how long it takes it to penetrate the skin – and reapply it every two hours or more often if swimming or sweating heavily. Use about an ounce for each application – as much as would fill a shot glass to the brim or fill the palm of your hand – and rub sunscreen into your skin to help it absorb.
  3. Wear protective clothing. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat protects your scalp and provides extra protection for your face, and don’t forget sunglasses and lip balm with UV protection to protect your scalp and lips. For really bright days, consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt for an added layer of protection.
  4. Know when to stay out of the sun. The sun is at its brightest and most damaging from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m., so stay in the shade during those hours – and if you must be in the sun, be extra vigilant about your use of sunscreen.
  5. Have routine skin cancer screenings. Ask your dermatologist or family doctor how often you need to be screened for skin cancer. Screening is a simple exam that takes just a few minutes, and it could wind up saving your life. Have your children screened too.

Enjoying the outdoors is one of the pleasures of summer, and these five simple tips will help ensure you can continue to revel in all summer has to offer without worrying about skin cancer.

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Animals and Heat Don’t Mix: 6 Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe This Summer

The heat of summer can take a toll on people, and it can be just as tough – or even more so – on animals. Taking a few extra precautions during the summer months can help ensure your beloved pets stay safe during even the hottest dog days of summer:shutterstock_153695291

  • First, don’t take your pet for car ride during warm months. Temperatures inside a car – even when the windows are cracked – can soar to well above 100 degrees very quickly, and each year, thousands of pets die as a result of being kept in cars while their owners “make a quick trip” to a store or other venue. Even if you don’t plan to get out of the car, a situation may arise that requires you to leave the vehicle, and that can spell disaster for your beloved pet. Leave them home and resume trips when the cool months of fall return.
  • Make sure your pet is indoors on summer’s scorching hot days. Doghouses provide very little protection from the scorching sun, and the temperatures inside can easily rise to deadly temperatures. If your pet must be outside for any length of time during the day or even the night, make sure they have plenty of fresh water and try to include a covered and protected area that stays shaded at all times.
  • Don’t take your pets to fireworks displays, and if you and your pet live near an area where fireworks are used, be sure your pet is safely secured in your home during the event. Each year, thousands of pets across the country run away during 4th of July events as a result of the loud and often disorienting noises. If you live in an area where your pet can hear the noises of fireworks, plan to spend time with them during the event so they feel secure. The Humane Society offers a list of helpful tips to make sure your pet stays safe.
  • Protect your pet from too much sun. Animals can become sunburned just like people, so keep your pet protected from too much sun exposure, especially if they have thin fur or light-colored fur.
  • Keep an eye on your pet if you’re barbecuing or using a firepit. Each year, many animals are seriously injured as a result of contact with grills and firepits. Keep your pets clear of the area while these items are in use.
  • Consider microchipping your pet. Collars and tags can be lost, but microchips are implanted, so they stay put, enabling your pet to be identified if it gets lost. Many vets provide low-cost microchipping services. And while you’re in the office, be sure your pet is vaccinated against heart disease, Lyme disease and rabies.

Enjoy your summer, and make sure your pets enjoy it too. Visit the Humane Society website for more tips on keeping your pets safe this summer and all year round.

4 Important Tips to Keep Yourself, Your Loved Ones and Your Home Safe this Vacation Season

Spring is just around the corner, and that means it’s time to start planning for vacation season. Whether you plan on taking a long-distance respite or you prefer sticking closer to home this spring and summer, staying safe – and keeping your home safe while you’re away – can go a long way toward making your R&R much more pleasant and relaxing. Here’s what you can do to help ensure you, your home and your loved ones stay safe this vacation season:shutterstock_152536469

  • Stay “mum” on social networks. When you’re excited about getting away, it’s only natural to want to share that excitement. But talking about your plans on social networks – even those you mark “private” – can inadvertently serve as a signal to would-be burglars that your home is empty. Instead of posting about your plans ahead of time, wait until you come home to share the good news.
  • Ask neighbors to keep an eye on your house and to report suspicious activities. Be sure to put your mail “on hold” and ask your neighbor to take in any flyers that might be left in your door. If your neighbor has a spare car, having them park it in your driveway can create the appearance of someone being home. Timers for lights are also a good investment; remote-controlled units let you control lights from your laptop or smartphone so you can vary the time you turn lights on and off.
  • Spring break travel plans? Make sure someone knows your itinerary and consider scheduling routine check-ins, especially if you’re going somewhere unfamiliar or you’re going alone. If you plan on drinking during your spring break getaway, set limits – and stick to them – to avoid making rash and unsafe decisions, and never leave your drink unattended. Don’t go anywhere with strangers and try to go places in groups, or at least with one other person.
  • Consider installing a security system. Today’s systems can be monitored remotely, and if you include cameras, you can even keep an eye on your property as well as record activity for later review. The price of security systems has dropped dramatically in recent years, and many systems are designed so even an unskilled DIYer can install them without hassle. Plus, some systems offer additional options to check for water damage, power outages and other issues that could potentially cause damage to your home.

One more quick tip: Before you head out on vacation, give us a call to make sure you have plenty of insurance coverage. Being protected “just in case” can go a long way toward helping you stay relaxed so you can get the most from your well-deserved vacation.