Thursday, February 28

Don't Buy It (The Bad Math or the House)

In a City not far from us, the municipal government in rolling out a new Walk to Work program. In theory, it sounds great: local employers team up with the government, Realtors, banks,and local service groups (schools, emergency services, etc.) to create the ideal home buying environment for potential homeowners. They target employees of big local employers and push to get them to move into empty or for-sale houses in the area, highlighting benefits such as being able to walk to work, knowing your neighbors, etc. The goals, of course, are to reduce the empty/ sub-standard housing in a low-income or derelict areas by enticing higher-income families to buy, invest in, and rehabilitate local housing stock, and to increase the tax base to support programming and benefits for low-income residents. I honestly think that most of the people involved believe they're doing something good.

But government math is flawed. If the targeted potential buyers aren't careful, they're going to pay the price in more ways than one.

Let's look at how the program works in practice, shall we?

If you're a renter, you're not paying property taxes. This is what makes you such a keen target for the government in the first place. You are paying plenty of income taxes, though, and if you have the kind of solid job they're targeting, your taxes have likely just gone up – a lot.

If you buy one of the target houses, you can expect to need to sink a bunch of money into it. The fact is that no matter how attractive the program terms and the subsidies the government will throw in for the initial purchase price, the property will need work and it will be expensive. Being in the City, there won't be any way around the mandatory permits and inspections, either. With Code Enforcement being one of the primary ways police forces are looking to keep the area crime rate in check, you can expect to sink a pretty penny into useless and aesthetic concerns as well just to avoid fines.

When you and your coworkers start to improve your properties, the taxes start to climb. Not only are you now paying property taxes and school taxes, but every improvement you make raises the price you're required to pay. With the value of your area increasing, thanks to an influx of invested new homeowners, taxes go up even more. If a good portion of you have families, expect school taxes to rise as well as the district expands programming to meet demand.

But the money you and your neighbors are pouring into the tax coffers aren't going into the kinds of programming and improvements you or your families will benefit from – they're being used to support the residents of public housing and the per-existing low-income population.

Fast forward a few years. Had you stayed a renter, you could have managed the income tax increases and still been able to put some money away for a rainy day. As a homeowner, enticed by the government program, you're broke and struggling. Even if your job stayed steady, the costs associated with buying your home have sky rocketed. Between the income tax hikes associated with Obamacare and the property tax hike cycle discussed above, you're going to be hard pressed to keep up with your payments. Meanwhile, your kids go to a school that is forced to spend most of its funding and energy managing the problem children of the neighborhood and your town has little money left after paying out its required support for low-income residents to fund the libraries, youth sports leagues, and municipal improvements that would apply to you.

How you will feel at tax time if you let
the government or the bank do math
for you!
I'm not bashing home-ownership, or suggesting nefarious intent on the part of the employers or community supporters of such programs. But I would caution anyone tempted to participate in a government-supported housing program of any kind to be very careful. They may have the best of intentions, but the reality is that they can only afford to support programming that increases the tax base – i.e. finds new ways to squeeze money out of the people working their butts off to make it so it can be “redistributed”.

You cannot count on bankers or the government to do math for you, or to give you a realistic portrait of what you can afford. They won't take into account necessities like food and clothing, and they certainly won't admit to the tax hikes they know are coming. Do your own math – and do it with an eye towards healthy skepticism and Murphy's Law. Because when it comes to the government, and particularly government supported housing programs caveat emptor is the rule of the day.

Tuesday, February 26

Please Make a Plan for Your Pets

Our baby girl the day we got her. She's
much fluffier and much rounder now!
When we got our sweet Nenya from the Glen Highland Farm Border Collie rescue, one of the things they asked us was to make sure we had a plan for our furry companions should anything happen to us.  I was reminded of that again when they sent us a link to their youtube video, celebrating all the dogs who found homes in 2012.

So I'd like to take a minute to pass along their request - no matter what kind of dog you have. It is heart breaking to read summaries of dogs up for adoption, explaining how they were the constant companion of their person until the diagnosis of a terminal illness or the move to assisted living. Suddenly without a home, and with the person's family unable to take them in for one reason or another, they are bereft. The lucky ones end up somewhere like the Glen Highland, with compassionate people to love on them and help them find new homes.

