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Susan Langenstein
423 North Main Street
Doylestown  PA 18901
 Phone: 267-446-6201
Office Phone: 215-348-7100
Toll Free: 800-360-7100
Cell: 267-446-6201
Fax: 267-354-6816 
susanlangenstein@comcast.net
Susan Langenstein

My Blog

10 Food Safety Tips for Holiday Meal Prep

November 19, 2014 12:40 am

As friends and family gather together during the holidays, you want to make sure that you keep out any unwelcome guests in the form of harmful food borne bacteria. The following tips will ensure food safety and a great time for everyone at your table.
  • Wash your hands and clean all prep surfaces and tools regularly during food preparation. Bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, especially on your hands, utensils and cutting boards. Unless you wash your hands, utensils and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food and your family.
  • Soiled cloths are a hot breeding ground for bacteria. Wash them in the hot water cycle of your washing machine.
  • Keep raw foods and ready-to-eat foods separate. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods unless you keep them separate. When juices from raw meats or bacteria from unclean objects accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods like salads, bread or cooked vegetables, cross contamination can occur.
  • When shopping, keep raw meats away from other foods in your shopping cart and in grocery bags.
  • Use separate tools and utensils. Never use the same utensils, cutting boards or containers for ready-to-eat foods that were previously used for handling raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Keep hot food "hot" and cold food "cold." Use a properly calibrated food thermometer to be sure. Cooking foods to a proper minimum internal temperature kills harmful pathogens. Many people think they can tell when food is "done" simply by checking its color and texture, but there's no way to be sure it's safe without a food thermometer.
  • Always check the food temperature in the thickest part of the roast or turkey and check in two or three different spots for a rice dish or casserole.
  • Refrigerate leftovers quickly after serving to prevent bacteria growth and potential food poisoning.
  • Perishable foods cannot be left at out for longer than two hours at room temperature, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Never marinate or thaw foods on the counter at room temperature. These should be done in the refrigerator or in some other safe manner.
Source: Bart Christian

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Let Hackers Ruin Your Holidays

November 19, 2014 12:40 am

With the holiday shopping season here, it's important to protect ourselves online. Major data breaches have been in the news regularly as thieves have made off with sensitive data from millions of consumers. By being aware and taking precautions, we can prevent ourselves from being victims of cybercrime, hackers, ID theft, viruses and more.

A survey by CreditCards.com indicated that as data breaches exposing consumer credit, debit card and other personal information become more common, nearly half of cardholding shoppers say they're reluctant this holiday season to return to stores that have been hacked.

“You can’t depend on your favorite retailer to protect your information from cyber crime, hackers, big data marketers and identity theft,” says Vince Mazza, co-founder of Guard Street. “You must actively manage your security and privacy."

Guard Street recommends these five tips:

1. Shop securely and anonymously. Use a secure virtual private network to shield cybercriminals and hackers from tracking your online activity from your mobile device, desktop or laptop. Be wary of free Wi-Fi or VPN – it may cost you a loss of privacy. Use a disposable email address should you need to enter an email address to enter websites or gain access to information. Try www.privacymart.com.

2. Stop and think before sharing information.
Don't provide information if you are unsure about the legitimacy of the request. Be careful of links taking you to sites that ask for your personal information. If an organization asks for your social security number to validate your identity, request another question.

3. Stay on top of your statements. Review credit card statements every month for any unauthorized charges and make sure to keep an eye on the smaller charges. Thieves will charge smaller amounts to test to see if you notice and then change larger amounts later.

4. Beware of email scammers. Some emails from scammers may mention big retailers who were hacked including Home Depot or they may offer free credit monitoring -- never click on these links! Many are fake sites that try to steal bank information or passwords. If an email looks creditable from a retailer, go to the retailers site directly instead of clicking on links.

5. Keep a clean machine. Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.

Source: Guard Street

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Save Big Bucks This Winter with an Energy Audit

November 19, 2014 12:40 am

(BPT) - If you are winterizing your home to protect against the headache of frozen pipes and potential water damage, conducting a quick, three-step energy audit now can help prevent nasty surprises when the heating bill arrives.

