Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew and other things They say...

Tis the Season to be Jolly... Well, that's what 'THEY' say.

And who exactly are 'They', anyway?

'They' can be anyone. People you know, people you don't know, people you don't ever want to know... so WHY would you listen to 'They' in the first place?

I certainly do not know the answer to that question. Does anyone?

I think 'They' are the ones who made the rules like "no elbows on the table" and "pink and red don't go together" and "no wearing white after Labor Day".

What if I NEED to put my elbows on the table because I drank too much wine and am about to fall of my chair and my elbows are the only thing keeping the room from spinning me like a top? Hmmmm... ?

Or what if I LIKE the way pink and red look together, or red and purple for that matter? Pink and red ARE in the same color family so why can't they be together? I mean, if brown can be the new black and pink the new white and it seems acceptable to put them together...? Brown and pink is a hideously disgusting combination in my opinion but 'They' say it is hip and trendy... I think 'They' must be color-blind... or have a seriously f'd up sense of humor!

And what about this no white after Labor Day thing?
Really? I'm a nurse and , well duh!, white is what we wear... and do white tennis shoes or sneakers not count? Cuz I definitely see white shoes all year long. And white t-shirts. And what about winter white? It's right there in the name- Winter White- so it must be okay for after Labor Day since that would be the 'Winter Season', right?

'They' say the unemployment numbers will get better, and 'They' say the housing market is starting to pick up, and 'They' say the economy is not as bad as we ( meaning the not 'They' people) think it is, and 'They' say we are only in a Recession, not a Depression... well this Recession is pretty depressing to me so I don't really see a difference, do you?

Just once I would like to see someone interview 'They' on TV. I think it would look a lot like a PC vs MAC commercial.

Interviewer- How nice to FINALLY have 'They' here in studio.
'THEY'- Well, you know what 'They' say don't you?
Interviewer- No, actually, what do you say? Any words of wisdom?
'THEY'- Never ask questions you don't already know the answer to... and as 'They' say... don't take any wooden nickels!

Interviewer will be left standing in an empty space where 'They' have just left the building thinking, "WTF?'They' say the dumbest things, don't 'They'?"

'They' certainly seem to have the last word in just about everything...
I am sure 'They' were the ones shaking their heads, as they set sail, while Mt Vesuvius was still burping and hiccuping clouds of smoke and sulphur, saying things like, " You can't take it with you" and "some people never learn!"

And like 'They' always say... " love your neighbor as yourself...".
Okay you got me there, 'They' have never been touted as the brain behind that sentiment but the 'ONE' that has, well, HE's got my vote over the ever-elusive 'They' anyday!

And don't forget... it IS the Season to be JOLLY... but only if YOU say so!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Worms Unite!

I love to read. I'll read just about anything, and I mean anything!

My youngest son would ONLY read 'Captain Underpants' stories for a while. What I really mean is, I had to read them for him until he got the whole sound-out-the-letters-then-run-it-all-together thing down.

I actually read most of what the kids read.
One, because I buy them and want to know what they are reading; and two, because I like the darn things!

I read Twilight so I would know what my 11 year old was into-- and because I was thrilled she knew what to do with a book! Then I got hooked on the stupid series... with my 11 year old girl, 13 year old boy and 19 year old son's girlfriend! We passed those books around like they were some miracle cure for male pattern baldness!

Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Junie B.Jones, Amelia Bedelia...I have read them all! And I have anxiously awaited the newest installments.
Yes, I went in the middle of the night when bookstores had special release hours, but No, I did not dress like a character from the stories...

I can't decide if that is pathetic or wonderful.
Pathetic because, well really? Books?
Wonderful because, well, Really! Books!
They take you places, let you be someone else, teach you and stimulate your mind to ask questions and find answers.

I AM A NERD! It's official.

There are over a thousand books in our home and more than half belong to me. My son owns the other half, easily. AND he remembers all the names and story lines and authors!
Me? I'm lucky if I can remember the picture on the front of the book.

And I don't even want to talk about books that my daughter AND my father have read that I own. I am embarrassed that my daughter read some that should seriously be rated-XXX then I go visit my Dad and he's sitting on the sofa reading the same darn thing! How does that conversation go?
'So Dad, what'd you think about the one where the detective is dating a vampire and a werewolf and she is a wereleopard who has to have sex to live like a vampire needs blood? '
Um, definitely NOT. And WHY is my dad reading these books anyway? Christine Feehan, Nora Roberts, Sherrilynn Kenyon -do these names sound like the names of people who write books that someone who reads Zane Grey would want to read?

