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Is Emergency Preparedness A Pipe Dream?

November 5, 2011

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I’m reading this very old book, Historic Storms of New England. It was written by Sidney Perley and published in 1891. His narratives go back to the first recorded natural disasters of the year 1635, a mere 15 years after the Separatists (English Pilgrims) landed on the shores of Massachusetts in 1620. The book is amazing, it tells of earthquakes, strange appearances in the heavens, blizzards, hurricanes (although they were not called hurricanes back then), meteorites and other strange events and storms. Some of the stories include eyewitness accounts (one family’s devastating shipwreck is heart wrenching). In most cases, such natural catastrophes drew people closer to God.

As I’ve been reading the book, oddly enough, New York and New England have suffered a year of unusual weather and natural disasters. This year alone, we’ve had THREE devastating floods, an earthquake, two hurricanes, innumerable tornadoes and — a mere week ago — a freak October Nor’Easter that dumped 32 inches in Maine. I was shocked to read the blog of one of my friends. who reports that in Connecticut they STILL have no electrical power. Cindi at moomettesmagnificents.com/blog/survival-guide-102-in-connecticut-irene-was-a-dress-rehersal-for-alfred-day-5 has had to throw out all the food in her two refrigerators and freezers. News reports say the storm killed 8 people and cut power for at least 4 million households. Wow. Cindi said she has a generator, but there is no gasoline available, so they are out of power completely. Because of the immense snow and downed trees, travel out of the area is impossible, So they are stuck in the disaster zone. Wow.

Backyard Snow2

It won't be long....

And that got me thinking.

My husband and I have discussed “emergency preparedness” before. We have two sump pumps that work day and night to keep water out of our basement. We’ve experienced numerous floods (so many I can’t count anymore), but only once did we lose power in all our years here. If we lost power — especially during a heavy rainfall or hurricane — we’d be inundated with flood waters. So we discussed getting a generator, thinking this would solve our problem. But after reading Cindi’s situation, I wonder if that’s really the cure-all we originally thought. In a natural catastrophe, the gas stations may not pump gas. Then what?

So I don’t know what to do. I feel rather frustrated because everything in our society is SO reliant and integrated with the electrical grid. It makes me feel uneasy. I like to have a contingency plan, but there really isn’t anything. And I thought, “Well, we could get a wood-burning generator, right?” But our chainsaw needs gas to cut that wood. We have SOME wood in the back, but I don’t think we would have nearly enough. And where would I store it? If another flood rages across my land, all the wood is down the pike.

I’m beginning to think “emergency preparedness” is a pipe dream. There’s only *so much* you can do, because no matter what, you are reliant on other people and groups in the community being prepared, too. Which, as we see with the numerous disasters this year, few communities are. I do wonder about my own community. Are they so busy building sidewalks and shopping centers that they forget the other things, too? Like BOATS, lol.

Hm. What do you think?

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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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Snow Shovels and Planned Obsolescence

February 26, 2011

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The Husband and I are rather sensitive to planned obsolescence. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see this post I wrote, Watch This Stuff. It’s a real eye opener!

Planned obsolescence is that deliberate scheme by a manufacturer to intentionally build a product that will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a period of time. I know you’ve encountered planned obsolescence. If you are older than 40 years old, you remember the good old days where if the toaster or VCR or RV or umbrella broke, you’d fix it, not throw it in the trash because it was unfixable. Well, manufacturers make things deliberately unfixable. That’s called “planned obsolescence.” And we just added another product to the list: the snow shovel.

Show shovels are PRICEY. And they do not last very long, either. The handles are pretty sturdy– and The Hubs loves the fancy handles with the thick spongy neoprene on them– these handles don’t hurt his back and give him superior grip. But the scoops of these shovels break. Like, after a few weeks! :-p The scoops are flimsy plastic.

