Turn $1 a day into $67,815

The coins rattling around in your pocket can add up to big savings over time

By Richard Jenkins

Want a foolproof way to turn $1 a day into $67,815? It doesn't take a lot of money or time or personal sacrifice. There's no magic, no multilevel marketing and no salesman will call at your door.

In fact, it's the simplest and most-proven way to get richer, and if you extend this concept to other parts of your life, you could end up with an enviable retirement nest egg.
To start, all you have to do is take your pocket change at the end of the day and drop it in a jar. If you can do that, and you put away about $1 a day, that's just $7 a week. At the end of the month, you'll have about $30.

Since this is money in your pocket, you've already paid taxes on it in the form of withholding from your paycheck. (If you're self-employed, that's not true, but we'll ignore that to keep things simple.) Every month, deposit your savings in a Roth IRA account, where it can grow tax-free and -- more important -- be withdrawn tax-free in the future.

What's a paltry $30 a month going to do for you? Growing tax-free for 30 years, with a 10% annual return, your investment account will be worth $67,815. (Stocks overall have returned an average of more than 10% a year since 1926, so buying a broad-based stock index fund the Vanguard Total Market Index Fund (VTSMX, news, msgs) is the easiest way to capture that kind of growth.)

Not bad for pocket change, but that's just the beginning.

Here are some other ideas for saving a few bucks here and there that can add up to big dollars over time.

If you can knock this $123 out of your monthly budget, at 10% it will grow to $278,040 in 30 years. You've practically financed your retirement with just a few small sacrifices.

If you want to see for yourself how small savings can multiply over time, spend a little time playing with MSN Money's Savings Calculator. You'll see that if you can add in some big-ticket savings, it takes just $443 a month to make yourself a millionaire.

Here are a couple of ways to do it:

Debt on wheels
Often, the same people who bemoan the fact that they can't save are driving around in a new car and making monthly payments on a 48-, 60- or 72-month loan. But you'll be amazed by how much you can save by buying a used car.
Consider the alternatives:

1: You put $6,000 down to buy a new car worth $26,000. You finance $20,000 at 6% interest for 60 months. Your monthly payments are $386.66. Total interest costs are $3,199 making the total cost of the car more than $29,000.

2: You pay $6,000 cash for a good used car. (MSN Autos lists used cars by price and mileage, with many in the lower price ranges.) Invest that same $386.66 a month for the same 60 months with an average 9% rate of return. At the end of 60 months, you would have roughly $28,000 in your investment account after paying 15% tax on about $800 of long-term capital gains. (The exact amount of tax would vary depending on your tax bracket.) Even if you subtract the cost of whatever additional repair costs you may have for your older car, you still come out way ahead.

Plastic handcuffs
Buying on credit is a convenient way to pay too much for everything you buy. Consider the costs: Say you spent $1,000 on clothing, using a credit card charging 18% interest, and you make the minimum monthly payment to pay off the balance. It would take you almost six-and-a-half years to erase the debt, and your $1,000 wardrobe would actually cost you more than $1,650.

Or maybe you'd rather buy some furniture. Buy $2,000 worth of furnishings with a credit card charging 18.5% interest and consider the consequences if you pay off the balance by making minimum monthly payments. It will take more than 11 years to repay the debt. By the time the loan is paid off, you will have spent an extra $1,934 in interest alone -- almost the actual cost of the furniture.

Unlike most things in life, when it comes to saving money, it pays to sweat the small stuff. And when you're done with that, go after the big stuff too!

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Real work-at-home jobs

Computers and high-speed Internet access mean new, better-paying choices for people who want the flexibility and convenience of careers that don't require an office-building cubicle.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

After the birth of her daughter, Carrie Opara knew she didn't want to return to her old job as a mental-health counselor. But finding legitimate work she could do at home was no small feat.

She tried a multilevel marketing plan and wound up in debt. She looked on the Internet and found plenty of scams. Finally, she heard about LiveOps, a Palo Alto, Calif., call center that hired people to work out of their own homes.

Within two years, she was earning about $2,000 a month working 30 to 35 hours a week from her home in Columbia, Md. -- about what she'd made previously as a counselor. Her shifts can be as short as 30 minutes, although she typically works five-hour blocks while her 6-year-old is in school, plus some nights and weekends when her husband, a certified public accountant, can take over child care.

Opara said she still faces the challenges familiar to every working parent: how to work enough hours, spend enough quality time with her family "and still figure out how I'm going to clean my house, make dinner and do the grocery shopping." Not having to commute or pay for child care, however, are big bonuses.

"It's fit in perfectly," Opara said, "and we also like the flexibility."

Technology is opening up new opportunities for parents and others who want to work at home. Finding and landing legitimate, profitable work still isn't easy, but here are a few venues to try:

A call center in your home
You hear a lot about companies routing their customer-service calls to workers overseas, but a less-noticed trend is the growth in home-based call-center workers. The number of such workers in North America has tripled since 2000, according to an estimate by research firm Yankee Group, with more than 670,000 phone agents in the United States and Canada now working at home.

Thanks to the Internet and better call-routing technology, more companies are finding they can outsource their order-taking, sales and problem-solving calls to home-based workers, said LiveOps Chairman Bill Trenchard. LiveOps not only runs an outsource operation, Trenchard said, but it provides technology for companies that want to set up their own home-based call centers.

Home-based workers tend to be better educated and more loyal than their counterparts at traditional call centers, Trenchard said. Most of LiveOps' workers have college degrees -- Opara has a master's -- and turnover is low.

The flexibility that Opara likes also benefits companies. Home-based operators are typically contractors who are paid for each minute spent on the phone, so companies can quickly gear up to meet high demand without having to pay for idle workers during slack times.

The job isn't without drawbacks. Pay usually starts around $8 an hour, assuming you get enough calls, which can come slowly at the beginning, Opara said. The jobs that simply require taking orders often pay the least, while the better-paying jobs typically require that you have sales skills.

Call centers usually have no tolerance for audible distractions, so a crying baby, barking dog or ringing doorbell could get you fired. (Some companies require their workers have dedicated offices with doors to minimize potential distractions.) An operator also needs a dedicated phone line, a computer and high-speed Internet access.

Some call centers that say they are currently hiring include:
Start a Web business
Paul and Alison Martin, who met while they were students at Stanford University, decided to launch a Web-based baby-product business shortly after the birth of their twins, Ainsley and Sierra. The couple launched Noss Galen Baby in February 2004, just before Paul graduated.

By May 2005, Paul said, the site was profitable enough to support the family.

The Martins had some distinct advantages. Paul had programming and start-up experience from a stint at PayPal, so he built and maintains their Web site. The couple also moved from expensive Menlo Park, Calif., to more reasonable Albuquerque, N.M., which keeps down their living costs.

Perhaps even more significant, the Martins were able to capitalize their business with stock-option money from Paul's time at PayPal. But Paul said initial inventory costs were just a few thousand dollars, and he could have gotten a small-business loan or worked a part-time job to keep the venture going until profits came in.

"The most important thing is to have the mindset that you're going to make it work, that you're going to learn from your mistakes," Paul said. "It may take longer than you think. . . . There were difficult times when we were wondering if we were ever going to turn the corner."

