Gunning Daily News

Easy Entertaining Tips for Holiday Celebrations

November 4, 2011 5:32 pm

For most Americans, the holiday season is the busiest and most demanding time of the year. From social engagements and travel to buying gifts and baking, it's often hard to juggle competing commitments. In fact, 80 percent of Americans anticipate stress during the holiday season, according to the American Psychological Association. 

If you are planning a cocktail or dinner party this year, remember, inviting friends and family into your home should be fun and festive, not overwhelming. Take time to plan ahead and follow these simple tips for a special gathering that both you and your guests will enjoy. 

Set the mood as you set the table. When entertaining, linen napkins and tablecloths can set the tone for the party and create a festive and welcoming experience for guests. If table linens are kept packed away, wash and freshen before setting the table. No one wants to see lipstick or food stains as they sit down for dinner. Before the party, wash linens with a gel detergent that attacks stains and rinses easily. 

Menu planning 101. Expect guests to be thirsty and hungry when they arrive. Whether passing hors d'oeuvres or having a sit-down meal, buy and prepare plenty of food to keep everyone happy and full. To have enough cocktails on hand, plan for your guests to drink one to two drinks per hour of the party and calculate from there. 

Create a show-stopping centerpiece. Adding centerpieces, whether one large arrangement or a series of small vases or candles, can help dress up any room. Arrangements made from pine, holly, or berry branches tie nicely to the holiday season and can be found at any craft store. As an alternative, make an arrangement of pomegranates, cloves, and oranges to provide a pleasant and fresh scent. 

Warm up by the fire. If you have a fireplace in your home, lighting it during gatherings provides an intimate and cozy glow. If you have not used the fireplace in a while, make sure you open the flue. Then add newspaper and wood logs. Plan to light the fireplace 15-20 minutes before guests arrive. 

Arrange a festive soundtrack. Music is an essential component of any successful holiday party. Organize CDs ahead of time or make a digital playlist on your mp3 player so you're ready to push play and get the party started as soon as your guests walk in the door. 

Freshen up after the revelry. When the party has died down and it's clean up time, check areas around the house for messy remnants from the celebration. In particular, carpets may appear dirty from heavy foot traffic. Sprinkle a liberal amount of baking soda over carpets, let sit for fifteen minutes, and then vacuum up. Baking soda will help neutralize any lingering odors in the carpet. 

For more pre- and post-entertaining house prep, visit www.armandhammer.com.

Word of the Day

November 4, 2011 5:32 pm

Origination fee. A charge by the lender for granting and processing a new mortgage loan.

Question of the Day

November 4, 2011 5:32 pm

Q: What can I expect from a good real estate agent?

A: Competence, efficiency, and ethics. According to the All America’s Real Estate Book by Carolyn Janik and Ruth Rejnis, good agents take the time to qualify buyers and show properties in their price range. They plan showing routes carefully and have pre-inspected most properties. They have a thorough knowledge of financing options, are up on the latest housing trends, and share with prospective buyers data on the local housing market and home sales.

Good agents also adhere to a strict code of ethics. They avoid high-pressure sales tactics, refrain from showing properties that do not fit your needs or goals, and alert you to problems about the condition of the property. And they show respect for other agents and real estate firms by not “bad mouthing” them.

6 Ways to Be Happier in the Workplace

November 4, 2011 3:30 pm

Employers go to varying lengths to keep their workers happy, providing perks ranging from free coffee or bagels every Friday to company picnics or annual cash bonuses. But happiness in the workplace, suggests career coach Marty Nemko, may be more a matter of job satisfaction than of any material rewards.

“While the following ideas may not turn your workplace into a barrel of laughs, they may help you find a way to reap more satisfaction from what you do all day,” said Nemko, author of, “Cool Careers for Dummies” and a columnist at kiplinger.com.

• Telecommute – It may not yet be an option in your workplace, but it may become one if you suggest it. Offer to try it one or two days a week at first to show you can meet deadlines and stay in close communication with superiors.
• Propose a project – Suggest a special project that ties in to your interests: a feasibility study on opening a foreign branch?…a procedures manual based on interviews with top employees?…a marketing tie-in with a local campaign or event?
• Tweak your job description – If there are aspects of your job you like more than others, suggest teaming with a colleague. For example, on a particular project, you can offer to do all the research while your colleague does all the writing.
• Make your workspace homier – Seek your employer’s buy-in to bring more than family photos into your workspace: a vase of fresh flowers…a favorite painting…an oriental rug under your chair.
• Use stress-busters – Just a regular minute or two of slow, deep breathing, or a five-minute at-your-desk yoga session can do wonders for relieving boredom or improving your outlook during the day.
• Make a close friend – Having someone you can share life’s ups and downs with during lunch or breaks can go a long way toward making your work day more pleasant. If you haven’t already, pick someone instinct tells you could be a good friend and ask him or her to lunch.

Keeping Your Home Healthy

November 4, 2011 3:30 pm

It’s easy to overlook a small leak or slight draft. But these problems have the potential to get worse very quickly. To prevent a big problem from arising, energystar.gov recommends having a contractor perform annual check-ups—on the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.
Here are some things you should expect a contractor to handle:

• Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.

• Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.

• Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increases the amount of electricity you use.

• Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.

• Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.

Cooling Specific

• Clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system's ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.

• Check your central air conditioner's refrigerant level and adjust if necessary. Too much or too little refrigerant will make your system less efficient increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.

• Clean and adjust blower components to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system's efficiency by up to 15 percent.

