Merlino & Gonzalez December 2017

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December 2017





My Favorite Holiday Traditions

In my house, many Christmas traditions involve food. We rotate every year between my wife’s family and my own. My heritage is a mix of Cuban, Spanish, and Irish, so our big feast happens on Christmas Eve. We make paella, and rice and black beans. My son, Ryan, who like his dad has a very traditional Spanish name, has taken to preparing a flan that wouldn’t be out of place at a restaurant in Madrid. The main attraction, though, is a traditional Cuban pork roast. To this day, whenever I smell Cuban pork, I’m instantly transported to my childhood holidays. Joanne, my wife, is Italian, so every other year we get a different, but equally delicious, meal. Her family prepares the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. As the name suggests, it’s a seven-course meal where each dish showcases a different kind of seafood. There aren’t strict rules, so the dishes sometimes change. No matter the menu, I am never less than stunned by the results. I love that we have the opportunity to engage with our family cultures through these holiday meals. The blending of our heritages makes the holidays exciting and unique every year.

The most magical holiday moments, however, are often the quiet ones spent at home. When my kids were young, the Elf on the Shelf was just getting popular. Every morning, they would scour the house for the elf, and if they couldn’t find him, panic set in. Eventually, we’d have

to drop subtle hints about where we’d “seen” the elf. When they found him, they were relieved and excited. Joanne and I spent more than our fair share of time constructing creative hiding places. It’s these little traditions and the memories associated with them that make the holidays special. At the office, Christmas includes going to a few parties and checking in with our clients before the most wonderful time of the year wraps up. One tradition at our office is to take the entire team out for a holiday meal. It’s a chance for John and I to say thanks for all of the wonderful work they do throughout the year. I want to wish all of our clients a happy holiday season. One of the best gifts I receive every year is the chance to work alongside you. If you have any extraordinary holiday traditions in your family, I’d love to hear about them the next time you’re in the office. Whether you feast on seven fishes, roast a pig, or just cook up a classic Christmas roast, I hope you enjoy some great food — and even better memories with your loved ones.

Our families may be equally invested in creating magical Christmas Eve meals, but my family goes all-out on Christmas morning in a way Joanne never expected. I’m the youngest of five kids, and between all of us and the grandkids, you can imagine we have no problem filling up the space under the tree. The first year my wife joined us for Christmas, she whispered to me that she had never seen so much wrapping paper in her life.





There’s something magical about seeing a stack of presents wrapped in bright, multicolored paper. However, that enchanting scene quickly evaporates a few hours later when all those wads of wrapping paper and plastic bows are chucked unceremoniously into the garbage. What if we told you there are countless ways you can still enjoy wrapping and unwrapping presents, without all the waste? Here are a few creative gift wrap alternatives to consider this holiday season.

Old Maps and Calendars

These days, pretty much every phone has a built-in GPS, so you probably won’t need the map from your 1999 road trip anytime soon. If you still have an old map, why not use that for wrapping? The unusual designs guarantee your gifts will be one of a kind. And don’t worry if there are notes scrawled across the paper. Old events or directions will add some unique flair to the presents.

Brown Paper Bags


With the holiday season comes holiday shopping, and if you opt out of plastic grocery bags, you’re sure to have a surplus of brown paper bags in the pantry. Drop a present into the bag, tape it shut, and you’re good to go. Add some simple lace or a ribbon for an old-timey feel or get creative with stamps and hand-drawn artwork. This wrap job lets your imagination run wild.

Fabric is an excellent substitute for wrapping paper. You can use a scarf to create two gifts in one or pull out scraps of fabric from old projects. The traditional Japanese practice of furoshiki is all about wrapping goods in fabric. Described as “functional fabric origami,” you’d be amazed at how a few well-placed folds can turn your gift into a work of art. Learn how to wrap anything, from boxes to bottles, at You don’t have to follow the same gift wrap habits year after year. After the effort you put into finding just the right present, you should be able to make your gift wrap just as special. Find a method that’s uniquely you and get started!


A User-Friendly and Informative Face-Lift

For the past year, we’ve been working quietly on a complete redesign of our website. Now that the site is live, we’re excited to talk about all the new improvements to both the design and to the content available to our clients. You can still find us at, but if you’ve been to the site in the past, you may notice a lot has changed. While planning the redesign, we put one element at the top of our list: user experience. We set out to provide all of the information our clients need in an easy-to-view format. Our new navigation bar will

to giving you some background on each step of the process, these pages also detail the benefits of following our Real Estate Road Maps. The other new pages focus on estate planning and estate settlement. We know these subjects aren’t always easy to talk about, so we wanted to create pages where you could learn about our personal experiences with estate planning as well as those of our clients. Deciding whom to entrust your estate planning needs to is a big decision, and you should feel secure with us before you begin the process.

allow you to explore all of the services we offer with one easy click. At Merlino & Gonzalez, we pride ourselves on guiding you through the real estate and estate planning process. Now, our website will be your best resource when you want to understand what we do and how we do it. To that end, we’ve created four completely new pages devoted to our areas of practice. Two pages explain the basics of real estate transactions: one for sellers, and one for buyers. In addition

All four of these pages also detail the promises we make to each and every one of our clients. From how we’ll behave to the personal connection that separates us from other firms, these pages list what you can expect from us. It’s been a 12-month process building our new site. We’re happy to be at the finish line, and we hope you enjoy the results.



