Category Archives: University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service

Pinching Pennies ~ Garage Sales

It is summer and every street corner is adorned with a gaggle of garage sale signs. Garage sales are great places to pick up bargains, but not everything should be purchased at them. Some things aren’t a good idea from a money or safety standpoint. So today we are going to have two lists — what you should buy at garage sales (or secondhand) and those things you should not buy, no matter the price.

Always buy at a garage sale:

Solid wood furniture. Even with small imperfections, most older furniture is sturdy. You can buy wood furniture secondhand at the same prices that you can purchase new particleboard pieces. Scratches can be covered with new paint, or one of the fill-in crayons available at the paint stores.

Books. As long as the pages are intact and there’s no water damage, books can be a great buy at the garage sale. Stock up on your winter reading now.

High-end clothing. Clothes are expensive, especially good brands. Most of the time, clothing is quite durable and will last a long time. Check clothing for stains, tears and missing buttons before purchasing.

Sports and exercise equipment. Tennis rackets, bicycles and hockey equipment are often featured at garage sales. Check the items carefully before purchasing, but they are often a good deal. Free weights are another great bargain. They are often purchased with the best of intentions, but are sometimes not used much. However, never buy a treadmill at a garage sale. You don’t want to buy someone else’s problem and the new ones purchased at a store come with a warranty.

Dinnerware or glassware. Dishes and glasses are often a steal at a garage sale. Just because someone has broken a few pieces or has grown tired of a motif, that doesn’t mean it won’t have a new life in your house. I often stock up on pretty, single plates at sales. If I’m taking something to a potluck or a friend’s house, I don’t have to be so intent on getting the plate back. They are also great to hold a plate of cookies or a cake for a gift. Be sure to check for chips or cracks that can harbor bacteria before purchasing.

Now that we’ve talked about good things, let’s take a second look at things that should probably never be purchased at a sale:

Bike helmets. Helmets are designed to withstand one crash. So when you buy one secondhand, you never know if its life is used up.

Cribs and car seats. There are so many recalls on these items that it is difficult to keep up. If you buy one that has been recalled, all your money is for naught. Car seats are also a one-crash item, so like the bike helmets, its one crash may already be behind it.
Mattresses and upholstered furniture. As much as we hate to admit it, we have a bedbug infestation in many areas of the United States. We’ve been slower to have the same numbers here in Alaska as in the Lower 48, but the bedbugs are here, so don’t bring them into your house to infest the rest of your furniture.

Footwear. Shoes conform to the feet that are wearing them. Those feet are probably not exactly like your feet. If they look unworn, they might be a good buy, but otherwise, give them a pass.

Socks, underwear and swimsuits. These items were probably washed prior to the sale, but they just fit too closely to the body to chance purchasing them used.
Garage sales and secondhand purchases can make sense to stretch your dollars. Just make sure you make careful purchases.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Feeding Children

Many young children tend to be very picky about what they eat. This can be frustrating for parents. If you worry about your child eating too much or too little, refer to the recommended amounts of what children should eat to get the nutrients they need for healthy growth.

For children two to six years old, the recommended serving sizes are about one tablespoon of food per year of age for each food you are serving. For example, a two-year-old would have two tablespoons of rice, two tablespoons of chicken and two tablespoons of peas on his or her plate. Of course, your child may eat more or less, depending on his or her activity level, metabolism and mood at any given meal. (Yes, mood and emotional states make a difference.)

Children have smaller stomachs and may need to eat more often than three times a day. Try thinking of snacks as a mini-meal or another way to get good nutrients into your children, and don’t depend on junk food that may have more calories and fewer of the nutrients they need.

A real challenge when feeding children is to get them to try new foods. Let them help in the preparation of a meal, even in a small way, to encourage them to try something new. Sit down and eat with your children so they have a good example to follow. Some kids seem to exist on nothing, then all of a sudden they are eating everything in sight. This is pretty normal. The important thing is to provide a wide variety of foods so they can get all the vitamins, minerals, protein, fats and carbohydrates they need to grow and be healthy.

Never force children to eat. This can cause them to be overweight or to have food issues. Let them have a choice, but only two or three choices that work for you, not an open menu that turns you into a short order cook.

Many children do better with a routine. Having meals and snacks at a set time actually helps them form better eating habits. This may be a challenge during the summer months, but it is a challenge worth pursuing if you have a picky eater. The atmosphere at mealtime is also important. Try to make mealtime a pleasant experience. If adults are upset or unpleasant, it is difficult for a child to eat, let alone digest the food properly.

Underweight children especially should be encouraged to eat more frequently; take special care to provide routine and a pleasant atmosphere. Overweight children should be encouraged to be more active and should be provided with low-fat and nutrient-dense food. It is not a good idea to put children on diets; it is better to have healthy food around instead of the foods that could contribute to their problem, like candy, pop and chips. Turn off the TV and figure out some fun, active things to do with your kids!

Here are some tips to encourage picky eaters. Serve small servings of bite-sized pieces since large servings may be overwhelming. Try to have meals after a quiet time, such as story time, etc. If picky eaters fill up on sweets, they often choose not to eat much else. Again, try not to have junk food around. Try to serve interesting food, i.e., food with interesting shapes, colors or funny names.

Vitamins should not be substituted for good food. They can help, if your doctor recommends them, but good, healthy food should be the first choice.

High-caffeine foods and high-sugar foods are not recommended for children. Caffeine stimulates and can keep children awake when they need to rest. Sugar causes tooth decay and often takes the place of more nutritious foods. Many sodas have both. Soda should be available only occasionally. It has no nutritional qualities and many extra calories in the form of sugars that are not needed by most children.

Remember too that children often balance their diets over several days rather than one day. So look at the big picture, try to create a pleasant atmosphere and enjoy the good food you serve with your children.

Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-2429 or mkmunsell@alaska.edu.

 

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Pinching Pennies ~ IRS Scam

Just about the time we think we can’t be fooled, some new scam comes along that dupes many unsuspecting folks. We’ve learned not to pay attention to any sweepstake prizes, lost bank accounts from foreign banks or other get rich schemes.

However, con artists are becoming increasingly devious and crafty as they hide their efforts to con people out of money and personal information. They create a website and send out emails that imitate real businesses, organizations and even government offices. They can fool even the shrewdest consumer.

In a current scam, con artists mimic the IRS websites and emails. Claiming the recipient is eligible for a tax refund from the IRS, they send emails to unsuspecting taxpayers with a link that requests personal information such as social security numbers and credit card information. The IRS has reported a recent rise in complaints about such scams.

The Better Business Bureau in Alaska is currently reporting that people are receiving automated phone calls purporting to be from the IRS, saying there is something wrong with their tax return. With today’s technology, scammers can even make the caller ID appear to be from IRS.

There is nothing that scares us more than the idea of running afoul with the IRS; it’s not that any of us would purposely cheat on our taxes, but the tax code is complicated. Many of us are concerned about having a deduction disallowed and owing more money on our return. That paranoia plays right into the con man’s plans.

Here is the way the Better Business Bureau says you should handle a call if you should get one. Remember, the IRS will not initiate contact about a tax return processing problem over the phone or by email. The IRS will always send a written notification of any tax due by the U.S. mail. It will never ask for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone or by email. And the IRS certainly does not threaten to throw you in jail if you don’t turn over your information immediately, as several people have reported.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:
• If you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-820-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue. If you initiate the call, you know you will be talking with the “real” IRS.
• If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes, then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use its “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov., and please include “IRS telephone scam” in your comments.

Don’t be taken in by scammers as they hone their abilities to separate you from your money.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Refinancing

We all have learned the value of refinancing. Last year when I refinanced my home mortgage, the interest rate dropped from seven percent to a little over three percent. That made a big difference in my mortgage payment.

You can refinance other types of loans as well, but before you refinance, look at your credit score. It will determine whether or not you can refinance, but it can also be affected by refinancing.

Think about your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? You may want to simplify your life by combining several loans in order to make only one payment; that can easily be accomplished. The credit card company will gladly do a balance transfer, usually for a small fee.

If you are thinking about refinancing, be sure to consider any unforeseen pitfalls. You can take advantage of a zero percent transfer card, but remember that promotional fees expire after six months or a year. Find out what the long-term interest rate will be. You don’t want to end up with a higher interest rate after the introductory period expires. However, if you can pay it off in the introductory period, it makes perfect sense to transfer a balance, even if the long-term interest rate is a little higher.

Be aware of how much of your available credit you are using because it is a very important part of the credit score. Let’s say you have two cards, each with an available credit limit of $5,000 and a balance of $2,000 on each card. You are using 40 percent of the credit on each of these cards. If you transfer the balance on one card to the other and cancel the first card, you are effectively using 80 percent of your credit line. Experts recommend that you use no more than 30 percent of your available credit. If you want to transfer the balance from one card to the other credit card, it might be a good idea to leave the first card open and maintain the credit line.

Another complication in transferring a balance is that there may be different interest rates on different parts of your account. The original balance may be at one rate and the transfer at a different rate. The challenge comes when you pay only a part of the account and carry a balance. The credit card company can apply the payment to whichever part of the account it chooses. It could apply the payment to the lower-rate part of the account, leaving the higher-rate part still accruing interest.

One of the most refinanced loans is the student loan. Federal student loans can be bundled into one loan with a single monthly payment. However, if you have a single federal loan, you have to refinance it through a private lender. Some federal loans have a forgiveness clause if you work in a low-income community or for an underserved audience. Make sure you know if your loan has these clauses.

If your credit score is low, you might want to put off refinancing your student loan until you can repair your credit score. Though this article is about how to use your available credit, the number-one consideration for improving your credit score is how you pay your bills. Working at paying off the balance and meeting your financial obligations will go a long way toward increasing your credit score.

Refinancing can work to reduce the payoff amount on several types of loans. Just make sure you don’t have any unforeseen consequences with that refinance.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Cleaning the Grill

Grilling season is here. Nothing tastes as good as a steak or salmon fillet right off the grill. But if your grill is so dirty that you are questioning its food safety, now is the time to act. By cleaning it regularly and maintaining it properly, you’ll get the most out of your grill and lengthen its life.

When grease and burned food build up on the grill racks over time, it can change the flavor of your food. But the most important concern is that the food left on the grates could harbor harmful bacteria that can invade the new foods you are cooking.

It doesn’t matter if you are a charcoal grill fan or if you prefer a gas grill, cleaning is important to both food safety and the life of the grill. Not having to replace that grill will save you money in the long run.

Make sure your charcoal grill is completely cool before cleaning. Remove grates and place them on old newspaper to catch any drips. Spray them heavily with oven cleaner and let the grease and residue soften. Take a moment and spray the lid of the grill with the oven cleaner.

Clean out the ashes in the bottom of the grill. Some grills have an ash collector, so be sure to dump this as well. Make a dish soap and water solution and clean the outside of the grill.

After the oven cleaner has had enough time to soak in, use a paper towel to remove the oven cleaner from the grates. I often use wadded up newspaper to get the majority of the gunk off, finishing up with paper towels. Be sure to use a final water rinse on the grills to remove all the oven cleaner residue. If you sprayed the lid, wipe down the lid and rinse the cleaner residue.

If you have a bit more time, place grill grates in a large garbage bag. Pour a cup of ammonia over the grate and seal it up. Let it set for 24 to 48 hours. Open it up and use an old sponge to clean up the gunk. It is a little slower, but works well. Again, be sure to use a final water rinse after cleaning to get rid of any residue left behind.

