Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

July 28, 2011 4:27 pm

Q: Should I lock in the mortgage rate?

A: Because the interest rate market fluctuates constantly and is subject to quick movements without notice, locking in a mortgage rate with a lender certainly protects you from the time your lock is confirmed to the day it expires.

Lock-ins make sense in a rapidly-rising rate environment or when borrowers expect rates to climb during the next 30 to 60 days, which is typically the amount of time a lock-in remains in effect.

A lock-in given at the time of application is useful because it may take the lender several weeks to prepare a loan application. These days, however, automated loan practices have cut the time quite a bit.

Lock-ins are not necessarily free. Some lenders require you to pay a lock-in fee to guarantee both the rate and the terms.

If your lock-in expires before you close on the loan, most lenders will base the loan rate on current market interest rates and points.

Does Your Kitchen Work Like a Dream?

July 28, 2011 3:57 pm

Forget about the living room; the kitchen is the social hub of a home. Today's homeowners want their kitchens to reflect their personal tastes and accommodate their daily lives; however, a kitchen that can do all this is in need of one thing—smart storage. 

According to renowned chef Curtis Stone, "A dream kitchen is one that's designed for the way you live. The best advice I'd give anyone looking to remodel their kitchen is to think about how they will use it, and to choose the right storage features to suit their lifestyle." 

Paul Radoy, manager of design services for Merillat cabinetry, agrees, "Everyone uses the kitchen to prepare food, but many homeowners use their kitchen for entertaining, crafting, or just spending time with their families. Each of these activities requires various storage options." 

The Home Chef
Food preparation and cooking are the primary functions of a kitchen, but creating an environment for gourmet cooking is a special treat for homeowners who consider themselves "at-home chefs." 

To create this environment, it's important to keep cooking items organized and within easy reach. Storage solutions could include a pull-out spice rack next to the stove, perfect for cooks who like to experiment. A cutting board kit can neatly store knives within a drawer and has a built-in cutting board. This feature, combined with a pull-out trash underneath, can make food prep a breeze. 

"People who love to cook often have a lot of pots and pans, and they are usually in a jumbled mess," says Stone. "Well, Merillat has come up with an ingenious solution. Extra wide or deep drawers are great when installed under a cook top, and when you include peg dividers for the drawer it can be customized to neatly fit all your pots and pans as you like them. It's not one-size-fits-all, so it can be nicely organized." 

Another option is to install a utensil hanging system on the backsplash, or a pull-down cook book holder underneath a wall cabinet. Finally, grouping all these organizational conveniences near the cook top can create the perfect space to make culinary delights. 

The Entertainer
If you've ever had a party you know everyone ends up in the kitchen. This is why homeowners who like to entertain should consider whether or not their kitchen is functional for entertaining. Luckily there are several features that can help make the party successful. 

One kitchen feature that helps make entertaining easier is an island. Not only can an island provide extra seating and serving space, it can include great storage. According to Radoy, "An island with a great focal point like wine storage is classy and practical. And adding spice drawers to hold napkins or small utensils like corkscrews is another great idea." 

Open shelving also adds a great design element for a kitchen used for entertaining. These shelves allow the homeowner to display beautiful dishware and glasses; and guests can help themselves to a plate for appetizers or a glass for wine. 

The Mommy
Moms know that having young children can make the kitchen a challenging space, but there are features to make this room more kid friendly. Soft-closing drawers and doors can protect against hurt hands, while keeping the contents from rattling. 

Deep drawers to store children's items like a backpack, schoolwork and crafts are a big plus. And a pantry or utility cabinet allows the homeowner to store many different items in one central location and at different levels making some things more accessible or inaccessible for children. 

"Homeowners may also consider placing the microwave in a base level cabinet so everyone in the family can have easy access," suggests Radoy. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that with kids come messes. Having an organized cleanup zone can minimize clutter and make any kitchen shine. Things like a tilt-out sink tray, which keeps soaps and sponges out of sight, an under sink tote and a pull-out waste basket help to keep things tidy. 

