Category Archives: University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service

Pinching Pennies ~ Christmas Budget

The holidays are on the way, and most of us are getting ready for the idea that we are once again going to go off the rails on our budget. With just a little planning and some action on your behalf, you can live within your Christmas budget.

First, you need to make a plan. Include everything you foresee spending money on during the holidays — gifts, wrapping paper, charitable donations, entertaining, and travel. Be sure to include gifts for family friends, and co-workers.

Talk to your family about Christmas plans. If you are going to be short of money this year, consider drawing names, forgoing gifts or even just preparing gifts for the children on your list. If everyone is in on the plan, it is less likely that anyone will be surprised, offended or hurt.

Look for economies. Maybe you can make some gifts, but be sure to include the cost of raw materials in the planning. That jar of jelly comes at a cost of jars, sugar, fruits and even the cost of electricity to prepare it. I love to make my Christmas presents, but sometimes I spend as much on the raw materials as buying a gift. But on the plus side, the quality of gift I give is way above what I could buy for the same money.

Now it is time to make sense of the budget. You know how much you need, now how much do you have to make this season joyful? Make an estimate of what it costs to fill the list. You may have to do a little more economizing at this point. What can you cut or do at a lower cost to reduce costs? Prioritize the list to cover the most important items.

Take stock of what you already have. Gift wrap left from last year? How about some presents you squirreled back from those after-Christmas sales? Or do you have some stray gifts around that someone else might like? Regifting is not a sin, if someone else would enjoy it more than you would.

Think about free gifts. I have a friend who gave cherished family glassware and dishes for Christmas presents. The best part of the gift was that she told them where the heirloom came from and who it originally belonged to. The story was the real gift. Her family appreciated that far above any small gift she could have purchased for them.

If you have trouble controlling your buying when you are in the store, consider techniques that help you keep spending in check. Don’t put gifts on the credit cards, only spend what you have cash money to cover. Consider using an envelope system. Write a name or a spending category (donations, entertaining, etc.) on the envelope with the money inside that you have planned for that item. Spend exclusively from the envelope, not from your checking account or credit card. When the money is gone, you are done. If you only put your budget dollars in there, you will not overspend.

Cut out unnecessary items. Make a pact to spend money on only those things that you enjoy and cherish during the holidays. Don’t feel obligated to host that open house you always do or attend a holiday soiree if it isn’t your favorite thing. Your family might enjoy a quiet day home with an old movie and hot chocolate more than that expensive production. Do only what brings you joy.

This year make sure you stay within your budget and enjoy all your favorite activities as the holiday season rolls around.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Valuable Papers

During the recent Financial Fitness Fair in Fairbanks, we were offered an opportunity to shred any sensitive financial documents that needed to be destroyed. Many people visited with me concerning what documents could be shredded and which needed to be kept. Knowing what can be discarded can help you keep the paper tsunami down and allow you to keep the valuable papers you need.

The short answer is that you should keep all papers that you might need to prove ownership of something, anything that establishes your identity, income tax records and even things that you need for future reference.

Let’s look at some particular instances that you might need to know about.

Tax records. The Internal Revenue Service can audit your records up to three years. So all your income tax records should be kept for three years after filing. That means right now we should have all those records from 2011 till now. However, the IRS can audit you up to six years later if you have underreported your income by 25 percent, filed a fraudulent return or if you failed to file. Supporting documents should be kept with your returns.

Property documents. My son spent some time this week replacing the title to a vehicle that had been misplaced. Had he done a better job of keeping up with the title, that money and time would have been saved. Keep titles to cars, deeds and household inventories as long as you own the property. Inventories are particularly valuable in establishing ownership in case of loss for insurance claims. Remember that household inventories can be made with a camera as well as by paper.

Identity documents. Items like birth certificates, adoption papers, citizenship, death certificates, divorce decrees, educational records and Social Security cards all should be kept in a safe place and should be kept permanently.

Guarantees and warranty. There’s nothing worse than not being able reset that clock after the electricity is interrupted. Keep instruction books, guarantees and warranties on all appliances and technology that you are using in your home. But go through that file or drawer to discard those that are no longer in use. In my efforts to clean out, I found the instruction books on four coffeemakers. Only one is in use now, so the others were discarded.

Insurance policies. What is covered in case of an accident? Knowing what is covered will save you time and frustration in dealing with accidents and insurance companies.

So, what can we throw away? Annually you can discard old bank statements, cancelled checks and receipts not needed for income tax purposes, records of discarded equipment, expired warranties and paperwork on anything that you have discarded.

How should these items be discarded? If it has any personal information on it, it should be shredded or cut into small pieces and scattered through several bags of trash. You cannot be too careful when it comes to your identity.

Now is the time to get your papers in order. Soon it will be the end of the year and we’ll once again be preparing our tax records. Now is the time to lay the framework so it will be easier.

Cooperative Extension has some great publications on home records that you’ll want to pick up, either online at www.uaf.edu/ces or at our Tanana District office at 724 27th Ave.

· “Keeping Home Records: What to Discard” will help you decide what you should keep and discard.

· “Valuable Papers Inventory” will give you an organized list of all those papers you should keep and be able to lay your hands on them immediately.

· “Replacing Valuable Papers” gives you information on how and where to go to replace those papers you are missing.

Be sure to sort, store and take care of all your valuable papers.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ No Cost Energy

Winter is here. Our boilers are working full time to keep up with the lowering temperatures outside. Let’s think about ways to save energy without spending any money.

Being comfortable in a house is somewhat of a brain game. The trick is in feeling warmer, and you can use principles of heat transfer to help you feel warmer, even though it may not actually be warmer.

Think of these heat transfer principles: Different surfaces feel warmer or colder; for example, metal feels cooler than wood, even at the same temperature. Hot air rises and cold air hugs the ground. The sun warms surfaces through passive solar energy even when it isn’t very warm outside.

Knowing these methods of transferring heat or cold will allow you to feel warmer even when temperatures are downright frosty. Try these ways to feel warmer.

Cover bare floors. An area rug on a wood or hard tile floor will make your feet feel warmer.

