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Whatever Happened to New and Improved?

November 22, 2011

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Remember the old days when companies in the United States wanted to build things bigger and better? Ever upward! Remember? EVERYTHING was “new” and “improved”!

American companies built products with exceptional quality, just because THEY COULD do it!!

I’m not so old that I can’t remember those days. It seems like a million miles away, now. How on earth did we get to where we are right now?

Stuff just doesn’t last anymore. It seems that companies are now backtracking. Instead of building products with better and better quality, they are making them as cheap as they possibly can and still get paid for it.

Our sump pump died last week. It was only FOUR MONTHS OLD. It’s the third pump we’ve been through in two years, and all those died in a matter of months. These aren’t inexpensive pumps, either– these babies cost hundreds of dollars. But they are made in China and they contain plastic parts. Needless to say, we were grossly disappointed when another pump failed this week and the basement flooded again. It was only a few inches so it’s manageable. But SHEESH.

Because we are in “winter preparation mode,” I’m having to buy expensive things, things beside the regular cheapo pair of $10 Chinese-made sneakers or the $5 cheapo umbrella that fails after one gust of wind. No, I have to buy snow tires! $500 for snow tires, that we use for only half the year! The time my husband got snow tires, they only lasted half a year. The treads wore down very quickly.

So I don’t get it. Why are products more and more expensive and less and less durable? I can only conclude that the companies are skimping on their manufacture. And what can the consumer do? Can we petition the companies, perhaps? Think they will listen? Hmmmm…

Maybe this is a sign of getting older, LOL. I’m remembering the “good old days” when stuff lasted, sheesh, at least a year or two or more…..

I would think that the “green” movement would help with this situation, but it has been strangely silent. You’d think that someone would protest the rising junk dumped into landfills, as Americans clog the land with discarded, broken junk. It would be more productive to pressure companies into making more durable products than forcing Americans to use one toilet paper sheet at a time. Weird.

What do you think? Do you think products are better made today, worse made or no difference? Am I alone in thinking that we CAN manufacture better, more efficient products at affordable prices? We did it once before! Why can’t we do it again?

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Get Rid of It. Yeah.

May 26, 2011

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WHAT IS IT with all this crazy weather?? Will someone please tell me?! Flooding here, flooding in the Mississippi?? Vicious tornadoes and I saw that they even had snow in Colorado?? In late MAY, for pete’s sake.

🙁

My area is still cleaning up from late April’s flash flooding. Everything is just so messy. Like everyone else, we’re chipping away at the messes, but we really don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to cleanup.

I recently heard about a very nice junk removal business– Getridofit.com – Affordable Junk Removal and Hauling. These guys look amazing! They solve the problem of junk removal, which, as you might suspect, can be very painful on the budget as well as on the emotions. Many people think their only recourse for removing junk is to hire a (very very) expensive professional hauler. We paid THROUGH THE NOSE last year for dumpster service. Ouch.

Well, the guys at GetRidofIt.com give you the ability to find more affordable junk removal teams in your area. GetRidofIt.com has a list of companies with excellent ratings based on price and customer service. It’s pretty easy to find junk removers in your area– just visit the GetRidofIt.com website and type in your zip code. And if you are an ambitious entrepreneur looking to start up a junk removal business (and it’s looking like a pretty lucrative career, these days!) you can sign up your company to get on the GetRidofIt.com’s list! Check out more information on the website. This is a good website to bookmark, too. Because even if you don’t have a natural disaster or renovation going on, you’re going to always need a helping hand to get rid of the old furniture, barbeque, busted bicycles, broken lawn furniture……

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Real Estate Still Best Investment

March 19, 2011

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I still think real estate is the best investment you can make in the United States. I don’t care what the doomsayers are saying about the housing market. The brokers are biting their nails to shreds, worried that they can’t get Americans to buy buy buy this year. I read some news story (sorry, I can’t locate it the exact article now, nuts) that the U.S. housing market is at its worst in decades. But then I read local stories from around the country where their housing market (and economy) is just fine.