The Martins' business isn't the only thing that's expanded. The couple are expecting their third child in March.

If you find a concept that works, you might make additional money teaching other people what you know. Tamaira Sandifer of Sacramento, Calif., launched a service called Fun Mail for Kids that sends customized packets, complete with stickers, personalized letters and crafts projects, to kids via the U.S. mail. Once that was a hit, she wrote an e-book, available for $25 on her site, to teach others how to run similar businesses on the Web.

As with any small business, it can help to draft a business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a free business set-up guide on its Web site.

Online auctions
Online auction sites have helped people do more than empty their attics (or fill them up again).

The largest online auction site, eBay, says 1.3 million of its 212 million registered users are "professional sellers" who report the site is a primary or secondary source of income. That's almost double the number of pro sellers from a year earlier.

Barb Webb of Salt Lick, Ky., started her online-auction career a few years ago by selling household items she otherwise would have put in a garage sale. The former corporate executive branched out by looking for bargains at local retailers and then auctioning them off for a profit on the site. In her best year, she cleared more than $10,000 -- not enough to live on but not bad as a part-time job squeezed in between activities for her three kids, now ages 4, 6 and 17.

Auction sites have "how to" sections to familiarize beginners with the selling process, and a little research can help you determine the best way to market your offerings, said Webb, the author of "The Mom's Guide to Earning and Saving Thousands on the Internet."

Sellers also need to be mindful of their reputations because bad feedback from buyers can hurt future sales, she said. Staying organized, using truthful descriptions and shipping items promptly are essentially to a profitable auction business.

Webb also advises newbies to start slowly, particularly if they're buying items with the intent to sell them at auction rather than selling off what they already own. It can be easy to misjudge what people will want to buy, she said, and listing-costs, the site's commissions and buyers who don't pay can eat into profits.

"The best way is to bank some (profits) and then reinvest some," Webb said.

Mystery shopping, survey taking and 'piece work'
Mystery shopping and survey-taking opportunities have been around for a while, but the Internet has made finding them easier, Webb said.

"Mystery shoppers" are typically paid $5 to $100 per assignment to pose as average customers and then critique a store or service, Webb said. The range for filling out surveys or participating in focus groups can be even wider, from a few bucks to a few hundred bucks a shot.

As with other work-at-home jobs, applicants need to be prepared to start small and work their way up. Research companies look for reliable, articulate, detail-oriented people and tend to reward the ones who consistently perform well, Webb said.

Both jobs tend to come with freebies as well as cash. Webb said she's been given such products as free laundry detergent and free diapers in exchange for her opinion on surveys.

Mystery shopping tends to take more time and effort but generally pays more. Webb said she makes about $6,000 a year in cash, plus free goods and services worth $3,000 to $4,000.

"I work it in with our schedule. I look at the week ahead and think, 'Where do we want to go? What do we want to do?' " she said. "If I need to buy clothes, I'll look to see if they need a mystery shopper."

Some Internet-based mystery-shopping services include:
National survey companies with an Internet presence include:
"Piece work" is an age-old concept that's been updated by the Internet, most visibly on Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk. The site pays people to perform tasks that computers can't easily do, such as fill out opinion surveys, transcribe audiotapes and see whether items for sale have been correctly "tagged," or classified.

The Mechanical Turk for which the Web site was named was a 1700s and 1800s hoax in which a supposed machine played chess (the Turk actually concealed a human chess ace). Amazon started the site to find humans to help fix problems that its automated systems couldn't. The Mechanical Turk is now used by an array of "requestors" who want people to help them with various small tasks.

The problem here is that the pay is often literally pennies -- sometimes just a single penny to perform a task that might take a few seconds or minutes. Only you can determine whether the time you spend is worth the payoff.

Other home-based businesses
There's not much high-tech about home-based businesses such as child care, house-sitting, dog walking and errand running. But classified advertising sites such as Craigslist and Expo can help you easily and cheaply connect with potential customers.

And old-school businesses, if properly run, can provide a decent living, said Steve Damato, who operates a licensed day-care center with his wife, Jodi, at their Elgin, Ill., home.

"With five full-time kids, one of which is our own daughter, and three part-time kids," Damato said, "we have found an occupation that allows us tremendous flexibility, the luxury of being full-time parents to our daughter, numerous tax benefits, no commuting, no fancy clothes . . . and not to mention a generous income between $50,000 to $60,000 a year."

The Damatos inherited the day-care business from Jodi's mother, who retired last year at 65.
The Damatos moved into the mother-in-law's home to look after her and the business.
Previously, Steve had worked as a flight attendant while Jodi had been a stay-at-home mother for their daughter, now 4. Besides the opportunity to be a full-time father, he likes the fact that he no longer has to work nights, weekends or holidays.

Before you launch any business, research your community's license and insurance requirements. In Illinois, for example, day-care providers who look after more than four children must be licensed, Steve Damato said, and the state provides about 30 pages of standards that centers must follow, covering everything from the number of electrical-outlet covers to the frequency of CPR training.

Damato also recommends talking to others who run similar businesses for tips and advice. You also need to gauge your own aptitude for the work.

"If you don't like changing 20-30 diapers a day or constantly wiping noses, or playing referee throughout the day, then this job is not for you," Damato said. "Otherwise, this could be a wonderful opportunity . . . for many couples."

Keys for the home-based worker
As you're considering potential work-at-home opportunities, keep these points in mind:

Your best opportunities may be close to home. If you're still working, rummage around your current workplace to see if any job -- not just the one you're doing now -- is portable. You might hit pay dirt if you're well-regarded and your employer has work that's not getting done or not being done well. A written plan explaining your proposal may help you sway your employer.

Otherwise, expect a lot of competition. Plenty of people want to work from home and will inundate any company they think might hire them. (One call-center company I tried to interview for this article wouldn't even talk to me, saying it already had far more applicants than it could use and didn't want another spike in inquiries that it couldn't handle.)

Don't expect to make a fortune. The sure sign of a scam is a promise of huge rewards for little effort. The real world doesn't work like that. If you have to pay big upfront fees for materials, details or training, your best bet is to walk away. Ditto for any "opportunity" that involves stuffing envelopes or assembling crafts; these activities profit only the promoters.

The folks I interviewed who are making decent money at home also made decent money in the regular workplace world. They tended to have good educations, strong business skills and a history of workplace success. If you're organized, focused, a self-starter and possessed of in-demand skills, you could do OK at home. If you're not, your options are likely to be more limited.

Source: MSN

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Top 10 Jobs in the Administrative and Clerical Field

By Mary Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com writer

While some people jot their grocery lists down on scrap paper, you have an Excel spreadsheet you update and organize into food groups. A born record-keeper, you keep files on everything from bank statements to holiday cards, and everything you can stock, shelve or stack is categorized by name, number, size or color.

Perhaps you should channel your knack for neatness into a job in the administrative or clerical field. Each of the following jobs will have numerous opportunities for workers with the right skills in the coming years.

1. Bill and Account Collectors

What they do: Keep track of accounts that are due and attempt to collect payments on them.