My husband likes his fancy handle, so he attempted to remove the flimsy plastic scoop from the nice handle, and replace the scoop. No can do. The manufacturer glued and pinned and bolted and sealed it together. You have to buy a completely new shovel, another $35, please.

UGH.

That’s just wrong.

Oh well, spring is coming, spring is coming! I know it is! 😀

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What’s In Your Household Products?

February 24, 2011

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The kids and I have been learning more about the toxins in our environment as part of a health course we’re taking. Some of the information just BLOWS my MIND. Did you know that, 30 years after PCBs have been banned, the toxin is found in our bodies in huge amounts, still? That our drinking water is filled with pharmaceutical drugs? And that, mixed with the unsafe doses of flouride and chlorine make a toxic soup? It’s all pretty scary stuff. The book offers ways to reduce our exposure to toxins. In case you’d like to look it up, it’s called The Seven Pillars of Health by Dr. Dan Colbert. Pretty eye-opening stuff.

The most recent chapter in the book suggested we visit SafeCosmetics.org to see which health and beauty products are safe (or toxic) to us. Yikes, there are carcinogens in our shampoo, toothpaste and deodorants! What the heck is all this junk doing on our shelves?

The website features an interesting video by Annie Leonard, the same lady who did The Story of Stuff videos.

The lady has been attacked by conservative groups because she is a member of the kooky group Green Peace. But you know what? I care not if the information is coming from a socialist in this regard. Is what she is saying TRUE?! Are we in danger from all these toxins? I’d say the answer is yes! Now, I don’t necessarily agree that we should become a socialist nation with a law for every ingredient that goes into shampoo, as Annie here suggests. I think she goes overboard when she says that. Because even in this video, she says there are companies ALREADY purposely making products WITHOUT the toxins, without laws that force them to do it! What companies and government need is PRESSURE from We the People. But if We the People says nothing, then they are just as complaisant in the poisons as the companies and governments. I don’t think we need the federal government regulating shampoo.

Anyway, it’s sure eye-opening. We need to change this, and pronto.

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Home Ownership Down

January 31, 2011

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Home ownership rates continue to plummet. According to CNBC, Americans just aren’t buying homes so much.

America’s home ownership rate, after holding steady for a while, took a pretty big plunge in Q4, from 66.9 percent to 66.5 percent. That’s down from the 2004 peak of 69.2 percent and the lowest level since 1998.

Homeownership is falling at an alarming pace, despite the fact that home prices have fallen, affordability is much improved and inventories of new and existing homes are still running quite high.

Bargains abound, but few are interested or eligible to take advantage.

What’s even more shocking is that 11% of U.S. homes sit empty.

There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 ’10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you’d think.

The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as “Held off Market” about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures. And no, the shadow inventory isn’t just 200,000, it’s far higher than that.

Not sure why, but I can guess. For one, Americans are uneasy about the economy. The government is spending like a MANIAC, China is rising almost as fast as our debt and interest rates… and who is earning enough to pay back those loans?

One of our Upstate cities was listed by Zillow.com as the Number One city in America to buy an affordable home. Everyone up here was practically waving flags: We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

But…. we have the “most affordable” homes in the nation– you mean the lowest priced? Isn’t that, like, bad?! And what good is it getting a cheap home for $25,000 in a city that is near bankruptcy and where property taxes are $7,000 a year?! How can that be a cause for celebration?

Economists and politicians alike go on and on, saying that the home construction and home ownership industry is the backbone of the American economy. So why are the banks and politicians selling Americans so short that we cannot afford the homes?

I don’t like this transition into a society that rents their homes. Property ownership is the backbone of the United States, property ownership gives citizens a vested interest in their community. Whatever happened to Life, LIberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

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

January 18, 2011

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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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Supplemental Income for the Household

December 18, 2010

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As many of you know, I blog for pay. If it wasn’t for blogging, I’d never have been able to do what we do around here. This old 1855 house isn’t exactly a money pit, but it’s old, and as many of you know– modern incomes are pretty pinched these days, especially if the husband is the sole breadwinner.