Unblock the heat vents or radiator. If heat is being absorbed by the sofa in front of the radiator, you won’t get warm. Rearrange furniture to allow for maximum heat gain in the room. Dust also absorbs the heat, so vacuum out all that dirt and you’ll feel warmer

Block drafts. Weatherstripping or other forms of insulation will keep the cold air where it belongs — outside. Use the dollar test. Shut the door on a crisp bill and it should resist you as you pull the bill out. If not, replace the weatherstripping. Leaks around outside doors or at the threshold can really cool off a house. If the door leaks along the bottom (where it hits the threshold of the frame), use a folded blanket to stop the leak. Or fill an old sock with rice or beans and put it at the bottom of the door. This is particularly important when the door might be a little out of level.

Warm the space you spend the most time in. Lower the thermostat in most of the house and raise the temperature only in the areas where you spend more time. By the same token, it is a good idea to shut off those rooms in the house that you aren’t using. However, make sure that you don’t keep the temperature so low that it will compromise your heating system. Some people choose space heaters to keep the most-occupied parts of the house warm, but space heaters can use a lot of power. If you choose to use a space heater, make sure it is an efficient one.

Bundle up. Wear warm clothes. Opt for long sleeves, sweatshirts, sweatpants and socks, and don’t forget the slippers — you’ll feel warmer. Keep spare blankets in the living room to snuggle under and you’ll be able to drop the thermostat several degrees.

Let in some light. If the sun is shining outside, open the window blinds to allow heat gain from the sun. When the sun goes down, it is a good idea to cover the windows to keep the cooler temperatures outside. You might consider using a clear plastic film on the window glass to form an air barrier.

Warm your bed. Use an electric blanket or lots of fluffy covers on the bed to keep you warm while you sleep. Most people sleep better when they are in a cooler room, so keep the bed warm, not the room.

Stir the air. If you have a ceiling fan, turn it on to bring the hot air down to where you are sitting.

Use the oven and the stove — not to heat the house, but to cook. The warmth that spills out into the kitchen will make you feel warmer and will give your family a nice, warm meal to come home to. The tantalizing smells will help you warm up as well.

These simple steps will help you feel warmer and keep your heating bills down. You won’t have to rely on raising the thermostat to be warmer this winter.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Who Will Farm

Who will farm Alaska’s abundant farmland? This is a question that I have been grappling with ever since I arrived in Fairbanks about 10 years ago. It seems inevitable that with an increasing human population, the loss of farmland elsewhere and our slowly improving road and railroad infrastructure, the millions of acres of potential farmland in Alaska is going to be producing crops.

There are more than 750 farmers and ranchers in Alaska right now and the numbers have been increasing steadily over the last few years. Most are small operations with people working regular jobs to support their families, but there are a number that farm as their only source of income. And some of those have enough to sell to the large grocery stores in the state. Peony growers have established a growing export market and rhodiola growers may soon follow. There has been talk about a disease-free export potato seed market to Asia and other regions.

What will the future bring? Will more small farmers and ranchers continue to start up and slowly grow? Will there be new agriculture projects like the one that brought Midwest farmers to the Matanuska Valley and a state effort in Delta Junction? Will large corporations, (e.g. Simplot) or foreign countries buy up hundreds of thousands of acres to export products for their own profit or needs?

This past summer Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education state Professional Development Program directors held a meeting in Fairbanks that focused on projects to aid agriculture professionals. Along with the Extension agents, in attendance were board members who farm in the West. During farm tours in Fairbanks and Delta Junction, it was obvious that they were seeing potential that was novel to me.

One rancher, in response to a question about how he would ranch here, spoke about a cattle operation he could set up that would bring calves up in the spring to feed on pastures and send the carcasses out in the autumn for sale outside. There would be no expenses for overwintering animals and few jobs for Alaskans. Is that what we want for the future of agriculture on our millions of farmable acreage?

Another farmer spoke about advertising in colleges of agriculture to attract the sons and daughters of farmers to bring their expertise and money to expand agriculture in Alaska. Certainly we can teach them how to farm in our ecosystem. Should we do this?

My daughter and son-in-law, who just moved to Seattle, bought a large bag of fruit and vegetables for $7 from a nearby fruit and vegetable stand. At the same time I bought five smallish apples for $7.50 up here at a big grocery store. It seems to me that shipping all this food from elsewhere to Alaska is crazy. There is so much we can grow here and as farm sizes increase it seems food prices should decrease. Do we want more agriculture? And who do we want doing the farming and ranching — local startups, experienced farmers, big corporations, etc.? Should we be sitting back and watching things happen or should Alaskans attempt to direct the growth?

In speaking with many Alaska farmers and ranchers, and with people in the Division of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and with scientists and Extension agents at UAF, no one seems to have an overall, well thought-out plan for what agriculture could be in the future and how to get us there. I am not sure how to even begin these discussions but they should be inclusive. Agriculture worldwide is always changing for a multitude of reasons. Can we guide that change into something that is beneficial to the people of Alaska or should we take a wait-and-see approach? As your local agriculture and horticulture Extension agent, I am eager to talk about the future of Alaska farms.

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 ~ Identity Theft

Last year, 384 Alaskans reported they were victims of identity theft and nearly $2 million was lost in fraud schemes, according to the “2013 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book.”

Identity theft is a growing problem. Whatever we can do to protect ourselves from thieves will help us keep control of our money, credit and our good name.

Personal information can be stolen from computers, homes, mailboxes, trash cans and vehicles. Identity thieves look for any information they can use, including dates of birth, mothers’ maiden names, Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers, passwords and PINs. If you have ever watched the dumpster divers at the waste sites, you know how easily this information can be obtained.

Consumers can help protect themselves from identity theft with these tips and suggestions from the Better Business Bureau:

Shred all personal documents, including credit card and banks statements, old tax returns, insurance forms, financial and utility statements and health forms. The information present on these documents can be used to get into your current accounts. However, the larger value is in using your information to open new, fraudulent accounts.
Do not carry Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid cards in a wallet or purse. These cards can be sold to others to use or the information on the cards can be used to establish an identity for different accounts.

Never respond to emails or callers requesting to “verify” information. Never give out bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers to unsolicited callers. Recent scams have included bogus calls from banks, credit card companies and government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service. None of these groups contacts account holders by email or by phone. They will contact you by mail first, then may instruct you to call them. If you receive a call and you aren’t sure about the caller, hang up and look up the phone number independently, then call back to conduct your business.

Minimize the personal information printed on personal checks. Do not include Social Security, driver’s license or phone numbers.

Monitor all credit card, cellphone and bank account statements every month to make sure all transactions are valid. If a charge doesn’t seem familiar, call and ask for more information. These companies will be glad to help you determine if it is a legitimate charge.

