5 Must-Have Gadgets for Heading Back-to-School

Summer is almost over and the school bell is about to ring. To make sure you and your family are set up for success, equip your home with the best technology devices on the market. Consider this your gadget guide for the best school year yet.

Big Sound

Studies show that listening to music while studying can help with concentration. The new Sonos Play:5 is small but packs a powerful punch, giving your kids a soundtrack to homework time. The Sonos Play:5 streams over WiFi, not Bluetooth, so the music never stops — unless, of course you want it to.

Wi-Fi That Works

With a bunch of new gadgets and more time spent on the internet, you’re going to need a strong Wi-Fi signal to make sure everything works properly. Gone are the days where a basic spider-looking router was the go-to networking solution. With smartphones, laptops and all kinds of connected home devices, it’s crucial to purchase a robust Wi-Fi system that will support all your gadgets. With the eero Home WiFi System you never have to think about Wi-Fi again. It ensures every room is covered with a fast, reliable Wi-Fi signal. Additionally, it comes with parental controls built into the smartphone app so kids won’t get distracted when doing their homework. eero also released eero Plus, a subscription service that at $9.99 a month (or $99 a year), offers enhanced security and advanced parental controls. As the number of connected devices in the home increases, so does the potential for network insecurities. eero Plus protects users from viruses, malware and phishing scams and allows parents to have confidence that their children can’t access anything inappropriate while surfing the web.

Dependable Computer

With a new school year comes book reports, research projects and presentations. Gone are the days of notebook paper and library books, now it’s all about online resources. It might be time to invest in a new computer, like a MacBook Pro. It’s razor thin and feather light so your kids can easily transport it to and from school, plus it’s even faster and more powerful than before.

Home Assistant

The newly released Amazon Echo Dot is just the sidekick you need to help get you through the school year. With a built-in speaker, it functions as an alarm clock in the bedroom, a homework assistant in the office and it can even order you a Domino’s pizza in the kitchen for your kids’ study sessions. The Echo Dot controls many of your smart home devices, makes calls, sends and receives messages, and provides information so you’ll never question the capital of California or how many centimeters are in an inch again.

Watchful Eye

Now that school is back in session, it’s likely that your kids will be coming home while you are at work. To help give you a little more peace of mind, install Ring, the video doorbell that allows you to see, hear and speak with visitors at your front door, all from your phone, tablet or computer. Now, at 2:45 p.m. you can actually see your kids walking through the front door. (BPT)

5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Outdoor Space

A beautiful, sunny day is one of the best parts of the season and when you have one, you simply have to be outside. When you step outdoors, where do you go? To the park? The lake? A friend’s home?

How often do you stay home and enjoy a beautiful day in your own outdoor space?

If your answer is not often or never, it’s time to create your own home field advantage. With just a few simple improvements you can make even the smallest outdoor space feel comfortable and welcoming to you and your guests. Start with these five projects and you’ll make your own yard the place to be when the weather turns beautiful.

* Replace the cement with a raised deck. That old cement patio or walkway in your backyard may be unsightly and uninviting, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make that space much more appealing by replacing it with a raised cedar deck. Easy to build and affordable as well, installing a raised cedar deck to your outdoor space makes the entire area more inviting without taking up any additional space. Cedar is also naturally resistant to rot, decay and insects, and it is cool underfoot, making it the perfect decking solution for your newly improved outdoor living space.

* Light smart. Your current outdoor space may have only a single light or it may have no light at all, making it impossible to use at night. To make the space more welcoming, add string lights or uplighting to your outdoor area. These lights are available in a wide array of styles to match your personality and they take up very little space, allowing you to create the perfect — well lit — environment you’re looking for.

* Focus on furniture. If finding the right furniture to fit your space has been difficult, consider making your own instead. Building a customized bench or sectional from Western Red Cedar is easier than you think and it allows you to build your furniture to meet the design requirements of your space. Plus, Western Red Cedar is pitch and resin free so it accepts and holds a wide range of finishes to match your style choice. You can even add built-in storage to your bench or furniture design for more space-saving solutions. To find building plans for this and other Western Red Cedar projects, visit www.realcedar.com.