Our handsome Arthas, taking a nap under Daddy's hat,
Indiana Jones style.
Please make sure that you have a safety net for your pets in the event that something happens to you - no matter how young or old you are! Don't assume that your family members can or will take care of them - make sure you have an established arrangement with someone, and that it is clearly known or spelled out somewhere. If necessary, find a safe and loving rescue like Glen Highland and arrange to have them take in your furry companion if the worst happens.



Check out the GHF video of all the dogs they found homes for in 2012 (since youtube is being dumb and won't let me embed it here) at http://www.glenhighlandfarm.com/ghfdogs.htm.
(Warning: have a tissue on hand. It was so sweet I cried.)

 

Monday, February 25

Black Tea Butter Latte

Photo from Sex, Food and Kettlebells.
I discovered an awesome Paleo blog called Sex, Food and Kettlebells.

Expect to see a couple recipes from them coming up as I try some of the great stuff they have posted (or go check it out yourself if you have a minute).

The first thing I picked to try was the Black Tea Butter Latte - delectable and good for you! This was a great treat for a cold, windy day and definitely something I'll make again. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 24

To The Bat Cave!

Mosquitoes are a quintessential part of the ecosystem, as much as any human (especially one who likes to wear blue) would like it to not be the case.  But there's ways around the DEET.  According to "This Old House," a single North American Brown Bat can consume as many as 600 mosquitoes in a single hour!  That's good enough for me! 

First, some materials are needed.  An old screen that matches nothing on the property should provide some excellent footholds.  Seriously, where did the previous owners find half of the stuff they left on the property?

I recycled!  Where's my Nobel Prize?











Screen installed on the interior of the house.

Be sure to use plenty of adhesive on the seams.  These little dark knights don't care for forced induction heating systems.






Bats are crunchy, and taste good with dirt.  Let's ensure even the most intrepid of predators can't get inside by adding a pinch point at the bottom.  Bats can squeeze around an area the size of a dime, so they won't mind at all.


Don't paint the interior, even if it will make it darker.  Bats are sensitive, and the paint chemicals won't be pleasing to them.







Ready for paint; done and done!

I used a flat version of the Garage's color, so it'll absorb more heat than gloss would.  In hindsight, I should have used a darker color since it didn't match after all.

Mount it high.  The higher, the better, and project done!  And we'll now see if Nightwing and company like their new accommodations when it gets a little warmer. 


If only I re-painted that stupid black trim last summer.  Oh well, something to add to the list!












Saturday, February 23

Small Steps: Creating an Effective Workspace

An inexpensive solution.
 One of the best things about my job is that I have the ability to work from home. Whether it's an extra half hour at night to help my boss finish something, or a couple weeks at a time while my Prince is traveling, it's a huge blessing to avoid the hour-long commute and work from here.

I've never been able to do this before, so there was a bit of a learning curve in November when I first tried to do it for a string of days in a row. One of the things I learned was that our old desktop computer wasn't really up to the task – it guzzled down the electricity, downloaded mountains of updates almost daily, didn't like the remote log-in program, and was hard to set up in a functional space. Border collies, we have found, are not great respecters of cords and wires. They slide through them, get their paws tangled while trying to rescue to ball, and have no compunction about dropping their ball, their chin or their paws on your keyboard.

Why yes, that is an unloved border collie
and his blue ball of awesomeness waiting
for me to quit fooling around and get back
to what's really important.  :)
We made it through, of course, and I started thinking about how to make this more functional next time around. Experimentation proved that the end of our kitchen counter made the ideal work center. It's centrally located, so I can throw the ball for the furries, keep an eye on (and soak up heat from) the fireplace, gets lots of natural light, and is right next to the kitchen so I can keep an eye on dinner or make a cup of tea without effort. It has an outlet for plugging in the laptop and the phone, enough counter space to spread out papers, and is high enough to be safely out of Border Collie reach. But working hours at a time standing up was getting old.