Sign and write “check photo ID” on new credit cards as soon as they are received. This second check by merchants will keep someone from stealing and using your credit cards. If the photo ID doesn’t match the credit card, the merchant won’t accept the card.
Create unique passwords for each account that do not include any personal information, such as dates of birth, child’s name or birthdate or mother’s maiden name. Change these passwords on a regular basis so no one will be able to access your accounts. In 2014, the most commonly used password is “123456,” followed by “password” as the second most common. If you are using either of these or a variation, you are begging for trouble.
Do not store passwords, tax returns or other financial information on a computer hard drive. Keep anti-virus software up-to-date.

Check credit reports at least once a year. Obtain a report from each of the three credit bureaus for free every year at www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you are interested in securing your identity, we have a program to offer you. This weekend you can attend the Secure Your ID Day, a free identity theft prevention event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Shoppers Forum Mall in Fairbanks.

Alaska ShredCo LLC will have a mobile shredding truck on site and will accept up to three bags or boxes of unwanted documents per person. Please note that cardboard and three-ring binders cannot be accepted. Staff from the Better Business Bureau will also be collecting old cellphones for Verizon HopeLine.

Come by and take in the educational programs. The Attorney General’s Office will present a program at 11 a.m. on preventing identity theft and I’m presenting Smart Money Moves at noon. Join us for this free financial event on Saturday, Oct. 18.

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)474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Handwashing

Fall is over us and winter is here.. We’ll soon be closed up inside the house or workplace with lots of other folks, sharing cold and flu germs. Not only is a cold or flu uncomfortable, it is expensive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that the flu costs approximately $10.4 billion in hospital stays and doctors’ visits for adults.

One of the best ways to fight germ sharing is to properly wash your hands and do it often.

Handwashing is a do-it-yourself vaccine against sickness. Proper handwashing can keep you healthy.

Research shows us that when children have been taught how to properly wash their hands, they have half the rate of sickness of those who do not wash properly.

Handwashing, without doubt, is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent the spread of respiratory and intestinal infections. These infections take the lives of millions of children in developing countries and are responsible for the majority of all child deaths.

The steps are simple but crucial for our health. Think of five steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry.

Wet your hands with warm, running water. Clean running water should be used, because standing water might have been contaminated by prior use. The temperature of the water doesn’t matter for germ removal, but warmer water may allow you to keep your hands in the water longer. Once your hands are wet, turn off the faucet to save water.

Lather your hands with soap. There is no need to use the antibacterial variety, unless you are a health professional. In fact, there is no added health benefit for using antibacterial soap over common soap. Soap, as compared to plain water, more effectively removes germs because of the surfactants that float germs off the surfaces being scrubbed. You are also more likely to scrub longer when you use soap.

Scrub your hands a minimum of 20 seconds. Think of this as the process of friction removing all those germs and microbes from your hands. Sing the happy birthday song twice and you’ll have scrubbed for about 20 seconds.

Rinse your hands again with warm running water to get rid of the soap suds and the accumulated germs and soil.

Dry your hands. Commercial settings such as restaurants or child-care centers specify that you use a paper towel and throw it away. At home, we might use a hand towel, but make sure it is changed often to keep us from sharing those washed-away germs with others in the home. If anyone in the house is sick, be sure to use a paper towel.

Germs are everywhere. Think of all the surfaces you touch in a day and imagine how many other people have touched it before you. Stair rails, doors, phones, desks, cabinet tops and the remote buttons are rife with shared germs. One year when my kids were in high school, they tested surfaces and found that the buttons on the soda machine were the germiest spots in the school. It is impractical to keep all these surfaces sanitized. So washing your hands is the best way you can guard against sickness.

Regular handwashing is the best way to remove germs, avoid sickness and stop the sharing of germs.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Debt Collectors

This week, Pinching Pennies is written by one of my counterparts in Illinois Extension, Sasha Grabenstetter. In another life, Sasha worked as a debt collector, so she has firsthand experience in working with others to solve debt problems. I thought you might enjoy the advice that she has to offer. In addition, you might be interested in checking out Illinois Extension’s money advice on its website, “Plan Well, Retire Well,” at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/eb141.

It’s happened to every one of us. Whether they were calling for you, your spouse or your neighbor down the street, we’ve all encountered the dreaded call from a debt collector. In a former life, I was a debt collector. Here are a few tips and tricks of the trade on how to deal with one if you ever encounter that phone call.

What federal laws protect consumers?

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act of 1977  was designed to protect consumers from abusive, unfair and deceptive practices used by third-party debt collectors. This act makes sure that debt collectors cannot; use profanity, use deceptive statements, disclose the debt to anyone besides you, threaten you in any way or divulge specific information on a recorded message. The act also gave rules that debt collectors cannot call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in your specific time zone, and that they can only call once a day. (Unless you request they call you back at a later time.) The act gives you 30 days to clear the debt with the collection agency before it goes onto your credit report.

How do I dispute a debt?

Five days from the first communication the collection agency will send out a written notice with the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor and a statement that says unless you dispute the validity of the debt, it will be considered valid. If you want to dispute the debt, you’ll have to write a letter within 30 days of receiving the written notice. The collection agency should stop all collections until the dispute has been resolved. If you would like to end all contact with a debt collection agency, you will also have to put that in writing as well.

What if a debt collector goes too far?

If a debt collector tried to harass or threaten you, make sure you have exact documentation, such as writing down the times they called and what they said, to report the abuse. In Illinois, you can report it to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office or visit the National Association of Attorney Generals for your state. You should also report them to the Federal Trade Commission as well as report the agency to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Tips on how to deal with debt collectors

Being a former debt collector – here a few quick tips on how to deal with one.

1. Use the golden rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you are unkind to a debt collector, they will be less willing to help you out in your situation. For example, instead of offering you a payment plan, they might ask for the balance.

2. Avoid harsh language or profanity. No one likes being yelled at. Consumers forget that debt collectors are people too. So avoid using profanity and foul language.

3. Answer the phone. Just because you don’t answer the phone doesn’t mean the debt will go away. Lots of times they have the wrong number or person. If you answer, let them know. If the debt collector is looking for you, verify your information and decide if you can pay the debt in full or need to make a payment plan.

4. Lastly, don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you set up a payment plan, make sure you stick to it. Don’t say you can pay back $350 when you can only afford $100.