Fargo, North Dakota, is actually seeing a boon. usatoday.com/news/nation/census/2011-03-16-north-dakota-census_N.htm USA Today reports that the population and economy has surged to record levels. I’ve read similar stories for a few other areas, too.

But here in the Rust Belt, the economy is poor because of TAXES not because of lack of home buyers. The mathematics of trying to sustain a top-heavy public sector by an over-taxed, aging private sector always pans out to be a negative. It’s still too early to tell if any of these states (New York, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, etc) will really change their ways. So people are “voting with their feet.”

But the folks who are left are snapping up the properties left behind (although, in urban areas, the governments are buying vacant properties). I was recently talking with an acquaintance who has– in the last 5 years— purchased a dozen properties. He’s rented them all out and become a landlord. And he’s been so successful that he no longer needs to work his regular job anymore. That’s pretty neat.

As for me, I’m just “small fry.” I like owning one home (I have enough to do around here!) but if I ever got a windfall with money left over, I’d probably invest in real estate. I’d probably rent it out to tenants or even as a vacation home (according to Forbes, vacation rental properties are VERY hot right now, especially in cities). It’s an interesting shift.

So I don’t give a whole lot of weight to the constant nay-saying that the housing market and US economy (which is built on the housing market) is going under. People are just shifting priorities. People don’t need to constantly build build build new houses. I am very much in favor of making do with the houses we have. 🙂 So the “house-building boom” of the late 1990s is over. That doesn’t spell the end of the world. There’s a WHOLE market out there of renovators, people who want to fix up their old homes and spark the economy in that way. But sales and income taxes are too high in some areas. Let’s see what happens….

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Things Your Mail Carrier Won’t Tell You

February 21, 2011

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My husband is a part-time mail carrier. It’s not an easy job, especially in Upstate New York in the winter. Since the United States Post Office is in the news a lot right now (with all their financial problems and the threat of cutting Saturday delivery to make ends meet), I thought it would be cool to mention a few things about the post office– things you may not know because the media fails to report it.

Just for the record, I am against the USPS ending Saturday delivery. I think it would be fatal to the USPS, a really stupid move. What they SHOULD do is end the mandatory (super-expensive) pensions and perks that they dole out to retirees and veteran workers. [Note: I know this is a touchy subject, especially in light of the hooplah going on in Wisconsin. I feel the same way about things in NY– it’s too expensive to maintain a top-heavy government, and painful choices are being made.] There’s also quite a bit of waste in the USPS that can be slashed, but it takes acts of Congress to make these changes. The USPS is under government control, but they don’t receive a PENNY in tax money. Another example of waste is that some postal areas blend delivery areas– this doubles the expense of delivering mail because TWO or more offices serve ONE area.

Anyway, I saw a list at rd.com/13-things/13-things-your-mail-carrier-wont-tell-you/ 13 Things Your Mail Carrier Won’t Tell You at the Reader’s Digest website, and thought it was very worthy of passing on. These are all things my husband has brought up in one way or another. I include the best here. My own comments are in regular type.

  • Maybe your dog won’t bite you. But in 2009, 2,863 of us were bitten, an average of nine bites per delivery day. That’s why I wince when your Doberman comes flying out the door. My husband has told me quite a few stories of some VERY close calls he’s had with dogs that “wouldn’t hurt a flea.” Uh huh. Folks, do you want your mail? Keep the dog inside. My kids need their dad home, not in a hospital.
  • Remember this on Valentine’s Day: It takes our machines longer to read addresses on red envelopes (especially if they’re written in colored ink).
  • Photo from Wikipedia

