Smart Choices Recipe: Dad’s Chili, updated

Smart Choices Recipe: Dad’s Chili, updated.

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Being At Home with Myself

Maybe its just me but I have an issue with modesty, or  really its the lack there of.

I see so many people that have no problem exposing more skin than the world really needs to see.  Maybe I’m too modest but I don’t think that women and teenage girls need to practically bare their chests to be considered attractive. Whatever happened to leaving something to the imagination?  I think much of the image problem is the media, both print and TV/cable that promote the idea that being sexy means showing as much cleavage as possible to be the norm.  Seriously-do I really need to be able to look down your shirt to find someone beautiful? There just has to be a limit to what is considered appropriate exposure.

When you look back on old pictures of starlets and those in the public eye you saw more than just skin…

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The American Dream….is it actuallly a house or a feeling?

The American Dream….

You hear it everyday: “to become a homeowner is the American Dream” but to many people it has become nothing short of a nightmare. They are stressed trying to find the way to pay for out of control mortgages, late fees and avoiding foreclosures.

 I was one of the millions of people considering selling and making a move in 2005. We looked at houses in Florida and quickly became disillusioned when a house we were considering jumped $20,000 in a week—without any repairs being done. Fixer-uppers were listed at incredible prices….and I was assured that the prices were only going up and to quickly make a purchase. Being cautious people we decided to step back as we had no new/confirmed jobs to rely on for income and our own home had not even been put on the market. I am glad we did considering where the market is now.

So many people  are just barely getting by. The current economy has taken a toll on their sense of well being and happiness; no longer can most spend money on “extras” like eating out or going to the movies. Most people are living paycheck to paycheck—with that income already spent on basics. The ones who have lost jobs, well they are another story altogether.

Although the market is starting to improve we have long way to go.  Obtaining a mortgage can be a lengthy process and only 1 of 3 may be approved without conditions. Is this a bad thing? I think not—I think we need to return to a common sense approach to buying a house: buy what you can afford and “dream” of the next one. We have become a nation where we need instant gratification—no longer are we interested in working our way up from the basics. It seems today’s buyers want everything done and very little TLC required (this is not a criticism but an observation). They want the big house, not the modest ranch or bilevel that their parents would’ve been starting with. That may be okay for those that can afford it but many have difficulty “settling” for a comfortable home, not realizing that it is not the dwelling that makes the Home, but the memories that are made within the four walls.

What I propose may be met with criticism from some: buy less than you can afford. Have a life, make some memories, relax more and pay less than you can spend. Go back to basics and talk to your neighbors; making strong friendships makes a better community—the kind of life we actually dream of when we think of home: kids safely playing in the yard or riding bikes around the neighborhood. Growing up being able to play ‘flashlight tag’, catching fireflies in a jar, and making s’mores on a grill are memories worth much more than a fancy house. I think if we go back to the basics we will become stronger as a Nation. We will become more content with less “things” and seek out opportunities for friendship and community.

Maybe, just maybe, the “American Dream” is more of wanting the feeling of Home, not the dwelling itself.

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Choosing Life’s Path

Life’s Paths. Something I’ve been thinking about lately; how do you know which one to take? We only have so much time in a day–what determines what you will choose?

For me, it usually comes down to where my mind wanders when I let it go….and its back to my Home and Family (both inherited and chosen).

Yes, my job is important; I love being a Nurse. Its the best, hardest job I have ever had. I’m good at it and can bring comfort to those I care for.

Yes, being creative is important. I love to sew,quilt, garden and generally create things, most of which is given to family and friends.

Yes, being part of a larger community is important. Friends are vitally important to our well-being. They provide support in hard times and share your Joy in good ones.

BUT when it all comes down to a choice I will choose being Home with Family over anything else. Its part of my Legacy, of what people will remember when I’m no longer here. I am very fortunate to have a loving husband and wonderful daughters. We enjoy laughing together and sharing meals on a regular basis. I love them with all my heart.

If my path is different then yours, that is ok too. We all need to choose what makes us happy. I’ve never had a competitive spirit so I feel no draw to being in the “Rat Race” of business.

Whichever path you choose–embrace it with your whole heart and enjoy every step on the path to your Happiness.

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The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

Otherwise known as De-Cluttering my Life and Home


On reflection many of the books I read this past year have been about evaluating your life, looking for fulfillment and personal peace, and gratitude—in general looking for Happiness.  I think it is something most of us do without really thinking about it—“I’ll be happy if/when” or “ if I buy this or that it will make me happy”.  We are constantly under attack by the media with the implied thought that the more things we have, the happier we will be.