What they need: At least a high school diploma for most collectors; however, most employers prefer some college or similar work experience. Good communication and computer literacy skills are a must for this work.
What they earn: $28,949/year*

2. Gaming Cage Workers

What they do: Carry out financial transactions and paperwork necessary to support play at casinos and gaming establishments.

What they need: Although there are no minimum educational requirements, a high school diploma and some previous experience in the gaming or financial industry is preferred.
Average salary: $24,004/year

3. Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks

What they do: Something for which we should all be grateful: ensure that employees are paid on time and accurately.

What they need: A high school diploma or GED, but those with computer skills will find the best opportunities.
Average salary: $30,923/year

4. Customer Service Representatives

What they do: Serve as a direct point of contact for customers on behalf of companies to ensure an adequate level of service or help with questions and concerns.

What they need: A high school diploma for most jobs, but employers increasingly require an associate or bachelor’s degree. Workers who communicate through e-mail will need good typing and written communication skills.

Average salary: $26,369/year

5. Hotel, Motel and Resort Desk Clerks

What they do: Register arriving guests, assign rooms and check out guests at the end of their stay, as well as keep reservation and registration records.

What they need: In addition to on-the-job training, customer service skills, a professional appearance and a clear-speaking voice are essential for dealing with customers, both in person and over the phone. Additionally, knowledge of multiple languages are ever more valuable due to the growing international clientele at many establishments.
Average salary: $19,311/year

6. Human Resources Assistants

What they do: Maintain the human resource records of an organization’s employees, including names, addresses, job titles, earnings, benefits and tax withholdings.

What they need: A high school diploma or GED. Candidates can receive training on the job, but those who already have proficiency in computer filing systems and applications like Microsoft Word and Excel will find the best job opportunities.
Average salary: $29,167/year

7. Library Assistants

What they do: Register patrons in the library’s system, issue library cards and collect books, periodicals, videos and other materials.

What they need: A high school diploma or GED, with little to no previous clerical experience: Many libraries will train inexperienced workers on the job. Computer skills, however, will most likely be required.
Average salary: $24,913/year

8. Receptionists and Information Clerks

What they do: Answer telephones, route and screen calls, greet visitors, respond to public inquiries and provide information about the organization.

What they need: A high school diploma or its equivalent, as most receive on-the-job training. But because they often greet and speak with visitors, good interpersonal skills and a professional appearance are critical.
Average salary: $22,069/year

9. Dispatchers

What they do: Schedule and dispatch workers, equipment or service vehicles to carry materials or passengers. They also keep records of calls, transportation vehicles and services.

What they need: A high school diploma and familiarity with computers and electronic business equipment are most preferred. Typing, filing and recordkeeping skills also are an asset.
Average salary: $28,243/year

10. Desktop Publishers

What they do: Use computer software to format text, photographs, charts and other visual graphic elements to produce publication-ready material such as books, business cards, calendars, magazines, newsletters and newspapers.

What they need: Most often, completion of classes or a certificate program from a vocational school, university or college program. (The average certificate program takes approximately one year.) Some publishers, however, train on the job or gain experience through internships or part-time work.
Average salary: $31,443/year

*Salary information provided by CBsalary.com.

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Change Your Mood By Wearing Chakra Colors

By Anita Revel

Next time you're standing in front of your closet, ask yourself, "who is it that I want to be today?"

That is exactly what I did yesterday morning when getting ready for another day on the job site. I used the following color guide to achieving the image I wanted to present:

Red: As a symbol for danger, red is used for stop signs, high voltage signs, traffic lights and fire-fighting equipment. Hence, I pulled on red socks as a message to the lads on the building site: "Beware - this girl doesn't know how to operate a drop-saw."

Orange: My orange knee-pads said it all - I'm enthusiastic and active about this project; my creative urges are flowing; and I'm not too serious about the situation. Which is fortunate, because I was starting to look like a rainbow. Read on...

Yellow: This color helps in decision-making; to increase confidence; and to bring some sunshine on cloudy days. For this reason, my suede brown nail bag got a lick of sunflower-yellow paint. In the shape of a sunflower. Suddenly I discovered that my supply of tech-screws ceased being pilfered.

Pink: Pink is the colour of universal love. Soft pink increases tenderness, love and acceptance; crimson raises passionate energy; and magenta helps you stand firm against disorder and pain. Or so I was hoping as I pulled on my hot-pink singlet - it's murder lugging timber all day. It worked. The color outed latent chivalry in the lads, and they carried the timber for me.

Light Blue: My lapis lazuli pendant is designed to promote the flow of communication and to broaden my perspective of my world. This last bit happens naturally when I'm balancing at the top of the ladder, but it helps to have the added protection of light blue when it comes time to scream for help.

Indigo: Dark blue helps you develop intuition; rise above the rut you have created for yourself; enjoy solitude; or find a solution to a problem. It's no wonder then, that I found that my navy-blue cell phone invaluable when lying at the bottom of a trench.

Purple: Add shades of purple to your life when you want to expand your imagination, remove obstacles, and feel like royalty. Not that purple tiaras are easy to find, but don't let that stop you. It's amazing what you can achieve with a pot of paint and some color-inspiration!

Anita Revel is the creatrix of the stunning "i Goddess" meditation movie that can be viewed at http://www.igoddess.com . She is also a columnist for United Press International, and has written hundreds of articles pertaining to women's wellbeing.

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Smoking Facts - The Horrible Truth

By Tim Bock

Smoking is a deadly habit that affects millions of people. Even though it's so deadly, people still continue to do it. Below are a few facts on the subject. Let's hope they will encourage people to try to quite.

• People who smoke die on average 16 years younger than non-smokers. These deaths are usually diseases related to cancer and stroke.

• On average smokers spend over $3,000 a year on cigarettes. This means person who smokes 20 years will end up spending well over $60,000.

• It only takes a relatively short time for your body to start to recover. If you quit it will only take 3 months for you to see improvement in the functions of all your internal organs. The risk of heart attack drops and lungs will begin to get healthier

• Your children will suffer from more ear, nose and chest infections from the second hand smoke. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also becomes an increased risk.

• Finding and keeping jobs will become increasingly challenging. Since its common knowledge that smokers are much more likely to miss work due to illness employers have become wary of hiring smokers.

• Romantic relationships also become harder to come by. Who would want to go out with someone who has bad breath and stained teeth? Talk about running the mood!

While some of these facts can seem scary, just remember that it's never too late to quite. The sooner you stop smoking, the sooner you can start living a happier, healthier life. By quitting your loved ones will be proud of you, both because you overcame a huge obstacle and because you care enough about yourself and your loved ones to take action. That first step is the hardest, but don't be afraid to take action today. Your loved ones will thank you for it.

For more information on the harmful effects of smoking, please visit: Stop Smoking Today a website that specializes in fighting addiction to smoking including the side effects of smoking.

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Make The Most of Winter Family Vacations

By Ian Botham

For some families there is nothing better than good old winter family vacations. There are some really fabulous places to travel to if you like winter family vacations and want to get out there in the snow and get active, or maybe just lounge around in a luxurious chalet.

If you are interested in planning and making the most of your winter family vacations but you are not sure where to start, then know that there are a few basic steps you can follow which will help you through the entire planning process of your trip.