Wipe down everything and dry grills before reassembling.

The procedures for a gas grill are a little different. In fact, heat is your friend in easy cleaning of the grill.

Turn the lit grill on high and shut the lid for 10 to 15 minutes. Let it cool just a little and use your wire brush to clean up the grates. Not only will that prevent sticking, but it will also help avoid flare-ups when grilling. If the grills are still very grubby, use one of the above methods to clean the grill grates.

When the grill is completely cool, clean both the inside and the outside with warm water that has a little dish soap in it. Rinse the surface with clean water and dry it off.

Clean up your grill before your next cookout and you’ll save time and money, and your foods will retain their natural tastes.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Summer Activities

Summer is a perfect time to get out and enjoy all the activities that Alaska has to offer. However, Alaska is no different than many other places that have a “high” season, and in the summer, the cost of those activities often climbs.

This week we are going to look at summer activities that are free.

Take a hike or walk. You can’t beat the summertime temperatures or the beauty that surrounds us here in Alaska. A walk will surround you with all that beauty as well as get you some much-needed exercise.

Go on a picnic. Take a quick trip to a secluded spot and enjoy the summer. The other day I took my lunch out to a picnic table just outside my workplace. It’s amazing how much more relaxed I felt after that quick lunch break. So whether you pack up a cooler and drive to a nearby wilderness area or just take your lunch to the back porch, get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.

If you are a music lover, there are lots of free options for you. The Fairbanks Arts Association offers Gazebo Nights every evening at Pioneer Park at 7 p.m. Bring a lawn chair and a snack and enjoy a variety of different musical styles.

Are you downtown in the middle of the day? Check out the music concerts offered by Festival Fairbanks at Golden Heart Plaza on First Avenue between Cushman and Lacey streets from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays. Festival Fairbanks also offers Wednesday night concerts at the plaza from 7 to 8 p.m.

UAF is offering a series of events that you’ll want to attend. Magical Mondays is a great way for kids to explore hands-on science activities each night at 7 p.m. at the Reichardt Building. On Tuesdays, check out the Healthy Living Series in the Murie Building at 7 p.m. and learn about injury prevention, nutrition, robotic surgery and more.

The Discover Alaska series takes place Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the Murie Building with lectures on topics such as wolves, earthquakes and wilderness. The Georgeson Botanical Garden offers free concerts every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Stop by and listen to rock, blues, a pipe band or bluegrass. A detailed listing of all these events is available at www.uaf.edu/summer/events/.

If you are into space exploration, take a short drive up the Steese Highway to tour the Poker Flats Research Range. Poker Flats is a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the tour will inform you about research that is being conducted on a variety of space topics. Be there on Thursdays at 2 p.m. Leave early and take a picnic to enjoy on the way out.

There are a variety of art galleries to visit. Check out the Two Street Gallery, the Bear Gallery in Pioneer Park, Alaska House and many more, and don’t forget about First Friday events, which usually have art exhibits at 15 to 20 different locations around town.

I know I haven’t mentioned all of our free opportunities, and I know I’ve listed only a few of our special events. Check the events calendars in the News-Miner and websites such as explorefairbanks.com.

Enjoy your summer without breaking your budget!

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Missing Money

Millions of dollars are waiting to be claimed in the Alaska State treasury. Sounds too good to be true, right? But this is no fairy tale; it really does exist. This is money that comes from banks, insurance companies, stocks, bonds, jewelry and other properties that are unclaimed or whose owners can’t be located.

In most cases, it boils down to forgetting something — a bank account that you forgot about, a utility deposit not picked up or an insurance check you didn’t cash.

Each state has an office that collects unclaimed property. In Alaska, it is the Department of Revenue. The money in this account can be as simple as a refund check that you forgot to cash all the way up to an inheritance from a long-lost relative. If whoever has the property can’t find you, the money goes into this repository until someone shows up to claim it.

The challenge is that you cannot claim something you don’t know about. A simple search can tell you if you have money that has found its way to the unclaimed property office. There are two websites that are useful in researching unclaimed property: missingmoney.com and www.unclaimed.org. On these websites, you can type in your name to search their database along with a state of residence. If you find you are listed, there are instructions on how to claim your money.

A few years back, I found a small savings account that we had forgotten. It was less than $100 but had been turned over to the state when there was no activity over a long period of time. I found that my sister was due a utility deposit on a rental house she had owned at one time. So be sure to check for yourself as well as all your friends and relatives.

I did a quick search tonight on some family names and found most of the unclaimed property that popped up was less than $100. So you aren’t going to get rich this way, but you might find something you misplaced.

I’m amazed that people could lose a tax return, but if you moved and didn’t leave a forwarding address, a tax refund might be waiting for you. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service has more than $760 million in unclaimed tax refunds for the year 2010. Most of this amount is from people who didn’t file a tax return. But it can be claimed as much as three years later. So if you didn’t file a return for 2010, file it now. If you didn’t receive a refund that was owed to you, contact the IRS.

Wherever there is money, there is often a scam springing up. I recently heard from someone who had been contacted by a company that specializes in finding lost money. The company had sent a letter asking for a fee in exchange for information on the unclaimed property. The company actually had no idea if she had unclaimed property or not. What her fee purchased was a list of agencies that handle unclaimed properties and the list of the two websites listed above.

Another related scam is when the company notifies you about unclaimed property and asks for a percentage of the funds in return for helping you claim them. In both cases, the information that these finders provide to you is free to you. It isn’t necessary to pay anyone for the information.

It’s easy to see if you have unclaimed property, but beware of scams related to the money. Search only legitimate, free, multistate websites. Missingmoney.com and .org have links to all states’ unclaimed property divisions. It is easy to search for property in the state you currently reside in as well as former residences.

I hope you find a million!

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Thinning – killing plants for the greater good

One of the hardest parts of gardening is deciding what dies. I am not a mean person, but sometimes things just have to go, and in the plant world that means death. I have to kill delicate little harmless green sprouts that had the potential of producing amazing edibles that could have gone to me or my friend’s plate.

In your gardens, the seedlings should be coming up now and will be putting on their first true leaves. It is an amazing part of gardening. The hard work of tilling and planting is over and now there are green rows of plants offering the promise of tasty meals to come. But this is only going to happen if there is enough space.

When I taught a weed science course at Washington State University, we had a plant competition lab where we planted barley (the weed) with radishes (the crop) in large pots.  Every pot got eight radish plants, but the barley plant number was variable (0, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 32). After a few weeks, the students harvested all the plants and weighed the barley (leaves) and radish plants (leaves and bulbs). The weed-free radishes were great and after weighing, they were eaten. Pots with eight or more barley plants did not have any radish bulbs, even though there were lots of radish leaves.

At eight radish plants per pot, we had the perfect spacing for the plants. Any new plants introduced competed for resources. The plants in our study had plenty of water with fertilizer so that was not the problem. The problem was the lack of enough light. The amount of light could not be increased based on the number of plants in the pot. As a result the radish plants growing with the barley spent their energy growing leaves to get the light they needed and nothing was left for the bulbs.

This lab scenario is the same problem we experience in our gardens. We can give the plants water and nutrients, but we cannot give them extra light if they get crowded. Therefore we have to thin and that means killing the weak. Seed packages come with row-spacing information and spacing between plants in a row. Follow those directions. You will not get a carrot that you can take to the Tanana Valley State Fair to enter in the vegetable competition if it is growing side by side with four other carrot plants. Look at those five carrot plants growing together. Ask yourself, which are the smallest? And then kill them.

But wait. What is the best way to kill them? Well, that depends. Carrots have long roots and they are small as seedlings. If you pull one up, you might pull up all five. So just cut the tops off the weak ones. If the seedlings are more widely spaced, but still too close, then you can pull the small ones without disturbing the plant that you want to survive.

This need for early thinning is true for all the plants you grow. If you have too many in the space you have to grow them, they will not get enough light and you will get tall, leafy plants with no fruits, bulbs or flowers. Even for leafy crops such as kale or lettuce, if they are too crowded they will spend their energy growing tall. For example, it takes a lot of energy for a kale plant to produce a stem, and that energy loss will result in smaller, more bitter tasting leaves.

So, identify the best plants, kill their neighbors that are too close, and throw their carcasses in the compost. And with that message — happy gardening.

Steven Seefeldt is the Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He can be reached at 907-474-2423 or ssseefeldt@alaska.edu.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Pet Food

Let’s admit it. Many of us think as much of our pets as we do of our family. That’s why it is so important that you make choices for your animals that will safeguard their health. When the labels say “natural,” “gluten-free” and “beef flavoring,” how do you sort what is best for your pet?

When we are choosing foods for ourselves, we are taught to read the food labels. I’ll tell you to do the same when it comes to your pet’s food.

There are two different types of labels on pet food (just like on people food): the nutrition label and the ingredient label.

The ingredients in pet food are listed in descending order according to weight in the product. So whatever is listed first is the ingredient that is in greatest quantity in the food. Animals need protein. Make sure that you choose a product that lists protein first on the label.

Don’t be concerned because the label says chicken or beef meal. Meal is a protein source, such as beef, chicken or lamb that is dehydrated then ground up. So it makes sense that if it lists chicken meal on the label, you’ll actually get more protein than if you have fresh chicken, which is 80 percent water. If beef, chicken or lamb meal is the first thing on the label, you’ll make sure that your dog is getting lots of good protein. Grains are usually in the formulation for dry dog food. Make sure the grains are whole grains for better nutrition. That’s another recommendation that is important to both your diet and that of your pooch.

Determine the source of any fat in the formulation. Make sure it is labeled as “chicken fat” or “beef fat” rather than animal fat. Listing a specific fat tells us that the manufacturer has taken care with all the ingredients in the formulation rather than just buying whatever is cheapest this week.

Flavorings are another much advertised option. Flavorings make the food more palatable. However, if there is enough protein in the food, the flavorings are probably not necessary. If you have a choice, opt for beef (or chicken or lamb) flavoring rather than the more generic meat flavoring.

Check out the guaranteed analysis, the equivalent of the nutrition label. This contains the labeled percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber and moisture. Choose those that are high in protein, low in fat and high in fiber.

Animals can have a problem with portion control, so check out the serving size on the label. If your animal is more active, the serving can be a little larger. Be sure to check the recommendations from the label with your vet so you’ll know exactly how much your dog should eat per day.

Just like people food, sometimes pet food is recalled because of contaminants that might be present in the food. Recently Bravo pet foods recalled food that might be contaminated with listeria. Last month, Purina recalled food because it didn’t have the correct amount of vitamins and minerals. If you’d like to know what pet foods have been recalled, check out www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recalls/ or www.avma.org/news/issues/recalls-alerts/pages/pet-food-safety-recalls-alerts.aspx.

Remember that your vet is the final authority on what is good for your pet or not. Take his or her advice on what to feed and how much. Don’t buy substandard food that will cost less but cause health problems for your pet. Sometimes it is a good idea to pay a little more and get a quality product.

You are what you eat. That goes for you and your animals. A healthy diet will save money in vet bills and make for a happier pet.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Passive Solar Heat Workshop

UAF Cooperative Extension Service
Tanana District Office
724 27th Ave., Suites 2 & 3
Wednesday & Thursday
June 18 & 19
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Join Art Nash, Extension energy specialist,
Jim Scott and experts from the Trees, Water
& People Tribal Renewable Energy Program
and the Rosebud Indian Reservation to
learn how supplemental solar air heating
units can provide a simple, inexpensive and
environmentally sound way to help heat
your home.
Thursday, June19
5:30 to 8 p.m.