It's human instinct to increase the heat during the coldest winter days, but this comes with increased heating costs that can stretch the household budget. Air leakage contributes significantly to home heating costs – the U.S Department of Energy suggests that floors, walls, ceilings and windows account for 41 percent of air leakage in homes. Air escaping from the home's envelope means the furnace has to work overtime to compensate and maintain a comfortable living temperature. As a result, energy consumption remains high, monthly bills continue to climb and any efficiency achieved through other methods is fruitless.

A simple energy audit can help you better understand your home's performance and ensure your heating bills don't break the bank this winter.

Start by thoroughly cleaning all vents, filters and ducts. Use a vacuum to remove any dust and debris around your furnace's filters. Then, have a professional clean your ductwork. Cleaning can noticeably improve the performance of your home's heating system, allowing it to run more efficiently.

Having a home energy auditor complete a "blower door" test will allow you to better understand how air flows through your home. This comprehensive test measures how much air is moving through any cracks around doors, windows and other potential problem areas. A well-sealed home should have no leaks. The energy auditor will also use equipment such as a "smoke pencil" and infrared camera to further assess the home's overall performance and identify problem areas that need to be addressed.

Finally, have an insulation professional assess your existing insulation's performance. Gaps, cracks and inconsistency of insulation coverage can significantly impact your home's energy performance, as well as your monthly heating bills. A licensed insulation professional can make recommendations as to how to address air leakage effectively with a better-performing insulation material. Spray foam insulation works well in all climates to fill cracks and gaps, stop air leakage and help reduce the strain on your heating and cooling equipment. This insulation material both insulates and air seals the home helping to noticeably reduce monthly heating and cooling bills.

While air leakage can cause your heating bills to jump significantly this winter, completing a quick energy audit and having a well-insulated home can help you get through the cold winter months.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Get the Most from Your Insurance Dollars

November 18, 2014 1:16 am

When it comes to filing an insurance claim, knowledge is power.

“The best time to learn about the claims process is before you have a loss,” notes Jeanne M. Salvatore, the Insurance Information Institute’s (I.I.I.) chief communications officer. “Knowing what to do can make filing a claim less stressful if you have a loss.”

The I.I.I. recommends the following steps when filing an insurance claim:

Contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible, either by phone or online.
When speaking to your insurer, have your policy number (if you have it), location of the incident, extent of the damage, cell phone number or other contact information. Ask them these specific questions: Is the damage covered? How long do I have to file the claim? Does the claim exceed the deductible? How long will it take to process the claim? Will an estimate be needed?

Document the loss.
Create a file for your claim—the better organized you are the simpler and easier the entire process will be. Take pictures of the loss and write up a summary of exactly what happened. Keep lists of any damage and write down the names and contact information of anyone involved in the claim. This includes the name and title of everyone you speak to at your insurance agency and/or company.

Submit the claim.
Once you have notified your insurance company, you will be told what information you will need to supply to them. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them. Your claims representative is there to help you. Keep copies of all forms and any information or materials you provide to your insurance company. The company will likely send an adjuster to inspect the damage and help settle the claim. There is no charge for this service.

You may also be contacted by public adjusters who have no relationship with your insurance company. Public adjusters charge a fee for their services—as much as 15 percent of the total value of your claim settlement. Keep in mind that they can’t get more money for you than what is stated in your policy.

Know who to contact if you are not satisfied with your settlement.
Most consumers find that their claim is paid quickly, easily and fairly. If you are not satisfied with how your claim is being settled, talk to your agent or claims representative. Tell them about your problem and ask them to intercede on your behalf. If you are still not happy with the results, contact the head of the claims department or another person in authority at your insurance company. Send them a written note explaining why you are not satisfied and back your complaint up with facts, figures and any pertinent documents.

If you cannot come to an agreement with your insurance company, you may consider contacting your state department of insurance. Explain the reason for the disagreement so that the department can investigate your claim and help resolve any difference you may have with your insurer.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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8 Ways to Avoid Debt from Holiday Expenses

November 18, 2014 1:16 am

Many people are entering the largest shopping season of the year financially ill-prepared. For some, the ghosts of Christmases past are still haunting them in the form of unmanageable credit card debt. For others, finding $800, the amount the National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend during the holidays this year, is seemingly beyond their reach.

“For the many Americans who struggle to meet daily living expenses, the thought of the holidays approaching brings anxiety instead of joy,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling®. “The pressure to purchase can be overwhelming, causing even the most well-intentioned to take on additional debt.”

