Saturday, December 21, 2013

Insight - 2013 in review - By Michelle Libby

2013 has been a year to remember. So I’ve been trying to recollect what happened. I know in January my eighth book was released. “Crash and Burn” wasn’t a chart topper, but it has been fun to hear and read the reviews. 
Then in February I met with Kelly Mank, who had a radical idea for a newspaper that would bring the community together and would write about positive news. Sign me up. In my career I have had to call the family of a deceased man who also killed someone driving the wrong way on the interstate. That is not the type of news most people want to read about. It was definitely not the type of stories I want to write. 

Along comes The Windham Eagle, a breath of fresh air in an industry that thrives on the sensational and salacious news to draw viewer to them. The Windham Eagle searches out stories about people in Windham and Raymond who are doing great things and are making a difference. I’m reminded of the people we have helped this year through articles we have written. Jesse and his new service dog, Brittany Riley was loaned a mobility device and was given the name of a doctor who was doing a medical trial that she might be a candidate for, and one woman lost 23 pounds in our Fit4Summer challenge. The Windham Eagle is making a difference. 

It certainly has kept me busy. March to November when by in a blur. I spent quite a few weekends doing college type things with my daughter and the rest of the family including a trip north to Presque Isle. 

In November I finished the Thanksgiving edition from Mexico, the country, not Maine. Then December was over in a blink and we are almost back to where we began at the beginning of the year. 

I have given thanks for my wonderful writers, the readers who send us emails about stories they’d like to see covered, the kudos for stories they didn’t know about, but needed to, and to the businesses who have advertised with us. 

I love attending events and having people tell me how much they enjoy reading the paper, please don’t stop. And, if there are ideas or suggestions that readers have, Kelly and I are no further than a phone call or email away. 

I hope that everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas. Our next issue will be January 3, 2014. Don’t worry. We will still be covering the happenings in our communities over the holidays. News never sleeps.
From our family to yours, we wish you the brightest and best for the New Year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Insight - Leading our children into the future - By Michelle Libby

Sometimes with a nudge and sometimes with a 2x4 we have to push our children into the future. How and what they choose to do with their lives often depends on how we have modeled and guided them over the years. 

I find myself listening to my children talk to others and am often surprised at how often my words come out of their mouths. Sometimes I like what they are saying, other times I wish I could change what I said. 

Beyond what is said, actions speak louder than words. This morning I waited at the end of my road to be let onto Route 302. It was busy and cars were backed way up. No one was going anywhere fast, yet car after car passed by and didn’t let me out. My soon-to-be-driving daughter noticed this. Finally someone stopped, flashed their lights and let me into traffic. I waved and pulled out. (Thanks again to that driver.) 

What did my daughter learn from this encounter? Stopping for a car was some goodwill toward another driver and that when someone does something nice for you, you acknowledge it with a wave.

This is the season for doing nice things for others. One thing we do is donate to Toys for Tots, a USMC program that gives toys to underprivileged children. We try to find something unique and make a big deal out of dropping it off as a family. I’m hoping that when my children are on their own, they will remember this and contribute. This is especially meaningful, since their father is a Marine and has worked with the Toys for Tots program. 

Whether dropping coins in the Salvation Army red kettle outside Walmart or at the mall, dropping off a used coat for someone in need, doing for others and letting your children in on it makes them stronger and better people. 

Even if a family can’t afford to buy items for others, letting the car out into traffic or some other small way to make a connection with other human beings, is a great message to send to the future generations.

-          Michelle Libby  

Monday, December 9, 2013

You know who really grinds my gears? - By Jeffrey J. Thivierge

You know who really grinds my gears…?

The cable company. (All of them.)

As a man born in the tail end of “Generation X”, I can comfortably say that I was probably born into the first generation of people that has had cable TV their entire lives. I did, however, grow up in Aroostook County, which meant that my brand of cable consisted of channels 2 thru 13, one of those was French, and one of them was public access. I learned to adore the Atlanta Braves on TBS and never missed an episode of “The Bozo Show” on WGN when I was home sick from school. 