Remember the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act protects you from abusive third-party collections, and if you need to dispute a debt – do it in writing. Always use the golden rule while dealing with debt collectors and don’t make financial repayment promises you can’t keep.

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 907-474-7201.

 

 

 

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Extension Week Is Here Again

Each year and sometimes twice a year, we round up our experts and ask that they do a class for the public at no cost during Extension Week. We are lucky to have many instructors so willing to share their knowledge and expertise
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This year, Fall Extension Week is Oct. 13-17. Peruse the schedule, then mark your calendar. Call 474-1530 to register for the classes of your choice, especially since many are limited to the number of people that we can handle.|

All classes will be held at the Tanana District office at 724 27th Ave., Suite 2, located in the southwest corner of the Fairbanks Community Food Bank building. Free parking during business hours is available in the lot at 27th Avenue and Rickert Street; parking for the 6 p.m. classes is available just outside the office door. The following is the schedule and descriptions:
Monday, Oct. 13
10 a.m. — Cleaning Green, Marsha Munsell
Many of us are starting to react to the many chemicals we come in contact with on a daily basis. Come learn how to reduce some of the chemicals in the home by using simple ingredients.
2 p.m. — Tips for Finding Housing for Your College-Bound Teen, Kathy Kurtenbach
Helping your college-bound teen find affordable and safe college housing can be very stressful. We will discuss how to have a successful, reduced-stress housing hunt for everyone involved in the process.
6 p.m. — Medicating Your Livestock, Lisa Lunn
Medicating livestock can be tricky. Did you know there are legal issues regarding what drugs you can use and how you can give them to the animal? We will discuss how to safely and legally administer medication to farm animals.

Tuesday, Oct. 14
10 a.m. — Gardening with Children, Darcy Etcheverry
Gardening with children is a wonderful way to teach important life skills. Come learn about several gardening projects that you can complete with your children or students from toddlers to teens.
2 p.m. — Using Your GPS, Marla Lowder
Learn how to use a GPS. Marla will have GPS equipment for you to learn on.

Wednesday, Oct. 15
10 a.m. — Companion Planting, Darcy Etcheverry.
Certain plants benefit from being planted in proximity to others, whether for pest control or to maximize usable space. We will cover the types of beneficial associations and learn about planting considerations for common Fairbanks vegetable crops.
2 p.m. — Sourdough, Marsha Munsell
Learn to feed, pamper and use your sourdough starter. If you don’t have one, come and get one.
6 p.m. — Important Information for New Livestock Farmers, Lisa Lunn
If you are thinking about raising livestock, this talk is for you. We will discuss what you need to know, and should have in place, to keep your animals healthy and productive.

Thursday, Oct. 16
10 a.m. — The Many Rewards of the Mushroom Hunt, Sveta Yamin-Pasternak
For many subsistence harvesters, returning home with a bounty of wild mushrooms marks not the end but the beginning of hard work. Some methods of preparing or preserving mushrooms take hours of tedious processing. Attend this class to decide whether it is worth the trouble.
2 p.m. — Backpacking Chef, Sharon McLeod-Everette and crew
Pre-made backpacking foods can be very expensive. You can make your own delicious lightweight meals
6 p.m. — Making Bread, Roxie Dinstel
The staff of life. Good wholesome, chewy bread is an art and so much better than much of the fluff in the stores. Learn basic techniques for making good bread.

Friday, Oct. 17
10 a.m. — Gold Zumba Fitness (Low Impact), Reina Hasting
Come burn some calories while having fun learning some easy Zumba dance fitness moves.
 2 p.m. — Alaska Grown Herbs, Marsha Munsell and Roxie Dinstel
An overview of herbs that grow well in Fairbanks gardens and what you can do with them.
6 p.m. — Private Woodlot Management for Firewood, Glen Holt
Glen will discuss managing your woodlot for firewood.

A link for the full schedule of classes can also be found online at www.uaf.edu/ces.

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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Registration is now open for the 2014-15 Master Gardener Class!

Class begins Oct. 7 with instructor Steven Seefeldt, meeting Tuesdays, 6-9 p.m., through Feb. 3 at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Tanana District office, 724 27th Ave., Ste. 2.   We also offer this class to Delta residents via videoconference.

Class details and registration information are listed below or visit the website

Space fills up quickly, so we encourage you to register soon if you are interested. Register online at bit.ly/ces-workshops or download the attached registration form to pay with check via mail or in person.

Registration is accepted on a first-come/first-served basis. (Sorry, we cannot reserve your spot in class until we receive payment in full.)

We hope you can join us this year!

Description: Alaska Master Gardeners are volunteers for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service located in communities throughout the state. To become a Master Gardener, you must complete 40 hours of horticultural training and, in return, volunteer 40 hours of time to your community. A certificate is awarded to those who successfully complete the class; an honorary badge is presented to those who fulfill the volunteer commitment.

Prerequisites: The prerequisites for becoming a Master Gardener include a familiarity with Alaska gardening conditions and a commitment to 40 hours of volunteer service time.

Topics: Class will cover the following topics (order may vary; subject to change). Students are encouraged to attend all classes so they don’t fall behind. If a class is missed, please ask a classmate for copies of handouts and notes that you missed.

• Introduction
• Volunteer Service
• Basic Horticulture
• Plant Classification
• Botany: Plant Structures and Functions
• Soil Structure, Function and Management
• Houseplants: Requirements and Care, Plant Propagation, Pruning
• Vegetable Gardening
• Fruit and Berry Crops
• Composting and Water Quality
• Greenhouse Gardening
• Plant Disease: Principles, Causes and Care
• Lawn Establishment and Maintenance
• Insect and Mammal Pests: Identification and Control
• Flowers and Bulbs (perennials and annuals)
• Home Landscaping
• Woody Ornamentals
• Open book/take home exam

Schedule: The 2014-15 Master Gardener Class will meet Tuesdays, Oct. 7–Feb. 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. Please note there will be no class on the following dates: Oct. 28, Nov. 25, Dec. 23 and Dec. 30.

Location: Classes meet at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Tanana District Classroom, 724 27th Ave., Ste. 2, which is located in the southwest corner of the Fairbanks Community Food Bank building. Occasionally, students will meet at other locations around town for field trips.

