Gunning Daily News

10 Useful Tips to Spring Clean the Pantry

April 24, 2014 1:20 am

To celebrate spring, Annie Chun's announced 10 tips to help consumers de-clutter the kitchen and prepare for a season of healthy, mindful eating. The recommendations support the brand's mission to empower at-home cooks with the tools, resources and products they need to feel comfortable in the kitchen and well-equipped to make a great meal.

While it's important to maintain a well-stocked and well-organized pantry year-round, Annie Chun's advises consumers to take advantage of annual "spring cleaning" with the following easy steps:

1. Remove all items from your pantry. Reassess all of the food and supplies you have accumulated, and clear your shelves of unhealthy, overly processed foods. This keeps the pantry free of temptation while making space for more wholesome options.
2. Identify "pantry staples" and always keep them stocked. Convenient, shelf-stable foods that deliver on flavor will help ensure you never go hungry and provide simple meal options that can be ready in minutes.
3. Check "best by" dates. Discard anything that may have expired or items that you hardly use which are nearing their expiration date in order to cut down on clutter. Pay attention to oils, nuts, grains and seeds which can go rancid over time.
4. Wipe down surfaces. Before re-stocking, be sure to wipe down shelving with a food-safe, gentle cleanser to eliminate any dirt, germs, etc.
5. Consider accessibility. For pantries with deep shelves, reorganize your products so that taller items are in back, and smaller items are in front, making it easy to see what you have.
6. Group "like" items together to ensure quick access when you need them.
7. Label and date things. For any non-packaged goods or foods that aren't shelf-stable, be sure to label and date them appropriately.
8. Employ the use of airtight containers. Air-tight containers will maintain your food at peak freshness for as long as possible, lessening the chance of spoilage.
9. Keep healthier, packaged snacks at eye-level. When better-for-you snacks—like nuts, dried fruit, and whole grain crackers—are right before your eyes, you're more likely to favor them in place of something unhealthy.
10. Keep a pen and paper nearby to keep track of your supplies so that you don't risk running out of anything you might need.

Source: Annie Chun’s

Published with permission from RISMedia.


More Than Half of States Still Show Improving Housing Markets

April 24, 2014 1:20 am

Freddie Mac released its Multi-Indicator Market Index(SM) (MiMi(SM)) for February showing the U.S. housing market overall recovering at a slightly slower pace from the previous month. However, more than half of all states, as well as more than half of the top 50 metro areas, continue to show an improving trend. Eleven states and the District of Columbia, and four metro areas, are in their stable range of housing activity, unchanged from last month. One year ago, seven states and the District of Columbia, and zero metro areas, were in their stable range.

• The national MiMi value stands at -3.11 points indicating a weak housing market overall and declining by 0.03 points from January to February. However, on a year-over-basis, the U.S. housing market has improved by 0.67 points, and the 3-month trend (+0.12 points) shows an improving housing market. The nation's all-time MiMi low of -4.49 was in November 2010 when the housing market was at its weakest.

• Eleven of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia are in their stable range of housing activity with North Dakota, Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Louisiana ranking in the top five. Wyoming moved up to the second place ranking. The District of Columbia declined one spot to third place.

• Four of the 50 metro areas are stable and in range, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans and Austin with the latter two switching between third and fourth place rankings.

• The five most improving states month-over-month were South Carolina (+0.14), Louisiana (+0.7), Ohio (+0.07), Tennessee (+0.05) and Nevada (+0.07). From one year ago the most improving states remained unchanged: Florida (+1.87), Nevada (+1.65), California (+1.08), South Carolina (+0.96) and Texas (+0.93).

• The five most improving metro areas month-over-month were Charlotte (+0.10), Columbus (+0.09), Nashville (+0.07), New Orleans (+0.07), and Las Vegas (+0.05) which tied with Memphis (+0.05) and Miami (+0.05). From one year ago the most improving metros remained unchanged: Miami (+2.33), Orlando (+1.91), Las Vegas (+1.64), Riverside (+1.60), and Tampa (+1.49).

• Overall, in February, 28 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia are improving based on their three month trend and 27 of the 50 metros are improving. Kansas City, St. Louis and Minneapolis metro area housing markets slipped in their three month trend after seeing declines in their purchase application activity and local employment picture.

"Despite a slowdown over the winter months, the housing market continues to show improvement in most states, although at a somewhat slower pace,” says Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft. “And while not all the MiMi indicators are trending in a better direction -- gains in local employment and loan performance have really helped many markets across the country, especially those that were hardest hit. Outside of these areas we also are seeing positive improvement from the Carolinas and Tennessee as their local unemployment rates fall further."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Greener Grilling: Good for You and for Mother Nature, Too

April 23, 2014 12:35 am

(BPT) - You already know grilling is a healthful, flavorful and fun way to cook while enjoying the great outdoors. But did you know it can also be a "green" activity?