So I bought myself a bar stool. Just shy of $30 at Target, it fits in well with the rest of our d├ęcor and has turned the counter end into the perfect workspace for me. Working from home this week has proved much smoother, and I know that when it's time for my Prince to travel again I'll be prepared for a much more effective run than I had last time. (Many thanks to my Prince for putting the stool together for me when we got it home!)

This workspace isn't what I initially imagined working from home would look like, but I'm delighted to found a (cheap) solution that fits my needs and makes the most of our resources.

Thursday, February 21

Mini Bathroom Redo

Our pretty new light!
I am not a fan of medicine cabinets. Never have been. I blame it on living so long in apartments – apartment medicine cabinets are uniformly ugly, cheap and hard to clean. I ripped the hideous medicine cabinet out of the master bathroom not long after we moved in, and would have done the same to the one in the hall bath except that it contained the light and mirrors, and therefore couldn't just be wrenched off without consequences.

At the end of January, though, we decided it was time to makeover the vanity in the guest bath. The rest of the room was in good shape – fresh paint and a matching shower curtain/ rug/ art print set made it feel clean and welcoming. We picked out a pretty light fixture for less than $30 at Lowe's, and my talented husband ripped out the ugly medicine cabinet.

Clean, matching and bright.
He wired in the new light, and moved a giant mirror we'd had somewhere else into the space above the vanity. I found a dark chocolate brown paint that matched the shower curtain embroidery and set to work coating the vanity inside and out. We snagged a rubbed bronze toilet paper holder for half price ($10!) to replace the rusted brass-y one that had been in there, and switched out the worn beige light switch plate for a clean white one that matches the door and trim.

Voila! Less than 50 bucks and a some elbow grease invested, and I'm thrilled with the result! The giant mirror and new light make the room seem much brighter – a huge plus, since its the only room in the house without natural light. Painting the vanity hid the water stains and gave it a clean, matching look that makes all the difference.

Where the color scheme came from.
Although we've talked about someday replacing the cheap vinyl floor with proper tile and popping window in over the shower so there's natural light, we're well content with the room as it stands now. It's clean, coherent, and reflects the kind of calm and welcoming demeanor we want for our house. With the hikes in taxes and gas prices, we've been reevaluating what house projects we can realistically expect to get done this year. But that's okay; after doing this project I am reminded that it isn't the size of the project that matters – it's the satisfaction you get from it that counts. I'll be okay with a handful of smaller projects if they all feel this rewarding.

Wednesday, February 20

Asylum (Book Review)

This book was an interesting reading experience. When I put it down, I itched to pick it back up and read more. When I picked it up, my (extremely critical-reader) brain automatically cataloged a list of things that I couldn't help but view skeptically.

The plot, in a nutshell, goes like this: newlywed computer expert Trista, member of a noble, faith-based and freedom loving rebellion (the Ghosts), gets kidnapped by the evil ruling empire (the Legacy). Legacy doctors scrub her brain and implant false memories as part of a medical experiment designed to take annoying, expensive prisoners and turn them into useful, willing servants.

Not surprisingly, her husband goes off the deep end when he finds out and obsesses with trying to save her. His mentors and friends try to temper his rashness and keep him from getting himself killed or captured, while Legacy doctors try to manage unexpected glitches in their new programming of Trista.

The Pros: The characters are very realistic, and both their suffering and their struggles of faith really come through.  The story has a good pace, and is written in such a way that you're not quite sure what comes next but definitely want to find out! The author established some very good bad guys that should serve her well in the upcoming books projected for the series. There's also some good discussion of the nature of revenge and forgiveness.

The Cons: I couldn't help but think as I read how completely inept some of the characters seemed to be. Chalk it up to Murphy's Law, Divine Providence, literary license, or whatever you like, but these guys just weren't terribly organized and effective as far as rebel/empire campaigns go (in my personal opinion). This was also definitely meant for an audience who appreciates humility, forgiveness and faith. If you're in the mood for vengeance and flamethrowers, this is the wrong venue.

I liked this, and will likely read the next book in the series when it comes out.