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while now and have come to a different conclusion: we have so much stuff that we fail to realize that the things are not what makes us happy but the feelings that they generate are what we were actually desiring.  We keep looking for that feeling by buying even more with fleeting enjoyment.

This really came to light when we were cleaning out my basement after Hurricanes Irene and Lee left some water in their wake.  It was a blessing in disguise since the basement had become a depository of the things we did not use daily so they did not rate prime space in the actual house.  I was having great difficulty throwing things out since they reflected my children’s past interests but were no longer being used. I was remembering the time we spent together making the crafts, but in truth the crafts themselves were not all that remarkable; it was the feeling and memories of our time spent together that I did not want to lose.

When it all comes down to it though…I have too much stuff.  My attic and basement are full of things I don’t know what to do with and so they just get stored.  We continue to buy things we don’t need because its something we found while together. I would enjoy my house more if there were less clutter, making it feel more of a Home and less of a storage place.

So, the Happiness Project is my goal for the remainder of the year, and beyond.  My goal is to go through the things in our house and give away those things that only clutter my Home and Life—do I really need:

Over 100 mugs?  (these are just a few in use)

Dozens of cookbooks I no longer use?

Boxes of books in my attic that I have no time to re-read?

Clothes that are no longer my style or size?

Boxes of VHS movies and CDs I never use?

Practically every school paper from both my children ?(elementary school only)

I’m sure there are many things that were purchased or saved because I felt I needed to at the time—souvenirs, cards, fund raiser items or gifts that I felt I had to keep.  Books are harder—I LOVE books—but there are so many more I want to read that I will most likely never have time to read the ones boxed in the attic again.


 My plan is to go through my closets, attic and basement—basically all aspects of my life and save only the things that actually bring me Happiness. This may in fact be more difficult than I think; is it the object that I love or the memory of an event that brings me Joy?  The other issue is that not all objects are mine to decide their fate as they belong to my husband and daughters.

This will be more than a cleansing of my house—the only way to avoid gathering more but different items will be to examine the Why of what made me keep them in the first place.  I’ll have to look for insights of what makes me happy.  Is true Happiness and Contentment to be found in things or in the memories that will always be mine to treasure?


I invite you to travel along with me on my journey of more than 20 years of things in my house and heart.  Maybe it will help you find reasons of why you may also be a ‘keeper of clutter’. Maybe it will free you from owning too many things and loving the ones you decide to keep.  Maybe it will give you a laugh at some of my decisions. Either way, feel free to add your thoughts and feelings—there is always room on the road to happiness.

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Doing your HOME work before being a Home Owner

As someone who works in the world of real estate I am frequently asked “so what is the current interest rate?”. Well- there is not just one set answer. Determining the interest rate you may pay (mortgage,car, credit card) is determined by several things–one of which is your “FICO” score.

Before 1956 your ability to get a loan was determined by your trustworthiness and reputation to your local bank–they looked at your job history, bills and potential income and determined if you were a suitable risk. No real standards across the board. In 1956 an engineer and a mathematician developed a scoring system that helped to determine your risk– the higher the score the less risk involved in creating a loan. This became known as Fair Issac scoring and then FICO became public in 1987.

Thanks to Jeff Kardel (a loan officer at Rand Mortgage) for the information below which helps to make it a little more understandable:

The Five Main Factors Generating FICO Scores

1. PAYMENT HISTORY (35%) . . . My Tip: Pay all accounts on time allowing for payments to process.

• Paying debt on time has a positive impact. Late payments, judgments, collection accounts, and charge-offs have a negative impact. The more recent the derogatory information, the more it lowers credit scores.

2. UTILIZATION – Amount owed on accounts (30%) . . . My Tip: Keep revolving balances low relative to the reported limits, even if you pay accounts in full each month.

• The ratio between your outstanding balances and available credit limits or reported high credit amount is important. Keep your balances below 50% of their limit. Your overall debt ratio is calculated as well as per account.

3. LENGTH/YEARS OF CREDIT HISTORY (15%) . . . My Tip: Keep oldest revolving accounts open and active.

• This marks the length of time a particular credit line was established. A seasoned borrower is strong in this area. Be careful when closing accounts to make sure you are not closing the accounts that have been established the longest.