Parking: Since classes take place after business hours, students are welcome to park in front of the building in the FNSB Career Education Center’s parking lot. However, if you need to plug in your vehicle during extreme temperatures, please park in our reserved lot at 27th Avenue and Rickert Street (just a quick hop across the street). Electricity is available at 20 degrees and colder and cycles at 30-minute intervals. No UAF parking decal, permit or quarters required! (Speaking of extreme temperatures — our
cold weather cutoff is 30 below.)

Fee: Registration fee is $300 with a 40-hour volunteer commitment. The fee covers class supplies and includes the Sustainable Gardening: The Alaska Master Gardener Manual, available for pickup at first class.

Registration: Return the attached registration form with your fee payment, or register online with your credit card at bit.ly/ces-workshops. Class size is limited to 30 students, and registration is accepted on a first-come/first-served basis. (Sorry, we cannot reserve your spot in class until we receive payment in full.)

Mail List: If you are unable to attend class this year but would like to remain on our mailing list for notification of a future class, please indicate this at the bottom of the registration form and return it.

Questions? Contact the instructor, Steven Seefeldt, at 907-474-2423 or ssseefeldt@alaska.edu.

Click here to download your registration form

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Tax Credit for College Students

Did you return to college this fall? Or maybe one of your children is in college? If you or a family member is in school, there are some tax breaks that you’ll want to take advantage of.

There are two major educational tax credit programs: the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit can be up to $2,500 annually for an eligible student for a total of $10,000 over the first four years of higher education. The good thing about this credit is that you can get up to $1,000 even if you owe no taxes.

The Lifetime Learning Credit has a tax credit of $2,000 on your federal tax return. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit.

There is only one credit allowed per student. If you have several dependents attending, you can claim the credit they are eligible for — even if it results in more than one of the American Opportunity or the Lifetime Learning credits.

Both of these credits include qualified expenses, which are more than just the cost of tuition and fees. You will receive a 1098-T form from the school that includes all qualified expenses that you pay the school. In addition, both credits include textbooks, materials, supplies and equipment. So keep all receipts for expenses related to attending school.

These tax credits are dependent upon income, so you may not be eligible if your income is higher. Be sure to check at www.IRS.gov for specific information.

If you are an employee and need classes, you may be able to take a deduction for educational expenses. If you have certifications required for your job or have to take occasional classes to maintain this certification, your educational expenses may be deductible. In this case, you have to itemize deductions and this expense along with other job-related expenses must exceed 2 percent of your income to be deducted on your return.

The classes or certification must be needed for you to keep your job, salary, or status. In other words, you can’t deduct what improves your skills, only those that are currently needed to maintain your job. If you are qualifying yourself for a new job, that is your responsibility and is not deductible.

If you are finished with your education and are paying back those loans, is there any tax credit available? When you pay consumer interest, it is, in general, not deductible. The big exception is interest on your home. Another exception is the interest paid on a student loan under certain circumstances. If your modified adjusted gross income is less than $75,000, you may be able to deduct the interest paid on a student loan. The student loan interest deduction is an adjustment to income, so itemized deductions is not required.

Be sure to check the Internal Revenue Service website for specific information on each of these credits.

Education is always a bargain and an investment in the future for you and your family. However, don’t pass up any of these deductions or credits that may improve your financial condition in the short term.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Entertainment May Break Your Budget

Entertainment is one way many of us break our budget. Though the cost of entertainment is still a relatively minor part of our budget, it has increased over the years. Americans spend 9 percent of their income on entertainment and recreation, which is double the rate of 1980. Entertainment is a great place to save money, and small changes can make a big difference.

Taking your family to the movies can easily add up to a budget-breaking amount. So let’s think about ways to cut costs and still go to the theater and consider other options that may save even more money.

If you really love movies, opt for a showing earlier in the day. I checked the schedule this week and found that I could save $2.50 per ticket by going to an earlier showing. You can shave off another $1 by buying tickets in bulk. You might want to get together with some of your friends, however, because the minimum bulk purchase is 50 tickets. For regular movie goers, that many tickets may go fast, but it is an expensive up-front purchase.

Sign up for the loyalty program at the local cinema. You get a point for every dollar you spend in tickets and at the concession stand. It takes 150 points for a free ticket, but you’ll get there fast. If you sign up for the loyalty program, make sure you put in your email address so that you can be notified of special offers and promotions.

Consider buying a gift card. Cardcash.com buys gift cards that other people don’t want and puts them on the market. This week I saw discounted cards available for a local movie theater at a 13.1 percent discount. A $100 gift card could be purchased for $87.

The concession stand can easily cost you a pretty penny. Though it is tempting to take your own candy and snacks, it is against the rules, so make sure everyone eats before you head out. If you’ve just eaten, the hot dogs and popcorn won’t tempt you so much.

The Blue Loon in Ester also shows movies, with two showings most nights. The movies are just a little older, but it’s still a great opportunity to enjoy current flicks at just a little lower admission price. Check the website for the schedule.

If you’d rather stay home and enjoy a movie, subscription services are a bargain. Most plans have a flat rate for a month of movies, which is about the same price as one ticket at the theater.

You can also opt for video on demand through your cable service. Again, the price is right at about $5 for a movie for 24 hours. The movies are sometimes newer than those available from subscription services.

Noel Wien library has a broad selection of movies that are available for check out. If you have a library card, the price is definitely right — free. The movies may not be the latest ones, but you can choose a classic that your family will enjoy.

Movies that will be watched several times can be purchased, either new or used. If you buy a movie used, make sure it works correctly before purchasing. Consider the cost per viewing when purchasing a movie. A new release may cost up to $30 while older classics may only cost about $5. If you plan to view the movie multiple times, the cost per viewing goes way down.

The real bargain about staying at home is the savings on snacks. Microwave popcorn and sodas are much less expensive than the snack bar at the theater.

Movies can be a great way to while away an afternoon or a night. Make sure you save a few dollars when you do.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Kids Take Over the Kitchen

You can start kids early learning many skills in addition to cooking while in the kitchen. Invite kids to help with different stages of preparation according to their skills. Even toddlers love to be a part of the action. Granted, it does take a lot of patience from mom and dad but the results are worth taking a deep breath and letting your kids participate.

