DIY Ways to Prep Your House for Winter


As fall morphs into winter and temperatures increasingly drop, you may notice cooler weather inside your home as well. One reason: Things like cracks in window panes, poorly insulated water heaters and clogged air filters can mean your home is not acquiring its maximum energy efficiency.

You could hire a contractor or other worker to fix a hole in your window letting cold air in, or affix insulation to your attic walls — but that can be a hassle, breaking your budget and butting into your schedule. The good news is there are easy projects you can do yourself around your home to prepare for winter — that will save you time and energy, won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and you can do it on your own time, whenever you please.

Here are some common problems that occurs in homes when winter arrives, and how you can fix them — all by yourself.

1. Seal holes and gaps in walls and windows

Gaps and cracks in your foundation and walls can cause chilly air, and sometimes even rodents, to sneak inside your home.

“It doesn’t take much to get rid of that outdoor draft that comes in,” says Jan Cregier, owner of Interior Expressions by Jan in Bartlett, Ill., and a member of the national board of the Interior Design Society (IDS). All you need to fill the holes are some foam and caulk, which can be found at nearly every local hardware store. Use an adhesive foam around window and door gaps and expanding foam for sealing cracks and pipes. Also try a paintable caulk, which comes off easily if you’re mistake prone (and it will last for years to come).

 2. Add insulation

Insulation’s job? To keep warm air inside and keep cold air out.

“It’s amazing how even a small draught can make a room a lot colder, so if you can cut that bit of air out it immediately makes a difference,” says Claire Potter, an interior designer. Use rolls of foam insulation, which are inexpensive yet still get the job done. Additionally, mineral wool, glass fiber and recycled paper products work just as well to insulate your home. When installing insulation, remember to wear protective face ware such as a mask or goggles and protective clothing.

 3. Give doors and windows an upgrade

The most energy efficient windows are double- and triple-pane. At your local store, look for “low-emissivity” (low-E) window glass that’s been treated with an invisible metallic coating, which saves energy and reflects heat.

“It’s kind of like putting sunglasses on your window,” says Anna Marie Mavrakis, president of Mavrakis Construction and Cottage Draperies & Interiors in Canton, Ohio, and president of IDS. An even easier option is covering the inside of your windowpanes with Frost King, a removable polyurethane film. All you need is a hair dryer to shrink and pull the plastic tight to avoid wrinkling.

4. Fill cracks in flooring

As much as 10 percent of heat can be lost through floors if they’re not properly insulated, according to the National Energy Foundation (NEF). The easiest fix is placing a decorative rug on the floor or installing carpet, but if you’re set on your hardwoods, some filler will do to heal the cracks.

“Floorboards and skirting boards can contract, expand or move slightly with everyday use, so you should use a filler that can tolerate movement,” the NEF recommends. Note: A silicone-based filler is a good example of one that can tolerate movement.

 5. Pay attention to air filters

A dirty or clogged air filter means that central air will have to work overtime to heat your home — and that can be costly. It’s important to change your filters every one to three months, but especially when it gets cooler outside. A great choice of filter is a pleated one, which may capture more dirt. You can do this yourself in a matter of minutes, and filter replacements can be picked up at your local hardware store.

All it takes are a few quick fixes and your home will be warm, cozy, and best of all, energy efficient come the arrival of Old Man Winter.

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Use Your Merchants Debit or Credit Card to Swipe Out Hunger


By swiping your Merchants Bank debit or credit card you can help maximize the amount of money Merchants Bank gives this year to local food shelves.

What is Swipe Out Hunger?
Swipe Out Hunger is a Merchants Bank initiative to support local food shelves in our communities. Food shelves are nominated by our branches and receive a donation based on the number of votes cast through our Facebook page. The total possible donation will increase by 5 cents each time our customers swipe their Merchants Bank debit or credit cards between November 28 and December 10, to a maximum of $10,000.

This year Merchants goal is to:

  • Give $5,000 to the top vote getting food shelf.
  • Give a percentage of another $5,000 to all other nominated shelves based on their percentage of votes.