  • Media Mail is a bargain, but most of you don’t know to ask for it. Sending ten pounds of books from New York City to San Francisco through Media Mail costs $5.89, compared with $16.77 for Parcel Post. Besides books, use it to send manuscripts, DVDs, and CDs; just don’t include anything else in the package.
  • The USPS doesn’t get a penny of your tax dollars.
  • UPS and FedEx charge you $10 or more for messing up an address. Us? Not a cent. My husband will even make up the difference if an envelope is not properly stamped.
  • Paychecks, personal cards, letters—anything that looks like good news—I put those on top. Utility and credit card bills? They go under everything else. Junk mail, flyers, and mail for stuff like is cased at the bottom.
  • Mail carriers also have to endure- day after day– the smut and glut of porno and “ladies” magazines. Some magazines, like Playboy, are required to conceal their magazine covers with plastic or paper, but the “ladies” mags like “Shape” or “Cosmopolitan” do not, and those covers are sickening. I feel so sorry for mail carriers who have to endure that junk. You know, if the USPS forced such magazines to pay a little extra to cover their stuff, I’ll betcha that would solve the USPS financial problems in a one week, not to mention a whole lot of consciences and marriages.
  • Sorry if I seem like I’m in a hurry, but I’m under the gun: Our supervisors tell us when to leave, how many pieces of mail to deliver, and when we should aim to be back. Then some of us scan bar codes in mailboxes along our route so they can monitor our progress.
  • Yes, we do have to buy our own stamps, but a lot of us carry them for customers who need them. Very true! My husband always has a stash of stamps and he adds them gratis. He’s such a swell guy. Sad thing is, no one ever seems to realize how generous he really is. He also gets out of the car and moves your trash cans that have blown out in front of your mailbox, even though he does not HAVE to legally deliver your mail if there’s an impediment to your box.
  • Please dress properly when you come to the door. A towel wrapped around you doesn’t cut it. And we definitely don’t want to see you in your underwear—or naked! My husband has had a few very uncomfortable encounters with ladies who treat the mailman as if he was some kind of nobody, not worthy of respect. It’s not fun to have to deliver mail to jiggly ladies who wear less cotton than an aspirin bottle. :-p
  • We serve 150 million addresses six days a week, so we’re often in the right place at the right time. We pull people out of burning cars, catch burglars in the act, and call 911 to report traffic accidents, dead bodies, and more. My husband actually came to the rescue of an older, heavyset gentlemen living in a rural area who had fallen and couldn’t get up. His wife was trying to help him, but she was too weak to lift him. Together, my husband and the lady couldn’t even lift him, so my husband waited with the couple at their home until a rescue team arrived, because the wife was so stressed. It took the rescue team half an hour to get there, and that was time out of my husband’s day (and he was late for his second job, too).
  • Most of us don’t mind if you pull up to our trucks while we’re delivering and ask for your mail a little early. But please get out of your car and come get it. Don’t just put your hand out your window and wait for me to bring it to you.
  • We go to great lengths to deliver to every address, no matter how remote. That’s why, in the most rural areas, even UPS and FedEx rely on us to make their final deliveries. True. And some places are VERY remote. I have had to rescue my husband out of some places, too. One rural place, he ran out of gas. And another time, during a snowstorm, the van slipped into a ditch and fell in sideways. I had to try to tow him out (couldn’t) so we called a tow truck. All the while, the mail delivery was delayed. What was really sad was that, while we were out in the storm waiting for a tow truck, a customer on the route with a honking big SUV roared by us, didn’t even stop to help. 🙁 But he got his mail with a smile, anyway.
  • Those plants around your mailbox are beautiful, but I’d like them better if you kept them trimmed back. Please don’t plant flowers because bees and ants like them.
  • Is it hot enough for me? The heat index is 110 degrees. What do you think? (Instead of asking that, offer me a cold drink.)
  • Despite the “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” motto, we’re instructed not to deliver to a mailbox if the snow and ice around it isn’t cleared. Most of us take the motto to heart, though, and do our best to deliver in even the most hazardous conditions. My husband does everything humanly possible to deliver the mail, even for rude people who do not shovel their boxes out. And you know what? If the mail can’t get delivered that day, it has to be delivered the NEXT day– that’s TWO days mail that has to be delivered in ONE day in the same amount of time. And my husband has actually had to call in unavailable for his second job because the mail delivery was so heavy that day– so, he LOST money because he lost HOURS on his other job, because some folks didn’t shovel their mailboxes out and that made a chain reaction with the mail load. So give the mailman a break.
  • I have people who leave a letter in their box and tape 44 cents in change to it. I’ll take it, but the next day I’ll be waiting in line like everyone else to buy you a stamp.
  • It’s a small thing that makes my job so much easier: Please park your car in the driveway instead of in front of the mailbox. I live on a busy street, and while I never park in front of my mailbox, lots of people do. That means, I don’t get my mail because their car is in the way. 🙁