* Place a plant or two. The right plant could provide just the pop of color your outdoor space needs. Herb gardens, hostas, even a pot of flowers all up the scenic appeal of your outdoor area. If space is a concern and you have a pergola structure, hanging plant baskets is a great option, so you can enjoy their beauty from above.

* Play a zone strategy. When space is at a premium, you need to utilize every inch. To do this, segment your outdoor space into defined zones such as cooking, relaxing and eating areas. You can then further define these zones by adding the perfect finishing touches to each like a barbecue enclosure for your cooking area and a pergola over your dining table. Each of these DIY projects is a worthy addition to your outdoor space and will make it the area you can’t wait to enjoy every time you step outside. (BPT)

Make Your Pet’s Mealtime More Enjoyable

Mealtime is one way to bring more happiness to your dog’s life. In fact, according to a survey conducted by OnePoll for CESAR® Dry Dog Food, 75 percent of small dog owners said mealtime makes their dogs the happiest. By turning boring kibble into delicious meat-first meals with a variety of flavors – like Filet Mignon Flavor & Spring Vegetables Garnish – even the fussiest eaters can enjoy CESAR® Dry food. Learn more at cesar.com. (Family Features)

SOURCE:
Cesar

Mandy Moore’s Advice to Pursuing Life Goals

Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore

You hear a lot about dreams in our society these days. Companies tell you to “dream big” or “dream fearlessly.” Yet no one tells you to “dream prepared.” And when you get down to it, this last idea may be the most important because it’s the preparation that can help you as you pursue personal goals and life adventures.

In a 2017 online survey conducted by Kelton Global and sponsored by Merck of 2,013 women ages 18 to 40, the majority listed financial stability, emotional development, relationship security and career growth as their top priorities.

Comparatively, only about 40 percent of those surveyed listed starting or growing a family as a current priority, regardless of whether or not they currently have children. When it comes to family planning, birth control can play an important role for those looking to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. However, among the 908 birth control users surveyed, more than one in four women considered their birth control options for less than 15 minutes before making a decision.

For women, adventures are different and finding balance among all their priorities can help them be more prepared to take on what’s next. That’s why Merck teamed with actress and singer-songwriter Mandy Moore on Her Life. Her Adventures., an educational campaign encouraging women to know their options and set priorities, including talking to their doctor about family planning and birth control, to help them feel better prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Moore has been in the spotlight since a young age and as she has built her career, balancing her priorities has become more important than ever. “My life has been full of so many adventures and through it all, setting long-term goals and having a plan in place has helped me get to where I am today,” she says. “Whether it’s landing your dream job, traveling to a new country, or pursuing your education, the important thing is to plan, know your priorities and stay focused on your goals, whatever they may be.”

To help prioritize your goals, Moore offers the following tips:

Find Your Passion

What are you passionate about? Whatever it is, Moore recommends working it into your life as much as possible. “Growing up, music was a passion of mine which opened the door to my acting career,” she says. “Now, I’m really fortunate that I get to incorporate music into my acting. Getting to this point was an adventure filled with opportunities and challenges along the way, but it was all part of my journey that helped me get to where I am today.”

Bring Your Passions into Your Daily Life

If you’re passionate about writing, consider taking creative writing workshops or pursuing a career in editing. If you’re passionate about fitness or the outdoors and you can’t work in these fields, incorporate exercise or a walk outside into your lunch breaks. And if you’re itching to explore something new, consider traveling to a new location. Experience the tastes, sights and sounds of a new place — there are so many options to choose from.

Make Note of Your Current (and Long-Term) Priorities

As you embark on your next life adventure — whether it’s with your finances, career or next big trip — don’t forget about family planning. In 2011, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States were unplanned, oftentimes due to inconsistent or incorrect use of birth control. And it’s important to remember that any woman of reproductive age can have an unplanned pregnancy; it doesn’t only occur in teenagers.