By choosing earth-friendly fuel options, better ingredients and sustainably sourced seasonings, you can satisfy your family's taste buds and Mother Nature with these greener grilling tips:

* Grilling with charcoal briquettes imparts a wonderful flavor to foods, but many cooks resort to a squirt (or several) of lighter fluid to get the coals burning faster. Forego the lighter fluid and invest in a charcoal chimney - a metal cylinder that makes it easy to get charcoal started. Briquettes go on the grate atop the chimney and newspaper goes at the bottom. When you light the paper, the chimney effect of the tube lights the charcoal from the bottom quickly and easily.

* Many people use disposable dinnerware for outdoor dining. While it may be convenient to not have to wash those dishes, reusable dinnerware and table linens are better for the environment and cheaper in the long term. Plus, cloth napkins and real plates impart a special charm to dining al fresco.

* This summer, why not try meat and poultry from free-range or grass-fed animals, rather than factory farmed? Better yet, select meat from a local farmer, buy organic or go vegan or vegetarian. Firm tofu, Portobello mushrooms and even polenta are healthy and trendy alternatives to meat. Such options reduce the environmental impact of your meal, and they often taste much better!

* Seasonings are a great way to add flavor without fat to your grilled meats and vegetables. When you choose sustainably sourced spices and herbs from purveyors like Frontier Natural Co-op, you're not only getting outstanding flavor, but you can be assured the seasonings have been produced using practices that are better for the environment, too.

* When purchasing produce, look for local options. Locally grown veggies and fruits travel a shorter distance to make it to your grill, meaning less fossil fuel is consumed overall.

* You can conserve resources without skimping on flavor if you make marinades using whole spices that you've pan roasted and freshly cracked before blending. Flavored and artisan black pepper corns, salts and sugars are trendy right now. You can also incorporate artisan vinegars, fine drinking wines and unusual beers into your marinades to create unique and pleasing flavors.

* Do you love adding smoke to your grilling? Rather than buying pre-soaked planks or pre-processed briquettes, try smoking by soaking whole herbs, spices and tea leaves in water then throwing them on the hot coals to create unusually flavored smoke blends that go far beyond basic mesquite and hickory.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Indoor Allergen That Might Surprise You

April 23, 2014 12:35 am

While many welcome the arrival of warmer temperatures with open arms, people with seasonal allergies and asthma may be bracing themselves with boxes of tissues and asthma medications this season. According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, about 45 percent of people over the age of six and 36 percent of children under the age of six have tested positive for at least one allergen.

Outdoor allergens are prevalent again, but families staying inside on a hot day also have indoor allergens to think about. One of the most forgotten indoor allergy triggers is cockroaches.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), 63 percent of American homes contain allergens from cockroaches. This includes droppings, saliva and dead bugs, and children can be especially sensitive. In addition, cockroaches are known to spread a number of serious diseases including Salmonella and E. coli.

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has the following tips for homeowners to help reduce allergens in the home so families can breathe more easily and stay healthy:

Vacuum Regularly. Running the vacuum at least once a week using a unit with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filter can clean up crumbs and help remove allergens from carpeting and furniture.
Store Food Properly. Keep food stored in sealed containers, particularly in the kitchen.
Inspect Groceries and Deliveries. Sometimes, cockroaches and other pests can be brought in with deliveries or groceries from the store. Carefully inspect items as you put them away, and promptly remove cardboard boxes once unpacked.
Keep a Spotless Kitchen. Clean dishes and wipe down counter tops, appliances and other surfaces daily to remove crumbs and spills that can attract pests.
Take Out the Trash. Dispose of garbage regularly, and be sure curbside containers or dumpsters are properly sealed.
Stay on Top of Home Repairs. Seal cracks and holes around the exterior of the home, paying special attention to entry points for utilities and pipes. Also, check for leaks under appliances and sinks to avoid moisture buildup.
Work with a Pro. If you suspect an infestation, contact a qualified pest professional to properly identify your pest problem and recommend a course of treatment.

Source: National Pest Management Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Poll Respondents More Embarrassed to Admit Credit Card Balance and Credit Score than Age or Weight

April 23, 2014 12:35 am

According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling™ (NFCC) recent online poll, when asked what they would be most embarrassed to admit, the highest number of respondents, 37 percent, indicated it was their credit card debt.

