Gunning Daily News

Five Quick Tips for Easy Holiday Entertaining

December 13, 2012 5:02 pm

The very thought of trying to squeeze a party or two into your already hectic holiday schedule may make you contemplate giving up the holidays altogether. But there are many ways to meet your hosting commitments without a lot of added stress.

Laguna Beach caterer Cindi Fredericks suggests party tips for entertaining a dozen or more guests with panache and minimum effort:

One setting, two parties – Once the living room or patio is decorated, plan two parties in the same week instead of one. Buy double sets of party paper or plastic goods and invite co-workers one evening and neighbors the next, using the same fresh centerpieces, the same buffet set-up and seating space, even the same menu if you wish.
Make it an open house – Opening your home for three or four hours will allow guests to come and go as their schedules permit – and give you time to replenish platters and do a little discreet clean-up in between.
Make it self-serve – Buffets are fun and easy, and even the bar or beverage table should allow guests to help themselves. Finger foods eliminate the need for cutlery. Set out red and white wine, a bottle or two of club soda, a punchbowl or sodas, and coffee.
Make it cheesey – One trip to the deli can get you ready for one or several parties at once, and refrigerated foods will keep well for several days. Choose several chunks of cheese to set out with crackers or party rye and a chub or two of salami that guests can slice for themselves. Fill out the fare with bowls of olives, gherkins, raw veggies, nuts, fresh grapes, and a platter of cookies.
Make it sweet – A dessert party is a fun and easy way to do your holiday hosting. Prepare and freeze in advance five or six kinds of cookies, brownies, fudge balls or other finger-food desserts. You may even ask guests to bring a dozen of their own favorite cookie treats. On the day of your party, thaw the goodies on festive platters and provide coffee and hot water for tea or cocoa.

What’s in Storage for You?

December 13, 2012 5:02 pm

As the holidays approach, are you finding yourself penned in by too much stuff? I am among the millions of those who reduce the amount of household clutter by renting supplemental storage space.

With that in mind, we found a recent post at apartmenttherapy.com very helpful. It was chock full of good ideas, whether you’re looking for your first storage space, or you’ve maintained one for some time. They include:

Pallets, Pallets, Pallets: Keeping your items off the floor is critical - there's no way to guarantee melting snow won't come under the door, or the adjacent unit won't have a spill that soaks its way into your heirloom sofa. 


Wrap What You Can: Use industrial plastic wrap. That way, you know things are sealed up tight and they won't collect dust or creepy crawlies.
Use A Hefty Small Lock: Although most units have security in them, that doesn't mean they'll always be paying attention. Find an all-weather pad lock that has a short arm to ensure a bolt cutter can't slide it's way in to be sliced open.
Label, Label, Label: Even though you know exactly what you're putting in your storage unit at the time you open it, that doesn't mean in 6 months when you need back in it that you won't be digging for ages and opening random boxes until you find what you're after. Label everything.
Plan for Temperature Changes: Although this might not be an issue in some parts of the country, there are a few things that don't like the cold or the heat and should either be double wrapped or well insulated or not stored at all. Electronics, vinyl records, old photos (if humid), are among those temperature sensitive possessions.
Protect The Space: While you are concerned about protecting what is in the unit, protecting the unit itself is also important — there can be heavy fines for scarring the unit during your tenancy.
Stack It High: Even the smallest storage unit can hold a great deal, just make sure you use the space wisely - which means packing things all the way to the ceiling. Bringing in plywood to lie across several boxes can help stabilize layers as your stacking it up, up and up! It will take the pressure off the tops of your boxes and help keep things safe.

Consumers can also find a ton of information about improving their self-storage experience at www.nationalselfstorage.com.

Shovel Safe This Season

December 13, 2012 5:02 pm

With winter snowfall looming in some parts of the country, area residents will need to clear out their driveways and sidewalks. While shoveling can be a great winter workout, the American Heart Association warns that for most people, shoveling snow may not lead to health problems, however, the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling increases for others.

"One of the reasons heart attacks can occur during snow shoveling is the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion which increases the workload on the heart," says Vishal Gupta, MD, MPH, Borgess Cardiology Group, of the Borgess Heart Institute, Borgess Medical Center. "As a result, too much strain on the heart during these conditions can cause a heart attack."