I joined SponsoredReviews.com in early 2008. Combined with the handful of other companies that I’ve joined, I make a pretty good supplemental income (enough to be paying off for that huge kitchen renovation we did over the summer). SponsoredReviews asked me to write about my experience with them.

When I first joined SR, I wasn’t raking in the dough. Blogging for pay takes some time. That first year, I earned about $250. In 2009, I earned almost $300. I started up a bunch of new blogs and so far for 2010, I’ve earned over $700 with SR. That’s not too shabby, if you ask me.

SR is easy– probably the easiest blogging company I work for. The format is very simple (here’s the link, here’s what you say, boom- done). Some companies make you wrangle with a billion links and requirements and such. I like SR because it’s simple. Secondly, SR gives you 65% of the payment, where other companies take 50% share or more.

I wish there was more work at SR. A few months ago, I was clobbered with advertisers asking for reviews– I think I earned most if that $700+ in about three months over the summer. But work waxes and wanes. That’s the nature of making money online, of course. I like SR, so of course I want more work there.

If you are serious about making a little extra cash in the side, even if it’s just to get a pizza every month or to help pay off the mortgage, you CAN earn money by blogging. SR is one of my main income-producing companies, and they are a reputable one with which to do business. Check them out, you may like what you find.

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Find the Kitty 12/3

December 3, 2010

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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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Housing Armaggedon?!

October 15, 2010

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I don’t know a whole lot about the housing market, but like most other things, I figure such issues are easily understood with a healthy dose of common sense. There’s a blog post story in the Wall Street Journal (yes, I guess even the high-brow WSJ folks blog! lol!) blogs.wsj.com/developments/2010/10/12/are-we-headed-for-housing-armageddon Are We Headed For Housing Armageddon? It’s interesting. In a nutshell, the article describes a new twist in the housing market “crisis”: banks are unable to hold foreclosures due to improperly transferred paperwork from banks to homeowners; Apparently, during the housing boom, some banks were a little sloppy with their paperwork in their eagerness to get lenders. Now that banks want to foreclose for non-payment, homeowners with savvy lawyers claim that the absence of mortgage paperwork absolves them from bank foreclosure. Judges may rule that, due to the absence of proof of original lending agreement paperwork, the banks cannot foreclose on the homes.

Wild!

So the chatter around the water cooler is that this will only prolong the housing market bust. According to Amy Calistri of Street Authority, mortgage debt in the United States fell by $99 BILLION in the first quarter of this year. In the second quarter, it dropped again, half that.

It’s pretty obvious that Americans are not buying new homes! This is good. Seriously. For one, I think our economy relies too much on new construction, particularly when there are billions of older homes that are perfectly suitable for use. All this excessive and new construction causes sprawl, eats up rural resources and creates more debt. I think we should change our attentions away from newnewnew, and begin to recycle the very good homes that exist currently. My home, built in 1855, is a fine example of making something old new again. And every single inspector that has looked at my house raves about the strength of the structure– “They don’t make homes like they used to,” they all say. So all this talk about a “housing armageddon” is, I think, a little overstated. It may be a housing armageddon for the banks, but for the average American and the average traditional American pre-owned home, it’s housing heaven.

Another result of the housing market turned upside down is the apartments industry. Again, according to Street Authority:

But the decline in home buying is starting to trigger an increased demand for rental apartments. Apartment occupancy rates rose to 92.2% in the second quarter of 2010, up from 92.0% in the first quarter according to Reis Inc. Rents are also starting to rise modestly, up +0.7% in the second quarter.

Apartment occupancy rates rose 92% ?!? That’s incredible! This is a radical change in the housing industry in our country. Now, I’m sure not everyone can afford a posh luxury apartment after foreclosing on their homes, right? This opens up an entirely new demographic after the housing boom of the 90s. The “experts” say that the backbone of the American economy is home ownership. I don’t know if this is true– is it? As I have already stated, home ownership requires bank loans. So the backbone of the banking industry is home ownership, to be sure.