I’ve had the fortune of living in a few different areas of the country, and was always blessed to have enough money to have cable TV. When I dropped out of UMFK, I landed in New Hampshire and had about 50 channels, which I thought was amazing. When I joined the Army, following an overseas tour in Korea, I lived in El Paso, Texas, where I was amazed at the channels that I had…. almost 100 of them!

This past summer, I got mad at my local cable company because they had an argument with a network over fees and halted the delivery of “Showtime”, which broadcasts some of the best shows on television. Was it petty of me to cancel my cable over the fact that I couldn’t watch “Dexter”? Probably. I did, however, get a sweet deal on a satellite dish. Thus far, I’ve only had minimal problems with reception during high wind and rain storms. 

So what’s my gripe? The number of channels that I have had with both the cable and satellite provider is simply overwhelming. I get my local channels, along with so many channels that I can’t figure out where my channels and shows are located. I’ve had my current provider since early August and I continue to find channels, hidden away in the 1500s. Yup. 1500s. 

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that I have the Celebrity Shopping Channel on channel 223, as well as the coveted Jewelry TV Infomercial Channel on channel 72, but let’s be honest… did I WANT those channels? No. I wanted Showtime so I could indulge in “Dexter” and “Homeland”. Now I’m stuck wading through the mindless garbage that mucks up my channel guide. 

Now, for all of these channels, we the consumer must pay a premium. We have more channels than I want or need, just to get the channels that we do want. Personally, I just want to be able to order my channels “a la carte” and not be forced into paying for channels like “ESPN-8, The Ocho”. 

Needless to say, I’m a slave to my provider and must pay what they demand for “my” channels and shows. I don’t see my options changing anytime soon…. Unless I just stop watching TV and read more books. I hear TV rots your brain.

A Christmas Memory - By Elizabeth Giammarco

Christmastime has always been a bittersweet occasion for me. Although my childhood was blessed with holidays that involved a multitude of relatives that included grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, it was at times quite lonely for I had no siblings close to me in age. However, because my father and his brothers and sisters chose to buy homes near one another, there was always a fresh supply of cousins to go around, which came in handy especially when some of us were not quite getting along. Those times, however, did not last very long. And for the most part, as I look back, we as cousins had an unique and an ideal arrangement. Although the camaraderie that existed between my father, his brothers, and brothers-in-law was apparent throughout the year, holidays fortified it. I remember with great joy, one such Christmastime. 

During the fifties, weekends were never for sitting in front of the television and watching a good football game or any other seemingly frivolous activity as they are today, but instead were for projects. Whether the tasks were cleaning the gutters, painting the house, pruning the trees, or going shopping, it was known that adults were busy and television was off limits until after suppertime for everyone. We children also had chores to do with the reward being that after a job well done, we were allowed to play. And if there is nothing else that I remember about my childhood, it is that we did indeed play. Playing was not only good for us but excellent therapy for the adults as well. In fact playing was mandatory. It was also very hard work because not only were we expected to play but we had to play nicely. This last part was probably the major reason why our battles didn’t last long. It was much easier to make up with one another than to have the “Didn’t we tell you to play nicely” stated with the resulting consequences that ran the gamut from having to shovel mounds of snow to “no movies tomorrow.” We learned from the start that parents did not side with children, especially when those in question were related to one another. The balance of power within the family structure had to remain stable, which meant that we had to solve most of our problems without parental intervention.

Wintery New England weekends brought with them cold, ice, and snow, which provided us with activities such as sledding down our road, skating in our backyards, or skiing through our woods from early morning until the siren at the Geneva fire station went off at seven o’clock. Although we did stop occasionally for a quick lunch and dry clothes, for the most part, we were outside. 

This particular Saturday was no exception. We children were busy with sliding down the road that was cordoned off when somewhere through the hustle and bustle of our playing, I became aware of my father’s and my uncle’s comings and goings. I remember the two men chatting as they hauled cardboard tubes, heavy gauge wire, and wooden blocks back and forth from one house to the other. As they worked, they talked. It seemed as if they were always conversing and always had something of great importance to say to one another. Neither one of them or any of my father’s other siblings (nine in all) were boisterous but always spoke with one another in a quiet and matter- of- fact way (it was a comfortableness and a closeness that I have yet to observe in others). 