Self-worth and self-confidence are two big important values that can be learned in the kitchen. In the early stages of development, this takes a lot of guidance and some planning from parents. When letting younger kids help in the kitchen, make sure the kitchen is safe — safe stools to stand on, pan handles turned away from the edge of the stove or counter, knives in a safe place, etc. Being there to guide is important, and it is also important to not take over the project. If you want to teach your child self-confidence, there will be a bit of spilling in the process. Teaching them how to clean as you go is another valuable skill. Look at it as a process, not a mistake.

Other valuable concepts that can be learned in a kitchen are teamwork and taking turns, especially if you have more than one child. The more kids are exposed to situations where they can share and work together, the more they develop the skills to do so.  Let the kids be a part of the decision-making process, even little decisions such as whether to add blueberries or cranberries to the pancakes or muffins, what to add to a salad or what to make for a meal. If you have a finicky eater, it may be that letting them help will encourage them to eat better.

Planning meals can save money at the grocery store. Find a time each week to sit down with the family and plan a menu. Assign the kids a day to “cook” and let them suggest what they want to cook for that meal with your help. As they get older, they will need less help and will be well on their way to being self-sufficient. Allowing kids to experiment with a bit of guidance, for a positive outcome, goes a long way to building many skills that can last a lifetime. Parents can help with reading and math skills as the kids learn to use recipes.

Kids can be quite capable if given a chance. Give them age-appropriate jobs. The following is a general guideline of what different ages can work on. This is only a guideline and all kids are different in their abilities. You’ll never know unless you let them try. And remember that developing skills takes time and practice. If the parent always steps in to “rescue” the situation, it thwarts the learning curve of the kid.

• Two-year-olds: peel eggs; spread with a butter knife; and cut (soft fruits, toast, etc.) with a butter knife

•  Three-year-olds: spread, sprinkle, shake, crack eggs (into a separate bowl), stir and pour

• Four-year-olds: measure, sift, roll dough, grease pans, shake and mix

• Five-year-olds: pat, measure, mix, tear, cut, toss, stir, roll and knead

• Six-year-olds: pour, stir, cut, whip cream, sauté, grate cheese, sift, measure and beat

• Seven-year-olds: read simple recipes, peel, wash, cut, wrap, stir and mix

• Eight-year-olds: shape dough, cut fat into ingredients, fold

• Nine-year-olds: drain, roll, use pastry blender, fill muffin cups, brown meat, read recipes, and cook most things with a little supervision.

The bottom line is to have fun with the kids. Experiment with new recipes. Explore new foods. Think about how foods can be presented differently. Let some of that kid creativity bubble over. Here is a great website to get you started: www.nutrition.gov/life-stages/children/kids-kitchen . There are lots of ideas on the Internet if you have a chance to look.

So make a date with your kid on Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day and let that be the start or the continuation of life skills that will last a lifetim

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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Pinching Pennies ~ Banana Day is September 12

What is yellow, sweet and the butt of many a joke? You guessed it — a banana. Banana Day is Sept. 12. This much-underrated fruit is readily available no matter the time of the year. It is inexpensive and versatile. It can be eaten out of hand, added to a smoothie, baked into a luscious dessert or even frozen to use later.

In honor of this humble lunchbox addition, let’s go a little bananas.

Bananas are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese and a very good source of vitamin B6.

We love bananas here in America. In fact, we eat more bananas each year than apples and grapes combined. Bananas consistently sell for about a $1 a pound in Fairbanks, which means the average banana costs about a quarter. That is a bargain for the good nutrition inside that peel.

The USDA tells us that bananas should be stored at room temperature until eaten. However, one of my readers took me to task on that statement when I wrote about storing fruits last month. He keeps his bananas in the fridge. Here’s the rest of the story. The enzymes that cause a banana to ripen are killed by cold temperatures, so if bananas are underripe, they stay that way in the refrigerator.

Once ripe, they can be stored in the refrigerator. However, the skin turns black very quickly. Since we eat with our eyes as well as our taste buds, most of us prefer a yellow banana. That’s why the USDA recommends that they be stored at room temperature. Overripe bananas can also be frozen right in the peel until you are ready to make bread, cake or muffins.

Let’s look at some unusual ways to use bananas to vary your family’s meals.

Use them to make banana bread, cake, pancakes or muffins. Recipes abound on the Internet and everyone has a favorite. Just mash them up and go to town.

Dry them. Banana chips are available from the store, but they are dipped in sugar water and some are even fried to get that nice, crisp surface before they are dried. So dry your own in the oven or the dehydrator. They should be dipped in lemon or orange juice to prevent darkening during the drying process, but other than that, they are simply dried until leathery. They have a great flavor and can be eaten out of hand.

Use them as a sweetener. If you are making a jam, mash up bananas to mix with your other fruits to add natural sugars. You won’t need as much sugar. Call your local Cooperative Extension Service office to get instructions for a no-pectin, banana-sweetened lowbush cranberry jam.

Use as a substitute for fat in baked goods. You can use mashed, overripe bananas the same way that you use applesauce to substitute for butter or shortening. Substitute bananas for up to half the fat in your favorite recipes. Replacing fat with bananas does change the consistency of the product, so start with a smaller proportion and increase gradually.

Now, back to those frozen bananas that you’ve been storing. Peel them and put them in the blender or the food processor. Add a little milk and honey for sweetness and you’ve got a great ice cream substitute that your family will love.

Bananas are economical and are highly nutritious. Be sure to eat some in honor of Banana Day.

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 907-474-7201.

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Pinching Pennies ~ Planning for Retirement

Retirement planning is high on the agenda of many Americans, but are we doing anything about it? A recent study gives us the answer, and it is a resounding “no.”

Almost three quarters of Americans are worried about being able to retire, but that doesn’t seem to translate into doing anything about it.

·         Of those who are 68 or older, 51 percent say they are worried and 69 percent say that retirement planning is a priority, but only 29 percent are saving money for retirement.

·         Seventy-five percent of boomers (49 to 66 years of age) are worried, but only 42 percent are putting money in savings.

·         GenXers (37 to 48 years of age) are more worried (77 percent), and they are also doing a bit better saving, with 48 percent putting away money for retirement.

·         Millenials (18 to 36 years of age) are a little less worried; 72 percent are concerned, with 46 percent saving for retirement.

So how do we overcome inertia and start saving? You aren’t going to worry your savings account full, so you need to take positive steps to be ready for that day when you decide to retire.

Set a goal. How much money are you going to need in retirement? I’ve seen estimates from the experts that say you’ll need between 50 and 110 percent of your current salary. Now’s the time to get out your pencil, paper and calculator and go to work figuring out what you will actually need.