“Understanding your priorities and planning can help you pursue your goals,” Mandy says. “That’s why I’m excited to team up with Merck on the Her Life. Her Adventures. campaign to encourage women to think about their priorities, including family planning and birth control, and talk with their doctor to explore their options.”

Visit Her Life. Her Adventures. to learn more about this campaign, find helpful information and tips on planning ahead, and join Mandy and other adventurers as they share their stories on Instagram and Facebook. To learn more about all family planning and birth control options, including reversible daily, non-daily and longer-term ones, talk to your doctor. (BPT)

History Highlighted

6 reasons to visit Montpelier

Photography courtesy of Aaron Watson Photography.

Photography courtesy of Aaron Watson Photography.

Whether it’s time for a school field trip, a family vacation or you’re looking to bolster your knowledge of U.S. history, there are countless historic sites around the country where you can get away and learn about the nation’s foundation.

For a truly engaging experience, James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia, gives families, students and the history-inclined a way to peer into the past for a look at Founding Era life.

The home of the former President known as the “father of the Constitution” provides a thought-provoking educational opportunity. Visitors can learn about Madison, the process and ideals behind the Constitution and tour his recently-restored home. They can also experience The Mere Distinction of Colour, an exhibition about slavery at the time our country was beginning and its legacy today.

The property has a rich history that began in 1801 when Madison inherited Montpelier. He and his wife Dolley eventually retired there when his political career came to an end after living in the White House. Madison oversaw more than 100 enslaved African-Americans at the property who worked to maintain it as a tobacco and wheat farm. Visitors are able to absorb this history through his former home, the exhibition and the 2,650-acre property by walking the grounds, participating in trail walks, witnessing public archaeology digs and touring on-site exhibitions, among many other reasons to visit this historical landmark.

Free your inner explorer.

Each year, more than 125,000 visitors travel to Montpelier to experience its powerful history and picturesque landscape. The home and grounds are open to visitors and student groups throughout the year, and attendees can take guided tours or trek out on their own throughout the property. Tours include Madisons’ home, which was recently restored to its Founding Era decor; lessons about the first lady; or walking tours throughout The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition, which also includes the South Yard and former homes of the enslaved community.

Become part of history.

The public archaeology program at Montpelier, which started in the 1990s, is one of the only in the country that allows the public to participate and pulls back the curtain on the archaeological process. The public, and even those descended from Montpelier’s enslaved community, have discovered many artifacts, now on display. These treasures show how those enslaved people lived and give a glimpse into their lives.

Go in-depth.

The Mere Distinction of Colour illuminates the struggles of those enslaved during the 19th century and provides visitors the chance to contemplate slavery during the Founding Era. One of the ways the exhibition does this is by featuring stories of those enslaved at Montpelier through the recordings of living descendants. Documentary research, 17 years of archaeological excavation, oral history and cultural exploration all went into the exhibition, which is located in the cellars of the main Madison house as well as four reconstructed slave dwellings and work buildings in the South Yard.

Improve your presidential knowledge.

While many history fans are familiar with George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Montpelier allows for another in-depth opportunity to discover the lives of the country’s founding presidents. The signature tour – the classic, keystone experience of Montpelier – touches on many aspects of Madison’s personal and professional life as the fourth President of the United States.

Fun for the family.

Discover Montpelier as a family with hands-on tours designed for children. They’ll be able to discover artifacts, documents and paintings while learning about the house, the Madison family and the enslaved community.

Get your exercise.

With more than eight miles of well-marked walking trails, it’s easy to get your steps in during a day at Montpelier. The multiple separate trails offer views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as they wind through pastures, wildflower meadows and forests. Open to the public during business hours seven days a week, there’s always a chance of encountering native plants and wildlife on the trails.

For more information, including a list of daily tours, visit Montpelier.org.