Where to go
One of the very first things you are going to have to determine is where you want to go for your winter family vacations. Aspen, Austria, the Rockies, Montana, there are some really great choices, areas that are beautiful and breathtaking and perfect for a family winter vacation.

Where to Stay
The next thing you have to do is find a place to stay. There are many different types of accommodations that you can choose from including lodges, chalets, resorts, and even condos that offer a kitchen and living room. It all really depends on how many people you are traveling with, what your interests are, and what you are looking to do during your time there.

If you want to spend a day on the slopes and then come home and cook your own dinner, then a condo is going to be your best option because it is the most similar to a regular house and offers the amenities that you are going to be looking for here. If you would rather the option of ordering room service then a hotel may be more your style.

What to do
Of course one of the most important things for all winter family vacations is deciding what it is that you are going to do. If you have younger children coming on the winter family vacations then you are going to have to include them in activities, whereas if it is just you and a partner you can go skiing on treacherous slopes, go dining and dancing for the night, or just relax in a hot tub overlooking the beautiful snow-lined landscape.

Winter vacations always offer a great time for the whole family and are even perfect if you are planning on going solo on the trip. Just make sure that you plan properly beforehand so that you have everything taken care of and can really make the most of your time there.

Ian Botham runs his own online sports goods mail order business as well as several sports related websites. Check out this great Ski Vacations site or the more specific Heavenly Ski articles and resources.

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How To Get UnStuck - Easy, Simple, Effective Tools To Finding A New Path

By Camille Strate

It's a bold new world out there. More people are looking for options to make money, live simpler lives, explore new paths, etc. What's the reason for all this unrest? Maybe it's because the globe is smaller; with the ever-growing use of technology we are now able to communicate with people on the other side of the planet with ease and speed. Maybe it's about a paradigm shift. Folks are getting hip to the "New Age" movement and want more from life in general. Or perhaps it's simply something about the way the planets are aligned! Who knows?

Bottom line is, if you're feeling restless and itching to make some changes, but still haven't DONE anything about it, then you're "stuck". While there are a great many things you can do to get "unstuck"., here are just a couple that are simple, easy, and effective.

First off, get yourself outdoors. I mean it. Go out and sit on a beach or walk in the woods or hike up a mountain. Turn off your cell phone, leave your watch on your dresser and just go. Take in the sounds of nature and let your mind go. For some folks, this exercise can be a bit unnerving at first, but if you stick with it, it's your ticket to getting "unstuck". The more remote your location, the better. Best of all would be to be in a spot that's completely void of other humans (and the noises they make like car alarms and cell phones and screaming children). Once there you will be absolutely amazed at what you might hear. We all have an inner "guidance system" and the best way to access that guidance system is to get away from all the noise and all the people and all the distractions.

Listen to the sounds of your surroundings. Birds or waves or rain on the leaves or whatever it might be. Allow these sounds to massage your ears. Allow yourself to just BE. Listen to you gut. Trust that you're safe. Leave the rest of your brain clutter behind and just soak it all in. The more you s-t-r-e-t-c-h, the better off you are. Go on....turn off the computer and get your Self outdoors. Come on! Just try it.

Another little "exercise" is one of my faves and I use it with many of my clients when I hear dialog like "I can't..." or "I don't know how..." or "But what if....?" These are phrases that KEEP us stuck and they need to be eliminated NOW. So, here's what I suggest:

If you have a camera, no matter where you live (city, country, condo, ranch, whatever), take your camera and go for a walk. I usually suggest folks commit to an hour, but it can certainly be more if you like. Point is to take a LEISURELY walk and snap some pics of things that stand out.
It could be a flower growing out of the sidewalk or a candy wrapper on an otherwise pristine lawn or a bright red maple leaf sitting alone on a car hood. Doesn't matter. Just something that catches your eye because it IS out of place. Don't judge. Don't presume. Just walk and keep your eyes open . Snap a picture of whatever catches your glance.

Once you've taken 10 or so pictures, go home, load them onto your computer and then write something about how you felt when you took the pic OR how you feel while you now look at it on your screen. The idea is to step outside (literally and figuratively) and see what else your eyes see. Sort of the difference between sight and vision. This exercise has proven to be one of the most effective (with my clients) tools for finding a new way of THINKING. It also seems to light some fires of creativity on many levels. People are always surprised at the end results once they've tried this for the first time, and often it becomes a habit for them when they ARE feeling stuck. Give it a try. It's fun!

The last suggestion I'll share is one that takes a bit more time and requires transportation, but is also a very liberating exercise. First, pack a cooler with some sandwiches, drinks, fruit, etc. Throw a blanket and warm jacket in the car. TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE (you may like to take it with you in case of 'emergency', but turn that sucker off!). Now, put the cooler in the car, go fill up the gas tank and just DRIVE. Drive out of town away from traffic and familiar scenery.
Drive up to the mountains or down to the river or out to the country. Just drive. Leave the tunes turned off, open the window and JUST DRIVE. When you get to a spot that looks too pretty to pass, pull over, break out the cooler and have yourself a little picnic. Just you and nature. Sit for an hour or so and take it all in. (if you remembered your camera, take some pictures). When you've had your fill, get in your car and go home. Simple? You betcha. But when was the last time you did it? When was the last time you drove just to drive, with no destination or schedule or task to accomplish? As silly as this may sound, it is a wonderful thing to do and it will provide lots of insight, if you ALLOW it.

I realize that none of these little exercises are deeply profound or even new ideas. But more often than not it's the simplest things that have the most life-altering affect. And I'm willing to bet that the majority of folks have forgotten what it's like to do any of these things. Simple, easy, and effective. IF you will give them a try.

Camille Strate is an author, critter-keeper and entrepeneur who has spent her life in search of the perfect pasture. She is a staunch believer in the "Pay It Forward" philosophy, and her business is a reflection of this belief. Marketing Personal Development products is one of her passions; she loves seeing other people empower themselves and find their true paths. Her latest book, "Whispers" will be released sometime in Spring of 2008.
http://www.genuineintentions.com or visit my blog at http://joyizachoice.blogspot.com/

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Bladder Cancer - Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care

By Steve Batchelor

Over 10,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer in the UK each year and over 50,000 annually in the US. It accounts for 90% of cancers of the urinary tract (renal pelvis, ureters, bladder and urethra) and occurs mostly in those over 50 and about twice as many men as women gets this disease. Although bladder cancer cannot be prevented, tobacco use and working with certain chemicals are associated with a higher risk of developing the disease.
Drinking plenty of fluids daily can help to lower the risk. The symptoms of bladder cancer include pain and frequency of urination and blood in the urine.

Diagnosis of bladder cancer is by urological testing and image testing, potential risk factors can be determined by the patient's full medical history and things like smoking and exposure to dyes are taken into consideration. The NMP22®BladderChek® is a noninvasive urine test which detects elevated levels of nuclear matrix protein (NMP) caused by bladder cancer, the results of this test when used with cystoscopy have shown to be more effective than other diagnostic tests.

