Gunning Daily News

Advice for Keeping the Active Family Safe

September 2, 2011 10:09 am

Studies show that 4 out of every 5 students participate in some extracurricular activity outside of their required class load. As fall approaches, family schedules inevitably fill up with these after-school practices, work obligations, parent teacher conferences and more. Before heading out, take a step back to discuss your family's security routines and the measures everyone should take to keep their homes and each other safe throughout the year. 

"Fall brings an abundance of schedule changes and families working to adapt to new routines," says Rebecca Smith, vice president, marketing for Master Lock. 

Master Lock offers these five key guidelines to help balance family safety with a busy schedule:
1. Embrace the key safe. If your children will be coming home to an empty house after school, or you need to provide secure access to your home for the family dog walker, a key safe will safely store your house key for easy entry, and eliminate the risk of family members or authorized visitors losing a copy of your key while in transit. Simply set your own easy-to-remember combination on a key safe, and have peace of mind that family members and authorized visitors can enter your home safely when needed.
2. Talk to your children about a "home alone" routine. If your child gets home from school while you are still at work, or if your family is involved in a variety of activities on weekends, it's important to have guidelines for your children to follow when home alone, including locking the door immediately behind them after entering the house, not spending time outside without a parent home and not answering the door for any visitors.
3. Share schedules. Be sure that your family is aware of each other's schedules including work, school and extracurricular activities. Keeping a calendar updated with everyone's activities in a common room such as the kitchen will prevent miscommunication about who will be home and when.
4. Lock up while on the go. We carry valuables with us at all times. Encourage your children to store cash, jewelry, cell phones or other small valuables in a secure container when at sports practice or other after school and weekend activities. Parents should also secure similar valuables when watching their children's games, heading out for a Saturday morning walk at the local forest preserve or going for coffee on the weekends. These products safely hold your valuables and can also be secured to a fixed object, allowing you or your children to enjoy various activities carefree.
5. Stay safe in the digital space. Use secure passwords and store them well. As your virtual world continues to grow, it's tempting to utilize one, easy-to-remember password for access to all of your important on-line accounts; however, this puts you at a greater risk for a security breach. Instead, create more secure passwords by varying the code for each of your accounts, and using a combination of letters and numbers in each of your passwords.

For more information visit www.masterlock.com.

Word of the Day

September 2, 2011 10:09 am

FHA. Acronym for Federal Housing Authority, an agency created within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that insures mortgages on residential property, with down payment requirements usually lower than prevailing ones.


Question of the Day

September 2, 2011 10:09 am

Q: Are special tax breaks available for historic rehabilitation?

A: Certified historic structures now enjoy a 20 percent investment tax credit for qualified rehabilitation expenses, if they are income producing properties. A historic structure is one listed in the National Register of Historic Places or so designated by an appropriate state or local historic district that is certified by the government. The tax code does not allow deductions for the demolition or significant alteration of a historic structure. For more information, contact the National Trust for Historic Preservation at (202) 588-6000, or visit its web site at www.nationaltrust.org.

Many states offer tax incentives, reductions and abatement programs for owners of residential historic homes. These programs are described on the National Trust’s web site.

Word of the Day

September 1, 2011 4:39 pm

Fiduciary. Person acting in a position of trust, responsibility and confidence for another, such as a broker for his client.

Question of the Day

September 1, 2011 4:39 pm

Q: What about state and local governments?

A: Just about every state now offers loans for renovation and rehabilitation at below-market interest rates through its Housing Finance Agency or a similar agency. Call your governor’s office to get the name and phone number of the agency in your area.

At the municipal level, many cities also have programs for special improvements to certain blocks and neighborhoods they are trying to spruce up. Call City Hall, as well as a Community Development Agency in your city.

5 Tips to Get Your Real Estate Agent Back on the Job

September 1, 2011 4:09 pm

In the current real estate market, many sellers are pulling out all the stops to get their homes to sell. One of the most common tactics is to change REALTORS® when the one they're using isn't getting the job done. However, one expert believes there is another way. 