How much you will need is dependent on where you are in life. Is your house paid for? What size house do you have? Are you going to need a new car anytime soon? All of these are questions you should be asking yourself.

Think about your major bills — food, utilities, mortgage, insurance, transportation, medical care. None of us has a crystal ball, but you can pencil in what each of these currently costs you. And don’t forget to figure in things like the cell phone, cable and entertainment.

Knowing how much you will need gives you a target for saving.

Take stock of what you have. Add up what you will have coming in during retirement. Include Social Security, pensions and any possible outside income. Social Security sends a quarterly statement that details what you can expect. If you would like, you can visit the Social Security folks at the Federal Building on 12th Avenue. They’ll help you understand what you can expect in retirement. If you have a pension or 401K, talk to the benefits office where you work for an estimate of what it will be worth.

Once you know what you need for retirement and an estimate for what you’ll get, it’s time to look at filling the gap between the two.

Don’t be like those in the survey that worry but don’t save. Start the ball rolling. If you have a difficult time saving, realize that a lot of people are just like you. There never seems to be enough money to meet the needs of today and save for the future, but it is possible with some small tweaks to your current budget.

Consider automating your savings. Many employers offer the option of depositing directly into more than one account. Have your employer deposit a part of each paycheck into a savings account. The beauty of this method is that you can’t miss what you’ve never seen.

If this isn’t an option for you, deposit your check and have the bank take a certain amount of money each month and move it to a savings account. Again, since it happens automatically, you won’t even have to think about it.

Saving for retirement isn’t easy, but if you don’t want to live the golden years strapped for cash and you don’t want to continue working forever, it is necessary.

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 907-474-7201.

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Take Advantage of the Odd Growing Season

It was dark enough on Aug. 14 that I saw a planet. For all of us that means autumn is on its way and it is time to think about harvest. Saving seed is an important part of the harvest; this column will focus on the reasons for saving seed and how to do so in your garden or farm.

This was another unusual summer. In my 11 summers in Fairbanks, has there been one I could claim was normal? Some of our crops are not doing well and some are amazing. All my peas — sugar snap, shelling and snow peas — are amazing. The vines are way over my head and there are bagfuls to harvest every few days. Other crops are miserable; I am only now contemplating harvesting my first zucchini. Usually I cannot give zucchinis away fast enough. I’m sure you could all testify to how some crops are great and others not.

We should take advantage of this unusual season by looking for the few plants that are doing well when all the others of that crop did not. Sadly for me, all my zucchini plants are equally bad, and that goes for the beans, squash and basil, too. But if you do have one bean plant that has been doing great while all the other bean plants are not, consider saving the seeds from that plant.

There may be some genetic difference in that bean plant that resulted in it thriving in the cool, wet summer that we have had, while all the others lagged behind. That genetic difference would be preserved in the seed the plant produces and you should consider saving those seeds and sharing some with other gardeners for planting next year. You should do this every year, not just the exceptionally hot, wet, cold or dry summers. Looking for those individual plants that do better than the others is the historic foundation for developing improved crop varieties. Indeed, selecting seed from your best plants to grow the following year is something that can be found in the Old Testament.

If you want to save some seed, here are some things you need to know. First, let the seed mature on the plant as long as you can and harvest it after the plant has gone dormant. Second, our autumns are usually wet so the seed will likely be wet and moist on the inside; therefore, you must dry the seed. Each seed has its own perfect percent moisture content for storage, but there is a range. Keep the seed on a dry surface in the house or heated garage where the air is dry and there is some air movement. The seed will dry down nicely by itself. Putting seed that is too moist inside a zip-lock bag will result in rotted seeds. Third, after the seed is dry, put it in a container and store in a place close to freezing until spring planting. If you want to know if the seed is alive, plant a few in a pot in the house and see how many sprout.

In addition to the information above there is a program that can help you with seed saving. Look for information about the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity program at www.esterlibrary.org. There is a farmer, Kurt Wold, who sells Alaska grown seed that might be willing to test it and maybe help outstanding selections become a new variety. And you can always call me for advice at the number below.

Remember, we no longer have university, state or federal plant breeders in Alaska. If we want crops that are adapted to Alaska conditions, we have to find them for ourselves. This year and every year, be on the lookout for those outstanding plants that are doing better than all the rest – be it bigger, earlier maturing, free of some disease or insect, or any of a number of characteristics. By saving the seeds of our best producing plants, we can make some lemonade from some of the crops that did not do so well this summer.

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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Alaska Growers School Begins Sept 24

Hello Farmers, Gardeners, and everyone in between!

I am excited to announce the next Alaska Growers School begins September
24! This training offered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative
Extension Service will be offered by webinar and teleconference Wednesdays
at 5:30 p.m. through Dec. 17, across Alaska. The Alaska Growers School is
ideal for Alaskans who wish to start a farm or expand an existing one for
profit or for subsistence.

This training will emphasize farm planning and risk management but will
include the basics of whole farm planning, growing vegetables, berries and
fruit, raising poultry and livestock, and using season extension
techniques. Resources for financial and technical expertise and loan
programs also will be covered. Instructors will include Extension agents
and staff, agriculture professionals and farmers. The fee is $95 however,
tuition waivers are available. For more information, to register*
(available 8/11/14) or apply for a waiver, check out our website:
www.uaf.edu/ces/ags

*Currently Enrollment is only available at:
https://elearning.uaf.edu/students/alaska-growers-school-registration/

Enrollment is open through September 8th, and space is limited, so don’t
delay, sign up today!

Growers.School@alaska.edu
http://www.uaf.edu/ces/gardening/ags/

This project is supported by the Washington State University Western
Extension Risk Management Education Center and the National Institute of
Food and Agriculture.

For more information, call Glenna Gannon, the Alaska Growers School
coordinator, at 452-8251, ext. 3281 or growers.school@alaska.edu

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Pinching Pennies ~ The Season for Fresh Fruit

Fresh vegetables are in season. Locally at the farmers market, greens are in good supply this week with kale, spinach and collards leading the pack. Zucchini and yellow summer squash are just starting to get ripe and there are a few tomatoes coming on to the market.

Vegetables are an important part of a good diet. According to the latest recommendations, half your plate should be vegetables.

