Friday, April 27, 2012

Cherry Chocolate Recovery Drink

4 oz chilled chocolate milk
2 tbsp tart cherry juice concentrate
2 tbsp plain yogurt
½ oz dark chocolate melted
1-2 tsp maple syrup

Microwave chocolate for a few seconds until melted, add the rest of the ingredients and blend or mix well then drink.

Power Berry Trail Mix Snack Cookie

This is a great recipe to try not only during cherry season but all year.

1 1/2 c dried tart cherries
3/4 c toasted almonds
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 c brown sugar
1/3 c honey
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c oats
1 c wheat flour
3/4 c all purpose flour
1/4 c flax seed
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c dark chocolate chips
1c yogurt butter
Cream butter and sugars in a small mixing bowl. Drizzle in honey and vanilla, mix well, add eggs. Set aside.

Sift flours, powder and soda in another medium size bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture. Stir in oats, flax seed, chocolate, almonds and cherries.

Spray muffin pan wells with non stick spray. Place one heaping tablespoon of batter into each well.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Yield 2 dz.

Cherry Season is a Time for Quiet Jubilation

One of my favorite memories of childhood was eating fresh cherries from the cherry tree in my backyard. I would climb it and pick the ripest fruit, bring it to the kitchen and magically family members would appear out of nowhere and we would all sit around and talk about everything and nothing and everyone had a good time. Having left the family nest a long while ago, when cherry season rolls around, it brings back fond memories. For me cherries are a reminder that summers should be spent outdoors as much as you can with friends and loved ones. Cherry season is a reason to cheer.
What is it about cherries that make people love them? It is an unassuming fruit, unlike grapes they don't grow in a bunch so they don't impress you with their numbers. Yet, like grapes it's very portable; it's so easy to just grab a handful and put it into a bag to bring with you for snacking. I love that when I bite into a ripe cherry, it's tight skin can be punctured and then juices seems to burst forth and flood your taste buds with a tart flavor to be quickly followed by an indescribable cherry sweetness that's not too sweet and refreshes your entire being on a warm day. You spit out the pit and a tinge of red juice marks your hand – you can't hide that you just ate a cherry.
A bowl of cherries is very pretty. Cherry colors can range from a deep, dark red of a cabernet sauvignon to an orange yellow with a red blush. Here in the US, the sweet cherries are grown mainly in the Northwest while the tangy cherries are mainly grown in the Northeast/Midatlantic. They contain a high level of antioxidants which you need in your diet to keep your body healthy to ward off cancer and heart disease. Another health benefit is that they lower the level of uric acid in your system and can alleviate the pain that comes with arthritis, joint pain, and inflammation. Cherries are also a source of melatonin, an antioxidant that we produce in our pineal gland and helps regulate our biorhythm and natural sleep pattern. Eating a handful of cherries is a great way to increase your body's melatonin so that you won't have any trouble sleeping, it would also be a great way to counter jet lag.
Cherries pack a wallop of health benefits but for me it's a reminder that summer's freshness can be packed in one little unassuming fruit.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to Fly First Class -- Cheap!

I like to get a good bargain when I travel, who doesn’t? Now that the airlines have reduced their capacity so that there are fewer flights, the airplane seems more congested than ever. But there are ways to still enjoy a free first class or business class upgrade inexpensively.
Travel on Saturday to get an inexpensive upgrade to Business or First Class. Saturday flights are slow travel days and that’s basically because there are no businesspeople flying. It’s usually the businesspeople who accumulate a lot of frequent flyer miles and often get an upgrade to First Class as a reward. But on Saturday, they are home enjoying a late day, and It’s those Saturday flights when first class upgrades are available for a ridiculous price. I flew from Cancun to Atlanta on AirTran and upgraded to Business Class for only $69 for a 1 ½ hour trip. That seat would have cost five times that much if I had bought in advance. What did I get for that $69? A much roomier, cushier seat, alcoholic drinks and really good snacks. By the time I got to Atlanta, I was very happy all the way through customs. If your flight is two hours or longer with some airlines, you even get a meal. Granted, it might cost you more than $69, but that Business/First Class seat again would have cost you five times as much as your coach fare.

