How to Work From Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Are you transitioning to working from home due to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)? For most of the population, this is a new concept as workers typically commute to their places of employment.  It can be advantageous to work from home as there is no commute or any of the hassles of leaving the house. However, there are plenty of distractions in your home that you need to be aware of in order to truly be productive.

Technology – If meetings are being held virtually, do you have all the apps needed to attend remote meetings? The most popular ways to connect with people are FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. If your employer isn’t helping you navigate any new app, head over to YouTube to get a tutorial. Connect with a co-worker if you need help.

Be Present – Just because you are home doesn’t mean it’s a free day. You will need to be present and available and not wander off to do the laundry or clean the bathroom. I am sure your employer expects you to be around and respond in a timely fashion and to do your job. This will require some discipline on your part to separate yourself from your day to day life activities when you are home vs. actually working from home.

Schedule – Make a schedule and stick to it. Using timers may help you stay on track and then allow a coffee break (again set the timer) and get back to work. Stick to your regular routine in terms of waking as if you were leaving the house, shower, get dressed (you don’t want to get caught in your PJs if you have to jump on a video meeting), and “commute” down to your computer to start your day. End your day as if you were in the office by walking away from your computer and work tasks. For some of you, it may be tempting to continue working while you are in the swing of it. Don’t do it. You don’t want work burnout to occur.

Breaks – Since you may be alone in your house while working you may crave socialization. Schedule a time to talk to a coworker as if you were just walking down to his office to chat and stretch your legs. Be mindful of getting up every hour to force yourself to look away from your computer and not get stiff and sore. Do take a lunch break; just alert others of a specified timeframe if you are supposed to always be available.  Communication is key in a remote work environment.

I have addressed the how to’s of working at home in an earlier blog. Please check that blog out to gain more tips on managing your remote work life.

For the most up to date information on COVID-19, look to experts such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO)

Photo: Pixabay

5 Things You Didn’t Know Could Be Freecycled, and How to Do So

We all try to do our best to recycle paper, glass, tin cans, and plastic grocery bags. There are other items that can be freecycled that you may not be aware of. Here are a few of just those items and how to freecycle them.

Books – If you are lucky, there are places to donate books such as Goodwill or a bin marked especially for books. However, did you also know you may be able to donate books to your local library? Some libraries collect books during the year and have an annual book sale to help fund special library projects. You may also be able to donate to a local bookstore and received store credit for your book purchase, or sometimes you have the option of receiving cash (but at a lower percentage).

Pet items – Unopened pet treats and toys as well as gently used items can be donated to your local animal shelter. I take old towels and sheets to mine as they are always in need of these items. Call ahead to see what they do or do not accept or look at their website to see if there is a current list.

Formal Attire – Once prom and wedding seasons are over, one is left with the dress. Rather than just hanging it in your closet for years, try to consign it while the style is still current. You may also be able to donate it to a local charity that helps those that can’t attend prom due to the cost of a dress.

Business Suits – If your job no longer requires you to wear business suits or if you have far too many, consider donating them to a local back to work program. Google ‘where to donate suits to charity’ to see a list in your area.

Unexpired Food – People are always amazed at how full their panty becomes in a blink of an eye. Next time you are putting your groceries away, take a moment to look at what you have in your pantry. If you see you have an abundance of one category, consider donating excess unexpired items to your local food pantry. Most supermarkets have a bin in the front entrance of their store into which to drop food. The same goes for unexpired hygiene items.

Any little attempt at making sure we aren’t just throwing items that still may be used by others into a land fill is a win-win for all of us. Let’s aim to be better about not using the trash as our first go to. Rather, try some of the above.

Photo: Pixabay

Planning to Pop The Question on This Valentine’s Day? Try These Ideas Considered Off the Beaten Path

As Valentine’s Day approaches, are you planning to pop the question? We all love to hear stories of how people got engaged. There are so many ways to propose. Would you like to try one of these ideas that are considered off the beaten path?

Use your pet – If you or your intended have a dog or cat, you could put the engagement ring on the pet’s collar and bring in a glass of wine or champaign and propose as you hand her/him the glass. Your pet will be close by and you can then remove the ring from their collar.