"From a chef's perspective, or from a home cook's perspective," concludes Stone, "with the right organizational features, cooking can be fun and relaxing." 

For more information, please visit www.Merillat.com.

Eat Naturally Packaged Foods and Reduce Blood Pressure

July 28, 2011 3:57 pm

Did you know that eating "naked" foods—those that come naturally packaged instead of wrapped in cellophane, boxes or any other kind of packaging—are the foods most likely to trigger perfect blood pressure readings? After eating more natural foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, reduction in blood pressure can happen quickly and effortlessly. 

According to Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, co-authors of the new book TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust (Business School of Happiness, 2011), the benefit of wonderful wholesome foods ends when manufacturers start manipulating them to increase their profits. 

"Plain potatoes are a fairly healthy, yet low-price-margin food. As such, they are not a high-profit item. But slice them up, fry them in carcinogenic unhealthy oils while adding blood-pressure-elevating salt, and you have a bag of potato chips that can sell for dollars per ounce," says Tom. 

Most refined and processed foods contain large amounts of sodium chloride (salt), sugar and fat. Most foods served in restaurants, especially fast-food joints, contribute about 75% of the average person's daily salt intake. Bottom line? Refined, processed and commercial foods raise blood pressure. 

Potassium has a beneficial effect on blood pressure; many foods high in potassium just happen to be edible without any processing, including apples, apricots, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, brazil nuts, broccoli, beans, cantaloupe, figs, fish, honeydew melons, kiwi, oranges, onions, peaches, potatoes, prunes, papayas, parsley, pumpkin, grapes, spinach, squash, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turkey and vegetable juices. 

Magnesium is plentiful in natural foods, and has a positive effect on blood pressure as well. Foods high in magnesium include almonds, cashews, halibut, kidney and pinto beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and spinach. 

Items often touted as "miracle" foods—clinically proven to reduce blood pressure—taste delicious in their natural raw state, namely beets and beet juice; garlic and celery. Celery will lower blood pressure despite its relatively high natural sodium content. 

"Nature has taken good care of us by providing a broad selection of tasty, nutrient- and fiber-filled foods designed to lead us toward better health," says Dian. "Eating naturally, the way we evolved to eat, results in better body composition, less illness, greater energy and significant improvements in moods." 

For more information, please visit: www.turbocharged.us.com

Warning: Real Cost of Sleeping

July 28, 2011 3:57 pm

Travelers often spend considerable time comparison shopping before booking their hotel rooms. But are they taking into consideration all of the additional costs that come with their chosen room? 

Recently, CreditDonkey revealed the real cost of sleeping in hotels with its newest infographic. The visual guide walks travelers through the hotel stay, uncovering fees and costs that are often overlooked until they receive their credit card statement.
View the infographic here. 

Here are some of the standard hotel costs outlined by the CreditDonkey infographic:
• Bottled Water and Snacks – once complimentary, oftentimes these refreshments come with a price tag of $5 a pop
• In-Room Safe – some hotels now charge a $3 nightly fee for using the safe
• Towels – extra towels can cost an additional $2
• Parking – some hotels have mandatory valet parking that runs at $45 per day, plus tip
• Resort Fee – this fee typically covers services like the business center, pool, gym and housekeeping; even if you don’t plan on utilizing some of these amenities it will run you about $10 to $25 per day
• Packages – if you plan on having a package delivered to the hotel or mail a package from the hotel, you may incur a charge running anywhere from $1 to $25 

And these are additional services with costs that may be passed on to hotel guests; prices can vary so guests will want to get the low-down on these services before booking their room:
• Internet
• Telephone (sometimes even local calls)
• Airport Shuttle
• Energy Surcharge
• Taxes and other local charges, like tourism marketing efforts
• Bellhop/Housekeeper Gratuities
• Cancellation Fees
• Late Check-In or Check-Out
• Grounds Keeping Fee
• Luggage Holding

“If consumers overlook these extra costs, they are going to be in for a real surprise when they get their bill,” says Charles Tran, founder of the credit card comparison website, CreditDonkey. “When budgeting for upcoming travels, consumers should consider these additional costs when creating their lodging budget. This will help them avoid sticker shock when they open their credit card statement.” 