I am wary of all the Chicken Littles running around, trying to make us anxious about the “crises” that face us, when in reality, most of the “crises” that exist are for the banks. It’s unfortunate that some folks lose their homes, yes. But as far as ruining our economy– I really wonder if this is true. If anything, Americans are focusing on making more with less (not necessarily a bad thing), and people are looking for apartments (which encourages cities and landlords to clean up and fix up their areas). We are, by nature, a resilient people. We will adapt and adjust to changes. I do not think the housing market shifts constitute the end of the world. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to return to the good old Yankee work ethic:

Use it, wear it out. make it do, or do without.

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Dave Ramsey’s Tips For Renovators

September 28, 2010

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It’s nice to know that all the back-cracking work we’ve been doing on the house provides manifold benefits.

The housing market slump this year really slowed down new construction. As an owner of an old home in the midst of vicious suburban sprawl, I was actually happy to see the new construction slow down. Something similar happened in the late 70s (the economic downturn) after a period of profligate sprawl (in the 50s and 60s), which led to an increased awareness of restoring and renovating existing homes (in the 80s). TV shows like This Old House and Home Again sprouted up from the ashes of a recession. So recessions and slumps are not always bad news. I think it is better to work with what you have rather than create immense waste in building new. Why knock down a perfectly healthy old home, fill up landfills, clogging up rural spaces, and spend millions building new?? The lost art of renovation may be making a comeback.

#1 A New Addition
According to Dave Ramsey (here daveramsey.com/newsletters/online/edition/real-estate-newsletter-september2010?ectid=elprenl_0910_final_online), one of the best returns on your renovation investment is a new addition, such as a bedroom or family room. Such a renovation could give you an 83% return on your cost! I was stunned to read this. For one, I had thought that most homeowners were going “smaller” with their homes, not necessarily adding more square footage (and more maintenance and expenses) to the house.

#2 A New Kitchen
Additionally, the kitchen has always been the prime return investment winner in renovations. I was surprised to see it fall to #2 in Dave’s list (he said that a kitchen re-do can give you about 72% back). I suppose one of the reasons for the lower grade is because kitchens are one of the most expensive areas of the home to renovate. Yes, I would agree. Although, because we did our own work 100% of the time, our return will be much more than 72%. We spent approximately $13,000 to gut and restore the kitchen, dining room, and laundry room… we also insulated these rooms, which make them more energy efficient, and we also redid the entire electrical system and water supply system for the house. Not a bad deal.

#3 The Bathroom
I am not one to splurge on a bathroom. I like it to be a “get in, do your business, get out” kind of room. Dave says that renovators can easily allow the bathroom remodel to “get out of hand.” Appliances and fixtures ARE very expensive, and I guess people are tempted to install things like saunas, whirlpools, towel warmers, etc. I don’t like such luxury, so when we remodel our bathrooms, I don’t expect these to be a problem. But renovating the bathroom came in at #3, which homeowners recouping about 70% of their investment. That’s really still a terrific percentage!

One very important thing to remember when renovating is KNOW YOUR COMMUNITY. If you live in a wealthy area of McMansions, go ahead and build that vaulted wine cellar. But if you live in “middle America” or a small town, you will never recoup your investments in the luxurious hot tubs, custom-made concrete countertops, and silk draperies. I tried to stay as basic as I could with our home. It is so easy to go overboard, especially when the “experts” and magazines are all enticing you to spendspendspend on their expensive products. I tried to keep a balance of getting products I really liked, products we really needed, and staying within the middle-income class of my region. Even so, I do think I splurged a little too much. :-p

And I am gratified to see that all our blood, sweat, and tears actually has value in the community and economy. I knew that our renovations would not only bring us more comforts and energy savings, but that it would boost our home’s value and possible return investment should we ever sell. It’s nice to see this confirmed. 😀

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