In order to achieve both goals, we need to reach 200,000 swipes (purchases made with a Merchants Bank debit or credit card) by our customers between November 28 and December 10.

How can you help?
Between November 28-December 10:

  • Use your debit or credit card to increase the total amount of money Merchants donates.
  • Like the Merchants Bank Facebook page and cast your vote for your favorite local food shelf. You may vote up to three times per day.

Which food shelves are participating?
This year’s nominated food shelves include:

Apple Valley and Rosemount – The Open Door
Caledonia and Spring Grove – SEMCAC Houston County Food Shelf
Cannon Falls – Cannon Falls Food Shelf
Cottage Grove – Friends in Need Food Shelf
Hampton – Randolph Community Food Shelf
Hastings – Hastings Family Services
La Crescent – La Crescent Area Food Shelf
Lakeville – 360 Communities
Lanesboro – SEMCAC in Preston
Onalaska – The Hunger Task Force of La Crosse
Red Wing – Red Wing Area Food Shelf
Rushford – SEMCAC in Rushford
St. Charles – Southeast Minnesota Rural Education & Resource Center
Winona – Winona Volunteer Services

Additional details regarding Swipe Out Hunger can be found at our website.

Al Gathje Joins Merchants Bank as a Business Banker

AlGathjeAl Gathje has joined Merchants Bank in Rushford as a Business and Ag Banker. He will help people in the Rushford and Lanesboro area with business and agriculture loans.

“We are excited to have Al on our team at Merchants,” said Ken Graner, President of Merchants Bank in Rushford and Lanesboro. “He lives here, he works here, and he will be an exceptional fit serving the needs of the people in our area.”

Gathje, who lives just outside of Lanesboro, has been working in sales throughout the area for the past 17 years. He has an agriculture related degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A Stewartville native, he started working on area farms when he was just 13 and has a deep interest in the ag industry.

“I am customer oriented and customer driven. I was attracted to Merchants because of its customer service reputation,” Gathje said. “I look forward to building long-term relationships where together we will be able to see real signs of success as our relationship grows.”

Click here to learn more about business banking at Merchants.

Monster Cookies

6 eggs
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp Karo syrup
4 tsp baking soda
1/2 lb. butter or margarine
3 cups peanut butter (almost a 28 oz. size jar)
9 cups oatmeal
1 cup M&M candies
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Cream eggs, sugar and butter. Add vanilla, syrup, soda and peanut butter. Mix well. Stir in oatmeal. Fold in M&Ms and chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes.

Cook’s note: I use more M&Ms than the recipe calls for (about 1 1/2 cups).

Merchants Family Cookbooks are available at all Merchants Bank locations for $15. Proceeds benefit local food shelf programs.

Learn about Quickbooks and more at our November events

Our staff invites you to join them at these great events throughout November. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page for information on these events or pictures from other events you may have missed.
The Secrets to Understanding Quickbooks and Your Business Finances – Quickbooks Beyond the Basics Part 2: 7:30-9am
Learn how to understand and utilize the income statement at our free business session featuring speakers from JRM and Associates. Session include breakfast.
Minnesota CPA Tax Conference: 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
Stop by and see us at the Merchants Bank booth (#213) for your chance to win Minnesota Wild hockey tickets!

5 Ways to Stick to an Exercise Routine


How many times have you penned a workout plan — and then did not follow through with it? You’re not alone. Even when you have the best intentions, motivation can ebb and flow every few days or weeks, according to a study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.

But don’t fret; with a few little tricks, you can stick with it, and reap the health benefits that come with it.

“There’s a notion that when you want to start a new fitness regimen it’s all or nothing, but change is a series of different stages with different ways to get you to each next stage,” says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of “A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.”

Ready to get your motivation back? It’s easy with these tips:

Dress the part – Simply putting on your workout gear and lacing up your sneakers can help enhance your motivation to hit the gym. According to a Northwestern University study, when participants wore a lab coat, they were better at tasks that required attention than they were when donning regular street clothes. What’s that have to do with exercise?