Maybe they do. Maybe I get my reading nerd genes from my dad... and that means my kids got them from me and we are all doomed
Book-a-holics Anonymous?
The premier chapter will be meeting in my living room to discuss the latest book read, er, I mean, to stop the addiction to books and all things book related-- right after I swing by the library and bookstore to pick up that new Stephanie Meyers title.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Too Hi-Tech for Kris Kringle?

Technology has changed the face of Christmas, no really, it has.

Santa used to be this Red-cheeked, Jelly-bellied Jolly Grandpa kind of guy carrying a sack filled with toy soldiers, dolls, BB guns ( I know- you could put an eye out with those things!) and yo-yos for all the good boys and girls.

Now Santa has a sleigh full of MP3 players, DVD's and hand-held book readers ( because a real book is too what?... hard to carry in your back pack or purse?) Digital TVs, cameras, and DSI's are what kids are asking for this year.

What ever happened to Pogo sticks, wood-burning kits, chemistry sets and boomerangs?

Oh, that's right... they have been done away with by parents who were afraid their kids would get hurt using them... Ummmm, ever heard of Parental Supervision?

So, instead of brain stimulating, hands-on, skill developing gifts we have the mind-numbing, de-sensitizing, obesity-enhancing video and computer games that prevent social interaction and physical activity, but are safe for kids to use... because getting fat and stupid are not detrimental?

Yep! Technology has changed the face of Christmas, and the world and the future... Makes me think of those people in the Disney Movie 'Wall-E'

My wish for Christmas?
That you not act surprised when computers take over your kid's minds and control the world...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sleep-over? Who said anything about Sleep?

What do teenaged girls do for fun?

Well, this question is something that I wondered about until my teen daughter had two of her friends sleep over last night.

Silly Me! They eat pizza, make popcorn, watch movies and giggle ALL night long. They talk in an abbreviated code that they think grown-ups can't figure out and they talk about boys... what else? Oh, and clothes.

They eat huge stacks of pancakes for breakfast and hang-out playing RockBand on Wii...

In essence, they do basically the same things we did at their age. Which is a huge relief to mom's like me who worry that teens are become grown-up much too soon.

So, Moms of the World, there is still time to influence not only your teen, but her friends as well... as long as you do it when they are not paying attention and think you are just hanging out watching movies, eating popcorn and talking about clothes with them

The key is the Being With Them part... they like it, really they do, even when they say they don't!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day... a lesson and a Thank You... No,Really!

Today is Veteran's Day.

A day set aside to honor those who have served to protect and defend our country.

Everyone knows that. We learned about it in grade school- you know back when the holocaust was real and the 'Cold War' was still being fought?

But what many people may not remember, or possibly never really learned way back when, is that Veteran's Day was originally Armistice Day.

What is Armistice you may ask... again because you were too busy watching Nixon being impeached on TV or listening to your grandfather rant how the Russians were planning to take over the world to remember what your teacher was telling you in school.

Armistice is a cessation of fighting by mutual agreement between all parties involved.

And Armistice Day was originally intended as a remembrance of the Armistice Treaty that went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, thereby effectively ending the First World War... or as it was called by many, "The War To End All Wars"... well, until the next one that is.

So, November 11th at 11:00 am is when the guns stopped shooting and the soldiers stopped marching and the tanks stopped rolling in 1918. And those left standing were able to return to their homes and families in time for Christmas and the Peace-full New Year of 1919.

But the Armistice did not last because, well, let's face it, we ARE human after all, and eternal peace and happiness just aren't part of the genetic code of our species.

Someone had to decide they were "The Man" and start taking over the smaller and less adequately defended countries in Europe-- oh so slyly and quietly so that the bigger, badder nations across the globe did not realize exactly what was happening until it was almost too late.

And of course, The US being the Defender of the Defense-less, and Global Conscience that it is, we got involved. Oh- I mean before Pearl Harbor- we had pilots flying for the RAF out of Canada and Great Britain, we had intelligence personnel in Europe sending back some not-so-nice reports on Adolph and Friends and there were discussions in the governmental bodies about how and when we should intercede.

Then Pearl Harbor happened and just how much trouble Adolph and his Pals in Italy and Japan had gotten into became alarmingly apparent.

Thus the US was thrown into World War II, and although it was not our brightest hour, it was certainly not a good idea to piss us off from the get go.
Japan was not very smart about that, or they under estimated us as a military force? Maybe it is because we frown on killing perfectly good people by using airplanes as bombs like those crazy Kamakzi guys. But hey, maybe it was something else.