If you’ve been following the news at all recently, you’ve probably heard about the Equifax data breach. The loss of the personal data of over 140 million Americans is a massive cause for concern. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to monitor your data even if it has been compromised. But there are some people who aren’t so lucky. Sad as it is to say, identity thieves also target the recently deceased. According to fraud prevention firm ID Analytics, thieves steal the identities of 2 million deceased Americans every year. If you’re dealing with the recent departure of a loved one, the last thing you need is to have to worry about somebody taking out credit cards in their name. Follow these five steps to protect your loved one’s data from prying eyes. 1. It can take months for credit agencies to be made aware of a death, so it’s up to you to send copies of death certificates to the three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Certificates should be sent through certified mail and include papers documenting that you are the representative of the deceased. Ask the credit bureaus to put a “deceased — do not issue credit” alert on all credit files.

2. You should also send death certificate copies to any organization where the deceased had accounts. Try to contact all of the relevant banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions promptly. 3. The Equifax breach demonstrated how much thieves can do with driver’s license information. Cancel your loved one’s license with the state’s DMV to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. 4. Keep any information that could be used to open an account out of public obituaries. Facts like street address, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name are often used as authenticators. If you publish this information, it could end up being used for nefarious ends. 5. Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll still need to monitor the deceased’s credit for up to one year. Each credit reporting agency offers one free report annually to executors and trustees via



Scrambling to find something for the holiday potluck? This fondue is sure to impress!


• ¾ cup dry white wine • 1 tablespoon cornstarch • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced Swiss cheese 1. In a large bowl, whisk together wine and cornstarch. 2. Chop cheese slices into small, uniform pieces. 3. Rub clove of garlic all over the DIRECTIONS

• 1 clove garlic • Salt to taste • Foods to dip (apple slices, bread cubes, roasted vegetables, etc.)

Add some cheese and slowly whisk. When nearly smooth, add more cheese and whisk gently. Repeat until all cheese is melted. If mixture seems too tight, add 1 tablespoon wine.

sides and bottom of a heavy- bottomed pot, then discard.

5. Season with salt and serve immediately. Keep pot on low heat to keep the fondue dippable.

4. Heat wine mixture over

medium-low heat in the pot until thick and bubbling.

Recipe inspired by




394 Manor Road Staten Island, NY 10314



Christmas, From Cuba to Italy Stop Wasting Gift Wrap! The New Merlino & Gonzalez Website Are Your Dearly Departed Safe From Identity Theft? Easy Holiday Party Cheese Fondue Evolution of a Christmas Icon

After his death, St. Nicholas became a beloved patron saint, but during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the respect that many Catholic saints received diminished, and his popularity dwindled across Europe. One area where he remained popular was the Netherlands. There, he lived on as “Sinterklaas,” a mythical figure who went house to house on the eve of St. Nicholas’s nameday, December 5, leaving treats and gifts for children. Sinterklaas traditionally wore red bishop’s clothes and employed elves, and he traveled with horses that could walk across rooftops. When the Dutch emigrated in droves to America during the 17th and 18th centuries, they brought this kindly icon to the new colonies. Over time, notably through Clement Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and a famous 1930s depiction by Coca-Cola ad illustrator Haddon Sundblom, Santa evolved into the figure we see today. SANTA CLAUS The Origin of

Santa Claus wasn’t always a husky, omniscient gift-giver who circumnavigates the world once a year, propelled by flying caribou and backed by an army of friendly elves. Though the historical St. Nicholas had many of the same generous tendencies as our contemporary “King in the North,” he lacked a high- tech sleigh that could exceed the speed of light. To be exact, St. Nicholas was a renowned Bishop of Myra — an old Roman town near modern-day Demre, Turkey — way back around A.D. 300. Even before he became the bishop, St. Nicholas was known for his generosity. The most famous tale of his charity involved a poor man who could not afford a proper dowry to marry off his three daughters. In those days, this generally meant the daughters would remain unmarried, making it likely that they’d fall into prostitution. Wanting to help, but also wanting to spare the family embarrassment, St. Nicholas traveled to the house at night and threw three purses packed with gold coins through the window. 4

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