Madison Family Fast Facts

Find out more about the fourth President of the United States with these quick facts about James

Madison and his family:

Early Life

  • James Madison was born March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia.
  • His political career started local, as a member of the Orange County Committee of Safety in 1774, before being elected to the Virginia legislature in 1776.
  • At his father’s death in 1801, Madison inherited Montpelier and the 100-plus enslaved African-Americans who came with it.

Political Career

  • In the three-year period between 1786-1789, James Madison, still in his 30s, secured passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, organized the Constitutional Convention, introduced the framework for the U.S. Constitution known as the Virginia Plan and drafted the Bill of Rights.

Retirement

  • The Madison family retired to Montpelier in 1817 when James was 65 years old and his wife, Dolley, was 49. An enthusiastic farmer, Madison applied the practices he’d researched to raise wheat and tobacco.
  • While Madison considered freeing his own slaves, he decided to leave them to Dolley in his will with the expressed desire that she not sell them without their consent (a wish she ultimately failed to honor).
  • Madison died June 28, 1836. He is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier, where Dolley, his wife of 42 years, eventually joined him.

(Family Features)

Your Backyard Canvas: 3 Ways to Create an Outdoor Living Area as Unique as You Are

It’s amazing to contemplate that all the famous paintings in history — from da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to van Gogh’s Starry Night — are essentially formed from three primary colors. Artists skillfully combine red, yellow and blue to formulate an infinite range of colors to bring their paintings to life.

Likewise, when creating your own outdoor living space, you can combine three basic elements — decking, railing and lighting — in nearly endless ways to “paint” a personal masterpiece of fun and relaxation.

1. Get decked out with modern decking

For decades, backyard decks mainly have been rectangles. This is largely because of the rectangular shape of traditional wood deck boards. With the advent of modern materials, it is now easier to fashion decks of virtually any shape — from curved sections following the contours of a sloping yard to round decks. Or, let your imagination run wild and create a specialty shaped deck of something you love, like a giant guitar or stacked leaves.

“Today’s decking options offer exceptional design flexibility,” says Brent Gwatney, senior vice president of MoistureShield Decking. “Composites in particular are more easily bent into creative shapes than wood decking, and can be ripped and routed to form virtually any design you can think of.” DIYers and deck builders can even install moisture-resistant boards such as MoistureShield Vantage or Infuse decking on the ground, in the ground or under water for more design possibilities, notes Gwatney.

2. Rail against the ordinary

Many decks are required by law to have safety railings. But, with some creativity, the railing can enhance your deck’s look even as it prevents falls. With the variety of products now available, the railing can be a visual complement to your home and deck. For example, if you have a cabin, you could install hewn timber posts and railings for a rustic appeal. For a waterfront home, a nautical-themed railing system of posts and ropes could do the trick. Or, if you have a modern home and prefer simple visual lines, cable-and-wire railings or glass panels could be your style.

For a distinctive look for your deck, consider mixing colors and materials, like combining white aluminum railing and balusters with rich brown composite posts to create a dramatic look. Or, to add a sophisticated mix of texture and color, you can install on the top of a black or white railing a composite board that complements the decking color.

3. Light up the night

A third element to add to your outdoor living design palette is deck lighting. With the right lighting, you can extend your hours outside and keep your deck as charming in the nighttime as it is during the day.

From subtle post lights that cast a magical evening glow to understated recessed lights and rail strip lights that help guide guests’ steps, today’s deck lighting choices are both functional and affordable. And, with the emergence of energy-efficient LEDs, you can use them liberally with little effect on your monthly electricity bill. Some decking manufacturers like MoistureShield offer deck lights specifically designed to integrate with their decking and railing.

Use a Rack to Haul Your Gear During a Summer Road Trip

Summer has arrived, and for many that means it’s time for a road trip. In a survey conducted by the American Automobile Association, 80 percent of families surveyed said they are planning a road trip vacation this summer, a 10 percent increase from last year.

Those hitting the road may discover a need for additional space in the vehicle, whether it’s because the entire family is crammed into the car or because of the extra luggage and gear taking up space. A variety of accessories are available to make hauling gear easier. The Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade organization representing businesses that manufacture automotive parts and accessories, recommends researching products based on one’s vehicle and personal needs.