To help consumers avoid creating debt, the NFCC recommends:
  • Taking advantage of seasonal hiring by finding a second job doing something enjoyable, and earmark each paycheck for holiday spending. Even a 20-hour-per-week job can net hundreds of dollars by year-end. It may not sound appealing to take on a second job, but remember that debt is its own burden.
  • This is the perfect time of the year to sell unwanted items. Scour the house for things that are no longer needed or used. Sell them locally or online and reap the benefits of having rid the house of clutter while generating extra money.
  • Look for free ways to buy. Now may be the time to use any gift cards that have been saved. Check out how many reward points have been earned through credit cards. To maximize the points, evaluate making purchases through the card’s online partners. If using a cash-back card, consider redeeming the money available.
  • Cut back on expenses. This may seem like an odd suggestion during the largest spending season of the year. However, the fact is that there’s a finite amount of money available, thus when spending in some categories increases, it means that spending in others will have to decrease. Make a conscious decision where to temporarily eliminate or reduce spending to make money available for holiday purchases.
  • Consider re-gifting. Re-gifting has an undeserved bad image, but when looking at the facts, it actually makes sense. A perfectly good item that isn’t liked or used benefits no one sitting in a closet gathering dust. It could be just the gift someone else has been hoping for.
  • Instead of purchasing gifts, give the gift of self. Donate your time in another person’s name to a charity and send cards to those on your gift list letting them know of this contribution. It will likely be appreciated and remembered much longer than any store-bought present. As an added bonus, it may inspire them to do the same.
  • To free up money for other expenses, when entertaining have a potluck dinner instead of assuming the cost of the entire meal; when traveling, stay with friends or family instead of a hotel; consider buying a gift for the entire family instead of individual presents.
  • If forced to charge expenses, put all holiday spending on one credit card, and commit to repaying that debt in the first quarter of the New Year. Doing this will not only avoid paying excessive interest on the debt, but will prevent the holiday spending from being co-mingled with existing debt, and allow a more comprehensive picture of the spending.
Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Prevent Home Burglaries This Holiday

November 18, 2014 1:16 am

(BPT) – Not many people associate crime with the holidays, but unfortunately, burglary incidents increase this time of year. With a few simple safety precautions, you can protect your property, your family and your valuables now and well into the New Year.

1. Tone down décor and hide gifts – When it comes to holiday decorations, modesty is definitely the best policy. Expensive decorations on display can be a signal that there are valuables inside your home worth a criminal's time. Gifts under a tree standing near a window are a welcome invitation for thieves. Leave gifts tucked away until the last possible minute. If you must display presents, make sure they are out of sight from any windows or doorways.

2. Lock all windows and doors –Whether you are home, running errands or away on vacation, take care to close and lock all doors and windows. Remember to set alarms, too. A simple dowel placed in a sliding glass door or window can be an inexpensive way to secure vulnerable entrance points.

3. Keep your yard maintained – A well-lit and well-groomed home provides an important measure of safety. USAA, a leading provider of banking, insurance and investment services to the military community, recommends the 3 foot/6 foot rule: trim branches to 6 feet off the ground and shrubs down to 3 feet to minimize hiding places for burglars.

4. Dispose of boxes carefully – It’s best not to alert strangers to the new 70-inch flat screen in your home by leaving the box on the curb for refuse pickup. When it comes to big-ticket items and valuables, boxes on the curb are a sure sign to criminals that there’s something expensive in your home. Break down boxes and recycle them.

5. Travel smart
– Be proactive about home safety if you have holiday travel plans. Never let mail or newspapers pile up at your home, as it is an instant indicator you are not there. Have a neighbor collect mail and newspapers or have your service stopped by calling the post office and newspaper provider. If possible, have a neighbor park their car in your driveway intermittently to keep up the appearance that someone is coming and going.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Three Steps to a Worry-Free Thanksgiving

November 17, 2014 1:52 am

Thanksgiving is upon us and that means gathering family and friends for turkey and trimmings. For those hosting the big meal, adequate preparation is key to a stress-free holiday. Avoid Thanksgiving trauma and enjoy the day with these three simple tips.