In a book – You could present your loved one with a book of poetry or a book by their favorite author. By cutting out a section of pages in the middle of the book you can put the ring in that carved out area. Glue the pages together so that when he or she opens the book, it will open to that spot where the ring is located. Ask as your beloved sees the ring.

Board game – If your Valentine enjoys playing board games, why not choose a game where you each have to have a playing piece. While you are setting up the board, make sure your ring is in your pocket and when he/she picks their piece, you can take the ring out of your pocket and tell him/her that this is a better piece chosen just for the occasion!

Candy – Buying a box of candy for Valentine’s Day is not unusual. But slipping in the engagement ring will be a surprise to your loved one. Or consider ordering personalized candy such as M&Ms on which you can customize the printing.

What are other ways you or someone you know has proposed?

Photo: Pixabay

Get Organized for the IRS by Gathering Your Tax Return Information Early

Just like every other aspect of your life, “doing your taxes” can be vastly improved by a bit of planning and organization. The best time to get organized for the IRS is BEFORE tax documents start landing in your mailbox, or online accounts. Spending 15 minutes the first week of February will save you time when it comes to meeting with your tax preparer, certified public accountant, or sitting down with TurboTax. It will also help avoid potential refund delays or IRS penalties if you end up owing this year. Here are some tried and true tips on getting organized for the IRS.

  • Make a List. Write down a list of all of the tax documents you know you will need to file your tax return, including those receive from employers, clients, health insurance companies, investment brokers, mortgage companies, and the like. Note the source of each document next to it on the list. Does your employer mail W-2s, or post them on an HR website? Will your investment broker send you a paper statement, or an email with a link? Having a list of what you need and where it will come from will ensure you don’t forget something important when you sit down to do your taxes.
  • Create a Capture File. Use a basic file folder, hanging file, or folder with pockets to hold your tax document list and hold paper copies of your important tax documents, including any receipts you may need. Each time a document comes in, put it in the file and cross it off the list. This way you will be able to see immediately anything you are missing when it comes time to file your tax return.
  • Book Early. If you plan to use a third party to complete your tax return and file your taxes, make an appointment to meet with them as soon as you can. It’s okay to make a future appointment before you have received all of your tax documents. Just make sure the appointment is for after you know you will have everything you need. Tax professionals’ calendars fill up early. You don’t want to risk not getting an appointment.
  • Provide Complete Information. Whether you are using an online tax return filing program, a professional tax preparation service, or a CPA, provide complete, accurate information when preparing your tax return. If you’re using software, have everything you need in front of you when you sit down at the computer. If you are using a tax preparation service or a certified public accountant, take your complete capture file with you. Do not leave anything out. Doing so could delay filing of your tax return, delay of your refund if you are eligible, and potentially result in penalties if you owe taxes. Having complete information when you file your return will help ensure it goes through without a hitch.
  • Don’t Embellish. Provide only correct information to the IRS, no matter how you file your tax return. Do not try to save money by claiming tax deductions you do not have documentation for. These include charitable donations of material goods you don’t have a receipt for, use of a personal cellphone for business, or business expenses you don’t have receipts for or that were reimbursed by your employer. The IRS is known for coming back and challenging such deductions. If you don’t have documentation, you could potentially delay your tax refund, receive an IRS notice for more information, or be subject to tax penalties. Being honest is the best way to go.
  • When In Doubt, Ask An Accountant. If your tax return is more complicated than a couple W-2s and a few interest statements, you may need a professional. You should also consult with a tax professional to answer any questions you may have about your taxes. Certified Public Accountants undergo regular training to keep them informed of the latest tax filing laws. They also have access to extensive tax research databases. Doing so will potentially save you headaches in the long run and could potentially save you money as well.

Do you have a great tip for preparing and filing your taxes? Do you know of an Accountant in the local area who excels? Tell me about it in the comments!

Today’s blog is from Cristina M. Miller, Freelance Writer and Editor and Proposal and Grant Specialist. Learn more about her work by visiting TheWriteStrategy.org.

Photo Licensed from Adobe Stock.

How Do You Handle Unpacking After a Trip?

I just returned after a two and a half week vacation. Do you think I still have my suitcase packed or unpacked? 