Heating Specific

• Check all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

Actions You Can Do Yourself

• Inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. Your contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

Source: energystar.gov

Know Your Monthly Wireless Bill

November 4, 2011 3:30 pm

Americans love their wireless devices. For the first time, there are more devices (327.6 million) than Americans (315.5 million), according to CTIA-The Wireless Association's survey. People continue to use more voice minutes, text messages and data than ever before, too. As with any bill, but especially since wireless devices are used more than ever, consumers should always review their monthly wireless statement to ensure the charges are correct. 

To help wireless consumers better manage their usage and prevent unexpected overage charges, CTIA and many of its provider members, along with the Federal Communications Commission, announced free alerts. More than 300 million U.S. wireless customers will be protected against potential billing surprises due to the industry's efforts. As part of CTIA's "Consumer Code for Wireless Service," wireless providers will send postpaid customers alerts on voice, data, messaging and international roaming. Two out of the four alerts will be available by October 17, 2012 and all of the alerts will be available by April 17, 2013. 

Currently, many wireless providers already offer a number of free tools for customers to check on their usage. Here are some tips from CTIA and its members to help you stay in control of your monthly wireless bill. 

Monitor Your Usage
All of the major wireless providers offer tools so you can keep track of your usage and know exactly how many minutes, data or text messages you've used. In addition to contacting your carrier via phone or websites, many offer shortcuts on your wireless device. 

Check International Rates Before You Leave the Country
Many carriers will alert you to local rates or prompt you to call customer service when you arrive in a foreign country. The "Wireless Consumer Usage Notification Guidelines" require participating CTIA providers to inform consumers of international roaming charges when traveling abroad. 

Regardless, it's a good idea to understand your plan when it comes to calls, texts and data/Internet usage. Most providers offer:
• Information on where to get the best international voice and data rates and tips and tutorials for what you can expect when using your mobile devices while traveling.
• Temporarily shut-off of your data services to prevent international data roaming.
• Mobile apps to track international use in real-time.
To see rates and availability, contact your wireless provider via phone or website. 

Stay On Top of Your Family Plan

Keeping track of your family's wireless use can help prevent accidental overages. Many wireless carriers provide plan monitoring tools that let subscribers:
• Set limits on allotted minutes, messages and downloads each month.
• Set voice and messaging allowances.
• Receive free text alerts when a family member nears or reaches their limits.
• Create a list of blocked numbers to prevent unwanted calls and messages.
• Set specific times of day when a family member can't call, message or use data on their mobile devices (but calls to other account/family members and Emergency 911 are always allowed).
Spending a little time reviewing your service provider's website and using their tools, tips and plans can save you and your family money on your monthly wireless bill. 

For more information visit www.blog.ctia.org.

Word of the Day

November 4, 2011 3:30 pm

Option. The exclusive right to purchase or lease a property at a predetermined price or rent at some future time.

Question of the Day

November 4, 2011 3:30 pm

Q: How do you decide whether to add on to an existing home or purchase a new one?

A: There are a few things to consider, including cost, individual needs, and what will add value down the road. Also important: your emotional attachment to the existing home.

As designer and builder Philip S. Wenz, the author of Adding to a House: Planning, Design & Construction, notes, an addition is much cheaper than building a new home and can offer a “new” home without the heartache of moving.

Other considerations:
• Can you finance the home improvement with your own cash or will you need a loan?
• How much equity is in the property? A fair amount will make it that much easier to get a loan for home improvements.
• Is it feasible to expand the current space for an addition?
• What is permissible under local zoning and building laws? Despite your deep yearning for a new sunroom or garage, you will need to know if your town or city will allow such improvements.
• Are there affordable properties for sale that would satisfy your changing housing needs?

Explore your options. Make sure your decision is one you can live with – either under the same roof or under a different one.

Product Alert: What You Should Know about Solar Panels

November 3, 2011 5:20 pm

With eco-friendly options becoming the norm, solar panels are a great way to decrease your carbon footprint while also saving on your utility bills. Solar panels, which generate electricity from the energy of the sun, can be used to power numerous household appliances, from lighting to your stove and refrigerator.

If you are thinking about installing solar panels, here is a list of things you should know:
• Solar energy is a renewable source of energy, meaning it is a “clean” energy.

• For best results, solar panels should be placed on roofs or walls that face, unobstructed, up to 90 degrees of south.

• The ideal roof for solar power installation is south facing, with a tilt of 30 degrees.

• If the panels are not in full sun for the length of the day, they will still generate electricity, but not at their full capacity.

• Solar panel systems are more expensive than normal water-heating systems, but accumulate more savings over time.

• If well maintained, your solar power system can last up to 30 years.

Shop around before you purchase your solar panels, compare prices—some companies offer free installation—and get referrals.

Nutrition Tools for Your Kids

November 3, 2011 5:20 pm

Healthy habits start young, and this is true for both adapting an active lifestyle and nutritious eating. Since you, the parent, are the largest influence on your child’s life when they’re young, exposing them early to healthy food will promote a lifetime of healthy lifestyles. The following guidelines have been adapted from Evergreen Children’s Clinic: 

1. Healthy Buying Behavior. Take your kids to the farm, market or grocery store and buy healthy, fresh goods. Show them where their food comes from, so they can create a deeper connection to the product.
2. Lead By Example. It is important to be a good role model, as children learn by observing behavior around them. If you enjoy and speak highly of healthy food, then your kids will understand this as the encouraged behavior.
3. Hydrate. Drink more water than juice or other beverages, as water helps promote healthier bodies, aid digestion, allow nutrients to dissolve, and cleanse toxins.