Here are a few options to consider before hitting the road:

Trunk rack: If you want to take a bicycle or two along on the trip but do not have a truck to haul them, a trunk rack will do the trick. It is lightweight and mounts to the rear of a car with straps and hooks; however, this may mean trunk access is blocked until the rack is removed. Price will vary depending on its material and features, such as an anti-sway mechanism to keep the bikes from moving.

Hitch and spare-tire racks: If the vehicle has a spare tire mounted on the rear, such as a Jeep Wrangler or some SUVs, or a hitch receiver, you can use a spare-tire rack or a hitch rack. Either rack can be a simple single-bar mount that accommodates multiple bicycles or a basket to tow additional luggage. When using a hitch rack, ensure that the hitch receiver is compatible with the rack, including towing capacity, class and tongue type, among other specifications. A spare-tire rack is installed using a mounting plate, and like the hitch rack, it is easy to load.

Roof rack and cargo box: A roof rack is the most versatile option because it’s mounted on top of the vehicle — essentially out of the way — and can be adapted to transport a variety of items. However, you may need help loading the gear up top, and depending on the cargo, wind resistance may come into play. Also, while some roof racks can be attached easily, others may require some drilling. Once in place, a roof rack can accommodate a cargo box, a lockable storage unit that fully protects gear from the elements while on the road.

Truck rack: For those with a pickup, a truck rack helps increase the cargo capacity already provided by a truck by mounting above the bed, with some racks extending past the roof of the truck cabin. Installation and removal is simple, plus they are easy to load and can support a greater amount of weight.

These are but a few of the many types of racks available in the automotive aftermarket industry that can help increase the amount of cargo a vehicle can haul. Be sure to take some time to research what’s available.

Manufacturers introduce new racks and many other products annually at the SEMA Show, the leading trade-only show for businesses in the automotive industry. Consumers can connect with some of these businesses at the official SEMA Show after-party, also known as SEMA Ignited, where one-of-a-kind custom vehicle builds featuring the newest aftermarket products parade out of the convention center before making their way to the ultimate car show open to the public. For more information, visit www.semaignited.com. (BPT)

Beautiful Words to Our Readers From Victoria Garcia, Contributing Writer for Teen InFluential

Victoria Garcia, Contributing Writer for Teen InFluential

Victoria Garcia, Contributing Writer for Teen InFluential

It is with great pleasure to welcome you, our faithful readers of Teen InFluential, to our July / August Celebrate Sweet Summer Issue! Thank you for tuning in or shall we say, “turning the page,” into one of the most optimal magazines for teenagers. We make it our priority to provide you with the hottest trends to keep you enlightened for all your seasonal needs.

This Issue is filled with everything under the sun from exclusive interviews with Sofia Gonzalez, to tips on buying your first car. Here you will find awesome ideas for new snacks, activities, and creative ways to stay busy this summer. While you explore this publication, may our unique articles inspire you to stay refreshed, active, and influential in your community as you have a delightful time during this break.

A special thank you to our talented team of photographers, graphic designers, contributing writers, and editors who make Teen InFluential the go-to magazine for teens and young adults.

Enjoy our Celebrate Sweet Summer Issue as you go have fun in the sun!

Live Beautifully,

Victoria Garcia

Contributing Writer for Teen InFluential

Welcome Words to our Wonderful Readers of InFluential Magazine

William Jackson, Chief Business Officer of InFluential Magazine, Spanish InFluential, and Teen InFluential.

William Jackson, Chief Business Officer of InFluential Magazine, Spanish InFluential, and Teen InFluential.

It has been almost six years since our premiere Issue of InFluential Magazine and today is a perfect day to express my gratitude to our readers and community at large for the resounding support of all the improvements we continue to implement.  I am so proud of the strides we have made and will continue to make.

Thank you for the feedback so many of you have provided. Sometimes magazines can get a bit out of touch with the readership they serve, and at times we lose touch with what readers want to see on our pages. We are working diligently to better understand our audience and to deliver a valuable product to you on a consistent basis.