Tran also advises that consumers can help decrease their out-of-pocket costs by taking advantage of a hotel credit card. CreditDonkey has shared the following tips to help cardholders make the most out of their hotel rewards: 

• Be choosey with your rewards credit card; choose a credit card that offers the hotel rewards that suit your individual needs
• Be loyal; many cards will offer more points when you stay in specific hotel chains
• Be mindful of the currency of the rewards and accrue points in a currency that works for you
• Watch for cards with blackout policies, as they may limit the dates that you can utilize your rewards
• Take advantage of the new mobility that is offered by these rewards cards
• Don’t stockpile your rewards waiting for your major vacation that’s taking place in three years; instead, use them when you need them most 

With many cards offering bonus introductory points, consumers who open a hotel rewards card early may be able to cash in on points to help cover hotel expenses for their travels. But many consumers become overwhelmed when researching hotel reward cards, giving up before they find the right card for their family. 

For more information, go to http://www.creditdonkey.com.

Tips for Pet-Friendly Travel

July 28, 2011 3:57 pm

Traveling with pets is becoming more and more popular, as recent surveys indicate. According to a 2011 survey by PetRelocation.com, 60% of pet owners traveled at least one time with their pet in 2010, and 93% of pet owners expect to take at least one trip with their pet in 2011. Many of these pets have traveled more than once, with 22% expected to travel monthly. 

Recognizing that pet travel was becoming more popular, Cabin Creekwood positioned itself 16 years ago as a place where pets were welcome. Since that time, they’ve hosted birds, cats, ferrets, iguanas and dogs, with the dogs easily leading the pack as the most popular travel companion. 

Despite some trepidation about permitting pets, the staff at Cabin Creekwood has found that the vast majority of pets who come to their pet friendly cabins are very well behaved and used to living indoors. Of course, there are exceptions, but those are few and far between. 

For those wanting to travel with pets, Cabin Creekwood offers these tips:

To find pet-friendly accommodations, websites such as petfriendlytravel.com, dogfriendly.com, petswelcome.com, or packthepets.com provide listings based on location. Many individual businesses will post on their website if they are pet friendly, but just because a website doesn't specifically say it doesn't mean that Fido isn’t welcome. A quick phone call or email will clarify. 

It is important while communicating with a lodging choice to make sure to find out what is expected. There may be fees, limitations on pet size, specific pet policies, etc. Companies that charge a fee should not be viewed negatively. Many times, they are just weeding out the pets that don’t really belong, as people who are willing to pay the extra fees typically have pets that are better behaved. 

When traveling with a pet, it is a good idea to take along the pet license and rabies certificate, as well as toys, bedding, and other familiar items that will help him to feel at home. Of course, making sure that flea and tick medicines are up-to-date will help to make sure that unwanted hitchhikers don't make it back home. 

And most of all, respect of others will go a long way toward making sure that pets are always welcome. That means the pet should be kept under control at all times and be crated when left alone so they don’t damage anything. It goes without saying that picking up behind a pet is a basic common courtesy that should be extended no matter what the location. 

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

Word of the Day

July 28, 2011 3:57 pm

Conveyance. Document used to transfer title. A deed is a conveyance.

Question of the Day

July 28, 2011 3:57 pm

Q: Are 40-year mortgages a good idea?

A: The main reason buyers sign on for these type of loans, which add 10 years to the traditional 30-year mortgage, is to take advantage of smaller monthly payments.

According to real estate experts, the shorter-term loan is usually more advantageous for the homebuyer. The drawback becomes apparent simply by calculating the cost of additional interest payments, which can total thousands for the privilege of just saving the difference of a few dollars in monthly mortgage payments.

Sharpen Up Good Health Habits

July 27, 2011 5:27 pm

As the kids head back to school this fall, pencils aren't the only things that families can take time to sharpen. While parents work to establish new routines for the school year, they can also help the younger members of the household sharpen up good health habits to last a lifetime. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, students' academic achievement and their health are directly correlated. As you head into this school year, use these tips to teach new healthy habits that can become a way of life for the whole family. 