As I arrived home at noon, I did spend the time to unpack my suitcases. I usually do as I personally do not like looking at my suitcases just sitting around. I also need certain items that night like my glasses so I can take out my contacts to name an example of items that I do not have duplicates of for traveling. How do you handle unpacking after a trip?

A client of mine shared an interesting article that gives great suggestions. Rather than repeating her ideas, I will share this post with you. Enjoy!

From the Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/completely-correct-guide-unpacking-after-trip/

Photo: Pixabay

Tips for Getting Organized To Send Holiday Cards

Whether you send cards to family, friends, business associates, or clients between Thanksgiving and New Years, being organized will streamline this important task.

  1. Enter the names and addresses of the people to whom you send a card in a database program. You may already have such a list, and keeping it updated is an important task to maintain through the year.
  2. Don’t hand address each card. Use your computer to print out the mailing addresses on label paper.
  3. Order your holiday cards with your message and/or photo already on it to save time writing an individual message or attaching/inserting a photo on every card.
  4. To save even more of your precious time, don’t wait in line at the post office. Go to shop.usps.com and order your stamps.
  5. Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get around to sending holiday cards this year; rather, resolve to begin inputting your contact information now so that it is ready for you next year.

When you have the addresses printed out on labels, cards with message and/or photo, and stamps, it will be a cinch to get your cards in the mail!

Photo: Pixabay

The Semi-Annual Clothes Swap

If you live in a climate where summer and winter vary enough to require you to have two sets of clothing, then it’s that time again for the semi-annual clothes swap! Here are some tips to help you finish this task.

For some of you, it may be the happiest time of the year when you can bring out your favorite turtlenecks and sweaters, putting away the sleeveless tops and sandals. For others, it is a very sad time knowing you will be forced to be bundled up in order to keep warm. Regardless, it is a necessary evil that we all must face two times a year.

Clean Clothes – Make sure all your summer clothes are clean before putting them away. Food or body odor attracts critters, and you don’t want your clothes ruined. Take inventory of any item that needs to go to the dry cleaner and run them over while washing all remaining summer clothes.

Decisions – Before just putting your clothes all away till next summer, look at what you have and decide what you really don’t like anymore and what doesn’t fit, or is stained. Letting go of such garments now will allow you to be able to grab what you want next season. Why store items that don’t make you happy?

Storage – Where your clothes are being stored will determine the best storage container. To keep your clothes dust free, they need to be in a covered container. Cardboard boxes are OK but plastic bins are better. They are can be sealed tighter to keep out critters and dust. Please label what is in each container to make it easy to grab items if you need certain clothes or shoes earlier than others.

If you are fortunate enough to have a closet or drawer space that allows you to keep all your clothes out year long, that is terrific. You may only need to swap the placement of in season clothes to allow for easy access.

Happy swapping!

Photo: Pixabay

How to Have a Great Halloween

Halloween is one of my favorite days of the year. Children come out dressed in colorful costumes. Parents walk along with them from house to house in the crisp fall leaves. Everyone seems to be in a truly generous, happy mood. Trick or Treating is truly a fantastic way to kick off the entire upcoming holiday season. Going door to door in even a neighborhood you know well isn’t without its safety risks, however. Here are some tips to a healthy, happy, and above all safe trick or treat night, “witch”-ever side of the door you are on.