People were given five categories from which to choose. In addition to credit card debt, the options included age, weight, bank balance, credit score or none. Coming in a strong second, 30 percent of respondents indicated they would be embarrassed to admit their credit score. Since debt and credit scores can be related, it is not surprising that these two concerns earned the unenviable top two spots in the poll. Consider the following:

* Excessive credit card debt should be seen as a warning sign that a person is in the financial danger zone. Although credit cards may appear to be the solution to a financial shortfall, charging beyond what can be repaid each month can quickly get out of control. Debts that cannot be responsibly managed may lead to late payments resulting in fees being added onto the balance and can sometimes take years to repay. Such activity is likely to negatively impact a person's credit report and potentially result in a lower credit score.

* Typically one of the highest-weighted elements of a credit scoring model is the credit utilization ratio, which considers how much a person owes versus his or her available line of credit. Although lenders each have their own criteria for evaluating credit worthiness, it is smart to not utilize more than 30 percent of available credit.

"Since consumers revealed that the two facts they'd be most embarrassed to admit are related to credit, it is obvious that they are not comfortable with how they are currently managing their money," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. "The good news is that there are solutions available for those who want to take charge of their financial future. Since April is Financial Literacy Month, now is the ideal time for people to address their financial concerns."

For help overcoming your most embarrassing financial moments, reach out to an NFCC member agency and inquire about the three-step Sharpen Your Financial Focus program. To be automatically connected to the agency closest to you, dial (855) 374-2773, or visit www.SharpenToday.org or www.agudicehoy.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Misconceptions Exposed - Multivitamins and Nutritional Supplements

February 10, 2014 3:24 pm

(BPT)—How often do you eat a cup of sautéed spinach? How about three servings of fatty fish, like salmon, per week? Probably not very often, but those are examples of foods and portions that are packed with the recommended amounts of essential nutrients. Research shows that Americans aren't making the nutrition grade and, therefore, can lack important vitamins and minerals like folic acid, vitamin E, vitamin K and even vitamin C.

"Even if you follow a healthy diet, a busy lifestyle can make it difficult to obtain the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from food alone," says Elizabeth Somer, a leading registered dietician and author of several books, including "The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals."

Data on dietary intake from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which used the USDA's Healthy Eating Index to compare what people say they eat to recommended dietary guidelines, found that children and adults scored 56 points out of a possible 100 (equivalent to an "F" grade), while seniors fared only slightly better at 65 points (equivalent to a "D" grade). The American Heart Association agreed with those findings in its 2013 report on heart disease and stroke, concluding that poor diet and lack of exercise are two of the main factors contributing to the high prevalence of heart disease in the U.S.

One easy way to maintain good nutrition is to enhance your diet with supplements; however, the frequency of new studies combined with the staggering number of supplements available makes it increasingly confusing to know what's right.

Somer puts nutrition news in context, provides the facts for common misconceptions and offers realistic tips to meet daily nutrition needs:

Misconception 1: It's realistic to obtain all essential nutrients from food.

Even experienced nutritionists have a hard time designing a diet that provides all the essential nutrients for one day and busy Americans often struggle to follow a highly regimented diet. That's not to say it's impossible but the best approach is to focus on eating nutrient-rich foods as much as possible—like dark leafy greens (good source of lutein for eye health), colorful fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats (such as salmon, which is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA)—and fill gaps in nutrition with a daily multivitamin. "Another supplement I always recommend is fish oil, or a vegetarian source from algae, because DHA and EPA benefit eye, heart and brain health," says Somer.

Misconception 2: Multivitamins have no health benefits.

Although recent studies report that vitamin and mineral supplements do not lower one's risk of heart disease or cancer, these supplements are still proven to be beneficial to one's health. "If a study found that people who drank water had no lower risk for dementia, would you stop drinking water?" asks Somer. "Of course not, because water, like essential vitamins and minerals, is crucial to health and there is no controversy over its importance for human nutrition."

Misconception 3: Multivitamins are a waste of money.

Multivitamins are a relatively inexpensive tool to achieve proper nutrition. "No reputable health expert will argue that supplements can or should replace a good diet and a healthy lifestyle," says Somer. "However, multivitamins and nutritional supplements are one factor in a pattern of living that is known to maintain overall well-being. Think of multivitamins as an insurance policy for optimal nutrition - they're meant to supplement, not replace, a healthy diet."

Source: www.vitaminsinmotion.com.


Five Things to Buy in February

February 10, 2014 3:24 pm

February is a big month for flowers and candy—both of which are available at bargain prices after St. Valentine/s Day has passed. But, according to the consumer watchdogs at dailyfinance.com, there are at least five other things you can buy cheaply this month that will save you substantial dollars.