Jim Scott, a retired engineer who has experience  with solar  design,  will give a workshop on solar hot water heating. Participants will learn how to build a passive solar water heater.

Workshops are FREE, but space is limited!
Participants must provide their own lunch.
To register or for more information, call Carmen at 474-5854.
1-877-520-5211   www.uaf.edu/ces
UAF is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution.

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Time To Play

I was updating a class on stress when I ran across a great article called “Why Play Matters for Adults” at Helpguide.org. It had some great information I want to share with you, so I have summarized the article below. Most of us think that we have outgrown playing. We look at play as something for children. According to this article, play can benefit all of us in many ways.

When you play, you may learn new things or how to do things in new ways. Play stimulates creativity and can provide a wonderfully stimulating challenge. Play can provide a simple escape. It can be calming and bring focus. Some love the competitiveness and others like the cooperation. Play can bring simple joy.

There are many kinds of play, from sitting down with a crossword puzzle to being on an ultimate frisbee team. Active play has all the benefits of regular exercise, stimulating mental function, muscular function and even neurological function. Active play can relieve stress by the release of endorphins, the body’s chemicals that make you feel good.

You can learn new things in active play or sedentary play; both stimulate the mind and boost creativity. You learn best and are more productive when you are relaxed and especially when you are in a playful mood. Problem solving can come easier when you’re more relaxed and able to see things objectively. Many computer programing companies and dot-com companies have recognized and embraced this idea. Company policies that include play breaks are becoming more common. Some companies even have areas for play with pingpong tables, foosball tables and basketball hoops where employees can take a break and play. These companies have found that play breaks increase productivity, creativity and employee longevity.

Sharing play or sharing in play can greatly improve your connection to others and your relationships. Incorporating more fun and play into your life can improve the quality of your relationships, as well as your mood and outlook. Play and laughter help you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments and loss. Sharing laughter and play can foster trust, empathy and compassion. It doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. A playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, be able to work with strangers, make new friends and form new business relationships.

Play can help you feel younger and more energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Many of us believe that we are too old to play. But it is never to late to allow yourself to play or to find your humorous side. You may be self-conscious or worried about how you look to others. But it may be time to find the child in your heart again. The more you play, the easier it will be to let go and reap all the benefits of playing.

Helpguide.org advises you to clear your schedule for an afternoon or evening, then turn off your phone, TV, computer and other devices. Give yourself permission to do whatever you want for the time you’ve allotted. Be spontaneous, set aside your inhibitions and try something fun, something you haven’t done since you were a kid, perhaps. And enjoy the change of pace.

Helpguide.org also advises that rolling on the floor with your baby or getting down on your knees to play with a young child is vitally important — both to your child’s development and to your own health. While children need time to play alone and with other children, playing with their parents is also important.

Play is essential for developing social, emotional, cognitive and physical skills in children. In fact, far from being a waste of time or just a fun distraction, play is a time when your child is often learning the most. Whether it’s an infant playing “peek-a-boo,” a toddler playing make-believe or an older child playing a board game, play develops social skills, stimulates a child’s imagination and makes kids better adjusted, smarter and less stressed. As well as aiding your child’s development, play can also bring you closer together and strengthen the parent-child bond that will last a lifetime.

So establish regular play times. Give your child your undivided attention during this time. Let them do something over and over until they are ready to do something different. Let your children take the lead, becoming a part of the game rather than trying to run the game. Try not to force play; let it happen. Let your children bring out the child in you. Go play with your friends or family no matter what age and be the better for it.

Marsha Munsell is a Youth, Family and Community Development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-2429 or mkmunsell@alaska.edu.

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Basic Rock and Mineral Identification Workshop ~ June 7 & 8

Mineral Identification
Friday, June 6
7 to 9 p.m.

Rocks
Saturday, June 7
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
(with 1-hour lunch break)

Tanana District Office
724 27th Avenue, Suites 1 & 2

Cost: $30  (includes field ID tool kit)

This 8-hour workshop is designed for beginner rock hounds or those with some basic knowledge of rock and mineral identification.

Attendance at both sessions is strongly encouraged (fee is the same for one or two days).

Participants will:
- gain the skills needed to identify common rocks from three major rock groups
- learn how to identify the major rock-forming minerals
- learn how to recognize several minerals of economic interest

Children aged 10 and older are welcome but must accompanied by an adult.

Limited space, so sign up now!
bit.ly/ces-workshops
Pre-registration is required!

For more information:
Mara Bacsujlaky, Community Development Agent
907-474-5741
mara.bacsujlaky@alaska.edu
www.uaf.edu/ces or 1-877-520-5211

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Pinching Pennies ~ Financial Stress

Your financial fitness affects your physical and emotional health. Consider that money, work and the economy are the leading causes of stress.

Stress upsets our emotions and makes us sick. In fact, a million people a day miss work at an average annual cost of $15 billion to the economy. Add to that an estimated $62 billion in productivity we lose to sleep deprivation caused by stress and the $200 billion spent on stress-related illnesses. The connection is clear between financial problems, our health and its impact on the economy.

Financial stress is believed to be one of the most important sources of stress since so many of our basic life activities cost money. Management of our money is one of the ways we can relieve this stress.

A scarcity of money resources affects the things we are able to enjoy. If you are worried about paying your bills, keeping a roof over your head and feeding your family, stress and anxiety are just around the corner.

Money is on the mind of many of us. Seventy six percent of Americans state that money is a significant stressor in their lives.

Usually I talk about concrete steps you can take to fix your money problems. Because my outlook is from my job as a family economist, I look at fixing the money side. On the other hand, some people look at the other side of the problem first, reducing the stress. I recently ran across some advice from the American Psychological Association to help reduce the stress from money problems. Some of the steps are similar, but they look at it from another angle. They list the following five steps.

Take stock of your money problems. Pay attention to what is happening around you, but don’t fall in with the “woe is me” crowd. Believing the gloomy predictions on the stock market and the economy can lead to anxiety and bad decisions. Remain calm and continue to work on your money problems.

Identify financial stressors and plan. Examine the depth of your money challenges. Write down ways to reduce problems and manage money more efficiently. If you are having problems paying your bills, call the lender and make arrangements for a different pay schedule.

Think about how you deal with money stress. Some of us relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities, such as drinking, gambling or overeating. Be aware of how you are reacting and seek help from mental health professionals before it gets worse.

Look for opportunities for growth and change. Even though money can cause you to stress, look for healthier ways to deal with it. Take a walk (as long as you aren’t walking through a mall), learn a new skill to keep you busy, take an online course or look for low-cost resources in your community that can increase your earning power.

Ask for help. There are credit counseling services and financial planners to help you take control of your money situation. Some of these are low-cost or even free.

Whether you look at the money side or consider the stress side first, take positive steps in solving your problems. Don’t let the situation paralyze you.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Older Americans Month

May is Older Americans Month. It is a good time to think about the older folks we have in our lives. In past Pinching Pennies columns, we’ve discussed talking to your children about money, but did you think that you might need to be talking to your parents about money? Many of us are dealing with protecting our own finances but we should also be thinking of those of our parents.

As our parents age, they sometimes need some help in keeping their finances in order. However, if your family is like mine, the subject of money is often not a subject for discussion. Many of our older family simply don’t want anyone to know about their personal finances. So talking about money can be a delicate balance.

Many of us are hesitant to ask our folks about money because we don’t want to seem like we are checking out our inheritance. Or our attitude implies that we know they are going to have money problems and it is up to us to help them “fix” it. Either way, the lines of communication will quickly break down when either side doesn’t have the right attitude about the exercise.

It is really a matter of switching roles. It is difficult for parents who have “fixed” problems for us to realize that they might need the help of their children to keep their finances in order, or even pay some of their bills.

So how do you broach the subject of money with your loved ones? Here are some ways to start the discussion.

Put your own house in order. It is difficult to accept advice from someone who has left behind their own trail of unpaid bills and credit card debt. By working on putting your own affairs in order, you can open the discussion with your parents. Share with them the steps that you are taking and then ask if they have done the same.

Use someone else’s experience to talk about. If something is going on with your friends or neighbors, it can be a great conversation starter. Ask them if that is how they would handle it, or if they have a better way. This will help you gauge their values and beliefs before money talk becomes a problem. When something happens to someone you care about, it becomes real. Talk about it.

Talk to them as you would talk to a friend. Match the tone to that you would use in talking to an adult friend. Be aware of boundaries. You wouldn’t order around your friends, so don’t bark orders at your older family members. Offer advice, but realize that money decisions are theirs to make. Treat them as equals, not as you would a child.

Think about the situation from their side. As we get older, anything that keeps us from being completely independent is difficult for many seniors to handle. Try to think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed and go gently.

Offer to help. If you don’t know much about your parent’s finances, offer to pay bills, do the banking for them or even help them with their taxes. Not only will helping give you much needed information concerning their finances, but it will also be an assistance to them. Parents who have a financial advisor may allow you to talk to the advisor concerning their money issues.

Set up a system. Help them organize their financial matters in a way that makes sense. Put everything in a binder or a file to help them keep up with the day-to-day bills.

Money discussions can be fraught with land mines. But if you approach the discussion with the right attitude, everyone gets what they need out of the conversation. Be sure to make it clear that you are operating out of concern, not self-interest.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Summer Class Offer ~ Elementary Algebra

UAF Community & Technical College classes at the Delta Career Advancement Center!

Evaluating and simplifying algebraic expressions, solving first degree equations and inequalities, integer exponents, polynominals factoring, rational expressions, equations and graphs of lines.

Instructor: S. Kiser
Mon/Wed/Thurs
6pm – 8pm
June 6 – July 28

$528 – $150 Partners for Progress Credit Vouche = $378
Call 895-4605 for more information.

Stacy Petersen
Program Assistant Coordinator
Delta Career Advancement Center
1696 N Clearwater Ave
Delta Junction, AK 99737
(907) 895-4605
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UAFCTCDelta

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Academic Advising Available

Make an appointment to meet with a UAF academic advisor.

Appointments will be available at the Delta Career Advancement Center on Wednesday, April 16.

Call 895-4605 to schedule your appointment.

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Laugh it Off

We all know we feel better after a good laugh. Scientists are now taking a more serious look at laughter as medicine. In 1979 Norman Cousins wrote a memoir called “Anatomy of an Illness.” He had experienced a painful spinal disease that he claims he helped cure by watching Marx Brothers movies and “Candid Camera” and seeking out laughter. He claimed that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter would allow him two hours of pain-free sleep.

Laughter can help the pituitary gland release pain-suppressing opiates like endorphins. A new field of study called geletology — from the Greek gelos, meaning laughter — studies laughter and its effects on the body from a psychological and physiological perspective. What we knew innately is now being documented. The following is an impressive list of the benefits of laughter: Laughter can increase oxygen uptake and blood flow. It can reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and it can improve memory, learning, alertness and creativity. Dr. William Fry of Stanford University says “humor and creativity work in similar ways, and by creating relationships between two disconnected items, you engage the whole brain.”

Studies at the University of Maryland suggest that humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies and boost the levels of immune cells. Nineteen diabetics in another University of Maryland study were found to have lower blood sugar levels after watching a comedy than after attending a dry lecture, or even after eating the same meal.