Various imaging tests can also be performed, these involve a dye being administered through a vein then x-rays are taken as the dye moves through the urinary tract. This provides information about the function of the bladder, ureters and kidneys. Other imaging tests include a CT scan, MRI scan, bone scan and ultrasound. If bladder cancer is suspected a cystoscopy and biopsy are performed. With a cystoscopy a thin telescope-like tube with a tiny camera attached is inserted into the bladder through the urethra to detect abnormalities. In biopsy, tissue samples are taken and examined for cancer cells.

Once is has been determined that a tumor exists, the next step is to clarify the tumor's status. The size of the tumor, where it lies, whether it has extended into surrounding tissue and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other sites in the body are all questions that need to be answered. The tumor's stage or depth of penetration is confined to one of two categories; (1) superficial, surface tumors which affect only the bladder lining or (2) invasive, deep spreading tumors which grow into the deeper layers of the bladder tissue, and may involve surrounding muscle, fat and nearby organs.

Treatment of bladder cancer depends on the stage of the disease, type of cancer and the patient's age and general health. Options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. Surgery can include removing the bladder, prostate and lymph nodes which results in the patient requiring an external urinary appliance, but if caught in the early stages a tumor can be removed using instruments inserted through the urethra.

Chemotherapy is systemic treatment that uses drugs to destroy the cancer cells which are administered orally or intravenously. In patients with the early stages of bladder cancer drugs may be infused into the bladder through the urethra. Some side effects of chemotherapy can be severe and include headache, abdominal pain, blurred vision, fatigue, excessive bleeding, infection and weakness.

Radiation uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. External beam radiation is emitted from a machine outside the body and internal radiation is emitted from pellets implanted into the tumor. Either type may be used after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells. Side effects can include inflammation of the rectum, skin irritation, fibrosis and impotence.

Immunotherapy may be used in cases of superficial bladder cancer. The treatment enhances the immune system's ability to fight disease. A vaccine is infused through the urethra to the bladder once a week for 6 weeks to stimulate the immune system and destroy cancer cells. Side effects can be inflammation of the bladder, inflammation of the prostate and flu-like symptoms. Bladder cancer has a high rate of recurrence. Urine cytology and cystoscopy are performed every 3 months for 2 years, every 6 months for the next 2 years and then yearly.

Steve Batchelor is the webmaster at www.cancerhelpguides.info where you can find relevant and informative information on many different cancer types. He also recommends infogoldmine for more info on cancer treatments and care as well as many other subjects.

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Custom Embroidery For Your Corporation

By David Faulkner

If you are part of a company or organization that is looking for ways to stand above the competition, then you should definitely try custom embroidery. If you choose an eye-catching design, custom embroidery on your company shirts or jackets can even be a great way to advertise your organization.

When you already have a design in mind, the next thing you need to do is locate a shop that would do the custom embroidery for you. This will not be too difficult as there are several seamstresses out there that are capable of doing this job.

If you can't find someone in your area to do your custom embroidery for you, just go online and you will surely find someone that can create the custom embroidery that you want.

You don't have to limit your search to nearby areas. Custom embroidery shops from several states away will gladly take your order and have the products delivered to you in no time at all.

A great thing about searching for a custom embroidery shop online is that you can go to several sites to compare their prices. Most sites also display images of their finished products so that you can gauge their efficiency for yourself.

To help you in your search, we have listed down the sites that we think offer the best custom embroidery services online. You can start by visiting any of these sites:

1. Threadlove.com
This company can do high quality custom embroidery for practically any purpose you want. Whether you want to have custom embroidery on your sports uniforms or for a corporate giveaway item, threadlove.com can do the job for you.

What's great about this site is that they do not require any minimum order. Even if you just want one or two items for your personal use, they will do the custom embroidery for you.

2. CustomLogoFactory.com
This website uses the most technologically advanced custom embroidery machines to create their products. This ensures that their designs are really consistent because they are digitally done. Their services are very reasonably priced, and the quality of the product is very good.

3. EmbroideryAuthority.com
This is a very popular custom embroidery website. It has been around for quite a while and has acquired a very good reputation among its many customers. They allow the client to choose from several available colors and designs.

Many of their clients swear by the high quality of their products and excellent customer relations. In fact, they have many customers that regularly go back to them year after year for new orders.

These are only a few of our favorite custom embroidery websites. If you want to see more, just go online and start searching. You will surely find a great custom embroidery shop that will fit your needs.

You can also find more info on basic embroidery and design software. Allthingsembroidery.com is a comprehensive resource to know more about Embroidery.

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Selection Of Home Security Devices

By David Faulkner

There are countless home security devices available in different countries depending upon different technologies. However the selection of such devices depend upon many factors. These devices can be classified according to type of power supply storage capacity of digital information, sensors and sizes etc. out of numerous home security devices, one can be selected which is the best suitable.

Usage Of Home Security Devices
One of the main features of home security devices is back up power supply. It sustains the home security even in a condition when there is no main power. Moreover, one should ensure that the home security alarm system is functioning properly and efficiently. During nighttime because most of the security risks are likely to happen at this time and due to a proficient alarm system the house owner becomes alert earlier to coming danger. Some people use key fobs and remote controls to operate the alarm system on the hour of need and by using such devices the home security alert system can be operated easily.

Home Security Devices: Use Of Panic Button
Some house security devices also include a panic button, which alerts the homeowner about any illegal activities occurring in the vicinity of the house. So during an emergency situation the panic button can be used to activate the home security devices system and after that precautionary measures can be taken accordingly. There are different features of home security devices depending upon the complexity in their nature. Also investment is a main factor in order to develop a well communicated and highly efficient net work of security alert system.

Home Security Devices: Use Of Smoke Detectors
As the name depicts smoke detectors has ability to sense the presence of smoke in a home, office or a factory etc. The smoke detectors add more and more level of security for human being. The smoke detectors are used within the circuitry of whole
security alarm system. Just consider a situation when there is rapid fire in a room of the home then due to fire the whole wiring of the room becomes damage then would the only use of be a sufficient solution for this problem? The answer would be definitely No. Because while having a destroyed power system how can we hear the fire alarm so for this purpose smoke detector is the best option. It will sense earlier any change in the smoke level of a room and will activate the whole security system so that the danger could be over come easily. There are other devices, which can be used in this direction for the best safety system, however it depends on the investment and the seriousness, which one can have amongst his home security devices.

You can also find more info on home security system and alarm home security. Homesecuritysystemsguide.com is a comprehensive resource to know about Home security.

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Office Furniture - Importing

By Mark R Green

Mostly everyone would agree that the quality of imported furniture is good, provided that the factory is properly monitored, assuring a good quality furniture. It is also true that the pricing is much lower than for domestic goods. Equally its true that, the selection is large and availability is plenty. Generally this is great for the economy, by enabling a very large portion of our population, to purchase new furniture. The same holds true for any other industry as well.

These being the facts, production of manufactured goods in the USA, has mostly vanished.
Companies who had previously produced their goods locally, were forced to import from foreign countries.

Is this trend in the long run really beneficial? Even if we were to assume that all the displaced workers can find other forms of employment. Assuming that by the grace of the All-Mighty, the ever lurking terrorists will not take advantage of the so many containers arriving at these shores, from all over the globe.

