Archive for December, 2008

Is Your Home Making You Sick?

Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, leaving them susceptible to whatever drifts in the air.

(NewsUSA) – Americans tend to view their homes as safe havens. What few people realize is that the air in their home can be more polluted than outdoor air, leading to health problems.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, people spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors. Due to extended exposure, indoor pollution might cause more health problems than outdoor pollution.

What causes indoor pollution? Common, synthetic materials, like paints, plastics and household cleaners, all leak chemical emissions. Sensitive people can react to anything from wax to furniture polish. Building materials, outdoor pollution, dust and other substances can create allergy symptoms.

Mold, one leading cause of indoor allergies, can grow inside and outside the home in any household component. Once it develops, mold proves impossible to completely remove, making it an especially serious threat. Mold can grow wherever water flows. Water intrusion can lead to mold growth within 24 hours.

The Mayo Clinic estimated that over 40 million Americans suffered from chronic sinus infections and that 96 percent of those cases were caused by molds. According to the Centers for Disease Control, indoor allergens can lead to infections and respiratory problems.

A Certified Environmental Home Inspector (CEHI) from Environmental Safeguard Professionals (www.espusa.net), a company that performs EcoCheck Inspection to address environmental issues in residential buildings, asks Americans to look for the following signs of poor indoor air health:

- Have you had problems with floods or leaks? Even the smallest damp area allows mold to grow. Mold can also hide in ceilings, walls and attics.

- Have you or any of your family members suffered from unexplained respiratory problems, chronic headaches, coughing or congestion?

- Is your home well ventilated? Poor ventilation helps mold grow. To prevent mold growth, keep air moving and humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent.

If you suspect mold, call a professional to inspect your home. A CEHI can identify the types of mold in your home and determine the best way to remove it.

For more information, visit www.espusa.net.

Outsourcing payroll allows small-business owners to concentrate on their day-to-day operations

(NewsUSA) – As the year turns, small-business owners will start reviewing their past actions and planning for the future. But one big issue -; payroll -; can prove to be a problem every year.

Many businesses find themselves in trouble with the IRS, not because they’re dishonest, but because they miscalculate numbers or miss due dates. The government’s financial penalties can be unwelcome blows to small businesses.

Even if a business employs only one worker, small-business owners can find federal and state employment forms complex and demanding. Some small-business owners might believe that they can save time and money by performing their own payroll calculations, but it’s usually in businesses’ best interest to hire outside payroll service providers.

Small-business owners need to concentrate the bulk of their time and attention on making their business successful. Paychex, Inc., a national leader in the payroll and human resource industry, offers these tips to small-business owners looking for a reliable payroll-processing service:

- Insist on personal service. For best results, you should be talking with the same payroll representative each pay period. That same person should handle any questions or concerns about your service.

- Look for national payroll-processing companies. National payroll service providers are bonded and insured, so any liability for inaccuracy or fraud will not affect your business.

In the event of a natural disaster or other calamity, national providers often have multiple backup systems to preserve data and deliver payroll packages on time. Paychex employs a rigorous backup plan to ensure continuity for clients across the country. Moreover, national providers offer the best confidentiality and security, and payroll deposits are taken care of electronically.

- Look for payroll service providers that also offer human resource services. Integrated HR services might include 401(k) administration, workers’ compensation insurance administration and payment services, health benefits and other employee benefits such as flexible spending accounts and bonuses or other compensation paid on debit cards.

“Small-business owners can realize a new level of productivity and convenience when they choose to outsource their payroll function,” said Walter Turek, senior vice president, sales and marketing for Paychex. “Outsourcing ensures accuracy, timeliness and peace of mind, allowing business owners to focus on growing revenue, instead of worrying about administrative burdens.”

Needy ask online for clothes, rent, gifts

With joblessness in the state at a 25-year high and the needy standing in line for aid, some are making direct pleas for help online instead.

In recent weeks, dozens of people have posted requests for help on the Raleigh edition of Craigslist, the Web site that offers free classified ads. As Christmas approaches, many posts have taken a desperate tone, asking for used children’s clothing, shoes or toys, holiday decorations, even food and rent money.