So WWII happened. Lots more of our young men died defending those in need across the globe against a mad man, who had some serious mental-health and self-love issues, because he could talk a good game.

That 'War to End All Wars' ended in 1945, and not a moment too soon for those interred in concentration camps across Eastern Europe.

In 1954- only 9 years after WWII ended and a year after the Korean Conflict- cuz I do remember learning in school that it was NOT a war, just a conflict where people got killed... a lot, had been ... er, un-conflicted?
Anyway- 1954 saw the signing of a bill making Veteran's Day a day to honor American veterans of all wars by Dwight Eisenhower, who was himself a great veteran and who said... ( I had to put a quote of his here because he is my favorite president)...
"On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of those who fought so valiantly on the seas, in the air and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."

Since that proclamation was made 51 years ago many more veterans have arrived on the scene... From the cuban conflict, Operation Desert Storm, Viet Nam, Operation Iraqi Freedom and so many more that I am sure We, The People have no idea ever happened.

For ALL of those Veterans I want to say thank you... and I include those who are left who bear a tatoo identifying them as true veterans of war because, unlike American History books who barely mention the "alleged holocaust" I believe that their lives were endagered, taken and tossed aside without care... and I KNOW that without OUR Veterans of that war, and the many since, history books the world over would be filled with more atrocities than even I can imagine, and let me tell you, I have a really good imagination!

So- Thank You to Marty, Vic, David, Steph, Dad, Uncle Dave, Wink, Mr. Schuyler, Matthew, Smitty, Charlie Cartwright- KIA Afghanistan November 2009, and those whose names I cannot remember and those whose names I have never known... you are ALL to me like family... the family of Man-Kind with the emphasis on KIND.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Solar Power meets Kermit THE Frog?

Bills, bills, bills.... everyone has them. And let's face it, we hate them.
Living in Maryland has become rather expensive over the last few years, and not the things that we have any control over either.

Water usage rates have nearly tripled in 3 years, property taxes have jumped by thousands of dollars in a very short time and gas and electric rates are through the roof.

In an effort to reduce our family's electric bill we installed a wood burning fireplace, unplug small appliances not in use and converted our lighting to flourescent bulbs.

Of course, my husband being the handy-man that he is, installing Solar Energy Panels to cut down on electric bills is something he would like to do.
And being the super efficient guy that he is, researching how they work, how much they will save us and how to install them has become a passion.

Did you know that the government gives residential and small business grants for Solar Panel installation?

Many states have rebate programs that will give you a discount or certain percentage of the installation fees back.

In Maryland, residential installations that are no larger than 20kW are eligible for a grant amount that caps at $10,000.00 for whole house systems, and hot water solar systems can qualify for 30% of installation costs up to $2.000.00.
These are great incentives, but the grants are limited so applying for them as soon as you decide to install a Solar Energy System in your home is imperative.

Maryland also has a tax exempt program for homes with Solar or Green energy where the equipment is tax exempt. The most recent Solar Energy Grant Program for Maryland was updated on October 19, 2009 with the latest grants and application guidelines.

Another nice thing about Maryland that I have found in my research is that if you are generating enough energy to cover your electric usage, you only pay customer service fees on your electric bill, and you can actually get paid by the electric company for energy generated that you are not using. Basically, if you are generating solar energy in excess of your needs, you are selling it to the Electric Company. This does not look like a reason to install Solar Energy Panels but it certainly is a nice perk!

SO, if you are tired of the ever-increasing costs of living under your roof, check into what can you can put ON it to help out. Look into the incentives and grants available to you in your state and see how much you can save using Green Power.

And for DIY-ers like mine, looks like a company that can help. They provide the instructions on how to make your own solar panels and how to install them. This can save tens of thousands on just the installation, but add in the savings by making your own panels and you could be looking at serious cash in hand. Maybe enough to make Going Green NOW affordable for your home.

Going Green is the new catch phrase. You see it on home improvement shows, kids programming- real shows on recycling, not just the ones with Miss Piggy and Friends, infomercials and all over the internet. Green Power looks like an efficient way to cut household costs, and save our environment.
Add the tax credits from the federal and state governments, the tax exempt status Maryland gives you for your Solar Power equipment and the increase in your home's value Green Energy will give, Going Green just seems like it makes sense.

And in the words of the oh-so-wonderful Kermit THE Frog.... "It's Not Easy Being Green!"

But, it sure does help!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Families that DIY together...

I love home improvement shows.

