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By Ryan Parks | Agent in Chicago, IL
  • The Top 10 Cities In Which To Raise A Family

    Posted Under: General Area, Quality of Life, In My Neighborhood  |  April 29, 2012 2:53 PM  |  258 views  |  No comments

    Great places to raise a familyLooking for a great place to raise a family? Forbes Magazine has a list that may help you.

    Titled “The Best Cities For Raising A Family“, Forbes has compiled and analyzed data from America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, accounting for seven lifestyle factors including cost of living, commuting ease, school quality, crime density, and home affordability.

    Given these selection criteria, it’s no surprise that Grand Rapids, Michigan took top honors. The area’s low median income is offset by an extremely low cost of living and a school system that’s among the best in the nation. Nearly 90% of the homes in Grand Rapids are affordable families earning the median income — the seventh-highest affordability ranking in the country — and commutes are quick.

    Since the housing peak, home prices are down just 12% in Grand Rapids — a figure below the national average.

    The complete Top 10 list for the Forbes “The Best Cities For Raising A Family” piece were:

    1. Grand Rapids, Michigan
    2. Boise, Idaho
    3. Provo, Utah
    4. Youngstown, Ohio
    5. Raleigh, North Carolina
    6. Poughkeepsie, New York
    7. Omaha, Nebraska
    8. Ogden, Utah
    9. Cincinnati, Ohio
    10. Worcester, Massachusetts

    Now, before you make a home-buying decision based on the Forbes report, remember that real estate is a local market and even city-wide statistics can be too broad to be helpful to everyday home buyers in Chicago. Even within Grand Rapids, there are some neighborhoods that outperform in terms of home valuations and school quality, for example; and some areas from which a daily work commute may be more cumbersome. 

    For accurate, real-time housing data for any of the above markets or for a smaller neighborhood like North Center , be sure to ask a real estate professional.

  • America’s 20 Best Small Towns

    Posted Under: General Area, Quality of Life, In My Neighborhood  |  April 29, 2012 2:50 PM  |  255 views  |  No comments

    America's Best Small TownsAmerica is stuffed with world-class “big cities”; New York, San Francisco and Chicago make for three great examples. But beyond the biggest cities, there are some wonderful small towns, too.

    Smithsonian.com highlights 20 of them on its website.

    Focusing on cities with 25,000 residents or fewer, the publication ranked areas high in “culture”; towns with high concentrations of museums, public gardens, art galleries and other cultural assets including resident orchestras. 

    The author states “big cities and grand institutions per se don’t produce creative works; individuals do. And being reminded of that is fun”.

    The Top 10 Small Towns in America, as judged by Smithsonian.com :

    1. Great Barrington, Massachusetts
    2. Taos, New Mexico
    3. Red Bank, New Jersey
    4. Mill Valley, California
    5. Gig Harbor, Washington
    6. Durango, Colorado
    7. Butler, Pennsylvania
    8. Marfa, Texas
    9. Naples, Florida
    10. Staunton, Virginia

    Other notable cities on the list include Princeton, New Jersey; Beckley City, West Virginia; and Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

    The Smithsonian.com website provides an in-depth review of each of its twenty listed cities, including historical notes and quotes from key community members. It makes for good reading by local residents and visitors, alike.

    Review the complete rankings online.

  • How To Store Your Winter Clothes For The Summer Season

    Posted Under: Quality of Life, Design & Decor  |  March 19, 2012 9:58 AM  |  196 views  |  No comments

    Storing winter clothes for the summer As the Chicago weather turns warmer and the days grow longer, it’s time to pack away your winter clothes to make room for spring and summer things — just make sure to store your cold-weather clothes properly.

    They’ll look better, wear longer, and will be ready to go when winter rolls around again next year.

    Here’s what to do.

    First, you’ll want to launder your winter clothes before you pack them up — even if they were never worn and/or don’t appear to be soiled. Clothes can sometimes have spots or stains that aren’t readily visible. Use unscented detergents, and skip fabric softeners and other additives that could attract insects.

    Take items that can’t be washed to the dry cleaner.

    Next, you’ll put your clothes into storage containers. Ideally, use bags or boxes that won’t degrade and will seal out dirt, dust, insects and moisture.

    Fold clothing neatly before adding it to the container and pack “loosely”, allowing air can circulate. Tuck a lavender or cedar sachet into each container to help repel bugs. Both lavender and cedar are safer for use than mothballs and they smell much better.