However we are increasingly placing ourselves, at the mercy of foreign governments. Suppose that the United States and China were to have a dispute, which is prone to happen. What if China decides, that if the USA does not relent, they will not allow any shipments to leave. (Let us not forget that China is not a Democracy.) Or they were to decide that a large tax be applied. We wont be able to fall back on production over here, because most production plants have been dismantled. We will G-d forbid be stuck. Think a minute, and look around you. Basically everything comes from China.

Where will we buy computers, telephones, furniture, tools, cars, screws and nails etc.? Where will we the parts to fix the equipment? How many items operate on batteries, that are imported? It can create a very dangerous situation, worse than a blackout. Even food and food products are being brought in from China.

I think that the time has come for us geniuses, to create our own Chinaman. Instead of us teaching them, and thereby shooting ourselves in the foot. With our technical knowledge, the focus of this beloved nation should be to produce machinery, that can greatly reduce the manual workforce. By pursuing this approach, we will bring back this nation to its former glory.
Merchandise produced in USA will be the best at low cost. Our ports will not be cluttered with arriving containers, that may contain dangerous substance. They will however be loading merchandise from this country, shipping elsewhere. Most importantly we will not be held hostage by another government.

Comfort in furniture is a top priority and a must for every office. At Ace Office Furniture, our goal is to offer the best quality for the lowest price possible. Visit us at http://www.aceofficesystems.com to shop, find and buy high quality office furniture and enjoy our long lasting customer relationships.

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All-natural sex pills pose hidden dangers

Herbal alternatives to Viagra can be fatal for men on common heart drugs

Many of the pills marketed as safe herbal alternatives to Viagra and other prescription sex medications pose a hidden danger: For men on common heart and blood-pressure drugs, popping one could lead to a stroke, or even death.

“All-natural” products with names like Stamina-RX and Vigor-25 promise an apothecary’s delight of rare Asian ingredients, but many work because they contain unregulated versions of the very pharmaceuticals they are supposed to replace.

That dirty secret represents a special danger for the millions of men who take nitrates — drugs prescribed to lower blood pressure and regulate heart disease. When mixed, nitrates and impotency pharmaceuticals can slow blood flow catastrophically, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

An Associated Press investigation shows that spiked herbal impotency pills are emerging as a major public health concern that officials haven’t figured out how to track, much less tame.

Emergency rooms and poison control hot lines are starting to log more incidents of the long-ignored phenomenon. Sales of “natural sexual enhancers” are booming — rising to nearly $400 million last year. And dangerous knockoffs abound.

At greatest risk are the estimated 5.5 million American men who take nitrates — generally older and more likely to need help with erectile dysfunction.

Herbal appealThe all-natural message can be appealing to such men, warned by their doctors and ubiquitous TV commercials not to take Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.

James Neal-Kababick, director of Oregon-based Flora Research Laboratories, said about 90 percent of the hundreds of samples he has analyzed contained forms of patented pharmaceuticals — some with doses more than twice that of prescription erectile dysfunction medicine. Other testers report similar results, particularly among pills that promise immediate results.

While no deaths have been reported, the AP found records of emergency room visits attributed to all-natural sex pills in Georgia, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and elsewhere.

An elderly man in a retirement community north of Los Angeles took an in-the-mail sample and landed in the hospital for four days. A Michigan man sued the maker of Spontane-ES, blaming it for the stroke he suffered 20 minutes after taking a freebie that was advertised as “extremely safe.” Tim Fulmer, a lawyer representing Spontane-ES, said the pill did not contain any pharmaceutical and was not responsible for the stroke.

Mark B. Mycyk, a Chicago emergency room doctor who directs Northwestern University’s clinical toxicology research program, said he is seeing increasing numbers of patients who unwittingly took prescription-strength doses of the alternatives, a trend he attributes to ease of purchase on the Internet and the desperation of vulnerable men. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there’d been undetected deaths from bad herbal pills.

Some herbal labels warn off users with heart or blood-pressure problems if they have taken their medicine within six hours; some doctors say 24 hours or more would be safer.

The AP often couldn’t determine from records whether incidents reported to tracking systems of the federal Food and Drug Administration and state poison control centers involved mixing herbal alternatives with nitrates.

Some men in their 30s who went to emergency rooms after taking herbal sex pills were presumably otherwise healthy, but they showed the transitory side effects of the active ingredients in regulated impotency pharmaceuticals, such as difficulty seeing clearly or severe headaches, records show.

While public health officials don’t know the extent of the problem, they agree that incidents are vastly underreported, with national tracking systems capturing perhaps as little as 1 percent of them. Victims may be embarrassed, and doctors rarely ask about supplements.

Since 2001, sales of supplements marketed as natural sexual enhancers have risen $100 million, to $398 million last year, including herbal mixtures, according to estimates by Nutrition Business Journal. Some legitimate herbal mixtures claim to work gradually over weeks; it’s the herbals marketed for immediate trysts that often are the problem.

Tight budgets, weak regulations and other priorities limit the FDA’s ability to police the products, often promoted via blasts of e-mail spam and fly-by-night Web sites.

“The Internet poses many enforcement challenges,” said Dr. Linda Silvers, who leads an FDA team that targets fraudulent health products sold online. “A Web site can look sophisticated and legitimate, but actually be an illegal operation.”

In many cases, the ingredients used to alter herbal pills come from Asia, particularly China, where the sexual enhancers are cooked up in labs at the beginning of a winding supply chain. The FDA has placed pills by two manufacturers in China and one from Malaysia on an import watch list.

Pills like Cialis generally retail at pharmacies for between $13 and $20, while herbals can cost less than $1, up to about $5.

Many health insurance plans provide limited coverage for prescription sex pills, especially for those with health-related difficulties. Few over-the-counter treatments are covered, and herbals aren’t likely to be among them, in part because they’re classified as foods not pharmaceuticals, said Mohit M. Ghose, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents major health insurers.

Spiked pills have turned up in Thailand, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to testing done by Pfizer Inc., the New York-based pharmaceutical giant that developed Viagra. The company said that 69 percent of 3,400 supplements it purchased in China contained sildenafil citrate, the main ingredient in Viagra. Pfizer didn’t check for the patented ingredients of its rivals.

Limited regulation
Under U.S. law, because such pills are “dietary supplements,” they’re far less regulated than pharmaceuticals and face few barriers to market. Viagra, by contrast, underwent years of testing before it was publicly available.

While herbal alternatives often contain exact copies of the patented drugs, some makers tweak the molecules to keep the effect of the original pharmaceutical while avoiding the scrutiny of the FDA and outside testing labs.

Federal officials have only recently stepped up investigations and prosecutions, and in any case, the FDA’s recall power is limited. Last week, in response to safety concerns about imported toothpaste, dog food and toys, President Bush recommended that the FDA be authorized to order mandatory recalls of dangerous products.

Currently, recalls are voluntary, and even if the agency determines that a product poses a “significant health risk,” a firm may refuse to cooperate. Plus, recalled products are widely offered on the Internet and pills are hard to round up.

Before a product called Nasutra was recalled a year ago by its manufacturer, the FDA had received a 30-year-old man’s report of a raging headache and an erection that wouldn’t go down. Following the recall, a 32-year-old man reported having spontaneous nose bleeds after taking the pill, records show.