I went to the Mayo Clinic website to see what they had to say about laughter and much of what I found there corroborates the information I found in other studies:

A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. The website says laughter can:
• Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
• Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result is good, relaxed feeling.
• Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. In the long term, laughter can:
• Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
• Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
• Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
• Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and make you feel happier.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America is starting to adopt laughter therapy as a tool to help cancer patients. Dr. Katherine Puckett introduced laughter therapy to the Midwestern Regional Medical Center when a patient asked for it. Now laughter clubs or humor groups are led at CTCA to help patients and families heal. Laughter therapy is based on the physical exercise of laughing, so patients start by just making “ha-ha” or “he-he” sounds until they start laughing. Puckett says that it is hard for people not to join in because laughter is so contagious. One of the things she is finding is that patients learn to laugh. Their situation is not very funny but they can still laugh and feel better. When you laugh, it’s hard to concentrate on anything negative.

Start with a smile. Play. Look for the funny things in life. Try to find a giggle even when you feel like crying. It just might help you feel better.

Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-5414 or mkmunsell@alaska.edu.

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Small Business Series Being Offered

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the UAF Community and Technical College will host four small business workshops during March and April.

The workshops will meet at the Community and Technical College in Fairbanks and by videoconference in Delta Junction, Bethel, Homer, Juneau, Soldotna, Kodiak, Kotzebue and Thorne Bay.

The March 27 workshop, Starting a Small Business, will also be videoconferenced to Palmer and Nome.

Other workshops in the series are
- Writing a Business Plan, April 3
-
Social Media and Mobile Marketing for Small Business, April 22
-
Understanding and Accessing Credit as a Small Business, April 24.

The first two workshops will meet from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the April 22 and April 24 workshops will run from noon to 2 p.m.

Paul Robinson and Scott Swingle will teach the March 27 and April 3 workshops. Instructors for the April 22 social media workshop are Hannah Blankenship and Karen Wilken; and Scott Swingle and Russell Talvi will teach the April 24 workshop on accessing credit. The cost is $25 per workshop.

Register online at bit.ly/ces-workshops. See a flier with class descriptions and videoconference locations at www.uaf.edu/ces.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Kathryn Dodge, 474-6497, kdodge@alaska.edu ON THE WEB: www.uaf.edu/ces

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Pinching Pennies ~ Compromising Our Credit Cards

With the recent spate of compromises of credit card data, you might be wondering if it is safe to use any type of credit. Target, Neiman-Marcus, and now Michaels have all had some challenges in keeping their data safe from cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals have switched their tactics as they have found the easy entrance into our system. At one time, these hackers worked exclusively to break into targeted banks. Banks have become much more active in protecting their customers. Now criminals have found it is much easier to get the same information from retailers.

Why are our credit cards so easy to compromise? The magnetic strip on the back holds your name, bank and credit card information. It is easy to read with the right equipment and holds all the things a crook needs to steal from you.

When you swipe your card, the merchant records your credit information but also makes notes of your buying habits. The new chip and PIN system that has been proposed will immediately encrypt your data so it isn’t available to crooks. However, it also keeps merchants from knowing your buying habits.

Merchants have a lot to gain by maintaining our current system. It is fast, smooth and can run millions of cards almost without challenges. However it doesn’t protect the information that is on that magnetic strip. One of the fears merchants have concerning the proposed new system is that it might slow down checkout lines. I bet this would irritate lots of consumers as well.

Just like our own budget, it all boils down to dollars and cents. Though it is cheaper for the credit card company to maintain the current system, that comes at the cost of security. This transfer to a more secure form of cards is estimated to cost more than $8 billion. Lest you point fingers at the credit card companies for not making the investment for security, remember that most of the price will be passed on to the customers of the company. That breaks down to a cost of more than $7 per credit card. Then add in the cost of changing out the credit card terminals and ATMs and you are talking real money. It is cheaper for these large companies to pay for remediation than to switch out to the new system.

How can you protect your credit accounts from being compromised? Be sure to check your credit card and your debit card accounts on a regular basis for any unauthorized charges. Sometimes it is weeks or years before these criminals use your numbers, so continue to check. If you have any suspicion that your accounts were compromised, call the bank and have it issue new cards.

The most effective method to keep your credit card data safe is for you to be diligent in keeping track of your information.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Tax Day

Tax day is just around the corner. This year, you have until April 17th to file your tax return and to pay any taxes due. For the last few years, you have been able to pay your taxes with a credit card. Though it is tempting to pay the bill with a credit card and get miles (or other rewards) for your payment, take a good look before you commit.

You may not realize that there is a significant processing fee added to your tax bill when you pay with a credit card. Credit card charges are processed by a third party provider, not the IRS. These companies charge a processing fee ranging from 1.89% to 3.93%. On the good side, the fee is a deductible business or individual expense, if you itemize deductions.

Let’s get down to the specifics. If you owe $5000, the fee at 2.35% (the average processing fee) will amount to $117.50. This amount rolls onto your balance along with the tax bill. Depending on your interest rate, this can be a costly way to pay your taxes. If you pay it off over 6 months with a credit card that charges 15% (a relatively low rate), the payment each month will be $891 for a total of $5346.

Even if you pay the balance before the end of the month, you will still pay a hefty fee. The rewards or miles have to be extensive for this payment method to work to your advantage.

If you don’t have the money to pay your tax bill right now, check into installment options from the IRS. They will charge interest, but it is still much less than what a credit card will cost.

Here are some things to remember if you feel you should pay by credit card.

· Payment can be made through tax preparation software, a tax professional, or through a payment by phone or online.

· Account numbers should not be written on the return or form.

· The payment date will be the date the charge is authorized.

· Payments cannot be cancelled.

· In the event the service provider fails to forward the tax payment to the Treasury, the taxpayer will be responsible for the tax payment and for any penalties and interest.

A better choice for many people is to pay by debit card. But it also comes with a fee–$3.89. That is much easier to swallow than the convenience fees that come with the use of credit cards.

Maybe the old fashioned way is the least costly. Write a check to pay your bill, as long as you have the money in the bank.

If there is a big difference between your tax bill and what you have already paid in, take a good look at your withholding. You might need to decrease the number of exemptions, withhold at a higher rate (such as single instead of married), or even withhold additional money each pay check.

By the same token, if you have a large refund, you might want to adjust your withholding to a lower rate as well. This will allow you to keep more money in your pocket through the year.

This is the old adage. There are only two inevitable things—death and taxes. Taxes are due each year. Make sure you make decisions concerning taxes that don’t hurt your bottom line.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Intro to Indoor Garden Seed Starting Workshop

When: Saturday, March 15, 2014, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Where: Cooperative Extension Service Conference Room, Jarvis Building, first floor 

Topics:
- Selecting seed starting equipment & materials
- Selecting a soil medium
- Info on Alaska-specific indoor seed starting dates
- Plant light requirements
- Plant health and nutrition
- Transplanting basics Class includes a DIY grow light demonstration.

Space is limited, so sign up soon!

Registration cost: $10, due before day of class

Contact: Salcha-Delta Soil & Water Conservation District at 895-6279, or the UAF Cooperative Extension Office at 895-4215

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Pinching Pennies ~ Credit Cards

The recent loss of customer information at major retailers has resulted in credit card, debit cards and PIN numbers being stolen. With this news, people are wondering how to pay for everyday purchases. Is carrying cash the answer?

Though credit cards have been much maligned in recent years, they have several qualities that can protect your financial life. In fact, early reports from the Target incident have focused on the damage done to a few customers who had used debit cards. These people had their checking accounts emptied when the crooks got card and PIN numbers.

Let’s take a minute and consider why using your credit card is a smart idea.

• Credit card security. In a few hours this weekend, I went to four stores and spent over $400. If I had been carrying that much money, it could have been easily lost or stolen. Cash is unnecessary if you have a credit card.

• Theft protection. When your credit card is stolen, the Fair Credit Billing Act tells us that you are responsible for no more than $50 of charges that a thief might make on your card. Many credit card companies will forgive even this amount. Be sure to notify your credit card company promptly if your card is stolen. In the case of the recent data breaches, only the numbers were stolen, so make sure you check your statements carefully as soon as they come in and notify the company if there are any problems.

• Purchase protection. Let’s say you purchase something and it doesn’t work as it should. The store refuses to refund the money. You dispute the charge and the credit card company won’t charge you for the disputed amount.

• Guarantees. Many credit cards offer guarantees on items purchased with their cards. I checked terms on several cards and found that they ranged from 90 days protection against theft or damage to one-year extended warranties on purchases. I always try to make any large purchases on my credit card. Be sure to check the terms on your credit card. You might be surprised by the benefits.

• Perks and rewards. Whether your card offers cash back, frequent flyer miles, points, bonuses or any other type of reward, you can gain by using your credit card. One of the readers of this column called me to say that he charges all his everyday expenses on his credit card. He earns frequent flyer miles for all his purchases and finds it convenient to pay with one check or transfer from his checking account. These purchases mean that he can take two airline trips a year for $10 per trip. Great strategy. Just make sure that you have the money to pay off what you are charging each month or you will have to pay those pesky interest charges.

• Travel insurance. Some cards offer trip cancellation, delay insurance, lost luggage protection and emergency assistance. Make sure you read the fine print and know what are the special benefits on your card.

• Car rental insurance. Many credit cards come with a loss and damage waiver or collision waiver policy for car rentals, which cover the cost of repair or replacement to a damaged or stolen car. But make sure to read the fine print to know what is covered.

One of the main advantages of using a credit card is building a credit history. Use the credit card, pay it off and build your credit history.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Business Loan Workshop Offered

As part of a small business series, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the UAF Community and Technical College will host a workshop March 6 on how to get a business loan.

The workshop will meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Fairbanks and by videoconference in Delta Junction, Soldotna, Bethel and Thorne Bay. The workshop is designed to take the fear of the unknown out of the loan process and will explore nontraditional and traditional funding options for small businesses. Participants will examine a typical loan application, the loan closing process and ongoing loan requirements.

The instructors are Russell Talvi, the Fairbanks Small Business Development Center director, and Paul Bauer, a vice president of business lending at Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union. The cost is $25. Videoconference participants may register online at http://bit.ly/ces-workshops/, and Fairbanks participants may call 455-2858 to register. The workshop will meet in the boardroom of the Johansen Expressway branch of the Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union in Fairbanks. See a flier with videoconference locations at www.uaf.edu/ces/.

Upcoming workshops in the series will include Starting a Small Business, March 27; Writing a Business Plan, April 3; Social Media and Mobile Marketing for Small Business, April 10; and Understanding and Accessing Credit as a Small Business, April 24.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Kathryn Dodge, 474-6497, kdodge@alaska.edu

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Clean Your Computer

Did you know that there is a special day set aside to remind you to clean out your computer? Feb. 8 is the day to clean out your computer. Computers have been our salvation and our downfall as we have increasingly used them to store all our financial information.

We’ve heard a lot recently about data breaches and keeping your personal financial information secure. The recent problems were caused by hackers breaking into a business’s records. Though we wonder why the business didn’t guard our numbers better, there is no doubt that its computers are much harder to crack than our home computer. Our home computers have a wealth of information just ripe for a crook to tap. Now is the time to secure your information. The Federal Trade Commission gives us these hints on keeping your devices secure.

Use security software. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall. Update these often. Be sure to update security patches for operating system and software programs.

Watch for phishing scams. As emails come in, don’t open files, click on links or download programs from someone you don’t know. These can expose your computer to viruses and spyware that can capture passwords or general information as you work.