Pat Hiban, real estate agent and author of "6 Steps to 7 Figures" (www.pathiban.com)—a self-help guide for realty agents—has some tips for consumers, too. 

Hiban's advice includes:
Be Proactive - Successful people are productive every morning. In sales, that means you need to be making prospecting calls, doing open houses, calling contacts, writing notes to people, making new contacts, and getting in people's faces. If your agent is waiting around for the phone to ring, ask them if they are working every avenue they can, and suggest they beat the bushes.
Plan The Week - Ask them what their agenda is for the week, and make sure they are doing something every day to promote your property. Keep them focused with an agenda every week, and you'll increase the chances they'll be successful for you.
Get Busy - Activity breeds activity. It's a universal truth that the more you push your flow out to potential buyers, the more inward flow of contacts you'll generate. You never know when they'll catch a break, but if they aren't in the game and getting out in the community, they'll never have a chance to find one.
Accept All Invitations - Networking can many times win the day, and real estate agents typically receive every invitation available to local networking and community events. Ask them if they attend local events, and when you know some are coming up, email them the information.
Don't Panic - Panic and negativity on your part makes your agent feel the same way. Don't vex them. Help them stay focused and positive. If you keep going, they'll keep going.

5 Tips That Will Save Your Shrubs

September 1, 2011 4:09 pm

There is nothing worse than a bad haircut, and the one thing you can't do with a bad haircut is uncut it, so you just have to wait for it to grow out before you can fix it. That's how expert gardener Carol Chernega views the art and science of pruning a shrub. 

"Instead of giving your shrubs a bad haircut, it's actually very simple to give them a day at the spa," says Chernega, producer and star of the DVD "Pruning Shrubs with Your Personal Gardener" (www.onegardenatatime.biz). Her tips on pruning include: 

1. Know What You're Pruning -- Before you make your first cut, look carefully at your garden and identify what you're going to be pruning. Use the Internet to identify them if you don't already know. You want to learn how the shrub should look so you can prune it to maintain that natural shape.
2. Cut Back to the Branch -- Always cut back to a bud or branching point. Never leave a long stub. A stub will not only look ugly, but it will also invite insects and disease that could cause long term problems.
3. Cut the Dead Weight First -- Before you cut anything else, cut out the dead or broken branches. Sometimes removing a dead branch will leave a big gap, so by doing them first, you'll be able to tailor the rest of your pruning to compensate for that gap.
4. Crossing Over -- After you eliminate the dead branches, next you want to target crossing branches or branches that are likely to cross in the future. Once they start rubbing against each other, they'll leave a wound that will invite insects and disease, so you want to eliminate that threat.
5. Cut With the Flow -- Finally, cut out all branches that are not going in the natural direction of the plant. This is good for the health of the plant, as well as the look of your garden.

Simple Solutions for Repairing Hurricane-Damaged Swimming Pools

September 1, 2011 4:09 pm

Hurricane-force winds and rain pose special challenges to pool owners once clean-up efforts begin. In the wake of Hurricane Irene, BioGuard, one of the nation’s premier suppliers of pool and spa products, recommends the following simple steps for getting swimming pools back into pristine shape: 

1. Remove all solid debris from the pool. 
2. For in-ground pools, examine pool edges and the ground around the pool for damage. For above-ground pools, inspect the pool structure. Seek help from a professional pool builder or repair service to correct any structural problems.
3. Ensure the pump motor is adequately dry before resuming operation. Drain down any excess water from the pool.
4. Use a floccing agent and vacuum the waste. Flocculants are chemical compounds that when added to water cause suspended agents to sink. Once settled on the bottom of the pool, the previously suspended articles can be vacuumed.
5. Circulate the pool for 24 hours, and then test the pH, Total Alkalinity and Calcium Hardness (or take about a pint of water to your local pool dealer for a quick, computerized chlorine demand analysis). Make adjustments as needed. For chlorinated pools, apply a double dosage of a chlorinating shock product. If using a non-chlorine, biguanide system, add both sanitizer and a double dosage of the shock product. Circulate pool again for 24 hours.
6. Monitor the chlorine level for the next 24 hours to ensure you can maintain a 1 - 3ppm level. Add chlorinating shock as needed to maintain levels. For biguanide pools, monitor sanitizer level (holding 40ppm) and shock levels (maintaining 40ppm - 60ppm) for 24 hours. Add products as needed to maintain proper levels.
7. Clean the filter.
8. After water is balanced and sanitizer levels are stable, you can resume use of the pool. 