Thousands of nonprofit agencies across the state are dedicated to easing the suffering of the poor, but Craigslist is a place where people can ask directly for immediate help and connect with sympathetic individuals, not bureaucracies. Especially during the holidays, it’s a high-tech tug on the heartstrings.

“I need some help really badly. My family and I have hit some really hard times and are unable to pay our rent for this month,” read a post Dec. 5 from Zebulon with the subject line, WE NEED A MIRACLE. “The amount is 350.00. I don’t know what we are going to do. We honestly just do not have the money. This is not a scam, I am being as real as I possibly can be. We need help. Can someone help us please!!”

Four days earlier, a woman wrote: “My husband and I are looking for children’s items for a newborn boy and a 7-year-old girl. We are really having a hard time right now, though I know everyone is. …

“We moved to Raleigh and have had a string of bad luck and are trying to put something together for Christmas.”

‘It’s hard to keep up’

Vicki Shearin of Louisburg never thought of asking for help from anybody until this year. Her husband, Ricky, is disabled by end-stage emphysema, and her job as a shift supervisor at a local drug store is barely enough to pay the bills and medical expenses. As he undergoes tests to see if he is a candidate for a lung transplant, she tries to make sure that he’s comfortable and that their three sons still living at home have what they need.

Looking through Craigslist, she sometimes noticed people offering goods for free if someone would pick them up. She went a step further and put up a note in the “for sale” category, under “wanted,” asking if anyone had jeans or shirts in her boys’ sizes he or she couldn’t use anymore.

“I’m not even asking for Christmas help,” Shearin said. “I was just basically trying to find some clothes for the kids. They go from a 10 to a 14 overnight, and it’s hard to keep up.”

Shearin used her home computer. Others post from public computers at libraries or use those of friends.

Craigslist, which is administered by a staff of about 25 people in California, did not respond to requests for interviews about needy persons’ use of the site to solicit help. But other Craigslist users often “flag” them and remove them. Sometimes, the user who objected will add a scolding or cautionary note.

On Dec. 16, one asked why those who need help don’t turn to family instead of strangers. On Dec. 19, another suggested that some of those asking for donations were collecting goods to re-sell later.

On Monday, a user at sale-966789084@craigslist.org wrote: “I recently responded to a post for used FREE tv. The tv we offered was a 20 inch color tv with remote less than 2 yrs old. The POSTER of the add declined the tv saying she did NEED a free tv but wanted it to be 32 inches or larger…. There is a huge difference between NEED and WANT.”

R.J. Moshay, spokesman for Triangle United Way Inc., said he didn’t know people were using Craigslist to appeal for aid.

“I always thought of Craigslist as, ‘I need a roommate, I want a car,’ ” he said

Read More:News & Observer

Start Spring Early with Indoor Gardening

Start Spring Early with Indoor Gardening

(ARA) – Let’s face it — February, March and April can be gray and dreary months. You’re more than ready for spring to begin, but Mother Nature is on a different schedule. But you can jump start the season of growth early and bring it inside where you can enjoy it through those last moments of winter.

Stale, polluted air happens frequently when homes are closed up for the winter months. But houseplants help to lighten the mood and purify the air. A NASA study found that houseplants remove up to 87 percent of toxic indoor air inside a sealed chamber within 24 hours.

Start your spring season early by planting vegetables, herbs and flowers while winter is still in the air, so they’ll be primed for transplanting when the spring season actually arrives. You can watch the plants as they shoot their little green stems out of the fresh dirt, monitoring them as they grow larger and larger.

* Use loose potting soil to promote root growth. Outside, worms and insects tunnel through the dirt, naturally breaking it up to help plants spread their roots. To mimic their effect indoors, use potting soil mixed with peat moss, vermiculite and perlite to create a light texture that won’t compact after a couple of waterings.

* Keep the humidity level above 50 percent with a humidifier. Not only will your plants appreciate the extra moisture, but so will you. When the humidity drops below 50 percent, most plants suffer from water loss through their leaves, and it’s difficult to regain that water balance, even with frequent watering.

* Really bring spring inside your home with beautiful pots and decorating accents. Visit Montgomery Ward (www.Wards.com) to find unique gardening accents. A garden gate gives vines a place to climb and you can also use it to decorate your walls as a headboard or wall hanging. Imagine waking up in the morning to see the vine stems spiraling around the gate toward the window. Or search for elegant and decorative plant stands that match your decor, and bring to life a beautiful and scented herbal garden to spruce up your kitchen counters.