Know who you are talking to. Don’t give out personal or financial information unless you know who is on the other end of the message. Unless you have started the discussion over the phone or email, don’t share any information. Verify links in a message by using your browser to find them independently on the web.

Pay attention to wireless connections. If you are in a public place and using Wi-Fi, see if your information is protected. If you use a secure website, it will protect the information to and from that website. Open another site and all bets are off. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send is protected. Make sure your network is secure, particularly when you are transferring personal information.

Make sure that there is a small lock icon on the page before you send any financial information. This lock means that anything you send is secure.

Keep them secret — passwords, that is. Choose strong passwords, include letters and numbers, capitals and lower case. Don’t use the same password for all accounts. Don’t use the automatic feature that saves your user name and password. Anyone that opens your computer can sign into your accounts. Once your have finished your business, be sure to log off. Laptops are particularly vulnerable. They can easily be left behind or stolen, leaving all your financial information for others to open. Make sure your laptop has a password and don’t use your laptop for financial transactions if you can avoid it.

Throw it away, but not with your information on it. Safely dispose of your cell phone and your old computer but not before you wipe out any personal information. Use a wipe utility program on your computer and check the manufacturer’s instructions on your phone for instructions.

Don’t overshare on social networking sites. If you put too much information on these sites, a thief can put together enough information to break into your accounts.

Remember to clean your computer this week and always protect your personal information from others.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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America Saves

This week, February 23 to March 1, is America Saves Week. It is the week set aside to remind us to start saving now. As we talked about last week, this is much easier said than done. I often talk to people who tell me that they can barely meet their financial obligations, much less save anything. The reality is that this is the norm for most folks.

According to a recent survey by Bankrate.com, 76 percent of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck. This number is high since it counts those who don’t have six months of expenses in savings. That is a high standard for many of us. However, we are even coming up short at much smaller amounts of money. CashNetUSA says in its recent survey that 22 percent of those surveyed had less than $100 in savings and 46 percent had less than $800. That is a cause for worry. If you don’t have enough money in savings, the next resort in case of an emergency is high-interest credit.

This week, let’s see how it is possible to save even if you are watching your money.

Find small savings. If you save $10 a week, over the course of a year it adds up to over $500. Consider giving up a purchase each day and saving that money. It might be a soda ($450 a year), latte ($1,387) or lunch one day a week ($520). Cutting out any one of these expenses and putting the equivalent amount in a savings account will get you a long way toward reaching your savings goals.

Compare prices. Make sure when you spend money that you are getting the best deal. Prices vary depending on where you pick up your items, so make sure you are selecting wisely. If you are shopping for a new television, the price might vary from $50 to $100. Buy the cheaper one and put the rest of the money in your savings account. Don’t overlook recurring expenses such as your monthly cable or phone bill. A periodic review may save you money. Multiply that savings by 12 months in the year and you can really pump up your savings account.

Reduce debt, particularly high-interest debt. Let’s say you have $5,000 on a credit card with an interest rate of 11 percent. If you make a monthly payment of $200, it will take you 29 months to pay off, and you’ll pay a total interest charge of $700. If you increase the interest rate to 28 percent, that same debt will take you 39 months to pay off and will cost you almost $2,600 in interest charges. This interest rate seems high, but if you miss one payment, the interest rate on an 11 percent card can easily rise to the 28 percent level. Pay off the highest interest rate accounts in your financial world and bank the savings.

Save for emergencies. The average emergency costs a family about $2,000. Whether it is a car repair, a health emergency or a house repair, these unforeseen events are what cause many of us to resort to credit cards. Save $200 a month and before the end of the year, you’ll be ready if an emergency hits.

Curb impulse spending. Whether it is those darling boots or a new comforter for the bed, those impulse buys add up. If you are an average consumer, 40 percent of the things you buy are on impulse. That can amount to big money over the cost of your lifetime. On a trip to the grocery store, go directly to what is on your list and leave the store. Don’t be distracted by the cakes, deli items or the flowers. If you don’t need something, don’t go to the store. Too many of us treat shopping as a pastime. Buy what you need and nothing else.

This week, examine ways you can save a few dollars. By continuing this practice throughout the year, you will find yourself closer to your savings goals.

Christina M. Roden – Administrative Assistant
University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service – Delta Junction

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Hey Delta! Wondering What To Do This Spring?

UAF Community & Technical College classes at the Delta Career Advancement Center

ENGLISH 211
3 CREDITS
Instruction in writing through close analysis of literature, with a required research paper. English 211 meets core curriculum requirements. (Prerequisite: English 111)
Mon/Wed 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
A. Glynn 3/3 – 4/21
$528 – $150 Partners for Progress Credit Voucher = $378

MICROSOFT EXCEL
1 CREDIT
Comprehensive exploration of Excel. Including creating, formatting and revising spreadsheets. Learn to create and use formulas, graphs and charts. Organize, analyze and query information.
Fridays 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
T. Porreca 3/7 – 4/4
$176 – $50 Partners for Progress Credit Voucher = $126

NURSE AIDE TRAINING (CNA)
9 CREDITS
Learn basic nursing skills necessary to assist the nurse and be an
efficient health care team member. Content satisfies the theory and
clinical skills needed to take the State of Alaska exam to become a
Certified Nurse Aide. (Prerequisites: High School Diploma or GED;
Accuplacer Reading Score of 65; be in good physical condition and
have the following immunizations: Hepatitis B series, two MMRs and
PPD two-step testing process)
Mon/Wed* 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
C. Winfree 3/24 – 5/23
(*This class also includes some Saturdays & 2 weeks in Fairbanks)
Pick up a flyer from the DCAC or call for cost information for this class.

MICROSOFT ACCESS
1 CREDIT
Introduction to Access and database management. Learn basic database concepts, how to maintain and update databases, how to build and use queries and forms, and how to build reports.
Fridays 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
T. Porreca 4/25 – 5/23
$176 – $50 Partners for Progress Credit Voucher = $126

WRITING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
2 CREDITS
For students whose first language is not English, with an emphasis on writing large quantities of English and building the student’s confidence in communicating through written English.
Tues/Thurs 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
L. Ohlert 5/20 – 6/19
$356 – $100 Partners for Progress Credit Voucher = $256

SMALL BUSINESS SEMINARS
Seminars offered by video conference at DCAC.
Cost: $25.00 per session. Preregister at Delta Career Advancement Center. HOW TO GET A BUSINESS LOAN Take the “fear of the unknown” out of the loan process. We’ll explore nontraditional funding (family, crowd funding, other sources) and traditional funding (bank financial products) options that are available for your business. The workshop will emphasize developing a financial partnership with your lender through an understanding of the loan process. We will dissect the typical loan application and financial package, examine the loan closing process and review the ongoing requirements of a successful loan from the lenders perspective.
Thursday 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Talvi/Bauer 3/06/2014

STARTING A SMALL BUSINESS
Are you thinking about starting your own business? This workshop was built for you! We will cover basic issues faced when starting a small business such as business licensing, legal forms of business, business record-keeping, hiring employees, business planning, access to financing, identifying who the market is and developing a marketing plan. This and other Small Business Workshops will help guide you through the process of starting a small business.
Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Robinson/Swingle 3/27/2014

WRITING A BUSINESS PLAN
“Writing a Business Plan” shows you methods to establish budgets, create and evaluate various financials and monetary amounts or percentages that will help you measure your successes and failures, identifying who the market is and developing a marketing plan. This can also be an effective tool to obtain financing.
Thursday 9:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m.
Robinson/Swingle 4/03/2014

SOCIAL MEDIA/MOBILE MARKETING FOR SMALL BUSINESS
This two-hour workshop will help you better understand the social web and how a combination of social media marketing and communication strategies can help you increase brand awareness, connect better with customers and grow sales. You will leave with an up-to-date and valuable understanding of effective social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Instagram. If social media seems complicated, this class is for you! Thursday 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Blankenship/Wilken 4/10/2014

UNDERSTANDING/ACCESSING CREDIT AS A SMALL BUSINESS
How do you build your credit so you can get the capital you need to grow your business? This workshop will show you how to proactively improve your personal and business credit so you are more likely to be successful when you apply for that business credit card, line of credit or loan. Topics covered include; reporting for business and personal credit, ways to protect against credit fraud, systems to build stronger credit and what lenders are looking for when they review your credit.
Thursday 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Swingle/Talvi 4/24/2014

Special Acknowledgement to: Small Business Administration (SBA), Alaska Small Business Development Center (AKSBDC), Robinson & Associates PC, Fairbanks Economic Development Corp (FEDCo), SCORE.

CALL 895.4605 FOR MORE INFORMATION OR STOP BY TO REGISTER!

 

 

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2014 Delta Farm Forum Agenda

Saturday, February 22,
9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Delta Junction, Alaska Delta high School Small Gymnasium

Fred Schlutt, Director, UAF Cooperative Extension Service — Welcoming Speaker 

Bryce Wrigley, President, Alaska Farm Bureau — State of the State Address EPA ruling — Water        FDA New Feed and Grain Regulations         HB 202 and HB 207 Bio Fuels

Glen Holt, Eastern Alaska Forester, UAF Cooperative Extension Service — Forestry

Break

Nellie Troit, Midnight Sun Gardens — High Tunnels

Stan Decker, Mid-­‐Columbia Insurance, Inc. — Focus on Alaska Crops

FFA — Group Presentation  4-­‐H — Group Presentation Hailey McNabb — State Degree Speech

Potluck Luncheon — Guests are asked to follow this schedule when choosing a dish:  A–F = Pasta or Rice                     G–L = Salads  M–R = Vegetable or Fruit          S–Z = Desserts Main meat dishes, scalloped potatoes and dinner rolls will be provided through donations.

Ed Fogels, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Natural Resources — Food Security — Governors Working Group

Meghan Lene, Salcha-­‐Delta Soil and Water Conservation District, and  Phil Kaspari, UAF CES, Noxious Weed Program — Responsibilities for Success

Break

Salcha-­‐Delta Soil and Water Conservation District Rex Wrigley, Chair, SDSWCD Annual Report 2013 Cooperator of the Year

Adjourn

Vendor booths will be set up in the hallway with a variety of information available.

The 2014 Delta Farm Forum is co-sponsored by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service (UAF CES), Delta District, 894-4215, and the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District (SDSWCD), 895-6279. Both are located in the Jarvis Office Center in Delta Junction.

The Univeristy of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution.

 

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2014 Annual Delta Farm Forum

Fairbanks, Alaska—The annual Delta Farm Forum on Feb. 22 will highlight topics of interest to farmers and small producers.

The forum draws area growers and the community together to hear about the latest research, recommendations and agricultural agency news. The forum, which includes a potluck lunch, usually draws more than 100 participants.

Fred Schlutt, director of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, will welcome participants at 9 a.m. and presentations will run until 3:30 p.m. in the Delta Junction High School small gymnasium.

Ed Fogels, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, will talk about food security. Delta grain grower Bryce Wrigley, who is also president of the Alaska Farm Bureau, will discuss proposed state legislation, an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that affects wetlands, new feed and grain regulations and biofuels.

Delta vegetable grower Nellie Troit will talk about her experiences with high tunnels and the Natural Resources Conservation Service high tunnel program. Other topics will include forest resources, crop insurance and the conservation district’s noxious weed program. A full agenda is linked at www.uaf.edu/ces.