Germ-Free Hands. One of the most significant—and simple—health habits to teach is washing hands. Kidshealth.org, a website filled with family-friendly health tips, calls hand washing the first line of defense to keep germs at bay. 

To help youngsters learn the habit, enforce rules for the entire family. Insist on washing hands before every meal, after using the bathroom, after handling pets, after cleaning chores, after playing outside, and, of course, after blowing noses, sneezing and coughing. Several brands have created kid-friendly soap dispensers that are both fun and functional to inspire little ones to participate. 

Food as Fuel. Mornings may be hectic, but avoid the temptation to take shortcuts on breakfast. Kids need fuel to power through the day. Making breakfast part of the daily routine is also important for weight management. A nutritious morning meal helps fire up the metabolism, and it helps prevent over-eating to compensate for a hungry tummy later in the day. 

The experts at kidshealth.org recommend selecting foods that contain whole grains, fiber and protein with little added sugar in order to improve kids' attention span, concentration and memory. 

Sound Slumber. Although naptimes gradually diminish as children grow older, adequate sleep is still critically important. Too little sleep translates into irritability and other behavior problems, as well as difficulty paying attention in school. While the specific needs of each child will vary to some degree, school-age children and preteens should get between 10 and 12 hours of sleep each night. Implementing a consistent bedtime, especially on school nights, can help ensure your child's sleep needs are consistently met. Be sure to build in time for children to unwind before bed to help keep that nightly target on track with less stress for all involved. 

Balanced Immune System. Believe it or not, 70 percent of your immune system is in your digestive tract. The immune cells in the digestive tract share their space with a community of over 500 species of naturally-occurring bacteria. Keeping these bacteria in balance is what's important to boosting digestive and immune health. Taking a daily probiotic helps boost your immune system by keeping these bacteria in balance.
Probiotics are "friendly" bacteria that help balance the digestive system. Yogurt is a common source of probiotics, but many varieties contain a significant amount of sugar that may be off-putting, especially if you are aiming for a daily dose. However, there are products available, such as Sustenex Probiotic Gummy Bears and Soft Chews, which offer a lower calorie alternative for a daily dose of probiotics while also appealing to picky eaters and lactose intolerant youngsters. 

To learn more, visit www.sustenex.com. 

Treat this back to school season as an opportunity to reinforce healthy habits and set the stage for a successful year in the classroom, on the playground and at home.

For more information, please visit www.editors.familyfeatures.com.


Don't Let Heat Exhaustion Affect Your Wallet during the Heat Wave

July 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Temperatures are high across North America, and air conditioners are a major player in keeping cool, which also means higher energy consumption and ultimately higher cooling bills. 

"Recent temperatures have been through the roof, and with the kids home on summer vacation, overall energy consumption is typically much higher," says Dave Walton, Director of Home Ideas at Direct Energy. "But you don't have to break out into a sweat about your energy bills, by implementing a few easy tips, you can keep your summer energy costs in check without having to sacrifice comfort." 

Direct Energy offers ten simple tips under ten dollars to help lower your energy bill this summer, without having to resort to wearing a swimsuit indoors. 

• Increase your thermostat by two degrees. Save up to $253 on your annual energy bill(1) by increasing the thermostat from 22 degrees to 24 degrees during the summer months
Cost: Free
• Close curtains or blinds on windows that are receiving direct sunlight to keep the heat out of the house
Cost: Free
• Replace the light bulbs in your home to compact fluorescents. Use energy-saving light bulbs that can last up to ten times longer than a normal bulb and use significantly less energy. A single 20- to 25-watt energy-saving bulb provides as much light as a 100-watt ordinary bulb
Cost: $2 - $8/bulb
• Seal your doors, windows and air ducts with weather stripping or caulk. Up to 30% of cooling can be lost through holes and cracks throughout your home. This can save you up to $150 a year on your energy bills
Cost: $5.00 – 10.00 for Weather Stripping, $3.00 – 5.00 for Caulk
• Unplug vampire electronics when not in use – items like cell phones, iPod, and computer chargers tend to suck energy even when they are not being used 
Cost: Free
• Defrost your freezer regularly. When ice builds up, your freezer uses more electricity
Cost: Free
• Microwaves use substantially less energy than ovens. Use one when cooking and reheating items. Even better, use the outdoor grill and have yourself a summer barbeque
Cost: Free
• If you're going to be away from home for a long time, say, on summer vacation, turn the temperature up. Better yet, turn the air conditioning unit off
Cost: Free
• Clean or replace your air conditioner's filter every month. Not only will it prevent wear-and-tear on your system, it can save up to 5% on your energy bills. Some filters cost more, make sure to follow the manufacturer specs for your equipment Cost: $3.00 - $10/per filter
• Close doors to less used rooms so your air conditioner doesn't have to work harder to cool unused spaces Cost: Free