To help make snow removal safer, consider the following tips.

  • Consult a doctor. If you have a medical condition or don't exercise on a regular basis, schedule a meeting with your doctor prior to the first anticipated snowfall.
  • Take frequent breaks during shoveling so you don't overstress your heart.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal prior or soon after shoveling since it can place an extra load on your heart.
  • Don't drink alcoholic beverages before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol may increase a person's sensation of warmth and may cause them to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold.
  • Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia. Wear a hat and dress in layers of warm clothing, which traps air between layers forming a protective insulation.
  • Use a small shovel or consider a snow thrower. Lifting heavy snow can raise blood pressure acutely. It is safer to lift smaller amounts more times, than to lug a few huge shovelfuls of snow. When possible, simply push the snow.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel the warning signs for heart attack, stop what you're doing immediately and call 9-1-1.

The warning signs of a heart attack include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck and arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

Source: www.americanheart.org.

Word of the Day

December 13, 2012 5:02 pm

Contingency. A provision in a contract that keeps it from becoming binding until a certain event happens. A satisfactory inspection report might be a contingency.

Q: What Should I Consider before Putting an Addition on My Home?

December 13, 2012 5:02 pm

A: Thoroughly assess your space. You may find you have the room you need, particularly if there is unused or under utilized areas in your home. Perhaps a garage, attic, side porch, or basement can be converted to fit the use you have in mind. Or, maybe, a small area can be carved from a larger area like a kitchen or living room to create a powder room. These improvements are certainly cheaper than a major construction job.

Top 10 Holiday Destinations of 2012

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

Wondering where people are headed over the holidays? Do you want to know you’re your travel plans stack up? Looking for great rates on rooms? Hotel discount company Getaroom.com researched and released the most popular holiday travel destinations of 2012.

New York City – The Big Apple has rebounded quickly from the effects of Hurricane Sandy to reclaim the number one spot. Getaroom features many quality NYC hotels from $99 a night or less, including the Americana Hotel, Pod 51, and the Jane Hotel. Deluxe hotels such as the St. Giles can be found from $159 a night or less.

Las Vegas – It might be chilly in Vegas in the winter, but the deals are substantial, with deluxe suites available for as little as $75 a night.

Orlando - Always a popular spot, winter travelers to Orlando can save money and beat the crowds. The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista hotel and the Best Western Lake Buena Vista hotel can be booked for $79 or less on most nights.

Miami – Boutique hotels such as the Riviera from $110 a night.

San Francisco – The City by the Bay offers temperate weather for those who don't want to deal with snow and want to enjoy many five-star dining options.

Chicago – Bundle up against the cold in one of many four-star hotels such as The Allerton Hotel from $89 a night.

Washington D.C. – get out of the cold and into one of our nation's historic museums and landmarks.

New Orleans – The Big Easy is always a fun time. Look for French Quarter accommodations for as low as $119 a night at the Hotel Monteleone or Bourbon Orleans Hotel.

Anaheim – Disney Land hotels available for cheap during the holidays. Enjoy warm but not hot weather and get a deal.

Los Angeles – Always a top 10 destination, LA offers great weather and a wide range of accommodations from ultra-luxe to more budget friendly lodging.

Runners up for the Top 10 list include Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, Boston, London, San Juan, and up and coming destinations such as Palm Desert, Sedona, and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Source: www.getaroom.com.

2013: Will Your Taxes Go Up?

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2012, many Americans will celebrate the arrival of a new year with streamers, confetti and a round of "Auld Lang Syne." But when they wake up the next morning, January 1, 2013, they may not be as excited to learn that their federal taxes have increased.

As things stand now, many Americans are facing a tax increase beginning in 2013. This pending tax increase has been referred to as "the 2013 fiscal cliff" and "Taxmageddon" by some pundits, who are concerned that it could threaten the fragile economic recovery.

On January 1, 2013, the lower income, investment and estate tax rates that were passed as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) are scheduled to expire. According to David Lerner Associates Branch Manager John Koene, these lower rates were originally scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. "However, they were temporarily extended by the Tax Relief Act of 2010 until December 31, 2012."