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service and the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District are co-sponsoring the 37th annual forum. For more information, call Extension’s Delta office at 895-4215 or the conservation district at 895-6279.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Phil Kaspari, Extension agriculture agent, at 907-895-4215 or by email at pnkaspari@alaska.edu.

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Mentor a Youth

As we start out the new year, we are all about setting New Year’s resolutions and improving ourselves. I want to challenge you to make a resolution to help a youth this coming year.

I found a recent article that I read disturbing. It said that in Fairbanks — one of the coldest places in the U.S. — we had 239 runaways and 80 homeless youth in 2012 and 2013 (Fairbanks North Star Borough School District). That doesn’t even begin to account for those youth who are lacking in positive adult supervision. Stop and remember when you were a child and what it meant to have an adult spend quality time with you. I know some of my favorite times were working on the farm with my dad, going shopping with my mom or getting sporting tips from my coaches. One-on-one time meant the world to me.

So this year, as we start off and make our resolutions, I want to challenge adults or older teens to take on the role of a mentor to a teen or a younger youth. Now this doesn’t mean you have to take them in or smother them, because we all know that we don’t like that. What I want is for you to notice that teen or youth who needs a little positive adult attention or could use a hand up.

Now let’s run through a list on how to track our resolution on this commitment:

- Make your goals fit your time. We are all very busy so we may not have time to do something every week; however, can you make a phone call or text once a week and then do something with the youth once a month? Think about what kind of time you can commit and lay out your plan.

- Keep at it. You need to set the time aside and if something comes up and you need to change your schedule, then change it. Don’t give up that month — reschedule and make it happen.

- Plan it out and stay flexible. Write out things that you think will work for the both of you that you will enjoy. You may only start with one thing and then build it over the year as you get to know the youth and what he or she likes to do. Put your plan where you can see it. It’s okay to leave some blanks and fill them in later or to fill them in and then change them — flexibility is a must.

- Track your plan. Write down somewhere when you notice changes in attitude or when the youth does positive things for you or others that were not typical before. Make a list that can be reviewed at the end of the year by yourself to see the difference you made.

- Keep it realistic. Make sure you set realistic goals. I will help _____ to feel better about their appearance or I will help _____ to improve their grade in English by two grades — a D to a B.

- Accountability is a must. It would be great if you could get another adult to commit to a similar goal and have them join you in the activities and to share in the belonging aspect. You could join a youth program like 4-H. This will also help you to be accountable for the plan that you have set forth. As a word of caution, never be alone with a youth you don’t know as a protection for the youth and for you.

- The feelings of belonging and self-worth are two of the greatest gifts we can give a person. So I hope you will help a youth out by giving these gifts this year. Help youths to believe in themselves and you will feel better about yourself also. I hope you will think seriously about this and look for that youth who needs a positive role model and adult influence in their lives and reach out to them.

To learn more about the 4-H program, contact Marla Lowder, Tanana District 4-H agent, UAF Cooperative Extension Service, at 474-2427 or mklowder@alaska.edu or Taylor Maida, 4-H program assistant at 474-1914 or temaida@alaska.edu.

 

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Seasoning Firewood Saves Money

This week, I’m turning over the column to Glen Holt, our Extension Forestry Agent. He is our expert on harvesting and burning wood. Here are his words of wisdom on the value of seasoned firewood.

Burning firewood can save money compared to using fuel oil for heat. If you burn firewood, would you like to save 20 percent or more on your wood?

A wood stove using seasoned firewood will save at least 20 to 40 percent on the wood budget. Many in Interior Alaska are turning back to locally abundant renewable forests to get less expensive heat. Seasoning firewood is about saving money, improving efficiency, saving wear and tear on your saws, gear and on your body. It’s also about improving air quality and conserving forest resources.

Getting the most value for your money means burning the wood only after it has been cured or “seasoned,” whether you cut your own, have it delivered log length and saw it up and split it yourself, or purchase wood cut and split. Live winter-cut trees contain about 40 percent moisture content. Timber cut in the summer or fall may have higher moisture content due to the sap being up in the tree. Seasoned firewood is 20 percent or less moisture content. Moisture content can be measured using a moisture meter, which may be purchased at local hardware stores.

Research by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks determined that firewood cut in spring, immediately split, stacked off the ground and covered will become seasoned firewood within six weeks to three months. It’s best to build stacks a couple of inches apart to allow for airflow. Seasoned wood remains cured if protected from rain on top and has plenty of airflow circulating through the stacks. Fall-cut and split firewood did not completely season over winter and had to finish during the warm summer to be seasoned by the following winter.

Burning unseasoned firewood means burning extra to cook off moisture still trapped in the wood in order to get the same heat value obtained from burning less wood that is seasoned. The same effective heat value is obtained from fewer cords of seasoned wood. You save at least 20 percent or more of your woodpile by burning it seasoned at 20 percent rather than unseasoned at 40 percent moisture content.

The following are just examples for comparison and only hypothetical.

If seasoned wood can be purchased, delivered, cut and split for $375/cord, it would cost $3,000 for eight cords. This wood should have been split to cure to 20 percent moisture content or less. If the difference between seasoned and unseasoned wood is 20 percent and 40 percent moisture content, 10 cords of unseasoned or wood is needed to have the same heat equivalent as eight cords of seasoned wood if burned immediately.

From our example: If unseasoned or “green” wood can be purchased, delivered, cut and split for $275/cord, it would cost $2,750 for 10 cords. In actual fact, less than a cord’s value in green wood is saved by burning 10 cords of green wood compared to eight cords of seasoned.

The Cold Climate and Housing Research Center also found that drying to get seasoned wood only really begins when the wood is also split. Stacking the wood off the ground and covering the top of the pile is recommended to help it dry and keep its cure.

Forest resources are conserved and our timber stands will last at least 20 percent longer by the conservation that comes from burning seasoned firewood. Our air quality will be enhanced, less wood is being burned to keep our homes warm and burning seasoned wood is not laden with moisture burned off by using it unseasoned. Using well-seasoned firewood is a personal decision that allows your household budget to go a lot further.

Glen Holt is the Eastern Alaska forester for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-5271 or by e-mail at ggholt@alaska.edu

 

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Pinching Pennies ~ Radon

Radon is invisible, odorless and tasteless, but it is far from harmless. It is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. January is Radon Action Month. Now is a perfect time to test for radon and plan mitigation procedures if they are needed. Radon testing is easiest and most effective in the winter months when houses are closed up for winter heating.

Radon is naturally occurring and is most often present in the rocky crags and ridges around Fairbanks. The radioactive gas formed as uranium breaks down in the rock or soil. Because it is a gas, it moves through spaces in the rock or soil and works its way into small cracks and holes in the foundation to get into your home. Even the smallest crack or opening can let radon enter.

Once it is in a home, people can breathe it into their lungs, where it can cause cell damage that may lead to lung cancer. This makes it particularly deadly when combined with cigarette smoke. A high level of radon and a smoker in the house combine to increase the chances of residents contracting lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon may cause 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

As many as one in 15 homes may have elevated radon levels. Though it is present in much of our housing stock, fixing the problem can come in at a reasonable cost. The cost of radon mitigation usually runs between $800 and $2,500 on an existing home, and protecting a new home from the start can be done for as little as $250 to $750.

Testing is the only way to determine whether you have a problem. Every home is different because of the soil it sits on, construction details and maintenance. Results of a neighbor’s radon test cannot tell you if you have a radon problem. In addition, if you remodel your home, weatherize it, change heating systems, add an exhaust fan, or experience an earthquake or flood, the radon level in your home may change and require another test.

Performing a radon test on your own is easy and inexpensive. Short-term tests are used for two to three days. These tests can give you an idea of the level of radon in your home, but the longer the test, the more accurate the results. Since radon levels tend to be variable, a longer testing period of three weeks to three months is recommended. For around $30 you can buy a short- or a long-term test to determine a single average radon level. If you want to hire a professional, for a few hundred dollars you can get a dynamic reading over three days.

Since this news column is about saving money, I want to share with you how you can test your home at no cost. The Cooperative Extension Service has received a grant that will purchase testing kits that will be given out to a sampling of folks who attend our educational events in January. You can attend one of our programs and your name goes in a hat for aJan. 2 at the 17 Mile Homemakers meeting at the Senior Center. If you have a civic or church group that you would like one of us to speak at, give us a yell at 474-5854 and we’ll be glad to come. free testing kit.

We will prespurchase testing kits that will be given out to a sampling of folks who attend our educational events in January. You can attend one of our programs and your name goes in a hat ent radon programs in Fairbanks at 5:30 p.m.  Jan. 15 at the Schaible Auditorium on the UAF campus and at noon Jan. 29 in the Noel Wien Library. If you live in North Pole, we will be talking about radon at noon Jan. 8 at the North Pole City Hall and at 11 a.m. Jan. 2 at the 17 Mile Homemakers meeting at the Senior Center. If you have a civic or church group that you would like one of us to speak at, give us a yell at 474-5854 and we’ll be glad to come.

You can reduce radon in your home by up to 99 percent by simply sealing cracks and other openings. For more information, see our new publication on Radon (RAD-00760), which is available online or at the Extension office at 724 27th Ave. in Fairbanks.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Record Keeping and Taxes for Agricultural Businesses Workshop ~ Jan 14

A Brown Bag Workshop

The workshop will cover record-keeping requirements of the Internal Revenue Service and tax planning and preparation. Topics will include: – depreciation rules for agricultural businesses – domestic production activities deduction – soil and water conservation expenses – forestation and reforestation costs – the dreaded hobby loss rule

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Cost: $25

Taught by Paul Robinson, CPA Robinson and Associates

Training will be offered LIVE in Fairbanks:

Tanana District office 724 27th Ave, Ste. 2 & 3

Register online at http://bit.ly/ces-workshops or contact Kathryn Dodge at 907-474-6497 or kdodge@alaska.edu

Co-sponsored by the UAF Cooperative Extension Service and the UAF Community and Technical College

Videoconferencing at the following locations:
Delta: Delta Career Advancement Center
Homer: Kachemak Bay Campus, Room 103
Soldotna: 158 Brockel, Kenai River Campus
Palmer: Matanuska Experiment Farm
Valdez: Public library
Kenny Lake: Public Library

 www.uaf.edu/ces or 1-877-520-5211

UAF is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution.

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Pesticide Training Scheduled

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service will offer three certification and recertification trainings for pesticide applicators.

Jan. 15 is the deadline to sign up for the first session, which will be offered by videoconference Jan. 21-23 in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Delta Junction and other communities as requested. Classes will meet from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an exam scheduled on Jan. 24.

Other trainings with the same material will be offered evenings March 24-27 and during
the daytime April 28-30. These videoconference sessions will also be offered in Fairbanks, Anchorage and other requested locations.

Delta agriculture agent Phil Kaspari, other Extension agents and the Department of Environmental Conservation will teach the classes. The state requires certification for anyone who acts as a pesticide consultant or engages in the commercial or contract use
of a pesticide. Certification is also required for individuals who use or sell restricted-use pesticides.

The cost is $30 plus additional fees for study materials, which are available through Extension offices or online. Register and order study materials at http://bit.ly/ces-workshops. Students are encouraged to become familiar with the materials and math needed prior to the training session.

For more information and to request another location, contact Janice Chumley at 907-262-5824 or jichumley@alaska.edu.