For more information, please visit www.directenergy.com.

Think Like a Plant during Drought: Gardening Techniques for Hot Weather

July 27, 2011 5:27 pm

When gardening in a drought it can be very difficult to make sure the plants in our gardens and landscape get the water they require to survive, much less thrive. With severe drought in most of the U.S. and water bans in effect in many areas, gardeners have no choice but to minimize the amount of water given to plants.
Understanding when to water and how plants function also helps gardeners understand the three premises of smart watering: focusing water delivery, increasing water retention and minimizing water loss. 

"It's possible to dramatically reduce your water consumption, lower your water bill and still have a beautiful, productive garden, just follow our Seven Tips to Save Water," said Maree Gaetani, gardening relations, Gardener's Supply. 

1. Deliver water directly to the roots.
Drip irrigation and soaker hoses ensure that up to 90 percent of the water you apply to your garden is actually available to your plants. Sprinklers can claim only a 40 to 50 percent efficiency. Drip irrigation minimizes evaporation loss and keeps the areas between plants dry, which also helps limit weed growth. Patented Aqua Cones are an economical and effective way to get water directly to the roots of individual plants. Water timers combined with soaker hoses are key to ensuring plants get the correct amount of water. 

2. Use mulch to retain water and reduce evaporation.
A six to eight-inch layer of organic mulch can cut water needs in half by smothering thirsty weeds and reducing evaporation. Organic mulches retain some water themselves and increase the humidity level around plants. 

Organic mulches include chopped or shredded leaves, straw, compost, salt hay, shredded newspaper, grass clippings and rotted hay. You can also use inorganic mulches such as Weed Matting, and to help save trees during a drought, use Coco Fiber Tree Rings or Recycled Rubber Tree Rings. 

3. Enhance Your Soil with Organic Matter and Other Soil Helpers.
Adding organic matter to your soil helps all types of soil, from sand to clay. Organic matter, in the form of compost, chopped up leaves or composted manure will improve the texture and water-holding capacity of your soil. Add at least an inch of compost each year. 

Terra-Sorb water-absorbing crystals can be mixed into the soil in your planters or even in a garden bed. As the soil around them dries, the crystals shrink, releasing their water to the soil. 

4. Reduce your lawn.
Turfgrass is one of the most water and labor-intensive types of "gardens" you can have. Consider planting groundcovers or low-maintenance perennials instead. 

5. Use free water.
Rainwater is the best choice for your plants and it's easy to harvest rainwater with rain barrels. It's clear, unchlorinated and free. Use rain barrels or a cistern to collect water from your downspouts. A 1,000 square foot roof will yield 625 gallons of water from one inch of rain. To figure out how much you can collect from your roof, use the Rainfall Harvest Calculator. 

6. Don't get Discouraged - Next Year Plan Before You Plant
By planning your garden before you plant, you can take advantage of the characteristics of your site, such as sun, shade, wind and soil. Group plants with similar water needs. Also consider how your plants will get the water they need. Planning will save you time and energy down the road. 

7. Take good care of your plants.
Healthy plants need less water, fertilizer and pest controls than stressed plants. By keeping on top of tasks, such as weeding, thinning, pruning and monitoring pests, a homeowner will be able to ease off on watering.

For more information, visit www.gardeners.com.