Avoid the Baggage Fees

Also, do you have at least two bags that you need to check in? Then it might be a good buy to pay extra for the first class upgrade. For most airlines, a first class seat entitles you to two free bags. Currently most airlines charge $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag. If you buy a first class upgrade at $100, then that upgrade helped you to save $60 on your bags or if you want to look at it another way, that first class seat only cost you an extra $40. Also, if your trip consists of a connection, it might be worthwhile to pay a first class upgrade on one part of the trip so that you still get your bags free.
Use one frequent flyer membership for the whole family so you can accumulate miles faster and get benefits. If you are a family of four, it doesn’t make sense to have four frequent flyer numbers if three of you don’t travel as much. Consolidate all your frequent flyer miles on one membership so that you attain an elite level and get a free upgrade faster. As an elite member you are usually allowed to have one free companion accorded the same benefits as the elite member.
Choose the frequent flyer program that has the airlines that you fly frequently in order to attain a level to get free upgrades. If most of your flying is done on United, Lufthansa, and US Airways then use the Star Alliance Program. If you fly on American Airlines and British Airways then be a member of the One World Program.
Check and see whether it’s inexpensive to buy the miles so that you can get your upgrade sooner. Depending on how many miles you have already accumulated, buying miles might be cheaper than buying that Business/First Class seat.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

So you’ve finally made the leap and started your own business and you have positive cash flow. Not so much that you can retire next year but enough that you can start thinking about putting away some money for your future. Here are some easy ways to build a nest egg.
IRAs: Roth vs Traditional
One of the easiest ways to put money into a retirement plan is to open up your own Individual Retirement Account commonly known as an IRA. IRAs came into being when the Employee Retirement Income Security Act was passed in 1974. At the time, it allowed you to contribute as much as $1500 into an IRA and to make that contribution deductible, allowing the individual to reduce their taxable income. When it came time to take the money out of the account for your retirement, that was when you were taxed on your money. This type of IRA is a tax-deferred retirement account because you were not required to pay any taxes on gains and the principal until you were allowed to take the money out at age 59 ½.
A few modifications had been made through the years with the IRA in terms of an increase In contribution limits, eligibility requirements, deductibility requirements, but there were not major changes until 1997 when the Tax Payer Relief Act was passed and created the Roth IRA, which was different from the traditionally existing IRA. Unlike the traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA were not deductible but they had one big advantage over the traditional IRA, any earnings that the Roth IRA gained over the years were NOT taxable. This type of IRA is a tax-free retirement account because you didn’t have to pay any taxes on the money it earned. Another big advantage to the Roth IRA was that since the contributions were not deductible, the rules allowed you access to your contributions at any time. This gave the Roth IRA account owner more flexibility than the Traditional IRA account owner. With the traditional IRA, your money was locked up until much later into the future. If you had to take the money out, you were hit with penalties for taking your money out early. With the Roth IRA, if you had an emergency you can tap into your Roth IRA contributions without any penalty or taxes since these contributions were never deductible! These two reasons alone made the Roth IRA the more popular choice for the self-employed.
Currently you are allowed to contribute up to a maximum total of $4000 annually into an IRA account whether it’s a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA or both. IRA accounts can be opened in your local bank or a brokerage firm. The money you put in your IRA can be invested in CDs, mutual funds, bonds, stocks, annuities or a combination of these.
Another type of retirement plan for self-employed businesses that was created in 1996 is the Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers or SIMPLE IRA for short. If you are a one-person business, meaning that you are your own CEO, CFO and COO, then this type of IRA is worth looking into if you can put away more than $4,000 and as much as $11,500 annually. At this level, your business has grown to the point that your cash flow is consistent and you can easily contribute up to the maximum allowed in order to reduce your taxable income. Similar to the traditional IRA, your contributions to the SIMPLE IRA account was tax-deductible and if you were to take money out before age 59 ½ you will incur penalties. You can open up a SIMPLE-IRA in a bank or a brokerage firm and that money can also be invested in CDs, mutual funds, bonds, stocks, annuities or a combination of all those types of investments.
A third choice to put money away for retirement is to use a SEP-IRA. SEP is short for Simplified Employee Pension Plan and was created with the passing of the Revenue Act of 1978. With a SEP-IRA, the self-employed business owner can put away as much as 25% of eligible compensation but no more than $49,000 each year. These contributions are fully deductible and if you were to take money out before age 59 ½ you will incur penalties. To be able to comfortable contribute to a SEP-IRA, your business at this stage is not only established but continues to thrive and you are actively looking to help reduce your taxable income in a legitimate way. Also at this stage, the business owner has some full-time employees and you would be required to make contributions on their behalf, based on a calculation not a dollar-for-dollar match, into their own SEP-IRAs when you make contributions to your own. If you value your employees and want them to remain with you, it is to your benefit to offer this type of retirement plan to them. As with the other IRAs, a bank or brokerage firm can help set up these accounts for you and your employees and as previously mentioned, the moneys can be invested in CDs, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities or a combination.
As always, before you open any kind of IRA account, discuss your choices with your accountant so that you can choose the type of retirement plan that is appropriate for you at your given stage of the business. You want to be informed of the eligibility rules, maximum contribution limits, distribution rules, the deductibility of your contributions and so forth. Most important, if you are using investments other than a Certificate of Deposit you will want to discuss the risk involved with the type of investment that you use in you IRA.