  • Stay in Your Own Neighborhood. Trick or treating on the street or in the development you live is safer and more fun for everyone. Your neighbors get to delight in seeing all the kids they know dressed up, and the kids get a boost of confidence from their compliments and kind words. You also know, for the most part, where every piece of candy your child collects, has come from. Don’t try to do every house. For younger kids, just a few houses, or a single street, is enough.
  • Don’t Demand the Kids Say “Trick or Treat.” Many children are shy. Others have disabilities, such as Autism, cause them to be non-verbal. “Oooh” and “Ahhh” over every child that comes to your door and hand out one treat to every child. When you are out of treats, it is okay to close your door and not answer. Do not leave the house and leave a bowl of treats on your porch. This poses a potential safety risk to yourself, and the kids coming to your door.
  • Trick or Treat With Your Kids, In Broad Daylight. Never send younger kids, or those with disabilities, out trick or treating on their own, or even with an older sibling. Go with them. Stand at the foot of the walkway and notice who opens the door. Never go out trick or treating with your kids, or allow them to go out, after dark. Even the most reflective Halloween costume can be missed by a driver, particularly at dusk. A child alone, or even with an older sibling, cannot adequately protect themselves from a potential predator even in broad daylight.
  • Remember that Trick or Treaters Come in All Ages, Stages, and Sizes. We typically expect Trick or Treaters to be younger kids, no older than 13 or 14. Many types of Intellectual Disabilities cause the individuals who have them to act and function at a much younger age level than they are chronologically. If someone comes who appears older comes to your door, before opening the door check through a window or peep hole to confirm there is a parent or responsible adult nearby and if so, hand them a treat.
  • Set a Hard Rule that All Candy Must be Checked First. Make sure your kids understand that no candy is to be eaten while they are trick or treating, and that even after they get home, all candy is to be checked by you before they try it. Check each piece of candy a child receives and toss anything that seems questionable. If your child has any food allergies, read the ingredients on each label to confirm there are no “hidden” ingredients or that the candy wasn’t produced in the same factory that produces the food your child is allergic to.
  • Stick with Sealed Candy. Many people like to hand out fruit, homemade treats, or wrapped candy such as lollipops and Tootsie Rolls, or Sweet Tarts for Halloween. Unfortunately, these types of goodies often get thrown away by parents because they are not “factory sealed.” Better yet, head to Party City and get a bag of non-candy treats such as pencils, fidget spinners, funny erasers, cheap sunglasses and the like and hand those out instead.  It will cost about the same, all children can enjoy them, and make a better investment for everyone.

Do you have a Trick or Treat tip that you think will make Halloween great? Share it in the comments!

Photo Licensed from Adobe Stock

Today’s blog is from:

Cristina M. Miller, CP APMP

Writer and Copyeditor

201-783-2994
 
I’ll Put Words To Work For You!

How to Keep Your Home Safe

In a few weeks most of the US will be turning our clocks back. That is a great time to change and check your smoke detector batteries. What else can we do to make sure our house is safe?

Fire Extinguishers – A fire extinguisher should be placed in the kitchen, of course, but also on every floor in your home. If you barbeque outside, you should also have one nearby in case flames get out of hand. The other important point to make is to not only have them on hand but to also know how to use them. Did you know that there is an expiration date on fire extinguishers? Make note of this by clearly labeling the expiration date with a black marker.

Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors – Check with your fire department to find out where these detectors need to be located in your home. Know the difference between the sound of each detector so that when they go off you are aware if the alarm signals fire or carbon monoxide. Not only should you check the batteries, but also clean the grille, if your unit has one, of dust for optimum detection.

Burglarproofing – Is your home safe when you aren’t there? Do you have a sturdy deadbolt on all the doors leading to the outside? For those of you that have an alarm system, do you have signs advertising you are using an alarm system? Look at your landscaping and make sure shrubs and bushes are trimmed and not blocking windows. Make sure tree limbs aren’t too close to an upper floor window to act as a ladder to that window. When you are away, set timers on lamps so that the house isn’t dark all the time. And stop mail delivery, keep lawns mowed and driveways plowed when you are traveling.

These may seem obvious, but are you doing all you can to keep your house safe?

Photo: Pixabay

Five Alternatives to Halloween Candy

Halloween is right around the corner. What are some alternatives to Halloween candy that you can give out to trick or treaters this year? With so many allergies to be concerned about, why risk throwing your money away with candy that may just end up in the trash? Here are a few suggestions for non-candy ideas to give out this year.

  1. Stickers – What child doesn’t love to have stickers to put on their notebooks or papers?
  2. Pencils or pencil erasers – If you are handing out pencils, don’t buy the ones that are already sharpened. We want the children to be safe and not poked with the sharpened points.
  3. Bouncy small balls – Lots of hours of fun will be had while playing with these balls.
  4. Washable tattoos – Children like putting these on and parents love that they are not permanent.
  5. Mini flashlights – They can attach them to their backpacks. Keep your children safe.

There are many more non-candy ideas. These are just a few to get you thinking. What will you be handing out this Halloween?

Photo: Pixabay

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