    For bulky items such as coats, use padded hangers and cover the clothing with heavy plastic wardrobe bags. If you don’t have padded hangers and don’t want to buy them, drape wood hangers with folded towels to fill in the shoulders of your coats without stretching them.

    Keep the storage boxes and hangers in a dry place, away from sunlight. Sunlight can fade your fabrics.

    Then, make sure to clean your closets thoroughly before filling them with the next season’s clothes. Dust the shelves and ceiling, wipe bars and flat surfaces, and give the floor a good vacuum.

    Your closet will be clean and fresh and ready for the new season.

  • 50 Creative Reuse Ideas For Your Home And Garden

    Posted Under: Quality of Life, Going Green, Design & Decor  |  February 27, 2012 8:26 AM  |  323 views  |  No comments

    Creative reuse“Creative Reuse” is the transformation of everyday items that would otherwise be thrown out into something useful. It’s where being “green” and the arts can converge. 

    In every Lakeview home, there are literallyhundreds of items that be reused and repurposed, including such disparate items as chipped coffee mugs, step ladders, and bubble wrap. After transformation, for example, these three items can become a simple storage container, a plant stand, and greenhouse insulation, respectively.

    Real Simple made a list of “50 All-Time Favorite New Uses For Old Things“. It’s a list of Creative Reuse projects from which you’re bound to find inspiration.

    For example, the magazine suggests using an old Twister Mat as a children’s party tablecloth; or an old eyeglasses case to hold nail care essentials such as clippers, files and scissors.

    Some of Real Simple’s other top ideas included :

    • Distinguish your glass from other party-goers’ glasses at a party with peel-on/peel-off window decals
    • Protect counter tops from hot dishes with and old mousepad-turned-trivet
    • Eliminate travel bulk. Carry non-prescription medicines in an old contact lens case.
    • Use Play-Doh as a candle or sparkler holder
    • Pour pancake batter into an old ketchup bottle for no-mess cooking

    With Creative Reuse, you’re limited only by your imagination and, even then, Google can be a terrific project resource.

    Check the Real Simple list for 50 great ideas.

  • Make Your Own Organic Fruit Wash

    Posted Under: Quality of Life  |  February 27, 2012 8:09 AM  |  154 views  |  No comments

    Make your own organic fruit washHow clean are the fruits and vegetables you eat? Unless you pick your food straight from the farm, your food is likely more dirty than you think.

    In addition to pesticide treatment made while food is still “on the vine”, fruits and vegetables you buy at a grocery are often coated in wax to preserve their “shelf life”; and you can never know how much dirt your food has rolled in.

    Even organic foods are handled multiple times on the way to the grocery store. They may be pesticide-free, but they’re not dirt-free or free from human handling. 

    This is why we wash fruits and vegetables before consumption — to wash off dirt. But, there are extra precautions you can take to make sure your food is truly “clean”.

    One such method is to use a make-it-yourself, organic fruit wash. The recipe is basic and simple. All you need is a large, lidded pitcher for mixing, some everyday foods, and a spray bottle.

    1. In the large pitcher, pour 1 cup of water, 1 cup of white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of baking soda.
    2. Add 25 drops of grapefruit seed extract. If you can’t find this at your local grocery, check with a natural food store or specialty store.
    3. Mix ingredients in the pitcher, and pour into a spray bottle

    That’s it. 

    Then, when you’re ready to clean fruits and vegetables, use your homemade spray wash and coat the food liberally. Let the food stand for 5 minutes, then rinse the spray wash from the food in the sink.

    Expect dirt to roll off fruit and vegetables surfaces and for the spray’s vinegar component to neutralize pesticides. You’ll be left with cleaner, healthier natural foods.

    To make the fruit wash should take less than 5 minutes. Each batch should last one month, depending on the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume.

  • Top 10 Sunniest Cities In the United States

    Posted Under: General Area, Quality of Life  |  February 13, 2012 6:47 AM  |  334 views  |  No comments

    Sunniest US CitiesAs compared to gloomy days, do “sunny days” put you in a good mood? If you’re like many people in Illinois , the answer is “yes”.

    In a study of more than 1,200 people, researchers found that daily weather factors such as temperature, precipitation and length of day can alter a person’s emotional state. Of all the weather factors, however, “sunshine” can have the most profound effect.