ON THE WEB: www.uaf.edu/ces/ah/psep

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Pinching Pennies ~ Recylce After the Holidays

Let’s face it, we have a lot of fun buying or making gifts and giving them to family, friends and co-workers. But the day after Christmas trash cans are bursting with wrapping, boxes and bags. Holiday dinners or parties have their impact on our trash cans, too — cans and packaging, paper plates, plastic cups and plastic ware.

We could do something a little bit different. We could try to use less packaging or recycle wrap. Put out all your silverware first and follow up with plastic ware when you run out. We could also recycle as much of the debris as we can.

There are several recycling options available in Fairbanks — the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, K&K Recycling, Safeway, Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart to name a few. You can download a comprehensive Fairbanks recycling list from www.iagreenstar.org.

Recycling takes a little more planning, thought and effort. The bottom line is that it really does some good, so it’s worth it. Most centers ask that the recyclables be separated and cleaned or rinsed. Look below to see how you can reduce the impact on the landfill this holiday season.

UAF has numerous dumpsters for paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, tin and clothing in the Taku parking lot. Reusable clothing can be placed in the “Closet Collections” bin. They are now located at the north end of the parking lot and they do fill up fast so you may have to save your recycles for another day. UAF has the same conditions as K&K Recycling, check it out below. For more information, look at www.uaf.edu/sustainability/getinvolved/recycle/.

K&K Recycling Inc. accepts recyclable goods Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 488-1409. They accept cardboard, paper, plastic, glass bottles, jars, aluminum and tin. All bottles, cans and plastic containers should be rinsed and labels removed from tin cans. Please remove all lids from plastic and glass containers.

Do not include containers from products that are poisonous, such as weed or bug killer, containers from products that would cause a chemical burn, or containers from products with an oil base, such as lamp oil or motor oil. Do not recycle cans under pressure such as aerosol, solvent, propane fuel canisters or spray paint; medical waste or needles; oil filters or used oil; batteries; tires; or oil-based products such as cooking oil.

The Alaska Rag Company receives clothing that is no longer wearable and recycles them into rugs. Call 451-4401 for information.

The Fairbanks Resource Agency collects clothing that can be reused.

The Recycling Center at 723 27th Ave. is part of the Fairbanks Rescue Mission. It is open to the general public and recyclables can be dropped off anytime in designated bins. A public drive-through is available Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some of the mission residents are available to help you unload.

Local businesses may arrange a special drop-off (Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or can arrange for special pickups. Contact Stacy Strubinger, operations manager, at 452-5343, ext. 110, to schedule.

The mission accepts the following recyclables that have been sorted:  aluminum beverage containers, flattened cardboard boxes, and newspapers and newspaper inserts. It also accepts clean and dry mixed paper, including white or colored paper, books, magazines, phone books, junk mail, egg cartons, shiny, waxy cardboard and cereal boxes, beverage boxes and pizza boxes.

The mission also accepts empty and clean plastic PETE containers (with the number 1 on the bottom), such as salad dressing, soda, juice and water bottles. Take the lids off and dispose of them. Other recyclables include rinsed plastic HDPE containers without the lids or tops, like milk jugs, cat litter containers and laundry detergent jugs or anything with the number 2 on the bottom.

Safeway, Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer accept plastic grocery bags. Think about reusing the bags you have accumulated or use reusable bags for shopping.

There are many benefits to reusing and recycling. Recycling can create new jobs and manufacturing materials. It definitely helps reduce the amount of space required for our landfill. Think about how you can help by taking the steps necessary to put a plan in place. Make reducing and recycling a part of your New Year’s resolutions.

Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-2429 or mkmunsell@alaska.edu.

 

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Pinching Pennies ~ Financial Resolutions

2014 is just around the corner and New Year’s resolutions are next. Though many resolutions are in the dustbin by the end of the month, people seem to have more luck with keeping financial resolutions. According to a survey by Fidelity, nearly half of those making New Year’s financial resolutions keep them, mostly. The actual number is that 46 percent of those who make financial resolutions keep 80 percent of the resolution. Not bad when you compare it to the number of weight loss resolutions that we don’t keep.

Of those who answered the survey, 52 percent resolved to save more, 19 percent to spend less and 19 percent to pay old debt. These are all great ways to enter into the new year in the black. In that vein, I’d like to offer five New Year’s resolutions to help you have a more financially fit 2014.

Set a spending budget. Many of us have no idea where we are spending our money. There must be gremlins that are emptying my checking account. The first step is to track your expenses to see where your money is going. Then make sure that you are really spending your money on the important things. Don’t even think of it as a budget — more like a spending plan. Plan where your money goes and make sure you stick to the plan

Reduce your bills. Take a good look at where your money is going. Are there ways to reduce your bills? Do you use all the cable television features you are paying for? Are you paying for a gym membership (or movie subscription) that you aren’t using? If so, cancel it. The less you spend on bills, the more is available for other things.

Ditch the credit card debt. As we are coming off the holidays and are shocked by what we managed to charge in the holiday season, this is the time to get your debt under control. The average American carries almost $8,000 in credit card debt. That much debt will cost you nearly $1,000 in interest this year. So set up a plan to get rid of that debt. If you owe $8,000 that would be $670 a month to pay it off. That is a hefty payment, but if you can manage to get rid of the debt, next year you can save that $1,000. Since you are accustomed to coming up with $670 a month to reduce the debt, just keep on saving it and add it to your savings account.

Start an emergency fund. Emergencies happen — the car breaks down, the plumbing leaks or you have an unplanned trip to the emergency room. All these unexpected expenses can throw the budget out of whack if you don’t have any money saved. The average cost of unexpected expenses annually is about $2,000 per household, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Make sure that you have that much money in an emergency fund to keep you from having to put more expenses on the credit card.

Set a saving budget. Once you have the emergency fund established, start saving for the bigger things. You might consider having money taken from your paycheck and placed in a savings account. You won’t miss what you never see. Or have it taken from your checking account. I have a regular withdrawal taken from my checking account. I never even notice when it goes, but the savings account is adding up quite nicely.

Let’s start the new year with money in the bank and a plan to keep improving your financial fitness through 2014.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Genetically Modified Organisms and Choices in Alaska

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) seem to be getting a lot of press right now and many people have strong opinions about the creation and use of GMOs. At first blush, moving genes from people to bacteria or bacteria to plants seems like science fiction. And it is easy to ignore the complexities of the issue by adding the prefix “Franken” to anything genetically engineered. The purpose of this column is to provide background information that will help further an understanding of what GMOs are and what the consequences of their use could be.

Genetic modification is more accurately described as genetic engineering or creating recombinant DNA. For the rest of this article, the phrase genetic engineering will be used to describe the case where genetic codes are being inserted into organisms to obtain a goal. And from here on, we will ask, “What are the consequences, both good and bad, of genetic engineering?”

Here are three examples of genetic engineering: In the 1980s, the genes for the production of human insulin were inserted into a certain type of bacteria. Additional genetic changes kept the bacteria producing the insulin even though the bacteria could not use it. Pure human insulin is isolated from the process and used by people with Type 1 and sometimes with Type 2 diabetes. Prior to this time, insulin was obtained from cows and pigs. What are the consequences? Diabetics now receive human insulin and side effects, such as allergies to foreign proteins from pig and cow insulin, have declined.

In the 1990s genes from bacteria that break down glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup™) were inserted into corn. Additionally, copies of a gene that produce the enzyme that glyphosate reacts with were added. The result was a corn plant that will survive applications of an herbicide that kills almost all other plants. What are the consequences? Weed control in these crops became very easy, effective and cheap, resulting in higher corn yields and reducing the use of many other herbicides. Widespread use of this technology in corn, soybean, cotton, and sugar beets has selected for weed varieties that, due to natural mutations, are resistant to glyphosate. Pollen from these herbicide-resistant corn plants has crossed with organic corn, resulting in the loss of organic certification.

In the 2000s corn genes were inserted into rice that caused it to produce beta-carotene and vitamin A, giving the rice grains a golden color. This “Golden Rice 2” was developed by the company Syngenta and they have donated the rice to breeders and scientists. What are the potential consequences? This rice will provide enough vitamin A to reduce the amount of child blindness in poor populations where rice is a staple crop and where an estimated 500,000 children go blind every year due to vitamin A deficiency in the diet. In the examples above, there are consequences — good, bad, and unknown — to the use of genetic engineering. As a society and as Alaskans, we must decide what other possible types of genetic engineering are acceptable to us based on a careful calculation of the benefits and the costs. We will need to decide when it is and when it is not important to label foods as genetically engineered. At present too much arguing is happening between people who do not see the harm and people who do not see the good. Each new creation must be debated on its merits and that debate must be honest, open and candid because there often is not a clearly positive or clearly negative overall consequence.

Steven Seefeldt is the Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He can be reached at 907-474-2423 or ssseefeldt@alaska.edu.

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Pinching Pennies ~ T’was the Week Before Christmas

T’was the week before Christmas and all through the home
Not a present was found, I admitted with a groan
The stockings were empty, the cupboards were bare
Oh, how can I tell my kinfolks that I care?

We’ve all been to that point. The list is still long and the budget is at almost zero. So what do you do to finish your list without breaking the bank?

First, go back and examine that shopping list. Make sure that you really need to give a gift to everyone on your list. It might be that some of those on your list are just as cash strapped this year as you are. So they might be relieved that you propose that no presents are to be exchanged.

Now that the list is pared down, it’s time to get to work. There are many ways to give presents and pay nothing (or just a little bit). Think about your talents and how you can share them. Give the gift of a skill. Teach someone to sew, plant a garden or make Christmas candy. Or think about downloading their pictures or setting up the computer to automatically back up online. I always told my kids when they said they had no money for presents, “I have a dirty car, a dirty refrigerator and a dirty house. Pick any of the above to clean and I’d love it.”

Give the gift of time. How about a gift certificate for the neighbors for a night of babysitting? Or a Saturday trip to the museum or another special activity for a child in your life? Make a certificate that the recipient can present when they want the gift.   How about creating a family recipe book? Take everyone’s favorite family recipes, put them on the computer and make a cookbook. Include who makes it and when it is normally served. If you’d like, give them one of the recipes already made up.

Calendars are another great idea. There are templates online to use or you can buy blanks from the craft store. Download some family pictures, add special dates and you’ve got a great present that will really be used. My daughter does a calendar with the latest pictures of her kids and lots of family dates each year for the grandparents and other kinfolks.

A memory jar was a great present that one of my friends did for me. She had asked friends to write down a memory that they had with me and put it on a card about the size of a business card. Then the instructions were that I was to pull out one of the little slips each day and read it. It was a great way to relive some wonderful memories. Think about doing something similar for an elder and letting all the family contribute a memory or maybe even a picture. 

How about a custom spice rub for fish or meat? A friend did a sampler of 3 different rubs for last year’s present for just a few dollars per gift. Buy bulk spices in the store, mix them up and put in a small jar. Give them with instructions for use. There are lots of recipes on the Internet, or I have a publication with a variety of spice mixtures. Call us at the office and we’ll be glad to share.

Nice presents don’t have to cost a bundle. Use your imagination, talents and a little time to fill your list with money to spare.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Deferred Interest Cards

The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend $602 billion during the holiday shopping season. This is an increase of 37 percent over last year. How you pay for this shopping spree can affect your finances for the rest of the year. Credit card companies are getting quite creative in enticing you into purchasing during the holidays. Deferred interest cards are the latest entry into the crowded credit card market. Knowing exactly how this type of card works will help you make the decision of whether it is a good choice for you.