For more information, visit http://www.bioguard.com.

ASPCA Urges Pet Owners to Plan Ahead for Disasters

September 1, 2011 4:09 pm

September is National Preparedness Month, and the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) urges pet owners to develop an emergency plan in advance to keep their families and pets safe as hurricane season reaches its height.

The U.S. experienced a major hurricane this past weekend, and ASPCA responders from across the country deployed to New York City to prepare for animal emergencies in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. The ASPCA helped hundreds of animals throughout the City's five boroughs, assessing the needs at evacuation centers where pets were welcomed and delivering supplies and vaccinations.

A newly released poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and commissioned by the ASPCA reveals that more than one-third (35 percent) of cat and dog owners don't have a disaster preparedness plan in place. In the Northeast, nearly half of dog owners (45 percent) and cat owners (42 percent) don't know what they would do with their pets in an evacuation, compared to less than one-third of dog owners (28 percent) and cat owners (30 percent) in the South, where hurricanes are most common.

"It doesn't matter where you live, anyone can be hit with a natural or man-made disaster," says Tim Rickey, senior director of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response and whose team was deployed to New York City in advance of the hurricane, which was downgraded to a tropical storm. "When you're in the moment, it can be very stressful for you and your pets. We learned from Hurricane Katrina that people must be allowed to evacuate with their pets, and New York City took heed and made sure that all the human shelters were pet-friendly. Having a plan in place ahead of time can save you precious time and energy, so you can focus on quickly getting you and your pets to safety."

For pet owners who have an emergency plan in place, the ASPCA's national study found that an overwhelming majority (85 percent of dog owners; 81 percent of cat owners) intend to bring their pets with them in the event of an evacuation. Rickey agrees: "If officials order an evacuation, you should take your pets with you. If it's not safe for you, then it's not safe for your pets."

The research study also found that only a quarter of dog owners (28 percent) and cat owners (24 percent) say their animals are micro-chipped. "Micro-chips can be extremely helpful in reuniting lost pets with their owners," adds Rickey, who led the relief and recovery efforts of more than 1,300 animals following the EF5 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., in May. "The ASPCA strongly recommends pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification and micro-chip your pet as a more permanent form of identification."

The ASPCA offers the following tips on emergency preparedness:
• Always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster.
• Make sure all pets wear collars and ID tags with up-to-date identification. The ASPCA also recommends micro-chipping your pet as a more permanent form of I.D.
• Obtain a rescue alert sticker, which will let rescuers know that pets are inside your home.
• Keep a pet emergency kit and supplies handy with items such as medical records, water, pet food and medications, and pet first aid supplies.
• Arrange a safe haven for your pets in the event of evacuation. Do not leave your pets behind!
• Choose a designated caregiver who can take care of your pet in the event you are unable.

The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team frequently responds to natural disasters, including major events like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, and is commonly called upon by state and municipal governments and other animal welfare partners to lend expertise during large-scale animal rescue operations.

This year alone, the ASPCA has assisted more than 18,500 animals in communities throughout the Midwest and South that were severely affected by tornadoes, flooding and storms, and estimates that more than 600,000 cats and dogs have been affected by natural disasters nationwide.

For more information, visit www.aspca.org.

Why Americans Have Trouble Keeping Dollars in Their Pockets

August 31, 2011 5:39 pm

The ongoing economic crisis may cause Americans to fret over their household budgets, but that doesn't stop them from throwing money away every day. From unnecessary bank fees to wasted gift cards, we are guilty of several messy money mistakes. 