Wednesday, February 13

Amaranthine


I discovered a new vocabulary word, and it's so beautiful and poignant I can't imagine why I have never run into anywhere before:

Amaranthine
noun - An imaginary flower that never fades.
adjective - Eternally beautiful and unfading; everlasting.

Example of word used in a sentence:


Hope you like today's vocab word as much as I did!  :)




Monday, February 11

Menu Idea Monday: Sweet Potato Casserole

Sorry I missed last week's Menu Idea Monday! It's been a little busy around here. I'm back on track today though!

Check out this Sweet Potato Casserole (and photo thereof) from PaleoPot.

We tried this last week. It's simple to throw together, smelled great while cooking and turned out well. It was kind of bland, but I didn't season the meat much. Next time I will go heavy on the spices or throw some hot green peppers in the mix before I cook it and expect it to be awesome!

I haven't had much time to poke around PaleoPot yet, but it definitely looks promising - it's all about Paleo recipes you can cook in the crock pot! Who doesn't like to come home to a house that smells great and dinner ready to go on the table after a long, busy winter day?

Saturday, February 9

The Missing Element in Valentine's Day Posts

As we head into the week of Valentine's Day, I find myself irked once again by a common element lacking in nearly every post I read on the subject. No one mentions love languages.

That's a fairly glaring oversight in a holiday devoted to love, wouldn't you agree?

Personally, I think The Five Love Languages should be taught to children the same way the four food groups used to be. (Don't me started on the current “my pyramid” nonsense.) 

(If you haven't read The FiveLove Languages, please make the time - as soon as you possibly can. It's worth owning, but I'm sure your library has a copy. It's not a long book or a hard read, but it will change how you see the world.) 

If you're not familiar with the book, it's message is pretty simple; the are 5 distinct ways that people give/receive love:
  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Physical touch
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Quality time
Everyone has a primary and secondary “love language”; we're each born with our own combination of hard wired into us. As a result, we both demonstrate love and recognize it being demonstrated to us through two of those five languages. But when two people have entirely different love languages, the stage is set for a serious disconnect and a lot of hurt feelings. 

You can gush love for someone in the languages that shout love to you all you want, but to truly love someone well, you have to speak their love language. It's not as easy as it sounds - there can be a steep and often frustrating learning curve to adopt new habits and new awarenesses. But it is so worth it!

So before you whip off one of those cute, creative projects cluttering the internet this week, stop and ask yourself if it really lines up with your Valentine's love languages. You may not get the answer you want, but there's no better gift you can give your other half than thoughtfully and intentionally speaking their language!

Friday, February 8

The Five Money Personalities

So, sometimes you read books with titles that promise you simple steps or kitschy personality profiles and they suck. Occasionally you read one that changes your life. (The Five Love Languages, anyone?) Every once in a while, you get one like The Five Money Personalities - it may not actually teach you anything you didn't know, but it gives you the language you've been lacking to talk articulately about something you've known but couldn't explain.

Everybody knows that money is personal. We know how we handle it, and we're very aware of how our spouses/friends/family handle it when they make choices we never would. But considering that more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, and 70% of those divorces are attributed to money, it's pretty clear that very few of us know how to talk about money in anything close to a constructive fashion.

Enter The Money Couple... authors of the Five Money Personalities. They wrote with much more humor than I expected, and had a very engaging style. The basic message was clear: when we fight about money, we're not actually fighting about money - we're fighting about what that money represents to us. Dreams, fears, respect. If we don't learn how to talk about money in a way that acknowledges (respectfully) our different approaches and the whys behind the choices we make, we're left with our assumptions, inferences and frustrations - never a good thing.

The types are straight forward, and the quiz is short and easy. The book is written in an easy-to-read style that gets you from cover to cover fast, but gives you plenty of meat to chew on when you're done. It's also designed in such a way that you can read bites at a time for twelve weeks (90 days) and work through the material as a challenge to improve your money relationship.

I give these authors tons of points for Website and book integration - you can use either one without needing access to the other, which is a huge bonus. I will definitely be adding this to the list of books I recommend to people!