Deferred interest cards are advertised as “0 percent financing for 6 months” or “special financing.” These cards defer interest for a specified time from 6 to 18 months. The devil is in the details, however. Deferred interest credit cards allow you to pay for your purchases interest free for a certain amount of time. It sounds like a good deal, but there is a catch. If you don’t pay off the whole amount within the specified period, you owe interest on the whole purchase price, even the part you have already paid off. The interest rates are also at much higher rates, many as high as 25 percent.

Let’s check an example of how it could work. Say you spend $1,000 on a couple of big ticket items for Christmas. If you choose to use your regular credit card at 15 percent (today’s average rate) and pay it off in one year, you will pay $86 per month and a total of $88 interest. The deferred rate credit card if paid within the 12-month period would be $83.40 per month, with no interest costs. If life intervenes, as it often does, and you take 13 months to pay for it, the cost goes up considerably. You will pay $107 per month and will be responsible for a total of $109 in interest when you are paying the 25 percent rate that is common on deferred payment cards.  

Take these costs into consideration when you think about taking advantage of some of the sales during the season. When you add the cost of financing — no matter what type of credit card you use — it may easily negate any savings you might get on those holiday sales.  

How do you know exactly what the terms are on any credit card? The small print on the information that comes with the credit card will tell you the terms. But the terms are often complicated to understand and in microscopic print that is difficult to read. At least, the same information is available on the web and you can increase the font where it is readable. A recent study by J.D. Powers found that only 47 percent of us know what the terms of our credit card are. Not knowing can put you at serious peril in your financial life. If you don’t know the terms on your credit cards, now is the time to find out exactly what they are. Make it your new year’s resolution to find out the terms on your card.  

Deferred interest credit cards can be an excellent tool to finance a short-term purchase, but only if you can pay it off within the specified time period. It takes planning and discipline to use these cards to your advantage.  

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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It’s Time for Soup

As the temperature goes down, I crave warm tea and soup. Soups are an opportunity to fit more vegetables into your day. They are a way to find comfort with a little less expense. A good pot of soup can be made with less expensive cuts of meat or smaller amounts of leftover meat.

It is fun to play with different herbs and spices to create different flavors. Italian soups sing with oregano, marjoram and rosemary. Greek soups often marry the flavors of dill, oregano and lemon. Thai soups feature lemongrass, basil and chilies. Mexican soups create heady aromas with a generous dash of cumin, chili powder and a touch of oregano. Most soups benefit from generous amounts of garlic. Herbs and spices not only add flavor and depth to soups but they also carry antioxidant value.

On one of our Family Nutrition Program outreach cards, we have a recipe for Cream of Anything Soup. I love that recipe and use it often to clean out the refrigerator. Soup is a great way to use up leftovers that have been hanging around two or three days. By letting your creative juices flow, you can have dinner on the table in less than half an hour if you are using precooked meat. It doesn’t take much time to cut up a few vegetables (if you don’t have leftover veggies to use up). And it is even faster to use frozen vegetables. So here is the recipe for Cream of Anything Soup.

Combine the following in a pot and simmer until vegetables are desired doneness: 2 cups water or broth; 2-3 cups any vegetable or a mixture of vegetables (roughly chopped); 1 small onion (diced); 1 tsp. salt or to taste; 1/8 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. garlic powder; and 1-2 tsp. herbs like thyme or marjoram. As this mixture is simmering, mix 4 tablespoons flour, thoroughly, into 1 1/2 cups milk. Add to soup with 1/2 to 1 cup of cooked chicken, pork or beef if you want meat in your soup. Boil gently for a minute or two until the soup thickens. Can be served with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and/or grated cheese.

This creamy soup can be turned into a curry by using a can of coconut milk instead of regular milk and substituting a tablespoon or so curry powder, or a couple teaspoons curry paste, for the herbs. Fresh basil brings a wonderful brightness to a curry.

If you prefer clear soups instead of creamy soups, you can use broth for all of the liquid mentioned above. Play with different combinations of meat and vegetables. Add a can of diced tomatoes for part of the liquid. If you prefer thinner soups, skip the flour.

You can also plan to have leftover vegetables for a particular soup. Cook more than you need one night so you’ll have plenty available one or two days later. Roasted vegetables give a whole new dimension to a soup or stew. A cup of cooked or canned, rinsed beans add fiber and heartiness, such as garbanzo beans in minestrone. Wonderful Italian-type soups can be made with cannoli or navy beans, too.

Add thinly sliced kale to really kick up the nutrient value of any soup. Another nutritional powerhouse is seaweed. Dried wakame seaweed can be sprinkled in a chicken soup, simmering it long enough to rehydrate and cook it. It can be the main vegetable in a miso soup or an interesting side note in a Thai fish soup.

There are very few rules to follow when making a good pot of soup. But one is to think about the texture of the ingredients or how you want the texture to be in the finished product. Raw, dense root vegetables should be added to the pot first to give them a chance to cook. Add raw, less dense vegetables, such as zucchini and summer squash, later. Adding cooked, diced meat toward the end will help keep the integrity of the meat. The more you cook it, the more it will shred.

Dry herbs can be added toward the beginning of the process so they can rehydrate and release their flavors. Fresh herbs should not be added until the last 5 or so minutes, in my opinion. You can actually lose much of the flavor and color of fresh herbs by overcooking them.

So pull out a pot, rummage through the refrigerator and see what delightful concoctions you can come up with in the name of soup.

Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-2429 or mkmunsell@alaska.edu.

 

As the temperature goes down, I crave warm tea and soup. Soups are an opportunity to fit more vegetables into your day. They are a way to find comfort with a little less expense. A good pot of soup can be made with less expensive cuts of meat or smaller amounts of leftover meat.

It is fun to play with different herbs and spices to create different flavors. Italian soups sing with oregano, marjoram and rosemary. Greek soups often marry the flavors of dill, oregano and lemon. Thai soups feature lemongrass, basil and chilies. Mexican soups create heady aromas with a generous dash of cumin, chili powder and a touch of oregano. Most soups benefit from generous amounts of garlic. Herbs and spices not only add flavor and depth to soups but they also carry antioxidant value.

On one of our Family Nutrition Program outreach cards, we have a recipe for Cream of Anything Soup. I love that recipe and use it often to clean out the refrigerator. Soup is a great way to use up leftovers that have been hanging around two or three days. By letting your creative juices flow, you can have dinner on the table in less than half an hour if you are using precooked meat. It doesn’t take much time to cut up a few vegetables (if you don’t have leftover veggies to use up). And it is even faster to use frozen vegetables. So here is the recipe for Cream of Anything Soup.

Combine the following in a pot and simmer until vegetables are desired doneness: 2 cups water or broth; 2-3 cups any vegetable or a mixture of vegetables (roughly chopped); 1 small onion (diced); 1 tsp. salt or to taste; 1/8 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. garlic powder; and 1-2 tsp. herbs like thyme or marjoram. As this mixture is simmering, mix 4 tablespoons flour, thoroughly, into 1 1/2 cups milk. Add to soup with 1/2 to 1 cup of cooked chicken, pork or beef if you want meat in your soup. Boil gently for a minute or two until the soup thickens. Can be served with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and/or grated cheese.

This creamy soup can be turned into a curry by using a can of coconut milk instead of regular milk and substituting a tablespoon or so curry powder, or a couple teaspoons curry paste, for the herbs. Fresh basil brings a wonderful brightness to a curry.

If you prefer clear soups instead of creamy soups, you can use broth for all of the liquid mentioned above. Play with different combinations of meat and vegetables. Add a can of diced tomatoes for part of the liquid. If you prefer thinner soups, skip the flour.

You can also plan to have leftover vegetables for a particular soup. Cook more than you need one night so you’ll have plenty available one or two days later. Roasted vegetables give a whole new dimension to a soup or stew. A cup of cooked or canned, rinsed beans add fiber and heartiness, such as garbanzo beans in minestrone. Wonderful Italian-type soups can be made with cannoli or navy beans, too.

Add thinly sliced kale to really kick up the nutrient value of any soup. Another nutritional powerhouse is seaweed. Dried wakame seaweed can be sprinkled in a chicken soup, simmering it long enough to rehydrate and cook it. It can be the main vegetable in a miso soup or an interesting side note in a Thai fish soup.

There are very few rules to follow when making a good pot of soup. But one is to think about the texture of the ingredients or how you want the texture to be in the finished product. Raw, dense root vegetables should be added to the pot first to give them a chance to cook. Add raw, less dense vegetables, such as zucchini and summer squash, later. Adding cooked, diced meat toward the end will help keep the integrity of the meat. The more you cook it, the more it will shred.

Dry herbs can be added toward the beginning of the process so they can rehydrate and release their flavors. Fresh herbs should not be added until the last 5 or so minutes, in my opinion. You can actually lose much of the flavor and color of fresh herbs by overcooking them.

So pull out a pot, rummage through the refrigerator and see what delightful concoctions you can come up with in the name of soup.

Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-2429 or mkmunsell@alaska.edu.

 

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Pinching Pennies ~ Christmas Shopping

Thanksgiving week starts the traditional ramp-up to the holiday shopping season. Many of us will line up at the crack of dawn on Thursday or Friday (maybe both) to spend our hard-earned money. There is a psychology related to shopping and the spending of money. By understanding why we buy, perhaps we can reduce our spending habits.

Merchandizers attract consumers into their stores with all those brightly colored ads that will come out in our newspaper this week. They also employ several psychological triggers that cause us to shop and buy. Here are a few.

Limited offers. “Strict limit of five per customer” is the wording I saw on a commercial this week. The idea that the supply is limited makes us want to get our share. “Sales ending soon” is a variation on this theme. Why else would we be up at the store at 5 a.m.?

Gifts with a purchase. An Amazon gift card is given with the purchase of every computer. It seems like we are getting something for free. It only costs $2,000 for that free $20 gift card. The idea of a free item makes us pull out our credit cards.

Door buster deals. Many of the extra special prices advertised on Black Friday are often in limited supply. These special prices are set just to lure you into the store. When you get to the store and the special items are sold out, you will probably pick up something else that might not be as good a deal.

It makes us feel good. Shopping has a direct effect on the brain’s pleasure centers. It floods the brain with dopamine and we respond just as an addict does to a hit.

Sales emails. Have you started getting those holiday emails yet? Your inbox will be flooded with special emails, sometimes several per day from the same company. The more you look over the deals, the more likely you are to buy.

Sales prices. Research has shown that a 50 percent off sign can lead to increased sales, even if the consumer doesn’t know the original price or even what the price should be.

Store credit cards. If you use a store card, you might get an additional discount. But that discount comes at the price of a higher interest rate. The average interest rate on a credit card is 15 percent while many of the store cards range from 24 to 30 percent. You’ll pay for that discount several times over.

Smells sell. Traditional Christmas smells and tastes attract customers. The smell of baking cookies, roasting chestnuts and evergreen trees all entice you into buying. They stimulate the saliva glands, which makes shoppers hungry. Hungry shoppers buy — and not just food and drinks.

How the sales person talks to you. If the sales person asks which you prefer, you often go right past the “should I?” to “which one?”

Shopping is the name of the game this time of year. Make sure that you make conscious decisions about the items you want to buy, not unconscious ones.

Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is a professor of extension on the Tanana District Extension Faculty. Questions or column requests can be emailed to her at rrdinstel@alaska.edu or by calling 907-474-2426. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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