* Check the nutrient levels for your plants. Outdoor plants get nutrients reimbursed naturally, but indoor plants don’t have that luxury. Every time you water your indoor plants, you wash some of the fertilizer out of the soil. Not all plants like the same amount or kinds of fertilizer, so do a little research.

* Make sure the natural light is adequate. Some plants like direct sunlight and must be located near a south-facing window, while others prefer a few hours of indirect light. When plants don’t get the light they need, they start to appear very thin and frail. Also make sure as your plants begin to grow, that you rotate the pots so they grow straight, rather than bending unnaturally toward the source of light. If your house does not have enough natural light sourcing, artificial lights work as a good supplement.

* Take care of your plants when you leave home for more than a couple of days. You can always ask a neighbor to come in and make sure your plants get a good drink of water, or try the Oasis Plant Watering System available at Montgomery Ward (www.Wards.com ). Place drip lines in each of the plants, set the system for the number of days you’ll be gone and the gravity-fed system will irrigate your foliage twice a day. For plants that require more water, double up the drip lines, and enjoy your time away. When you return home, spring will await you inside.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Make this a Garden Season to Enjoy

Make this a Garden Season to Enjoy

(ARA) – The catalogues are starting to pile up and the list of landscape improvements grows longer each day. Don’t let this overwhelm or discourage you. Instead spend a bit of time planning now for better results in your garden. You will be amazed how much fun you can have while achieving your landscape goals under budget and within your schedule.

Take some time to look through those catalogues. It is a great way to gather ideas and get some feedback from everyone who uses or enjoys the landscape. You might find if they are invited to help with the planning they might just help with weeding. And no one is too young.

“Break out the crayons, paper, pencils, ruler, old catalogues and make garden planning a family event,” says nationally known gardening expert and author Melinda Myers. “Younger children can glue pictures of their favorite plants on a piece of paper while older ones can do the measuring, sketch the garden and help with the planting diagram.” And if you are the sole gardener and caretaker, don’t worry. The same process works and you get to make all the decisions.

Once the family has had their input or you created your wish list of plants it is time to make sure your plan is realistic. Check to see if the plants selected will grow in the heat and cold of your region. Make sure they can also tolerate the soil, wind and moisture conditions. Matching the plant to the growing conditions means an attractive landscape and productive gardens with less work. Catalogues, your local Extension service and the Internet are great sources of information. This is great way to fight the winter blues.

Now it’s time to focus on the foundation of the garden, the soil under your feet. Preparing the soil with proper fertilization helps the plants you select grow and thrive. Start with a soil test to find out what type and how much fertilizer and soil amendments you need to add. The soil test results can save you time, money and insure you do the best for your plants and the environment. Over fertilizing wastes money, damages plants and can harm the environment.

While waiting for the results you can keep everyone involved with garden planning. Gather a cup of soil from your garden. Remove any sticks and stones and place it in a clean quart straight sided jar. Fill the jar 3/4 full and add a teaspoon of non-foaming detergent and shake. This is a great way to burn calories or use excess energy our young gardeners often have. Then allow the soil to settle.  

You will begin to see layers of the different particles. Check the jar again in two days. The bottom layer is the heavier sand particles, followed by the medium sized silt and last the clay. This exercise will give you an idea of your soil structure. Compare what you found to the university lab results. “I have used this with young gardeners and it is amazing how excited they get about the soil in their garden. Even the more seasoned gardeners seem to enjoy this activity,” says Myers.

Now select a fertilizer suited to your plants. “I prefer low-nitrogen slow-release fertilizers like Milorganite,” says Melinda. “It is goof proof and safe for gardeners of all ages and experience to use. The organic source of nitrogen does not promote excess growth at the expense of flowers and helps to build stress tolerant plants. The non-leaching phosphorous is good for the environment and non-staining iron encourages a deep green color. Plus one product is good for all your gardening needs.”

Incorporate Milorganite into the soil before planting your flower and vegetable gardens as well as landscape plants. The slow release nitrogen won’t burn the developing roots or interfere with flowering.