I hope this gives a little perspective on the USPS and the millions of men and women who work there. These people work very hard and deal with a multitude of mail products, people, weather and animals. I think they deserve our support! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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They Ain’t Kidding: Toxic Sludge Candy Bar Really IS Toxic

January 18, 2011

4 Comments

Yuk.

I just read a press release regarding a “voluntary” recall by the FDA and Circle City Marketing and Distributing for their Toxic Waste® brand Nuclear Sludge® Chew Bars. Apparently, the State of California Department of Public Health discovered “elevated levels of lead (0.24 parts per million; the U.S. FDA tolerance is 0.1 ppm) that potentially could cause health problems, particularly for infants, small children, and pregnant women.” You can read about the recall at the FDA site: fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm240012.htm Candy Dynamics Recalls Toxic Waste® brand Nuclear Sludge® Chew Bars.


I guess they weren’t kidding about the “toxic sludge,” huh?

The food is imported from Pakistan. The story does not say if the food is labeled that it is from Pakistan. I have never seen this food, so I don’t know.

You know, it’s REALLY STUPID to have such restrictive laws in the United States about lead and other toxic junk in our food produced here, only to have companies make the food in foreign countries who have little to no protection, and ship it here for U.S. consumers. 100 years ago, a foreign country that took our money and poisoned our food at our expense was a call for war. Today, it’s globalization and “business.”

I’m not a warmonger, nor do I think that we should go to war with Pakistan! (I always have insert these disclaimers because there are knuckleheads out there who troll the Internet looking to inflame). But if globalization means poisoning our own people because the politicians like their pockets lined from Big Business who makes the bucks overseas, then I’d rather go back to isolationism and nativism. Yay, even xenophobia sounds good right about now. :-p

ANYWAY. All I’m saying is that all our big, fancy U.S. laws that are supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals in the food mean absolutely nothing if we get our foods from another country!!! Is our country so impoverished that we cannot even provide our OWN food anymore?! That we cannot even set standards for the products coming into our OWN country?!

Anyway, I wouldn’t be very inclined to eat ANYTHING labeled as “toxic sludge,” would you? Plus, these things are touted as “chew bars,” but I think they are just candy bars.

I have been so unhappy with our country removing our manufacturing industry overseas. Now, they are moving even our food industry overseas. We all may as well stamp Americans’ heads “Made in China” as soon as our kids are born…. 🙁

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Pressure!

December 18, 2010

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Ever try scrubbing your home’s exterior siding or basement floor? NOT FUN. Our basement floods from time to time, leaving behind silty mud and a bad smell (not to mention that the cats make a total mess down there). One of my dreaded spring chores is to hose it out. I use my garden hose with the minimal pressure it provides, and it takes a long time and a LOT of water to clean that floor. Maybe i should look into power washing services, eh? If I consider the cost of water (very expensive here) and my labor, I’d probably break even if I hired a team. Because my basement sump well eventually pumps the ground water back into the storm water reservoir, I’d have to make sure that the company used green technology. I wouldn’t want any chemicals or gunk going back into the system.