With my frozen stocking cap shoved down across my young eyes, I watched as my father, with the ever-present Camel cigarette stuck in his mouth, made up large amounts of white creamy stuff. I saw red paint and large bulbs that looked like huge flames pass from one man to the other. I heard the sound of saws and the pounding of nails and smelled the dizzying odor of lacquer. The two brothers looked like Santa’s elves as they sawed, painted, wired and nailed. I remember the wonderment that crept upon me as I observed the bits and pieces come together and the white fluffy substance being placed upon the red tubes. Slowly, as we played out the day, the miracle of illusion came to life as the darkness of the cold December night began to wrap itself around us. 

While we were busy being children, ivory plastic candles with bright orange bulbs found their way to the window sills of our homes. Large, multi-colored lights quietly appeared on the shrubbery, trees, and bushes. Red bows, large, green door wreaths and garland adorned the houses as if by magic. I remember feeling the delight of seeing the night transformed into an icy festival of brilliance. 

As we dragged the sleds and ourselves up the hill towards our homes, the business of the day that my father and uncle were engaged in was apparent. Two extraordinary large red candles with gobs of white paraffin-like substance graced each side of the black wrought iron rails that led to my home. The large flame bulbs glowed with a halo of golden yellow that lit up the whole front yard. As I looked towards my cousins’ home, they too had red candles that were set in a series of large to small that also had bright flames aglow. Although the two sets of candles were quite different from one another, the cohesiveness of the men who built them was evident. Since that Christmastime, there has never been nor could there ever be candles that had wrapped up in them the security, warmth, or complexity of a time and of a family. For me, those wondrous, illusory lamps have since then and will forever represent the embodiment of a love that flowed from one generation to another. On that extraordinary night, two brothers were able to capture the current from the heavens for the lighting of a memory.

Year-end tax opportunities - By Kevin Brunelle

With the end of the year quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to look for ways to reduce your 2013 tax burden. Several popular tax breaks are currently slated to expire on December 31. In past years, Congress has extended many popular tax breaks, but with looming deficits and discord in DC, there is no telling what lawmakers will do this time around. 

Some of the tax breaks set to expire on December 31, 2013 include:

Energy Credits – An energy credit is available for certain energy efficient improvements including doors, windows, heat pumps, furnaces, central air conditioners and water heaters. The credit is equal to 10 percent of the product cost and taxpayers are limited to a $500 lifetime limit for the credit, as well as a $200 cap for windows and doors. Extension of this credit is uncertain so act quickly because installation needs to be completed by December 31. 

Mortgage Insurance Premiums – The IRS currently allows mortgage insurance premiums to be treated as qualified mortgage interest for taxpayers under a certain income limit. Look at refinancing your mortgage early next year if this tax break is discontinued. 

IRA Distributions to Charity – Individuals age 70 ½ or older are allowed to donate up to $100,000 from their IRA directly to charity. Donating directly to a charity has a number of tax advantages. Charitable IRA rollovers, unlike other donations, are not subject to percentage limitations. Also, donating these assets, rather than taking minimum required distributions, keeps adjusted gross income (AGI) down and helps avoid certain negative tax consequences that come along with higher AGIs.

Deductions for Teachers’ Expenses – Teachers are allowed to deduct up to $250 for money they spend buying supplies for their classrooms. This deduction will most likely be extended. However, if you are a teacher and you expect to buy more supplies this school year, make sure to stock up before December 31 to guarantee your tax break. 

Business Incentives – For 2013, businesses can expense up to $500,000 of qualifying equipment under section 179 (subject to certain restrictions) and can take 50 percent bonus depreciation on certain new equipment. In 2014, the section 179 expense is expected to be reduced to $25,000 and bonus depreciation is expected to go away. 

The above is a summation of complex tax law. Please check with your tax professional before making a decision. Our CPAs at Milliken, Perkins and Brunelle are available to assist you any time of year.