E-mails requesting comment from Nasutra LLC, the company that voluntarily recalled the product in September 2006, were not returned. The FDA says the firm is located in Los Angeles; there is no listed phone number in the region.

Recalls of herbal pillsDuring the past year, the FDA has orchestrated eight recalls of “herbal” pills that contained the ingredients found in Viagra, Cialis or Levitra, or their unregulated chemical cousins. Many of the firms were based around Los Angeles, their offices ranging from an unsigned door in a grungy hall on the fringe of downtown to a gated complex near Beverly Hills.

One recall involved a pill called Liviro3.

The current owner of the drug’s marketing and distributing firm said that after he tried the product, he quit his job at a car dealership and bought the brand name and stock of several thousand pills in 2004 for $450,000. In January, he said, FDA agents seized his stockpile after an agency lab found that Liviro3 contained tadalafil, the main ingredient in Cialis. The man told the AP he’d had no idea the pills were drug-laced.

One prosecution involved V. Vigor Corp., the Long Island-based maker of Vigor-25. While the product was advertised as containing Asian ginseng, lycium fruit and Chinese yam rhizome, FDA testing indicated that the pills contained Viagra.

Company executive Michael Peng had agreed to stop selling Vigor-25 following an FDA agent’s visit in late 2004, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. But between then and his arrest in September, at least 4.5 million pills were packaged for distribution, the affidavit said. According to prosecutors, Peng thought he could evade tests simply by switching from the sildenafil citrate he imported from China to Levitra’s active ingredient, vardenafil — a shipment of which U.S. Customs intercepted from Thailand.

Peng, who said through his attorney that he was “unaware that there was anything other than natural supplements” in Vigor-25, faces a charge of misbranding — in this instance, claiming that a pharmaceutical is a dietary supplement.

Two other pills, Spontane-ES and Stamina-RX, were made by companies run by Jared Wheat, who’s facing federal charges in Atlanta that he peddled knockoff pharmaceuticals cooked in a Central American lab. Prosecutors tried to keep Wheat from posting bail by asserting that he contemplated killing an FDA investigator and bribing a prosecutor.

Fulmer rejected those assertions, which did not lead to charges, saying Wheat is hardworking and nonviolent. Fulmer said Wheat’s two businesses are legitimate and continue to be successful.

Wheat was granted bond after pledging approximately $7.5 million in cash and property; he’s free under home confinement.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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15 ways to make your home more secure

By • Bankrate.com

Your home may be your castle, but just how deep is the moat? Tighter security is always a concern, but you don't need a "panic room" to feel safe and sound at home, sweet home. All it takes is a little common sense and maybe some elbow grease. So here are 15 tips to make your home more secure:

1. Be your own burglar. Go outside and pretend you're a crook. How would you get in?
Repeat this exercise at night. What parts of the yard are dark or hidden enough to act as cover for an intruder? These are areas you want to eliminate or illuminate with outdoor lighting. If you don't want the lights on all the time, you can put them on a timer or install motion detectors.
Ask the experts. Local police are usually happy to examine your home and offer you tips for shoring up your defenses.

2. Network with neighbors. Believe it or not, that nosy woman across the street could be your "best weapon against crime," according to Jean F. O'Neil, director of research and evaluation for the National Crime Prevention Council. Informed neighbors who know each other and know who doesn't belong in an area can stop crime before it starts with a quick call to the cops. If you want a more structured setup, more than 90 percent of police departments will help you establish a Neighborhood Watch program, says O'Neil, and the groups are a proven crime deterrent.

3. Call the cops. If you see something that strikes you as odd, trust your instinct and dial 911. "If you see something you think is suspicious," says O'Neil, "it probably is."

4. Create an illusion. Most felons want to come and go without anyone around. So make it look like someone is home. If you're away, put an incandescent lamp on a timer so that it goes on in the evening. (Skip the halogen lights, since they can be a fire hazard.) Leave on the TV or a radio. Turn down the ringer on the phone. An unanswered phone is a great advertisement that no one is around.

5. Lock and key. Forty percent of all successful break-ins happen without force, according to O'Neil. That means the door or window was unlocked or they had a key. Use the locks you have.
It's common sense to keep doors and windows closed and locked, but "the basics are the things that people mess up the most," says Seattle Police Officer Duane Fish. His department recently arrested two burglars with more than 100 break-ins between them. "Their primary method of getting into the home was an open door or window," Fish says.

When you move into a new place, make sure you get new locks. Don't hide keys outside. And, as much as you love your neighbors, friends and relatives, don't give them a key to your home, says Los Angeles Police Officer Jack Richter. "Nobody's going to be as careful with your property as you," he says.

6. Put on a peep show. Install a wide-angle peephole, and use it every time you open the door. Make sure it allows you to see all around your front door. Set up good lighting so that you can see visitors. If you have kids, consider installing a second hole at a lower height. And if you aren't expecting anyone, don't know the person on the other side of the door or can't see because your porch light has mysteriously "burned out," don't open it.

7. Hide the garage-door opener. When you go into the house, close the garage door and take the remote control with you. If he can open the garage door, a thief can "take bigger equipment or steal the car altogether," says Chicago Police Department Officer Raimond Ranne.

And if you're out for the day, especially in venues like office parks or movie theaters, keep your remote hidden, says Richter. An enterprising thief could get your home address from your auto registration or even from mail left in the car. Once a thief is in your garage, he can close the door and have time and privacy to break into your home.

And if you're going on vacation and leaving an empty house, you can deactivate the garage door opener and put a padlock through the tracks, effectively locking the door.

8. The doors. Outside doors need to be solid wood or metal, with hinges on the inside and deadbolts that extend at least 1½ inches to 2 inches into the frames. Secure a sliding door with a snugly fitting dowel in the track.

"I'm not a big fan of windows in the door, unless they are high enough that you can't reach the handle," says Fish. "French doors are the most difficult things to secure." Options: vertical deadbolts at the top and bottom of the doors. If you don't need the door as a fire exit, consider a double-barreled deadbolt, which has a key lock on both sides. Keep the key near the door but out of sight and reach from the outside. Otherwise, outfit the door with an alarm or motion sensor.

9. Get alarmed. Get a monitored security alarm. And you want one that rings at your home as well as at the monitoring station, says Philadelphia Police Corporal Jim Pauley. "You want the person to know there's a system. As a homeowner, you want them out of there."

10. Windows 2002. When it comes to ground floor windows, you might consider something stronger than the usual thumb locks, according to O'Neil. If you can afford a locksmith, you can get keyed window locks -- the kind that uses a deadbolt. Two warnings: always keep the key in the same place (near the window, but not visible from the outside) so you can find it in the dark in an emergency. This is a better option for first-story windows that you won't need as exits in a fire. And it's not a great idea in homes with kids or people with impaired dexterity, since they might not be able to remember where the key is in an emergency or be able to work the lock quickly if they need to escape a fire.

If you don't want to spring for a locksmith, you can drill a thin hole at a 45-degree angle in each window sash and drop a small-headed nail snugly in the opening, says O'Neil. Leave enough of the nail sticking up that you can pull it out easily in case of a fire. As with other window locks, you don't want to use them on windows you'll need for an exit -- or if you have people in the house who couldn't easily pull out the nail.