1. Take stock of supplies well in advance. Don’t be caught with chipped glasses, unintentionally mismatched plates or an under-cooked turkey. Evaluate your cooking and serving utensils, dishes, flatware, glassware, and oven well ahead of the holiday. If your oven needs to be replaced, give up hosting duties this year and make alternative arrangements.

2. Schedule everything. Bill Telepan, chef and co-owner of Telepan, a New York City restaurant, suggests drawing up a timeline to stay organized. Include estimates for the time it takes to prepare meals, cook food, plate and serve, and remember to factor in time spent with guests.

3. Serve guests time-tested recipes. Ina Garten, “The Barefoot Contessa,” recommends never serving a new dish on Thanksgiving. If you want to test out a new recipe, experiment on your own, and use only your most successful meals when serving guests.

Source: Lieb Cellars

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Minor Winter Repairs Equal Major Savings

November 17, 2014 1:52 am

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Saver Guide, the typical U.S. family spends at least $2,200 per year on home utility bills, and heating and cooling accounts for the biggest portion – approximately 48 percent. The DOE says that those bills could be reduced by up to 25 percent by taking steps to efficiently manage those systems. Make these minor repairs for major savings this winter:

Cover drafty windows.
Use a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on a frame or tape clear plastic film to the inside of window frames during the cold winter months. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.
Adjust the temperature. When families are home and awake, set the thermostat as low as is comfortable. When asleep or out of the house, turn the thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours and save around 10 percent a year on heating and cooling bills.

Find and seal leaks. Seal the air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes (“plumbing penetrations”), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Add caulk or weather stripping to seal air leaks around leaky doors and windows.

Maintain heating systems. Schedule a service for the heating system. Find out what maintenance is required to keep the heating system operating efficiently. Replace the furnace filter once a month, or as needed.

Reduce heat loss from the fireplace. Keep the fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.

Depending on time of day, open or close window treatments. Windows can account for 10-25 percent of a heating bill by letting heat out. Opening draperies and shades on south-facing windows during the day allows sunlight to enter the home and keep rooms warm. Conversely, closing window treatments at night reduces the chill.

Source: Appraisal Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Heat Up Your Fireplace Design

November 17, 2014 1:52 am

Fireside season is upon us. It's that time of the year when the glow of a fire provides warmth to a room and a cozy backdrop for sharing special moments with friends and family. Though the fireplace is often the centerpiece of a room, it is an element that homeowners typically don’t consider when designing their space. Bring your fireplace to the foreground with tips from interior designer Nancy L. Mikulich, ASID.

Be bold – If you have a fireplace that extends into the room, think of it as a different piece of architecture. Consider wrapping the exposed sides in a textured wall treatment, such as a grass cloth or a shiny wallpaper. Since you won’t need a large amount of material, you may be able to splurge on a pricier product.

For a low cost approach, pick up an accent color from your rug or favorite pillow and paint the wall above the mantle. Then, paint the mantle itself in a complementary accent color for a bold, graphic touch.

Showcase inner beauty – The inside of a fireplace is a showcase and should be harmoniously designed to work with your decor style. Gas logs are a wonderful option for those seeking convenience and cost-effectiveness. These products look just as beautiful when the fireplace is off as they do when it's on.

Expand your seating – If the room allows for it, create a separate sitting area in front of the fireplace. Find a decorative screen, a pair of tufted ottomans and a small area rug. The additional furniture will provide overflow seating when the house is full of holiday visitors.

Enjoy it all year – Sometimes we only think of the fireplace when the weather turns chilly. But it is important to remember that the fireplace is in your room all year round, so make sure the dominant colors and textures in the room work from season to season. This way, you can interchange your accessories and artwork and enjoy the warmth of a hearth 365 days a year.

Source: R.H. Peterson Co.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fixed Mortgage Rates Hovering Near 2014 Lows

November 14, 2014 1:43 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates little changed from the previous week with the 30-year mortgage still hovering around 4 percent.

“Fixed mortgage rates were slightly down on mixed results from October’s employment report,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “While the unemployment rate declined to 5.8 percent, nonfarm employment rose by 214,000 jobs, which was below consensus expectations. Net revisions for payroll employment in August and September added 31,000 more jobs to the initial readings.”

The PMMS found:
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.01 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending November 13, 2014, down from last week when it averaged 4.02 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.35 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.20 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.21 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.35 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.02 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.97 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.01 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.43 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.45 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.61 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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