“It’s all about the symbolic meaning that you associate with a particular item of clothing,” says researcher Hajo Adam. “I think it would make sense that when you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out.” Even if you weren’t planning to work out, the right clothing may motivate you to pick up the pace around the house or even take a walk around the block (in other words, it couldn’t hurt).

Keep it interesting – Doing the same fitness routine over and over again can become tedious — and in turn, zap your motivation. So, instead of continuing to walk the treadmill or ride an exercise bike every day, switch it up and make working out more enjoyable. For example, take a walk in the park with the kids, a hike with your spouse, or check out drop-in exercise classes at gyms and malls. Many tend to offer classes like Pilates, yoga, Zumba or strength training — classes that will keep your workout appealing (and best of all, sometimes these drop-in classes won’t even cost you anything to attend).

Be realistic with your goals – Saying that you will complete a two-hour workout at 6 a.m. each morning followed by a yoga and Zumba class may not be very practical. Instead, focus on fulfilling goals you can commit to, like upping your run one-tenth of a mile whenever you’re out for a jog, or losing a pound in two weeks.

“Set realistic goals that include clear milestones, and as you progress toward your goal, you’ll find a ripple effect occurs and things fall into place in your work, home life and health,” says Stacy Fowler, a personal trainer and life coach in Denver. When you achieve a goal, you may be surprised at how much your motivation will increase and you’ll want to continue on the fast track to success.

Be flexible – When plotting out precisely when you’ll work out, it’s important to go easy on yourself. Scheduling exercise time slots three or four times a week is a great way to stay active, but be willing to mix up your agenda when need be, say, when an unexpected work event pops up or you’re feeling under the weather. In other words, if something does come up, don’t let that stop you from getting a workout in at another time.

Get a gym buddy – Having someone to work out with is proven to help you stay committed to fitness.

“In my 10 years of experience evaluating what creates long-term health-and-fitness success, the single most important factor is having a support system,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, cofounder and medical director of Take Shape for Life, a nationwide health and lifestyle coaching program based in Owings Mills, Md. Think about it: If you promised your friend or family member that you’d work out with them at a certain time, you’ll be more likely to follow through than if you didn’t make that promise.

“Psychologically, if you feel like you have a responsibility and commitment toward another person, you are more likely to follow through on that commitment,” says Michelle P. Maidenberg, PhD, MPH, clinical director of Westchester Group Works in Harrison, N.Y. Additionally, a study published in “Psychology of Sport and Exercise” showed that the workout habits of people you know can positively influence your own.

Sticking to a fitness plan doesn’t have to be tedious. With these simple exercise-related motivation boosters, you’ll be back in the swing of things in no time.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Increases Shareholder Dividend by Five Cents Per Share; Success Continues Through First Three Quarters of 2014

Rod Nelson, President & CEO

Rod Nelson, President/CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) reported net income of $9,749,529 through the first three quarters of 2014. The figure is $281,644 ahead of last year’s net income and ahead of MFGI’s plan. Based on the performance, the MFGI Board of Directors voted to increase the shareholder semiannual dividend by five cents to 50 cents per share, according to MFGI President & CEO Rod Nelson.

“I am pleased that we can continue to reward our shareholders for their confidence and continue to bring value to those shareholders, our customers and our employees,” Nelson said. The dividend will be paid to shareholders of record as of November 21, 2014. “I do expect that we will finish the year on a positive note.”

Nelson said the main drivers for the continued success are the work of business bankers across all locations in securing new business, maintaining loan credit quality and the success of the mortgage area.

MFGI has a strong correspondent mortgage network that supports smaller banks across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Nebraska by helping those banks provide mortgages to their customers. That work, coupled with the efforts of the mortgage lenders at Merchants Bank locations, has continued to have a positive impact on the organization.

“The reason for our success is our people and their ability to create and enhance relationships with customers in all our markets. We continuously strive to add the very best people to our team and are focused on continued talent enrichment as we grow,” Nelson said.