Our July / August Issues are chocked full of, what we hope you will find to be, interesting articles, useful tips on how to continue living our best lives, and stunning photography to captivate our sense of sight. We hope to inspire all to Get Back in the Swing of Things; all things positive.    

InFluential Magazine, Spanish InFluential, and Teen InFluential, like all successful media organizations, have had to accelerate the pace of innovation in the ways we gather, evaluate, and distribute news and information. This is a responsibility we do not take lightly.  It is both our obligation and privilege to continue to bring topics that matter, to you, to your family, and to our community, using the media and methods that work best for you.

We cannot deliver the independent, original journalism for which we are known without the loyalty of our readers. We want to take this opportunity, on behalf of all InFluential family of contributors, to thank you for that loyalty.

Please accept our wishes that you have an amazing summer,

William Jackson,

Chief Business Officer

InFluential Magazine, Spanish InFluential, and Teen InFluential

Higher Education, Higher Expense: Budgeting Tips for College Students and Their Parents

High school graduation should be a time of celebration. But for a lot of families, it can also be a source of stress. College is a big step into the future for any student – and it comes with a hefty price tag.

According to a 2015 survey, the top-ranking financial worry for parents with children under the age of 18 was paying for college. The study found that budgeting for higher education costs was the chief concern for 73 percent of applicable parents. The same study found that financial concerns around budgeting for college were even prevalent in higher-income households. Sixty-one percent of homes earning $100,000 or more a year expressed concern.

When you look at the costs of tuition today, it’s easy to see the cause for concern. So what can you and your family do to make college more affordable for everyone? Start by following these tips.

Seek out grants

To help ease the burden of college expenses, it’s a good idea to apply for as many grants as possible. Grants come from multiple sources including the government, organizations and even some private companies or estates.

A grant is basically funds awarded by one entity for a specific purpose. College grants are one of the most common and there are several online resources you can use to search for grants. Start with grants.gov and expand your search from there. You never know what you will find.

Keep a close eye on your budget

The 70-20-10 rule makes for a helpful guideline when saving for college. Under this rule, 70 percent of your money is allocated for living expenses — such as the mortgage, food, clothing and gas — 20 percent goes into savings and 10 percent is allotted for debt. Set up your own model and set aside a set percentage of your savings to be allotted for college (say 5 to 10 percent) and try to hold true to these numbers as much as possible to support your total savings and budgeting goals. Vanderbilt’s 2017 Home Loan Guide includes an excellent article on budgeting, along with an interactive budgeting sheet to help calculate your expenses.

“Budgeting is a roadmap to financial success built around your personal income and expenses,” said Eric Hamilton, President of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. “Whether you’re saving for your first home or a college education, the importance of building and following a budget plan cannot be understated.”

College tuition is one of the largest expenses most people will incur in their lifetime – until they purchase their first home. So for parents who are helping with their child’s college expenses, shouldering both can be difficult to manage. If you find yourself in a difficult situation concerning your mortgage payments, be sure to contact your mortgage loan provider to see what programs they may be able to offer to help keep payments on track. But the best defense is a good offense. Planning ahead and putting aside funds for college tuition will help reduce or eliminate any impact paying tuition may have on your financial stability.

Work together

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an entire family to send them to college, so work together as you save for this goal. Educate your student on how to save, both for college and in life. If they already have a part-time job, set tangible goals for their savings — as you have done for yourself. For example, estimate the cost of books for the first year and work with your student to set a monthly savings goal that will help them achieve that number.

This will relieve some of your financial burden and ensure your student has a vested stake in their entire college experience.

Start saving today

There’s no time like the present to start building a college savings fund. With careful planning and a little teamwork, you all can emerge on graduation day with degree in hand without a mountain of debt.

College Board® is the registered trademark of the College Entrance Examination Board Nonprofit Membership Association, which is not affiliated with and does not endorse Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc. (BPT)  - Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, ( http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.