Seriously, I do. I should have invented the HGTV channel. Or maybe the DIY channel.

I enjoy doing my own improvement projects and take pride in the work once it is done. It's a darn good thing my husband knows how to use all those tools in the garage, cuz I sure don't!

We recently put a laminate floating floor in our family room to replace the berber carpet that had been ruined by the kids and dogs. It was only 6 years old, but man was it awful. One little catch of a dog's paw and there goes a whole row of carpet. It looked like a zebra by the time we got rid of it. That and the stains. They would come out with a little bleach and hot water, only to reappear a few weeks later, like magic.

Getting rid of that carpet was the best idea ever!

We, and when I say WE I really mean MY HUSBAND, put down a really nice quality laminate in a cherry finish in a day. And I do mean a whole day. First we, this time I did help, took up the carpet and the padding, which was really gross. Then I vacuumed the subfloor and took up all the tack strips and the staples.

That took like, an hour?

Then we, yep this is the WE that means MY HUSBAND, rolled out the underlayment and put down the first row of flooring. This took like 2 hours! Apparently the wall is not exactly straight and the floor is not really flat so it took some measuring and tweaking to get the first row perfectly straight and level.

Oh, and some seriously precise cuts on that table saw in the garage. The one HE keeps reminding me was worth it's weight in gold because he uses it for EVERYTHING. Yeah, I know, he told me so...

Finally, the first row was down and I figured the rest would go down quickly. I mean all you do is snap the pieces together and keep on truckin'... well, not exactly that easy, but it's not hard, once you get going, right?

We finished up at 1am... yep, it took over 15 hours to put this floor in. Yes, the room is pretty big, 18 x 18, but really, 15 hours!

But now that it is in, and the furniture is in place, and we have been living in this room without stains and the 'wet dog' smell, it's so worth the time and effort we, I mean, he put forth.

So-- KUDOS to MY HUSBAND on a job well done!

Oh, and the cost difference from doing it ourselves and having it done by a 'professional'?
$450.00 versus $2200.00!!! Yikes! We saved like $1700.00 on this project alone...

I wonder if it is too soon to tell him I NEED the carpet in the boys room replaced with this laminate too...?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle... and the Mortgage Company From Hell?

Here I sit, on my couch, under an afghan, watching tv while the sun is slowly coming awake to warm the chilly air outside and bring some light to the world.

I am curled up under an afghan because it was 33 degrees last night, leaving ice crusted over the garden pond, and we have a heat pump system that just does not seem able to keep the temps comfortable during freezing weather.

This bothers me immensely.

Oh, sure we can sit together as a family under blankets in front of the fireplace watching TV through the winter months, and honestly, we really do.

Not just because we love each other, but more importantly, because we need to be warm and need to keep the electric bill to a manageable amount. Last winter we had bills of 1000.00 and more per month. Nope, that is not a typo... it really was that high.

This year we have a new, highly efficient hot water heater and brand new high efficiency washer and dryer set to help off-set some of the cost of running our home during the colder months.

We have also converted almost all of the light bulbs to those curly ones and use re-chargeable batteries in most of the electronics on our home. We unplug the laptops and shut down the power strips that have the TV, DVD player and Wii systems plugged into them.

We are recycling just about everything we use... and it seems that our recycle trash is 3 times the amount of the regular trash! Who knew so much could be recycled?

All of these things we do to cut our costs, and lower the cost of living in general, quite willingly.

In our plan to down-size expenses and reduce waste we contacted our mortgage holder to find about modifying our adjustable interest rate loan last October.

When our loan was bought by one of the Chase companies our interest rate jumped considerably. We were given 30 days notice that the payment was jumping by nearly 800.00 a month. So I did what was being recommended and contacted them to try to fix things before they became a problem... I did say I did this a year ago, right?

Well, here it is 13 months later and we still have no modification of our loan. Not only do we not have a modification in place, but the payment plan- or the "trial modification period" as they call it- has actually hurt us more than it has helped.

When I called last year I was told what we needed to do to be considered for a modification and I did it. I have been on 4 of the "trial payment periods", each lasting 3 months so that the powers that be can see we are committed to paying our bill on time each month.

At the end of the 3 months the modification is supposed to be locked in and all will be well... or so I have been told. After 4 of these trial periods and dozens and dozens of pages being faxed multiple times to the Loan Modifcation account representative we still have no modification and I only recently found out we had no account representative. Or at least not the one I have been dealing with since March of this year.

It seems he was taken off our case in early October, but no one told us until the end of the month. Which explains why the 8 phone messages I left for him the month of October were never answered.