Give flower and vegetable plants a mid season boost. The organic source of nitrogen in Milorganite will not burn heat and drought stressed plants. And be sure to water thoroughly and only as needed to keep your plants looking good throughout the season.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Garner, N.C. – Triangle East magazine’s new editor, Nancy Pardue, has put together a holiday issue brimming with tips, tricks and recommendations for the holiday season.

“It’s one big celebration in the newest issue of Triangle East, as we rejoice in the delights of Christmas and the promise of a new year,” said Pardue. “I’m glad to have this new beginning with our readers and hope they’ll love our holiday issue.”

In the article “Winter Wonders,” readers will learn how to spruce up their homes by bringing the outdoors indoors with tips from Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery. Gardening expert L.A. Jackson also offers tips on extending the life of poinsettias in his Garden Adventurer column.

“Christmas Treasures” offers tips on holiday collectibles such as Department 56 Christmas Villages, Mark Roberts Christmas Fairies, Buyer’s Choice Carolers and more.

To stave off the winter chill, “Get Fired Up” profiles three great fireside-friendly dining establishments and offers secrets on getting that fireside seat.

Two recent college graduates received makeup, hair and fashion makeovers to get them ready for a new year in “New Year, New You.”

“Giving Back in 2009” reports how students at Vandora Springs Elementary in Garner are participating in two charity projects, and provides a guide for plenty of volunteerism opportunities in the local community.

In this issue, readers can also learn about how two Miss Garners are vying for the Miss America crown, what Butterball CEO Keith Shoemaker thinks of the company’s new corporate headquarters, and what Christmas goodies and gifts will tempt shoppers this year.

The December/January issue of Triangle East magazine is available now at more than 100 locations throughout eastern Wake and Johnston counties. Subscriptions may be ordered directly by visiting www.triangleeastmagazine.com or by calling (919) 674-6020.

Read More:CarolinaNewsWire

CARY, N.C. — Regional financial services institutions like Bremer Financial Corporation must find ways to keep operations agile and efficient. When Bremer wanted to find a better financial management system, they selected SAS, the leader in business analytics, to more effectively create and analyze financial reports and budgets.

“With six separate databases required to accommodate the changing needs of our organization, we knew our processes needed an upgrade,” said Bob Buck, Chief Financial Officer at Bremer. “SAS® Financial Management provided a single solution for financial management reporting, budgeting, forecasting and consolidation. We found the solution offered the greatest flexibility for a single database of all financial management information.”

Bremer was frustrated by the need to use multiple modules for the budgeting, forecasting and reporting of financial and non-financial data. The processes in place were slow and inefficient. With SAS, Bremer will have a more streamlined and integrated planning and forecasting process, freeing up more time to analyze and improve financial plans across the organization. The added flexibility from SAS Financial Management will help the finance department manage the growing demands of business line profitability reporting and analysis.

“We anticipate increased productivity of our finance professionals with SAS in place. They will be able to focus their attention on higher-level analysis with less time devoted to managing cumbersome mechanics,” explained Ron Hansen, project manager at Bremer. “In addition to better analysis, the new solution will improve morale and retention of our experienced finance professionals, resulting in a more efficient cost structure for our finance division.”

SAS Financial Management improves the accuracy, relevance and timeliness of financial plans, budgets and reports while promoting the alignment and execution of strategy. SAS Financial Management is one component of SAS financial intelligence, a vision for financial performance management that includes solutions for financial management, activity-based management, dashboards and scorecarding, risk management, and advanced analytics such as optimization and forecasting. By combining the hindsight, insight and foresight provided through these powerful solutions, corporate finance departments can build credibility and confidence within other areas of the company.

Bremer Financial Corporation
Bremer Financial Corporation is a privately held, $7.6 billion regional financial services company jointly owned by its employees and the Otto Bremer Foundation. This unique ownership structure is the only one of its kind in the nation. Founded in 1943 by Otto Bremer, the company is headquartered in St. Paul, MN, and provides a comprehensive range of banking, investment, trust and insurance services to more than 100 locations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. A significant portion of company profits are distributed in the form of charitable grants by the Otto Bremer Foundation to communities served by Bremer. In 2007, more than $30 million in charitable donations were given across the Bremer footprint and employees donated more than 92,900 volunteer hours to their communities. For more information, please visit www.bremer.com.

Read More:CarolinaNewsWire

  

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