11. Lock up ladders. If you, or a neighbor, leave a ladder lying around, you're giving thieves an invitation to try the usually less-well-guarded upstairs windows. Either put ladders away or chain them securely to something heavy. If you're having work done on your home, treat windows near scaffolding as if they were on the ground floor for the duration of the project.

12. Super cuts. Trim bushes and trees so that all your doors and windows can be seen from the street. If thieves have no place to hide, your home becomes a less attractive target. And a mowed lawn or shoveled walkway is a sign that people are home.

13. Hide your toys. When you get that new 50-inch flat-screen TV, don't leave the box out at the curb for a week, says Ranne. Instead, take it just before the trash collectors come. Better still: carry it to a nearby dumpster.

14. Ssssshhhhh! You want to tell the world about the great deal you got on that two-week cruise to the Caymans, but save the crowing until you return. Otherwise, you might come home to an empty house. While your co-worker or postal carrier is probably totally trustworthy, you never know whom they'll tell, says Richter. Instead of putting the mail and newspaper on hold, arrange with a friend or relative to pick up newspapers and mail in your absence.

15. Look out for yourself. "Don't be paranoid, but have a general sense of what's going on around you," says Pauley. You might be mentally preoccupied with what's going on at work or with a family situation. But being aware of your physical surroundings is a great security habit, and a good lesson to teach your kids.

"Be aware of your lifestyle, what you're doing and who you are," says Richter. "Look at it from the outside, and do everything you can to minimize being a victim."

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Lock bumping: A new burglary threat

Using cheap tools and tips available online, thieves could probably get into your house in less than a minute. Most American homes are vulnerable to this spreading break-in technique.
By Claes Bell, Bankrate.com

Imagine a method of defeating the vast majority of American locks that can be learned in under an hour, uses tools that can be acquired on the Internet for less than $50 and, if done right, can be performed in less than a minute, leaving little or no trace of a break-in.

If you watch local news or spend time on the Internet, you may have heard alarming stories about a new way of picking a lock called lock bumping or key bumping. Security experts in Europe and, more recently, the United States have declared lock bumping a danger to anyone who secures their valuables with pin-tumbler locks, which happens to include the vast majority of American houses.

What is lock bumping?
Lock bumping is a way of opening a lock using a specially filed key that is the same size and shape as the key normally used in the lock. This special "bump" key is inserted into the lock and then struck with a tool made of rubber or plastic. The impact of the bump key on the tumblers inside the lock temporarily pushes them up, allowing the lock's cylinder to turn. This method, if done correctly, can open a lock quickly and with relatively little noise.

"The main concern is that it is so darn easy and that you don't need any special tools or training.
You only need a key, which in most cases is an easy thing to get," says Barry Wels, a founding member of The Open Organization of Lockpickers (TOOOL), a Dutch locksmiths club that has helped promote awareness of the technique among government officials and consumers. "If you take a motivated 15- or 16-year-old and give him an hour or two and $100 to invest in tools, he can open most locks."

To know whether your lock is vulnerable, just look at the key to your front door. Some of the most popular locks by manufacturers such as Schlage, Master, Yale and Kwikset may be susceptible to lock bumping. Other potential targets include recently built condos, apartments and subdivisions, where one lock manufacturer often supplies similar locks for every house in the community. A thief would have to gain access to only one key to be able to make a bump key that would open all the locks in the neighborhood.

Fact or fiction?
How common is this technique? It's hard to say how many of the more than 2 million burglaries that occurred in the U.S. in 2006 involved lock bumping. But there's no denying that with millions of American homes relying on the pin-tumbler locks that are so vulnerable -- and with how-to information and tool kits readily available on the Internet -- the potential for exploitation of this weakness is huge.

"It's been spreading in Europe ever since it came out on German television in 2004," Wels says. "It became popular for burglars in Germany."

Still, says Yaron Erez, a security expert with Vertex Security in Manhattan, the danger presented by key bumping may be overblown. The unpleasant truth, he says, is that almost all locks can be picked. Security personnel think in terms of the time and noise it takes to compromise a lock -- no matter how good the lock, it's a matter of when, not if.

"If somebody knows how to bump a lock, most likely he knows how to pick a lock as well," Erez says. "Bumping is a little faster and easier than other forms of lock picking, but that's all."

Anti-pick locks
There are locks available that are resistant to all kinds of picking, including bumping. High-end locks by manufacturers such as Medeco, Schlage, Assa Abloy and Mul-T-Lock are alternatives to the mass-produced, widely available locks that can easily fall prey to bumping. These premium locks incorporate more-complex, multilayered locking mechanisms and patented designs that allow manufacturers to control the number of blank keys that are produced.

Electronic locks, combination locks, magnetic locks and rotating-disc locks are other choices that are immune to lock bumping. Cylinder protectors, devices that cover the front of the lock to prevent tampering, are also an option.

Unfortunately, these premium locks also carry a premium price tag, especially when the fees charged by the professional locksmiths who install them are factored in. The hardware alone starts around $100 per lock.

Security systems
Erez recommends upgrading your locks to a bump-proof design but cautions against relying entirely on any type of lock.

"Locks are just one part of the total security picture," Erez says. "There are so many ways to get into a free-standing private home: windows, garages, patio doors."

Instead, Erez recommends thinking of security in terms of providing a deterrent to potential thieves. One such deterrent is a security system, announced by a sign in the front yard. Or even the sign with no alarm at all. Extra lighting in key spots around the home and a family dog can also help.

"It's a mental thing," Erez says. "If someone wants to break in, put as many things in his way as you can. He'll most likely move on to another house."

Also, it's important to remember that many thieves don't even bother picking a lock when robbing a home. Lock bumping is irrelevant if a potential thief would rather use a crowbar or a swift kick than a bump key and a rubber mallet.

Home insurance
There is one surefire way to protect against big losses in a burglary that doesn't involve any cutting-edge equipment or security know-how: a good insurance policy. Most providers of homeowners and renters insurance will pay for a loss even if, as is the case with locks that have been bumped, there are no signs of forced entry.

"A theft is a theft. A loss is a loss," says Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for insurance giant Allstate, "as long as it's covered under your policy. Our policy is that you as a customer don't have to prove that someone broke into your house."

Kip Diggs, a State Farm representative, agreed. "It's very unlikely that we would reject a claim based on that."

Check your policy to make sure yours will pay regardless of how the thieves got in. For those who choose to upgrade to bump-resistant locks, it's worth a call to your insurance company to see if it would offer you a discount for installing higher-quality locks in your home. For the record, State Farm and Allstate do not offer a discount beyond a generic one for deadbolt locks.
According to Mike Barry, the media-relations director at the Insurance Information Institute, it's unlikely insurance companies would offer a premium discount for a specific brand of lock.

With little evidence available that lock bumping is common practice among thieves, the security threat to the average residence is, at this point, largely theoretical. Still, the probable spread of the expertise and tools required for lock bumping may make it a bigger concern in the future.
Those most in danger may be lock makers themselves, who may one day face class-action lawsuits filed by customers angry about the possibility that some companies have known about this flaw in their products for decades -- and done nothing about it.

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