Some of the biggest culprits of wasted money are:
Late credit card fees: On an annual basis, Americans are racking up over $22 billion dollars in charges from late credit card fees and penalties.
Oversized cell plans: Most of us overestimate our cell phone usage and buy oversized plans. In fact, we waste more than $330 a year for unused text, minutes and data, according to BillShrink.com, a cost-savings Web site.
Staggering ATM Fees: ATM fees are tracking higher, with customers now paying an average $2.33 each time they withdraw cash from an ATM that doesn't belong to their bank. Banks, themselves, also charge an average $1.41 for using an ATM outside their network. In total: $3.74 each time you hit an ATM. Do this twice a week and you're looking at close to $400 a year wasted on silly ATM fees.
Gift cards and daily-deal coupons: Americans let $8 billion go to waste with unused gift cards and unused Internet offers from sites like Groupon or LivingSocial. Reports say 20 to 30 percent of discounted vouchers purchased from daily deal Web sites like Groupon, Living Social and BuyWithMe go unused.
Public transportation: In metro areas, commuters are throwing away dollars on commuter passes they don't use. New York City residents alone have wasted $52 Million on lost or unused Metrocards. 

"Most Americans are struggling to stretch the few dollars they have in hand, while at the same time they are letting billions of dollars just fly out of their wallets and pocketbooks," says Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and newly-named financial editor for Manilla.com. "While this situation is troubling, this trend can be easily capped through a combination of common sense and building a workable household budget."
 
Torabi offers five easy tips to stem the tide of leaking revenue: 

Pay your bills on time and online: Late fees are avoidable and what's worse, paying late can wreak havoc on your credit score. If you have to make a choice about which bills to pay, start with your credit card with the highest interest rate first. Pay far more than the minimum. For the other cards, pay partially or at least the minimum. Additionally, if you automate and schedule your payments online, you will be less likely to fall into late payment traps.
Watch expiration dates: Use your stored value cards and coupons as soon as possible and only buy what you need and create reminders for the coupons and value cards so you don't lose out on the value. Keep coupons and deal vouchers in your wallet or purse at all times, too, so you don't miss out on redeeming them when the opportunity arises. Store coupons on your phone when available, too. Sites like GroceryIQ and Redplum have mobile apps that let you store your coupons in your phone.
Tweak your cell plan: With your cell phone, consider joining a "Friends and Family" plan, which can often include anyone you know—a roommate, partner or neighbor—and the savings are significant. Also, remember to take advantage of in-network or mobile-to-mobile minutes. Identify the people you call the most. If you share the same carrier with these folks, your calls could be free by signing up for an "in-network" minutes plan with your provider.
Never Pay an ATM fee again: There are several ways you can avoid those pesky ATM fees. First, use your bank's ATMs. You can just download your bank's free mobile application to help you locate a free, affiliated ATM in your neighborhood when you're out on the go. Next, use apps like My Mobile Allpoint App to find surcharge-free ATMs. Your bank may still charge you for using an out-of-network ATM, but you can at least pocket a dollar or two by downloading a free mobile phone application that'll help locate a surcharge-free ATM nearest you. Finally, opt for cash back wherever possible. A number of retailers offer a free cash-back service any time you pay with your debit/ATM card, including many drug stores and supermarkets in the City like Walgreens and Whole Foods. One caveat: The withdrawal limits are usually lower than at ATM machines, capped at $40 or $60.
Cash-In or Swap Unwanted Gift Cards/Deal Vouchers: Bought a Groupon deal that you regret? Received a gift card for a store you don't really love? There are many web sites that can help you either sell or swap your gift cards or vouchers. For example, if you want to swap an unused gift card for another one that's more your taste, check out sites SwapAGift.com and PlasticJungle.com. Also, there are secondary online markets where people are selling their unused vouchers. Sites like Lifesta, DealsGoRound and CoupRecoup are connecting sellers with buyers. The faster you put the deal on the site the better. 

For more information, visit www.manilla.com.