Unless legislative action is taken again before December 31, 2012, the following taxes will be affected starting next year:

* Ordinary income taxes — The tax rates for the top four income brackets will all rise: from 25 to 28 percent, 28 to 31 percent, 33 to 36 percent, and 35 to 39.6 percent.

* Investment (or passive) income taxes — The top tax rate on capital gains will rise from 15 percent to 20 percent, and dividends will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates, which could be as high as 39.6 percent.

* Estate taxes — The top federal estate tax rate will rise from 35 percent to 55 percent. Also, the applicable exclusion amount for estate taxes will drop from the current $5.12 million per person (or $10.24 million for a married couple) to $1 million (or $2 million for a married couple).

In addition to the expiring lower EGTRRA tax rates, Koene adds that some upper-income taxpayers will also be faced next year with an additional 3.8 percent surtax on investment income as part of the Affordable Care Act. Starting in January, this surtax will apply to the unearned income of individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $200,000 or more and married couples with an AGI of $250,000 or more. An additional 0.9 percent payroll tax on wages will also apply to these individuals and couples at this time.

As a result, the top capital gains rate for these individuals and couples will rise to 23.8 percent (20 percent capital gain plus 3.8 percent surtax) and the top tax rate will rise to 43.4 percent (39.6 percent plus 3.8 percent surtax and additional 0.9 percent payroll tax on wages).

"These pending tax increases have emphasized the importance of year-end tax planning this year," says Koene. If you haven't yet, it may be a good idea to schedule a meeting with your tax advisor to discuss how you might be affected and steps you can take that might help minimize your future tax liability.

Material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be used in connection with the evaluation of any investments offered by David Lerner Associates, Inc. This material does not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered in connection with the purchase or sale of securities.

Word of the Day

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

Construction loan. Type of loan where money is doled out as construction takes place; borrower must obtain a permanent long-term mortgage from another source to repay the construction loan. Also called an interim loan.

Q: How Much, on Average, Can I Expect to Spend on Maintenance?

December 12, 2012 4:56 pm

A: Expect to spend one percent of the purchase price of your home every year to handle a myriad of tasks, including painting, tree trimming, repairing gutters, caulking windows, and routine system repairs and maintenance.

An older home will usually require more maintenance, although a lot will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years.

Tell yourself that the upkeep of your home is mandatory, and budget accordingly. Otherwise, your home’s value will suffer if you allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Remember, there is usually a direct link between a property’s condition and its market value: The better its condition, the more a buyer will likely pay for it down the road.

Also, adopt the attitude that the cost of good home maintenance is usually minor compared to what it will cost to remedy a situation that you allowed to get out of hand. For example, unclogging and sealing gutters may cost a few hundred dollars. But repairing damage to a corner of your home where gutters have leaked can potentially cost several thousands dollars.

Don’t Get Burned By Furnace Repair Scams

December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

I often write about improving your energy efficiency by selecting the right heating source and keeping it maintained in top performing condition. But this means possibly exposing yourself to furnace-cleaning scams, which are becoming a growing concern according to the Better Business Bureau.

While most furnace repair and oil company furnace maintenance services are honest, reputable and fair, others use fraud and scare tactics to get consumers to pay for new heating systems, even when they are functioning properly according to a recent report.

BBB offers these tips to help avoid getting fleeced by a furnace repair scam:

Always get a second or third opinion as to whether repairs or replacement are needed. All bids should be in writing and provide a full description of services provided and materials used.

When considering a bid, compare more than cost. Check the size and efficiency rating of the equipment each bidder proposes, and then ask how they arrived at recommending a particular sized system. If you are told your furnace must be replaced because it is too small, think back to whether it has ever failed to properly heat your home.

Check the warranty on your heating system. Many of them come with long-term warranties.

If you determine repairs or replacement is necessary, select a contractor with a solid reputation for dependable, reasonably priced work.

In some cases, a serviceman may claim that your furnace has cracks inside, or is leaking dangerous fumes, and may write a report or estimate that stipulates “System unfit for safe operation. Unit shut off and left off.”

Soot on surfaces, on carpets and around air inlets is an indication of a malfunctioning unit, but may be caused by an old gasket rather than cracks in the furnace itself.

Finally, ask friends, neighbors and family members for recommendations, and check out any company you’d like to hire at www.bbb.org for a Business Review.