If you are in the west coast and are in need of some cleaning up, check out Mr. Pressure Wash (catchy name, don’t you think?). Most pressure washing machines need to be rigged up to your water supply (ouch, that’s hard on the budget), and it’s a cost that companies sometimes don’t give when they offer estimates. Mr. Pressure Wash is unique– they use and reuse their own water! They also don’t use caustic chemicals– instead, they use special enzymes to wash out oils, stains, and other dirt. Estimates are free.

Photo courtesy of MrPressureWash.net

I think it’s terrific that companies like Mr. Pressure Wash are being more considerate of our natural resources and the high costs associated with pressure washing. Kudos to them for offering a great alternative!

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Find the Kitty 12/3

December 3, 2010

3 Comments

Golly, where could she be??

FTK 12.3

This is her new favorite place, now. We have heaters installed for the winter (yay!!) and the house gets horribly warm. (I like it cool in the house, everyone else likes it warm). The ceilings here are over 9 feet, so the top of the room is roasting. Of course, Livvy being the true feline that she is, hops up to the tallest heights of the room to bask in the warmth.

FTK2 12.3

Photo taken on Thanksgiving Day. Boy, what a great day that was, probably my best Thanksgiving, ever. The husband was home ALL DAY, since the post office was closed that day. What a treat. The next day, of course, the mailmen were clobbered with mail, frantically stuffing two days’ worth of mail and packages into whitehallmailboxesdirect.com. Yunno, I read all this hype in the news about the USPS needing to end delivery on Saturdays, how they are losing money due to less mail…. based on our experiences here, all that is false. My hubs delivers mail for three small towns, and we are CLOBBERED with mail, especially parcels. Because parcels won’t fit on those smaller mailboxes that some of the residents have around here), the mailmen are in and out of the vehicles constantly. The volume of mail has risen exponentially. And it’s been this way all year, not just for this holiday season. People may be using the USPS less for first class mail, but people are ordering items online much, much more. These online products must be delivered, and most companies use either UPS or the USPS. So the amount of parcel delivery has increased a lot– and delivering parcels takes up way more time and manpower than merely dumping envelopes into mailboxes.

Part of the reason that the post office is having financial trouble is because the USPS is required by law to fund it’s business by profits ALONE. It’s the only government department to do this. Other government departments take taxpayer money, or borrow. The USPS must operate by profits.

Additionally, the USPS has a lot of older (Baby Boomer aged) employees who make a TON of money and get a TON of perks/vacation time/pension money/sick pay. And there are some bureaucrats who game the system. I think if the USPS slashed waste and removed the luxurious pension perks, they’d quickly go into the black again.

Also, the USPS should increase the rates for sending junk mail. If they raised the rate by ONE PENNY per piece of junk mail sent, they’d make millions. And magazines should be forced to have covers on them. Pornography, by law, must be covered. But some of the magazines and racy catalogs are just as pornographic as the sleazy mags. If the USPS required that slime-mail be covered up, they’d make even more money.

See? The USPS should just read my blog! Problems solved! 😀

Anyway, it was nice to have my mailman home for a while. A WHOLE DAY. Too short, it was.

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Your Tiny Home Away From Home

October 20, 2010

3 Comments

Oh my word. I was researching PDA gadgets recently, and lookie what I found!

It’s an HP mini-mini computer! I love it!

The hardest part about being a technology researcher and writer is seeing ALL these delicious gadgets. I DO SO want to try them out! I love this thing!