So in our attempt to be proactive and reduce expenditures and tighten our belts, we have only made our problem worse.

Our account is now being reported as 6 months in arrears because the reduced "Trial Period" payments are less than our regular payments and apparently our mortgager does not accept partial payments...
which is what they consider the reduced payments to be since we have not been locked into a modification program...
and that means they can charge us with fees for making these partial payments and late fees because we are behind because we did not make full payments...
and apparently the whole "You qualify for the Federal Loan Modification Program" conversation that I have had several times over the past 13 months is just that... a conversation as it now seems we do not in actuality qualify for it according to our mortgager...

so now what do we do???

Well... for anyone in this predicament- of which I am sure there are many- try using this link and signing the petition there.


Then use the link to send a letter to your congressmen and senators to let them know that you need their help

I even added a personal note to the form letter to let them know that I have jumped through all the hoops and played by the ever-changing rules with nothing to show for it but a ruined credit rating and a house payment that has gone up once again.

I hope that my experience helps someone else as it does not appear it will be helping us...

But Hey! I still believe in Miracles ...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

WOW, iPods and Growing UP?

Today is my youngest child's 11th birthday.

Now when did that happen? He was just a little guy with strawberry blonde hair, big blue eyes and the most adorable dimple in his chin... and now he is this tall, lanky, freckle-face young man, who still has the most awesome blue eyes and dimples to die for by the way.

I know the kids grow up. I mean we would all go insane if they didn't, but really, they are growing OLDER sooner than they used to.

My oldest child is now 29. I remember her playing with friends when she was 11... playing with dolls and playing "teacher".

Now 11 year olds play video games and hang out on the computer gaming and reading their email... well, not mine of course since I think kids that young should have more cerebral pursuits...

OKAY! You got me. I DO think they should have more mentally stimulating activities, but my kids do play World of Warcraft (or WOW as it is affectionately known in our home) and have PSPs, iPods, Playstation, X-Box and Nintendo gaming systems.
They also have a large selection of DVDs to watch should they tire of video games.
Oh, and yes they have books... thousands of books are in our home and YES! the kids have actually read them, not just used them to prop up broken desk legs or hold down science fair projects while they are drying.

The one thing that they DO NOT HAVE is a cell phone. No phone until they can pay for it themselves. And I mean go to the store and get their own account and pay the bills themselves.
My 3 older kids had to do it that way so the 3 younger ones are stuck with it.

So now that my baby is 11 and no longer thinks he is my baby, what do I do?

I throw a frickin' party that's what I do!
Only 7 more years and the last one will be of an age to fend for himself... not that he will since his 20 year old brother is still living at home and is not financially secure, but he will be old enough that he could be on his own.

The count-down has begun... I still miss the little boy that was, but I am looking forward to meeting the man he will become... and celebrating his achievements over the next few years on his way to being that man.

Oh, and the vacation I will be able to go on once he has left for college... well, if I can afford one...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ghosts, Pilgrims and Santa... Oh My!

Halloween is over. The Holiday Season has officially begun; the weather has gotten cooler; the leaves are vibrant shades of orange, red and yellow; and clocks have been thrown against walls in homes all over the Daylight Savings time zones!

The alarm clock rang this morning at 6:00 , er, 5:00 because my husband forgot to re-set HIS alarm clock yesterday. Hey! It's on his side of the bed set to go off at 6am so he can ignore it completely. I don't need an alarm. I get up every morning, multiple times, to get the kids up and out the door to school, put HIS coffee on and get my day started.

Another sign that Holiday Season has commenced? The Christmas Trees and ornaments standing in the aisles that on October 31st held Halloween candy and costumes. In less than 12 hours the stores were transformed from Haunted Scary to Happy Merry!

But I have to ask... what happened to Thanksgiving? The poor Pilgrims have been pushed to the sidelines by Santa and Elves earlier and earlier every year. Now they don't even get their own aisle at Wal-Mart!

What does this mean? Well, in our house it means the Wish Lists will be appearing on the fridge any minute now. And one of my kids has already asked if we can put the tree up now... Ummm, can't we get through Thanksgiving first? I mean seriously do we have to rush by all the good things on the way to Christmas?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's about family, food and friendship. Commercialism hasn't ruined it... Thank God!

So as we jump headlong into the Holiday Season enjoy the Fall colors on the trees, the crisp scents in the air and Daylight Savings... without it you would leave in the dark each morning and arrive in the dark each evening... and Sundown Syndrome would be an epidemic rival only to the Swine Flu...