At this price, though, you want to make sure that you get every nutrient that is provided in the vegetables. It is estimated that nearly 25 percent of the food you bring into your house is lost through waste. Taking care of those vegetables so you get all the natural goodness is important to your food budget.

When you get home with those wonderful fresh vegetables, how do you keep them at their best? Different vegetables have different storage methods. Potatoes and onions are stored at room temperature, while greens, squash and beans need to be kept in the refrigerator.

Many vegetables are highly perishable. Peppers, fresh beans, squash and greens should be used within a two- to three-day period for maximum flavor and freshness. These vegetables should be stored in a perforated plastic bag and stored in the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator. The plastic bag helps conserve moisture and freshness, while the holes in the bag keep the moisture from causing rot.

Store cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes, onions and garlic at room temperature. Refrigerator temperatures can cause cold damage and keep the vegetables from properly ripening.

Be sure to keep vegetables away from direct sunlight. This is particularly important with potatoes. Potatoes exposed to sunlight develop a form of chlorophyll called solanine that show up as green spots. These green sections of the potato are a natural toxin and are poisonous. There isn’t much danger of you eating the green spots since they are very bitter. That’s why the bags that potatoes come in are tinted brown, to protect the potatoes from developing solanine under the lights in the store.

Never use detergent or bleach to wash produce. Fresh water will do the job. Rinse vegetables under running water just prior to serving. Give the same treatment to those with skins and rinds, even if they aren’t eaten. Bacteria that might be present on the rind can easily be transferred to the part you eat during the peeling process. Wash just prior to eating since washing removes some of the natural preservatives in plants.

The exception to this rule is head lettuce or leafy greens. They should be washed immediately when you get home and then refrigerated. If the vegetables are labeled ready-to eat, washed or triple washed, they don’t have to be washed. All cut, peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables (as all foods) should be refrigerated within two hours.

Cooperative Extension has a great series of publications on how to use those fresh Alaska vegetables. Our Alaska series features information on selection, storage, preservation and a few recipes to try out in using them. Go to the Cooperative Extension foods and nutrition publication page at http://bit.ly/W5S8zh and check for publications on beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, lettuce, potatoes, summer squash, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, winter squash, chard, herbs and pumpkin seeds. You can also drop by the Extension office at 724 27th Ave., Suite 2, for a copy of any publication.

Fresh vegetables are one of the best parts of summer. Buy good quality produce, take care of it properly, and cook it lightly to conserve nutrients.

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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UAF CTC Fall Classes in Delta!

UAF Community & Technical College classes at the Delta Career Advancement Center
Call 895-4605 to Register.

MICROSOFT EXCEL – 1 CREDIT
CRN 81271 • CIOS F135 TD1
Comprehensive exploration of Excel. Including creating, formatting
and revising spreadsheets. Learn to create and use formulas,
graphs and charts. Organize, analyze and query information.
Fri 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm T. Porreca 09/05 – 10/03

MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY - 3 CREDITS
CRN 81235 • HLTH F100 TD1
Suggested prerequisite for the CNA Course. Learn to build, spell
and define medical words including the use of medical dictionary,
word pronunciation and abbreviations. Focusing on terms for
anatomy, diagnostic, laboratory and medical specialties.
Mon/Wed 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm D. Newman 09/08 – 10/27

ENGLISH 111 – 3 CREDITS
CRN 81234 • ENGL F111x TD1
English 111 meets core curriculum requirements. Instruction and
practice in written inquiry and critical reading as a way of
developing, exploring and testing ideas with a concentration on
research methods and techniques. High School Students earn dual
credit. (Prerequisite: Accuplacer Test)
Mon/Wed 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm A. Glynn 09/08 – 10/27

PERSONAL AWARENESS & GROWTH – 3 CREDITS
CRN 81236 • HUMS F105 TD1
Interpersonal and intrapersonal communications explored.
Personal growth process presented from a holistic perspective.
Focus will identify opportunities for personal enrichment through
increased awareness of self and others.
Tues 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm A. Stephens 09/09 – 12/16

CONVERSATIONAL RUSSIAN 1 – 3 CREDITS  – PENDING
• RUSS F1003 TD1
Have you already taken Russian 1A & 1B, but you want to learn
more? Continue studying, gain confidence and verbal skills
improvement. Vocabulary is presented to improve speaking on
specific topics. Note: Does not satisfy core curriculum or foreign
language major requirements. (Prerequisites: Russian 1A & 1B
or instructor approval)
Tues/Thurs 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm L. Ohlert 10/02 – 11/20

WELDING – NON-CREDIT
CRN 81237 • WMT F020 TD1
Covers operation and safety of basic welding equipment to
include the applied techniques of Oxy-acetylene, MIG and
SMAW welding in a hands-on learning environment.
Tues/Thurs 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm S. Porter 10/02 – 11/20

DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - 1 CREDIT
CRN 81233 • CIOS F258 TD1
Have a Digital Camera? Come learn the basics – digital vs.
film photography, ISO and camera exposure controls, types of
digital cameras and lenses, storage and memory cards, exposure
compensation and white balance.
Mon/Wed 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm S. DuBois 10/06 – 10/20

MICROSOFT ACCESS – 1 CREDIT
CRN 81270 • CIOS F240 TD1
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.
Fri 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm T. Porreca 10/17 – 11/14

AURORA DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY – 1 CREDIT
CRN 81232 • CIOS F189 TD1
Want to discover the secret to capturing the Aurora in
photographs? Receive an overview of basic digital photography,
types of equipment and techniques used for night photography
and the how-to of Aurora predictions. Digital Photography Class
is recommended.
Mon/Wed 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm S. DuBois 10/22 – 11/05

ENGLISH 211 – 3 CREDITS – PENDING
• ENGL F211X TD1
English 211 meets core curriculum requirements. Instruction in
writing through close analysis of various forms of literature, with
a required research paper. (Prerequisite: English 111)
Mon/Wed 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm A. Glynn 10/29 – 12/15

PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 12 – 1 CREDIT
CRN 81231 • COIS F255 TD1
Interested in learning how to digitally enhance your photographs?
Find out how to adjust lighting and color, and learn to sharpen
images by using a variety of Photoshop tools and methods. Basic
computer skills are recommended.
Mon/Wed 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm S. DuBois 11/10 – 11/24

SAVE MONEY!
Register for classes at the Delta Career Advancement Center, 1696  North Clearwater Avenue and take  advantage of the $50 off/per credit voucher.

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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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