Look for February savings on:
Boats – This is the heart of the traditional winter boat sale season. It’s a good time to find bargains at marinas and boat shows and, if you want a gently used boat, from private owners who know they are competing for buyers. In either case, do your homework first an


Word of the Day

February 10, 2014 3:24 pm

Mortgage broker. Individual or company that brings borrowers and lenders together; a loan broker.


Q: Is There Such a Thing as “Over Improving” Your Home?

February 10, 2014 3:24 pm

A: Yes. The last thing you want to do when undertaking a home improvement is go overboard. This means fixing up the home to the point where it becomes worth far more than nearby neighborhood properties.

Down the road, when you may want to sell, potential homebuyers will be reluctant to pay, say, $200,000 for your home when others are priced at $150,000. If they want to pay that kind of money, they will likely make a purchase in a neighborhood where most of the homes sell in that price range.

Carefully measure the cost of any improvements you want to make against the overall values in your neighborhood. Otherwise, you may not recover your costs or increase your property value significantly. 


Do You Live in Fear of an IRS Audit?

February 6, 2014 5:45 pm

It is no secret that one of the biggest fears people have is receiving an audit notice from the IRS. It ranks right up there with being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Of course, the IRS does nothing to alleviate this fear because the more frightened you are, the less likely you will be to cheat on your taxes.

The IRS audited one out of every 104 tax returns in federal fiscal year 2013. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the greater your total income, the more you’ll attract the agency’s attention. Last year, the IRS audited about 10.85 percent of taxpayers with income greater than $1 million. The audit rate dropped to 0.88 percent for those with income less than $200,000.

Some of the audits were taxpayers pulled at random. The rest of the returns are selected for examination in a variety of ways.

Lowering your IRS profile will help minimize your chances of being audited.  Here are five ways to help you stay off the audit list.

1. Large Itemized Deductions: The IRS has established ranges for the amount of itemized deductions based on a taxpayer’s income. Deductions that exceed the statistical “norm” for a given state and region may be red-flagged for a closer look. This does not mean that you shouldn’t take legitimate deductions. Your deductions could exceed the IRS range due to high medical expenses and large charitable contributions. Take all valid tax deductions – just be sure you keep your backup documentation.

2. Self-Employment Income: The IRS believes that the vast amount of underreported income occurs among the self-employed. Self-employed taxpayers are audited by the IRS far more frequently than those who receive a W-2 for wages. People who are employed by others and receive W-2 income but also run a business that reports a loss are especially high on the IRS radar screen. You will need to be able to prove you are operating a business with the intention of earning a profit and not just trying to write off the expenses of a hobby. You will need to be able to pass both the “passive loss” and “hobby loss” rules in order for the deductions to stick.

3. Business Expenses: Big deductions for business meals, travel and entertainment are always ripe for audit. A large write-off will raise red flags if the amount seems too high for the business. Taxpayers claiming 100 percent business use of a vehicle is also a huge red flag. The IRS knows it’s extremely rare for an individual to use a vehicle strictly for business.  The IRS looks for personal meals or claims that don’t satisfy the strict substantiation requirements.

4. Rental Properties: The IRS is scrutinizing rental real estate losses for those who claim to be real estate professionals.  You must meet two requirements:  1. More than half of the personal services are performed in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and 2.You perform more than 750 hours of services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate.

5. Home Offices: Taxpayers who operate a business from their home are entitled to deduct the portion of their home that is dedicated to operating the business. The IRS believes that many taxpayers use this deduction as a means of writing off personal expenses and carefully scrutinize tax returns that claim the home office deduction. Claiming this deduction greatly increases the chances that your tax return will be audited. You should consult a tax expert to determine if you are entitled to claim this deduction. If the tax savings are minimal you may opt not to claim the deduction simply to avoid the scrutiny. For details, see IRS Publication 587.

There is no way to completely audit-proof your return, and if you do get an audit notice from the IRS, don’t take it personally. It does not mean the IRS believes your return is fraudulent. When you get a notice, pick up a copy of IRS Publication 1 “Your Rights as a Taxpayer.” Be courteous and helpful without volunteering more information than what is requested. Plan ahead so that you are organized and can answer questions promptly. Ask for a postponement if you need more time to prepare.

If you are a self-employed taxpayer or have unusual circumstances that place your return outside of the statistical norm, let a professional prepare the return. Self- prepared returns are themselves more likely to be audited. The IRS believes that a non-professional has limited knowledge of the 4,000 pages of tax code.

Tax law is complex. The fee charged by an Enrolled Agent or CPA can be easily justified by the peace of mind they bring if you get the dreaded audit notice.

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa., and author of “The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach to Retirement Planning.”