4. NEW CREDIT AND INQUIRIES (10%) . . . My Tip: Be careful not to have your credit pulled unnecessarily and too often, and do not apply for a new credit card while you are in the process of applying for something as important as a mortgage.

• This quantifies the number of inquiries that have been made on a consumer’s credit history. There are hard and soft inquiries. Hard inquiries are generated by creditors when you apply for credit and they do impact your credit scores. Soft inquiries are generated if you, as a consumer check your credit by contacting the credit bureaus, or if creditors check your credit in an effort to potentially offer you a new product or service, extend an existing line of credit, or to make sure they are comfortable with your credit standing. Soft inquiries do not impact your scores.

5. TYPES OF CREDIT USED (10%) . . . My Tip: Establish and keep a well rounded credit profile.

• A good mix of auto loans, credit cards and mortgages is more positive than a concentration of debt from credit cards only, or mortgages only, etc. In fact certain scoring models require at least two open active revolving accounts to generate scores.

So how does this relate to buying a house? The higher your score the better the terms and rates you may encounter. That is why there is no “one size fits all” interest rate.

Jeff provided some good tips to improve your score. I would like to suggest a few as well that have worked for me.

Traditionally when you are trying to pay off multiple credit cards and loans you are told to pick the one with the highest interest rate or highest balance and pay that off first. It kinda makes sense because that might be the one costing you the most in interest….however, my suggestion (and again I am not an accountant so I am not offering ‘professional advice’) is to make payments on all cards and loans on time BUT take the one with the least balance and pay off as much as you can to eliminate this loan. THEN—take the money you were paying on that credit card/loan and apply it to the next lowest balance. WHY?? Because you will actually see that your debt is shrinking and be able to stick to the program. Most people have a hard time sticking to a program where they see little results (think about dieting when nothing is happening to the scale).

One other thing I would suggest to someone thinking about buying a home. Sit down with someone, if you are ready to be serious about becoming a home owner (notice I didn’t say “to buy a home”) and find out what kind of budget you are comfortable with.
This is something I can do–by finding out what you are comfortable paying EACH MONTH and not as a total price for a house I can work backward to tell you what price range you should look in to keep it in that budget. If that amount is more than you currently pay in rent, try putting aside the difference in a separate savings account for 3-6 months to see if you still feel comfortable with that amount—but don’t consider it money you can use-consider it spent. If you are not comfortable and it is a struggle to set aside that much it is better to find out before you commit to a house and mortgage. If you are happy and comfortable ‘paying’ that amount then you have that much more money saved and it can be used as a ‘reserves account’ for future repairs or new things for the house. Continue to put away the difference (and extra) even after you have determined your comfort level–repairs will be needed and it is better to have 3+ months of payments in reserve (if possible) to eliminate/reduce credit card use.

Either way, the idea is two fold: get in the habit of saving and paying for things in full (rather than a credit card ) and thinking of your future as an investment. Second–you will actually be able to enjoy being a homeowner– rather than ‘house poor’ and a slave to maintaining the house–you will have the ability to have a vacation, go to the movies or out to eat because you chose to buy within your current budget –not one set by someone in a bank.

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Spring is out there—-I can feel it!

It seems so far away when you look out the window and all you see is snow. I know it is coming…I can feel it. My fingers are itching to loosening up the soil, my eyes are just waiting for the bulbs to start pushing up through the snow, my nose is just waiting to smell that ‘fresh’ smell of cool, clean air with just a hint of earthiness.It is time….my mind is already dreaming up a new plan for my flower beds– they are in need of dividing this year and I want to move several of the beds–especially the one that is on the side of the house–we hope to put a garage there next year. Unfortunately we are ‘blessed’ with clay in our area. Heavy, dense soil that is not great for planting. In the past I always just amended the soil by working in bags of peat, manure and compost….this year I hope to change that by installing raised beds. 

I found a couple of great sites regarding raised beds, from building your own to kits ready to go. They sound so intriguing–compact area means you get a better yield since you can plant more densely. The raised bed allows the soil to warm up faster and longer (since you can also turn it into a mini greenhouse in the cooler months).

This site offers a DIY approach as well as several options from kits to parts.

Strictly a ‘by the book’ approach to building the beds.

So what do you think? Can you see a raised bed in your future? Think of the garden fresh organic vegetables you will be able to have at your fingertips.

Let me know what you think–pros and cons of home gardening–flower or vegetable…..

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