    The most likely reason is because sunshine affects people in a physiological manner.

    When the human brain detects sunlight, our bodies produce serotonin, a chemical which promotes happiness and well-being. By contrast, when the brain detect darkness, our bodies produce melatonin, a chemical which promotes sleep cycles.

    Sunlight — quite literally — leads to happiness.

    Understanding the effect of sunlight on human mood, therefore, we must consider the nation’s “sunniest cities” as more than just a novelty list. It may be a link to personal well-being, too.

    From the National Climactic Data Center, these are the Top 10 Sunniest Cities in the United States :

    1. Yuma, AZ : Sunny on 90% of all days
    2. Redding, CA : Sunny on 88% of all days
    3. Las Vegas, NV : Sunny on 85% of all days
    4. Phoenix, AZ : Sunny on 85% of all days
    5. Tucson, AZ : Sunny on 85% of all days
    6. El Paso, TX : Sunny on 84% of all days
    7. Fresno, CA : Sunny on 79% of all days
    8. Reno, NV : Sunny on 79% of all days
    9. Flagstaff, AZ : Sunny on 78% of all days
    10. Sacramento, CA : Sunny on 78% of all days

    The sunshine rankings of other noteworthy cities include Key West, FL (#12 with 76% sunshine); Denver, CO (#30 with 68% sunshine); and Seattle, WA (#165 with 43% sunshine). 

    At the bottom of the list is Juneau. Just 30 percent of the Alaskan capital city’s days are sunny.

    The complete Sunshine Rankings as listed by Metropolitan Area is available on the NCDC website.

  • The 10 Longest Commutes In The United States

    Posted Under: Quality of Life, Traffic & Public Transportation, In My Neighborhood  |  February 6, 2012 8:08 AM  |  429 views  |  No comments

    Longest CommutesAccording to the Census Bureau, more than 3.2 million U.S. workers spend over 3 hours commuting to and from work each day.

    Commutes exceeding 90 minutes in each direction are known as “extreme commutes” in Census Bureau parlance. As compared to typical commute times nationwide, they’re aptly named.

    The national, average commute time is just 25.1 minutes. 

    For home buyers in Chicago or in any U.S. city, make sure to make commute times a consideration before placing an offer on a property. The length of your daily commute will make an impact on your life.

    Studies shows that shorter commutes are linked to higher levels of life satisfaction. Long commutes are linked to low levels of life satisfaction.

    As ranked by the Census Bureau, here are the 10 cities with the longest average commute times, where commuting is defined as the total time to arrive at work, inclusive of all modes of transportation (i.e. automobile, train, subway, foot, or other) :

    1. New York / North New Jersey / Long Island : 34.6 minutes
    2. Washington, DC / Arlington / Alexandria : 33.4 minutes
    3. Poughkeepsie / Newburgh / Middletown, NY: 32.2 minutes
      Bremerton / Silverdale, WA : 30.8 minutes
      Chicago / Naperville / Joliet, IL : 30.7 minutes
      Winchester, VA : 30.3 minutes
      Atlanta / Sandy Springs / Marietta, GA 30.1 minutes
      Riverside / San Bernardino / Ontario, CA : 30.0 minutes
      Stockton, CA : 29.8 minutes
      Baltimore / Towson, MD : 29.7 minutes

      Poughkeepsie / Newburgh / Middletown, NY: 32.2 minutes

    4. Bremerton / Silverdale, WA : 30.8 minutes
    5. Chicago / Naperville / Joliet, IL : 30.7 minutes
    6. Winchester, VA : 30.3 minutes
    7. Atlanta / Sandy Springs / Marietta, GA 30.1 minutes
    8. Riverside / San Bernardino / Ontario, CA : 30.0 minutes
    9. Stockton, CA : 29.8 minutes
    10. Baltimore / Towson, MD : 29.7 minutes

    By contrast, the shortest commute belongs to residents of Great Falls, Montana. The average commute for the city’s 58,000 residents is 14.2 minutes.

    A long commute to work should not deter you from moving to a particular home or neighborhood, but your time-en-route should be a consideration. Before making an offer on a home in Lincoln Park , therefore, practice the rush hour commute from your potential new neighborhood in the morning, and back to it again that evening.

    Then, imagine making the commute every day.

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