It’s a PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant. Kind of like a mini “home away from home” gadget. I like those. I am joined at the hip to the Internet (it’s my career). When I travel or am away from the computer, I have to be able to check in on my email and assignments. I have my iPod (which I adore), and I can connect to wireless hotspots, where available. I have no desire to find a replacement for my iPod just yet. I’m very happy with it. But I think eventually I will upgrade to something more. The iPaq is nice because it’s Windows-based (has Windows Mail, Windows Mobile Office Outlook, MSN Messenger, etc). And it takes an SD card for adding more memory (something the iPod seriously lacks). If I ever want to upgrade to something like an iPaq, I can give my iPod away to one of the kids (oh wouldn’t they love that! They love my iPod!) and get an iPaq and claim in for my business. That’s the nice thing about being self-employed– you can get gadgets and claim them for the business. 😀 Tax deductible. 😀

Buy.com has the best price I’ve seen on these babies– under $400. That’s still a very very pretty penny. Not in my immediate future, that’s for sure. But it’s nice to know that there’s something out there waiting for me. 😉 See more deals at Buy.com.

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New York Office Suites- wow!

July 14, 2010

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You can learn a lot from studying office design.

While we’re working on the kitchen and dining room of the house, we are also trying to keep a mind on the future. We have an attached garage that we do not use, so I have intentions of converting it into a Conservatory (a family room with lots of glass windows) for the musicians in the family to play and listen to music, where we can read and pray together, and basically relax. It will have big plants, lots of light, comfortable chairs, and a very sweet audio sound system. NO television, no computer, no radio. It will be our quiet room.

Of course, that leaves me the living room to then tool around with. 😀 i work at home, but I have no office. Since I am a writer, I really need a quiet, non-interrupted atmosphere to write. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to do this in the living room– the cat, the bird, the kids, the schoolwork, the phone, the road traffic… UGH! I often stay up very late to do my work because it’s the only time I can THINK.

So I’m planning on building a small home office– I’ll probably get rid of the living room concept all together. We don’t watch TV, we don’t have parties…. if the kids have guests, they can go in the Conservatory. I want the living room to be my office space.

Oooo lala, offices are IN, baby! Home offices, yes, but all kinds of offices. They are making offices more “homey.” There are companies specifically hired to create offices, any kind. I think I would love that! It’s really great to see the cubicle disappearing, isn’t it? Skylights, soft chairs and couches, pretty decor, plants…. it’s all very inspiring.

So… while we restore the kitchen and dining room, here’s hoping the Conservatory and Office are not too far behind. Once we have the electrical and plumbing done, I think the rest of the house will be a breeze!

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Small Businesses Penalized

May 12, 2009

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Ouch. It’s a bad time to be a small business owner in this country. Not only do we have no real voice in our government (compared to the heafty lobbying power of the big corporations), we are being penalized for our success. The Washington Post reports that small business owners are going to see a big bite of their earnings taxed.

Gail Johnson doesn’t think of herself as wealthy. The former pediatric nurse has spent 20 years building a chain of preschools and after-school programs that accommodate sick children so working parents can keep their jobs.

But, like most small-business owners, Johnson reports her profit on her personal tax return. In a typical year, she and her husband make more than $500,000, according to her accountant, a figure that throws them squarely into the ranks of the richest Americans — and makes them a prime target for the Obama administration’s tax policy.

Since last year’s campaign, President Obama has vowed repeatedly not to increase taxes for families making less than $250,000 a year. That pledge, while politically popular, has left him with just two primary sources of funding for his ambitious social agenda: about 3 million high-earning families and the nation’s businesses.

19% tax is way, WAAAAY too much. I have always been against the income tax, anyway. People, we are being robbed.

And the government is getting pretty smart about their taxation methods. Did you know that your barterings are taxable? Yes! For example, if you trade Joe Plumber a Moen faucet for watching his kids for a weekend, the government says you have to pay tax on that service, by estimating the dollar amount of the trade. Ridiculous!! And here in New York State, the state requires us to incriminate ourselves by estimating how much tax we owe on supposedly non-taxable Internet purchases (from other states). Outrageous!

The taxation is getting way out of hand. What would happen if the government taxed us all and nobody paid?

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